Concerts of the future could look very different than what we're used to, if the latest show at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall is anything to go by.

The Stanford Laptop Orchestra recently put on a musical performance without any musical instruments, but instead used Oculus Rift goggles and Leap Motion controllers to play a new virtual instrument called a Carillon.

The Carillon is a networked virtual reality instrument that brings you inside a massive virtual bell tower. The Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) team designed the Carillon using the Unreal Engine and it is played using hand motions detected by Leap Motion controllers whilst performers wear an Oculus Rift headset.

Members of the orchestra manipulate a set of floating gears through a series of swipes and grabs to create a series of chimes and bells that results in a hauntingly unique sound. Each performer has his own custom-built 6-channel hemispherical speaker that sits at their feet, so sound is generated from each performer's physical location on stage, just like in a traditional orchestra.

The Carillon was created especially for the SLOrk by artists Rob Hamilton and Chris Platz. "The whole idea behind our department is that we want to put technology in the hands of musicians and show composers how they can use technology to further the science and artistry of music," said Rob Hamilton in a Leap Motion blog post.

The emergence of VR is huge for musical computer interfaces and Hamilton believes the next popular musical instrument could be a virtual one. "I think the next saxophone could exist within VR. One thing really exciting about VR is that it takes us from engaging technology on a flat plane, and brings it into three dimensions in a way that we, as humans, are very used to."

Platz is a game designer and created the virtual world that puts each Carillon player on a platform in front of the 200-foot-tall virtual bell tower within reach of a set of rings, which can be manipulated to make sound. Across the network, each performer is working with the same set of rings, so collaboration is needed to create something truly musical, just like in traditional performance.

All the musicians were on stage in Stanford for the May 30 concert, but the networked nature of instruments like the Carillon means that, in theory, artists could collaborate on performances remotely from all around the world.

The designers have made a demo of the Carillon available for anyone who wants to try their hand at the new instrument. If you don't have an Oculus Rift and Leap Motion Controller handy you can just watch the experts at work below. It doesn't match the New York Philharmonic quite yet, but it gives an idea of what is possible and gives an idea of what concerts of the future with improved technology might look like.

The SLOrk is a live performance ensemble created in a course taught every spring quarter at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) by Dr. Ge Wang.

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