Secondary Colors: A Telecom Band

By: Niki Fritz

Why does anyone start a band? Fame? Fortune? A sweet tour bus? Or in the case of Josh Sites and his band – to just get a little creative space outside of academia’s mind grind and have some fun.

For Josh, he was sick of playing by himself.

“It feels so heavy handed to know every nook and cranny of my own music. I’m always in my own head and playing music is an opportunity to get out of it. When it is just me, I feel like I can’t get out of my head,” Josh explains. “I was just looking for a music collaborator and that turned into a whole band.”

Secondary Colors practicing some of their sweet jams

Secondary Colors practicing some of their sweet jams

Josh first recruited Patrick, with whom he had previously collaborated. Patrick usually plays the drums but this time he wanted to shake it up and play bass. Luckily, Josh knew MacKenzie, a Telecom lab monitor who is also a killer drums player. Josh recruited her to his budding band. Josh also had a former student Karl, who was a rockstar lead guitarist. He agreed to play with the new band. Finally, Josh convinced his wife, Alicia, to play keys and back-up vocals. Alicia had earlier played only played classical piano but decided she to challenge herself and try her hand at the keyboard.

“I have never been in a band outside of marching band and a high school band. Music nerd alert!,” Alicia says. “I was pretty nervous about joining and still get nervous from time to time, but Josh and the other members are really good at supporting others with trying something new or even how we have grown as a band in such a short time.”

As the band started coming together, they began to toss around ideas for its name. Mackenzie came up with the idea of colors since Alicia is an artist and two of the Telecom students are in visual arts. Mackenzie thought primary colors might sound too presumptuous, so they went with secondary colors. The band is currently designing a logo and has just produced its first demo, which you can listen to here!

Despite the demands of school and work, the band members say the band has become an essential part of their lives.

“I enjoy producing something creative regularly,” MacKenzie says. “It really helps school and work seem more tolerable during the week when I know I can do something like make music at least once a week.”

For Josh the band is a creative venture but also a chance to get out of his own comfort zone and learn something new about himself.

“Different artists have different strengths and I’m still learning what mine might be,” Josh explains. “I’m not a great lyrist; I’m not an amazing singer. I’m afraid if I stay in my comfort zone I may never find my strength.  Unrealized potential is the scariest thing to me.”

Josh explains that writing and performing music helps him process not only his creative impulses but also his deep-seeded feelings that he is not comfortable talking about normally. He explains how music allows him to lie in order to tell the truth.

“In music I can create a character that is me, shares my name, looks and dresses like me, but he is the musician; there is no expectation of truthfulness,” Josh explains. “The stories [of his songs] are drawn from so many different places and twisted around so much that they are not accurate accounts of anything but the emotional content is honest.”

As for the future of this fledging band, they hope to just keep creating music and inspiring each other.

“It’s a lot of fun to play music with a group of people and not take it too seriously.  We don’t have aspirations to be outrageous rock stars touring the world, but we also wouldn’t entirely be opposed to it if the opportunity came about,” Alicia says. “I would say we’re looking forward to putting on a show someday!”

And that day may be someday soon. The band is currently in talks with the manager of the Root Cellar to have a show sometime in early March. Check back with Josh or keep your eye on the Facebook Beer Serv for an update.

Check out Secondary Colors at

Check out Secondary Colors at

Grad School Playlist: Why We Need Music To Survive Grad School

By: Niki Fritz

When I asked Josh Sites about the role of music in his life, he gave me one of those furrow-browed, overly pensive looks he dons when he is about to unload some heavy thoughts or take serious snapchats with his cats. Here it was the former.

“It is hard to describe the role of a limb because that is what [music] feels like,” Josh explains. “Music is constant in my life. Based on what other people describe as the effects of meditation, that is how music functions for me.”

For Josh, who is an active listener, creator and researcher of music, beats, melodies and lyrics have a persistent presence in his daily life. He has playlists he has curated for almost every activity in his life, from writing and reading papers to driving or cooking dinner. For Josh, music sets the beat for his life, it blots out the unnecessary noise and allows him to focus.

Josh explains that there may be some evolutionary reasons why music is present in almost every civilization and is invariably an important part of culture. The reproductive-value perspective on music suggests that ability to produce pleasing music demonstrates fitness to a mate, as it shows good coordination, memory and ability to evoke positive emotions in others. Josh explains that the proof is in the Mick Jagger-filled pudding.

