Rarely do Tchaikovsky and Twitter go together.
But KUSC 91.5 FM — USC’s classical radio station and the country’s most listened to public radio station — is hoping to change that by working with the Integrated Media Systems Center to combine classical music with new media.
KUSC and IMSC, a research facility focused on new media based in the Viterbi School of Engineering, will be letting students shape the future of music with a venture called the Music X Project.
“The X means different things to different people; it’s a funny title,” said James Baker, director of IMSC. “I’m a mathematician, so to me X means ‘unknown.’ To Robert Cutietta, who’s dean of the School of Music, it means ‘Generation X.’”
Through the Music X project, students will be able to submit proposals for multimedia projects that bring classical music to the digital age, and the best ideas from these proposals will be developed.
“All music is becoming more accessible because of new media,” said Brenda Barnes, president of KUSC. “What we wanted to do with IMSC is to see how they might help us translate what we do more effectively into the new media world.”
Barnes approached Baker over the summer wanting to find ways to move KUSC into the new media realm.
“We need to be online because there are things we can do online that we can’t do on the radio,” Barnes said. “On the radio, all we can offer is one programming stream. Online we can offer multiple classical music channels — we could have a channel that’s all Mozart, that’s all opera, a study mix for people who want to listen to classical music while they’re studying.”
Baker said he predicts the convergence of radio and Internet, and he was excited to be involved with KUSC’s endeavor.
“This was one of the most interesting projects that had come my way,” he said. “There’s going to be a major change in the system coming in the future. We’re going to have an opportunity to influence that … We have a technical approach to go about it, at least to get started, and there’s no clear answer to where we are or where we should be going — and this is what really intrigued me.”
The program Barnes and Baker decided on was the Music X Project, which will let students drive KUSC’s emergence into new media.
“Where did we get the big software we use today on our personal computers?” Baker said. “We got that from a kid who was a freshman in college — Bill Gates. [New technology] comes by young people who get some really out-of-the-box ideas.”
In early October, students will be able to submit essays on their ideas for the future of music and technology. The best essays will receive a cash prize and the best ideas will receive a stipend; Baker expects to eventually develop six stipend-based projects.
For Barnes, the Music X project is about putting KUSC at the forefront of the radio and new media marriage movement, and not about saving classical music.
“Classical music has withstood the test of time,” Barnes said. “It’s been around for hundreds of years and yet it’s still popular and still relevant for people. I think that classical music and the arts remind us of the wonderful things human beings are capable of … We need to be online because there are things we can do online that we can’t do on the radio.”
Thornton Dean Robert Cutietta, agreed that classical music does not need saving. He noted, however, that integrating new media will bring classical music to new generations.
“The distribution and recording of music have changed so much in the last 10 years, it’s going to be a critical part of how we go forward as musicians, and how we reach our audiences,” Cutietta said.
Baker considers holding on to culture a critical aspect of new technology, which makes classical music, the hub of musical culture, a necessary base.
“If we lose our aspirations of looking at great art, whether it’s music, film, visual arts or architecture, I think we’ve lost an important part of what it means to be human,” Cutietta said.