ASU's laptop orchestra challenges conventional approach to music

Once considered as alien and high-tech as R2D2, computers are reshaping every of corner of the music industry, and Skrillex and Zedd aren’t the only ones joining the digital wave.

The Laptop orchestra at Arizona State, otherwise known as LORKAS, is the first student-run laptop orchestra in the nation, and it's working to reshape the way people perceive digital music.

Co-director of LORKAS Althea Pergakis said she doesn’t believe digital music should be any less approachable, or taken any less seriously than music made with traditional instruments.

“Computer musicians get a lot of flack, which is like the biggest bulls--t in the world,” she said. “Computer music is a new genre … but it’s already grown and developed so much, and I feel like perhaps we aren’t taken as seriously by the community as a whole, but nothing new is. I think we’re cutting edge.”

Pergakis said she was drawn to digital music because it is such a versatile medium with a wide range of possibilities.

“I think it’s a mistake to assume that because it’s a computer that it's less expressive than anything else,” she said. “It’s just keys.”

Garrett Johnson, LORKAS album producer and member, said the orchestra is unique in that it has a lot of flexibility to produce different sounds and types of music.

“This is sort of a subversion of the assumption that we have about what kind of instruments we use,” he said. “In laptop orchestras there are no assumptions.”

Johnson said music can be made on laptops, iPhones, iPads, Wii remotes and more with digital media. All these tools allow data to be picked up and utilized to make a variety of sounds.

Regardless of what tool is being used, Johnson said making music is still a physical experience for all the performers involved.

“Making music is a profoundly embodied experience, whether you’re singing or playing the drums or playing a laptop, there should still be a relationship between embodiment and the instrument,” he said.

Johnson said using a digital medium allows for flexibility during live performances as well, and the orchestra often uses open scores so they have room to improvise during shows.

“A lot of what goes on behind the scenes is never seen, but I think this is true with absolutely everything,” he said. “The point is to really engage audiences with a performance event they really may not have experienced before.”

Co-director Justin Kennedy said LORKAS has been making efforts to reach out to the community and break down the idea that laptop music is a very niche field.

“The last thing I want is to think that we’re elitist,” he said. “You can have zero experience in technology and join the group. You can also have zero experience in music and join the group.”

Kennedy said he feels music in general should be more approachable, digital included, and that anyone can do it if they put in the effort.

“I think it’s just really important to limit one’s ability to succeed in life. Human beings are capable of so much,” he said. “As an artist you have to just put out of your mind all of the people who have said you can’t.”

LORKAS will be releasing its first album on Dec. 1, and it will have six tracks available digitally and on cassette.

“I like trying things that are new and not knowing if I can succeed or not,” Kennedy said. “I think that’s exciting. I think that’s often times where success comes from.”

Related Link:

Video: Laptop Orchestra- A Sonic Experience

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the name of the club was misstated and it was also misstated the the Laptop Orchestra at Arizona State is the only one of it's kind at ASU. This version of the story has been updated with the correct information. 


Reach the reporter at icastil3@asu.edu or follow @isabella_m_cast on Twitter

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