AHA! A House for Arts


AHA! | 708

Dinosaurs roam the Earth at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs. Take a trip with producer Matt Rogowicz and learn more about this interactive exhibit. What does the future of music look like? Lara Ayad speaks with Rob Hamilton, Associate Professor of Music and Media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to find out. Catch a knockout performance of "Like A Drum" and more from SIRSY.

AIRED: September 01, 2021 | 0:26:46

(upbeat music)

(upbeat cello music)

- Dinosaurs roam the Earth at

Universal Preservation Hall. (metal clanging)

Learn about music making from a tech standpoint

with Rob Hamilton.

(woman singing)

(woman singing) and catch a performance

(woman singing) from SIRSY.

(woman singing) It's all ahead

(woman singing) on this episode of AHA.

♪ Let my beat go on and on ♪

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M & T Bank, we understand

that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M & T bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(inspirational music)

- Hi, I'm Lara Ayad, and this is AHA

A House for Arts, a place for all things creative.

Let's send it right over to Matt Rogowicz

for today's field segment.

(machinery buzzing)

- I'm here in Saratoga Springs

to visit Universal Preservation Hall

and get a look at Dinosaurs in Motion.

(ominous jungle music)

(horror music) (metal clanging)

(ominous jungle music)

- Universal Preservation Hall is a brand new,

world-class performing arts and community events venue,

right in the heart of downtown Saratoga.

(gentle music) We completed a

$14 million restoration

on the building in February of 2020.

(gentle upbeat music)

We're really proud to still have this building standing

because in the year 2000, this building was condemned

and it was slated for demolition.

It was actually then called the Universal Baptist Church.

The congregation got put out and it was at that time,

a group of people from Saratoga

led by Jeff File and Tom Lewis,

joined forces with the church and raised the money

to stabilize and salvage the building.

UPH went through some really hard times,

but we managed to keep it going through the years.

I came on the board in 2006,

and in 2009 was made a Board President during the recession,

which was kind of a hard time to try to raise money,

but we kept it going.

And in 2012, we were about to close the doors

on the building, and in a last ditch effort,

I had heard about a man named Phillip Morris from proctors.

So I called him just to ask for some advice

to see if we could possibly...

he could tell me something to do

that would help us keep this building open.

And it was at that time,

he told me that they knew about our building.

They were thinking of branding themselves regionally,

and that they wanted to come up and look at it,

which they did.

And they fell in love with it, how can you not?

(machinery buzzing and drilling)

There is a lot of work done to this space

because now, as you can see behind me,

our main performance space is a theater in the round

that seats 700.

So structurally, we put a lot into this building,

but also we hung a beautiful grid

of all LED lights and moving lights and sound.

We have a 24-foot (upbeat music)

movie screen that comes down.

We have heat, we have air conditioning,

we have an elevator.

(upbeat music)

After putting years into this building,

blood, sweat, and tears into this building,

we were so excited to have our opening night

on February 29th, 2020.

We were standing, it was a packed house

and we opened with Roseanne Cash and her band,

and she was just fabulous.

We were able to do seven shows.

After that we had Chris Botti,

the wonderful jazz trumpeter who rocked this hall,

it was wonderful.

We had a comedian, Louie Anderson, we had a jazz evening,

we even had, on a Sunday afternoon,

we had an acrobatic circus on our stage,

which was wonderful.

And then just 10 days after opening our doors,

the world kinda came to an end and we had to shut down,

(upbeat music fading)

But it's okay, we're back.

And we have managed to keep the building

going throughout the pandemic.

(upbeat techno music)

Our original programming was never to do music in the summer

because there's enough music around here, right?

We wanted to do something that nobody else has done,

like bring unusual exhibits to Saratoga

and to really help the economy

and to help our downtown thrive.

So this year we decided to turn it up a notch

and we have Dinosaurs in Motion, where art and science meet.

And this is an amazing exhibit that is delighting everybody.

(upbeat jungle music)

- How do you go wrong with dinosaurs?

This one was a challenge for us

because obviously it's a bit of a square peg

in a round hole here.

When you saw a giant track...

two giant tractor trailers pull up to this place,

and we're trying to figure out how to fit things this size

through the front door, the loading doors,

there was challenges to it,

but it was an exciting challenge.

