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UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism racks up more honours, looks to launch ambitious non-profit news centre on campus

UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism keeps on raking in so many awards and nominations that you could call it the Team Canada of master’s programs. Headed up by Peter Klein, a veteran producer with 60 Minutes, the School received an historic number of awards in 2013. Students won six regional, national and international awards and 13 nominations for works spanning classic radio drama, to social media campaigns and international reporting. The multimedia feature CUT has been a big winner. The year-long project about the environmental and social costs of illegal logging won gold in the multimedia feature category of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards — Canada’s top prizes for online journalism — beating out major news organizations like the Toronto Star, La Presse and The Canadian Press.

Earlier this month, CUT was also named a Webby Honoree in the “green” category, which recognizes the best in environmental journalism. This is the second time the School’s International Reporting Program (IRP) has been recognized by the Webby Awards, which has been hailed as the “Internet’s highest honor” by The New York Times. The IRP’s multimedia project “Cheap Shrimp, Hidden Costs” earned a Webby Award nomination in 2011.

ArtsWire caught up with Peter Klein to find out more about CUT and its cross-faculty collaboration, why the J-School punches above its weight when it comes to awards and how its curriculum keeps up with the emerging digital media landscape.

ArtsWIRE: The UBC J-School routinely wins award after award, particularly multimedia awards. CUT is the latest, having recently been named a Webby Honoree. Can you tell me who and what inspired CUT?

Peter Klein: CUT is truly a collaborative UBC effort. In the summer of 2012 my co-teacher Dave Rummel, longtime senior editor at The New York Times web video unit, suggested the general idea of looking at illegal logging around the world. INTERPOL had released a report that said up to 30 per cent of wood is illegally sourced, and that seemed to be an interesting issue that warranted investigation. We were fortunate to have Prof. Peter Dauvergne, the director of the Liu Institute, and Dr. Jane Lister, a post-doctoral fellow at Liu, just across the street from us. They had recently written the book “Timber,” about this very issue, and they were incredible resources. We also have a world-class forestry department, and we tapped some of the experts there. In addition, we recruited partners at Shantou University in China and International University in Russia.

We travelled to the Russian Far East, Indonesia and Cameroon to track down the sources of wood and paper, and what we found were facts, figures and stories that showed that some of the wood products around us in North America have a direct connection to grey- or black-market timber on the other side of the globe. So we built a website that started in an average home, and used the wood products in that home as a portal to get to stories of how and where those trees were cut down. We recruited students and faculty from the Centre for Digital Media to help us build this interactive website.

ArtsWIRE: How are the IRP stories developed? Do students pitch these stories or are they assigned?

Peter Klein: In the past we solicited cold pitches from students, but the feedback we received from former [IRP] students was that they would have preferred some structure to the pitching process – at least a general topic. So for the last few years, we have offered the students a general topic, like “illegal logging” or “environmental movement in China,” and they spend the first semester searching for stories, narrowing down where they might go and what kinds of stories they could find.

ArtsWIRE: How does the J-School secure funding for its IRP projects?

Peter Klein: We are very fortunate that in 2008 Alison Lawton’s Mindset Social Innovation Foundation donated $1 million to our school to fund the first decade of the International Reporting Program. So every year we have a base of $100,000 to spend on travel, reporting support, instruction and other costs associated with producing major works of journalism. This is a small budget for projects of the scope we produce, so we generally seek additional funds or commission fees from media partners. CUT is a particularly ambitious project, and one we would like to grow into a longer-term environmental reporting initiative, so we applied for a SSHRC Partnership Development grant, which allowed us to work in collaboration with the Liu Institute, International University in Moscow, Shantou University and the Centre for Digital Media to create this project and explore further projects together in the future. We also received a travel grant from the Ford Foundation.

