Virginia Tech® home

Synaptic Soiree

September 15 - 16, 2023

On September 15 (by invitation only) and 16 (open to the public), in the Grand  Hall of the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria VA, three performances ignited the stage from 7 to 9 PM.  

Synaptic Soiree was an evening of party and performances featuring three intriguing projects from ICAT's vibrant teams of researchers and artists,  selected specifically for the City of Alexandria and Northern Virginia audience.  The evening marked the official launch of Sound Horizons, the first collaboration  between ICAT and the City of Alexandria Office of the Arts. 

The performances push the limits of sound and performance; they explore  scored data composed of music exploring infectious diseases, neuroscience,  including Atrium, meditation, PTSD, and more, as well as the juxtaposition of  new technology and the human body.  

Embodied Art

Date of Creation 

May 7, 2023


Data sonification, projection mapping


15 Minutes

Embodied Art is a 15-minute performance that guides the audience through  the intricate dynamics of human brain activity that represent our emotional  states as we interact with others. Using data sonification and projection  mapping, the work represents two key measurements of brain activity:  electricity and blood flow. The principal dancer will wear an electroencephalography (EEG) cap that will actively measure their electrical  brain activity throughout the performance. This same brain activity will be  sonified in real-time and produce music that will showcase different  mental/emotional states as they meditate and engage in solo and interactive  movement experiences. Meanwhile, the physical movement of the dancers will  be represented through a projection of blood flow within the brain, akin to the  workings of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The performance  highlights different ways to understand complex neuroscientific data through  artistic representation.

Artists Bio

Noor Tasnim is a PhD Student in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health  Program at Virginia Tech. As a trained dancer in Popping and Animation, Noor is  fascinated by the effects of dance and music on human health. His dissertation studies the effects of Hip-Hop dance and music on brain and behavior in young  adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. He enjoys thinking of  creative ways to manipulate advanced neuroscience technology to develop  novel artistic mediums.

Sooruj Bhatia is a recent Bachelor of Architecture graduate from Virginia Tech.  As an architecture major, member of a competitive Bollywood dance team, and  avid musician, Sooruj has always been fascinated by the totality of all art  disciplines. This culminated in his undergraduate thesis, focused on  Performance Architecture and blurring the boundaries between artforms and  space

Ben Beiter is a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. His dissertation focuses on developing controllers for powered exoskeletons that are cognitively easier to use. His research extends to humanoid robots and broadly the future of human-robot interaction. He is passionate about the interactions between arts and technology, especially how technical information can be represented and interacted with in new ways.

Rachel Rugh is a dancer, teacher, mover and shaker based in Blacksburg, Virginia. As a performer, she has collaborated with the DC-based Dance Exchange, as well as Seattle choreographers Pat Graney, Amy O’Neil, and Jurg Koch. Her choreographic work has been featured at the Seattle International Dance Festival, Movement Research (NYC), and the Washington, D.C. Capital Fringe Festival. In 2016, her graduate choreography was chosen to represent the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the gala performance of the American College Dance Association's North-Central Conference. Her current choreographic research is an ongoing music/dance collaboration with Virginia Tech percussion faculty member Annie Stevens. She holds a BA in dance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Theresa Libera is a PhD Student in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at  Virginia Tech. Her dissertation studies biomechanical performance of  postpartum women during child-care-related activities compared to never pregnant women. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of research by exploring  unanswered questions on women’s health using motion capture. 

Robyn Hansen is a recent Master’s in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics graduate  from Virginia Tech. Her thesis study focused on upper extremity kinematic  comparison to Box and Blocks Test performance as well as Markerless Motion  Capture validation in typically developing children. She has always been  interested in improving rehabilitation practices among the pediatric population  with a focus on motor function learning and development.

Julia C. Basso is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech as well as the Director of The Embodied Brain Laboratory. She is also a fellow at the Center for Health Behaviors Research and affiliate faculty in the School of Neuroscience and the Center for Autism Research at Virginia Tech. Dr. Basso holds a PhD in Behavioral and Neural Science, a BA in dance, and is a certified yoga teacher. Her primary scientific passion centers around elucidating the body-brain connection and harnessing the power of the body to optimize brain function and physiology. She is a lifelong dancer, was a member of the Middlebury Dance Company, and has performed in various locations throughout the New England area, Virginia, New York City, Cuba, and at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Emerging: Wuhan-Hu-1

