September 2005 -
DXARTS: The UW Has Always Been Strong in the Arts and Technology. Now It Boasts a Revolutionary Program that Marries the Two. Story by Ali Bayse.

Richard KarpenMusic Professor Richard Karpen was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1957. A natural at music composition and mathematics, he was fascinated from an early age by the parallels between composing music and computer science. Both involve designing complex webs of interdependent streams of information that work together to create a unified whole. “But music doesn’t need performers anymore,” Karpen says, “and that has created interesting aesthetic and philosophical problems for artists to solve.” As a student, he apprenticed at the Paris Conservatory of Music and in New York with Gheorghe Costinescu, Charles Dodge and Morton Subotnick before attaining a Ph.D. in music composition at Stanford. Since then, he has composed many works for computer, including sound design and dance works. Along with numerous concert and radio performances, his works have been used by dance companies such as the Royal Danish Ballet and the Guandong Dance Company of China. Karpen’s compositions have been recorded on CD by Le Chant du Monde/Cultures Electroniques, Wergo, Centaur, Neuma, and DIFFUSION i MeDIA. The recipient of many awards, grants and fellowships, including a Fulbright Scholarship to Italy, Karpen joined the music school in 1989 and became the director of DXARTS in 2001.

Stuart Dempster“Anterior View of an Interior with Reclining Trombonist: The Conservation of Energy”
Karpen likens music notation to a theatrical script. As an actor interprets the words of Shakespeare, a musician interprets the score and embodies the music while adding his or her own experience to the mix. With computer music, Karpen can take the performer out of the performance. For this work, he wrote a computer program that track the movement of the slide of a trombone. Some sounds are created by playing the trombone; other sounds are prerecorded and played through the movement of the slide. Karpen dedicated this work to UW faculty member and trombonist Stuart Dempster, who performed this piece for its debut in 2003.

Terraform I“Terraform I”
This is a multimedia, computer-generated environment created by a group of students and artists working in the Karpen-founded Center for Advanced Research Technology in the Arts and Humanities and displayed for four months at the Henry Art Gallery on campus. In it, computer-controlled projected light, sound and video—both moving and still—are splayed throughout a form of large, undulating white walls built to create a grid of passages and dead-ends. This “new habitat” is essentially a room-size, interactive, multimedia maze, designed to allow viewers to walk through, explore and experience.

Score from 'Exchange'
Karpen's score from "Encore." Images courtesy of Richard Karpen.

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