'Art-Meets-Computing' Projects Performed and Demonstrated by UCSD Undergrads

6.17.2005 – Undergraduates in UCSD’s Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM), in recent years among the fastest growing majors on campus, performed and presented their work in two year-end sessions held earlier this month. ICAM is the curricular complement to research conducted in the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA), which will be housed entirely in the new Calit2 building at UCSD. This article highlights a few of the projects presented at the two events.

Among the core visions for the ICAM major is to prepare undergraduates in the arts for further study in interdisciplinary research environments,” says Brett Stalbaum, who oversees the ICAM major. “ICAM graduates have a good background in computer science and math, and in fact are often double majors or minors in other disciplines, which is something we strongly encourage. Not only are our graduates being accepted to graduate school at some of the finest arts programs worldwide, but they are going to work in research environments. So, they graduate able to work productively in the types of emerging interdisciplinary research labs coming online today and contribute the perspective that contemporary artists bring to bear on a problem.”

The events that ICAM holds are designed to demonstrate, to the campus community and the public, this potential that these students have.

Carol Hobson
Carol Hobson, Center for Research
in Computing and the Arts, UCSD
Group photo
Brett Stalbaum (left), ICAM coodinator, Joey Hammer (blue shirt), ICAM student, and
Peter Otto (far back), Music department

The first event, ICAM.timecode, held June 1, featured performances and screenings of seven projects by students working in time-based media. The artist introduced his/her piece, it was screened or performed, then the audience had a chance for Q&A with the artist and advisors to the ICAM major program. This was the 2nd annual such event.

Christina Kelly’s work, “The Nobodies,” was a stop-motion animation based on Kafka’s short story titled “Excursion in the Forest .” It featured one character that was at once lonely but, in interaction with a host of others, playful. This attendee found the piece quite compelling.

Kelsey Senica
Kelsey Senica, ICAM student
Manovich, Jenik, and Rao
Lev Manovich, Adriene Jenik
(both of Visual Arts), and Ramesh Rao
(UCSD division director, Calit2)
Andrew Collins
Andrew Collins, ICAM student and
Calit2 undergraduate summer research scholar working
with Adriene Jenik, Visual Arts (see photo above)

Patrick Ryan presented a portion of his audio piece “Sublime Reality,” a 25-minute piece in four movements: beauty, destruction, sorrow, and reality. Peter Otto, audio advisor to many of the projects and production manager of the event, placed this project in a larger context: “This work uses a microphone, like a camera, to create an immersive environment. Since we’re such a visual culture, this type of work, without the visual cues, piques the imagination and the senses in unusual ways.”

Shane Hazelton and Stephan Vankov presented an electronic music improvisation jamming with computers. Said Hazelton, “We learned a lot about confidence and risk taking in this project. At first we wanted total control, which we thought would give us the courage to do random experiments. But you’ll notice the sync got messed up at times during our performance, which caused us to have to compensate. We found that, when we were not worried about messing up, we tended to take greater risks. In fact, we’ve only played together a half dozen times…”

Hazelton participated in another work, in collaboration with James Lin, Christina Lee, and Mike Rossmassler, called “Oddition,” a 3-D environment featuring “B grade” video characters “warming up” to audition for roles in a prospective video game.  The characters, seen outside the context of the game, seem quite odd and often funny.

The second event, The Best of ICAM, which took place a week later, featured professional presentations and performances of the best of ICAM research by seniors graduating in the major.

Rick Herrmann presented “VS1,” an interactive virtual environment in which objects and sounds react to data sent from a MIDI keyboard that he played. It was written in MAX/MSP/Jitter, and the content was created in Photoshop and 3D Studio.

Aaron Blomberg showed a video of an installation piece done in May, titled “Untitled; Hexadecimal Miscommunication” consisting of an 8’ cube with 17 computers and monitors. The video showed a quick series of still images of students apparently setting up the installation overlaid with other imagery presented on the monitors reflecting Blomberg’s view that humans no longer live in an organic environment but rather as human-cyborgs co-existing with technology. The human element was represented by the speakers, friends of Blomberg’s videotaped for this purpose, who appeared on monitors forming the shape of a “crucifix.” The other monitors showed imagery drawn from the Internet, representing the technology component.

“My piece is about the death of humanity and language due to technology,” said Blomberg. “All we are is hexadecimal information in a digital world.”

Kelsey Senica presented work on binaural technology, for example, studying a sound source moving around a stationary listener and a listener moving around a stationary sound source. She said this work is relevant to sound in virtual-reality environments, teleconferencing, and training simulations, and can be used to provide location-specific information in data-rich environments such as those experienced by astronauts and pilots.  Her objective was to learn about methods of collecting binaural data sets and comparing types of parameters to optimize the accuracy of the recordings.

Said Otto about the work, “This project represents the ‘sweet spot’ between making art and music on the one hand and doing research on the other. This work is fundamental in that Kelsey tried to develop a methodology to obtain good data to guide future research.”

These events were co-hosted by CRCA and departments of Visual Arts and Music.

Special thanks go to Brett Stalbaum, who oversees the ICAM major; Carol Hobson and Todd Margolis, CRCA; Peter Otto, CRCA and the Music department; and Steve Fagin and John Fonville, chairs of the Visual Arts and Music departments, respectively, for the success of these events.