Smart Art: Gateway to the Arts goes High Tech
"I don't know if kids think of everyday, commonplace sound as worthy of making art," says the soundscape artist known as R.Weis
. His most recent composition is 15 seconds of creaking doors turned into an intriguingly rhythmic, even melodic, composition.
"I think it will be a surprise for kids and young people to use the technology they use every day to experiment with sound the way they might experiment with visual art or music."
Weis, of the North Side, is about to find out exactly how large numbers of kids react to his work. He is just one of the new high-tech artists the Gateway to the Arts
program intends to add to its roster of 150 performing and teaching artists sent to schools and "wherever learning is taking place," says Executive Director Lisa Hoitsma.
The long-running program's fresh emphasis recognizes "how arts and technology are becoming such partners in schools and in children's lives," she says, and involves a new partnership with the Pittsburgh Technology Council
Weis has been working with manipulated sound since the 1980s – first his voice, and lately the protesting doorways of his own Victorian house, for his piece called Victoriana. That necessitated 200 feet of microphone cable snaking from room to room and the use of a digital sequencing program that remembers multiple sounds he combines into single keystrokes.
While playing past pieces for adults and children simultaneously, Weis has observed that "the adults were perplexed, asking traditional questions: 'Is this music?'" while the kids, on the other hand, "weren't questioning what it was. They were just responding to the sounds and the rhythm."
Weis is hoping to teach kids the virtues of using original sounds for their samples, rather than stealing snippets of old records, as current pop hits will do.
Gateway's Hoitsma is certainly sold on Weis's originality. He was the winner of the Tech Council's new Gateway to the Arts Award in May – part of PTC's 2010 Design, Art and Technology Awards (DATA). Victoriana will be featured Sept. 30 at Gateway's Tap into Art
event, along with other high-tech artists. The party and cocktails at J. Verno Studios will include recognition for the work of Don Marinelli, co-founder of Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.
Partnering with Gateway, says Tech Council head Audrey Russo, is about "raising awareness and transcending boundaries. Introducing technology-focused artists into classrooms, libraries and other learning spaces is an excellent place to begin to push those boundaries."
Hoitsma hopes artists like Weis will help Gateway "reach kids where they are" – with their ears full of iPod earbuds, for instance, blaring Lady Gaga.Turn it up!
Nicole Myers of Regent Square is one of three string players in Cello Fury
, a band that's trying to change what goes in those young ears, thanks to Gateway – and to a little high-tech. Playing in front of a drummer, the acoustic instrumentalists have plugged in and modified their sound to make the bass, lead guitar and vocal sounds kids love in rock music.
"We try to combine the rock song format with a little classical twist," Myers says. "I think it makes it more interesting for a group of kids to discover that you can play a cello traditionally or you can amplify it."
Etna mixed-media artist Sandy Kessle
r is one of the newest high-tech artists brought in for Gateway's art and tech emphasis. The future of paintings is interactive, Kessler says, and that's reflected in her own work. Around 65, inspired by aerial photos of the intersection of route 65 and the McKees Rocks Bridge, uses modern technology to play with images of old industry, employing motion sensors and switches to make elements move up and down, spin or chime out with the "Pennsylvania Polka."
"A lot of what the visual arts offer is problem-solving," Kessler says. Inspring kids to make visual art, she adds, helps "kids get insight that they are really smart, capable human beings and that they have a lot to offer. It's really nice to see that." Sign up
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