Norbert Goes to Cannes

By Mona Malacane

It’s a pretty common scene in the Telecom building and around campus – a group of people waiting for something (classroom, bus, etc).  Perhaps that was also true a century ago.  What is different in our times is that instead of talking to one another, people are texting, Facebooking, Snapchatting, Instagramming, or another ____-ing on [insert any mobile device here].

Humanexus, product of a collaboration between Norbert Herber, Ying-Fang Shen, and Katy Börner, is a thought-provoking documentary on evolution of human communication, all the way to the above-mentioned mobile devices and beyond. “The film starts in prehistoric times and goes up until the 20th century and brings us to where we are now,” Norbert explained. “Then it shows three possible futures and allows the audience to glimpse things that are similar to what they see now, or ideas of things that have been presented in movies and science fiction – the future speculations of writers, film makers, artists, and authors … and each [future] ends with a pause and the question, ‘is this what we want, what do we want?’”

A big part of Norbert’s work for the project was recording voices asking, “Is this what we want? What do we want?” The question is asked in a variety of languages by people of different ages, adding an additional layer of depth to the film. “I got as many languages I possibly could in the small window of time I had to do this … and I recorded them all in different ways,” he explained. “There was an old recording microphone; I had my father-in-law and Betsi call and leave a message on my answering machine; some people called in over Skype and I recorded that; some people came to the studio and recorded clean. The idea was that I didn’t want it to be all a clean, voice-over narration style. It needed to represent everyone in a realistic way. So having it broken up by the phone, and the internet, and by the other mediating technologies gave it a texture.”

Norbert and Katy accepting their award at the AVIFF- Cannes Art Film Festival.

Norbert and Katy accepting their award at the AVIFF- Cannes Art Film Festival.

Since it was completed in 2012, the film has achieved official selection in 81 different film festivals around the world, most recently the San Pedro Film Festival (CA) and Bolgatty International Film Festival (India), collecting quite a few awards along the way. This summer the film was accepted and screened at the AVIFF-Cannes Art Film Festival where it won third place in one of the short film documentary categories. It was subsequently selected for an additional screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Yes, the Cannes Film Festival that internationally famous celebrities and renowned directors, producers, and filmmakers attend in Cannes, France. The three collaborators traveled to France for the famous festival and got to witness the “circus” of events that take place over 12 days, as well as network with other filmmakers and see some of the other films being screened.

Norbert on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival

Norbert on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.

The award-winning film is being screened tonight (Monday, September 8) at 7 pm in the IU Cinema and will be followed by a talk from the three collaborators. If you’d like more information on the screen, please click here. The screening is free but you must get tickets (either at the door or before) to enter!

The Afropop Beat

By Mona Malacane

Founded by Bob Port, Mike Gasser, and Brian Gygi 14 years ago, Afro Hoosiers International (AHI) is an Afropop band of 11 members whose tunes can’t help but make you want to get up and shake your groove thang. Think of their sound as kind of poppy jazz rumba that is funky mixed with a dash of salsa and drums. They play African pop music, which is mostly (if not completely) sung in languages other than English. Thankfully they have quite a few linguists and one or two ethnomusicologists to help translate lyrics and sing vocals, making them sound pretty darn authentic. AHI is comprised of a percussionist, two vocalists, two alto saxes, a baritone sax, a tenor sax, a bass, a flute, drums, a trombone, a keyboard, a guitar, and some other cool, unique instruments that vary depending on the song. One of those funk masters is Norbert Herber, who plays the saxophone and writes arrangements for the group.

The members of the band are only part-time Afro pop stars, with day jobs or school to attend. So when someone graduates or moves out of Bloomington, another musician must be recruited as replacement. Because the band has been around for some time, it now has quite a few alumni who still keep in touch with Bob, the last of the founding three who still plays in the band. Norbert says they have been referred to as the Afro pop mafia because “you can get in but you can never get out … once you’re in the family you can never leave.” So naturally I was curious as to how he got involved with the Mob.

Norbert has played the saxophone for 30 years and attained a degree in Jazz Studies from the Jacobs School of Music. He played professionally for a number of years but took a hiatus while working on his doctoral dissertation. After completing his doctoral studies, he contacted Larry Yaeger who was playing with the Afro Hoosiers at the time, as he wanted to return to his roots and get back into collaborative music.

How one feels when listening to Afropop

How one feels when listening to Afropop

Playing with AHI is very different from the sound design and musical work Norbert does as a faculty member in the department. Performing in front of an audience and working with sound in interactive environments are two very different experiences, he explains. “The kind of music that I do now – electronic music and music that is embedded in software or embedded in intelligent environments – it’s a completely experience and when you play in front of people and those people are dancing, there is an exchange of something between you and the dancers. And I don’t get that with the other kinds of music that I do.”

Playing Afro pop music can be challenging, however, because it has a unique texture that is quite different from traditional American and European music. “When you look at rhythmic patterns in a European way you think about time signatures and you think about things following regular orderly blocks. And in African and Indian music there is more of an emphasis on a consistent pulse … and then those pulses will have different variations added to them that causes the feel of that pulse to shift in a way that feels temporarily uncomfortable and then it snaps back.” That moment of tension can be difficult for some traditionally trained band members to reconcile but is one that Norbert likes and is comfortable with.

