The Laptop Orchestra as Remix Engine

A piece by Ethan Hein


Friends who have attended creative-writing MFA programs have said the best thing about them is simply the unadulterated time during which to write. Friends who have done advanced programs in musical composition have stated even more practical concerns: That thesis or dissertation project may be the last time they’d ever hear their music performed by an actual orchestra (or chamber group, or chorus — insert your dream ensemble here).

Ethan Hein, a prolific writer on the intersection of music theory and sampling, among other subjects, expressed that sort of pleasure when he posted his “Divergence/Convergence Remix,” a rapturously chaotic mix of chance sonic encounters and hip-hop”“derived syncopation. Hein writes of it:

My first legitimate composition to be performed by someone other than me. I was asked by Daphna Naphtali to write it for the NYU Laptop Orchestra. You can read about the process of writing the piece and see the score here:

The recording is the debut performance of Divergence/Convergence at NYU. While I was asked not to include dance beats in the piece, there was nothing stopping me from adding them to the version I posted here. I feel like they really tie the whole thing together.

There’s a more in-depth piece at in which he tracks his interest in the laptop orchestra, debates the aesthetics of classical music from John Cage to John Cleese, considers the role of pleasure in art, and then shares the rule set at the heart of “Divergence/Convergence”:

Each performer loads a short, shared sample. It should have a distinct attack and decay, for example a bell or gong. It can be pitched or unpitched, musical or unmusical.

Each performer triggers the sample repeatedly, either as a steady loop or at any arbitrary time interval.

After a few repetitions, each performer manipulates the sample as they see fit, via pitch shifting, time stretching, filtering, or other effects. Transformations should be gradual and clearly perceptible.

Once the entire ensemble is playing altered versions of the sample, the performers begin to undo their manipulations, preferably in the reverse order that they were originally applied.

When all performers have resumed playing back the original sample, the piece ends.

Track originally posted for free download at More from Hein at (Full disclosure: while writing about his piece, Hein refers to the Disquiet Junto as “the internet’s most happening electronic music collective,” which means a lot to me.)

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