2012 People to Watch

They are up-and-comers.



Some of them hold vital positions and the power to make our city better. Others are just getting started on personal goals and milestones that will distinguish them from the crowd. But these 14 people have one thing in common: they are all worth keeping our eyes on.

Nick Hwang

Most musicians with classical training would love a job playing in a symphony or scoring soundtracks for TV and movies. You know, something normal. Not Nick Hwang. The local composer and LSU Laptop Orchestra veteran is too busy pushing the boundaries of music, performance art and technology by combining all three in ways the public has neither seen nor heard before.

Hwang’s latest creation is an iPad-friendly digital instrument called GUA that he co-designed with partners J. Corey Knoll and Andy Larson. In June it will receive its first global audience when his group performs at a renowned international music conference in Linz, Austria.

“It’s all about exploring what is possible,” says Hwang, a Florida native of Taiwanese heritage.

Hwang is fascinated with making musical composition accessible. His group’s recent installation, Social Structure, allowed visitors to easily create electronic soundscapes by stacking blocks on top of wired metal bars and each other while projected images from Facebook and Twitter reacted to the movement of the blocks. The piece was a comment on the potential downside of social media information overload.

“I’m interested in creating opportunities for people to truly interact with art,” Hwang says. “I want to turn people into agents of sound.” nickhwang.com —J.R.

Read more from 225 here: http://www.225batonrouge.com/article/20111231/225BATONROUGE01/301019932/0/SEARCH#ixzz2BW4GmKyq



POSTED SEP 5, 2012

Lights being prepared for the Spaces exhibit in Foster Gallery. Photo courtesy of Nick Hwang
When an art show is coming up, it’s easy to imagine works attached to walls, or on pedestals waiting to be examined. It’s expected that you look at an artist’s work, take it in, and then move on. Spaces features three interactive artworks that will engage not only the visual senses, but also sound and touch. It is making people rethink the way they view and relate to artwork on display.

“The general thing that all the pieces have in common is that they’re combining some sort of technological aspect with art, and then they’re using those two to tackle space and installation,” said Tom LaPann, one of the artists whose work will be featured.

LaPann, Nick Hwang, Meghan Scuderi, David Williams, James Kimura-Green, TahJah Krauss, and Sarah Jones have worked for months to collaborate on a unique art show that would give people an experience involving as much process as product.

“I never really have a concrete idea of exactly what the piece will look like, but I know that through days, weeks, and even months of working on a piece, it will evolve and change, and intuitively I’ll get to the point where the piece is done,” said Kimura-Green, who specializes in printmaking and lithography. “What the viewer sees is only the end product of each change. But for me, what’s really important is the decision I’m making while I’m changing the plate. What’s happening in between, what you guys don’t see.”

Kimura-Green’s work involves creating an image on a copper plate and printing copies. He’s also able to modify the image and create prints as long as he has copper left on the plate. The technology gives the audience a way to explore the different layers, or prints, in a more interactive way than simply viewing them from a distance.

For LaPann, the show is about having a fluid or constantly changing image.

“We talked a lot about change and impermanence, and how can we incorporate all the growth and change of the prints into the piece and give the viewers the capability to go through that.”

In LaPann, Kimura-Green, and Williams’ work, audience members will be able to use hand movements to zoom in and out of pieces on the sculptured screen, flip through layers, and more. Technology played a critical role in connecting the viewer with the work. Hwang provided most of the programming and expertise.

According to Williams, “We’d give him these crazy ideas, and every time he said, ‘Oh, we can do that.’”

LaPann added that it’s surprisingly difficult when anything is possible.

“Typically in sculpture, there are things you can’t do. So it became a challenge: what do we really want?”

Kimura-Green, LaPann, and Williams already plan to expand this show and move to a different venue for another exposition.