He also enjoys the collaborative feel of playing in a band and the flow that transpires when they play together. “When you have 12 people and you don’t rehearse as often as you would like or should, things are always fluid. And being able to change things on the fly and adapt to a section of the song that is forgotten or left behind or something gets extended, you just go with it and play and hope that it doesn’t disrupt anyone’s music experience and it usually works out.” The improvisation combined with the style of music creates a unique experience that is very easy to get swept into.

If you’re in a Zumba/dancing mood or need an energy boost, you can listen to a few of their songs on their website and keep up with them on Facebook to see their upcoming events!

T580: Norb’s “Vacation of Ideas”

by Ken Rosenberg

T580: Interactive Storytelling and Computer Games has been taught by several different professors over the years. This semester it is being taught by Professor Norb Herber, who took the same course 14 years ago under former IU Professor Thom Gillespie. Well, not the exact same course – the course description affords a latitude that allows each instructor to craft the syllabus to fit their unique brand of insight and expertise.  “Anytime I’ve tried to model a class on what its predecessors had done, it’s never gone too well,” Norb said. “It’s like putting their words in your mouth – it just doesn’t work.”

“Thom was eternally optimistic about the creative potential of everyone who was in the class and had unique talent” and that, Norb said, led him “to look at someone’s past experiences and automatically find five or six things that they could be doing with what they already knew how to do, in a new way, given what current technologies and software made possible. He would cheerlead people, in that way.”  While Norb does not see himself as a cheerleader, he says “I would hope that the way I work with students is constructive. I try to find a way to support what they’re doing, and help them do it in a way that’s going to be sustainable for the future.”

Over the years most students in T580 have been interested in some aspect of game development. However, Norb’s eclectic group is also interested in camerawork and other types of production work. Since he had been on the graduate committee, Norb had a sense of the mix of interests of the new class.

“People are coming here with an idea of what they want to study,” Norb said, “but, at the same time, they want to do something new. In graduate school, you always get turned on to all sorts of new things that you didn’t even know existed before you came here. So, I wanted to try and structure the class in a way that acknowledged and supported that. I had a sense of what I wanted to do, and I thought that the worst thing I could do was to go in there with a confining curriculum, demanding that everybody do the same thing. I didn’t want to say ‘this is what the course is going to be’ and have half the room unhappy or upset.”

Norb’s T580 is therefore much more about inspiration than dictated direction.  One source of inspiration for Norb was a book lent to him by Professor John Walsh:  Inventing the Medium, by Janet Murray. It hasn’t been quite the hit with students that Norb had hoped for, but it has proved to be sufficient inspiration for class discussions. “She talks about everything I felt would be relevant to people who want to create media at this point in history,” Norb said. “As a survey, the book is great, since it connects current platforms with what came before. It’s been good for reorienting everyone to what’s happening right now, and also in jogging people’s memories to help them remember things they used to play, or tools they used to use, or software they used to tinker around with. In that respect, it’s worked well.”

Really, though, the book is “just a springboard,” Norb said. Students are supposed to read the chapter assigned for the week and post their contributions on the class’ Tumblr – and they can post anything: a quote, a passage, an image, a link, even “an old website they used to visit in high school,” Norb said. Discussions can start with alert messages in apps, and end with airplanes and pilots’ use of autopilot features. Murray’s books also inspired the first two of the class’ three projects, which could be either a paper or a production piece. Norb asked his students to stretch, just a bit, in that two projects can be of one type, but one must be of the other – meaning directors have to research, and scholars must get their hands dirty in the media they more often observe.

The first two projects are due early in the semester, while students have significantly more time to work on the third one. Many students have chosen to make one semester-long, three-part project: design, draft, and prototype. People have turned in game design documents, immersive virtual environments made from photos (as opposed to 3D models), mini documentaries, Flash games, interactive fiction, mobile games, and even a card game. One of the main requirements is that, due to the short three-month turnaround, projects should be small; students should be able to complete something, to add it to their portfolio.

“The idea behind doing all this stuff,” Norb said, “is to try to help people connect what they’ve been doing, with what they think they’re going to be doing, with what they will ultimately end up doing. When they look back and someone asks them what they did in their master’s program, they’ll be telling a story about how they came in hoping to do one thing, and ending up someplace else. I hope that this class will play some part in students’ zeroing in on what they’re finally going to present in their M.S. exam.”

As Norb said at orientation this year, this class was made to be a “vacation of ideas.” As with most vacations, the schedule is tight, but there is plenty of room for play and exploration. Norb is scheduled to teach the class again, next Fall term – so, if you need a vacation to work on your ideas, take his brand of T580.

Fields of Indigo

by Teresa Lynch

Right now, sitting on the ground in an indigo field near Tokushima, Japan there’s a microphone.  Rain or shine, day or night, the microphone is there.  It’s covered in several layers of cold shrink wrap to protect it from the elements as it captures the sounds of the area.  Norbert Herber is responsible for the placement of that microphone as well as one capturing audio in an indigo field here on campus.  The two recording devices are part of an audio-visual installation titled Fields of Indigo, which is the product of Norbert’s collaboration with IU School of Fine Arts faculty member Rowland Ricketts.

Norbert and Rowland’s installation at the University of Illinois.

Rowland specializes in indigo cultivation and dyeing, specifically in the Japanese tradition.  His focus on Japanese cultural practices captured the attention of the director of Japan’s 2012 National Cultural Heritage Festival, which is being held in Tokushima this year.  Since the land in the Tokushima area is not suitable for growing rice, locals historically turned to indigo as a primary cash crop.

