Moscow Cyber Orchestra Laptop Ensemble

We’re serious when we say laptop performances — the Moscow Laptop Cyber Orchestra (“CybOrk”), influenced by similar groups like Princeton’s PLOrk, uses laptops as instruments, augmented by alternative controllers. Here’s the surprise: when they record it, they intentionally treat it as you would an acoustic ensemble. Photo by Elena Krysanova.

My feature story for Keyboard Magazine on recording live laptop performance is now available online at (as well as in the July print issue). When I got the assignment, I think my editor imagined futuristic, sci-fi like network recording, in which audio was streamed entirely virtually from players to a recording server and musicians connected to one another over the ether. Instead, we got just the opposite: quick and dirty solutions for capturing improvisatory computer performance, and intentional efforts to make laptop performances sound more like conventional instrumental ensembles. The case studies:

  • The Moscow Laptop Cyber Orchestra hosts laptop jam sessions at the conservatory that bears Leon Theremin’s name. Individual speakers, stereo mic — plus groovy visuals in the background.
  • Princeton University’s PLOrk plays with hemispherical speakers so that sound radiates from near the laptop the way it would from a real instrument. Their recording configuration is a little more sophisticated, with not only a stereo pair for the audience but three mics above the stage.
  • Share in New York has the toughest challenge of all: a club environment in which anyone can show up with any gear and play. They combine the tried-and-true (old-fashioned analog snakes on the floor) with software tools for standardization (a template in the open source Linux and Mac DAW Ardour).

Check out the full story for details:

Electronica Unplugged

PLOrk, Princeton's laptop music ensemble

Meet the Orks. Uh-oh. Someone forgot their tux. Conventional instruments and laptops are mixed here intentionally. Photo courtesy Dan Trueman.

One thing we didn’t broach was what to actually play (these ensembles all experiment with everything from alternative controllers to live coding). But the recording question alone turned out to reveal a lot about laptop performance, and how it’s gradually evolving into just music performance.

Also of interest, Craig Anderton talks about the basics of recording your sets live in Ableton Live. The basic idea: record not only the arrangement, but external audio, as well.

This story also turned out to be an interesting demonstration of what can happen when new online sites (like CDM) interface with a traditional outlet (Keyboard, bringing you music making information since 1976). That’s my ultimate hope: that these outlets will make each other better, and each will expand the knowledge of techniques and what (and who) is out there. Less lofty translation: if Keyboard hadn’t asked me to write this up, I might never have gotten around to it, and conversely, if I didn’t have CDM, I would never have hooked up with folks like the Moscow Laptop Cyber Orchestra.

Speaking of which, let us know how you record your sets and even laptop ensembles, and if I missed anything!

Laptop Orchestras Proliferate, from Princeton to Moscow

  • combining the two ideas,in an ableton live setting… if you wanted to, put a stereo mic out in the crowd and record it into muted channels (so as to not get feedback) and then you would have a mixable "soundboard" and "audience" source.


  • I just recently finalized a quad performance system centered on the Buchla 200e and a Lexicon MX400 surround processor, and as part of the system, I wanted to include a 4-channel recorder. I settled on splitting off the outputs from the mixer and sending them to inputs of an old MOTU 828 I had, which is now permanently installed in the rack. A single FireWire cable goes to my MacBook, which is easily fast enough to record 4 channels of digital audio directly to its internal drive. I use MOTU's AudioDesk, which originally came with the 828, to record 4 discrete tracks. It all works very well for me.

  • I didn't know about Share until i read this…now I'm very excited to see it in action

  • One of the biggest problems I have found with the trying to record in the audience and on the board is that you have that slight delay for the sound to get to the microphone, and there is inherently a phase offset on the sound.

    Throwing a single mono mic into the back of the room however is nice for getting the crowd noise into the recording, which IMO adds the depth more then anything to a live recording.

  • carmen

    interesting strategies – streaming PCM over ethernet, or giving each performer a speaker array.

    whatever you do, dont plug a macbook's onboard sound into a mixer. some friends dragged me to Berklee college of music's synthesis department's concert a couple months ago, and.. there were macs plugged right into those 15K bang and olufsen speakers. nothing like hearing CPU noise in grating clarity, replete with 60 db hum. it was really so bad i couldnt believe it – youre spending 30 Grand a year on a degree and you cant spend a hundred on an Echo Indigo IO? totally unreal

  • TokyoJoe


    yes, that is the problem of "ground loop hum" and it can happen when more than one device connects to a common ground through different paths. It`s not the Mac`s fault and can happen even with a good sound card. I use a cheap ground loop isolator when DJ`ing with my Echo DJ. On a large stage DI boxes are probably better.