New Digital Media Center for LSU

There are times when a particular event becomes a landmark in one’s life. Sometimes, we know when they occur (marriage, birth of a child), and sometimes we only realize their importance years later. Yesterday, was one of those days, and it game me a chance to reflect on my career as a composer, a teacher, and an administrator, all at the same time.

Yesterday, we broke ground on a new building for LSU’s campus, the Louisiana Digital Media Center. The LDMC will be home to CCT (and the AVATAR Initiative) as well as to EA’s North American Testing Center for quality assurance.   This building has been “in the works” for at least 4 years, and represents the efforts of a lot of people at the university, city/parish, state and federal levels. There are too many people to thank directly, but you know who you are. For everyone’s effort, I am extremely grateful.

This building represents a vision for how a university can bridge teaching and research with economic development. It goes far beyond just workforce training for specific industries. It’s an environment where new ideas can bubble up out of casual conversations in the hall or over coffee, ideas that can lead to remarkable innovations that make our lives better.

The LDMC opens a new chapter for the CCT, and in the evolution of our AVATAR Initiative in digital media, fulfilling a vision that my late colleague Michael Daugherty and I shared when we started the Music & Art Digital Studio (MADstudio) back in 1995. I spent a lot of time thinking about Michael, our first projects, our collaborations, and our wild fantasies of how we would have an iconic place on campus that would rival the best digital media research centers in the country.

Yesterday shows that to realize big things, sometimes you need a few wild fantasies to get you on your way. To everyone who joined in on these wild dreams, thank you.


A great student project

One of my graduate students developed a great installation piece called “Bugs in the System.” It uses sensors, cameras, microphones, an Arduino board, and these really cool electronic bugs (you have to see these!). He did it as part of Jesse Allison’s augmented instruments class last semester. Here’s a link to his online documentation.

Nick Hwang: Bugs in the System

Grid makes laptops sing

Last week, I spoke with an editor from the International Science Grid This Week about our research in laptop orchestras.  She was particularly interested in our work with computational grid frameworks like SAGA in support of laptop orchestra performances. Our software, GRid ENabled Deployment for Laptop orchestras (GRENDL), has received some interesting notice, both at recent SIGGRAPH and SEAMUS conferences. But this is our first notice in the press on the subject.

Grid makes laptops sing | iSGTW.

Two articles about the Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana

We were visited yesterday by some brave reporters from the Daily Reveille, LSU’s student newspaper. They came to talk with us about our upcoming Winter Tour and take pictures and video of us rehearsing. So we knew we should expect an article in the paper soon.

Well, we were blessed with a bonanza of press: a front-page article, an op-ed and a great video clip.  Here they are:


Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana rehearsal video.

Too much fun at my job – Part 2

For the past few days, I’ve toyed with the Kinect sensor. In order to use the sensor, I downloaded the freenect library, as well as a freenect wrapper for both Processing (courtesy of Daniel Shiffman) and Max (courtesy of Jean-Marc Pelletier). After a bit of experimentation, I started working with the jit.freenect.grab object for Jitter.

By combining the jit.freenect.grab object with some computer vision processors (OpenCV – also thanks to JMP), I built a quick & dirty kinect-controlled synthesizer in Max.  X/Y position of your hands (or head or legs) determines pitch/amplitude, and Z position triggers sound events on and off.

I’m thinking of this interface as a kind of virtual curtain. Put your hand through the curtain, and you make sounds. Move your hands around, and the sounds change accordingly. Pull them behind the curtain and the sound stop. It’s a pretty simple mapping, and I will incorporate more CV tracking to influence sound generation (direction, # of features, optical flow), and to build more complex sound objects. Right now, it’s just 16 voices of sine waves, but I’m thinking of using granular textures as well as virtual objects that will make sounds when “hit.” (Working title of this project is “Pay No Attention” as in “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” from The Wizard of Oz).

I’ll post a video of what this looks like after the holiday break.  I need to spend some time thinking about how to give this interface a non-trivial mapping, and the kind of “virtual instrument” I want to compose for. And after talking with Brygg Ullmer, I’m now thinking that this may be something that could be adapted for our laptop orchestra, the LOLs.

The good news is that I’ve had the time to become totally engrossed in working on this. The bad news is that I lose all sense of time when that happens. What is certain is that I have way, way too much fun at my job.


  • Git repository for OpenKinect freenect library
  • Daniel Shiffman’s Processing library for freenect
  • Jean-Marc Pelletier’s Max/Jitter objects for freenect
  • Jean-Marc Pelletier’s OpenCV objects for Max/Jitter

SEAMUS 2011: LSU will have a record representation

The announcement letters have been sent out and I’m very pleased to say that this year, our program will have a record representation at the 2011 SEAMUS National Conference. Five pieces have been programmed, and two papers accepted, with a total of six people going to Miami for the meeting.

Jeff, Corey and Nick will perform one of their improvisations as The Three Computeers, Yemin Oh’s audio-driven video piece Deterministic Chaos and my fixed media piece Unhinged will be presented in concert.  Jesse and Corey also have works in the listening room.  And Jesse and I both will be giving papers on our current research.

Why so many this year? I think it’s a confluence of events. First, our Experimental Music & Digital Media (EM/DM) program has grown rapidly in the first two years of its existence.  We have four PhD students and three doctoral minors enrolled. In past years, I’ve usually only had two or three graduate students in the studio who were focused more on composing in general than composing specifically for electroacoustic media. But the arrival of Jesse Allison to our faculty has also provided a spark of energy to our program and our students are truly focused on music, technology and creativity.

Congrats to all our students for their success this year.  It’s well deserved.