This is a rare concert in that it probably won’t begin with what has become a common announcement.
“It is the perfect concert for leaving your cellphone on,” said Joel Matthys, founder and director of the Cincinnati Composers Laptop Orchestra Project (CiCLOP), a digital ensemble that will be presenting a free performance Saturday at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
“We really want to use laptops like musical instruments. The keyboard, touchpad and other ordinary parts of a laptop, we want to use those as interfaces to control the music,” he said. “There is no piece in which the player of the laptop is sort of playing notes. Instead we are trying to shape sound.”
The result is often a near-indescribable soundscape constructed from unique sounds created in the laptops.
“It is tricky,” said Matthys, when asked to describe the type of music that emerges from his group’s laptop collaborations. “Free jazz is a pretty good comparison some of the time. We do some improvisational pieces where, instead of improvising on a melody, we’re improvising on sound files. Other pieces are sort of like percussion ensemble pieces. Some of them are sort of amusing. Others have a pretty, pulsating, minimalist feel. Yeah, free jazz is a pretty good description.”
But it is not just random, digital noise. Matthys will be joined by four other laptop artists for Saturday’s concert.
“From the outset, we decided to concentrate on musicianship and trying to make it not just innovative, but also good musically,” Matthys said. “We rehearse a lot and try to focus on the music and not just the technology.”
The concert will be divided into two distinct halves.
“The first 45 or so minutes is a traditional, sit-down concert — a sort of classical concert where all the composers are still alive,” said Paul Poston, director of the Applause Music Festival, which is presenting the performance. “But the second part of the concert is an opportunity for the audience to see what they are doing and how it is happening.”
Matthys said that second part is “more like an installation,” where patrons are welcome to walk around and interact with the laptop players — an environment in which a cellphone going off might fit right in. It is also in this section that the group will improvise a soundtrack to a film.
“I like for there to be something to look at, because looking at someone looking at their laptop is not exactly an exciting dynamic experience,” Matthys said.
He noted that there are at least a dozen laptop orchestras scattered across the country.
Based on experience, he says, he is optimistic about audience reaction.
“Even though it is all kind of unfamiliar and strange, there is something really cool about it,” Matthys said.