Interestingly enough only animals who are verbal learners, who communicate through learned vocal expression, can appreciate music and beats. In other words,

“We need more cowbell.”

while dolphins, elephants, song birds and humans appreciate rhythm, our primate ancestors, who didn’t use learned vocal signals, couldn’t beat a cowbell to save the band (or please Christopher Walken).  There is something about verbal communication that allows the brain to appreciate beats. To some this is proof that music is just “evolutionary cheesecake,” a happy accidental by-product of the more important adaptation of communication.

Whether music is a helpful soundtrack to mating or just some evolutionary bonus, humans have incorporated music into their lives to make funerals more mournful, holidays more nostalgic, parties more dance-a-rific and, often for grad students, to make studying and writing more tolerable and even productive.

Josh explains that music may actually help increase focus. “[Music] helps me focus by blocking internal thoughts and other visual and audio stimuli,” Josh says. “It is like giving a little kid a toy and saying ‘Here semi-subconscious, do this instead!’”

So while your conscious brain focuses on the demanding academic task at hand, your semi-subconscious is attending to music. That enables your brain to ignore distractions like Facebook, your adorable pooch, or the box of wine calling your name.

Of course, we all know different academic tasks call for different types of music. For Josh, he can’t listen to music with lyrics while he is writing. His brain tries to process both the lyrics and the words he is writing, jumbling them all up in the process. After soliciting the Telecom grad students for “music to write to” it seems, many of Josh’s fellow students agree. Check out the IU Telecom Academic Writing Playlist for 11 all instrumental jams that are the perfect background to your APA-style writing.

However, when it comes to grading, some grad students are a bit more tolerant of lyrics especially if they are the kind of worn-in words that the brain knows so well that it just glides over them. Many of the songs submitted for the IU Telecom Grading playlist have lyrics and a bit more upbeat tempo, suggesting perhaps grad students need a little pick me up when wading through 90 final papers about media life. If you are in need of some grading assistance, check out some of your colleagues’ favorite jams.

What all of this comes down to, as Josh explains it, is flow.

“Flow is what most refer to as ‘being in the zone.’ It’s similar to mindfulness. You forget about everything except what is happening in the moment,” Josh says. “Music invites you to enter a moment. It has a discrete beginning and end; you can just be there in the moment.”

With studying or grading, music can help decrease the inhibitors to flow, be they physical or mental. Once in flow, thanks to the aide of Tycho or John Bulter, you can be present and productive, happy to stay engaged with what is in front of you. While Josh is quick to note flow can’t be directly measured (not yet at least), it is often self-reported and a common experience especially among musicians.

Beyond flow and productivity, music is also a beloved form of mood management for many.

“Music can be a detox, a way to get the crummy mood out of you. I emote through the song and when the song ends, I’ve processed and I can move forward” Josh explains.

With just two weeks left of the semester and plenty of stress and emotion to go around, music may just be the best tool to release some of those anxious feelings. Check out the IU Telecom’s “Pumped Up” playlist for some solid beats including the ever-popular T. Swift and the legendary Bowie. Just consider it an early holiday present from the IU Telecom blog.

Telecom Improv Team Hosts Sanctioned Silliness

By: Niki Fritz

Before I begin this article, I have to admit some bias. I used to hate improv; like really hate improv. I’m from Chicago, land of Second City, Tina Fey, and approximately one billion people trying to make it in the improv or comedy world. Throughout my five years in Chicago, I sat through countless improv shows of friends trying out the craft. And I can’t lie; they were painful. Eventually one day I made a rule for myself: no more improv shows.

Ironically about a year before I left Chicago, I found myself accidently taking an improv workshop where I learned the most important, foundational rule of improv was a fairly simple one: “yes, and,” which was basically the opposite of how I had been operating in Chicago. “Yes” meant saying yes to the silliness of a scene even if it is not what you expected. “And” meant, after saying yes, you had to add your own silliness to the mix. “Yes, and” as a rule means not looking for or expecting perfection but existing in the moment and then moving forward. It was deep and stuff.

Little did I know, that the “yes, and” philosophy would haunt – I mean reappear in– my life in Indiana in the form of IU Telecom’s very first, very original improv team, “The Faces of NPR.”

Rule #1 of improv is “Yes, and”

I asked  Edo Steinberg, founder of the Telecom improv team, fearless leader of the troupe and all-around funny man, why he decided to start an improv group with a bunch of stick-in-the-mud social scientists.