Playing COVID Proteins

Date of Creation 



flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and computer


10 Minutes

With a SEAD grant from the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology,  composer Charles Nichols has been collaborating with molecular biologist  Deborah Good and graduate student Shannon Mauro to sonify the spike  protein of the COVID-19 Wuhan-Hu-1 virus. He started by converting the side  chains of twenty amino acids, that link to form the proteins, into  musical motives. By employing the same musical cryptogram systems that Bach, Schumann, and Ravel used to translate names into pitches, Nichols  mapped the chemical symbols of the skeletal formulas to notes of different  pitches. Working across the ball and stick model of each amino acid, if a side  chain branches, the notes of the musical motive transpose up and down in  pitch. To add rhythm and articulation to the notes, the higher the element in  the side chain appears on the periodic table, the longer the rhythm sustains  and the stronger the articulation stresses the corresponding note. To sonify  more of the spike protein data and increase musical interest in the sequence,  the folding behavior of the amino acid, whether it causes the protein to helix,  coil, or sheet, determines the overlap of the musical motives across  instruments, and the amount of glycosylation determines the pitch  transposition of sections. Emerging: Wuhan-Hu-1, for flute, clarinet, violin,  cello, and computer is the first piece composed using this system of  sonification.

The piece will be performed by flutist Elizabeth Lantz, clarinetist Kyle Hutchins, violinist John Irrera, cellist Alan Weinstein, and conductor Derek Shapiro.

Artists Bio

Charles Nichols is a composer, violinist, and computer music researcher who  explores the expressive potential of instrumental ensembles and  computer music systems for the concert stage, and collaborations with dance,  video, and installation art. Spatial audio, data sonification, motion capture,  telematic performance, and interface design play a role in his creative process.  He performs on electric violin, bass guitar, and computer as a member of the  band Modality, which straddles the sonic worlds of drone, ambient, krautrock,  and contemporary music. After earning degrees from the Eastman School of  Music, Yale University, and Stanford University, he was a technical director at  the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and an associate  professor at the University of Montana. Nichols is currently an associate  professor of Composition and Creative Technologies at Virginia Tech, where he  serves as a faculty fellow at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology  and the Center for Communicating Science.

Deborah J. Good is a molecular biologist who studies the genetics of body  weight, exercise and fertility using mouse models and humans. Her interests  also include analysis of the genetic differences between species, and genetic  variants contributing to academic success in students. She received her Ph.D. in  molecular and cellular biology from Northwestern University and did her  postdoctoral work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Her  first faculty position was in the Veterinary and Animal Sciences Department at  the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and she was recruited to Virginia  Tech as part of an Obesity Research cohort in 2006. Dr. Good is currently an  Associate Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and  Exercise, with joint appointments as a faculty in health sciences at the Virginia  Tech/Carillion School of Medicine, and as a faculty fellow in the Institute for  Creativity, Arts, and Technology. She currently plays Bb clarinet and Eb contra alto clarinet with the Blacksburg Community band, and has played Bb clarinet,  steel drums, flute, saxophone and percussion with the Panjammers Steel Drum  band, the Summer Musical Enterprise pit orchestra, and the University of  Maryland Community Band in past performances.

Elizabeth Lantz is Senior Instructor of Flute in the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech. A regular soloist and chamber musician, Ms. Lantz has performed and presented masterclasses nationally and internationally throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, United States, Trinidad, South America, Canada, and Europe. Recent performance engagements have included the 2023 College Music Society’s International Conference in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia the International Conference for Saxophone Pedagogy and Performance, the United States Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium, the National Flute Association National Convention, the Flute New Music Festival in Stonybrook, and the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference. Administratively, Ms. Lantz served as Program Chair for the Mid-Atlantic Flute Convention (2018), and serves as Visiting Artist Coordinator for the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech. She holds degrees from the University of Southern California and the University of Arizona. Her teachers have included Julius Baker, Michel Debost, Ann Diener-Zentner, Jim Walker, Tadeu Coelho and Jean-Louis Kashy. Elizabeth Lantz is a Yamaha Performing Artist and performs on a Yamaha 877 model handmade flute.

Hailed as “epic” (Jazz Times), "formidable" (The Saxophone Symposium), and "gripping" (Star Tribune), Kyle Hutchins is an internationally acclaimed saxophonist. He has performed across five continents, recorded over two dozen albums, premiered hundreds of new works, has authored a book and edited multiple anthologies of music for the saxophone. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Hutchins has served on the faculty of Virginia Tech since 2016 where he is Assistant Professor of Practice. He is a Yamaha, Légère Reed, and E. Rousseau Mouthpiece Performing Artist.