We are now growing the International Reporting Program into an even more ambitious non-profit organization. The new Global Reporting Centre aims to be the largest independent news organization focused exclusively on teaching and practicing global investigative and enterprise reporting. We have an incredible advisory board and list of collaborators, and this summer we will be launching a fundraising effort to endow this new centre at UBC.

ArtsWIRE: CUT is highly interactive, in that you can click on images on the screen for more information or watch any of the parts in any order. Can CUT still be viewed on the traditional medium of TV or are you eschewing traditional media in your teaching?

Peter Klein: UBC Graduate School of Journalism was one of the first programs in North America to do away with craft streams, so students no longer get trained exclusively to become newspaper writers or TV correspondents or radio reporters or photographers or multimedia producers. We teach all these skills, and encourage students to find the medium that best fits each story. In past years we have produced traditional TV documentaries, as well as newspaper projects. For CUT, an interactive website seemed to best fit the content. We also partnered with The New York Times’ website to feature excerpts of the video content from CUT.

ArtsWIRE: The School is now 15 years old and you’ve had a generation of journalists graduate. Do the graduates of 2014 have a different skillset than those who graduated a decade and a half ago?

Peter Klein: The journalism world has changed dramatically since the start of the school 15 years ago. When the school’s building was under construction in 1996, the architect included an old-fashioned darkroom with a sink and tanks of photographic development chemicals. By the time the first students entered the program, digital photography was already emerging and the darkroom had become obsolete overnight. We have converted it into a server room for our digital video and photography archive. It’s a small example of how quickly technology has changed, and the industry has been driven by that technology. With advertising revenues at newspapers being replaced by free online ad services, and with traditional newspaper readership moving online, a digital newspaper economy has emerged. High speed broadband now allows average broadcast news consumers to listen to and watch streaming media content anywhere, and the notion of appointment viewing of TV news programs is foreign to most young consumers of news. We have worked hard to address these changing needs of the marketplace, and the success of our graduates proves that they are leaving UBC with the skills necessary to be leaders in the emerging digital media landscape.

ArtsWIRE: What are the implications of this, and how are these graduates different from those who came before?

Peter Klein: UBC Journalism has always strived to prepare students for the changing media landscape, and our students have the good fortune to be studying at a tier-one academic institution, with leading scholars throughout the university. This affords our students the opportunity to gain substantive knowledge in fields relevant to their reporting. The CUT project is a good example – having access to folks at Liu and Forestry gave our students the grounding they needed to do depth reporting on this complex issue. So in many ways, the students today are no different than those from a decade ago. It all comes down to journalism, and we’ve always prepared our students to go out and be curious, thoughtful, respectful and dogged reporters.

ArtsWIRE: What kind of leg up do these awards give graduates?

Peter Klein: There’s a saying in journalism: “You’re only as good as your last story.” If that’s true, then an award may help students get their first job out of school, but then it’s really up to them to use the skills they’ve learned and keep doing excellent work and building up a strong portfolio.

ArtsWIRE: Has social media influenced how you teach journalism?

Peter Klein: One of the fundamental changes in the media landscape is the shift in power dynamic between the journalist and the audience. For centuries, the media was responsible for telling the public what was going on in the world – a one-way relationship. Today, journalists rely far more heavily on the public to be its eyes and ears – take, for instance, the Arab Spring, which was “reported” by thousands of citizens throughout the Middle East, tweeting and posting on Facebook the events unfolding far from the view of most journalists. Another example – in the past, a flawed work of journalism might elicit some letters to the editor, which may or may not be printed, but today the feedback is instantaneous on social media.

Therefore, the role of social media is central to modern journalism, and it is one of the central components of our curriculum. We have a new course in collaboration with Sauder, entitled “Decoding Social Media,” which help media clients devise social media plans. The International Reporting Program’s CUT project was a client of the pilot year of the course, and students in “Decoding Social Media” helped build a social media strategy to engage with stakeholders around the world who might be interested in a multimedia documentary about illegal logging.