Edo admitted that he actually “stole” the idea from the grad students at the University of Pennsylvania. The year before coming to IU, Edo was in Philly, helping his sister adjust to city life and getting kind of bored. He was browsing the profiles of the Comm grad students at UPenn and saw many were taking improv classes. Edo followed their lead and for the next two months, he learned the tenants of improv at the Philly Improv Theater. Edo also humbly noted that the teachers at the Philly school, were actually trained at the iO Theater in Chicago.

“In a way, I was trained at iO,” Edo explained using some shaky-at-best logic.

At this point, Josh Sites, improv team member and first lieutenant of the great beards of improv, felt the need to interject: “Tina Fey was trained at iO so basically Edo and Tina Fey are friends. So really Edo is on a first name basis with Alec Baldwin. Edo is a pretty impressive guy. I try not to boast about it though.” Clearly there is some raw talent on the team when it comes to name dropping and flexible logic.

Edo enjoyed the lessons he learned in Philly so much that he decided to bring the improv philosophy to IU. Also he just missed having an excuse to be silly.

Within two minutes of starting the improv practice, I could see what Edo meant. I had been peer pressured into joining the team in practice to get the full experience; I found myself clucking like a chicken as I walked around in a circle during the warm up activity. It felt silly but it also felt weird to be silly especially with my colleagues.

Josh explained that this feeling is why he joined improv. “I wanted some creative dissonance,” Josh said. When I gave him a look of “Really dude? Did you just say use scholarly jargon?” he restated. “I just wanted the opposite of what I do all day and all week … I get stress relief out of improv. I may just be simply because I’m out of that rut, out of those tracks. Or because it’s silly and goofy and carefree.”

The practice was definitely silly, but as we got further into practice, it also became somewhat challenging. I stepped up to participate and my mind went blank. Without a PowerPoint or lecture outline to follow, my mind was empty, unsure of how to proceed without guidelines.

After this happened a few times, all-wise, fearless leader Edo, told me about another important tenant of improv. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Just try it,” Edo encouraged me. After that, words fell out of my mouth and although they mostly were not funny, I, at least, was participating.

Improv is not about perfection

Nicky Lewis, another veteran member of the troupe, also gave me some much needed perspective on improv, telling me, “It’s the crazy ones that are the fun ones.” The more outlandish a scene, the more fun the team seemed to have. Practice seemed to be a safe place to joke about everything from fat babies and dead bodies to Edo’s secret life as an underground fighter and farts.

It was clear to me that this improv team is not about perfection, it is not about making it onto SNL and it is not about any seriously scholarly pursuits; it is about being silly and recognizing there is more to life than academics.

By the end of practice, I found myself succumbing to the “yes, and” philosophy I had fought so hard years ago. I realized that although I was not only feeling funnier, I also was less worried about being funny. I was more in the moment; I was feeling looser, like the muscles in my body had all just relaxed a bit.

It was then I realized what all my improv friends must have realized years ago in Chicago. Most people don’t do improv for the audience, they don’t do improv to be funny. People do improv to connect to something back inside themselves, that uninhibited part of self that is still silly and free. It is a part of ourselves that sometimes we lose when we are busy being important academics.

If being silly sounds like something you want to try, the Faces of NPR improv team will be having practices on Fridays. Feel free to contact Edo if you want more details.

Improv team members pose for their first official team photo. From left to right: Josh Sites, Nicky Lewis, Edo Steinberg

Improv team members pose for their first official team photo. From left to right: Josh Sites, Nicky Lewis, Edo Steinberg

Designing the Ideal Grad Lounge

By Josh Sites and Steve Myers


In our inaugural article, Steve Myers and I discuss what we think would be the ideal (and hopefully plausible) graduate student lab and lounge spaces. You’ll find the structure of our articles to be a bit unconventional: we brainstorm the whole thing together, but write sections separately. – Josh This gives us the chance to jump in and comment on each other’s sections.  So this right here is Steve and I’m interjecting.  This style keeps the individual thoughts of our constant discourse which, if you know us, is in all essence constant. – Steve Thanks for reading!

Let’s Actually Do Work in the Lab and Lounge in the Lounge

At present, it’s no secret that not a whole lot of actual work goes on in the grad lab (with the exception of the game design class; +3 constitution to them).  Many of us enter that space with lofty goals of efficiency and achievement.  For me, this only actually happens when the place is empty. I wish I had that discipline. If it’s empty, I just end up doodling on the whiteboard.

With the merger upon us, there may be an opportunity to influence the design of our space in Franklin Hall.  These are our thoughts on how the lounge should be.

