The Telephone Game : Oil/Water/Ether

a piece for and by the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk)
overseen and enabled by Dan Trueman


"The Telephone Game: Oil/Water/Ether" is a 2007 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc.,  for  Networked_Music_Review
It was made possible with funding from the New York State Music Fund,
established by the New York State Attorney general at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Introduction : The Heart of the Instrument : Being Neighborly : The Telephone Game : Documentation

Back to Turbulence

Introduction :

"The Telephone Game: Oil/Water/Ether," for the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), is an exploration of a real-time collaborative composition local network. All the performers have identical performance/composition programs -- a custom flexible step-sequencer -- that invite play with rhythmic cycles of various lengths and timbres. The real fun starts, however, when the players begin spying on their neighbors, secretly, via the network, and stealing their ideas with the click of the mouse. Unplanned structures begin to emerge, like oil on water, as riffs propagate and evolve, sometimes returning unrecognizable to their creators.


The Heart of the Instrument :

At the center of the instrument that all the players play is a simple step sequencer which allows the player to control pitch cycles and accent cycles (with independent lengths, enabling the pitch and accent cycles to phase with one another):

The fundamental pulse that drives these cycles comes from a single server machine over a wireless network, enabling all the players to maintain a synchronized pulse (the pulse moves from left to right across the two windows). They can also control the envelope on their synthesize sound (sample libraries are also available to them) and send text messages to all the other players.


Being Neighborly :

Each players sets an alias, which is broadcast over the network so everyone can see who is on board. The fun starts when the players begin spying on one another and stealing the state of their neighbor's instrument:

As with the telephone game, stealing is never perfect, and so the message always comes through a bit incomplete.


about The Telephone Game : Oil/Water/Ether

For this particular piece, we agreed upon a variety of strategies to organize as a group. First off, here is how PLOrk sits (on colorful pillows):

Within these groups, we divide as follows:

Bass Group: 1/3/7/9 (with subwoofers)
Drum Group: 2/4/5/6/8 (non-subwoofer outer ring)
Piano Group: a/b/c/d
Melody Group: x/y

Each player sets their alias to their position and chooses a neighbor one lower within their group. For example: 3 chooses 1, 7 chooses 3; b chooses a; 2 chooses 8 (since 2 is lowest, we wrap around); y chooses x; x chooses y, etc….

We work with the following Guiding Principles, initiated by anyone in the group or by the Supreme Operator (that would be dan):

wait for a change in your neighbor;
endeavor to copy their settings;

Work to coalesce as a section into a single musical idea.
You can use text messaging in an effort to do so, though you will also see messages from other groups; confusion is likely, so text message carefully.

Venture off from your section, exploring ideas you find individually interesting, while taking care to attend to what your own group and the other groups are doing.

Do nothing.
Wait for instructions.

Do something wacky and different to provoke the rest of the group
And then respond to the provocations you hear

This is as close to a "score" we have. The piece begins by everyone choosing a preset (created by Dan or members of PLOrk) as an initial condition, and then choosing a principle (perhaps instructed by Dan, or decided on beforehand as a group) to begin with.


In Action : some recordings

We have made multichannel recordings of two versions of this piece. While we have stereo mixes of these recordings, the 5.1 multichannel recordings allow the listener to sit inside the ensemble and here how things develop in an immersive fashion. If you have access to a 5.1 system, try downloading one of the 5.1 format files linked here. Otherwise, we have stereo mixes prepared as well.

Telephone Game, version 1:

5.1 AAC format (20.4mb)
5.1 Dolby (48.8mb)
5.1 Quicktime (20.4mb)
5.1 AIFF (692.2mb)
Stereo mp3 (20.7mb)
Stereo AIFF (228.7mb)

Telephone Game, version 2:

5.1 AAC format (17.9mb)
5.1 Dolby (41.8mb)
5.1 Quicktime (13.2mb)
5.1 AIFF (592.3mb)
Stereo mp3 (17.9mb)
Stereo AIFF (197.4mb)

And if you haven't seen PLOrk before, visit the PLOrk website. Here are a couple pics PLOrk in action:

PLOrk in Spring 2008 is:

Dan Trueman
Perry Cook
Rebecca Fiebrink
Seth Cluett
Kevin Chou
Harrison Frye
Max Mamon
Raymond Weitekamp
Brenda Jin
Kathleen Sun
Glenn Snyders
Sam Leachman
Adam Fox
Stephanie Chen
Stephanie Tzeng
Andrew Schran
Ben Wasserman
John Fontein
Yuhwon Lee
Thomas Lieber
Kyle Supee
David Zaslavsky
Michael Hammond


plork | soundlab | cs | music