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Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship Grants: Sharpening the Cutting Edge

 
  Associate Professor Lori Landay

Associate Professor Lori Landay of the Liberal Arts Department and Professor Neil Leonard of the Music Synthesis Department have been named as the first recipients of the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship grant. Berklee Trustee Mike Dreese, CEO of Newbury Comics, gave a $1 million gift to the college that will in part fund fellowships to be awarded annually in support of innovative faculty projects. The fellowships are offered across the board rather than tied to a discipline of study or musical genre. The goal is to foster faculty projects that transcend traditional boundaries and explore new ideas in creative ways, bringing to light all kinds of faculty endeavors.

For her part, Landay will explore virtual online environments in an effort to stake out possibilities for the music industry and musicians of the future. Leonard will make three multimedia presentations, two in Italy and one in Germany.

Lori Landay: Traveling to Multimedia's Edge

Landay will use the grant to kick-start her upcoming sabbatical project, "Sharpening the Cutting Edge: What's New in New Media?" The work is an extension of her varied efforts to help faculty integrate technology into the classroom since she joined Berklee in 2001. Landay will use the fellowship to explore new media from a musical perspective, identifying opportunities for the music industry, musicians, and music educators.

While her primary research interests involve media and cultural studies, Landay is also fascinated by virtual 3-D worlds such as the websites Second Life, ActiveWorlds, and There.com. These animated environments enable people to interact socially, express themselves creatively, fly, play games, shop, build things, establish businesses, share music and video, and learn collaboratively in a new educational context.

Landay believes that these virtual environments provide enormous opportunity for music and music education. "The text-based model of online learning may at some point be eclipsed by simulated classrooms in a virtual world," she says. "Instead of meeting with classmates from around the world in a chat room, the meeting would take place in simulation with students and teachers interacting with one another's online characters, known as 'avatars.' Instead of sharing music through a social networking site like MySpace, fans might gather in a virtual club. Rather than using the iTunes Store interface, consumers could go to a virtual store, walk though aisles, look at album covers, and simulate the experience of going to a bricks-and-mortar record store.

"This fellowship gives me the opportunity to step outside my usual area of focus, to look at how the music industry and education might use the virtual world," Landay says. Several colleges and universities have begun to build online extensions in places like SecondLife.com. And though Berklee has developed an online presence with Berkleemusic.com, the college has yet to explore learning and performance opportunities in online virtual communities. Landay will further explore these possibilities and draft a report to help Berklee decision makers determine whether the college should investigate the area further.

 
Professor Neil Leonard plays into a cluster of church bells  

Neil Leonard: Virtualizing Bricks and Mortar

While Landay explores how to bring music into a virtual environment, Neil Leonard is doing the opposite by bringing virtual music into real environments. Leonard's work began in Italy in May with a site-specific sound installation in the medieval city of Padova. The piece uscir ad ascoltar le stelle..., was performed as part of a citywide music festival called the Giornata dell'Ascolta (or Listening Day). Leonard's piece was unveiled at the entrance of the Santa Maria dei Servi Church, in the midst of a 400-meter installation in the porticos of Padova's historic district, along via Roma, the city's central artery.

As listeners entered the church for Sunday Mass, they experienced a sound-collage broadcast from three speakers arranged as an audio triptych. The piece required that Leonard and his collaborator, composer Professor Maura Capuzzo of Venice Conservatory, develop 10 hours of continuous, nonrepeating sound. With the aid of computer processing, the two extracted, exaggerated, and juxtaposed aspects of sacred and ritual sounds from around the world to create a sonic statement.

Titled Echo Resonance & Memory, the second phase of Leonard's project is an installation developed in conjunction with Italian choreographer Gabriella Riccio and video artist Alia Scalvino. The work was performed in a small village on the side of Mount Vesuvius, Napoli, in late May. It was based on a surround-sound collage of recordings of an outdoor modern art piece constructed from a cluster of weathered church bells by Italian conceptual artist Jannis Kounellis, at La Marrana, the private estate for environmental art in La Spezia. Rather than presenting the installation on a traditional stage, the three artists performed simultaneously in the passageway of a historic building. Leonard's prerecorded processed sounds and live saxophone playing accompanied Riccio's movement and Scalvino's live video creating an echoing conversation that explored the work's themes.

"Unlike a traditional piece with a beginning, middle, and end, this piece has no fixed point for the audience to focus on," Leonard says. "We're seeking to create something conducive to contemplating this site - a beautiful village on the side of an active volcano." Later this summer, Leonard and his collaborators will perform Echo Resonance & Memory at the national Italian theater triennial in Napoli, Napoli Teatro Festival Italia.

In July, the third phase of the project brings Leonard to Germany to codirect a multimedia performance ensemble at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen. He will work with visual artists and computer musicians to enable his saxophone and computers to produce a live feed that will be "played" by kinetic sculptures equipped with light pens that will draw video images in response to the musical performance. The sculptures were created by Professor Claudius Lazzeroni.

Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship will continue to promote the experimental, forward-looking work various faculty members have long pursued. "Berklee is a school of contemporary music, and contemporary musicians of all eras have collaborated with dancers, writers, visual artists, and architects," says Leonard. "I feel what I am doing is consistent with that tradition."