Drexel’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies Center received a $75,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation April 29. ExCITe’s proposal, an initiative to engage people in the arts by creating media technology such as visuals and mobile apps to integrate into live concerts, was an entry in the 2013 Knight Arts Challenge.
Three initiatives of the proposal focus on the creation of music technology and engaging audiences, including a hack-a-thon, a musician residency program and a series of live concerts. The new residency program will bring local artists to campus to create new works with ExCITe, while the hack-a-thon will develop innovations in media technology.
“We are trying to highlight the great virtues of music technology and how intersecting the two can do so many things. For one, it can lead to more interesting and expressive performances, and it can help engage audiences in something that they might not be that familiar with, like jazz or classical or even some genres of pop. And then, we’re really just trying to get the community involved in music making,” Youngmoo Kim, director of the ExCITe Center, said.
The first of ExCITe’s concert series, “The Science of Jazz,” took place April 23 during the Philadelphia Science Festival. The set utilized a smartphone application that would allow users to change the image displayed on screens behind the musicians. However, the app serves as more than just aesthetic appeal, as it also lets users see some of the physical aspects of the music such as frequency, wavelength, harmony and timbre.
The next part of ExCITe’s initiative takes place May 18 and 19 during Music Hack Day, when programmers, designers and artists will work together to create everything from instruments and art to hardware and apps to benefit the future of music. The event will be sponsored by big names in music like Spotify and SoundCloud. Music Hack Day is free for students to register online at philly.musichackday.org. There will also be a demonstration session May 19 for students to see the hackers’ creations.
“This initiative is really just showing some of the possibilities when you cross music and technology. People think that these are different things, but historically, music and technology have been symbiotic. Innovation in music drives through technology,” Kim said.
Kim cited the modern piano we use today, created over hundreds of years of technical innovations, as proof that musical technology is constantly developing. Further evidence of this innovation was showcased at the “Science of Jazz” concert with a magnetic resonator piano. Using electromagnets, the performer can create unique sounds and continuously shape each note.
Kim was involved in another project funded by the Knight Foundation in 2011, a collaborative effort with the Philadelphia Orchestra to create iNotes, an iPhone app that provides real-time notes about orchestral pieces, which appear on your mobile device during the live performance.
Like iNotes, Kim says that this year’s proposal is another initiative to engage audiences who may not be familiar with a genre of music. “Everyone loves music, but not everyone has learned an instrument or feels comfortable doing that. So we, through this project and others, have tried to develop ways that people can be musically expressive without necessarily having years of training,” Kim said.
One of the requirements of the Knight Arts Challenge is that the proposal must take place in and benefit Philadelphia in some way. This fits in with the purpose of the ExCITe Center, as its self-declared mission is to serve as a space for creative people who want to work together on innovative projects benefiting the Philadelphia region and beyond.
“In Philadelphia specifically, we focus on the arts, arts and culture and on digital access and literacy. We look for programs that bring new audiences to the arts or engage communities in the arts,” Donna Frisby-Greenwood, Philadelphia director of the Knight Foundation, said. “We think that the work that Drexel is doing with civic engagement is very important. [The school is] trying to be a great neighbor to the community that it lives in and give back to the neighborhood.”
The 43 winning ideas from across Philadelphia, chosen from an original pool of 1,200 submissions, won more than $2 million total. This was the last year of the three-year, $8 million art initiative that the Knight Arts Challenge launched in 2010. It has since awarded grants to 114 ideas for enriching Philadelphia’s communities and art scenes. In total, the Knight Foundation has invested over $100 million in the city’s art scene since 1970.
“Philadelphia has a rich arts and culture history, and those things are a huge part of what we are in Philadelphia. When students start to visit them, they really start to get a sense of what Philadelphia is all about. They see how huge the creative community is here and what a huge amount of opportunity there is here to take part in the arts,” Frisby-Greenwood said.
“Creativity is not a gift given to select individuals. Creativity is in everyone. A lot of it comes from when you bring people together from different disciplines like scientists, engineers, artists and designers. Once we all get started talking, we realize that there are so many things we can accomplish, so many things we can do. Everyone can create things,” Kim said.
The ExCITe Center is not the only Drexel program that has worked with the Knight Foundation. Drexel’s Pennoni Honors College was awarded a $20,000 grant in 2011. That grant created a program for students to write as journalists for art coverage in the Philadelphia Daily News.