Boulder Laptop Orchestra performs space-themed music at Fiske

The Boulder Laptop Orchestra (aka BLOrk) plays music inspired by the many rich and weird sounds derived from the cosmos at the Fiske Planetarium. April 20, 2019 (Kevin Wu / CU Independent)

CU’s Boulder Laptop Orchestra (BLOrk) presented an evening of songs inspired by the “sounds of space” Saturday in Fiske Planetarium. The medley of space-inspired hits were accompanied by stunning visuals at Fiske Planetarium.

It is fitting that the Boulder Laptop Orchestra would give a cosmically inspired performance given the group’s emphasis on the relationship between music and technology. Founded in 2012 by Associate Professor John Gunther, BLOrk was the second laptop orchestra to be formed in the United States. The ensemble innovatively combines technology and improvisation through physical components such as hemispherical speakers and specialized software.

The scene was effectively set for an evening of space-themed entertainment as audience members entered the room. A flight attendant’s voice played over the speakers, announcing final boarding calls for voyages to locations such as Europa and the Andromeda Galaxy. Passengers were warned that they must be approved for “cryo-sleep.” The planetarium’s domed screen showed a rocket docked and ready to launch.

A small stage was outfitted with a variety of traditional instruments as well as the characteristic laptops. The BLOrk members took the stage, dressed all in black with some whimsical touches, including neon green sunglasses and a backwards-facing mask that bobbed its “face” toward the audience. Sheet music was read by the light of headlamps as the room dimmed to accentuate the accompanying visuals.

BLOrk’s music pairs well with the visuals at Fiske Auditorium. April 20, 2019 (Kevin Wu / CU Independent)

The show began with a bang as a countdown started and ultimately culminated in the on-screen rocket launching into the sky above. The screen was engulfed in smoke before transitioning to an image of earth as seen from space. The music started on a spiritual note, with vibrational throat singing combined with a voice-over reading from Genesis. The words “let there be light” were spoken as the image of earth slowly turned on its axis, which provided a powerful reflective moment.

The evening continued with a blend of stunning imagery and songs by various artists including Sun Ra, David Bowie and the Flaming Lips. BLOrk combined traditional instruments with electronic components, including a vocoder and MIDI keyboard, to provide unique sound effects that enhanced the evening’s cosmic theme.

The visuals and music blended seamlessly and sometimes literally, as in the group’s take on “Fly Me to the Moon.” Images of the moon from a distance zoomed to close-ups of its surface as the audience was serenaded by a robotic voice directly transformed by the vocoder. The musicianship was impressive throughout the evening, particularly in the group’s ability to blend a variety of unique sounds into one cohesive performance. The electronic effects were occasionally hampered by brief technical difficulties, but these moments were overshadowed by an otherwise smooth and enjoyable performance.

BLOrk is open to CU students, both music majors and non-majors, and is offered each fall and spring as the Electronic Music Ensemble.

Contact CUI Arts Writer Devan Daly at kada7619@colorado.edu.

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