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1995-1996 index

Distributed November 1995
Contact: Richard Morin

Multimedia lab bends and blends mediums in the arts and humanities

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The convergence of the arts and humanities with technology is changing the way authors, composers, scholars and others present their information and their art. For example, musical compositions, once only an experience for the ears, have been extended to include text, video, pictures and animation, thanks to new multimedia technologies.

In the new Multimedia Lab at Brown University, students in arts and humanities are creating musical compositions with the help of computers; writing fiction that combines text with video, sound, images and animation; and creating World Wide Web home pages that engage multiple senses.

"This (multimedia) is a new form of communication that is much more direct than text," said Todd Winkler, associate professor of music. "When I am reading a book about Beethoven, I want to hear what the music sounds like, not just read about it. There is a lot of hype right now, but [multimedia] will fundamentally change teaching and learning."

The Multimedia Lab at Brown is being used by students enrolled in courses in the departments of music, English, visual arts, and modern culture and media. With the equipment available in the Multimedia Lab, students who may or may not have specific artistic talents can become artists. "It allows them to do creative work without the intimidation of the arts," said Winkler, director of the Multimedia Lab. "It is a very liberating experience for people who want to be creative. But you can't turn knobs without dealing with aesthetic issues. Whether any of the students become great artists is hard to determine."

With computer technology becoming an intricate part of today's society, Winkler believes multimedia studies is an area of legitimate inquiry. The interest of students propels that notion even further. "Two students have already declared themselves as multimedia concentrators," Winkler said.

Winkler, a composer with interests in electronic music, opened the Multimedia Lab in 1994 with start-up funds from the University. After spending a year in cramped quarters in the Steinert Music Hall, the Multimedia Lab was moved to more hospitable quarters in the Graduate Center over the summer. A $150,000 grant from AT&T allowed Winkler to purchase more computers, scanners, keyboards, software and digital video and audio equipment. "We spent money to get input and presentation quality high. I want things to come out beautiful," Winkler said.