The audio captured in Japan is being streamed over the Internet to an art gallery at the University of Illinois, where visitors will hear the sounds of the far-away indigo field as they walk across harvested indigo strewn on the floor under the textiles suspended overhead.  Their presence will trigger motion sensors that will generate a dynamic sound space and their footsteps will crush the indigo leaves – a process essential for creating the dye.  In effect, the installation reflects the process through which indigo is utilized by dyers in Japan and beyond.

Rowland’s process of growing indigo, harvesting it, processing it, and ultimately dyeing has a similar organic quality to Norbert’s process of capturing sound and creating generative audio.  As Norbert notes, “there’s this core idea that both of us have in place and really very similar.  So, we can both do the stuff that we want to do and even though we’re working with completely different media and even though we don’t talk very much about some of the – or, we talk about what we’re doing, but mostly in terms of planning and the very final details –  but, everything that happens in the middle is up to us because there’s just this understanding that it’s just going to come together.”

The interface of the generative audio program Norbert is utilizing in this project.

In the end, both men leave some of their art to chance – and that’s part of the beauty of it.  According to Norbert, “these processes – processes by which he [Rowland] makes the textiles – he’s taking what starts as a seed through a process to become a finished piece that’s hanging in a museum.  And he’s involved every single step of the way, apart from the points at which Mother Nature intervenes and causes certain things to be outside of his control.”  Norbert thinks of his generative musical process in the same spirit.  “I think in very similar terms when I’m doing what I do with sound … where I record the sounds, I prepare them for the final piece, get them into the system and out they come in whatever way the system is going to allow that to happen.”

Although quite a bit of fun, the process isn’t quite as smooth as it all sounds.  Certainly, there have been times along the way when Norbert felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of technical and logistical variables involved with each step.  “At some points I felt as if I was playing whack-a-mole,” he said with a laugh.  But, he enjoys being out of his comfort zone, a place where many artists feel energized.  The final portion of the installation is about to be put together in a warehouse in Japan.  The portion housed at the University of Illinois features 25 pieces of Rowland’s textiles and six speakers streaming Norbert’s sound.  The installation that will be housed in a warehouse in Japan will feature 250 pieces of textile and nine speakers along with additional motion sensors to create dynamic sound space.

The warehouse on the Shinmachi River where the Japanese installation will be housed. (Photo from

Visitors to this gallery will hear audio streamed from Bloomington and a set of LED lights provided by a company in Tokushima will make the suspended textiles glow.  In recent years, LED light production has been a thriving industry in Tokushima area.  Rowland and Norbert are utilizing the lights in the installation as another way to connect the piece to the area.  Norbert leaves the US to set up the final component of the installation on October 13.  This final component will offer aural and visual experiences that reflect the tradition of the indigo dyeing in both American and Japanese locations.

For more specifics on the installation, visit Norbert’s site here.

Travis’ GDC, Stories from the Studio, Toth and Herber’s Award, Brown Bag

Travis’ Game-Defined Career, by Ken Rosenberg

Being a video game scholar is fantastic, but nothing further down the career path can rival that initial discovery: academics can study video games. It’s an overwhelming realization in its own right, but doctoral student Travis Ross had one of the best introductory periods of any gamer-scholar I know. As a master’s student—right about the time he realized the magical synthesis was possible—Professor Castronova took him to the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC). Unlike the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which is a commercial affair geared more toward players and retailers, GDC is for the press, academics, and developers. It’s the Epcot to E3’s Magic Kingdom: focused on hard realities of making games, explicitly celebratory of science, and mindful of the future. The first time he went, his experience was akin to that of being in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Of course, that was three conferences ago.

Years later Travis has a much different perspective.  He has learned more about the industry and found a role for himself. Developers are able to get more and more information from their players, but feedback through telemetry data is not enough. It still takes creative scholarship to interpret in-game behavior and then design systems to manage players’ experiences. Travis’ dissertation research provides insights into how game developers can cultivate social norms that enhance experience of playing multiplayer games. His research affords him authority as an academic which, in turn, bolsters the reputation of his blog, Motivate.Play—and, as a co-founder and editor he is able to apply for a press pass to each GDC.

“For me, being able to go to GDC affiliated with the press is awesome,” Travis said. “At the same time, it’s not like we get to go to all the sessions and then come back to our rooms and have downtime between sessions. It’s filled with writing.” However, as strenuous as all that writing may be, obtaining the material to write about often serves multiple ends. “Being a press member is really great because it gives you a reason to annoy people,” Travis quipped. “At a conference like that, it’s all about networking.” Finding a comfortably plausible pretext is awkward and the press pass “saves you that. After a session, they’re swamped by people—after some sessions, you’ve got fifty people trying to walk up to this person. You walk up to somebody and you want to talk, but how do you first connect? I have the ability to do that, if I can get them into an interview situation; you’re asking questions, but you also have the opportunity to exchange ideas.”

Travis says that, for most GDC newbies, it’s “exciting but painful;” in a sea of people, your résumé is casually tossed into a box in the corner—you’re “just another number.” Equipped with business cards, not résumés, Travis doesn’t spend much time on the expo floor; he’s meeting with specific people.  Now, when he goes to GDC, he goes to meet with his own kind. “It’s way more enjoyable now,” Travis said, “because I’m ‘in’—you know? It was enjoyable back then, too—it really was—but now I feel like I’m part of it, instead of just a wide-eyed onlooker.” Still there are varying levels of “in,” as—in true gamer fashion—conference-goers earn ribbons for their badges according to status and performance. Someone like Raph Koster, famous for writing as well as developing games (see A Theory of Fun and the virtual economy of Ultima Online, respectively) has six or so.  Just give it a little more time, though, before Travis has a “speaker” ribbon of his own; that’s his goal for next year’s GDC.

