Media Arts and Tech 25th Annual Grad Show

Marcos Novak, Kenneth S Kosik, Tjitse van der Molen and Liv Terrobias with their work, Organoid_Protonoesis_1, in the background (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

UCSB’s Media Arts and Technology Program (MAT) 25th Annual End of Year Show titled soft AI+ M: Realities Altered Realities Emerging, was a dual treat with students showing at UCSB and SBCAST. I attended the SBCAST show on June 6. The poster for the show quipped, “No AI was harmed in the generation of this text.” UCSB’s MAT department is a transdisciplinary graduate program that fuses emergent media, computer science, engineering, electronic music, architecture and design, and digital art research, practice, production, and theory. 

At the exhibit was one of MAT’s founders, Curtis Roads,PhD, who is retiring this year. Roads’ CV is a tome of knowledge itself, chronicling his history in creating music electronically, faculty at MIT, and receiving the lifetime achievement award from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States 2010. In 2016, Roads won the Giga-Hertz Prize for lifetime achievement in electronic music, awarded by the Center for Art and Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe, and the Southwest Radio (SWR), Baden-Baden. 

We discussed how he arrived at UCSB and his legacy there. He shared, “Before UCSB I studied with polymath composer Iannis Xenakis at Indiana University, [who] led me on my career – editing Computer Music Journal, writing the main textbook in the field published by MIT [1996] and the second edition published 2023, and foundings the organization in the field. I was contacted 28 years ago by JoAnn Kuchera-Morin – director of the AlloSphere – to come teach at UCSB. I’m most proud of the fact that I co-founded the Media Arts and Technology Program at UCSB and mentored 144 Master and PhD students.”

The exhibit was held inside labs, outdoors, and projected on the SBCAST walls. The six performance exhibits were: 

Silicone Dream by Jenni Hutson, a soft shape display device that receives arbitrary data values over OSC and translates them into changing shapes using a grid of actuator-controlled shafts underneath a silicone top layer, with LED lights underneath the silicone. The shapes were controlled by generated topographic data and driven by musical data by Marcel Rodriguez-Riccelli

The CREATE ensemble of Ryan Millett, Yvonne Yuan, violinist Deniz Çağlarcan, Marcel Rodriguez-Riccelli, and Karl Yerkes, who performed an improv music composition. They interpreted the composition of abstract symbols on a computer, similar to a guitar tabs sheet music. The instruments ranged from violin to analog knobs similar to guitar pedals. 

Sabina Hyoju Ahn and Ryan Millett produced TouchPulseBitBox – a dual pulsar synthesizer built on the Daisy Seed platform using Gen. It features an interactive design with four knobs and seven light sensors, enabling dynamic parameter modulation through physical interaction. As users adjust the knobs, they simultaneously disrupt the light sensors, integrating tactile feedback directly into sound manipulation. 

UCSB’s MAT Students and Collaborators (photo by Joanne A Calitri)
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UCSB’s MAT Students and Collaborators (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

Deniz Çağlarcan’s multi-media work, Shadows, wherein he composed music and virtual sounds for his interpretive video using selected oil paintings from Güneş Çağlarcan’s Shadow Collection. The video/audio is made for large wall and room projections.

Jazer GilesGenuine Horsefeathers is computer video art-using machine learning to analyze incoming microphone signals and play back the closest match from a curated audio corpus. Giles used audio from news broadcasts, talk shows, videos, and other media. 

Sabina Hyoju Ahn’s BioModular is an instrument created based on the BCO (Bioelectricity-Controlled Oscillator) circuit that uses bioelectricity from living beings as control voltage. This instrument has two functions: it operates both as a modular synthesizer with an eight-step sequencer, and in a bionoise-controlled mode. 

Of keen interest was the collaborative work by Marcos Novak, Chair/Professor MAT, Director of Media Arts & Design and the transLAB with MAT grad students Nefeli Manoudaki, Iason Paterakis, Diarmid Flatley, Ryan Millett, and Jazer Sibley-Schwartz; the Kosik Neurobiology Lab Director Ken Kosik and his students Tjitse van der Molen and Eve Bodnia; and SBCAST Director Alan Macy. The project is titled, Organoid_Protonoesis_1, with version 2 in process. The team defines it thusly: 

“This project introduces a real-time interface between spontaneous brain organoid activity and external stimuli, enabling unique and novel interactions between human intellect and emergent and self-organizing neural connectivity and activation. Neuronal firing data, converted to hyperedges within hypergraphs, are transformed into computational architectural morphologies, generative spatialized sound, and AI virtual entities. It shows the potential of integrating real-time generative AI with biological systems, inviting participants to explore and reflect on the evolving boundaries of cognition, signal processing, and contemporary media.”

Curtis Roads and Marcos Novak (photo by Joanne A Calitri)
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Curtis Roads and Marcos Novak (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

A full wall(s) live video projection shows the neuron firings of samples of human brain stem cells which are mounted on electronic sensing plates wired to a computer for processing and rendering along with sound. I interviewed van der Molen who explained, “From sampling human skin cells we create stem cells and treat them with signal molecules similar to a developing the embryonic brain. These are the organoids. We slice them and put them on multi-electrodes to record their activity. At this exhibit we have 131 neurons all from the same organoid that is spontaneously active in an orchestrated way. We have not stimulated them to be active in any way or environment, it’s purely intrinsic. Some neurons burst at the same time, called the backbone, here are 27. Others are variably active. This is the same for humans and other animals. Uses are to study malfunctions in neural circuit activity that result in disease and mental illness, in order to develop appropriate treatments.” 

Also exhibiting were Lucy Bell and Devon Frost’s 3D computer made clay sculpture, Bad Person; Iason Paterakis and Nefeli Manoudaki demo’ed Mys, Osmosis Episode 04, a wearable sensing system, using advanced audio processing, AI-driven video generation and innovative design in a flexible wearable digital technology system, aka a white lace glove that was made via a 3D printer; Sam Bourgault’s Millipath – an action-oriented programming web application enabling the parametric design of machine toolpaths for surface texture production on CNC-milling machines; Pratyush ‘Rumi’ Bhattacharyya had AI and The Art Of Failure; Stejara Dinulescu, Nefeli Manoudaki and Iason Paterakis created Mys, a wearable sensing system that captures human kinesthetic movements via three accelerometers and translates these movements into extended reality architectural transformations.

Ryan Millett produced PR1M0RDIUM; Olifa Ching-Ying Hsieh, Timothy Wood, and Weihao Qiu’s TAISAH – A Song of Your Dream, is a participatory immersive audio-visual healing space which combines neural and physical feedback data to generate spatial audio, AI graphics and interactive design in the immersive space; Angelos Floros’s Aquatic well-being; Emma Brown’s Nice Guy is a public experiment attempting to model theory of mind in an agent powered by a large language model. The machine agent identifies as a “nice guy” and attempts to empathize with humans in an unbroken stream of consciousness; and Jazer Sibley-Schwartz, Devon Frost, Marcel Rodriguez-Riccelli, and Sam Bourgault’s Vitrified Sounds Pottery are two augmented 3D-printed clay vessels with electronic components, that receive sounds, which are processed and fed through speakers.  


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