Archive for the ‘Press’ Category

PSO Fellow reveals hidden artistry with sonar imagery


June 4, 2013
UGA Public Service and Outreach
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PSO Fellow reveals hidden artistry with sonar imagery
By Roger Nielsen

Art professor RG Brown III sloshed knee-deep through the salt marsh, racing against the rising tide to deploy a trapezoidal assembly of white plastic pipe he had named “Spinner.” The sculpture, intended for submersion, would become another element in Brown’s quest to depict familiar objects in innovative ways.

Later, Brown recorded ghostly blue images of the angular sculpture as it lay on the muddy bottom of the Skidaway Island estuary, using a bulky sonar unit towed behind the University of Georgia Marine Outreach Programs research boat Sea Dawg as it cruised slowly down the tidal creek.

Brown, a sculpture professor with the Lamar Dodd School of Art, won a Public Service and Outreach Faculty Fellowship last fall to beam sonar into salt creeks on the coastal islands near Savannah as a creative way to help people see the natural environment from an unexpected point of view. The fellowships offer UGA professors the opportunity to spend an entire semester working with one of the university’s eight public service and outreach units to apply their academic expertise to outreach initiatives.

One product of the fellowship is a ceramic-tile mural based on Brown’s sonar images, scheduled to be unveiled this fall in UGA’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island. The artwork—created with one of the tools marine scientists use in their research—will encourage students and other visitors to consider what lies below the surface of the estuary, according to Brown.

“When people see that sonar-image sculpture, it’s going to make them think about the environment in a different way,” he said.

“My primary objectives were to make a work of art and to figure out a way to make this an educational component,” said Brown, who has experimented with sonar imaging for several years in exotic locations like Key West and more prosaic locales like Lake Chapman in Athens’ Sandy Creek Park.

Employing sonar to encourage people to see objects in novel ways grew from an idea Brown got from the ancient Nazca Lines etched into the desert of southern Peru. Standing on the ground, the Nazca Lines seem to be nothing more than shallow trenches gouged across the pebbly desert. But viewed in their entirety from different perspective—atop the nearby foothills or from the air—the lines become patterns that trace out images of birds, fish and other animals.

At first, Brown covered sculpture under a layer of soil and scanned the installation with ground-penetrating radar as a method of inducing viewers to look at objects differently.

“I had the idea of making objects and placing them in the earth, and using technology to reveal them,” he said. “Here, the idea for me was to try and put sculpture in the water and use the sonar to ‘see’ it.”

To create artistic, instructional images, Brown uses a sonar unit similar to an angler’s fish finder apparatus to beam sound waves through the water and record the echoes. Brown’s sonar surveys detect patterns and shadows that reveal submerged fallen trees, hidden shorelines, the ripples left in creek beds by wave action—and Brown’s sculpture installations.

“The basic premise is that I am an artist and my work is about exploring the way we see things,” he said. “I am intrigued with sonar because it allows us to see underwater in conditions that make it impossible to see through our eyes.”

What a Mechanical Performance! Bravo!

July 5, 2012
The New York Times
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What a Mechanical Performance! Bravo!
By Alex Wright

In a more formal comedic vein a University of Georgia theater professor, David Saltz, is developing a robotic interpretation of commedia dell’arte. With its short scenes, broad characters and absence of scripted dialogue, these archetypal sketch pieces make nearly perfect dramatic vessels for robot actors.

“Robots have limited expressive capabilities,” Mr. Saltz said. “So instead of trying to replicate human beings, you embrace those limitations.”

His robots are especially limited in their ability to make facial expressions, so instead he leans heavily on gesture and movement to convey dramatic intent. Programming a Korean-made DARwIn-OP robot using Max/MSP (a popular visual programming language), he creates algorithms that imbue its movements with distinct personality traits. One routine might give the robot a tendency toward rounded gestures, while another might favor straighter or jerky motions.

For any given scene the robot can then assume an archetypal commedia-style persona — the comic parent, the miserly merchant, the pompous doctor — each programmed with distinct gestural characteristics. The robot can then follow a stage direction to greet another character, to hide or to flee, and to do it all in character.

The purpose of such an exercise is not to replace human actors, but rather to explore the mechanics of how movement evokes emotional responses. For human actors, projecting emotion is often a matter of instinct, but for robots it requires painstakingly detailed instructions.

University professors combine ‘robotics with theater’

October 25, 2011
Red and Black
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University professors combine ‘robotics with theater’
By Lisa Glaser

Brandon Raab, a first-year graduate student in dramatic media from Chicago, said he has to “flip a switch” in his mind between his classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He leaves a Ph.D. class discussing innovative playwrights like Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett — and then learns about robots and how to make one theatrically perform.

Raab is enrolled in Interactive Media and Live Performance, taught by David Saltz, the head of the theatre and film studies department, as well as the executive director of Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE), a University research initiative in the arts.

