When Professor Joey Bargsten looks at a Walkman, a Web site or a videoconference, he doesn’t just see products of modern technology. He also sees the potential for a theatrical performance, artistic experimentation or jamming sessions.
A “renaissance” man of the musical, theatrical and digital arts, the visiting multimedia and design professor has received local and online attention for his combination masterpieces of sound, art and creativity.
(Photo by Tim Kupsick, Freelance Photographer)
Although he has yet to find a mainstream venue for his new-age art, Bargsten said many of his performance pieces are incorporated in the classroom.
“Part of my job is to make sure there is student enthusiasm surrounding the collision of these art forms,” he said.
Among his more unconventional performances is a “Walkman symphony,” which involves different people wearing headphones and humming to different pitches or tracks at the same time. Bargsten first came up with the idea in a crowded coffee shop when he was a graduate student at the University of Iowa. He said his mind started racing when he heard two Walkman users humming to different songs.
“That started me thinking about 18 people humming or speaking lines from a narrative,” Bargsten, 45, said. “The most interesting phenomena occurs when each person is tuned into their own track or pitch.”
Bargsten said he would soon be working with iPods because they seem to be the current “products of choice.”
“By using new technology, I try to jump-start the students’ perception of what’s around them, of what’s right in front of their eyes,” he said.
Bargsten said he began writing music in 1978 and has been creating hybrid forms of music, media arts and theatre ever since. One of Bargsten’s current sources of pride is his Web site, an interactive and digital experience known as BadMindTime.com.
“In my work, you not only have face-to-face contact while performing, but a vast audience on the Internet as well,” he said. “I’m just trying to give my Internet audience a chance to explore digital music and art in a do-it-yourself way,” he said.
One interactive feature of the Web site displays three virtual keyboards that play beats, background and foreground rifts to create unique musical pieces at the browser’s command. Essentially, it allows users to create their own digital and multimedia masterpieces. Another feature called Bad Poetry allows the user to create online poetry.
“Generally, his Web site is out of the ordinary,” graduate student Robert Rolfe-Redding said. “Even some artists on the staff don’t understand it and think it’s difficult to navigate. What Joey is trying to do is subvert the mundane way of working with Web sites.”
Bargsten said bewilderment is an intended reaction.
“If what I put on there eludes explanation for me, then I’m on the right track,” he said.
Bargsten is currently working on an operatic spectacle called “Anatomy of Melancholy,” which combines cinema, video and interactive music. He is also exploring the possibilities of videoconferencing as a forum for performance, collaborations and musical jamming.
The professor’s concert music has been played by the Indianapolis Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and has been featured on National Public Radio International Concert Hall. Bargsten said he has created more than 60 compositions for large and small ensembles and solo works, as well as music for theatre, video, film and dance.
Rolfe-Redding said one of Bargsten’s biggest contributions to the University campus is the combination of his Ph.D. in music and his determination to converge different media.
“He’s always fiddling about, trying to subvert what technologies are designed to do normally,” Rolfe-Redding said. “Joey’s biggest contribution to this campus is showing students how to experiment with media and push it as far as they can.”
Assistant Professor Justin Novak met Bargsten when they both began working in the art department in fall 2000.
“He and I haven’t collaborated as educators as much as artists,” he said.
Novak said one of the most memorable projects he did with Bargsten was a one-night benefit performance for which he created the backdrop and Bargsten composed the soundtrack.
“Joey’s music is always a fascinating landscape of sound,” Novak said. “It consistently sets up a mystery, laying clues instead of guiding you.”
Novak said he is always impressed with his comrade’s versatility while working with technology such as Walkmans and portable speakers.
“I think it’s beautiful how he integrates consumer products into his esoteric understanding of what’s out there,” he said. “He’s very attuned to pop culture and always has his finger on the pulse of art and technology.”
Looking back on his last three years at the University, Bargsten said the experience has been a valuable one.
“It’s given me an opportunity to see my students mix music, art and visual design,” he said with a smile.