Artist Spotlight: Nate Lane ’18 Combines Music, Visuals and Technology
Issue   |   Wed, 12/02/2015 - 00:53
Nate Lane ’18
Nate Lane ‘18 combines visual art with math, physics and computer science to design a program that creates visual patterns in response to sound waves and music.

Q: What arts are you involved in?
A: I do visual art, digital design and drawing. My favorite media are ink and charcoal — really like the high contrast you can get.

Q: Describe your current project.
A: I’ve described my current project half-jokingly to my friends as mashing together music and visual art using my three favorite subjects: computer science, math and physics. It’s a computer program that generates visual patterns that change in response to sounds.
The idea was that you can project it onto a wall at a party or a concert and have something that hopefully adds to the experience in a unique way.
There’s also kind of an instrumental component, where you can push buttons and turn knobs to change how the visuals react to the music.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this project?
A: I’m not entirely sure where it came from. I tend to have “aha” moments, where I’m thinking about something tangentially related and then the idea just occurs to me more or less fully fledged.
To be honest, I think part of it was that I was here in Amherst over the summer and at one point the IT department was giving away old equipment, like DVD players, audio mixers, etc. My friend managed to grab a projector, and we were wondering what we could or would actually do with it.
In general, I tend to work on projects that combine a wide range of disciplines. Switching between different subject areas and ways of thinking keeps me interested and motivated.

Q: Do you think you entered your project with a clear-cut intention? If so what? Did this intention change?
A: Like I said a little bit above, I was struck with a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish and more or less stuck to it. So my intention from the get-go was to do a music visuals thing.
I did spend quite a while though considering what type of pattern or interaction would look best combined with music, and the direction I ultimately chose was definitely influenced both by videos people sent me of similar kinds of visual music projects and by the technical limitations of what kind of computing power I had on hand to make this work.

Q: What do you think about the relationship between music and visuals? How were you trying to express that with code? Did you choose certain types of music to work with?
A: I think music and rhythm naturally lead us to make synesthetic connections, especially visual ones. Dancing is a pretty obvious example. It seemed kind of fun to take that relationship and explore and mess around with it in a very abstract way.
Computer graphics for me were simply an effective way to connect music with a type of visual that is of a very similar form to traditional hand-drawn images.
I tried to design the project to be adaptable to a wide range of musical styles, but I think it will take some more experimentation to find out if certain genres work really well or if some just don’t match.
I’ve tried to keep the code pretty general as well, so down the line I can plug in different visual styles. I’m really starting to see the project as a general platform rather than as a one-off art piece.

Q: What do you think about the relationship between computer science and visual art?
A: Computer graphics is a really big industry. Most of the research is in ways of essentially approximating photography, like physically accurate lighting and reflections, but I’m really fascinated in generating images that imitate art rather than life.
In some ways it’s a much harder problem, adding in the irregularities and imperfections that make a CGI image look convincingly like a line drawing done by hand, for instance.
While a lot of it is fairly dry and technical, I think there is definitely an art in deciding when and where to use different computer rendering techniques so that the result is visually pleasing.

Q: Where do you hope to see this project go?
A: I’m starting to build it out as more of a platform for different types of visuals rather than as a one-off thing. Maybe instead of ripples, try and make it look like frost patterns for a winter-themed party. Things like that.
But yeah — I hope to see it get projected places. See what people think about it, how they react. Maybe open-source the code and give it away on the Internet, see if it ends up anywhere.

Q: What do you think we can do about having more art on Amherst campus in general?
A: I like the idea of guerilla art. Random acts of chalking. Make prints of a painting you did and hang them among the posters across campus. Do a “street performance” in front of Keefe during the Grab ’n’ Go rush hour.
I know, kind of dumb suggestions, honestly, but I like the concept of this sense of wonder or curiosity you get when you unexpectedly encounter the exceptional, or at least the unusual, in a mundane setting.

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