“Combining robotics with theater is so immediately fun,” Saltz said. “It’s so playful. … And you have to learn the computer stuff to make that happen and it’s just totally gratifying and fun. It makes it so much easier to gain those technical skills when there’s a real reward and immediate satisfying feedback.”

Saltz, along with three other University professors from different departments, spoke Monday night at the Miller Learning Center about their work with robotics. Saltz began using a robot in his class, with students learning how to program it to perform in various ways, this semester after Chi Thai, a biological and agricultural engineering associate professor reached out to him about working together with the robot. The class’s midterm consisted of a group project creating a performance with the robot.

“You’re trying think creatively, trying to think artistically,” Raab said. “For our project, we had a scene and there was a character and trying to think of how to make the relation lifelike and work on the dialogue, but then there’s the coding and programming that goes into it.”

Thai, along with Walter Potter, a computer science professor and director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute, and Jason Cantarella, a mathematics associate professor, lectured at the robotics seminar.

“[The seminar] was a great example of how expansive the field is right now,” Raab said. “If you’re excited in robotics, just how many ways there are to think about even just the concept of robotics, the mathematics, the science, the philosophy, the art, the performance behind it, there’s many different ways to approach it.”

Michael Meindl, a recent graduate of the MFA in dramatic media program and first year computer science master’s student from Butternut, Wisc., agreed with the idea that robotics can be an all-encompassing field. Meindl has taken classes taught by both Saltz and Thai.

“I think each person really gave us a sense of what they’re interested in, in terms of themselves, but also in terms of their particular department,” Meindl said. “Each one comes from a very distinct a separate department that don’t really talk to one another all that often, so I think the ability to have this kind of roundtable or seminar with people who don’t normally talk in the same timeframe, is really cool.”

Saltz wants the robot, named ZeebZob, to be used in other classes and for other projects in the future. He said he wants to create a robotics performance class, which touches on his own interests in puppetry and animation.

“It’s not just for class projects,” Saltz said. “[We’re] trying to create something that isn’t just interesting as an academic exercise or as an engineering exercise, but is really, really fun to watch.”

Meindl sees robotics as field which connects many other fields, whether it’s Potter discussing how robots can be used practically in years to come from a computer science perspective or Cantarella discussing thinking theoretically about robots and how they navigate their environment.

“[A robot] is just an inanimate object, so what can we layer on top it?” Meindl said. “In terms of performance, in terms of computer science, in terms of philosophy, in terms of cultural ideas, in terms of history, so you get that all combined and it becomes a really interesting, exciting nucleus of people and interests. That anybody can walk into a robotics class or environment and find something that they can contribute, I think that’s really what’s exciting for me.”

For Saltz, the use of robotics in the classroom is an extension of what he already loves and teaches – theater.

“The idea of really taking something and making it come alive, I think that’s what theater is all about,” Saltz said. “It’s amazing.”

Enjoy the Silence

June 28, 2011
The Campus Style: UGA

Enjoy the Silence
By Allegra Yeley
link to original article

Keeping up with the music scene in Athens is hard. If you took a survey of local musicians, you’d likely find that a large percentage of them are involved in more than one band or project. Maybe we have an unusually large population of folks with ADD. Maybe they’re hedging their bets, hoping that one of their three bands will hit it big. Or it could just be that Athens is incredibly lucky to be buzzing with more creative energy than it knows what to do with.

Enter OUR NEW SILENCE, one of the most original and visionary projects Athens has seen for some time. Described as “creative cultural diplomacy”, Our New Silence is a collective undertaking that links Athens and Java, Indonesia through music.

The fellows behind Our New Silence are Kai Riedl (MACHA) and Suny Lyons (HOPE FOR AGOLDENSUMMER), both of whom have been active in the local music scene for years. In the early 2000s the pair took multiple trips to Indonesia where they recorded dozens of hours of traditional music. After Kai and Suny mastered and assembled the songs into a 12-album series called JAVASOUNDS, they turned their attention towards Athens. The duo collaborated with different musicians in the Athens area to sample, loop and remix the raw field recordings, creating entirely new songs.

They’ve worked with some of Athens’ biggest names, including Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink (AZURE RAY), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Kate Pierson (THE B-52′S), Graham Ulicny (REPTAR), Andy Lemaster (NOW IT’S OVERHEAD), JEREMY WHEATLEY, Andrew Reiger (ELF POWER), John Fernandez (THE OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL), Bill Doss (THE APPLES IN STEREO; THE OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL), KILLICK HINDS, Kyle Dawkins (MAPS AND TRANSIT), Barrett Martin (TUATARA), Heather McIntosh (THE INSTRUMENTS), Winston Parker (ATEM), Josh McKay (Macha/ATEM) and more!