ArtsWIRE: The School has accrued a number of accolades in its brief history. What are you most proud of?

Peter Klein: Anytime a graduate comes back and says what they learned at UBC Journalism helped them navigate a challenging situation, or helped them land a dream job, or inspired them to try to advance the craft of journalism – that’s when I feel the most pride. It’s evidence of the cumulative impact of what we do – evidence in the lives and careers of our alumni – that bring me the most pride.

ArtsWIRE: The Duncan McCue-led Reporting in Indigenous Communities course, or RIIC, launched its latest project this week. What will the students be reporting on this year?

Peter Klein: OK, so if I was really pushed to answer the previous question, I would have to say Prof. McCue’s “Reporting in Indigenous Communities” course is the thing I’m most proud of having our school associated with. UBC is on unceded Musqueam territory, so having a course at the school that deals respectfully with complex Aboriginal issues is particularly fitting. Ours is the only such course in all of Canada, and one of only two in North America, in which students are trained to report in Indigenous communities, and the students have produced some excellent works of journalism.

This year the theme is Aboriginal youth, and it’s rolling out as a series on CBC this week. The multimedia stories are also available on the class’s website: indigenousreporting.com.

ArtsWIRE: Are you giving up on traditional mediums such as print?

Peter Klein: Writing is fundamental to journalism and I believe it will always be a core skill, so I am certainly not giving up on writing. In terms of “traditional mediums” like print – many of our students end up working at newspapers, and they are often hired because they have a diverse set of skills. They can report and write – fundamental skills that used to be enough to earn a coveted job at a decent paper – but they can also think like multiplatform journalists. So if they’re out on assignment and see an opportunity to capture some sound, or some video, or compile data and create a visualization, the know how to do it, and came come back to the newsroom with multi-layered elements.

ArtsWIRE: What advice do you have for young people considering applying to the School of Journalism?

Peter Klein: We have an incredibly diverse community at the School of Journalism – with students from all over the world, some with significant journalism experience, many with other professional or scholarly careers already under their belts, and quite a number with very little experience at all. The one quality that unifies our top applicants is a clearly articulated reason for wanting to embark on a challenging curriculum at UBC Journalism. We want to recruit applicants who are curious, who have focused ideas about what they want to achieve, have a sense of how they want to take advantage of being at a tier one academic institution. They need to demonstrate they are open-minded about the future of journalism because we want to train the future leaders of our industry.

ArtsWIRE: Last but not least, how do you remain positive as a journalism professor given the grim times in the industry?

Peter Klein: While the economic models are changing, and many traditional journalism jobs are disappearing, many new opportunities are emerging. The most recent report by the Pew Research Center shows that digital news organizations are filling the gaps in traditional corporate media, and many are growing and hiring. The bottom line is that there will always be a role for journalists in democratic societies.

Categories: Faculty News

Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art

Museum of Anthropology
May 2 to November 2, 2014

First-of-its-kind exhibition reveals age-old cultural and religious Afro-Cuban traditions in contemporary art.

The Museum of Anthropology opens a window into the lives and struggles of Cubans of African descent in its new exhibition Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art on display from May 2 to November 2, 2014. This remarkable exhibition has assembled a diverse group of 31 Cuban contemporary artists devoted to two fascinating themes: on the one hand an insight into contemporary Afro-Cuban cultural and religious traditions and, on the other, an intense dialogue on the complex racial issues affecting the country today.

Public Programs

Opening Reception ǀ Friday, May 2, 2014, 7-9pm
Join us for a public reception in celebration of the opening of Without Masks.

Artists Talk ǀ Saturday, May 3, 2014, 1-4pm
Vancouver resident Cuban artist Manuel Piña join Without Masks featured artists Marta María Pérez Bravo and Alexis Esquivel Bermúdez for a conversation on contemporary Afro-Cuban art.