In the meantime, Travis has set goals for both his research and blog. He wants more people to contribute to the blog; he’s looking for more diversity in general but, specifically, for the addition of a female voice. The most significant evolution, though, involves rethinking his approach to studying social norms. “At GDC, there’s a practical element to it. Sure academic experiments are interesting, but they want to know how that can design better games.” Unspoken but expected, this often translates to ‘show us how to make people give us more money.’ “When you enter the industry, there’s a lot of pressure to demonstrate how you can help the bottom line,” Travis says. “The more I thought about it, I don’t want to just make money—I want to be able to make the world a better place.” This includes things like creating systems that encourage mentorship. Since games are a playful way to learn, this means the two goals might not be as exclusive as one might initially imagine. He believes that “the behaviors that are good for a game can be good for society, as well.”

Stories from the Studio: Matt Falk Audio Engineer, by Mike Lang

The can of bear mace explodes in his pocket. Eddie Ashworth, the engineering mastermind behind the band Sublime was preparing for the arrival of the band to record their new album, Second Hand Smoke. With the recording taking place in a cabin up in the mountains, Ashworth’s wife, worried about the recent bear sightings, equipped Eddie with a can of protective bear mace right before he left for the session. Arriving early he noticed a big fire pit in front of the cabin. What a great way to greet the band:  build a fire, present them with some high quality spirits, and make a night of it.  After building the fire, he sat down to relax and wait for the band. From nowhere he hears popping and hissing sounds and then notices a wetness in his pants. Then the searing heat hits. The band rolled up just in time to see Ashworth, stripped naked and screaming, running circles around the fire trying to wash off the burning pain of the bear mace from his nether regions.

This is Matt Falk’s musical lineage. Studying under Eddie Ashworth at Ohio University, Matt adopted not only Eddie’s propensity for audio engineering, but his propensity for sharing stories. This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Matt to listen to him recount some of his stories from the studio.

Like most audio engineers, Falk’s interest in music started young. He grew up on Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Elton John, and the monsters of classic rock and roll. As a teenager in Ohio he volunteered to lug around equipment for his friends’ band, took photos of their shows, ran their Myspace pages, and helped them record their demos. As they started playing larger shows  where money was involved, Matt would step into the manager role, arguing with club owners over pay. Matt thrived behind the scenes, but never on stage under the lights. Try as he might to learn guitar, for whatever reason,it just wasn’t happening.

At Ohio University some of Falk’s most memorable work came from working with his roommate’s punk band The Facials.

The Facials – Round 2

On one particular night, Falk and The Facials had the studio reserved from 8pm to 4 am (the studio ran 24/7). After blistering through recording and mixing, Falk cranked up the huge monitors in the tiny room and let it rock. Ecstatic with the mix, the band decided to celebrate in typical punk fashion, going to the bars.  It was early, and Falk slapped a sign on the door that read “out to dinner, you can’t steal our studio time,” to ward off any studio poachers.  At 2 o’clock the band gathered up anybody who would listen and invited them back to the studio to hear the new mix. With 75 people crammed into a room no bigger than the grad lab, when Falk fired up the mix, the place went nuts. They played the song over and over, and Falk made sure to break up the mini mosh pits, prevent the fans from tearing down the sound baffling, and make sure people didn’t trip over the bass traps in the corners. At 3:30 everyone was leaving, waving  to the crew in the hallway waiting for their 4am studio time.

The Facials and Eddie Ashworth

In many cases, audio engineers have to expect the unexpected. Ashworth had enlisted Falk’s help with a group of crazy California guys who were always high and/or inebriated. On the fourth day of production, the band was driving back to house they were staying at up in the mountains of Appalachia. As they passed the cemetery, they swerved off the road and over a cliff. Fortunately, a small outcropping just below the ledge caught the van, preventing a fatal disaster. The inebriated band members stumbled out of the van, unsure of what to do, and walked back to the house. In the morning Matt received a phone call from the state police. They had found the van and wanted to question the owner in person at police headquarters. Matt, always the reasonable one, approached the band leader and asked what had happened. As the band was driving past the cemetery, they were startled by an apparition. They had seen a ghost. Not just any ghost, but a ghost of a horse’s head. It appeared out of nowhere, scared the driver, and caused them to swerve off the road and over the cliff. Terrified the horse head ghost was lurking, the band mustered up the courage to climb back up over the ledge and run back to the house.

The Scary Horse Head Ghost Guys

While some sessions are unexpected, some are just plain bad. Working with a older jazz quintet, Matt grew increasingly frustrated with the xylophone player. The band would record amazing takes that everyone would agree sounded great. Except of course he Xylophone guy who would nitpick at the most minute elements in his particular section. Despite the urging of the band that the takes were fine, Xylophone guy would insist they do the entire take over again. After a few needlessly done retakes, the band leader started getting vicious. The re-recorded takes were never used.

