Contact: Marc Schwerin
KALAMAZOO, Michigan â The first graduates of Western Michigan University’s new multimedia arts technology program to graduate April 30 and to embark on new careers in professional high-tech music production.
The students worked feverishly on landmark projects that put an exclamation mark on their academic careers. Projects undertaken by those graduating this month range from full albums of original music to a new computerized enhancement tool that trains the human ear to better recognize and identify frequencies.
About the program
The program started with 20 students in fall 2014, with 20 more added each year thereafter. Demand for the new program has been very high, according to Dr Richard Johnson, Assistant Professor of Music, who helps run the program with Code of Dr David Loberg, associate director of the School of Music and director of the Kalamazoo Laptop Orchestra; Dr Christopher Biggs, assistant professor of music; and Jean Campos, director of Western Sound Studios.
âWhen we look to admit around 20 students each year and interview over 60, there’s a lot of interest going on,â Johnson said.
The program is built around five fundamental pillars: audio engineering, computer generated audio technology, live sound reinforcement, computer programming and multimedia technology. Students do not have to be traditional music students. In fact, the program’s organizers are looking for students with diverse, often non-traditional musical backgrounds and a variety of career goals, Johnson says. They were successful in both areas.
âWe have students who want to do sound design associated with video. We have students who want to be the classical sound engineer in a recording studio, then we have students who do electronic dance music. Johnson said. “This diversity of students coming together makes it fun to be on the faculty side.”
The students who graduated from the program on April 30 exemplify this diversity and energy.
Senior graduate Garret Gagnon actually started with a specialization in mechanical engineering. But music has always had the upper hand. He has been playing music since the age of 4 and carried this interest until high school. After arriving at WMU, he joined the Collegiate Singers choral ensemble.
âAt the end of my first year singing in the choir, I just couldn’t do without it,â says Gagnon. He was accepted to the School of Music and studied singing for a year. His junior year, the MAT program was announced and he found he could change major while still graduating on time.
âIt seemed like a win-win,â said Gagnon.
About 18 months ago, Gagnon, from Portage, began working with musician and composer Max Hahn on a project for an electronic music techniques course. The duo composed a two to three minute piece, then developed it and added additional pieces for an aesthetic in music class.
When deciding on his flagship project for the MAT program, it made sense to continue working on the piece, more or less as a producer. Piano player and drummer, he played, recorded and mixed parts there, suggested arrangements and did âeverything outside the composer’s domainâ.
The piece now has half a dozen movements ranging from upbeat 80s music to a drum section, an electronic piano section and a section with Gagnon vocals. Gagnon presented the composition, now 25 minutes long, at a special event 22 april, in the Dalton Center conference room presenting synthesis projects by MAT graduates.
âI guess that was a good place for me to finally end up,â he says, âgiven my involvement in music as a vocal performance major. But I wasn’t interested in becoming a vocalist. opera. It really seemed like the perfect location for me. “
MAT student Nate elkus took a technical approach to their synthesis project, creating a computerized frequency recognition tool to train the human ear to identify frequencies more accurately. His creation, which he named Sound Hero, works for all ability levels, starting with basic identification of low, mid, and high frequencies and how to tell them apart.
âEach level gets more and more difficult,â Elkus says. “At the highest level, basically, I’m throwing a random sine wave tone and you have to tell me what it is and you have to be a third of an octave.”
Elkus, originally from Bloomfield Hills, studied piano since the age of 6 and began studying piano at WMU. Not sure if he wanted to study composition or acting, he took studio recording lessons, then tried the MAT program after it was announced.
âIt was the perfect fit,â said Elkus, who also presented his project at the April 22 event. He decided to delay graduation for a year to get a minor in general commerce and possibly a minor in computer programming.
Like Gagnon, fellow student in MAT Joel pixley-fink from Kalamazoo has created a compilation of different musical styles. His creation now lasts 27 minutes and includes everything from jazz arrangements of two songs by Stevie Wonder; “Bloodmoon”, an original reggae tune; âMoving Towards the Sunâ, an original song by his sister, Elisabeth; and “Waiting for my Time”, an ambient original. He presented his project at a previous event for MAT synthesis projects.
âIt showcases all of my different interests,â says Pixley-Fink, who plays bass, keyboards and guitar and has performed with band Maraj and local reggae band Zion Lion. different things, so I wanted to represent a little bit of each of them. “
In the near future, new graduate Gagnon hopes to have his own studio for rehearsals and work full time on music and audio. The MAT program suits him perfectly.
âIt gave me a lot of options and taught me a lot of different skills,â he says. “The teachers were all very good and helped me take it to the next level.”
For more information about the program, visit wmich.edu/multimedia.
For more news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.