Curator Tour ǀ Sunday, May 4, 2014, 1-3pm
Curator Orlando Hernández will lead a tour of the exhibition followed by a discussion with Chris von Christierson about the partnership that led to the establishment of the Collection.

Artists Talk ǀ Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 7-9pm
Join artists from Without Masks as they present their different artistic practices.

A Rich, Layered Exploration of Race & Identity Revealed in Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art

First-of-its-kind exhibition reveals age-old cultural and religious Afro-Cuban traditions in contemporary art

The Museum of Anthropology opens a window into the lives and struggles of Cubans of African descent in its new exhibition Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art on display from May 2 to November 2, 2014. This remarkable exhibition has assembled a diverse group of 31 Cuban contemporary artists devoted to two fascinating themes: on the one hand an insight into contemporary Afro-Cuban cultural and religious traditions and, on the other, an intense dialogue on the complex racial issues affecting the country today.

“MOA is a place of both historic and contemporary world arts and culture; an institution where Vancouver’s residents and visitors can develop an understanding and appreciation of the complexities of our global community,” says Nuno Porto, Curatorial Liaison for Without Masks at MOA. “Without Masks gives us opportunities to broaden our understanding of issues of global concern, such as racism today. The Afro-Cuban struggle for recognition and social equity in contemporary Cuba resonate with challenges faced by communities all over the world, including here.”

Orlando Hernández, formerly of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, curated Without Masks following his own rigorous criteria. Focusing beyond aesthetic, the exhibit favours originality and the profoundness of the works’ sociological, historical, anthropological, religious, ethical and political messages.

“There is a very strong African tradition in Cuba. We inherited many religious practices from Africa — Palo Monte, Santeria, Ifá, Abakuá — and there are a lot of Cubans of direct or mixed African descent,” says Curator Orlando Hernández. “In Without Masks we seek to make new and deeper studies of those cultural, aesthetic, symbolic, and religious legacies that we share and take for granted, without forgetting that we have received them from black sub-Saharan Africa.”

For Without Masks, Hernández has curated a powerful collection of artworks representing a cross-section of Afro-Cuban artists – from the internationally renowned to street and folk artists. The exhibition features 31 artists showing a total of 85 works (from the 146 which at present comprise the whole collection) spanning a range of media including painting on canvas and wood, watercolour, drawing, printing (xylography, silk-screen, calligraphy), collage, patchwork, installation, soft-sculpture, photography, video-installation and video art.

All the works in the exhibition are drawn from the von Christierson Collection. Chris and Marina von Christierson, themselves South African, first visited Cuba in 2007 and were drawn to the country and its art. During this visit they met Orlando Hernández and established a collaboration with him to develop a collection of Afro-Cuban art that would show the multiple imprints of Africa in Cuba’s artistic culture. The collection was first exhibited at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup. A major catalogue featuring the collection is available in the MOA Shop. The collection is held by the family’s Watch Hill Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable organization.

Categories: Faculty News

The backbenchers’ calculus and the Fair Elections Act

Ottawa Citizen, Wed Apr 16 2014
By: Stewart Prest
Link to full text

The Conservatives’ proposed changes to Canada’s Fair Elections Act is a “risky political ploy,” says UBC PhD political science candidate Stewart Prest.

“For one thing, it is a potent potential mobilizer for the opposition,” he writes. “Polling on the issue so far suggests that while most Canadians are not engaged on the issue, the more they know about C-23, the more they dislike it. A limited set of amendments will not change that calculus.”

Categories: Faculty News

Study: Crew that sailed with Columbus suffered scurvy

USA Today, Tues Apr 15 2014
By: Traci Watson
Link to full text

The crew accompanying Christopher Columbus on his journey to the New World had scurvy, according to a new study.

But UBC anthropologist Darlene Weston says conclusive signs of scurvy can only be found if the crewmembers’ skulls are examined.

Categories: Faculty News

Best places to experience Native American culture

CNN, Wed Apr 16 2014
By: Dana Joseph
Link to full text

UBC’s Museum of Anthropology is named as one of the best places to learn about Aboriginal history and culture by CNN.

