"Hybrid Instrument Building" is perhaps one of the most challenging and experimental interdisciplinary courses offered in the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University. The syllabus of this course broadly defines an "instrument" as an object that amplifies your intentions. "Hybrid" is defined as all that exists between digital and physical, real and virtual, hardware and software. The instructor, Ali Momeni, explains: "It's really in-between places that we're trying to work with."
Momeni studied physics and music at Swarthmore College, and later completed a doctoral degree in music composition, improvisation and performance with the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at the University of California, Berkeley. He's been in the Pittsburgh area for three years now
His semester-long course challenges students to develop their own hybrid instruments, beginning with rapid, week-long building exercises in the first half of the course, then allowing students to build a portfolio-ready project during the second half of the semester. Students range from undergraduate to graduate, engineers to artists and computer scientists
About half the students who take the course create instruments in the traditional sense. The other half he describes as "system builders," who work with integrated software platforms or perhaps mobile media systems, creating wireless systems for homes and buildings
Students have created musical projects that work with controlled feedback, ambience, resonance, and overdubbing over overdubbing. Momeni chuckles about this: "My colleague Suzie Silver always says, ‘Every generation has to rediscover psychedelia,' and it always comes out in this class. ... I get a lot of inclinations that are in the direction of the American minimalist school — that whole intellectual hippie American music from the West Coast."
Currently, the class is fairly isolated within the Carnegie Mellon campus, though Momeni believes that when the course moves into the curriculum for the graduate emerging-media program in a couple of years, it may open up more interaction with the greater Pittsburgh community. Though as he gestures around the CMU Art Fabrication studio, the walls lined with small boxes of tools, wires, arduinos and past projects, he admits: "There's enough to do [just] in this room."