Spaces will be in Foster Gallery, located in LSU’s Foster Hall, from Sept. 7-14. The opening reception will be held Sept.7 at 7 p.m. The artists will be attending, and there will be drinks and food for the public.
Read article at Dig Magazine

Sound waves of the future

By Benjamin Leger
Published Oct 31, 2012 at 6:00 am (Updated Nov 2, 2012)
The difference between real music and what’s on the radio today is all about seeing it performed live. On one side, you’ve got talented people with instruments, playing—actually playing—songs in real time and uncovering subtle nuances with each note. On the other side, you’ve got some guy behind boxes of wires and knobs who just pushes a button.

That’s the most simplistic prejudice against the value of electronic music, at least when it comes to what’s popular now. But what does it say about the state of music today when the new director of LSU’s School of Music specializes in computer music? When his current research areas include virtual music instruments and he’s part of an orchestra that doesn’t play real instruments at all, but rather, music created on laptops?

This is 2012, and for every musical instrument and possible sound in the world, there’s likely an app for that.

Stephen David Beck took charge of the School of Music this June. He holds a joint appointment at LSU’s Center for Computation & Technology, and was the director of that office’s AVATAR Initiative (short for Arts, Visualization, Advanced Technologies and Research) until this year. In other words, he stands on the virtual bridge between music and technology.

And putting him at the helm of the School of Music seems to signify the university’s interest in exploring the possibilities of electronic music and digital music (often referred to as EM/DM) outside the novelty of pops and beeps.

“There’s a real interest here in being at the forefront of what’s next in music making,” Beck says. “We are a traditional school of music, but we do have a significant number of people here who are very interested in creating new music as our field evolves over time. The fact that I’m in this position, it gives our school a little bit more authority to say this is a direction worth investigating.”

The Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana, of which Beck is a founding member, has performed a number of times around Baton Rouge in the past three years. It was also a key component of the Symposium on Laptop Ensembles and Orchestras held back in April at LSU. The event, the first of its kind, was meant to “lay the groundwork for best practices,” Beck says, for this emerging performance style.

To someone seeing a laptop orchestra performance for the first time, it can be either exciting or as visually stimulating as watching your friends texting on their iPhones. It’s a problem Beck recognizes.

“[The audience is] not sure if the performers are actually doing something up there to make the sounds they are hearing or just checking their email,” he says. “We decided we were going to approach laptop music making in a way that would counter the stereotype.”

Nick Hwang, a Ph.D. student in the School of Music and member of the LOLs who also taught Intro to Computer Music for three years, says the ensemble has included different types of controllers—joysticks, iPads and Wii remotes—to add some visual stimulation and physicality to the performances. They’ve also brought in traditional instruments for accompaniment.

“Are we pandering to the audience? That is definitely something I’ve thought about,” Hwang says.

Attracting that audience is important when you consider whether EM/DM are yet taken seriously as academic study. LSU’s School of Music has a Ph.D. program in experimental music and digital media, and just this semester added an undergraduate concentration.

Yet, when LSU’s Digital Media Festival announced its competition categories for this past spring’s event, art, photography, animation and film were on the list, but not digital music. Hwang expressed frustration to organizers, who told him they didn’t have enough submissions to warrant a separate category and encouraged him to submit in the general “Gumbo” category. The festival does plan to include a digital music category next year.

Similarly, Hwang, who is applying for a Fulbright scholarship to study in Taiwan, discovered the application didn’t accommodate for digital music compositions. They wanted to see music sheets and notations, but not all of his digital material has notations, even those performed on stage.

Hwang also remarked about the broad range of students who took his Intro to Computer Music class, “Some students that come in, they’re interested in making beats, which is fine. But there’s also the more traditional side of electronic music that’s a little closer to traditional art and music than Skrillex.”

It’s clear these modern composers still have their work cut out for them to build their audiences, but it isn’t stopping them from innovating.

Jesse Allison, a School of Music professor who also works with the AVATAR Initiative, says the program, in its third year, provides a middle ground for artists interested in technology and computer scientists interested in applying their expertise to art and music. Many of the students in that program go on to work at digital media companies like PreSonus (read more about that local company on the next page).

Allison helped organize a Mobile Music Workshop in October where teams—including students and developers—created an instrument on a mobile device, composed music and then performed the composition a week later.