Categories: Faculty News

Compulsory voting is counter-productive

Ottawa Citizen, Mon Apr 14 2014
By: David Moscrop
Link to full text

Today, elections are on the mind of many Canadians with the Fair Elections Act and the upcoming 2015 federal contest. Again, there has been talk of adopting compulsory voting in Canada.

Political Science PhD candidate David Moscrop discusses why he believes compulsory voting is counter-productive and won’t fix structural inequalities that cause low voter turnout.

Categories: Faculty News

UBC Vancouver Events Commemorating The Komagata Maru Incident

Performing the Komagata Maru, Theatre and the Work of Memory | Saturday May 3, 7:30pm &  Sunday May 4, 2pm

Theatre at UBC takes part in upcoming events held throughout Vancouver commemorating the The Komagata Maru Incident. In 1914, a ship named the “Komagata Maru,” carrying 376 South Asian would-be immigrants to Canada, was turned away from Vancouver as a part of a larger movement against Asian immigration at that time.

Saturday May 3, 2pm

Symposium | Performing the Post-colonial: The political work of theatre

St. John’s College, UBC


This symposium is associated with the theatrical and scholarly program Performing the Komagata Maru: Theatre and the Work of Memory. Featuring a panel discussion by the playwrights included in the program – Sadhu Binning, Sukhwant Hundal, Sharon Pollock and Ajmer Rode. The event also includes remarks from Rahul Varma founder of Teesri Duniya Theatre or “Third World Theatre”, Nandi Bhatia from the University of Western Ontario and a key-note address by Rana Nayar, Professor of English at Panjab University, Chandigarh and well-known translator of modern Punjabi literature.

Refreshments during the event and light dinner to follow.

Free! | Ph: 604.822.8788 | E: sjc.reception@ubc.ca | Web: http://stjohns.ubc.ca

Saturday May 3, 7:30pm & Sunday May 4, 2pm

Theatre | Performing the Komagata Maru, Theatre and the Work of Memory

Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC

Admission: $10

Join us for an intellectual and theatrical commemoration of the centenary of this incident to explore how and why the Komagata Maru Incident has been remembered by Canadian playwrights in Punjabi and English. The fully bilingual program will feature the performance of selections of plays by Sadhu Binning, Sukhwant Hundal, Sharon Pollock, and Ajmer Rode by UBC students and members of Rangmanch Punjabi Theatre. Sets for the production were produced by artist Raghavendra Rao K.V. and students from Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology in Bangalore.

Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC | Admission $10, Book online at www.theatre.ubc.ca

Note: This event will also be staged May 9 at the Surrey Arts Centre at 8pm.

More: www.surrey.ca/files/SurreyArtsCentreCalendar.pdf 


Other Vancouver events commemorating The Komagata Maru Incident include:

Thursday May 1, 7pm

FILM | An evening with Ali Kazimi and the film Continuous Journey 

Centre Stage, New Surrey City Hall


An evening with Ali Kazimi and his film “Continuous Journey”. Join in a conversation with this artist about his film, the first feature-length documentary to examine the Komagata Maru ‘incident’. Presented as part of the Surrey Art Gallery’s exhibition “Ruptures in Arrival: Art in the Wake of the Komagata Maru,” in collaboration with the Komagata Maru Foundation.

Centre Stage, New Surrey City Hall | Admission Free (limited seating) Ph: 604-501-5566


More about these events: http://www.theatre.ubc.ca/season.shtml#KomagatuMaru

Categories: Faculty News

Meet the new CEO of the Vancouver Economic Commission

Business in Vancouver, Fri Apr 11 2014
By: Jen St. Denis
Link to full text

A UBC alumnus is the new CEO of the Vancouver Economic Commission.

Ian McKay studied political science and Asia Pacific studies at UBC.

Categories: Faculty News

In search of China’s soul

Vancouver Sun, Fri Apr 11 2014
By: Douglas Todd
Link to full text

Chinese people are renewing their interest in traditional Chinese thought, says UBC Asian studies professor Edward Slingerland, who recently published his book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.

“There has been a resurgence of interest in traditional Chinese thought in China, partly driven top-down by the government, which is looking for a new guiding philosophy now that Maoism seems defunct. … Their interpretation of Confucian ideas about a ‘harmonious society’ fits into their governing philosophy,” Slingerland writes.

Categories: Faculty News

UBC Asia expert calls for new era in China relations

Vancouver Sun, Sun Apr 13 2014
By: Chuck Chiang
Link to full text

Canada needs to develop a better strategy for engaging with China, says a UBC Asian studies professor.

“Asian countries care as much about things like security, health and the environment as they do about economics. Are we just going to be a commercial country (in the region)? We need to take the next step to signal we are in the game in a more comprehensive way,” said Paul Evans, who has published a new book on the matter called Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper.

Categories: Faculty News

Northern Gateway ups the offer to First Nations

Calgary Herald, Mon Apr 14 2014
By: Peter O’Neil
Link to full text

A UBC political scientist questions the planning behind the Northern Gateway pipeline in a new article in The Calgary Herald.

“How does authorizing a bitumen pipeline accommodate the concerns of the many First Nations along the route who adamantly oppose the pipeline?” said George Hoberg.

A similar story appeared in The Province.

Categories: Faculty News

How would you reimagine the CBC?

Globe and Mail, Fri Apr 11 2014
By: Peter Klein
Link to full text

A UBC professor reimagines CBC programming after major job cuts.

“Why not pull together some programs that can be broadcast through traditional radio waves for Canadians stuck in rush hour traffic? And “talk radio” is so popular on commercial broadcasts – what if we did a smarter version of talk radio, with cutting-edge, creative hosts,” writes Peter Klein, director of the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.

Categories: Faculty News

Worst scenarios can still be avoided: climate change report

CBC The National, Sun Apr 13 2014
Link to full text

Greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by as much as 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 to help curb the rising global temperature, according to United Nations climate change experts.

“Economically, it is probably worth doing it, right?” said UBC geography professor Simon Donner. “And obviously environmentally and in terms of human health, it is worth doing it. The question is how is the world going to mobilize the political energy to do so? And where will that leadership come from?

Segment starts at 9:09

Categories: Faculty News

Arts on Air

The Faculty of Arts and CiTR 101.9 FM present Arts on Air.

Wednesday, April 23

Join Ira Nadel (English) as he interviews UBC’s top writers, philosophers, singers and actors in the Humanities and Creative Arts. Provocative interviews, expert commentary and the latest updates from the Faculty of Arts make for an informative and entertaining segment.

English professor Richard Cavell joins Ira Nadel on UBC Arts On Air this week to discuss the history of media studies and its increasingly important role in academia today. Cavell will also provide some insight into the new media studies undergraduate program being launched at UBC this fall.

Arts on Air is heard across the lower mainland every second week at 6 p.m. on CiTR 101.9 FM.

Follow Arts On Air on Twitter, or visit its home site at ArtsOnAir.com.

An archive of Arts on Air episodes can be heard at this link.

Categories: Faculty News

Let’s talk about climate change

National Post, Thu Apr 10 2014
By: Simon Donner, Kathryn Harrison, George Hoberg
Link to full text

The National Energy Board refuses to talk about climate change, says three UBC professors in a new National Post op-ed.

“Canadians are not served when public agencies reject pertinent scientific and expert advice,” wrote geography professor Simon Donner, political science professor Kathyn Harrison, and forest resources management professor George Hoberg. “Nor is Canadian democracy served when our government attempts to evade responsibility for matters as fundamental as our international commitments and responsibility to future generations.”

Categories: Faculty News

What is most important issue facing aboriginal youth today?