I think for me, some of the most fun we have

is overcoming how to make things like this work

in spaces like this.

- My favorite dinosaur is the American Crow

that's downstairs.

They're all made out of recycled metal and other parts.

The work that the sculptor put into this,

and the detail, and the accuracy, is pretty amazing.

And they move or you move them, they're very interactive.

So kids that come in, they get to learn biomechanics,

they learn kinetics, they're learning all these

kind of STEM-related topics,

which is really kind of wonderful in a hands-on way.

(inspirational music)

I think the future is very bright

for Universal Preservation Hall.

We will start programming our music again in November,

and I don't know exactly what's coming up,

but what I do know, and I'm very excited for,

as a matter of fact, I'm like laser focused on it,

is Saturday, November 20th,

is the actual 150th birthday of this building.

And it's going to be our second opening night

and a big birthday bash for the building

so we're really excited.

(upbeat music fading)

- Rob Hamilton is an associate professor of music and media

at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

His expertise lies in the intersection

of technology, sound, and music.

What does the future of music look like?

I speak with Rob to find out.

Rob, welcome to A House for Arts, it's so nice to have you.

- Thanks for having me, Lara.

- So I understand you've been teaching music now at RPI

for at least six years.

And, you know, stepping into this,

this is really interesting, 'cause I understand you

don't have a traditional background learning music.

You have more of a kind of, a software background,

like learning about, you know,

technology and music theory, and how those relate.

Am I correct about that?

- In many ways, yes.

I grew up as a musician playing classical piano,

and jazz saxophone, rock guitar,

I played in bands my whole life.

And as a student, I studied...I did study music,

but I really got interested in studying music

and technology from an early age.

And looking at how in the, you know, early '90s,

how computer systems could be used

to manipulate sound and music.

And so, when I did get to study music and technology

in college, I got to play on these incredible systems.

These computer systems that fill rooms,

the Synclavier is a great example at Dartmouth College.

What that gave me was the bug.

And I got really excited about,

"Wow, isn't this incredible, what we can do

with these computer systems" that I had learned about,

but didn't really see an avenue forward for me

in what I was interested in.

- What's the advantage of looking at music

and music making in particular, from a tech standpoint,

like what kind of advantage does that give us?

- Well sound is such an interesting thing.

It's, you know, a physical phenomenon

that exists all around us.

And as musicians, we learn how to take these

boxes of wood and string and steel,

and control sound in intricate ways

that take thousands of hours of practice.

Technology allows us to then take that learned behavior,

those skills, and manipulate them further in ways that,

as musicians, we could only dream of in the past.

So technology lets me take music that I may create

or someone else may create

and transform it into something entirely new.

- Oh, that's really cool.

I mean, I'm kind of thinking about the music you've created

and I've listened to some of it

and I've seen some of your score sheets too,

and they're just absolutely incredible things to look at,

but even thinking about your music, it's interesting.

'Cause I think when a lot of people think of music,

they think of like, maybe a four minute song

with a melody and a chorus, maybe a bridge.

When I've listened to the music

you've created with trained musicians,

for my ears, at least,

it sounds quite abstract. (tech beeping)

Am I correct in thinking

that these pieces don't have a beginning, middle, or end,

or is there a certain structure to the works you create?

- Musical structure is a really interesting thing.

And we as a society, and as many societies around the world

have gotten used to certain structures,

whether it's the three minute blast of pop punk

for perfection, or a Sonata form or, you know,

a large orchestral work, and that's by no means the only way

that music has ever been or is structured.

Especially if we look at cultures all around the world

where music is,

is essentially treated as sound with organization.

"Organized sound" is a phrase that was popularized

by composer, Edgard Varèse.

When we're talking about the kind of music

that I enjoy creating with technology,

it does have structure and I do approach it as a composer

where I'm actually planning an arc,

but that arc might not be three minutes.

It might not be six minutes,

it might be 12 or 40.

And along that way, I create these divisions

and subdivisions of sound and pattern

in ways that, to me, reflect some kind of meaning.

- You brought up time.

And I think this is so interesting

'cause with COVID and everything and everyone now,

like even people who were traditionally

not using tech to work, are now using tech.

