A Digital Mastering of Arts and Technology
The focus of UB's Media Study Department has long been on independent production in film and video. Now-like the video signal that was manipulated by department groundbreakers such as the late Hollis Frampton-media study has fueled the migration of the image from film to video to a digital environment.
The result premieres this fall with the master's degree in digital arts, a new interdisciplinary program unlike any other being offered.
"It's 36 credit hours and can be done in a year and a summer," says Roy Roussel, UB professor of English and interim chair of the Department of Media Study. "It was originally conceived as a humanities program, but under the pressure of current developments, it's very adaptive to developing skills from what are traditionally different areas."
The program is designed to allow students to work in a combination of four areas: digital music, computer art, computer science and media study. It would allow students to assemble a curriculum appropriate to their interests and plans by choosing from the courses available in four departments.
"It's designed to be a very self-directed program, which doesn't mean that you don't get advising," explains Roussel. "We're committed to giving people in this program the best advice, appropriate to their interests." And it also ideally would be a program that's collaborative: Students who share similar interests work together on what would be their thesis project.
"One of the things I've come to understand here is that phrases like multimedia really mean collaboration, because it's just impossible for one person to assemble all of the skills that you need to do even a CD-ROM project. There's just too much involved for one person, so one of the things people need to do is learn how to be creative and collaborative in situations. That would be one of the subtexts of this program."
The unique program prepares students for careers in media making; programming the computer as an artistic tool; teaching, curating and programming shows in galleries, museums and regional media centers; managing state and federal media-arts agencies; and working in television stations, cable systems and many other institutions and corporations that increasingly use image and sound and digital technologies.
"I think it's a perfect program for somebody with a B.A. who feels they need another layer of training and who has an idea of what they want to do and how they want to position themselves, what areas they want to investigate-areas that don't correspond to some already existing program," Roussel says.
The master in digital arts program will have a formal connection with the university's Center for Cognitive Science, whose faculty members belong to a number of departments, including computer science, media study, psychology and philosophy. It allows the study of theoretical, as well as technological, context.
"It's a program where you are going to, in the crassest terms, market yourself because you have a certain combination of skills that people need and that they don't see very often," explains Roussel. "This is a program that allows you to assemble those skills. It's not a program that tells you what they are, exactly. It's not like majoring in electrical engineering. You have to have a sense of, 'If I go this way and I learn this and this and this ... and I have a certain physiological ground of perception and I can figure out that model in a computer and use that in some weird way to produce a soundtrack for a CD-ROM and, lo and behold, I'm the only person in the world who can do it, then I can go out to Rhythm and Hues [a noted special-effects production company] in Hollywood and say I can put down some wild sounds.' And you do."
A digital/media artist will be added to the faculty to design and direct a completely new digital arts lab in the new Center for the Arts, in addition to the labs each of the four participating departments already has.
Because it's a high-end program for people who have unusual skills and leanings, mass interest is not anticipated. Eight students already have tuition waivers to take the maiden voyage in the fall, with further applications being encouraged through a recruitment campaign now under way.
The master in digital arts program represents a quantum leap forward in the way information is being conveyed-and the synergy of unique opportunities in auditory and visual expression.
"It's for those who say, 'I want to put music and images together in an interesting way,' or 'I'm interested in the line between perception and art,'" Roussel says. "It's a good idea and a good program for somebody who knows where they want to take themselves."
Jim Bisco is a veteran Buffalo-area writer.