Director of EMPAC shares creative vision

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“Not more of the same, but the other.” This is Johannes Goebel’s motto as the director of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Professor Goebel is the driving creative visionary behind much of what EMPAC has to offer. He started at Rensselaer in July 2002 with the goal of creating and developing a creative space for students and professionals—both artistically and technologically driven—to push the boundaries of science, technology, and the arts. 

Goebel grew up in Germany and spent 1966 in America for an exchange program. Although he experienced America during the ‘60s—a time well known for its massive social movements and turbulent times—Johannes explained that, “I was living in a family which was strongly Southern Baptist-based, I had no idea what was going on in San Francisco, and the most I heard about the war was from the pastor’s sermons.” After returning to Germany, he planned on being a musician, but those plans were dashed when “[his] music teacher told [him] that [he] was not good enough.” It was after this realization that Goebel went to school for theology, which, in Germany, is more philosophy and language-based. But during his theological studies, Gobel went to an event featuring an array of four speakers playing a cowbell in surround sound. It was this experience which would inspire him to switch tracks and pursue the then-burgeoning field of digital music. 

Once he had completed his education, he started as a musician experimenting, teaching, and recording with instruments built with different metals and improvising with “scrap metal.” He soon became a composer and later a curator, of the Hohe Ufer Konzerte in Hannover, Germany because he had to support his family. It was between 1977 and 1990 that Goebel really started to get involved in electronic music. He explained that, “I was not accepted by the contemporary and moved to the fringe.” In 1977, he was given a two-year grant to study in the brand new field of computer music at the only place which offered such an opportunity: Stanford University. He continued to fly back and forth between his office in Stanford and his base in Germany, further exploring the field of electronic music throughout the ‘80s. 

September 5, 2018

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The Poly