Faculty Perspectives: Martin Brooke

Martin Brooke

Martin Brooke, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Bass Connections Project Teams: Live Processing and Live Art: Performance and Technology and Machine Society Interfaces

StudentsWhat are the theoretical and historical implications of using technology in performance? How can data-intensive live processing be used to create live art works that transform our awareness of the space around us? Professor Brooke founded a course with Tommy DeFrantz and Tyler Walters to explore these issues. A related Bass Connections project expands on design techniques in engineering, live art and performance and cultural studies methodologies. Each small group designs and builds an artistic performance piece and choreographs a way for themselves or others to interact with the piece.

We asked him a few questions about his Bass Connections experience; below are excerpts from our conversation.

A new collaboration

Tyler and I had met and talked a lot. We got a CIT grant and taught an engineering class. It went very well. And then Duke hired Tommy, who’s a superstar. He’s chair of AAAS and he’s into theater, dance and African-American history.

Our class Performance and Technology is cross-listed in ECE, Information Science, Theater Studies and Dance. We get an incredibly eclectic group of students taking it. The Bass Connections team does things that spin out of the class and we take further. It’s been pretty successful.

Overcoming fears

Creating artists who understand technology, and engineers who understand art, is what our class and project are all about. I like to think about it like a vocabulary. It is indeed possible for artists to be good technologists today.

Students workingOur class is full of engineers who have been able to overcome their fears of performance art, and performance or theater studies people or others who have managed to overcome fear of technology.

It turns out that there are quite a few ECE majors who would like to do dance. We usually get a few MFAs. We had to expand it this year; we normally have four groups, but there are so many people we had to expand to five.

The teams are great, and the class definitely brings people in to think about this stuff.

Building and sharing

The things that they do in the class are always really neat when they’re done.

We built this thing called a phase mirror, which is being used in Reynolds Theater performances. It’s got server motors in it, it can collapse all the way, it’s got three projectors, and it can move.

Students dancingEverything that the students create gets shown at the ChoreoLab in Reynolds Theater. Our current project is to track people moving in a space. We’re doing it with Guillermo Sapiro.

One student who was in our Bass Connections project is trying to do a start-up around music and software. He was also a Pratt Fellow. He developed the Connect interfaces; every project in our class last semester was based around the Connect.

Duke Forward used a project from our class in one of their events in Washington, DC.

Hack and munge

The first time we taught the class, we had an artist come in and teach. I had this idea of how it should be taught, and she taught it [differently] and it just completely changed [my approach]. Her idea was derived out of community: Not “you get to be good at this thing and you do it,” but “there’s a community that will support you to do this.” That idea was totally new to me.

Now, in all my engineering classes I teach that way. I say, “Look, you’re not going to learn how to build this thing, you’re going to learn about the community that’s involved in it.” I call it hack and munge.

Hack is repurposing something. Munge is taking two things you’ve hacked and mashing them together to make something new. I learned to do this in the class—how to take this community-based stuff and munge it together. It’s given me a whole different way of looking at a project that I wouldn’t have had.

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