This morning, I composed and played music with someone in Spain and some people standing around in a museum in London. You can do it too, for free, right now, as soon as you're done with reading all the new articles on Evolver.fm. All you need is the Google Chrome web browser, a few minutes, and at least some small capacity for joy.
Universal Orchestra is part of Chrome Web Lab, which won top honors at SXSW Interactive in the Experimental" category earlier this week. As its name suggests, Chrome Web Lab is a bunch of online web experiments funded by Google to prove how much better its browser is than Internet Explorer, FireFox, and Safari. That doesn't mean it's not also incredibly cool (see also this 3D video, that awesome Arcade Fire thing, and that awesome Beck thing).
Aaron Florin spent the better part of last year" working on Universal Orchestra, one of five experiments in the Chrome Weblab suite. In a Wednesday post, he expounded on how the whole thing works, offering fresh insight into the inner workings of this online/offline crowdsourced orchestra:
You play on a festive traditional step sequencer, with some interaction cues for the special demands of global, collaborative performance. When you change a note online, that information needs to make a round trip to the museum and back—which could be more than a sixteenth note away, in geo-rhythmic space. To visualize this latency, we imbued the notes (or blobs") with an elasticity—so that, the slower your network connection, the more viscous the movement of the note.
It works. It rules. And it's live in London until at least July 2013.
To play Universal Orchestra right now, point your Google Chrome web browser here, and decide whether you want to play the virtual or real versions of the instruments. You want to play the real versions, of course. Then you'll hop into a queue for your chosen instrument — this morning, the wait was only about a minute.
The machine will assign you a color for your blobs. Your blobs are your notes. You can drop them wherever you want, and then listen as your contribution resonates in real life in London, as you listen from the comfort of wherever you are.
We don't care that these things are all about Google trying to market its web browser. It doesn't matter as much why Universal Orchestra exists as that it is awesome, and well-deserving of the award it took home at SXSW this week.