UCSD Art & Music students forge new trails with technology


Beware the Ides of March ... but look forward to the Ides of June, I always say. Mid-June marks the end of spring quarter at UC San Diego and heralds the exciting final presentations of the graduating seniors in the Interdisciplinary Computing in the Arts & Music (ICAM) major.

ICAM is a part of the Visual Arts Department — a very popular major these days. Brett Stalbaum, who is the ICAM faculty coordinator, said 40 percent of the students in the university’s Arts & Humanities division are Visual Arts majors. The Media major within Visual Arts is its largest subdivision. Media has more students than the entire Literature Department at UCSD. But if you combine ICAM with its offshoot, the new Speculative Design Major, then together, they are even larger than Media.

The ICAM presentations are a grand opportunity to shine a light into the fog of the future and see where things are going in the arts, music, technology and computing. The ICAM students are always on the leading edge and never fail to open your eyes to new possibilities.

This was a very different year for ICAM. Although there were many more students graduating this year than usual, the odd thing was that, unlike in the past, where most of the students had clear and definite plans for their future, this year’s crew was much more unsure where their lives were headed.

Gavin Baudillo, student curator of the visual arts portion of the ICAM presentations (there are visual arts and music sections), explained student unsureness as a product of the times. “We have the Trump Administration, which is changing everything,” he said. “The Brits have left the European Union, and there is much uncertainty about Visas. Students are thinking, ‘I don’t know what is going to happen in the near future. How can I have a definite plan?’ ”

Peter Otto, who was the music coordinator of ICAM for many years until he retired recently to work on automobile sounds systems, said he thought this year’s students were less political than in past years, but better at using computer hardware, such as arduino and raspberry micro processors.

The ICAM visual arts component, headed by Professor Amy Alexander and Calit2 Art Gallery curator Trish Stone, featured some 30 visual arts presentations that took place in several rooms in and near the Kamil Undergraduate Art Gallery in the Mandeville building complex. There seemed to be an emphasis on virtual and augmented reality, plus the art viewer’s interaction with the piece, or how the act of observing art can change it.

Jelissa Bueza brought in a huge bean bag for people to relax into as they took a humorous immersive psychological quiz she designed. Visitors put on virtual reality goggles that have an attachment for inserting a Galaxy S7 Edge phone, which has a virtual reality app, to take the quiz.

In another room, Caycee Uril offered a performance piece where she pretended to be a secret agent for Social Media. Her job was to get people hooked on Facebook so they spend all day staring at their smartphones, even if they are crossing the street or driving their cars (which you see a lot of these days!).

Tralton Beelings built an installation piece as a comment on the mounting trash in the world. He took all the waste from cleaning his room and glued it to a painted board with an attached light strip to create a landscape scene that glows in the dark.

Hanna Liao designed an installation piece that comments on pollution by way of augmented reality. When one views her piece through the lens of a smartphone, an app partially inserts a video onto the view of her piece, thus “augmenting” it.

Irene Ti created a very fun piece called “Pillows,” which allows one to vent frustrations. The guest sits in front of a large pillow and pounds on it as he or she yells into a microphone. Their pounding and yelling show up as a fireworks display on a large screen above their head.

Nadia Kurihara set up a fascinating virtual reality experience that takes participants to the house she lived in when she was in middle school. As one goes room to room, one hears her voice talking about her experiences of loneliness and melancholy. She said she had to live alone because her parents were working in San Francisco and the people who were supposed to take care of her never showed up!

I tried out the virtual reality experience and got quite hot and sweaty. I felt like I would need a lot of time to get used to virtual reality, but would like to someday take a walk down the backstreets of Venice, Italy via this means. Faculty adviser Stalbaum said this was exactly the problem holding virtual reality back — a lot of people get nauseated when they use it!

Sal Morena garnered lots of attention with his setup of four African drums carved by the Ga people in Ghana, which he borrowed from Madison High School, where he is a percussion coach. Morena designed a computer program and composed several percussion pieces played by robot arms holding drumsticks attached to each drum.

Gavin Baudillo designed a virtual reality program for the laptop. His aim was to explore the limits of the virtual reality gaming world. While participants play his game, they can see themselves in a mirror, send him an e-mail, call him on the phone, or go to an outside website, which is pretty unheard of in gaming. But Baudillo had to take out the bit where one falls through a hole in the game floor because it took the user outside the outside the universe of the game and crashed the program!

Li Wei Wang created a very interesting box with mirrors on all the inside walls and a set of light cubes inside. One sits on the floor inside the box, and as the music plays and the lights flash, one can see reflections of themselves off into infinity. Jose Quintero created a game that lets players fly like a particle of light through the universe. Gamers use their two hands hovering over a motion sensor as their wings.

The music presentations of ICAM, which were directed by Music Department Ph.D. candidate Kevin Hayward, took place in the Conrad Prebys Music Building. In past years, students were required to give live performances. However, this year they gave scholarly talks and just played a tape of their music. Lenis Kim played one of her hip-hop songs and Junseok Shim authored Christian music. Brad Stevenson built a fascinating light sculpture and Mai Dinh gave a rousing talk on a game that lets one interact with a virtual pet that looks like a blob.

Best-of-Show for ICAM 2017 went to 42-year-old Todd Everett. Everett taped the underwater sounds at various places in San Diego Bay, showing that the Bay has its own unique sound world. He took classes part-time, while working full-time for UC Extension Division. It took him eight years to complete his degree, and like many ICAM students, he is not quite sure of what the future holds for him.