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Hands-on summer institute challenges students to blend tech, art

group of students watching instructor construct small electronic instrument

High school junior Angelina Longoria, from Flagstaff, checks the conductivity and sound as she begins constructing a small electronic piano at the ASU Digital Culture Summer Institute.
Photo by: Charlie Leight/ASU News

June 17, 2015

The assignment was simple enough, but the task would be daunting for most people: Take random household items and turn them into musical instruments.

Armed with a piece of paper, a pencil, wires, alligator clips and a "Makey Makey" kit, 15-year-old Spencer Pote created a graphite piano (similar to this) within 10 minutes and started composing music.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” said Pote, who knows how to play percussion, piano and flute and will be a sophomore at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe. He is also a participant in the inaugural Digital Culture Summer Institute at ASU’s Tempe campus.

The three-week program, which began June 8, is sponsored through the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The summer institute challenges incoming high school freshmen through just-graduated seniors in a series of short, project-focused modules ranging from producing digital music to computational imaging to programming and projection mapping.

The institute blends artistic and technical skills and attempts to turn students' interests into a possible vocation, according to Loren Olsen, an assistant clinical professor at ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering who is also an instructor at the institute.

“We want to give students a taste of the many ways that computers are used in creative activity,” Olsen said. “They are really enthusiastic but some in very narrow ways. They’ve been exposed to animation in movies, video games and music, but we want to show them how it’s done so that maybe one day they might consider it as a career.”

Angelina Longoria, who traveled from northern Arizona to attend the institute, said she’s interested in pursuing a musical career. She already knows how to play the guitar but on June 16, she was able to expand her repoirtoire in a class called Experimental Musical Instruments.

“It’s the first time I have ever experimented with these sounds,” said Longoria, a junior at Coconino High School in Flagstaff. “I like how they are giving us free rein. Our only limit is our imagination.”

Sam Jones, who will be a junior at Mesa’s Heritage Academy, sat alongside Pote and Longoria for the Experimental Musical Instruments class. His passion is film; he said he has already edited about 20 short films. He enrolled in the institute to make him a better all-around filmmaker, and music plays an important role in mastering the craft.

“I made a silent movie about a year ago, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because the music had to fit the beats of the film,” Jones said. “What I’ve found is that this institute is more than developing your skills; it’s about developing your own work ethic and discovering your creativity.”

In addition to Experimental Musical Instruments, other classes include How to Code, Interactive Media, Digital Fabrication, Video Production, Animation, Unity for Games, Projection Mapping and Computational Photography.

The Digital Culture Summer Institute runs through June 26.

Digital Culture Program 2015 - Tempe from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

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