Music could be heard in Riverview Park, but its source was hidden. Food trucks sat at the end of the street, but no band or sound system was in sight.
That’s because the second night of the Vault Allure festival was a bit tucked away, and to get there, the crowd walked down a cobblestone path before finding the show in a blocked off underpass, one with historical significance in Jersey City Heights. Happy to enjoy a rare, cool night in August, the audience surrounded two, small stages, setting an intimate showcase for artists of all types.
Presented by Nokia Bell Labs in collaboration with the College of Arts and Letters, the event pulled off a feat even greater than hosting a comfortable atmosphere during the dog days of summer. It showed that through collaboration, students and professionals alike could push the bounds of technology to create experiences all together new.
"This series of events in Jersey City, in collaboration with Stevens, is an attempt to fuse the traditional with the modern and show the benefits of fusing art and technology when you place the human at the center," said Domhnaill Hernon. Hernon serves as the Head of the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) lab, the branch of Nokia Bell Labs that sponsored the event.
"A big part of our Nokia Bell Labs vision is to create insights and capability to enable networks to connect people together in a deeper and more empathetic way,” said Paul Wilford, a Nokia Bell Labs research director who has been joining forces with the university for many years. “Partnering with students and faculty from Stevens has broadened our understanding of what this could be. Bringing scientific researchers and artists and academics together opens up new ways to see how we can communicate with each other in richer fashions.”
At Vault Allure, three recent graduates of CAL’s music and technology program epitomized this idea while entertaining the masses.
“The popular media has painted an extremely negative picture of emerging technology,” said Moenika Chowdhury, a recent Stevens Institute graduate and current intern at Bell Labs. “These technologies are said to potentially destroy jobs and even all of humanity.”
“At Nokia Bell Labs we’ve fused art and technology to increase the creative potential of humanity,” Chowdhury continued. “We show that by fusing the best of humanity with the best of technology, we can achieve more than by separating them.” To demonstrate, she presented a challenge. She would play two snippets of music on her flute: one by the composer Bach, the other written by an algorithm to match his style. The audience’s job was to decided which was which, and with a show of hands, they overwhelmingly voted that the actual Bach composition was computer generated.
Further demonstrating her experiment's convincing results, Chowdhury went on to play the four part composition seen below. The performance blended harmonies written by Chowdhury, Bach, and the computer.
With his project ‘Impulses,’ alumnus Andrew Kihs also demonstrated how technology could be manipulated to wow a crowd. His software interpreted algorithmically generated music and created visuals based on this information. The result? Projected patterns dancing across sails, hanging at the back of the tunnel.
All the while, alumna and Nokia Bell Labs intern Danielle McPhatter welcomed guests to play with her classroom project. “I had a dream major, and that ended up being music and technology fused with game design,” said McPhatter, whose interactive piece manifested these interdisciplinary interests.
A sensor resting on the table tracked users’ hand gestures, allowing them to manipulate a virtual sculpture. As the sphere on screen expanded and contracted, the machine’s audio output fluctuated. An open palm, moving outward, raised pitch, while a quick flick of the hand caused a bell to chime. McPhatter began working on the project with another student, Elizabeth Trakhtenberg, in their electronic music class, and soon she will debut a more expansive version at the Opening Night Celebration of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Rain or shine, head to the cross street of Palisade and Bowers in Jersey City Heights on Saturday, September 15 from 6 to 10 p.m for the final night of Vault Allure. Audiences can look forward to former Stevens lecturer Seth Cluett performing with the International Contemporary Ensemble. The ensemble will play music Cluett composed while working at Stevens and collaborating with Nokia Bell Labs as an artist-in-residence, but there’s a twist. The instruments will be fused with 3D modifications, challenging expert users to engage with their medium in an entirely new way.