20 Reasons Why Atlanta is America’s Music Capital

We have tech, and we have Tech

Illustration by Miss Lotion

Someday soon, you’ll be able to sit in the cello section of a live orchestra performance and watch the first-chair bow her strings—without ever leaving your home. That’s thanks to a virtual reality program being developed at Georgia Tech. The school, primarily known for turning out top-notch engineers, has turned some of its attention to music in recent years, using technology to revolutionize the art form.

Georgia Tech’s School of Music didn’t exist until 2006, when Tech created a master’s and PhD track in music technology. Now also offering a bachelor’s degree, the music school serves 70 students. Unlike conservatories, Tech isn’t focused on graduating violin impresarios; more often, graduates go to work for companies like speaker-maker Bose, music-streaming services Pandora and Spotify, and tech behemoths Google and Apple.

For example, as a PhD candidate, Mason Bretan helped program Shimon, a marimba-playing droid built by professor Gil Weinberg that composes original songs. “Shimon is making its own decisions that are inspired by what it knows about music,” says Bretan, who performed live with the robot in China and now works in Silicon Valley at Samsung, building on his research.

Undergraduates study industrial design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or computer science and then incorporate those fields into music. Master’s students and PhD candidates dig deeper, exploring acoustics, teaching computers how to identify songs and instruments, and building prosthetic limbs that detect minuscule muscle movements, allowing an amputee to play the piano or drums. In their downtime, the students might perform in an orchestra made up of laptops and smartphones or compete in a 48-hour contest for hacking Moog synthesizers with tools ranging from 3D printers to woodworking equipment.