Science Festival enlists jazz quartet

The jazz quartet performing Sunday at Drexel University's Mitchell Auditorium created music that you could not only hear, but see.

Notes in an octave became pulses of blue, pink, and yellow.

Chords on an electric keyboard looked like a moving, three-dimensional EKG.

Bass notes morphed into streaks of neon green.

The concert, part of the Philadelphia Science Festival, introduced the audience to the science of music by showing concepts like frequency, pitch, and timbre as visual elements.

"What we're trying to do is augment that experience and reveal insight into the science of music," said Youngmoo Kim, assistant dean of media technologies at Drexel's College of Engineering, who coordinated the concert.

Technology developed at Drexel converted music into real-time visuals and transmitted the images not only on an auditorium screen, but through the iPhones and iPads of concertgoers.

"It's an incredibly sophisticated process," Kim said.

The concert was among the final events of the 10-day, citywide science festival.

Now in its second year, the festival featured an eclectic calendar of events to celebrate Philadelphia's rich scientific community.

There was something to interest everyone, from kindergartners to postgraduates. Sunday's calendar included bird-watching at Clark Park, a discussion about tattoos at a beer hall in Kensington, and a screening of a documentary on the environmental movement at the Franklin Institute.

Kim, who has advanced degrees in music and engineering, created visuals that could explain the basic ingredients of music.

His jazz accompanists were Stephon Alexander, an associate professor of physics at Haverford College and a renowned saxophonist; Will Calhoun, a Grammy-winning drummer with the group Living Colour; John Benitez on bass; and Marc Cary on keyboard.

Between pieces, Aniruddh Patel, a senior fellow at the Neurosciences Institute, explained how the brain processes music and rhythms.

One of the few animals that reacts as humans to music: birds.

Patel delighted crowds by showing Snowball the cockatoo dancing on YouTube.

Both the visual show and dancing cockatoo were part of serious research.

But as Kim emphasized, the real star of the show was the music.

"Even if all the technology fails," Kim said before the show, "it's still a great concert."

 


Contact Jennifer Lin

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