They're communicating with people

literally on the other side of the world.

And I know that time is important for you

because if I understand correctly,

you're trying to help musicians be able to say,

"Create some type of virtual orchestra,

or virtual band piece together

with people across the world and there's no time lag".

Am I correct about that?

- Absolutely, and so one thing

that I think all of us have understood

and learned to understand in the last two years

is that communication with people around the world

is possible, and yet that distance is...we can hear it.

We hear it in our communications.

Latency or time is super important in music, right?

If we're playing music together and we're not in sync...

- Right. - It's hard for us

to hear one another. - [Lara] Right.

- Whether we're playing rhythmic music

or something more abstract

- Even by a fraction of a second.

- [Rob] Absolutely. - It can,

it can ruin the whole entire piece.

- So the idea of us being able to hear one another in time

is super important, and there's been wonderful research

that's gone on over the last 20 years...30 years,

about how music and sound

can be communicated across networks.

Foundational work at Stanford by my advisor, Chris Chafe,

at the lab at which I did my studies,

in understanding how these latencies affect

the way we play music together,

but also building technologies

that allow us to minimize that latency,

to cut down the amount of time that it takes for my signal

to go around the world and get to you

and then for your signal to come back to me.

- Right, and that means that for instance, if I wanted to,

if I wanted to play guitar

and then sync that up with someone playing drums in Japan,

we can actually now do that properly

because there isn't that fraction of a second it's off.

It's completely synchronous in the truest sense.

- Well the challenge is

that there will always be some kind of

fraction of a second - [Lara] Hm.

because that information is traveling

at the speed of light - [Lara] Got it.

- Now at its best, it's the speed of light.

And in reality, it has to pass through wires and boxes

and cables all around the world.

So there are so many different strategies

that we look at as researchers, trying to create systems

that allow us to do exactly what you said.

When I'm working with VR instruments,

it's a whole 'nother related set of challenges

because these systems are modeled after video game systems.

- Right, so these are virtual instruments.

It's like they're computer created, animated instruments,

but they function, like they actually work.

Like if you have...

I think I've seen videos of like,

people will have a device on their hand

and then they'll strum

and it actually strums the virtual instrument.

- Absolutely, and so in this case,

I've been building a whole series of instruments

we call CORETET, C-O-R-E-T-E-T,

where the virtual instruments are computer constructs

floating in space that we see

through these virtual reality goggles.

Something like...

- Oh that's so great. - Like an Oculus Rift.

This is a pair of stereoscopic lenses

that create, kind of the illusion in our brains,

that we are seeing something with depth

and in something in there and the concept of space.

And so in that sense, it allows us to build objects

in virtual space that we can reach out

and move and grab and reach around.

And for the recent work I've been doing,

or recent things I've been playing with,

is about how to create stringed instruments.

Cellos, and violins, and bases

in which we can reach into that virtual space and play them.

And that information not only comes out as sound,

but it's also sent out to the people with whom we're playing

ideally around the world.

- Virtual reality is also starting to play a really big role

on the larger sense, in larger realms

of media and entertainment.

So for instance, I mean, Ariana Grande, for instance,

just had a big live concert via Fortnite,

and that's not the first time that the game,

online game Fortnite's had virtual concerts.

So I'm curious to know, Rob, what is the future of music

and maybe music with virtual reality,

like moving, say 10 years from now.

- Such a great question.

The way I like to think about it is,

there are going to be a lot of futures.

One of them, which is directly related

to what you're talking about

and the idea of maybe using gaming platforms

and interactive media, as a ways to present musical concerts

is that a whole generation is growing up right now

who are more attuned towards media experiences

with which they can interact.

They are no longer passive consumers sitting on the couch,

watching a television, they are at a minimum,

chatting on a feed while watching a video

while on Discord while playing a game.

So the idea of interacting with their media, with our media,

has become extremely popular over the last decade.

Moving forward into the future, I can only see that,

you know, once the cat's out of the bag,

we're not going back, right?

We're not going to

go back to passive forms of entertainment,

to the same extent, when we can interact with the world.

When we can watch concerts

while walking around a fantastical space

and seeing a 400-foot avatar of our

favorite performer. - Right.

