Blending Music and Art

USF SYCOM students create original music to complement or respond to the Open Score exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum.


Book of Sand, part of the Open Score exhibit.                                                                   Photo: Brandi Hollis | USF News


By Brandi Hollis

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2013) – As soon as they stepped inside the University of South Florida’s Contemporary Art Museum, electronic music enveloped visitors to the Open Score exhibit on display.


Off to the side, students were busy “playing” MAC computers, Wii controllers, pedals and mixers to create the unusual compositions.


The Feb. 7 event kicked off the Contemporary Art Museum’s first  “Art Thursday” of the year with a showcase of their current exhibit Open Score accompanied by music created by students in the USF electronic music composition program.


SYCOM, or Systems Complex for the Recording and Performing Arts, is a suite of electronic music studios at the USF School of Music that offer bachelors and masters degrees in electronic music studies. Once a year, SYCOM students work with the art museum to respond to an exhibit on display by creating an original 24-minute piece of music.


Paul Reller, associate professor of music and director of SYCOM, said, “It’s a response or an interaction with the art, or like an accompaniment. Everyone has a different take on how they interact with the show.”


This year the exhibit focused on technology, science, and how people interact with it. Students were assigned a piece from the exhibit before Christmas break so they would have plenty of time to think about the piece and create a thoughtful musical response. They also met the artist to discuss the message the artist wanted to convey with their piece. Artists came from many different countries such as Canada, Cuba, Argentina, and Colombia to install their pieces at the museum and meet with students.


SYCOM students at the recent event used many different resources to create their reactions, but their methods were more than just attention-grabbers. Students considered how their music would complement the artwork they were working with.


“The books of sand piece talks about how the Internet is infinite and variant, and you can just keep following link after link, and everything is never-ending,” said Philip Charos, a music composition freshman. “So we figured what can we use from the Internet that’s never-ending that we can get sound from, so we’re using YouTube.”


Keeping with the theme of variance, Charos’ group even invited people to participate by playing YouTube videos they found on their smartphones along with their performance.


Other groups were creative as well. The piece titled “Alternate control” was performed by Jeremy Adams, Joey Bordeau, and Marissa DePronio by connecting Wii remotes to the software on their computers. Guests watched the three conductors wave their remotes at computer screens while listening to the unique music they created. 


The SYCOM students put on a two hour show, with each group performing live their 24-minute piece.


Noel Smith, Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art and Curator of Education for the Institute for Research in Art, appreciated the work the students put into the performance and noted the value of music majors interacting with the other arts.


The Open Score exhibit is a wonderful exhibit to have for the SYCOM event as it conveys a mingling of art and technology, he said.


“It does deal with the idea that the boundaries are dissolving. Interdisciplinary is a huge thing right now, as it should be, and so artists are really dealing with science, scientists are dealing with art,” Smith said.


Open Score will be on display until March 9. More information can be found by clicking here.