Asked about any conflict between EM/DM composers and more traditional musicians in the school, Allison says, “Sometimes we step over the bounds, but that’s pretty similar to the way normal composers step over the bounds. A lot of the antagonism when it comes to electronic music is because we often come at it as ‘This is the new thing; this is where music is going and that’s it.’ But we need to figure out how traditional music and electronic music can combine to make something new.”

As Beck says, EM/DM is not meant to replace musicians, but to expand their capabilities.

And as technology evolves at lightning speed, Beck is already thinking of how the Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana may have to revisit its own name. Their next performance might be as the iPad Orchestra of Louisiana.

Beyond Dub




The word “composer” may evoke images of stern-looking Germans sitting in front of pianos with quills and manuscript paper, but some modern orchestral music has more to do with Facebook than Fauré. The audio engineer and the computer programmer have become the new composer.

The Experimental Music and Digital Media program at LSU’s School of Music is leading the way in changing the face of musical composition, using the latest technology and pioneering new compositional methods.

“EM/DM is unique in that it is a degree that involves putting into practice what you are trying to do – generating an instrument, writing music, and performing it,” said Dr. Jesse Allison, assistant professor in the EM/DM area.

The EM/DM program has several upcoming performances, including participation in the LSU Symphonic Winds concert on March 1st at 7:30pm in the LSU Union Theatre. They will be recording sounds and doing an electronic interpretation of what the wind instruments play.

On March 2nd, several works by students, professors, and special guests will be featured in the High Voltage Electro-Acoustic concert. One of the works in the concert will be Ph.D. candidate Nick Hwang’s On the Seventh for trombone and live electronics.

On the Seventh is a one-movement work in seven parts, depicting the seven days of creation from the Biblical book of Genesis. The title is also a play on the seven slide positions on the trombone. This is Hwang’s third attempt at composing a piece for trombone and live electronics.

“This is the one I’ve worked on the most,” Hwang told Dig in an interview. “At the time I began writing it, I was in a spiritual place, and the trombone in my mind made an adequate voice for God.”

The music written for the trombone uses standard musical notation, but the sounds created by the computer were programmed using a programming language called Max/MSP.

“In the past, composers have written music that has a specific playback; others have a person sitting at the computer controlling where musical elements line up; others program the computer to follow along with the performer,” said Hwang. “Mine is a mixture of elements.”

As the work has been growing and changing for some time, Hwang says that it is likely that only the first three or four sections will be performed in the March 2nd concert. He hopes that those who see it will also come for future concerts, since the composition becomes more complex as the work progresses, reflecting the increasing complexity of the world throughout the days of creation in Genesis.

In fact, this concept of growing and changing musical works is what the EM/DM program is all about.

“The exciting thing about it is that you can try something, and if you don’t like [it], then you can move on and try something else,” Allison noted. Since experimental music is on the cutting edge of technology and is exploring new musical concepts, it challenges both the artist and the audience conception of what music is. Dr. Allison observed that it is exciting to use “new technology and new developments to see how we might make music with it.”

“What kind of music could a set of laptops make? What kind of music could you make with a Kinect?” queried Allison. “We’re constantly redefining what music is.”

The EM/DM program may be in its infancy, as it is only in its second year at LSU, but it is eager to get out and perform. In addition to the concerts on March 1st and 2nd, they also plan to perform during the day at Free Speech Alley on March 15th. The EM/DM degree program is available at the Ph.D. level, while the minor program is available as both master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Those minoring in the program currently include music composition and music performance majors, but Dr. Allison expects that in the future students in other programs, such as computer science, engineering, and electronic art, will consider pursuing an EM/DM minor.

Foster Gallery to host three-part interactive exhibit

SPACES exhibit

The third area of the near-completed inactive art show featured glowing orbs in Foster Hall.

