Ensemble at the University of York (Andrew Cleaton)

The room is dark. A group of shadowy figures huddle around the glow of a computer monitor. Two of their number raise Xbox controllers and silence falls. At a predetermined signal, the opening other-worldly strains of the choral theme to “Halo” permeate the room.

But this is no computer-gaming contest – it’s a musical recital and the performers are students on the BSc Music Technology course at the University of York. They’re using Xbox controllers, not to play a game but to play the music! Each controller device is hooked up to the Apollo Ensemble system and is being used to trigger and shape the sung sounds of a vocal synthesiser in real time.

It might seem frivolous but there’s a serious, audio engineering purpose behind the event, the culmination of a good deal of work on an assessed module of the course. It’s the second year that the Ensemble technology has been part of the course and this year we’ve been invited along to witness the final performances, chat to the students and hand out prizes for the best performances! You can read about the course in the interview with Prof David Howard and Dr Andy Hunt at:


The students surpass themselves this year and the pieces range from dark and mysterious to overtly light-hearted and theatrical. There’s a curious rendition of “Happy Birthday”, Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” as you’ve never heard it before and an exploration of vowel sounds that is vaguely reminiscent of Tibetan Throat Singing. However, they all demonstrate an obvious passion for the creative process and a desire to push the technology as far as it will go.

Student comments about Apollo Ensemble:

“Really good fun.”

“Easy to use – pretty straightforward and obvious.”

“The Ensemble Designer software is very straightforward and intuitive.”

“It was really simple to hook up to third party software.”

“Being able to use the Xbox controller is great because it puts so much real time control right under your fingers.”

You can listen to the students work in the player below.

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