Remix Interactive, a live orchestral performance featuring digitally remixed music and a high-tech light show created and produced by some of Philadelphia’s most talented high school students, will take place as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival on Sunday, April 27. The event will be held at 1:30 p.m. at World Café Live (3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia).
At the event, Philadelphia’s premier youth orchestra Play on, Philly! will perform both the original and student-remixed versions of “Mambo,” a song from Leonard Bernstein’s classic West Side Story score. Audience members will be able to download a student-designed app for their smartphones that will display different colored lights in response to the music. Attendees will also be part of a live stream of the event that will be viewed by a virtual audience attending an Internet2 conference on the performing arts and technology in Miami, Fla.
The event has been a year in the making. It began as the brainchild of Ellen Fishman-Johnson, PhD, director of the arts and new media at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH Academy), who envisioned a student-led public art initiative combining music, technology and creative collaboration and providing a real-world learning experience.
Joining SCH Academy students and the youth orchestra Play on, Philly! in the Remix initiative are students from Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School. At the outset of the project, Fishman-Johnson approached Youngmoo Kim, PhD, an SCH parent, director of Drexel University’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center and an associate professor in the College of Engineering. The ExCITe Center and the Drexel App Lab are also supporting the initiative on the technological side.
“We love collaborating,” said Kim. “We believe that the most exciting things happen when you have broad, multi-disciplinary collaboration. So bringing together musicians, composers, engineers, computer scientists and app developers is a really exciting combination.”
Kim has a longstanding connection with SCH Academy, including working with some of their students as part of a summer program at Drexel University. So this collaboration was, in part, inspired by his experiences with the school over the years as well as an extension of the app-integrated concerts he’s produced for the Philadelphia Science Festival over the past two years.
“SCH Academy, Boys’ Latin and Play on, Philly! are doing some amazing things, so this was a great opportunity to partner with those organizations and try something different,” said Kim. “It was also an opportunity to invite students into Drexel's new App Lab in order to learn something that they wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to – how to create an app from the ground up.”
In the fall, Kim visited an eleventh grade SCH Academy class on programming and game development taught by Assistant Director of Digital Campus Vincent Day to talk about writing simple code. He also hosted virtual meetings on this topic with the students over Skype and Google Hangout.
Last month, two students from the class, Sebastian Martinez and Jordan Zagerman, visited Drexel’s recently launched Application Development Laboratory (APP Lab) to develop the app. Housed within the ExCITe Center and administered by the Pennoni Honors College, the Lab provides a dedicated space for students to meet with each other, faculty and external entrepreneurs to collaborate, design and produce mobile applications.
SCH seniors Sydney Young and Cece Charendoff created the following video clip about the app component of the project:
The students worked with Kim, as well as App Lab manager Matthew Prockup, a PhD candidate in the College of Engineering, and App Lab co-op Kyle Levin, an undergraduate student in the College of Engineering, to produce the app.
“The app turns the audience into part of the light show,” said Kim. “During the concert, audience members can hold up their smartphones which will change color based on what’s happening in the music. Essentially, we will be able to draw pictures across the audience by lighting up certain sections and creating effects that are synchronized with the music.”
For the students, the learning opportunities have been many and memorable. “Our partnership with boys Latin has opened my eyes to a new community of passionate, talented high schoolers in the Philadelphia area,” said SCH Academy sophomore Samira Baird.
“Remixing taught me a lot about sound and editing,” said Boys’ Latin student and future game designer Tashon Coleman. “The experience has brought me a step closer to achieving my goal of what I want to do in life.”
“We have a new appreciation for the amount of thought, time and energy that goes into the difficult process of creating quality applications,” said Zagerman.
“This has been a truly remarkable journey for the students,” says Fishman-Johnson. “Not only did they learn a lot about collaborating, using sophisticated software, composing and performing music, and designing apps, they will be leading a large-scale public art event.”
More information about the initiative and tickets to the performance ($5 each) can be found at remixinteractive.tumblr.com. The site was designed and is being maintained by another group of SCH Academy students who are responsible for documenting and marketing the event. The app will be available, free of charge, from Apple’s App Store.