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Mackie and the Museum, Seattle's EMP

  A youngster gets instruction on spinning a turntable
 

The rumbling, rambling, colorfully rambunctious Experience Music Project in Seattle is having its first birthday this year.

Brainchild of Paul Allen, the culturally savvy co-founder of Microsoft (and weekend guitar slayer), EMP celebrates the raw creativity of pop culture and music. Frank O. Gehry designed the building, and (we’re guessing) with Mr. Allen overseeing there weren’t too many protests about its outrageousness. (We at Mackie are a bit concerned about rain drainage, but other than that...)

The first exhibit is Sky Church, an oblong chamber with the largest indoor video screen in the known world – and a ceiling that literally reaches to the stars (when visiting, look WAY up and you’ll see what we mean). A dozen or so video and sound shows are in rotation throughout the day, with a Mackie Digital 8•Bus governing all the audio gymnastics. They’re spectacular.
Farther on, the museum becomes a dark, rich, comfy cave. Around every swooping corner you’ll find clusters of ingenious treasures. Be sure to dip into Guitar Gallery. It’s like a huge guitar store on time-warp steroids.

Upstairs is Sound Lab – where the lines between “virtual” and “reality” are mysteriously erased. Even if you’ve never played an instrument, you’ll surprise yourself while wrapping limbs and digits around a real guitar and following the flashing lights on the fretboard. Go ahead! Strum, pick, or pop the strings! (But please don’t play it with your teeth. Even Jimi had sense enough to smash his guitars after chewing on them – purely for sanitary reasons, of course.)

And you can actually do some “mixing” in the Sound Lab. A half-dozen Mackies are available for hands-on experimentation. One is set up with a video screen and teaches you the basics step-by-step, while the others are primed for boisterous mixing sessions. What a gas it is to watch a bunch of kids “play” Mackies like many of the premier Electronica/Hip Hop groups do onstage.

Also in the Sound Lab you’ll find Demo Lab – a small theatre for live and multi-media events. One video is hosted by Mackoid Keith Medley. He does a superb job explaining the concepts of mixing, aided by all sorts of fun and nutty video special effects (Bill Nye the Science Guy should be quaking in his cathode tube).

Controlling the audio in Demo Lab is another Mackie Digital 8•Bus. Keep a look out for it – but remember, it’s not one you can “play with.” It’s too busy doing very important things.

Extra-curricular school activities and field trips were never quite like this. Or looked like this. Or sounded like this. Which is something that’s been lost in all the hype. Experience Music Project is bigger than the building, bigger than the exhibits. It’s an educational philosophy put into practice.

Education at EMP

“As a cultural institution dedicated to exploring the creative process and promoting critical thinking, education is a core focus for Experience Music Project.” – Bob Santelli, Deputy Director, Experience Music Project.

Along with being a first-class tourist attraction, EMP is also an international educational center. During the first year, over 70,000 teachers and students (along with over 800,000 of us regular folks) have shimmied through the museum proper, stopping along the way for on-site artist-led workshops, master classes, lecture and film series, educational concerts, and other performance and classroom-based activities. EMP’s education staff works with musicians, ethnomusicologists, performers, and other professionals to create world-class, hands-on educational opportunities for kids, adults and families.

The Real EMP Grand Opening: Experience Arts Camp

Balloons! Glitter! Stale Popcorn! Music! Mayhem! Famous People Standing Next To You!
That’s the way it was during EMP’s Grand Opening in the summer of 2000. Pre-opening tours of the cavernous pop culture palace had guides stationed at a dozen or so key exhibits, each outfitted with a small PA system. Mackie SRM450s were scattered about like blue jewels. The Free Concert Stage, Key Arena, and many other official venues had more EAW speakers upfront and floating around than could be counted.

But the real opening was two years before, in the summer of 1998. Experience Arts Camp admitted its initial slam of students. “It was the first tangible component of Experience Music Project,” says Alycia Allen, Director of Education for EMP. “It’s what people saw and heard about first. And now, it’s an icon – an integral part of EMP.”

Since then, the camp has evolved and expanded. For two weeks (and two sessions each summer), students can “major” in various subjects such as Animation, Glass, Musical Instruments, Music Vocals, Drama, Photography, Film, and Drawing & Painting. They start their day with hands-on activities and projects in their chosen area, and then go on to mini-workshops in Watercolors, Stage Makeup, Drumming, Mime/Improvisation, Photoshop, Creative Writing, Capoeira (martial arts movement exercises), or Dance. “And this year, we had an Artist’s Apprenticeship program!” Alycia exuberantly mentions, obviously with the same enthusiasm as the kids had participating. “Our older students, ages thirteen to sixteen, were put in groups of five or six, and were mentored by master artists in various fields. They received private voice lessons, composed music, built a sculpture, did oil paintings… then after the apprenticeships, there were seminars about how to apply for grants, how to put together a portfolio, how to apply to a college… and for our next session, we’re hoping, Mackie will come out
and do a mixing seminar…”

(…Oh, how we love GUILT! It’s in the works, Alycia. And it should be easy. We won’t even have to lug along any mixers. Experience Arts Camp has a bunch of ’em.)

While the education department at EMP continues to form alliances with local socially-active organizations like The Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers and Sisters, WCIC (Women’s Community Impact Consortium), the long range plans include wider participation with national and international students, mentors, and teachers. One way they’re rolling the word out is with the…

Electric Bus: A Traveling Cornucopia of Melody, Rhythm, and History

At first glance, you might think EMP’s Electric Bus (sponsored by Microsoft Jobs, in association with the Grammy® Foundation) is a roving promo for the museum, what with its bellowing baubles of sounds and enticing interactive techno-trinkets. But this ain’t no side show, folks. The synergistic exhibits are layered, deep, and weighty – methodically examining history and sociology through song. “After it’s set up, there are five hexagon tents linked with smaller tents,” John Morrison, Director of Touring and Logistics, explains. “We take up about 10,000 square feet.”

The theme of the bus is Making It Up As You Go: Song, Songwriters, Songwriting.
In conjunction with the exhibits and demonstrations, Electric Bus provides study exercises and lesson plans for both high school and college classrooms – incorporating Artful Learning™ – the teaching method of the Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning.™ Downloadable PDF files from www.emplive.com include in-depth curriculum modules with courses in Civil Rights,
Free Speech, The Function of Song, American History of Popular Song, and Songwriting in Cultural Perspective.

Mackie mixers (The Official Mixer of EMP) are used in all live demonstrations, and in coordinating much of the complex audio on Electric Bus.

But they’re also used as valuable teaching aids in many educational venues at EMP. When listening to music, untrained ears often hear a blob of sound behind vocals. By muting and isolating various channels, students discover the many elements that contribute to a song and/or recording. (Think of an Electronica or Hip-Hop version of ‘Peter and the Wolf’.)
Education. It’s why we at Mackie are thrilled to be associated with Experience Music Project.

(...Okay, we like the frills ‘n chills, too.)

 

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