“But Carlos Alomar is not about history; he’s about the future. While remaining active on the music scene, working with contemporary artists like the Scissor Sisters and Alicia Keys, Alomar has also become a cutting-edge figure in the worlds of music education and music technology. Now, as the Distinguished Artist in Residence at Stevens Institute of Technology, Alomar is pioneering the use of digital technology as a means of giving young musicians the tools to change the way music is made. And he’s doing it at a university that is uniquely positioned to allow its students to do just that: Carlos began working at Stevens Institute of Technology in 2005, and of course Stevens has a 140-year tradition of combining academics, research, and hands-on, real-world experience in the fields of science, engineering, and entrepreneurship, earning its reputation branding as “The Innovation University.”
It’s too bad the Nike folks have claimed the phrase “Just Do It,” because it could easily have been Alomar’s. Whether it’s playing guitar, writing songs, or producing albums, he has shown a knack for just getting it done. This, not surprisingly, is how he now approaches music education. He has little patience for extended, theoretical exercises. “A person will take 14 weeks to study for a recital,” he says, “and at the end of those 14 weeks you have to do three songs. Taking 14 weeks to do three songs is not the way I think. So I say, why don’t you study your instrument for two months, and then come to me for the last month and then it’s like, we’re in the studio. This is how it’s done.”
Technology is the future of music,” Carlos says simply. “We still hear organically, but the means of production has changed dramatically.” The ability to bring music out of the world of ideas and into actual practice is what attracted Alomar to Stevens Institute of Technology in 2005. “The first thing I did when I got to Stevens was to borrow nine iGuitars from Brian Moore Guitars and nine Roland Synthesizers, just to show there are other ways.” Other ways in this case meant accompanying a 60-voice choir performing the music of Mozart’’s Passion with nine students playing guitar synthesizers. It was a dramatic introduction to the possibilities of new digital technology. And recasting traditional music theory as digital, or binary, information has proven to be one of Alomar’s most quixotic but successful moves.
“It’s because this generation grew up with this technology,” he explains. “A student will come to me and say, I play the guitar. And I’ll say, okay, play me a B minor seventh flat five 7-b5 chord, and they’re like, uh – wait a minute. But I break it down into numerical code for them, and in 15 minutes they can play any chord.” He is planning to further spread this way of approaching music theory in a book tentatively called “Conversations on the Guitar: Breaking The Code”.
Alomar’s teaching program, a hands-on, get-it-done approach, has proven so popular at Stevens that the University is expanding the Music & Technology program, with Alomar as its first-ever Distinguished Artist in Residence. The facilities for the newly expanded program will include the Sound Synthesis Research Center for the Performing Arts, with Alomar as the Director. It’s all in the service of arming students with new approaches to technology and learning music so that they can make a difference in the music world. What kind of difference? Alomar is reluctant to guess. “I can’t really define what they’re getting from us because they’re such brainiacs! They’re going to give it back to us in ways, we can’t anticipate.”
For Alomar, waiting to see what develops as a new generation of musicians makes its way in the world, with new tools and new ideas, is just as exciting as following David Bowie during their long collaboration – in other words, he has to be ready for anything. “We can push them off the edge,” he says, “but when they fly, they’ll soar. I’m happy to be the teacher, for a while; and then happy to be the student, when they soar.”
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View videos of Stevens academic version of the Mini Midi Magic Orchestra