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Music technology's Scott Deal a 'musician who happens to teach'

June 11, 2013

H.L. Mencken’s old “law” claimed “those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.” Mencken clearly never heard of Scott Deal.

As a faculty member in the music technology department in the School of Engineering and Technology, Deal is a passionate advocate of the department’s focus on multimedia, interactive design and production techniques through new and emerging digital arts technologies.

Scott Deal

Scott Deal

But Deal’s “can do” side features his talents as a performer (he’s an award-winning percussionist) and musical collaborator (co-creator of the multinational digital production of “Auksalaq,” an award-winning telematic opera).

“I love performing, and consider myself a musician who happens to teach,” he laughed. “But I really enjoy teaching, too; I love spending time with people who share my passion for music, and a willingness to explore the new and different places technology can take us.”

Those “places” Deal mentioned are both real -- his skills have taken him to Europe and Asia, as well as places throughout North America -- and virtual, connecting performers with audiences world-wide, made possible by high-bandwidth digital systems and multimedia formats. And this summer, he’ll have a new composition of his own performed in Australia that uses computer machine-learning algorithms live during the piece, which will add more layers to the world of electronic or digital music.

“Auksalaq” is one of those multimedia efforts, and earned Deal and collaborator Matthew Burtner (of the University of Virginia) an Internet2 IDEA Award (for Internet2 Driving Exemplary Applications) in 2011. Their work, based heavily in research, was honored for its success in challenging audiences to learn about the impact of climate change. The Deal-Burtner effort was recognized as a shining example of the informational power of such partnerships, which combine computer interactivity with music, dance, drama, art and literature in multimedia formats.

But the IUPUI faculty member is also widely recognized as a percussionist; his performance on the 2011 CD “Four Thousand Holes” helped earn that disc a Top Ten Classical CD ranking from “New Yorker Magazine.”

Deal acknowledges that the recognition is enjoyable, if only because “it helps my students realize that I’ve “been there, done that’,” he laughed. “They know I’m speaking from experience when I tell them what it takes to reach a certain level.”

Deal got into the field early, motivated by “a lifelong fascination with electronic music. “As a percussionist, it was like there was a big ‘keep out’ sign on electronics,” Deal smiled. “But it didn’t last.”

Instead, Deal got his doctorate by illuminating how to integrate electronics and digitization into live performances, and he’s never stopped his exploration of this realm. “It has really guided me on my research path as an academician,” Deal added.

Better still, he admits, it requires him to live up to the same challenge he poses for his students: to follow their passion. “I always tell them to stay close to that thing that burns hottest inside you,” he said. “When you do that, one thing seems to follow another.”

Scott Deal

Scott Deal on stage

The music technology department has surrounded Deal with talented people who share his passion, particularly fellow faculty members Jordan Munson and Michael Drews, who are the other two-thirds of Big Robot, an IUPUI electro-acoustic ensemble that is quickly building an international reputation.

Deal isn’t surprised by pace at which technology-driven music is making its mark: after all, others share his interest in a new and different art form. But he is surprised “at the breadth of change. Now, even symphonies are using electronics-driven music on stage as part of their lives performances. That’s exciting to see!”

Deal realizes that digital music isn’t for everyone.

“You can’t play the kind of music I do and expect everyone to like it,” he laughed. “Not going to happen. But computer interactive acoustic music -- what I do -- is part of the interdisciplinary nature of our work. Music can bring people together; interactive music can tie the fields of medicine, informatics, liberal arts and more together, and do it in intriguing ways that other forms of music may not be able to achieve.”

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