On Nov. 13, the vibrant sight of performative art, the sound of instrumental music, and roughly 150 fascinated viewers filled the Miller Concert Hall at Wichita State University. Laura Scholl, assistant professor of graphic design and digital art at Newman University, teamed up with the WSU Impulse Percussion Group to present “Shades of Enlightenment.”
Scholl’s performative drawings accompanied her brother, WSU professor Gerald Scholl, as he directed the 14 musicians that make up the Impulse Percussion Group — an innovative selection of university students who perform at a professional level. The artwork included moving and colorful graphics that either grew or faded as the instruments played, depending on the volume.
While actual work for the collaboration with the IPG began over the summer of 2016, this project had been in the works for some time. Scholl has a long history of using computers in her art work, starting with writing code to design sculptures for her BFA thesis, to studying visual perception at MIT for her master's degree, to creating visual effects for Hollywood feature films.
At Newman, Scholl introduced Processing, an Open Source Java-based software library for visual artists, in her Intro to Computer Graphics course in the fall of 2015. She drew on her curriculum development for this course and her Design 1 and 2 courses as a source of inspiration for the performative drawings. As well, in the spring of 2016 she participated in IPG rehearsals to verify the feasibility of her concept for the collaboration. Scholl said artists are affected by what they do in the world. She added that she is passionate about teaching art and technology at Newman, and believes technology ultimately changes the way we understand our world.
After several months of work, Scholl successfully created two performative drawing pieces. The first reacted to a song entitled “Sleep” by Eric Whitacre and arranged by Gerald Scholl. The goal of this piece, she said, “was to allow the listeners to settle into the piece and at first have their imagination be captured by their fascination of the graphics, and then transition to the music.”
As each instrument played, the graphics would diminish so that the viewers could focus on the music. “The concept is that the pauses in the music are just as important as the notes,” Scholl said.
Originally, Scholl had planned to work with LEDs and microprocessors for the Sleep piece. “Unfortunately, there were difficulties related to the chemistry of the glues that were being used,” she said. “Because of the setbacks, I reverted to capitalizing on the Processing prototypes for the code that would have controlled the LEDs.”
Despite the hiccups, Scholl was able to finish a second piece for the performance of “Palace of Nine Perfections.”
“I updated the software based on music that I was given two weeks prior to the performance,” she said. “The process involved constructing different pieces, using software, hardware, and incorporating complementary colors which were strategically chosen.”
With input from student musicians, Scholl rewrote the code for the performative drawings during the rehearsal.
“I found it interesting to hear that most of the students wanted to see the graphics react more as the sound of the music increased rather than when it faded out.”
Scholl said that she received help, encouragement, and support from several people, particularly Tom McGuire of Make ICT, and sophomore Natalie Espino-Kennedy — a student who helped out with connecting the fiber optics for the original LED format.
“Everyone was a huge help,” Scholl said. “The student musicians were very passionate and great to work with, and I learned a tremendous amount from this experience. I am now looking forward to focusing completely on [the future pieces to be presented].”
Scholl will present a Steckline Gallery opening on March 31, 2017 entitled “Resonate with Stillness” which will have the use of LEDs. For more information, contact Director of Visual Arts Mary Werner at 316-942-4291, ext. 2199 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.