Swarms is an improvisation for solo trumpet and laptop orchestra that exploits the webcam as an intuitive and transparent interface for laptop performance. Wireless networking also performs an important role in providing global control over the improvisation in a manner inconceivable with an acoustic ensemble.
The musical starting point for the piece is the personal improvisational style of soloist Matthew Postle. A large bank of pre-recorded samples of his playing forms a rich sonic palette from which the ensemble constructs a dense accompaniment supporting the soloist. Video tracking of the laptop performers’ hand movements translates physical gestures into musical gestures.
The ensemble is steered by a director, who has macro-level control from a central computer. The parameters controlling the translation of physical movement into musical sound are controlled at this central server computer so as to limit the possibilities available to the ensemble at any one time. The director may also directly communicate with the ensemble during the performance via short text messages.
Swarms has no fixed duration, although previous performances have been around 10 minutes in length. Performances of several times this length are discouraged, but ultimately decisions about length should be made by the soloist and the laptop orchestra director according to their judgement and the context in which the performance is taking place.