Posted on September 6, 2012
by Austen Krantz

While some students used Labor Day as an opportunity to sleep in on a Monday, University artists working on SPACES at Foster Gallery worked to set up their exhibit for its Sept. 7 opening.
Nick Hwang, a musical composition doctoral student, stood over the debris of materials and tools in the first room of the gallery, explaining the arrangement. He said the interactive exhibit will feature three pieces, allowing viewers to progress from the first to the third, interacting with each uniquely engaging segment. He then approached the third, which he and Tom LaPann, master in fine arts, conceptualized together.
“Back in March, we had this idea that we wanted to have this interactive environment,” he said. “We had this idea of having plants or a plant-like environment.”
The two opened a related exhibit during the summer but decided they could create another interesting display that was bigger with different textures.
Their towering piece — the largest of the three — sat in the corner of the gallery’s last room, its twisted pillars under construction by other art students and friends. They tacked on papier-mâché and bristley substances where lights and sounds would emit from the exhibit.
Viewers will navigate the cavern-like structure in complete darkness, with a small orb of light to guide their way through the space. As they study the pieces’ details, lights and sounds will react to their presence.
“My background is music and sound, and [Tom’s] is sculpture. So it seemed like a good idea to play with space and play with things that have some level of interactivity with sound,” Hwang said. “It’s like a whole mixture of what Tom and I are interested in.”
LaPann reiterated this idea.
“It’s two areas of interest really making one piece,” he added. “It’s a different viewing experience when you’re participating and something’s reacting to you, than coming into a gallery and having more of a distant relationship. When you’re actually engaging, it becomes more personal to the viewer.”
While the pair originally planned to create this piece by itself, they realized the other two works featured similar characteristics and would mesh well together in a single exhibit.
“All of them, I feel like, make you examine things in a large macro-level and the micro-level,” Hwang said. “We want you to come here and see everything in a big way. There’s big interactions and things like that; at the same time we’re forcing you to use these little lights to see smaller textures.”
Hwang used the first piece as an example. Three photo panels will project images from certain Baton Rouge locations, but they will also serve as speakers, emitting sounds from each corresponding location.
“With the panels having individual sounds, you want to go up and listen and look at each individual panel, as well as stand back and get the overall experience,” Hwang said.
The second, middle piece, allows viewers to control their experience.
Using an Xbox Kinect, viewers will progress through multiple stages of a projected piece of art. One’s position and gestures will allow the projection to zoom in, zoom out and see multiple phases of the projected work.
“It’s kind of like a dialogue between two printmakers,” LaPann explained. “They passed [the print work] back and forth, making adjustments … we photographed it and then removed different stages. So what you’re able to do is interact with different stages of the total process so you can kind of see the whole evolution of the project.”
Like each part of the exhibit, the group constructed the sheet the projection will hit from found materials. The beginning of the semester allowed the group to gather most materials from students and teachers who were clearing out their offices and work places. Hwang explained that the compromise of using recycled materials allowed the group to build the project on such a large scale.
The team combined these elements with electronics to build the screens in the exhibit, which LaPann said adds to the character of each piece. He used the middle segment, which he largely worked on, as an example.
“The back side is made of different materials — it’s got iron ore, and some salt and bamboo sticks and you know, a variety of types of paper,” he said. “The difference in material thickness allows light and images to shine through.”
But Hwang emphasized the importance of the crafted textures over the electronics.
“All the expensive stuff is actually concealed — we don’t want you to see that stuff. The intrigue is all with this stuff,” Hwang said, pointing to the natural-looking texture of their pieces’ column.
Aside from constructing an entire exhibit in a few days, the two also tackled new challenges they had few prior experiences with. They brought together friends and peers to put the exhibit together as fast as they could, while Hwang continued learning how to physically construct art, and LaPann grew more comfortable with allotting project assignments.
“In the beginning, it was very hard to tell people what to do,” LaPann said. “But then you realize they don’t want to come here and figure it out themselves.”
But they both agreed a large part of what brought the project together was the help they had and the multiple creative minds focused on the project.
“Everyone that’s involved has their own specialty,” Hwang said. “It’s turned out to be a great collaboration.”

LSU Eye on a Tiger
LSU recently featured me on their Eye on a Tiger Series. I’m humbled and honored to be included with the other featured students.