In preparation for our next Provisions session on Tuesday, November 19th, at 12pm in Standish A/B, here is a look at some innovations in teaching digital composing in regards to music, art, and writing.

Digital Composition – Music

In “Composers and Computers Work in Harmony at Georgia Tech’s Music Center,” Eric Kelderman talks about the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Music Technology, which opened in November of 2008. There, composers, computer programmers, and engineers are collaborating on projects to “change how performers and audiences use technology to make and experience music.”

According to the center’s web site, “the center’s goal is to foster as significant a shift in music composition and performance as happened when the piano replaced the more limited harpsichord in the 18th century… [where] an endeavor of this sort in our time demands an interdisciplinary technological approach, cutting across such fields as engineering, computation, material science, design, and music, all the while keeping a sharp focus on aesthetics.”

Kelderman quotes Lawrence Fritts, associate professor of music composition and theory at the University of Iowa, who points out that electronic music has not thrived in the academic setting, “in part because classically trained performers are required to focus almost exclusively on repertoire from the 18th and 19th centuries,” where professors often “see new music as the refuge for persons who can’t play Beethoven.”  Faculty members and students at Georgia Tech’s center, however, don’t seek to change the attitudes of music faculty members so much as they “seek to lure professional, student, and amateur performers, as well as audience members, with the latest in interactive technology.”

Kelderman writes that instead of creating new compositions with a predetermined set of synthesized sounds, the common format for most electronic music, the center is focusing on technology that responds in real time to performers or audience members. Here are some examples of the work that that center is doing that Kelderman discusses in his article:

  • In one of his Atlanta classrooms, Mr. Weinberg and two students sit down to jam with two robots. One of the mechanical musicians plays drums, and another, complete with a head displayed on an Apple computer screen, plays marimba. Both of the nonhumans listen and respond independently using statistical modeling to determine tempos, rhythms, and, in the case of the marimba, key signatures and harmonies.
  • Even if you don’t play any instrument, you can download the ZooZBeat software that Mr. Weinberg and some students have developed for the iPhone. The program allows cellphone users to create music using a preset group of instruments and determine rhythms and pitches by shaking or tilting the phone. Users can also record other sounds, like their voices, to add to the mix, and can share the music making with others.
  • Others at Georgia Tech are developing technologies that could change the way musicians learn. Kevin Huang, studying for a master’s degree in computer science, has created a prototype glove outfitted with standard cellphone buzzers that can be programmed to signal, with vibrations, which fingers to use while playing a piano piece.
  • Jason Freeman, assistant professor of music, is developing ways to engage people who may not be attending concerts because they’re bored by sitting quietly in their seats. For one installation piece, called Flock, audience members put on baseball caps with small battery-operated lights on top as they enter the performance hall. A camera tracks their movements and a computer generates sounds that are broadcast into the space. Mr. Freeman calls the piece a cross between “a game, a dance, a club, and a concert.”

The important thing that Kelderman notes is the commercial possibilities of the center’s projects, which is “an almost unheard-of attitude at most music schools.”

Digital Composition – Writing

Digital Is: Interdisciplinary Writing Resources,” by Chad Sansing, discusses what he calls “one of the most exciting initiatives” of the National Writing Project (NWP): Digital Is, “a collection of resources, reflections, and stories about what it means to teach writing in our digital, interconnected world.”

According to Sansing, Digital Is simultaneously “facilitates and archives the work of educators who are expanding our notion of composition” in both public schools and for teaching digital rhetoric and composition at the college and university level. Sansing also points out that users (teachers or students) can find “curated collections, as well as individual resources, on topics ranging from crafting new texts to using digital tools for change to curating our online identities.”

The goal of the NWP is to facilitate teacher inquiry projects in writing instruction so that “the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators” is focused “on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.”  Sansing comments that regardless of discipline, readers should delve into both the NWP and Digital Is, where you can find a “vibrant community of practitioners helping students to find their voices across media for authentic purposes and audiences.”

Another interesting project is Digital Writing Month (DigiWriMo), and in “10 Reasons You Should Do Digital Writing Month,” the Hybrid Pedagogy team discusses what the project is and why you should participate.  According to the team, this “MOOCish, course-like thing asks participants to write 50,000 words during the 30 days of November,” and “promises to be a wild exploration of how learning and writing happen online,” bringing together teachers and students  of all levels.

Here are the top 10 reasons why the Hybrid Pedagogy team feels you absolutely, without a doubt, should participate in the event:

  • Because no one has yet tapped the full potential of digital writing, and this is your chance to discover a vast wellspring of virtual creativity.
  • You’re uncertain you’ll succeed.
  • Someone out there hasn’t already said what you want to say.
  • This whole thing seems undignified, not something in which serious academics should participate.
  • You love to write.
  • There’s an audience that wants to hear what you have to say.
  • The free market of ideas depends on fierce competition… and also collaboration.
  • The computer has you in its clutches.
  • Because friends don’t let friends write alone.
  • Digital writing is never finished.

Digital Composition – Art

Where High Tech Meets High Concept,” by Peter Monaghan, looks into the way a digital-arts center at the U. of Washington is exploring the aesthetics of technology.  In his article, Monaghan describes the high-tech qualities typical of the art that Mr. Brixey and his colleagues produce, teach, and study at the University of Washington’s Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media.

Paraphrasing Mr. Brixley, Monaghan writes that “with the advent of new technologies — ones based on computers and the Internet, and many others that draw from fields of scientific discovery and insight — new dimensions are opening up that lend themselves to representation beyond two- or even three-dimensional art.”

The center Mr. Brixley leads goes by the abbreviation DXArts, and is arguably the most innovative workshop of its kind: “It engages in experimental arts that include digital media, computer animation, computer music, and sound art, and many novel combinations of those already esoteric fields. It also deals in the artistic uses and implications of “telematics” — the blending of communications devices — and “mechatronics” — the intersections of mechanical, electronic, and software engineering, applied to the design of automatons and other hybrid systems.”

Apparently, the center is the only one in the country that offers a doctoral program in digital and experimental art, offering a challenging, five-year undergraduate major with prerequisites in such subjects as art and music history, physics, algebra, and computer programming. Having completed those, “each year about 125 undergraduates proceed to the center’s own pre-major classes in the history of digital and other experimental arts.”  At this point, Monaghan notes that students are able to qualify for 18 majors, including engineering, mathematics, and the comparative history of ideas, and where about 35 students each year then go on to the second of the center’s own prerequisite courses, a “digital-arts boot camp” that teaches hands-on lessons in how to use a wide range of equipment and computer programs.

Click here to view a list of 2013’s technology innovators, as submitted by readers, to browse through many other innovations of technology in teaching.

Don’t forget to come by next Tuesday to listen to our three presenters on the topic of Teaching with Technology: Digital Composing: Sean McCLowry, Assistant Professor of Music Industry, Elizabeth Richards, Visiting Instructor of Communications, and Robert O’Neil, Assistant Professor of Art.


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