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Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Winter 2005-06
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FROMTHEARCHIVES

20 Years of Electronic Arts

Neil Rolnick with Students, circa 1985

Professor Neil Rolnick founded the electronic arts series iEAR Presents in 1985.

In 1985 Professor Neil Rolnick, then director of iEAR Studios, founded iEAR Presents, a series of public performances, exhibitions, and lectures that feature pioneering and emerging artists who explore the boundaries of electronic art. In November the series celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Created to enhance the education of students enrolled in the integrated electronic arts at Rensselaer (iEAR) program during its earliest years, the series added depth to the computer music, animation, and video art courses that were taught in large, lecture-style classrooms. Attendance at iEAR Presents events became mandatory for all electronic arts students.

“iEAR Presents was created to act as a venue where significant artists in their field could come to Rensselaer and not only perform, but also interact with our students,” says Rolnick. “There is no better way to teach our electronic arts students than to let them experience the world’s leading performers and their art firsthand.”

Since there was no single space on campus dedicated to the arts program, early iEAR performances were held in a black-box theater in the basement of the Darrin Communications Center, at the Rensselaer Chapel + Cultural Center, and even in empty storefronts in downtown Troy.

Early performers included Alvin Lucier, a pioneer of electronic music who opened the fall 1988 season. Lucier made history when he used amplified brain waves to drive the instruments in one of his compositions. At Rensselaer he performed musical compositions developed from the studies of acoustics, electronics, and physics.

Ed Emshwiller, an influential figure in the experimental film movement and one of the first people to work with computer animation, visited Rensselaer during the 1986-87 season of iEAR Presents. He presented Sunstone, a groundbreaking 3-D computer work that showcased his breakthroughs in the development of an electronic language to articulate three-dimensional space.

Video installation artist Kathy High came to iEAR Presents in March 1988 and exhibited Not Black & White, a video and domestic installation that explored social issues surrounding femininity, including eating disorders and the notion that females are the less dominant sex. She also exhibited Romance of the Monk, a multimedia installation that used three videotapes, six audio tracks, and sculptural, photographic, and drawing elements.

In 2002 Kathy High returned to Rensselaer as associate professor of video and new media. Today she serves as chair of the arts department (see Focus On: Kathy High), which is still home to iEAR Presents. Over the past two decades the series has featured the work of nearly 100 electronic artists.

Related Link:
iEAR Studios

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