That session led to numerous problems. Divided into numerous different rooms, the band members each had their own section in the studio, with the drummer shoved in a tiny room in the back. After playing drums for close to 50 years, the drummer’s hearing was shot, and to make matters worse, the tiny room only increased the decibel levels. After the first take, Matt fired up the playback, and one of the members noticed what sounded like Rock Lobster by the B-52s playing in the background. After isolating each separate track, Matt found the culprit in the drum track. Despite the contractor’s assurance that the studio was soundproof, sound from the radio station had bled into the drum room, where the poor drummer was too deaf to hear it. Matt walked over to the radio station and found it unmanned. In case  of an event like this, the radio station left a series of phone numbers someone could call for help. After calling all the numbers on the list to no avail, Matt dialed the campus police. Unwilling at first to come out, Matt told them that if they didn’t let him in, he would shatter the glass and shut their sound off completely. The police came, let them into the building, where they found the monitors turned all the way up. Just as he turned the volume down, the first person on the contact list showed up in a huff, demanding to know what was going on. Matt thinks he saw a frown on her face when she realized why Matt was in the radio station, before he unleashed a torrent of built up frustration and anger. She turned the speakers down, wrote a number of angry emails, and apologized profusely. They saw each other at parties afterwards occasionally. Needless to say they aren’t friendly.

Matt embodies a strong DIY ethic. He has recorded in half-finished houses, shoved poor singer song writers in unfinished bathrooms, strapped broomsticks to chairs to service as microphone stands, and assembled pop filters out of wire coat hangers and nylons. He even helped build MDIA studios in Athens, Ohio. As Matt says, the engineer is there to keep the rodeo going. “Sometimes you have to be the clown that nudges the bull out of the room. Othertimes you are lassoing all the piggies, sometimes you are just sitting in the stands watching.” As such, engineers get first hand access to the eccentricities which not only produce the music we know and love, but the stories which circulate among anyone willing to listen.

Joseph Toth and Norbert Herbert Win Provost’s Award, by Mike Lang

Joseph Toth, Telecom undergrad, and Professor Norbert Herber were recently awarded the Provost’s Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, which celebrates student accomplishments and formally recognizes the mentorship of their faculty advisors, for their sound design work on Nathan and the Luthier, a student produced feature film.

The review process took place in two stages. The first stage involved submission to specialized divisions. Toth and Herber won at the first level in the creative category. In the second stage, all of the winners from the various divisions competed for the University prize.  Herber was delighted to receive the email from Vice Provost Sonya Stephens bearing the good news that their work had claimed the top prize.

Toth, who had mainly focused on cinematography, got really interested in doing audio after taking Herber’s classes, Sound Design, and Scoring for Media. Herber had noticed Toth’s exceptional work in both areas, so when Jake Sherry, then IU senior (double-major in Telecommunications and filmmaking via IU’s Individualized Major Program)  and the director and producer of  Nathan and the Luthier, came looking for somebody to do sound, Herber recommended Toth. At first, Sherry enlisted Toth to focus strictly on sound design, working with elements like set recording and dialogue editing. However, at the last minute Sherry needed Toth to score the film as well.  The film called for a minimal score, meaning Toth had the time to do it. However, minimalism comes at a price. Toth had nothing to hide behind. The score had to be good, and function within the story without coming across as heavy handed or too obvious. When Herber first reviewed the rough cuts, he was excited. They were really good. Rather than putting out fires, he focused on helping Toth refine bits and pieces to make his work really shine. “I was completely blown away by his maturity and the choices he made. He just nailed it.”

As Herber explains, the very nature of scoring and sound design poses peculiar challenges when it comes to presenting such work to a review committee. In some ways, sound design and scoring should be invisible, meaning that the audience should leave the theater talking about the characters, the plot, the costumes, etc. The sound should work on a completely unconscious level, matching up so precisely that the audience doesn’t leave with the impression that the sound had to be “designed.” It was therefore really important to communicate to the committee that they were listening to subtleties they wouldn’t normally pay attention to.

Congratulations Norb! Check out a trailer for Nathan and the Luthier, and make a point to see it next time you get the chance.

Brown Bag

Developing a Database of Nonverbal Emotion Expressions

Elizabeth Bendycki

Emotion researchers have historically relied upon basic emotions and facial expressions in studies of emotion recognition (i.e. Ekman & Friesen, 1976). The present study sought to create a nonverbal database featuring both facial and body expressions of a broader range of emotions, including social or self-conscious emotions (i.e. pride and shame). Validation studies indicated that nonverbal expressions depicting Happiness, Sadness, and Shame were recognized at above-chance levels when just the eyes alone were presented; Pride was recognized at above-chance levels once facial cue information became available. The implications of these results for emotion
perception will be discussed.


Skill Gap: Quantifying Violent Content in Video Game Play Between Variably Skilled Users

Nicholas Matthews

The amount of violence in video games is concerning as the highly interactive nature of games demands users’ attention and often forces them to perform violence to progress. However, interactivity also allows for divergent game play between users resulting from their individual differences. One particular difference, user skill level, is the primary interest of this study. If skill is able to alter the user experience, it may also moderate the violent content users generate, which in turn could influence the effects that result. This talk will discuss the approach, findings, and implications of skill as a moderator of violent content.


Elizabeth Bendycki is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. Her current research in Aina Puce’s Social Neuroscience Lab is interested in understanding how emotional cues function as nonverbal social signals. Ongoing research interests include: social cognition, empathy and individual differences in emotion recognition and regulation. As part of the Social Neuroscience Lab, the long-term goal is to combine behavioral and self-report measures with cognitive neuroscience techniques, including EEG and fMRI, to understand emotion and social perception at both behavioral and neurophysiological levels.

