At the Crossroads: Examining the Intersections of Science and Art

Troy, N.Y. — To celebrate the launch of Art_X@Rensselaer (Art_X) members of the campus and community are invited to a series of concerts co-sponsored by the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). The concerts scheduled for October 6 and October 20, beginning at 4:30 p.m., will take place in the CBIS auditorium on the Troy campus. 

The Art_X initative is designed to help Rensselaer students discover the art in science and technology, as well as the science and technology in art. Art_X includes team-taught classes that bring together artists, scientists, engineers, architects, and business experts—as well as the incorporation of artistic concepts throughout the curriculum.

“HASS is focused on responding to the world’s greatest challenges with agenda-setting research on human societies, institutions, minds, arts, and cultures,” said Dean Mary Simoni. “Within a technological university, our school sits at the crossroads of humanity and technological innovation. We are seekers. We seek to understand the very nature of our humanity. Art_X is one of several programs that frame Rensselaer as The New Polytechnic by challenging the Rensselaer community to question the fundamental tenets that underpin the arts and sciences.” 

The concert series further embodies the vision of Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson defined as “The New Polytechnic,” a new paradigm for teaching, learning, and research—a view of the technological research university as a fresh collaborative endeavor across disciplines, sectors, and global regions. The New Polytechnic enables collaboration at a deeper, more fluent level than ever before.  

Simoni also noted that the nature of Art_X focuses on a transdisciplinary collaboration involving Rensselaer faculty and students and local artists. “The core concept is that art is a serious cognitive activity, and a way of knowing and understanding, not just feeling and expressing,” Simoni said. “We hope to explore connections between music and selected topics in science and technology to unveil new knowledge and beauty in the quest for understanding through the various collaborations.”

The Art_X concerts consist of three parts, each with a specific topic that serves as starting point to explore the connections between music, science, and technology. The concerts have been organized and produced by Michael Century, professor of new media and music in the Department of the Arts in collaboration with faculty at CBIS. Following each concert, a reception hosted by CBIS will be held in the gallery area.

“Each work on the program begins with a pre-performance talk, on a specific topic that links the music with another field in science or technology,” said Century. “The talks are meant as conversation starters, to be continued in the receptions that follow the concerts. The range is broad, from Bach to bio-music, jazz to Stravinsky to Steve Reich, and more.”

“I applaud the ingenuity, creativity, and commitment of the faculty involved in this inaugural Art_X concert,” said Deepak Vashishth, director of CBIS. “This imaginative musical collaboration engaging a professor of chemical and biological engineering, a cognitive scientist, and a professor of new media and music will, no doubt, result in memorable concerts, and that is well worth the endeavor. It also opens up new avenues of scientific exploration and discovery for all involved, and it is that concerted effort to expand and accelerate research that we, too, are striving for.”

Century noted that in a blog post titled, “Why innovation needs both art and science,” that was shared during the 2014 World Economic Forum, Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of Aspen Institute, wrote that “the most creative innovations of the digital age came from those who were able to connect the arts and sciences.” He further noted that, “the next phase of the digital revolution will bring a true fusion of technology with the creative industries, such as media, fashion, music, entertainment, education, literature, and the arts. Until now, much of the innovation has involved pouring old wine – books, newspapers, opinion pieces, journals, songs, television shows, movies – into new digital bottles. But the interplay between technology and the creative arts will eventually result in completely new forms of expression and media.”

The concert for Tuesday, October 6, will feature the following performances:

• J.S. Bach “Partita in E minor” (1730)

Topic: emotion and reason in the music of J.S. Bach

Performed by Michael Century, professor of new media and music

• Music composition using data from proteomic experiments

Topic: sonification of biological data for aesthetic and scientific applications

Presented by Mattheos Koffas, professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Department of Biological Sciences Zach Layton, composer and Ph.D. student, Department of the Arts

Rob Hamilton, composer and researcher, assistant professor in the Department of the Arts

• Steve Reich “Piano Counterpoint” (2009)

Topic: how time passes -- classical and contemporary expressions

Performed by Michael Century

The second concert, scheduled for Tuesday, October 20, will feature the following performances:

• Jazz piano selections featuring Steve Cramer, professor, researcher, pianist

Topic: Improvisation in music and science

Steve Cramer, William Weightman Walker Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

• Igor Stravinsky “Petrouchka” (1911)

Topic: the combination of image and sound using live manipulations of digital images 

Performed by Michael Century and Barbara Musial

Images by Barbara Todd, performed by Marissa Gerllich (GSAS ’17)

• On Borders and Transformation in Music and Language 

Introduced and performed by Sergei Nirenburg, professor in the Department of Cognitive Science and Computer Science;

with Marjorie McShane, French horn,  associate professor in the Department of Cognitive Science; and Bobby Kendall, string bass.

For more information and updates about the Art_X concerts scheduled for the month of October, visit:

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