Rage Against the Machine: How the NLRB Used Section 8(e) of the National Labor Relations Act to Kill the Virtual Orchestra

June 16, 2012

The Sinfonia is part of a new breed of virtual orchestra instruments designed to faithfully recreate the sound of a traditional full-size orchestra from a single computerized console. Thus far, the technology has been used in over thirty productions across the country, including the national tours of Annie and Miss Saigon, as well as the Cirque du Soleil. Unlike a traditional orchestra, however, which is composed of numerous musicians playing traditional acoustic instruments, the Sinfonia is operated by a single keyboardist who is responsible for playing standard keyboard parts and manipulating pre-recorded orchestral samples in real-time.
Since the Sinfonia’s introduction several years ago, the American Federation of Musicians (“AFM”) has fought vigorously to prevent this technology from being used in musical theatre productions. Union members view the Sinfonia as a threat to professional musicians’ jobs and an illegitimate form of live performance art. At the same time, producers and composers have embraced the unique creative and financial opportunities presented by the instrument.
This Recent Development examines the National Labor Relations Board’s decision in the Realtime charge and argues that the General Counsel erred when he upheld the Regional Director’s decision to sustain the contract between Local 802 and OCB as negotiated.