March 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Play Music in Real Museum, See Why Google Web Lab Won SXSW Award

google weblab universal orchestra sxsw 2013

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 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).

Adam 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.

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(via Thomas Van Buskirk)

Updated: This article originally referred to Adam Florin as “Aaron Florin.”

  • BunnyProle(Mr.S)

    I spent about thirty minutes on this and, to be quite honest, I have no
    idea what the big deal is. All of this stuff has been done before, maybe
    not open to anyone but done nonetheless. I realize this is maybe just a
    proof of concept. But this concept has already been proven. And even as
    proof of concept, it’s a really limited set of examples. The Universal
    “Orchestra” got really boring after about five minutes. Teleporter
    reminded me of a really simplistic version of old 3d views of distant
    places stored online and live webcams in public places from twelve years
    ago. The Sketchbots were mildly amusing to look at for about a minute
    or so. The only thing that was any fun at all really was the Data
    Tracker, mainly because I was curious where photos I’ve uploaded to
    various sites wound up being stored and because, well, it was pretty.

    I’d really like to see someone actually do something real
    with this kind of stuff instead of just making really pretty,
    time-wasting internet toys. And it did nothing to change my opinion of