- Ariana Grande, at 400-feet tall.

(Lara laughs) - Exactly.

- And she's like four feet tall.

(Lara laughs) - It's such an interesting

and fascinating way to engage content.

And that's what's, I think, is such a wonderful way that

technology is changing the landscape.

When we look at music and entertainment and you know,

all these things that we as avid consumers

of music and sound and video really, really want.

- That's amazing, well Rob, thank you so much

for being on A House for Arts

It was so great learning about this and seeing that

virtual reality...

(Lara laughs)


- Well thanks so much for having me.

- It was great having you.

- Yeah thanks.

- Please welcome SIRSY.

- Hi everybody, are the band, SIRSY.

We are so happy to be here on AHA today.

We're going to do a song that is called "Like A Drum".

And this is a song that is about

getting through the hard times

by doing the thing that brings you joy.

And for us, that is playing music.

So let's make a little joyful noise together.

(guitar strumming)

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ As I will beat this like a drum ♪

(upbeat rock music)

♪ Hard times are weighing ♪

♪ On my mind ♪

♪ Heavy is the heart ♪

♪ That doesn't pick the fight ♪

♪ What don't, kill us, makes us stronger, right ♪

♪ Well we ain't dead yet tonight ♪

(upbeat rock music)

♪ Ooh, ooh ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Hard times will bring ♪

♪ A body down ♪

♪ Heavy is the heart that's given no way out ♪

♪ All that we've got ♪

♪ Baby is right now ♪

♪ So come on and sing it loud ♪

(upbeat rock music)

♪ Ooh, ooh ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Round and round the beat goes on ♪

(upbeat rock music)

♪ Ooh, ooh ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Beat my troubles ♪

♪ Like a drum ♪

♪ Oh, oh ♪

♪ Let my beat go on and on ♪

(upbeat rock music)

♪ Hey ♪

- So this is a brand new song of ours called "Astronauts",

and it was inspired by the fact that Rich and I are both

nerds who, when we were little kids

used to look up at the stars

and dream about being astronauts

and think about how everything down on earth,

like our house or our cat

would all look really small from up there.

And during the pandemic,

we would take walks outside at night

when everything seemed really big

and overwhelming for all of us

and the weight of the world seemed too heavy.

We would walk outside and look up at the stars and think,

"If we could be up there like astronauts

and look down at all of this,

maybe it would seem a little bit lighter".

And so that's what inspired this song.

(gentle rock music)

♪ Like a rocket through the atmosphere ♪

♪ She found her way out of here ♪

♪ Leaving all those summer nights behind ♪

♪ Under stars so ripe with dreams ♪

♪ We didn't dare to dream ♪

♪ While gravity was holding us down ♪

♪ When I could never let go of ♪

♪ The weight of the world ♪

♪ She'd say our ♪

♪ Hard days and heartaches ♪

♪ Would seem so small ♪

♪ If we could ♪

♪ Fly to the moon ♪

♪ And see them all like astronauts ♪

(gentle rock music)

♪ Like a rocket she ♪

♪ Burned out too fast ♪

♪ Nothing that's too good will last ♪

♪ So we've gotta hold what we can ♪

♪ And when the sky's too dark to see ♪

♪ Those stars and crazy dreams ♪

♪ I wish for one of those summer nights ♪

♪ When she could always let go of ♪

♪ The weight of the world ♪

♪ And say our ♪

♪ Hard days and heartaches ♪

♪ Would seem so small ♪

♪ If we could ♪

♪ Fly to the moon ♪

♪ And see them all like ♪

♪ Astronauts ♪

♪ And sometimes ♪

♪ Trying gets ♪

♪ Harder than rocket science ♪

♪ Count of three ♪

♪ And we'll be free then ♪

♪ Out of this world ♪

(gentle rock music)

♪ And all our ♪

♪ Hard days and heartaches ♪

♪ Would seem so small ♪

♪ If we could ♪

♪ Fly to the moon ♪

♪ And see them all, like astronauts ♪

♪ Oh like ♪

♪ Astronauts ♪

♪ Oh, so fly me to the moon ♪

(music fading)

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M & T Bank, we understand

that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M & T bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.


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