North Central College - Naperville, IL

Music Shaped with Technology

North Central College today is fertile ground for collaborations across disciplines and experiments with curriculum, facilities design and technology. It adds up to better opportunities for student learning and liberal arts education relevant to the 21st century.

A conversation between music major Brian Riordan ’12 and Jonathon Kirk, assistant professor of music, may contain some computer programming terms more often heard in the computer science department. With Kirk’s help, Riordan has been programming an interface—developing programming language—to control digital audio processing. A touch panel device in Kirk’s office is mapped to real-time processes and can be programmed to recognize various hand gestures by the user.

“Brian and I have been finding ways to control and shape electronic sounds, and programmable interfaces give us new ways to experiment with music,” explains Kirk. “Brian has the patience to work with this technological component.”

The pair has been working with Max/MSP, a programming language that is used for a variety of multimedia applications. In addition to collaborating with Riordan, Kirk teaches courses in electronic and computer music that focus on the synthesis and processing of digital sound and the use of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Among his students are music majors and interactive media studies (IMS) majors. Also a composer, Kirk holds advanced degrees from Eastman School of Music, Brown University and Northwestern University and has organized a Sounds of New Music Festival the past two years, allowing students to hear performances and attend workshops by artists in contemporary classical music ensembles.

Riordan, a hand percussionist, enjoys performing jazz and world music and has studied at the National School of the Arts in Havana, Cuba. But his real passion is composing, whether acoustic, orchestral, choral or electronic. He came to North Central two years ago as a transfer student and found the perfect mentor in Kirk. “My focus with him is still composing,” says Riordan. “It was so great to find someone who had his level of expertise and knowledge.”

Exploring digital technologies in the field of music gives students new perspectives on creating and controlling sounds. “While sound is invisible, these technologies allow students to form a different kind of tactile relationship with music,” Kirk explains. “You can get even closer to understanding the beauty of sound and music.”

North Central NOW Spring 2012