Praised by the Santa Barbara Daily Sound for his “moving” and “hypnotic” performances and Fanfare magazine for his “impeccable precision”, violinist John Irrera is flourishing as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestral musician, and pedagogue. John’s Carnegie Hall debut was lauded as a “riveting and dynamic performance” by the New York Concert Review. John’s performances have been heard on three continents and in concert venues such as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Spivey Hall, and the Eastman Theatre. John has performed with the New World Symphony under conductors Michael Tilson Thomas and Thomas Adès, with the Grammy- nominated Metropolis Ensemble under the baton of composer Tan Dun, and with the Charleston Symphony. In the spring of 2023, John was awarded a highly selective Alumni Enterprise Award from the Music Academy of the West. John holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, where he received his Doctorate, having studied with Zvi Zeitlin and Federico Agostini. He has presented lectures, performances, and presentations at universities and national conferences throughout the United States and Europe, as well as has multiple releases on Centaur Records and on MSR Classics label. Currently, he is the Assistant Professor of Violin at Virginia Tech and Associate Concertmaster of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra.

Alan Weinstein, cellist, has performed as a soloist and chamber player throughout North America and Europe in venues including Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Miller Theatre, Spivey Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Edinbrough Fringe Festival. He is a founding member of the Kandinsky Trio, winner of the Chamber Music America Residency Award, the NEA American Masterpieces Grant and a NEA Meet the Composers Award. He frequently collaborates with internationally acclaimed artists including Dawn Upshaw, Ida Kavafian, Kurt Rosenwinkle and Andrés Cárdenes. His dedication to new music has led him to premiere compositions by artists such as Mike Reid (“Tales of Appalachia” performed in over 150 cities), Richard Danielpour, and Hilary Tan.  His jazz collaborations have included performances with Larry Coryell, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Dave Samuels, and as a harmonica player with Ray Charles. Weinstein holds degrees in music performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and the Eastman School of Music. His principal teachers include Steven Doane, Robert Sylvester, Timothy Eddy and chamber music studies with the Cleveland Quartet, Menachem Pressler, Walter Trampler, and Eugene Lehner. He has recorded for Arabesque Records, Brioso and OmniTone labels and plays a cello attributed to Albani circa 1690.

Derek Shapiro is director of bands and assistant professor of music at Virginia Tech where he conducts the Virginia Tech Wind Ensemble and teaches conducting. Prior to his appointment at Virginia Tech, he has held positions at Eastern Michigan University, Georgia Southern University, and Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, FL. A strong advocate for music education with nine years of public school experience, Shapiro has taught at the middle school and high school levels. Shapiro received a Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music, a Master of Music in conducting from The University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Keene State College. He is a member of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), and the Virginia Music Educators Association.

Body, Full of Time

Date of Creation 



Live performance with motion capture and interactive projection


12 Minutes

Body, Full of Time: "Narcissus" is a solo choreographic work performed and created by movement and media artist Scotty Hardwig in collaboration with visual artist Zach Duer. Using motion capture, projection, and interactive avatar designs, the work presents a chimeric vision of the human body fragmented in the cyber age, examining the relationship between physical and digital versions of self. The dance emerges in the space between the human and the virtual, with the body both as active sensor and passive recipient to technological currents. This work has been adapted from the original version which included animations by Nate King, scenic and costume designs by Estefania Perez-Vera, and sound created by Caleb Flood.

Artists Bio

Zach Duer is an educator and artist. He is an Assistant Professor teaching in  the Creative Technologies Program in the School of Visual Arts at Virginia Tech  in Blacksburg, Virginia. His work lies at a series of intersections: sound and  visualization; careful composition and improvised performance; intuitive  musical spontaneity and structured digital systems. Spanning media including  fixed-media sound and video collage, improvised multimedia performance,  immersive environments, and projection mapped and 3D-printed sculpture, his  works have been shown internationally in the United States, Mexico, and  Spain. He holds an MFA in Kinetic Imaging from Virginia Commonwealth  University (2014), an MA in Music Composition from Mills College (2009) and a  BM in Music Composition from Minnesota State University Moorhead (2007).

Scotty Hardwig is an experimental movement artist, performer, and teacher  originally from southwest Virginia. His research practice stems from the  confluence of sensory media and the moving body, creating movement-based  artwork through live performance, installation/site-specific, and cinematic  frames. He received his MFA in Dance from the University of Utah, and has  served on the faculty at the University of Utah and Middlebury College, and is  currently an Assistant Professor in Movement, Performance and Integrated  Media at Virginia Tech, where he is experimenting and creating choreographic  and cinematic works at the intersection of technology and the body.