Nic is a second-year Ph.D. student at IU Telecom. His research interests center on video games and interactivity. He is currently studying how game realism moderates body attitude and how people’s moral foundations affect game selection and enjoyment.

The audio recording of Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown Bag 10 (March 30, 2012 – Nic and Liz)

Betsi’s Sweet Spot, Compositions by Nero, Waveform Art, Brown Bag

Sweet Spots: Betsi’s Bottle Collection

From her time served as Graduate Director, some of the older students in the department may remember the sun room in Professor Betsi Grabe’s home.  An unusual collection of bottles is on display, set on personally crafted shelves that frame the picture window.  Betsi took the time to share with us the story behind the bottles and how her collection came to be.
Betsi began collecting bottles in primary school, by visiting landfills in South Africa.  She would search for buried bottles, wash them out, and then put them on display.  Amazed that they remained intact over time, her collection began to grow.  It now contains bottles from South African Breweries, other drink producers, medicine, and even poison.  Most are unmarked bottles of different sizes.  When she first came to the United States, she picked up a few more, including a Dr. Pepper bottle, but her collection is now complete.  When asked what the bottles mean to her, Betsi replied, “I think human beings are collectors.  Before I brought the collection to the US,  I remember collecting a few bottles for comfort – it was part of making the US my new nest.”  While her collection contains a wide variety, her most prized are the blue bottles.  They are not perfect.  Some have cracks, some have mother of pearl growths, some have both.  All of them have interesting shape and design.  “There is something about light traveling through colored glass that thrills me to no end.  They have a charm about them, a fragility, but have stood the test of time.”

The Compositions of Ashleigh Nero

As fast as you can, try and come up with a list of 5 composers.  Done? Ok. Now look at your list. If your list doesn’t contain Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach, give yourself a point. If your list contains at least  one composer from the 20th century, give yourself another point. If your list contains someone from this department, just forget about points and declare yourself the winner.  Ashleigh Nero, the newest member of the office staff received her Bachelors of Music in composition from the Jacobs School of Music in 2008.

Music has always been a focal point for Nero. Growing up near Pittsburgh she played in community orchestras, and joined the marching band in high school. An accomplished flautist, she discovered the art of composing while at home when an ailment prevented her from attending school. “I found this notation software and I started playing around with it. I knew how to play piano and stuff and I just started getting deeper and deeper into it.”  In her sophomore year of high school she began preparing her application to the composition program at Jacobs, which normally only admits about five students per year.

The act of composing is no easy task, and like much creative work, figuring out what to do is often the most difficult part.  “Every piece is different, and the hardest part is getting an idea, and figuring out what kind of mood you want.” However, once the idea is developed, Nero builds a basic structure, then noodles around with melodies and harmonies to coincide with the story she wants to convey. She works sequentially, starting at the beginning, and working her way through the piece.

In theory composition is limited only by the composer’s imagination, but when the rubber meets the road, one must take into account the people playing the music.  “You have to be really careful with fast passages, making sure the fingering is possible. If you write chords, are they possible?” As such, composers must be familiar with the instruments they are writing for. The sense of limits is one of the first thing budding composers at Jacobs learns. “Jacobs is really good at starting from the beginning, looking at each instrument and deciding what sorts of things are good for this instrument, and what sort of things will players get mad at you for.” For Nero, harps are the most difficult instrument to write for.  Every note in the musical scale on the harp has a pedal that either flattens or sharpens a note. As compositions change keys, harpists must have time to adjust the pedals to match the sharps and flats that correspond with the new key. While a composer may never gain the sense of familiarity with an instrument a player will, composers must rely on players for feedback, and study the work of others to get a feel for the type of things normally written for specific instruments. “You really have to reference things, talk to people who know how to play, be around the instruments, study what other people write, you have to get a feel for things. Flutes and Clarinets handle fast passages better than French horn for instance.”

Nero acknowledges that she and her fellow composers share a strange existence. “Composers are kind of on an island. What you are learning is more modern, so you’re kind of weird for the people into pop and rock, and you’re kind of weird for the orchestral people who are into Mozart and Beethoven.” As such, opportunities to become the next Gershwin or Copeland are few and far between. “You have to find the people who are more interested in going in a different direction, or take what you you can get and alter your style to fit the situation, which is something you should have to learn.”

One opportunity for innovative composition arose when Nero was asked by a professor from Vanderbilt conducting psychological research on fMRI. “He didn’t want kids to get freaked out from the sounds of the machine, so he asked me to compose a 30 minute piece so kids wouldn’t get too freaked out or too bored.” The professor sent her the sounds of the fMRI machine, and she composed her music around those.

Degree in hand, Nero is taking a bit of a breather. She still composes on the side in addition to pursuing other creative outlets, particularly painting and digital art. “I’m all about learning stuff, it leads to more opportunities. You learn one thing, and it inspires you in another way.”

Her showcase work is called The Dancing Elephant, written for piano and narration. It’s charming and whimsical, and you can listen to it right here. To hear more Nero’s work you can check out her blog here.


Norbert Herber’s collaboration with fiber artist Rowland Ricketts, “The Gradual Accumulation of Additional Layers or Matter,” was recently showcased in the Waveforms exhibition at the Grunwald Gallery of Art in the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts.  Running from October 21-November 18, Waveforms exhibition showcased works that explore the  interface between sound and new media technologies.  The exhibited works included “a number of trans-disciplinary interactions and collaborations that include sound in the context of visual and spatial artistic practices, including sound sculpture, installations, and performance works.” In case you missed it, you can get a feel for Norbert and Rowland’s project by following this link.

