Media School brings Big Tent multimedia experience to IU

Austin Faulds • Sept. 15, 2017
Big Tent
Big Tent is a highly portable, large octagon featuring 12-foot high video projection walls, myriad audio speakers and 360-degree immersion. (Courtesy photo)

At 40 feet in diameter, Big Tent is a highly portable, large octagon featuring 12-foot high video projection walls, myriad audio speakers and 360-degree immersion.

The Indianapolis-based, multimedia presentation will make an all-day appearance Thursday in Alumni Hall of the Indiana Memorial Union. The event is hosted by Media School senior lecturer Norbert Herber, who teaches sound design. It begins at noon.

Directors Robin Cox and Benjamin Smith, both faculty members in IUPUI’s music and arts technology program, co-founded and designed Big Tent in 2015 at IUPUI. They conceptualized it when considering that one of the primary dilemmas with presenting new multimedia projects is the venue itself, Cox said. He believes most new and “cutting-edge” technology today are forced to be presented in the “19th-century-designed concert venue,” which can be limiting to those who want to present or witness the project.

“Mixed media, or multimedia presentation, should be a little more acceptable than it is,” Cox said. “It’s often in elitist institutions, or it’s very hard to get involved in.”

While Big Tent itself is a roofless structure that can be presented either indoors or outdoors, Cox said he considers the name of the presentation to be a reference to classic circuses, a performance medium of which he is very fond.

“Circus is an early form of multimedia presentation to the people that was highly portable and could be found in a variety of circumstances,” Cox said.

“Mixed media, or multimedia presentation, should be a little more acceptable than it is. It’s often in elitist institutions, or it’s very hard to get involved in.” —Robin Cox, Big Tent co-founder and co-designer

Because of Big Tent’s design and function, Cox said he believes more media students will be more actively engaged with what they are hearing through the speakers and seeing on the large screens.

The presentation will be split into two parts. The first, from noon-7 p.m., is a variety of pieces Cox and Smith call “fixed media,” referring to the fixed forms of the audio and visuals. The second part, beginning at 8 p.m. and continuing for the next 75 minutes, will be the Hourglass show, a dance event with live music and visual accompaniment through the video projection walls. This event was created by Cox about seven years ago and will be sponsored by IU’s contemporary dance program.

With musician and musicology backgrounds, both Cox and Smith decided to incorporate strong auditory and musical elements into the presentation, hence the inclusion of Hourglass. Cox said he realized music is now consumed more on a multimedia level than through the traditional concert hall or even by itself. In that way, Big Tent is just as much about artistic expression as it is about media expression.

“We were looking to develop an instrument, so to speak, design that could provide opportunities to other artists to make work unique to Big Tent,” Cox said.

Since its founding in 2015, Big Tent has toured all over Indiana. Cox and Smith hope to soon be able to stretch out to further states. Cox said he believes this presentation will give media students a unique experience that may differ from the more “fixed perspectives” of their media focuses. The large scope of the presentation is also an aspect that works in the design’s favor.

“With a 40-foot diameter, you have a sense that your peripheral vision is involved, and it’s not right on top of you,” Cox said. “So you have some distance to be able to absorb things from some distance away from you.”

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