The Grad Lounge: It’s Colonel Mustard with the Candlestick

When I think lounge, I think Clue; windows, couches, nooks and crannies.  I think of my Grandmother’s sitting room, a space designed to entertain and communicate. The frame of reference in my mind when envisioning the space was Mother Bears. I love the angular, wooden tables and benches. It’s simple and inviting. It feels apart from the rest of reality, because it’s visually distinct.

The lounge should be a space where we want to go and spend time.  It should be a safe haven for grads to relax and socialize. When I talk to Ted Jamison-Koenig about heavy metal or to Niki Fritz about Wisconsinites, I want to be able to face them and not have to yell across the room over all the diligent people. It really is hard to doodle on the whiteboard with all that commotion. 

Bare minimum, the space needs couches and/or armchairs that face one another.  And I think it would only make sense to have a TV or projector setup that students can plug their laptops into to show projects, or honestly even just veg out a bit.  There should be power outlets everywhere. Let me echo this: EVERYWHERE.

A dinner table, conference table or restaurant booth would also be one of the spaces for a group.  Next to this would be a coffee (tea) station.  With a small sink, we could keep a collection of community mugs for different people to handwash and use quickly without having to exit the lounge. Which would double the indignation when someone doesn’t wash their mug.

These are our thoughts.  What are yours?

For the full version of this post, click here.

Creative Insites

By Edo Steinberg

Between his many artistic endeavors and research, Josh Sites has to stay imaginative. He has a few techniques to keep his mind fresh.

“The method I enjoy the most is lateral thinking,” Josh says. “You purposefully pull yourself out of the moment and reevaluate what you’re doing. I use it a lot when I’m working on music. If I’m in the mixing stage, and I’m stuck and I don’t like how it sounds, I’ll utilize it. It’ll completely pull me out of the moment and I’ll return to my problem either thinking about the thing that I just put into my brain, and that will give me a fresh perspective, or at the very least, I’ve taken myself off this track that was leading nowhere. Now I have a fresh set of ears and I can make new decisions.”

ObliqueStrategiesJosh often uses a deck of cards called “Oblique Strategies” to help him think laterally. “Whenever you’re stuck, you flip over a card and there’s a prompt on it. You do what it says, or not, but regardless, you evaluate the statement. For instance, it might say something like ‘what would your parents think?’ If I seriously entertain the card, I may still come up with nothing, but I’m now wasting brain energy on what my parents would think. It’s getting me unstuck. Other times it is very applicable, like ‘make it more blue,’ and that triggers thoughts in my mind about ‘blue, like the ocean, waves – got it! I should add some chorus effects, because that sounds like waves.’ Sometimes it’s very concrete and sometimes very abstract.”

You can also make rules to stay creative. “They are mostly arbitrary rules,” Josh says before giving an example from his painting, to which he adds the caveat that he isn’t very good at it. “When I decide to paint, I’ll give myself rules. Having all these paints and paintbrushes at my ready, due to my fiancée Alicia’s vast collection, it’s really intimidating. I can do anything right now, or at least there’s that pressure, because realistically I don’t have the technique to make whatever I imagine on the canvass,” Josh laughs. “For instance, I decide I’m only going to use four colors and two rectangles.”

The rules can be broken. “Since they are arbitrary, they’re there only as much as they’re helpful. If I’ve accidentally given myself too many rules or put myself in the corner with it, I can now break them, but it’s with purpose. It is no longer an infinite number of possibilities: I’m either following this rule or I’m specifically breaking it.”

Another thing Josh likes is random word or phrase generators. “There was a time that I knew what I wanted to say lyrically, but when I tried writing it, it just sounded cheesy. There was no art to it whatsoever. What I decided to do was to write everything, good or bad. Then, I copied and pasted parts that I liked into software that reorganized the words at random. Now I had all the right symbols in there, and I got to attach new meaning to them. They weren’t in an order anyone else had placed them in. It was combining different thought and different feelings just by jumbling these words around. I would edit it slightly, and then it would make sense.”

Hopefully, these strategies can help you stay creative, too!

Josh’s Potluck Thanksgiving Dinner

By Edo Steinberg

Josh Sites and his fiancée Alicia Eckert hosted a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. They invited friends, including from Telecom, to a potluck for people who stayed in Bloomington, away from their families.

You could say that President Barack Obama wasn’t the only person who pardoned a turkey this year. Josh and Alicia did, too. They served ham instead. Many people ate it with the traditional cranberry sauce. Other dishes included pumpkin bread, mashed potatoes, and Josh’s spicy pretzel dip. The food was delicious.

"The Blademaster" is one of the many English titles of "Cave Dwellers", a film skewered by MST3K.

