May 11, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 16

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    Humanities Division honors music student with Walsh Award

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    R. Ben Sutherland, a graduate student in music, has been named the recipient of the 1999-2000 George B. Walsh Award, a grant competition in the Humanities Division that encourages innovative use of computer technology in research and teaching.

    The award is named in recognition of the late George Walsh, a much-beloved Professor in Classics who believed fervently in the advantages computer technology could bring to the humanities. Walsh devised the Greek Keys font, which for years provided the most legible means for reproducing the Greek alphabet and Greek accent and breathing marks with one’s computer.

    In a letter to Sutherland, Janel Mueller, Dean of the Humanities Division and the William Rainey Harper Professor in the College and English Language & Literature, announced that the Humanities Division Technology Oversight Committee had voted unanimously to recommend his proposal for the award.

    A composer and researcher in the department’s Computer Music Studio, Sutherland said he plans to use the $2,500 award to purchase components that will allow him to develop a real-time, interactive, computer-music performance system, which may surpass some of the limitations of existing systems. Using a system of sensors known as an I-Cube, Sutherland hopes to create an interface that has an improved ability to account for the complexity of musically significant activity during actual performances.

    Howard Sandroff, Senior Lecturer in Music, Director of the Computer Music Studio and a member of the Oversight Committee that recommended Sutherland’s proposal, said many existing computer-based music performance devices fail because they awkwardly attempt to mimic the input systems of real instruments.

    “Ben’s research is quite innovative. It suggests a more complete approach,” he said. “His use of the technology also will allow the machines to interpret the human gestural components of musical performances.”

    Sutherland said, “All of the components of the I-Cube system will become a permanent installation in the Computer Music Studio. There’s a great potential for research on the system beyond the scope of my dissertation work, both in musical directions and in directions outside of purely musical pursuits––possibly including the development of communications systems for people unable to type, write or speak.”

    Sutherland is the second winner of the Walsh award, which was established in 1998. Last spring, Clemens Reichel, a graduate student in near eastern languages and civilizations who studies Mesopotamian archaeology, received a $2,000 Walsh award.

    Reichel’s project uses computers to process information from cuneiform tablets excavated at Tell Asmar, a site in Iraq that dates to approximately 2000 B.C.