Dr. Brad Decker
Instructor, Eastern Illinois University
If You Build It: Creating a Music Technology Culture
I have close ties to my current institution. Eastern Illinois University was my home as an undergraduate in the 1990s, and by some stroke of luck, is now where I work full time as a non-tenured Instructor of music composition and technology. While I was a student at EIU 25 years ago, there was a vibrant counter-culture centered around individual expression, art and music, which in turn inspired me to be a composer, experimentalist, and musician. Since then, EIU has experienced political and financial trauma, from which we are still recovering. One of my primary goals since I was hired in Fall 2010 was to use music technology to help build it back up, to contribute to a culture, and to inspire new generations of students. Beginning with the circumstances around the decline of EIU in general, my presentation centers on the role music technology pedagogy and curriculum has played in rebuilding our numbers, and more importantly, our culture. Two large factors contributed to our loss of students and resources in the mid 2000s: The financial crisis of 2008, and Illinois’ caustic political climate. EIU’s enrollment declined by 39% in 7 years, between 2010 and 2017. Furthermore, we became embroiled in a political stalemate, along with other regional state schools. A one-term Republican governor, during his term (2015 – 2019), withheld all state appropriations for universities (FY 2016, 2017 and part of 2018), draining them of valuable resources, and sending them into financial hardship. EIU was on the brink of closure. Since his departure, our enrollment is thankfully now slowly on the rise. Departments have been consolidated, and we’ve lost many good people in the process. The focus going forward is now on enrollment numbers, and of course, dollars. Out of this effort to rebuild, we have developed a need to create a music technology program to not only bring in students who seek these programs (and they do!), but also to take full advantage of our facilities and resources. We now have two BA degrees in music technology, and a minor in music technology, and upon their launch in 2020, we believe they will be very successful. Building a culture, however, revolves around new-music activism and creating events. Since 2010, I have sought to bring “electronic music” out of the studio and classrooms, and into public view. We have produced immersive multimedia installations in the concourse of our Doudna Fine Arts Building, and in our Tarble Art Museum, and presented public concerts of music and art by collaborating with other faculty members outside of our music building. I started an annual concert series, Electronic Music Eastern, which is now in it’s 8th year, which often features bringing visiting artists and composers to our small community. We have hosted conferences and multi-concert events, incorporating local musicians and artists. We continue to find new ways to bring interactive music, new media, and new music performance, out into the open.
We’ve since seen an increase in student participation in music composition and music technology studies at EIU. My composition studio, which began with one student in 2010, now averages up to 10 students per term. Our composers’ concerts each term always involves at least one student electro-acoustic, multimedia, or interactive work. My students are becoming active on a national level as well, becoming selected for SEAMUS and SCI Conferences, two of which were selected for SEAMUS’ Allen Strange Award for undergraduate electronic music composition. Our music technology curriculum now features an array of courses in music technology, spanning from Audio Recording and Engineering to New Music Composition and Interactivity. It all begins with an Intro to Music Technology Course that is not only mandatory for all music majors, but is also required for other multimedia majors across campus. For example, this course requires students to complete multi-modal assignments that cover basic acoustics and instrument design, basic digital recording and digital concrete, create videos with soundtracks, sequence drums and samples, working with Ableton, and using the web to host and present their work in a professional manner. This course provides a solid foundation from which other courses can be taken – whether it is audio engineering and recording, or new music composition. Furthermore, it is a cornerstone to a growing music technology culture at EIU, one that crosses disciplines. (In my presentation, our curriculum and course goals will be covered in more detail.) The purpose of this talk is not to boast of our efforts at EIU – on the contrary, we’ve endured a humiliating setback in enrollment and funding within the past 8 years. Rather, this talk is about how Music Tech can benefit a department in many ways, and help to rebuild a culture once lost. Our school now has additional studio spaces, a new concert series, and new curriculum and academic programs devoted to music technology and new music composition. We are continuing to use Music Tech as a way to be progressive and proactive, economical and practical, to help build an essential combination of facilities, curriculum, and culture. It is our hope that since we’ve built it, people will come.
Brad Decker is a composer, educator, and performer of contemporary concert music, whose works often incorporate electronic, electroacoustic, or interactive media. His recent works explore the interaction of acoustic instruments and electronics to create immersive composite textures. His instrumental works combine virtuosic flourishes, polyrhythmic interplay, and extended techniques. Electronic elements include interactive computer processing and sampling, multichannel diffusion, and fixed-media accompaniments. Multimedia projects range from traditional film soundtracks to live-performed improvisations with video. As a double bassist, he regularly performs his own compositions and improvisations that incorporate computer interactivity. His music is performed in the US and internationally, and is distributed through his website http://www.braddecker.org. His teachers include Peter Hestermann, Kenneth Jacobs, Erik Lund, Heinrich Taube, Steven Taylor, and Scott Wyatt. He has attended masterclasses and lessons with composers Agostino DiScipio, Stefano Gervasoni, Lee Hyla, and Tristan Murail. He currently teaches music composition and technology at Eastern Illinois University.