“The Blade Master” is one of the many English titles of “Cave Dwellers”, a film skewered by MST3K.

Instead of watching football, TV viewing consisted of a YouTube marathon of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), one of Josh’s favorite TV series. On the show, mad scientists trap a man in space with a few robots and perform a series of non-IRB approved psychological experiments on them by forcing them to watch terrible movies. The man and his robots cope by mocking the films, often quite hilariously. The episodes that aired while I was there included ones that mocked “Werewolf”, a film starring Martin Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez; “Cave Dwellers”, with the He-Man-like Ator, a hero so great that he can fly a hang glider and detonate a nuclear bomb thousands of years before either one was invented; and “The Final Sacrifice”, a horror film featuring a secret cult, human sacrifice and an ancient lost city rising from the ground in Alberta, Canada.

Although they have hosted other events before, Josh said that hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is different. “It’s a very adult thing to do.”

Music to Our Ears

By Edo Steinberg

If you haven’t been to Wednesday Open Mic Night at Max’s Place when Josh Sites performs there, you’ve been missing out. He sings and plays the guitar, performing his own songs as well as covers. He even wrote a song inspired by Annie Lang’s T501: Philosophy of Inquiry in Telecommunications and Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, titled “The Structure of Emotional Revolutions”:

Josh started singing when he was in seventh grade, and started playing the guitar about three years later. It wasn’t the first instrument Josh played. “In my school, everybody had to learn an instrument in fourth grade. I tried out the tuba,” Josh says. That wasn’t his first choice, though. He preferred the trumpet. The school held auditions in order to determine which instrument each student will learn to play. Shortly before auditions, Josh was stung on the inside of his lip by a bee that had gotten into his drinking bottle. “My lip was all swollen, so I couldn’t even buzz on the trumpet mouthpiece, but I could play the tuba very well with the big swollen lip. They told me ‘you have to play the tuba. Nobody ever plays the tuba and you were so good at it!’ Then of course my lip swelling went down and it was very hard to play.”

Despite dabbling with the tuba and electronic music, Josh hadn’t really felt very musically-oriented. Then his music teacher suggested that he join the school choir. He tried it out and liked it, being a member of the choir for the rest of middle and high school. He also joined a county-based choir.

After singing for a few years, Josh learned how to play the guitar. “I had a couple of informal lessons from friends.”  By that, he literally means two lessons. “They were all interested in playing things I wasn’t interested in playing, but I knew that they could still at least show me the true basics of the instrument.” He learned the rest on his own.

Josh sees himself as first and foremost a vocalist. “I learned to play the guitar because I wanted to play music and sing songs that nobody else wanted  to do.” He thought, “if I’m going to do this [sing], then I need someone to accompany me, so I’ll accompany me, because nobody else will,” he laughs.

As Josh sees it, the guitar is near the bottom of the hierarchy of his musical talents, though you wouldn’t know it from listening to his performances. “I think my better songs are better than my best guitar playing. And there’s the whole engineering and producing side, which I know I’m way better at than playing guitar, too.”

“I used to think it was harder to play and sing at the same time,” Josh says. “I’m learning it’s not that simple. There are things that are much easier and things that are much harder. Vocalists, including myself, have this tendency to play with time and rhythm, probably to a fault.  Other instrumentalists are really concerned about quarter-note, eight-note, etc. Vocalists say ‘I’ll float around this and it’s my artistic license to do what I want.’ So when I’m accompanying myself, it’s very easy to sound cohesive, because I just follow my internal clock. I think it’s easier to sing expressively and in my own voice, rather than imitating others, when I’m playing.” However, accompanying himself also has drawbacks for Josh. “I have trouble singing significantly different rhythms than what I’m playing.”

When asked if he prefers to sing alone or in front of an audience, Josh doesn’t have a simple answer. “I have awful stage fright. I’m so incredibly uncomfortable going up on stage and performing because it is such an intimate thing,” Josh says. “For me, it is my way to express myself, even though I’m playing other people’s music. It’s a way for me to get feelings out.” He knows it doesn’t look like it to others, but he feels uncomfortable about sharing his feelings with a crowd.

On the other hand, he also loves performing. “It’s such a great feeling afterwards,” Josh says. “It’s absolutely wonderful that so many people from the department have been showing up to the open mics. It’s so cool. I’ve never had that. But even if it’s just me and a couple of my acquaintances from Open Mic Night, there’s that feeling of ‘yes, I got away with it! I shared how I felt and nobody noticed!'”

Of all the songs I’ve heard Josh perform, here’s my personal favorite: