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Making "Wild Sound": A Case Study in Engineering and Musical Performance Co-design

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1123.1 - 26.1123.18



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Paper Authors


Jay B. Brockman University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Jay Brockman is the Associate Dean of Engineering for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and previously worked for Intel Corporation. He is also a founder of Emu Solutions, Inc., a startup company that is commercializing research in the area of high-performance computing.

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Gina Navoa Svarovsky University of Notre Dame

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Gina Navoa Svarovsky is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Notre Dame's Center for STEM Education and the College of Engineering. She has studied how young people learn engineering for over a decade.

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Matthew Kloser University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Matthew Kloser is the founding director of the Center for STEM Education and a faculty member and Fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Kloser’s research focuses on issues of teaching, learning, and assessment in science classrooms with a special focus on biology education. His previous research includes the design and assessment of undergraduate biology labs, research on climate change mental models, and experimental studies that identify affordances and constraints of learning biology from different text types. He has recently focused on identifying and measuring high-leverage core science teaching practices and the impact of STEM-focused schools on in-class practice. Dr. Kloser earned his M.Ed. from Notre Dame and taught high school physics and math before earning his M.S. in biology and Ph.D. in science education from Stanford University.

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Making “Wild Sound”: A Case Study in Engineering and Musical Performance Co-DesignFollowing its premier performances to audiences in Indiana and Minnesota, “WildSound” has been described as challenging “the distinctions that exist between music andnoise, instrument and everyday object, performance and daily life.” Written by modernclassical composer Glenn Kotche—who is also the drummer for the Grammy award-winning rock band Wilco—and performed by Chicago-based percussion ensemble ThirdCoast Percussion, the 40 minute extended work “Wild Sound” features custominstruments that were designed by a team of faculty and undergraduate students at aMidwestern research university, simultaneously with the composition of the piece and thechoreography of the performance. This paper and presentation will provide a formalanalysis of this fascinating co-design process using an engineering design framework thatconsiders objectives, constraints, multidisciplinary decomposition, and iteration acrossthe engineering, musical composition, and performance domains. It will highlightexamples of both experimentation/analysis and design/synthesis in the process. Usingvideotaped recordings of portions of the performance, along with interviews of thecomposer and the performers, the presentation will provide examples of how the designof the musical instruments and portions of the musical score were shaped by each other.Results from performances scheduled in Chicago and New York City prior to theconference will serve to illustrate how lessons learned from the deployment of an initialdesign point were refined for a second-generation product.The narrative arc of “Wild Sound” celebrates the evolution of technology from rural tomodern industrial times. As part of the performance, non-traditional instruments areconstructed on stage, where the sounds of the construction are part of the musical score.The custom instruments include acoustical instruments that are shaped with hand andpower tools, an “audience participation” instrument mass produced with a laser cutter,embedded piezo contact microphones, and a variety MIDI synthesizers designed usingArduino processor technology. The complete “Wild Sound” performance also includes avideo track projected behind the stage and an ambient audio track with “found sounds”that Kotche collected while on tour internationally with Wilco, and real-time adjustmentsby an audio engineer. These perspectives will also be considered in the model.The paper will provide an initial assessment of outcomes using interviews of audiencemembers as well as of participants, considering how the multidisciplinary nature of theproject has changed their views of both the arts and engineering. It will conclude withsuggestions for how such experiences may be made available to more students andincorporated into the engineering curriculum.

Brockman, J. B., & Svarovsky, G. N., & Kloser, M. (2015, June), Making "Wild Sound": A Case Study in Engineering and Musical Performance Co-design Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24460

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