Virginia Tech professor launches free music-making software inspired by physical distancing

Professor Ivica Ico Bukvic collaborates with three students in the music lab prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Virginia Tech professor has made jamming during a pandemic easier for musicians around the world.

VT’s Ivica Ico Bukvic has created L2Ork Tweeter, a free and open-sourced program designed to unite physically distant communities through the power of music.

The program encourages collaboration among computer music enthusiasts. Anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection can make music through the program, no matter how fast or slow the connection speed, and do so while maintaining sync with each other.

“Music can serve as an essential catalyst in connecting people and have a profound impact on our well-being. This is particularly true during these trying times,” said Bukvic, a School of Performing Arts professor of creative technologies in music and the director of the Creativity+Innovation transdisciplinary community. “The software connects people and provides a platform to express one’s self in front of an audience.”

L2Ork, short for Linux Laptop Orchestra, is a Virginia Tech ensemble that Bukvic founded in 2009 as the world’s first orchestra to create music through Linux, a free and open-source operating system. The ensemble aims to democratize access to music, Bukvic said, and has inspired the creation of similar orchestras across the globe. The ensemble also partners with the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Virginia, and other U.S. organizations, to teach young students about computer music by seamlessly integrating it with STEM topics.

Bukvic developed L2Ork Tweeter this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and Virginia Tech’s transition to online instruction. The software serves as a platform for computer musicians to collaboratively explore the rich variety of sounds generated through the frequency modulation algorithm. It is in part envisioned to serve as the foundation for online and hybrid instruction that may prove necessary this fall, as well as a means of connecting communities within and outside Virginia Tech.

L2Ork Tweeter presents each user or performer with an instrument consisting of a synthesizer and a tracker. The program supports up to 10 performers at a time and as many audience members as bandwidth allows. As a result, Tweeter can serve as a tool for jamming, improvisation, composition, rehearsal, or even online performances in front of live audiences.

While Tweeter’s primary focus is on collaboration, based on the user feedback, it also offers a DJ-like feature where a single user can build complex musical structures offline by switching among and controlling all 10 instruments.

“Orchestras are as tightly coordinated as a football team and feature the same kind of camaraderie. At the same time, not all of us are great at being quarterbacks. We’re great at doing other things. This is one of those other things,” said Bukvic. “Using Tweeter, aspiring musicians and professionals alike from all over the world can make incredible music together.”

After the software’s initial launch, Bukvic added, some of the first Virginia Tech graduates to participate in L2Ork over a decade ago joined the inaugural jam session.

“While developing Tweeter, I reached out to alumni to ask whether they wanted to help me test it out,” said Bukvic. “It resulted in an opportunity for graduates to connect with old friends, meet current members of the L2Ork ensemble, and make music together.”

— Written by Andrew Adkins­