Brown Bag

This week’s brown bag presentation featured Cognitive Science and Psychology doctoral student Jared Lorince and Telecommunications and Cognitive Science doctoral student Travis Ross.  Jared’s research interests  focus on how the structure of the environment constrains behavior, in particular with respect to search behavior.  Travis research has two streams. The first stream examines the motivational aspects of design – particularly decision structures in game and interface design. The second stream examines how social and institutional forces shape behavior via social norms, rules, and laws.  You can listen to the full audio of their presentation here: Travis and Jared

Play how you want (or not): How the crowd modifies/limits individual
behavior in online games.


As modern games continue to move from single player to shared social experiences it is natural to wonder how the behavior of the crowd influences individual choices. In this talk Jared and Travis will present two avenues of research relevant to this question. Travis’ talk will center around his dissertation topic: Understanding of how norms alter behavior in an online game. In particular it asks the question: can norms push and individual toward cooperative or selfish behavior? Jared will then present examples of his work on spatial and information search, and will comment on its applications to gaming environments.


Nicky Lewis:  Betsi’s Bottle Collection, and Brown Bag

Mike Lang: The Compositions of Ashleigh Nero, and Waveforms

Norbert Collaborates, Farmers Market Adventures, Russell McGee’s Play, Brown Bag

Norbert Herber’s Underwater Recording Adventures

Lately, Professor Nobert Herber has been getting his hands dirty . . . in more ways than one. He has teamed up with fiber artist Rowland Ricketts, a professor in the School of Fine Arts. They have been working on a collaborative piece for the upcoming Grunwald Gallery show called “Waveforms,” a regional show featuring sound art.  What brought them together?  Norbert and Rowland are both fascinated with capturing change, transformation, and behavior. The working title of Norbert and Rowland’s piece is “Immanence,” as they focus on exploring the subtleties and gradations of a complete process that leads to a finished work. What exactly does it entail? “I had an idea to work with fabric or thread and dye, but I wanted to track the rate and amount of saturation in the wicking process,” says Norbert.  In other words, the idea was to translate the wicking process into sound. As the dye would move, the saturation and distance traveled would modify the frequency makeup of a single, synthesized tone and alter its character. The process was meant to bring attention to color, seen and heard as timbre. Initially, pieces of fabric were permanently dipped into vats of dye. Over time, as the dye wicked upwards, Norbert tracked the wicking process with electronic sensors.

Both Norbert and Rowland were fully aware that the project basically involved moving a science lab into the art gallery.  However, time constraints eliminated this possibility. So, over the summer, Norbert and Rowland recorded all of the various steps involved in preparing indigo dye: growing, harvesting, drying, and stomping the leaves. They also recorded the sounds of submerging fabric in the indigo vats and rinsing of the finished pieces. “Because liquid was so crucial in these processes, I wanted to capture those sounds in a unique way,” says Norbert. However, there was one problem.  High quality underwater microphones are very expensive and Norbert needed another solution. He had read about the technique of using a condom to “waterproof” a microphone but never had an excuse to try it until this project came along. This lead to the purchase of a pack of un-lubricated condoms and a simple tape recorder microphone for about . . . $14.  Mission accomplished.
Not fearing unorthodox methods in their approaches, both Norbert and Rowland also have other projects in the works. While Rowland is working on another show that will overlap with Waveforms, Norbert is working on an iPhone/iPodTouch app called “Baby Reindeer.” According to Norbert, “Baby Reindeer is really simple: you launch it and it plays. But it plays differently every time and drifts in and out of various moods, making it ideal for music to accompany reading, writing, sleeping, and other activities in which you want to listen to music that sets a mood, but doesn’t necessitate your full listening attention.” We look forward to seeing more interesting projects from these two creative minds and you can find out more about Norbert and Rowland’s collaborative process here.
Listen to audio from “Immanence” here:
Rowland Rickett’s website:
A Morning at the Farmer’s Market

I’ve spent the last five years of my life in Bloomington, and I’m embarrassed to admit that in those five years I’ve never once visited the farmer’s market. It has never been a conscious thing. Friends and colleagues never fail to fill me in on their bountiful Saturday morning hauls, and on numerous occasions I’ve been on the receiving end of some really great dishes made with farmer’s market produce. Maybe my incredibly poor dietary habits are to blame. (Kraft Mac and Cheese anybody?).  Maybe Saturday morning was just too early. Whatever the reason I had failed as a Bloomington resident to experience one of Bloomington’s unique offerings, so when I received this assignment, I had no more outs. I was finally going.

I walked outside to a cool 67 degrees, the perfect temperature for separating men from their money (or so says my boss). As I made my way to city hall, traffic was thick, both with pedestrians and cars. Parking around the farmer’s market, like most Bloomington affairs, can be tricky. Most street parking spots around city hall are 2 hour only and are enforced on Saturdays, unlike most other parking spots, but I was fortunate to find one close by.

