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Q&A with Youngmoo Kim: Drexel's 'Science of Jazz' Event at the Philadelphia Science Festival

magentic resonator piano

April 15, 2013

Drexel’s unique brand of innovation will be all over this week’s city-wide celebration of science and technology at the Philadelphia Science Festival. More than 100,000 festival-goers will get a look into the wonders of science from some of Drexel’s top researchers and students during the 10-day celebration.

There are more than 100 events but one must-see highlight of the festival is Drexel’s “Science of Jazz,” a next-generation jazz concert the evening of April 23 in the Mandell Theater. The concert is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Science Festival, an ensemble of world-class musicians, Cunningham Piano, and Drexel’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center, which focuses on the intersection of the arts, science and engineering.

DrexelNow spoke with Dr. Youngmoo Kim, director of the ExCITe Center, to find out learn more about this uniquely Drexel event and why it’s one to add to your to-do list for the festival.

What exactly is the “Science of Jazz” event?

It brings four world-class musicians to Drexel for an amazing jazz quartet. This is the second year we’re doing this and we welcome back headliners Marc Cary, Grammy nominated keyboardist, and his Focus Trio, and Wil Calhoun, a Grammy award-winning percussionist (best known as the drummer of the group Living Colour). These two are both on the cutting edge of not only music performance, but also incorporating new technology into their performances.

The event is more than just a jazz concert. There will also be large-screen projected visuals, as well as an iPhone app that gives people in the audience an idea of some of the science behind the music, such as wavelength, frequency, harmony and timbre. In short, we want people to be able to see some of the physical phenomena behind the music. When you can hear, see and feel it simultaneously, I believe certain concepts become readily apparent, and the concert becomes a richer and more meaningful experience.

What’s new at this year’s event compared to last year?

This year, we’re striving to make the event even bigger and better. It’s in Mandell Theater, so we can accommodate a larger audience. We’ve adjusted the lineup from last year, when we had more of an ad hoc group play more of a jam session, to an ensemble that regularly performs together. My perspective has always been that even without any of the technology, it’s still going to be a great music concert.

Another new and exciting aspect to this year’s event is that we’re showcasing the magnetic resonator piano, developed by Drexel’s Music & Entertainment Technology Laboratory (MET-lab), a hybrid acoustic-electronic instrument that augments the grand piano. It can make sounds that no other piano in the world can make—it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. We can actually change how the piano strings react and how they vibrate. It really is an awesome piece of technology, and we’re working with our partners at Cunningham Piano (a piano manufacturer based in Philadelphia) to present it using a fantastic piano both at the ExCITe Center and for the performance in Mandell.

In what ways does the event highlight the work happening at the ExCITe Center?

“Science of Jazz” is multidisciplinary collaboration that really plays on Drexel’s strengths—innovation using great technology incorporating engineering, performance and digital media.  You can’t pull something like this off without deep knowledge in all of these fields.

There are lots of people doing amazing things with technology and performance but we try to take familiar forms of music, such as classical and jazz, and make them even more accessible. It’s never technology for technology’s sake. We like to push the boundaries, but always for a purpose, applying cutting-edge technology to create a more informative and engaging audience experience.

Who is the audience for this event?

I really hope it has very broad appeal—all ages, from kids to adults and people coming from all different perspectives and fields. Maybe you’re a music fan or a jazz fan, primarily interested in the performance. Perhaps some will be drawn there because of the science and technology. Hopefully, no matter your interests, you’ll see something new, something you’ve never seen or considered before.

To learn more about Drexel’s ExCITe Center, click here. “Science of Jazz” will take place on 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23 at the Mandell Theater (Chestnut Street between 32nd and 33rd streets). Tickets are $10 ($9 for educators) and can be purchased here.