Art meets engineering

The electrodermal activity (EDA) of an Oregon State student who participated in Silveira's study in which he examines the effects of music performance errors on EDA responses. The "peaks" indicate specific emotional responses, or "events" while listening to a music stimulus.

The electrodermal activity (EDA) of an Oregon State student who participated in Silveira’s study in which he examines the effects of music performance errors on EDA responses. The “peaks” indicate specific emotional responses, or “events” while listening to a music stimulus.

 

When we become emotionally, cognitively, or physically engaged, our pores open and our skin conductance increases. Jason Silveira, an assistant professor in the School of Arts and Communication, is leveraging this understanding to study how our bodies and brains react to music. His project is just one technology under development in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science’s CreateIT Collaboratory.

Collaboratory members (from left): Caleb Barde, Sneha Krishna Kumaran, and Tanner Christensen discuss data on human responses to music.

Collaboratory members (from left): Caleb Barde, Sneha Krishna Kumaran, and Tanner Christensen discuss data on human responses to music.

Silveira’s lab assistants are seeking to quantify humans’ musical perception by measuring how much electricity skin conducts while listening to certain pieces of music. He envisions an entire audience outfitted with devices that measure skin conductance, enabling scientists to understand the collective response to a concert.

“One question I’m exploring is whether there’s a point when everybody is responding similarly to the music. Or is it a more individual experience?” said Silveira.

Launched with seed funding from the Tektronix Foundation, the Collaboratory matches “pie-in-the-sky” ideas from industry with eager students willing to make them a reality. Projects range from the technical to the whimsical, and many — like Silveira’s — combine arts and engineering, and engage interdisciplinary approaches to invention.

So far, music perception research has relied on either self-reported data or single devices that measure arousal on an individual basis. Silveira’s partnership with Collaboratory students and Donald Heer, faculty research assistant in the College of Engineering, has given him the tools to explore broader-scale research on music perception.

“In partnering with the Collaboratory, I hope to investigate this phenomenon in a real-world setting,” he said. “I’m looking to measure audience reaction as well as how the performers react to their own performance. Working with Don’s group has brought a lot of technical know-how to the research. Also, it’s great to get our students and faculty connected with other departments and disciplines. There are so many avenues for future research with this partnership, from music education, to music therapy, to fields outside of music.”

The Collaboratory complements another cross-disciplinary initiative called Create@Oregon State, a partnership between the colleges of Engineering and Liberal Arts that celebrates the potential for innovation in art and technology. The program recognizes the common human impulse to make things — from circuit boards to sculptures.

“Our goal is to foster creative, productive partnerships between the arts and engineering at OSU,” said Charles Robinson, the Create@Oregon State program coordinator. “Our work includes evolving curriculum, active collaboration between faculty and students, a bold vision for campus growth, and dynamic outreach and engagement.”

Create@Oregon State has hosted a number of lectures featuring artists who take inspiration from science, engineering, and technology. For example, Perry R. Cook, the pioneering figure at the heart of the evolution of computer-mediated music, delivered a workshop and lecture on his co-creation of the world’s first laptop orchestra. Instead of oboes, violins, and flutes, players in Perry’s orchestra network laptop computers and custom-designed speakers to fill a concert hall with vivid sound.

With interdisciplinary initiatives such as the Collaboratory and Create@Oregon State, College of Engineering students have opportunities to gain skills that encourage new ways of assimilating and applying knowledge.

“On a fundamental level, engineering — like art or any other discipline — is creative and integrative,” said Robinson. “In practical terms, there’s no engineering project that’s only solved with a purely engineering solution. You apply engineering methodology, tools, and rigor, but that process is informed by creative interpretation and thinking, as well as a whole host of other skills across the humanities and other technical fields. The degree to which engineers can think more like artists and vice versa enriches the experience of each discipline, and ultimately results in greater innovation and more successful projects.”

— Abby P. Metzger

3 Responses to “Art meets engineering”

  1. Curt McCann says:

    This is exactly the kind of program that should be “showcased” at the Corvallis da Vinci Days Festival, which is about engineering, art and technology; and is sort of a joint venture between the City and OSU. The da Vinci Days Festival will not be held this year for a variety of reasons, but there is a group of people who are working to review it’s status and hopefully bring it back with new ideas and enthusiasm. I wish I had the names of the da Vinci people to contact, but I don’t have those right now. If I find them I’ll forward them to you.

    Curt McCann 3/13/14

  2. I couldn’t agree more! The spirit of da Vinci is alive and well throughout campus and Corvallis. The Colleges of Engineering and Liberal Arts are committed to the interplay of ideas and creativity possible at the intersection of art and technology, and to working hand-in-hand with all parts of the Corvallis community.

    I’m honored to be a member of the committee you mention, and we’re devoting this spring to exploring a wide range of new ideas about the future of da Vinci Days. Please feel free to contact me if you like to discuss that – charles.robinson@oregonstate.edu. You can also reach out directly to Michael Dalton, the chair of the committee, at dr.michael.dalton@gmail.com.

  3. [...] and was featured on the College of Engineering’s “Industry Connect” Blog in an entry titled Arts Meets Engineering by Abby [...]

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