April 6, 2007 by Paul Henry Smith


We’re a new organization formed to serve as a focal point, clearinghouse, advocate and convening platform for digital orchestra activities. Since we are new, we invite the members of the digital orchestra community (whether you are scientists, musicians, composers, conductors, theorists, developers or critics) to comment on and contribute to defining our mission and focus.

And, of course, we also would like to invite you to become a member. (It’s free.) We encourage new members to contribute through online communities, scholarly work, research, and various activities which further the field of knowledge. The Digital Orchestra League is dedicated to the discussion and dissemination of information and knowledge related to all issues associated with digital orchestra technology and its applications.

The League is committed to the support and promotion of knowledge and research in digital orchestra activity. The League is a non-profit, non-commercial entity dedicated to the free exchange of ideas and information in a non-competitive and open environment.

Please help us refine our mission and focus by commenting below …

Currently, the League defines digital orchestra activity as:

All activities related to the digital control, manipulation, and behavior of orchestral music in recorded form or in real time. This includes, for example, the production of orchestral music on digital audio workstations using sample libraries, the use of digital technology to perform music in real time, and the study and improvement of orchestral performance practices with digital technology.

In addition, the digital orchestra domain includes activity and research in the related areas of sound synthesis, sampling, physical modeling, and reconstructive phrase modeling. Thus, the relationship between performance control and sound generation is a closely integrated one. While the definition suggests an emphasis on acoustical orchestral simulation, the League accepts a broad definition of the term digital orchestra in order to accommodate a wide range of aesthetic perspectives.

The League also supports and embraces scholarly or theoretical work that explores or investigates the social, cultural, economic, political, or philosophical impact of digital orchestra development and applications.

We also support musical endeavors — specifically, recordings and live concerts — that use digital orchestra technology to solve musical/practical problems and in real-world settings.

One of the league’s aims is to encourage digital orchestra musicians to perform at the highest level of their abilities. The idea is that if digital orchestra performances can begin to offer high-quality musical experiences, then this will not only be a good thing in itself, but may also affect the quality of orchestral music performance in general.

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What is a Digital Orchestra?

April 5, 2007 by Paul Henry Smith

A digital orchestra is the use of digital technology by musicians to produce or perform orchestral music.

Some digital orchestras, like the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, involve groups of musicians on a stage, playing digital instruments.

Others, like The Fauxharmonic Orchestra, produce recorded music in a studio.

And some digital orchestras, like those produced by Immersion Music, live in museum exhibit spaces offering visitors a hands-on conducting experience, complete with a motion-sensing baton and video.

Most people have already heard music played by a digital orchestra, although they probably do not realize it. Almost any orchestral music you hear on television commercials, for example, or on children’s television programming is played on a digital orchestra. And, increasingly common is the presence of a digital orchestra in film soundtracks, often mixed seamlessly with separate recordings of live musicians. Many musical theater productions also augment their pit orchestras with digital orchestral instruments.

The purpose of this site is to bring together various researchers, musicians, composers and conductors to more easily collaborate on projects that advance the art of digital orchestra music.

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What’s the difference between “Virtual Orchestra” “Digital Orchestra?”

A virtual orchestra is simply another (older) term for digital orchestra. We prefer “digital orchestra” because not all activities in this realm aim to replicate an orchestra, although that is certainly a major part of the current aesthetic movement in digital musical practice. Virtual orchestra could also be some sort of musical ensemble made entirely of traditional performers using no digital technology. A string quartet plus a few wind players could be considered a “virtual orchestra.” So, to be a bit more precise, we use the term “digital orchestra.”

Some historical context

The replication of the orchestra should be thought of here not as verbatim, unthinking copying, but as something more akin to genetic mutation. We want to start with what is arguably one of humanity’s greatest musical accomplishments (the symphony orchestra) and extend it. Spur it forward with as-yet-untapped opportunities digital instruments offer. For example, the loudest sounds (think stadium rock) and the quietest can all be produced in this medium. This range of possibility is only now beginning to be explored in the orchestral medium.

Thus, when understood in the larger context of musical history, digital orchestras are not a radical departure, but simply a next evolutionary step in a 400-year-old process of expanding the palette of instrumental music.

For nearly sixty years this technology has been embraced in new music circles where the inventiveness and imaginations of composers have already gone beyond what traditional orchestras can offer. Now, almost as a “trickle-down” dividend, the descendants of tools and techniques forged in labs and concert halls since 1948 are now being employed in the performance of any instrumental or orchestral music, no matter in what year it’s composer may have died.

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How is it Done?

April 5, 2007 by Paul Henry Smith

Simply put, digital orchestra music is produced on a computer. Like the production of any recorded music, the computer is involved in the mastering and mixing process. But unlike other recordings, the computer is also the instrument on which the music is played.

Sound source material is housed on disks (or generated by the computer) and is organized by performance software. Sequencer software is then used to pull in the right sounds for the particular musical elements called for by the score (or by the musical keyboard or other instrument).

Computing power is now great enough that the real-time selection of a single note from among hundreds of Gigabytes of data is performed within a few miliseconds.

Still, a skilled musician is needed to shape and balance the performance. Purchasing a digital orchestra system no more guarantees musical results than buying a Stradivarius violin. Without the talent, training and sensitivity of performing musicians digital orchestra instruments can sound just as clunky and un-musical as any other instruments — maybe even more so!

Live digital orchestral music is performed by incorporating real-time performance control into the above mix. Companies such as Real Time Music Solutions have been developing this capability for the past 15 years. Researchers also have been actively pursuing projects that interpret and interact with the gestures of performing musicians (particularly conducting gestures). The incorporation of promising research in this area with already well-proven digital music production technology is one of the areas the Digital Orchestra League fosters.