“You’re Not Just Anyone” and “Electrophoria”
Kai Riedl/Suny Lyons/Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink (Azure Ray)
Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have truly gorgeous voices, and they’re in top form on two Our New Silence songs. There’s the deeply sensual “You’re Not Just Anyone” and “Electrophoria”, the title track of Our New Silence’s upcoming LP. Both tracks blend the duo’s sultry, breathy harmonies with Indonesian sounds. The Javanese influence is most apparent in the gamelan instrumentation of “Electrophoria”, making it a perfect sonic marriage between Athens and Java.

“Through The Breakdown”
Riedl/Lyons/Graham Ulicny (Reptar)
Take Graham Ulicny’s raw, expressive vocals. Lay them over an addictive electronic beat built from delayed gamelan sounds and dangdut drums. Add a drum kit, electric guitar, and a keyboard line by James Husband. Top it off with some sexy lyrics and you’ve got one of the catchiest and most accessible tracks in the ONS catalogue. We can safely guarantee that you’ll find yourself coming back for seconds…thirds…fourths.

Musicians go outside the box for AUX

May 5, 2011
Athens Banner-Herald
link to original article

Musicians go outside the box for AUX
By Joe Vanhoose

Don’t be too discouraged if you don’t recognize a lot of names in the AUX 5 Experimental Arts Festival lineup.

Many of the bands are familiar Athens music faces. They’re just in different places.

“The names have changed, but the players are familiar,” said Heather McIntosh, the festival’s artistic director who just happens to play the heck out of a bass and cello. “You’ll see a lot of people you know.”

They’re just doing things you may not have known about. The fifth annual AUX Festival is different from all the other festivals that bands fill around Athens. This is a festival for side projects, a chance for professional musicians – both from Athens and beyond – to show off their hobbies.

“This is all geared around what Athens musicians do when they experiment,” McIntosh said. “It gives people an opportunity to explore different mediums that they might not usually explore.”

More than 25 bands will perform throughout the day, but that’s just a part of AUX. Ciné will host more than 15 video screenings, and quite a few groups will put together special outdoor installations.

For instance, The Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider, along with a few colleagues, will demonstrate the teletron mind controller synthesizer. It’s a system of two synthesizers that can read both sides of someone’s brain and play accordingly.

Dixie Blood Mustache, which has been around since the early years of the famed Elephant 6 Collective in Athens, has put together a special audio installation that evokes some memories of the 1990s, McIntosh said.

Andrew Raffo Dewar will perform a special saxophone demonstration. The University of Alabama professor specializes in experimental art and studied with jazz legends like Steve Lacy and Bill Dixon.

Of its five years, this is the largest AUX Festival; as usual, it will jump back and forth between Ciné and Little Kings, but Little Kings will be set up with two stages, one inside and another outside.

The main stage at Little Kings may be just big enough to hold all of Pocketful of Claptonite’s Big Band. The typical trio has expanded to a 10-piece for this show.
“Last year, we added two pieces, and it was a real success,” said Killick, de facto leader of Claptonite. “This year, we figured we’d add seven.”

The core lineup of guitar, bass and drums will welcome an extra drummer, two more guitars, a theremin, lap steel, electric bass (played by McIntosh, no less) and a keyboard.
The extra sound should allow the band to reach for a higher level, which is what AUX is all about, Killick said.

“What’s exciting is that the lineup is varied but adhesive,” he said. “The whole day is very musician-friendly, which makes AUX such a fun endeavor.”

Five Years of AUX

May 4, 2011
Flagpole Magazine
link to original article

Athens’ Experimental Arts Festival
By Jeff Tobias

In a world where the consumer is king, when you strip away something’s relationship to the marketplace, you strip away its context. In that vacuum, things are granted license to get more personal, and by that measure, a little stranger. Without the inherent approval of mass-marketed success, anything created for its own sake can even become intimidating, like a Rorschach test where the decisions lie solely in the eye of the beholder. But beyond that potential scariness is a kind of freedom that can actually be fun, playful and welcoming; that’s what the AUX experimental arts festival is about.

“I can’t help but love the Fluxus movement,” says Heather McIntosh, curator and co-creator of AUX, a product of—and testament to—Athens, GA’s creative community. The 1960s art group she’s referring to made itself known to the world with a manifesto proclaiming an intention to “promote living art, anti-art… to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals!” From the get-go, each AUX event was guided by the radical notion that art could be for everybody.

“I mean, there’s tons of theory, and you can pick it apart and make it real tricky and make it real heady… but at the end of the day, all that stuff was really fun,” says McIntosh. “I mean, you look at those pictures [of the Fluxus artists], and you’re like, ‘They did a string concert in the street—and they wrapped the violin player with string!’ It’s really fun. It can be lighter than all that, too. There’s a good balance in every [festival] we’ve done, I think. We really tried to get a little bit of everything. So, you’ll hear some really heavy and dark stuff, but then there’ll also be someone doing something pretty hilarious.”