CBC News, Wed Apr 9 2014
By: Duncan McCue
Link to full text

The lives of Aboriginal youth in B.C.’s Lower Mainland will be put into focus in a new CBC series next week, in partnership with the UBC Graduate School of Journalism’s Reporting in Indigenous Communities course.

The series starts April 14 on CBC Aboriginal and CBC Early Edition.

Categories: Faculty News

Marinate Me

Marinate Me | UBC 2014 BFA/BA Visual Art Graduating Exhibition | Opening  April 16, 2014

The Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at UBC is pleased to present Marinate Me, this year’s BFA/BA Visual Art Graduating Exhibition at the Audain Art Centre.

For the first time, this exhibition will be housed in the Audain Art Centre.  Featuring works from both an open and closed call, the exhibition will showcase student work in the new AHVA Gallery and the 3rd Floor undergraduate studios.

Marinate Me speaks to immersion in educational theory, or intentional lack thereof. Either being thrown on the grill raw, or by reflecting their seasoned array of knowledge, students will serve up their work to a public audience.

Please join us in celebrating the graduates’ achievements and enjoy the work of emerging young talent in your city.

Opening Reception: April 16th, 5-9 PM
Exhibition: April 17th-26th. [Closed for Good Friday.]
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 12-4 PM

AHVA Gallery & 3rd Floor Studios
Audain Art Centre:  6398 University Blvd.

Categories: Faculty News

The new pulse of digital music

Music is supposed to make you move, but UBC’s Laptop Orchestra takes it to a whole other level

Video killed the radio star, but Bob Pritchard thinks digital cameras and other gadgets might just save live electronic music.

Pritchard, a professor of music at the University of British Columbia, is using technologies that capture physical movement to transform the human body into a musical instrument.

Pritchard and the music and engineering students who make up the UBC Laptop Orchestra wanted to inject more human performance in digital music after attending one too many uninspiring laptop music sets. “Live electronic music can be a bit of an oxymoron,” says Pritchard, referring to artists gazing at their laptops and a heavy reliance on backing tracks.

“Emerging tools and techniques can help electronic musicians find more creative and engaging ways to present their work. What results is a richer experience, which can create a deeper, more emotional connection with your audience.”

Wii will rock you

The Laptop Orchestra, which will perform a free public concert on April 10, is an extension of a music technology course at UBC’s School of Music. Comprised of 17 students from Arts, Science and Engineering, its members act as musicians, dancers, composers, programmers and hardware specialists. They create adventurous electroacoustic music using programmed and acoustic instruments, including harp, piano, clarinet and violin.

Despite its name, surprisingly few laptops are actually touched onstage. “That’s one of our rules,” says Pritchard, who is helping to launch UBC’s new minor degree in Applied Music Technology in September with Laptop Orchestra co-director Keith Hamel. “Avoid touching the laptop!”

Instead, students use body movements to trigger programmed synthetic instruments or modify the sound of their live instruments in real-time. They strap motion sensors to their bodies and instruments, play wearable iPhone instruments, swing Nintendo Wiis or PlayStation Moves, while Kinect video cameras from Sony Xboxes track their movements.

“Adding movement to our creative process has been awesome,” says Kiran Bhumber, a fourth-year music student and clarinet player. The program helped attract her back to Vancouver after attending a performing arts high school in Toronto. “I really wanted to do something completely different. When I heard of the Laptop Orchestra, I knew it was perfect for me. I begged Bob to let me in.”

View a photo gallery of the Laptop Orchestra in action below or here:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

A unique musical duet

In an unconventional music partnership, the Laptop Orchestra pairs 4th year engineering students from UBC’s Dept. of Computer and Electrical Engineering with UBC musicians. The unlikely pairing is designed to better prepare students for workplaces that combine creative and technical professionals. The engineers come with expertise in programming and wireless systems and the musicians bring their performance and composition chops, and program code as well.

