Improvisation as an Evolutionary Force in Laptop Orchestra Culture

Eldad Tsabary


Improvisation has always been at the heart of the laptop ensemble and it constitutes a core force in the evolution of individual laptop orchestras and the art form at large. A drive to innovate artistically, technologically, and collaboratively opens the way for many new modes of improvisation that are unique to the laptop-orchestra (or LOrk) setting, such as improvising with collective instruments, gestural controllers, and live coding. Navigating these novel logistical settings, collaborative forms, technologies, and sonic structures demands rapid, creative responses to emergent possibilities and challenges. Due to their tradition-defying, multidimensional, and hybridic nature at cultural, stylistic, geographical, personal, social, and technological levels, laptop orchestras may be viewed as a matrix of related behaviours and beliefs rather than a definite genre. In this essay I focus on how non-idiomatic improvisation serves as a crucial local and global evolutionary force within LOrk culture by breaking with old patterns to discover new sui generis expressive possibilities and by developing skills that radically expand improvisatory strategies. I also provide a snapshot of current improvisatory practices that are unique or have special implications for laptop orchestras (based on extensive contact and email interviews with laptop orchestra directors and members across various geographical and cultural contexts). Additionally, I offer my own experiences as founder and director of the Concordia Laptop Orchestra (CLOrk).

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Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.
ISSN: 1712-0624