Jazz Professor Pushes Music, Technology

Associate Professor Dan Cavanagh (Music) plans to modify a pair of gloves with sensors to enhance musical sounds. (Photo credit: MiMu)
Associate Professor Dan Cavanagh (Music) plans to modify a pair of gloves with sensors to enhance musical sounds. (Photo credit: MiMu)

Pushing the limits of music and technology is a new focus for one UT Arlington music professor.

Associate Professor Dan Cavanagh (Music), a jazz pianist, was recently awarded a Research Enhancement Program (REP) grant from UTA to construct a pair of gloves with embedded electronic sensors – sensors designed to enhance and manipulate sounds of an instrument.

Cavanagh is hoping to build on open source technology to create software and hardware capable of creating a new dynamic for established musical genres.

“The equipment and software I’m looking at has been used in pop music for years, especially avant-garde pop music,” he said. “It hasn’t been done a lot in art music. Jazz is such an improvisation thing. I’m curious to see how it can be combined live with that genre.”

Professor and Department Chair Rick Bogard said his colleagues are eager to see Cavanagh’s results.

“I’m very excited about Dan Cavanagh’s new branch of research with the electronic gloves,” Bogard said. “This is an area of technology which is new to the field of music, and I’m very happy that we can be on the cutting edge of this research. I know that Dan’s energy and forward-thinking ideas will vitalize this growing area of our department, and will bring positive things to the us and the University.”


Cavanagh intends to include bend and rotation sensors in the gloves that will allow him to create different combinations of moves (and ultimately, sounds) as he plays piano. These moves could drastically alter what his audience hears and enable him to create a more fluid manipulation of notes than today’s electronic keyboards.

“I was exploring the history of synthesizers,” Cavanagh said about his project’s genesis, “and there hasn’t been a natural way to control sound. It’s all been very artificial with buttons or diving down to a menu.”

Newly appointed as Director of Music Industry Studies, which includes the Music Media and Music Business areas within the Music Department, Cavanagh hopes to have a working prototype by December and intends to debut his creation in a Spring 2016 recital. He will utilize hardware and software components available online, but his prototype will extend original designs currently available.

“I think I’ll be able to find all the components I need online, then modify those existing plans or parts to do what I need them to do,” he said.

Additionally, Cavanagh sees application for his project in aiding budding conductors in a symphony or musicians eager to move beyond their repertoire of standards.

“Electronically manipulating sounds is a way to treat those timbres as a new instrument,” he said. “It’s much like playing a Steinway in Irons Recital Hall; I’m manipulating those strings and timbres. This is a different way for me to engage in music.”

Associate Dean Elisabeth Cawthon said Cavanagh’s approach to his research sets him apart.

“Professor Cavanagh’s work fuses technology, classical music and jazz improvisation,” she said. “This project demonstrates how a classical composer can engage the public — in this case, through performance of Professor Cavanagh’s creative works. ”


(Story by James Dunning/COLA Communications, jdunning@uta.edu)

About the College of Liberal Arts
The College of Liberal Arts at UT Arlington serves more than 4,000 students enrolled in 26 undergraduate and 21 graduate programs. National accreditation includes the Department of Art & Art History through the National Association of Schools of Art & Design and the Department of Music through the National Association of Schools of Music. The College of Liberal Arts employs more than 300 faculty across 12 departments; faculty awards for research and creative activity include a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Pulitzer Prize nominations, a winner of La Cruz Andina de Oro [Andean Golden Cross] from the Bolivian Government, and multiple awards from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About UT Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as a “Best for Vets” college by Military Times magazine. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.


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