“It’s been a fantastic artistic and technical collaboration,” says Pritchard, noting that video game giant Electronic Arts and other multimedia companies have hired several of the music grads. “Each group has their own strengths and benefit from the skills and perspectives of the other. We want to teach them the building blocks for successful collaborations, wherever their path takes them.”

Besides creating their powerful music, the students have invented a series of interfaces and musical gadgets. The first is the app sensorUDP, which transforms musicians’ smartphones into motion sensors. Available in the Android app store and compatible with iPhones, it allows performers to layer up to eight programmable sounds and modify them by moving their phone.

Music student Pieteke MacMahon modified the app to create an iPhone Piano, which she plays on her wrist, thanks to a mount created by engineering classmates. As she moves her hands up, the piano notes go up in pitch. When she drops her hands, the sound gets lower, and a delay effect increases if her palm faces up. “Audiences love how intuitive it is,” says the composition major. “It creates music in a way that really makes sense to people, and it looks pretty cool onstage.”

Have laptop, will travel

Earlier this year, the ensemble’s unique music took them to Europe. The class spent 10 days this February in Belgium where they collaborated and performed in concert with researchers at the University of Mons, a leading institution for research on gesture-tracking technology.

The Laptop Orchestra’s trip was sponsored by UBC’s Go Global and Arts Research Abroad, which together send hundreds of students on international learning experiences each year.

In Belgium, the ensemble’s dancer Diana Brownie wore a body suit covered head-to-toe in motion sensors as part of a University of Mons research project on body movement. The researchers – one a former student of Pritchard’s – will use the suit’s data to help record and preserve cultural folk dances.

The third-year Psychology student says the ensemble’s motion technology helps non-musical collaborators feel more part of the show. “As a dancer, the music typically dictates your movements,” Brownie says. “But with this, your dancing create the sounds – so it’s been a really great experience.”

Bhumber says the program will help, artistically and economically, when she pursues a music career after graduation.

“Recording artists need to support themselves through their live shows,” she says. “It blows people’s minds to see music created this way, so the technology helps set me apart from other artists. And economically, I can work solo or in small groups, which makes touring viable. I just pack my laptop, my clarinet and some sensors, and hit the road.”

Video: Diana Brownie of the UBC Laptop Orchestra

Video: The iPhone Piano

Follow the Laptop Orchestra’s travels, videos and updates on their blog

Find other stories about: ,

Categories: Faculty News

Redback rising: How China’s renminbi is becoming a global currency

Financial Post, Mon Apr 7 2014
By: Gregoire-Francois Legault and Wendy Dobson
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The Chinese renminbi (RMB) is the next global currency, says two academics, including a UBC graduate student.

“China would welcome a stable, prosperous nation such as Canada extending the use of renminbi in international trade,” co-wrote Gregoire-Francois Legault, an Asia Pacific Policy studies student and research assistant at the Centre for Chinese Research. “As trade continues to increase, it would also be one of the stepping stones to a deeper overall bilateral economic relationship.

Categories: Faculty News

Should Quebec become more secular?

Christian Science Monitor, Mon Apr 7 2014
By: Dylan C. Robertson
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The Parti Quebecois (PQ) is doing some soul searching this morning after losing overwhelmingly in the election.

According to UBC professor Michel Ducharme, an expert in Quebec history, comments made by former Premier Jacques Parizeau in 1995 about losing the election to “money and ethnic votes” did not sit well with most Quebecers.

“That gave quite bad press to the [separatist] movement,” said Ducharme. “The Parti Québécois tried to erase any sign of ethnic nationalism in its discourse, and tried to promote a civic understanding of what it means to be Québécois.”

A similar story appeared in Alaska Dispatch.

Categories: Faculty News

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The UBC Graduate School of Journalism is the only Canadian journalism school that offers an International Reporting course with travel to cover important under-reported issues in the public interest for a major broadcaster.