Times' Square Features Virtual Orchestra

Strike up the computer and the let the New Year’s Eve music begin

All eyes will be on New York's Times Square as the clock ticks toward midnight, and all ears will be on the orchestra. The sounds of music will come from all over the world, but you won’t be able to watch the drummer or the violinist because this is a "virtual orchestra’.

It’s almost the year 2000 so who needs a real orchestra when you can have a computer-generated musical program. The virtual orchestra was developed specifically for New Year’s Eve and will make its debut in Times Square. It’s a performance designed to show how music has progressed over the years.

The conductor of the "virtual orchestra" will be Baltimore’s Forrest Tobey he will lead his imaginary musicians with two infrared batons. There will be the sounds from around the world; bells from Bali, drums from Africa and an aboriginal didgeridoo.

Tobey’s batons will direct a beam of infrared light to a computerized receiver. The computer then senses the batons’ positions and velocity as they move through the air and those movements are translated into instructions for a synthesizer. Downward strokes summon music from a marimba. A move to the side will produce ringing of bells. Other waves and gestures made with the baton will bring up sounds ranging from classical instruments to a "space flute".

While the music is coming from a computer Tobey doesn’t want it to sound like an electrical instrument, he wants it to be new and upbeat. The computer software system produces sounds like those of violins and marimbas, East Indian clay pipes, and flutes. They sound real, but they are all made on computer program.

The virtual orchestra will be a part of the 24-hour long party in Times Square. The festivities start around 5:30 am on December 31 and will run well into January 1. People taking part in the celebration will be able to watch Tobey conduct his virtual orchestra on huge video screens. There will also be video of New Year’s Eve being celebrated around the world and in distant lands. <