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Marching to a Different Beat: Faculty Musician Blends Art and Technology

While most people use a keyboard and mouse to interact with their computers, Thomas Ciufo, the Sherman-Fairchild visiting artist-in-residence at Smith, uses other devices—musical instruments.

Ciufo, who is leading Smith’s new Arts and Technology Program, began writing and performing music early in his life. But for him, the range of sounds available from acoustic instruments was not broad enough.

So Ciufo began performing on “composed” instruments – those that couple computer technology with musical instruments in a way that allows the computer to “listen” and respond to the musician.

“Performing with technology extends the range of possibilities,” said Ciufo. “Composed instruments are often interactive so the computer knows something about what I want to do – I refer to this as computer-mediated improvisation.”

After he arrived at Smith in July 2006, Ciufo established the Arts and Technology Working Group, an interdisciplinary collection of faculty, staff and students, who are interested in research and practice at the intersection of art and technology.

In April, the committee proposed the idea of a minor in this emerging field and the college’s Committee on Academic Priorities (CAP) approved the further development of that idea.

Smith is an especially exciting place to pursue this study, says Ciufo, because of the current gender imbalance in the field, in which males are more heavily represented. Additionally, the hire of several new faculty members with related interests within the Five-College consortium makes the discussion particularly timely.

This year, Ciufo plans to cultivate new collaborations between faculty in the arts and the sciences through a project titled “Open Labs, Open Studios.” The project will allow artists to tour the laboratories of scientists and scientists to visit art studios, a schedule that will culminate with a colloquium about ideas for new courses.

Throughout academe, noted Ciufo, there is a growing interest in this study. At the graduate level, more and more schools are offering masters and doctoral degrees in the field. Before accepting the post at Smith, Ciufo completed his doctorate in computer music and new media at Brown University through the Special Graduate Studies Program and spent a year at Arizona State University as a postdoctoral researcher in the Arts, Media, and Engineering Program.

Ciufo also self-produced a CD, titled “Sun at Midnight,” which was featured on the National Public Radio program “Music from the Hearts of Space.” In the near future, he plans to perform at the New West Electronic Arts and Music festival in Boulder, Colo., and to both perform and present research at the Enaction in Arts festival in France.

According to Ciufo, students who are interested in this field “engage new opportunities by working across the artificial boundaries that attempt to divide the arts, sciences, and humanities.”

Click here for more information about the Arts and Technology Program.


10/11/07   By Kristen Cole
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