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Art Meets Science

A Match Made in Sound Thinking

Prof. Gena Greher consults with music major Maria Price and computer science major Chris Adoretti on their project.

By Sheila Eppolito

A music student and a computer science major walk into a classroom … nope! Not a set-up for a joke – this collaboration is the real thing.

Sound Thinking – a class co-taught by faculty including Alex Ruthmann and Gena Greher from the Music Department and Jesse Heines from Computer Science – aims to bring the often opposite worlds of music and computers together.

Funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, the Gen Ed course helps to identify what brings the two disciplines together – not what sets them apart. For example, music students learn about logic, loop statements and how music notation can be augmented by a computer program, while computer students come away with a working knowledge of the pentatonic scale, musical intervals and form.

Students recently shared their final projects with a group that included some very impressed Lowell High students.

“It’s great to see the mutual respect – and terrific collaborations – that come from students with different areas of expertise,” says Greher.

The teams did live demonstrations of their projects – featuring everything from musical pongs bouncing around screens to a computer generated Mbira – an African instrument sometimes called a thumb piano.

“By working with Scratch – a software program from MIT’s media lab – and the IchiBoard – a sensor input device developed by a computer science doctoral student – participants interacted with music and changed it in real time,” says Heines.

Sound Thinking has been offered three times – its popularity ensures its return in the spring.