At this stage, AUX can confidently be referred to as an institution, with many different facets; it has far more dimension than the average neon-wristband festival fare. The seeds were planted in an attempt to bridge the gap between the University of Georgia’s school of the arts and downtown’s late-night rock scene. In 2003, Carmon Colangelo, the director of UGA’s Ideas for Creative Exploration program at the time, invited then-adjunct professor Mark Callahan to join up with ICE, a program promoting “innovative, multidisciplinary projects and advanced research in the arts through publications, performances and exhibitions.” As incentive, he suggested that Callahan develop “a dream project.”

“So, I thought, well, a dream project has to be a project that puts together Athens’ greatest resource, which is music, and the printmaking program, which was at the time ranked among the top five nationally,” says Callahan. He enlisted McIntosh [a longtime fixture of bands such as Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, and her own, Instruments], creative polymath Steven Trimmer and journalist JoE Silva to curate a compilation of sound art from the local community, the obvious and obscure corners alike.

“Part of the thinking was: let’s really look for the stuff that creative people do for themselves and do for each other, rather than something they do for the industry,” says Callahan. “So, the idea emerged of the person who makes things privately, maybe on their laptop, that kind of thing, but not necessarily trying to put it out in the world. But it’s the thing that really gets them going creatively. It’s like—I wanna hear that stuff. Even if it doesn’t fit into a commercial format, that’s the interesting stuff.”

The result, AUX Vol. 1, is packaged in an ornate octagonal fold-out, designed and constructed by UGA printmaking graduate students. A release party at ATHICA in August of 2006, featuring sculpture, modern dance and an enormous tape loop, would be the launch of an ongoing annual event, unbeknownst to McIntosh or Callahan until it was over. “I don’t know that we ever said, ‘Let’s make this a continuing thing,’” says Callahan. “It was more like, ‘That was really fun! A lot of people came! Let’s do it again!’”

Fast-forward five years later, and the expansion of AUX’s breadth has been pretty remarkable, a seemingly endless, overflowing list of events and accomplishments. McIntosh has been both the curatorial and organizational motor behind the yearly festival, which, since upon moving to Little Kings and Ciné, has played host to video-art screenings, cacophonous free-jazz marches and other outer-reaching works and installations.

Under the supervision of Callahan, now artistic director of ICE, a second AUX compilation was released in 2010 with similarly craft-oriented packaging. Guided by McIntosh’s vision and hustle, the festival has landed headliners such as Chicago-based art-pop group Icy Demons, traditional folk-gone-free improv duo Mary Halvoson and Jessica Pavone, proggy jazz-rockers Michael Columbia and, perhaps most significantly, legendary Krautrock outfit Faust.

This year, notable out-of-towers include Andrew Raffo Dewar (woodwind improviser and composer, a student of Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier) and Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider, offering a demonstration of his Telethon Mind Controller for Synthesizer which is exactly what it sounds like.

But beyond the big names, AUX is a full day’s worth of unconventional performances and offerings from Athens luminaries—musicians with whom audiences may have only interacted in their pop-oriented modes. The secret of experimental music is that these “experiments” are what often yield results that become integral to Athens’ uniquely “off” approach to pop music. The location—Little Kings being possibly the most relaxed bar in town—and the price tag—five bucks—eradicates any potential for gatekeeping and replaces it with an atmosphere of casual openness. Eschewing a stuffy museum vibe, AUX is a peek behind the curtain into the local scene’s purest creative impulses.

“It’s just fun to see what your friends can get up to if they don’t have to be directly involved in the parameters of a 45-minute set in a rock song-song-song way,” says McIntosh. “It’s kind of like, ‘OK, now we’re gonna do a thing! We’re gonna get together and make something!’ I think it’s kind of like a public service for experimental music, like ‘Get yourself a cheap beer and see what your friends are doin’ when they’re not doin’ that other stuff! Go watch your friends freak out for awhile!’”

As McIntosh has been exposing Athens to the otherness of the community, she has been simultaneously ramping up her work as a session and touring musician, providing cello and bass work for Gnarls Barkley, Lil Wayne, Animal Collective and others. Not two days after this year’s festival, she’ll be packing up her life and driving out to Los Angeles to pursue work scoring films. End of a chapter? “Nah,” she says. “I mean, I’m gonna continue to do the AUX stuff. It’s not over. I’m gonna do it every spring, I’m gonna figure out a way to do it. This is still my home.” AUX will remain an Athens-based and -centric event, though; not only does it provide our town with something usually only accessible to metropolitan ears, but it’s something only our town could create.

“I want to keep working with my friends,” McIntosh says with a smile, “I have buddies out there, and there’ll be new buddies who I’ll meet through buddies, but the core of my music is what my friends are doing here. They get it.”