New Media engages Baruch students in the Scrapyard Challenge
Published: Monday, May 9, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 10:10
Last Saturday, New Media artist Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Parson's School of Design MFA student Brian Putz came to Baruch to lead Fine and Performing Arts students in The Scrapyard Challenge. The special workshop based on interface design allowed participating students "to build interactive MIDI musical instruments out of discarded objects and ‘junk' to perform live with realtime technology."
The intensive workshops were co-developed and usually co-led by Brucker-Cohen, a Media professor both at NYU's Steinhardt School and at Parsons, and Katherine Moriwaki, an Assistant Professor of Design at Parsons. It grew out of an arts organization called the Dublin Art and Technology Association (DATA), which Brucker-Cohen started while living in Dublin, Ireland from 2001-2004. In 2003, DATA held a one-year anniversary festival in the theme of "the domocratization of technology."
"We held a swap-meet where people could drop off their old computers and contribute them to be hacked in the workshop along with other pieces of outdated technology," he said. "So the workshops are really about rediscovering old pieces of technology by re-imagining them as new and novel interfaces. [It] is really an informal and fun course on interface and interaction design using recycled, repurposed, and / or trash materials," he added.
According to ScrapyardChallenge.com, the workshops have been held 45 times in 14 countries, on 5 continents since 2003. Workshop number 46 was held at Baruch to FPA professor Katherine Behar's credit. She organized the workshop after meeting with Brucker-Cohen when they were both on an advisory panel for Harvestworks, "a non-profit organization here in New York that supports the creation and presentation of artworks that use new technology," she said.
Behar, who joined the Baruch faculty just this year, is in the process of developing a New Media minor in Fine and Performing Arts.
"New Media is an exciting, wide open, creative field," she said. "I invited Jonah to bring The Scrapyard Challenge to Baruch because the workshop seemed like a perfect, fun opportunity for that kind of collaboration."
Students created a variety of musical instruments out of old appliances and household objects, taking great liberties prying or breaking open anything from old tape recorders and Apple computer monitors to children's toys.
In the words of participant senior William Flores, it was about "learning how to harmonize things I would never expect to combine, basically bending the rules of music itself and pretty much reinventing what [are] conventional instruments."
An audience of some friends and family joined the group following the workshop for their "jamming session" of an unconventional, and clearly discordant but fun, performance.
"In a limited time frame, the workshop went very well! Everyone was able to make something that worked and demo it at the final presentations and performance," Brucker-Cohen remarked.
Flores said he's never done anything like this, and though no electronics skills or experience with technology were necessary, he felt he "should've paid more attention in physics." But both he and Senior Lunar Le invited the challenge.
"I really like experimenting with different art and this was really cool," Le said.
Especially in light of the new digital age of music, where much of it is computerized and hardly made with real instruments anymore, "and we don't do anything physical anymore," Le felt it was a good way to be physically engaged with the music.
With such enthusiasm, Behar thought the workshop was a wonderful success.
"In just a few hours, we transformed piles of trash and junk into a band of MIDI instruments," she said. "And I think everyone's projects, were creative, inventive, and fun."