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CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — A two-week series of performances, workshops and lectures will explore the connections between art and science to celebrate the history of experimental music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The series of events will feature George A. Miller composer, performer and visiting teacher David Rosenboom, who studied at the U. of I. School of Music in the 1960s.

“Experimental Arts and Sciences at UIUC” runs from October 3-14 and is organized by the School of Music.

Anastasia Chernysheva, a doctoral student in history, organized the series of events. Her thesis research examines the history of the use of brain data for musical performance and related explorations in experimental aesthetics. Chernysheva said she was inspired by her research into experimental music at the U. of I. to rekindle the spirit of unbridled collaboration between disciplines embodied by the Festival of Contemporary Arts that U. of I. hosted from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. She also wanted to offer an interdisciplinary event to connect scholars interested in the intersections of art and science.

“I think it’s helpful to encourage more people to go into unfamiliar areas and explore,” she said.

David Rosenboum

Photo by Rafael Hernández

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Rosenboom — professor of music composition at the California Institute of the Arts, where he served as dean for 30 years — will deliver MillerComm’s keynote lecture, “Neuromusic – Propositions from an Art-Science Convergence,” on October 3.

Rosenboom is known as a pioneer of experimental music. He was a music student at the U. of I. at a time of great creativity and innovation.

“The creative environment at the time at the School of Music was phenomenal. It was one of the few major centers in the world where this type of exploration was really taking off,” Rosenboom said.

He worked with Lejaren Hiller, among others, who programmed the first piece of computer-produced music, “Illiac Suite”, and studied composition with Salvatore Martirano, another of the first composers to use computer technology for composition and the inventor of two electronic musics. Hiller founded Experimental Music Studios in 1958, one of the first electroacoustic music studios in the United States.

“When it was founded, it was an incredibly experimental thing to do to use a computer to make music. Today computers do almost everything, but the spirit of experimentation remains,” said Eli Fieldsteel , director of Experimental Music Studios and professor of composition theory.

Rosenboom became interested in what he now calls propositional music – using compositional modeling as a conceptual framework for exploring new ideas through music – as well as interactive performance. He was an early experimenter in integrating brain biofeedback with music technology, and he co-developed a computer musical instrument and wrote software for experimental music.

His Brainwave Music uses neurofeedback during live performances with electronic music systems. Participants’ brainwave activity is monitored by an electroencephalogram. Software analyzes changes in the frequency spectrum of the brain, and the music played by an electronic system changes in response. Brain activity then responds to changes in the music.

“The changes reflect shifting states of mind and shifting attention as the soundscape becomes richer and more complex, and (participants) respond to that complexity,” Rosenboom said.

He will perform a piece of brainwave music on October 13 with two participants connected to an EEG. Rosenboom will join the performance playing an electric violin. The concert will open and close with a brass quintet, as well as an electric rhythm section and a singer-speaker during the final piece. Rosenboom will perform several solo pieces on a computer-interface piano. Ben Grosser, professor of new media and co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, designed an interactive video projection to accompany the music. Grosser also studied composition with Martirano in the 1990s, and he will participate in a panel discussion with Rosenboom on Martirano’s legacy.

Rosenboom will be part of a workshop and demonstration on October 14 with Mattia Gazzola, professor of mechanical sciences and engineering and co-director of the Mind In Vitro project. The project envisions computer systems built from living neurons that will be able to sense and interact with their environment.

The demonstration will record the signals from cultures of live neurons and link the data to a computer musical instrument, then determine if the sound produced stimulates a reaction from the neurons, producing a new biofeedback system.

“We’re demonstrating that we can make that connection like we do with EEGs from interpreters, and experimenting by doing that with live cultures outside of the brain, which is phenomenal,” Rosenboom said.

Other events include a demonstration of the SalMar construction, the electronic instrument invented by Martirano; a discussion of sonification or the mapping of data to sound; guest lectures and workshops with students from the music school’s experimental music studios, Electric Strings program, and improvisation and composition groups; and a guest lecture in a computer music class at a library school.

“We’re going to cover a lot of territory at these events. We’ll talk about where these unique art-science explorations came from, share ideas, and try things never done before,” Rosenboom said. “I hope people come back with lots of questions and lots of excitement and inspiration and discoveries of their own. Maybe being confronted with unusual ways of thinking about things that they may not have – not being encountered before will be something that will inspire them in their own work.


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