[N.B. This article appears here as published in the proceedings of the 1995 International Computer Music Conference. The contact information for Christopher Dobrian shown in this document is now obsolete.]

iEAR Studios, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Christopher Dobrian
iEAR Studios, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York 12180-3590 USA
Tel.: 1 (518) 276-4032 / Email: dobrian@rpi.edu


The iEAR Studios house the Department of the Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which offers an innovative Master of Fine Arts program in Electronic Arts. The studios provide educational and professional facilities for computer music, video production and post-production, and computer imaging and animation. The combined studios present an exceptional opportunity for integration of artistic disciplines and ultimately for the exploration of new forms of artistic expression using electronic media. It is this very integration and exploration which is the basis of the Electronic Arts curriculum and activities.

The Studios

The iEAR Studios (integrated Electronic Arts at Rensselaer) reflect the three primary emphases of the RPI Arts Department's MFA program in Electronic Arts: video, computer music, and computer imaging. Individual studios, suited for both artistic production and pedagogy, focus on each of these pursuits. In addition, an Integrated Studio which combines computer music, online video and sound editing, and digital image processing encourages cross-disciplinary experimentation and collaboration.

The equipment and design philosophy of the iEAR Studios were presented to this body in 1992. (Povall, R.) Naturally, some equipment has been added and updated since that time. To summarize briefly, the iEAR Studios comprise:

Artistic and Pedagogical Activities

RPI is one of the leading technological universities in the nation, and the Institute boasts other integrated cross-disciplinary departments such as Literature, Linguistics & Communication; Psychology, Philosophy & Cognitive Science; and Science & Technology Studies. Thus, the special nature of the Department of the Arts lies not only in its emphasis on electronic media but also in its emphasis on integration of the arts.

The Department of the Arts accepts graduate students from any artistic discipline and teaches them technical proficiency in all of the studios. In addition to their studio courses, the students take critical/historical/theoretical seminars in video, music, and computer arts, learn techniques of production for installation and live performance, and participate in weekly creative workshops with all of their colleagues. The goal of the department is to train a new type of artist unintimidated by technology and unfettered by traditional disciplinary bounds, concentrating on the development of new art with new media.

This integration of the time-based art forms has led to exciting audio-visual performance works by artists-in-residence such as Robert Ashley, Pauline Oliveros, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, which have been telecast nationally via satellite, and in which the students were uniquely prepared to participate as active collaborators. This fall the students will have the opportunity to collaborate with visiting computer musicians George Lewis and Laetitia Sonami.

Pedagogical Challenges

The mere juxtaposition of audio, video, and graphic equipment, and the sheer will to be "integrated" do not, however, suffice to break down traditional boundaries. The very novelty of this MFA program implies, almost by definition, that the faculty and incoming students have been trained according to more traditional disciplinary models than those espoused by the Department itself. The fact that each member of the faculty was trained as a specialist in one particular art form means that in order to teach successfully in such a department they must be dedicated to an ongoing learning process in which they are constantly developing new artistic awarenesses, acquiring new skills, and understanding the workings and implications of new technologies.

The faculty must also constantly strive to address the issues under study in a way that can be understood and utilized by students with a great diversity of backgrounds, training, and artistic goals. This incites both faculty and students to seek the underlying concepts that will help them understand issues raised in one art form and apply those concepts in other art forms. As students discover these common concepts among art forms, they develop a versatile critical faculty that serves them well in evaluating the work of others and at the same time leads them to new insights regarding the integration of different artistic media in their own work.

The approach to Electronic Arts education at iEAR Studios -- training students to gain proficiency working in a variety of media -- is evincing good results. It is producing graduates who can manage their own complex intermedia works -- composing, producing, engineering, and performing in their own works from start to finish -- or collaborate with other artists effectively because of an informed viewpoint and experience working in other media. The diverse and extensive technical proficiency acquired by the graduates also serves them well in the job market, both in the arts and entertainment industry and in academia; a high percentage of the Department's MFA graduates have found satisfying jobs very shortly after graduation.

The interdisciplinary philosophy behind the Studios and the Department may well prove to be indicative of the future of graduate arts training. A talented and critically aware artist with advanced technical skills in audio, video, graphics, and programming is certainly likely to fare well both artistically and professionally in the modern world.

See Also

Povall, Richard. "iEAR Studios: Studio Report", ICMC Proceedings, 1992.