The farmer’s market takes place in the Showers Common, right outside the Showers building on N Morton Street every Saturday from 8am to 1pm. On the paved common were rows of tents and folding tables set up in front of pickup trucks, usually manned by between one and three farmers. The colors of the handmade signs and the various produce stood out against the grey background of an overcast sky, and the sound of upbeat bluegrass music was coming from a tent set up on the eastern side of the market.  Everything about it felt like Bloomington. Visitors included older folks in button up shirts and slacks, young couples with young children, hippies in dreadlocks and flowing skirts, and IU students taking notes for classes. Everywhere you looked hugs and handshakes were taking place as friends and acquaintances ran into each other, intentionally or not. For whatever reason shirts with animals on them were in abundance; reindeer, dogs, cats, and eagles. I even saw one older gentleman channeling the spirit of the Three Wolves with a wicked wolf T-shirt.

I spotted MA student Sean Connolly and his friend Sarah by the entrance. Both farmer’s market veterans, Sarah gave me the vitals before heading out: biggest farmer’s market in the state, produce along the south side, artisans set up by the fountain, cooked food on the northwest side. As we strolled past the various stands, Sean filled me in on the idiosyncrasies of the market that a first time visitor like myself wouldn’t know. He pointed out the place to get the best cheese, and told me about the farmer who grows neon yellow watermelon and the accompanying weird sensory experience of eating neon yellow watermelon. Like many who visit the market, Sean tends his own garden and grows food with seedlings he buys from the farmer’s market. For Sean it’s all about color. It keeps him interested. Why buy green basil, when you can buy purple basil which looks much prettier in the garden?

We found Norbert Herber next to a bin of watermelon, fresh coffee in hand. Herber told me he always buys his coffee from the farmer’s market, as it’s always ground the day before. He also noted that the market is a great spot for his family to meet up with friends before he dashed after his son to buy a pumpkin.

Baby Watermelon Cucumbers

Free samples were in abundance and I munched happily on cheese cubes, berries, and even something called baby watermelon cucumbers. As I browsed the various offerings, watching the farmers making deals, and talking shop with each other and the customers, I was struck, for I think the first time in my life, by how much people care about food. Not just in a survivalist sense either. These farmers talk about their squash the same way they talk about their pets. And it isn’t only the farmers. The visitors pick over the produce as if they were picking out an engagement ring. They study it, hold it up to the light, squeeze it, and ask for a second (and sometimes third) opinion before putting it down and looking at the next specimen, all the while talking to the farmer about their growing techniques, the dish they plan on making later in the day, or their previous experiences with that farmer’s produce. They know which stand to buy their tomatoes from, which farmer has the best garlic, and what price they want to pay for their watermelon. I would never expect to be able to go up to a Kroger stock boy and talk about the relative merits of Stouffers Macaroni and Cheese vs. Kraft, but here, that kind of behavior isn’t just normal, its expected. The amount of care that goes into producing, selling, selecting, and buying food at the farmer’s market is remarkable. Just watching the process made me, the prototypical consumer of the college student diet, want to not only eat better, but care about the food I was eating.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make (and still does) wonderful chocolate chip cookies. Whenever I would ask her what ingredient makes the cookies so good she would always give me the same answer, “love.” After visiting the farmer’s market I have a feeling that that the answer applies to more than just mom’s cookies and that those who frequent the farmer’s market have been in on a secret that took me over five years to discover.

Russell McGee in All My Sons

Ever since high school  MS student Russell McGee has been heavily involved in theater. He’s worked as an actor, director, and playwright, but after 18 years his theater career is coming to a close.   The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of The Arthur Miller classic All My Sons will be McGee’s last performance as he makes the transition from the stage to television and film. McGee plays Frank Lubey in the WWII drama. “I have a minor role, I am the comic relief,” McGee admits.

The play revolves around an American family struggling with the realities of war on the home front, and the consequences of decisions that are made during war.  There is “lots of emotional turmoil going on,” McGee says. Despite the emotional turmoil occurring on stage, McGee has had a positive experience working on All My Sons. Unlike many local production companies, Cardinal Stage Company employs equity actors, giving McGee the opportunity to work with professionals, and opportunity he has so far enjoyed. Likewise, the show’s preview performance received a standing ovation, something that has only happened twice before in McGee’s Cardinal Stage experience.

All My Sons runs through September 18, and you can purchase tickets at this location

Brown Bag Presentation

This week’s Brown Bag featured Professor David Waterman, recently returned from Oxford, England, and his work on the current economic state of the media.  Along with graduate student Sung Wook Ji, he will be presenting his data analysis at a conference later this year.  You can listen to the full audio here:

Are the Media Shrinking?


I will present joint work in progress with Sung Wook Ji, Dept of Telecommunications. We find that combined revenues for 10 major media in the U.S. have steadily declined as a proportion of overall economic activity (GDP) from about 1999 to 2009 or 2010, approaching the lowest levels reached since 1950. For individual media, we find the same general pattern, with exception of television and video games, whose revenues have so far kept pace with GDP.  We also find a marked overall shift away from advertiser toward direct payment support for the media over the past decade.

We consider 4 possible reasons for these revenue trends: shifts in consumer media usage; more difficult copyright protection; failing advertising business models, and of particular interest in this study: reduced costs due to more efficient Internet distribution. A preliminary analysis of U.S. Census employment data for media industries since 1998 corroborates the declining revenue trends, but suggests that media production has declined less than have media distribution and exhibition functions.


Nicky Lewis:  Norbert Herber’s Underwater Recording Adventures, Brown Bag Presentation

Mike Lang: A Morning at the Farmer’s Market, Russell McGee in All My Sons