Nick Mundinger pulls out his phone and opens an app that looks like a calculator. The screen is filled with colorful dials and buttons with labels like "tempo" and "chest".
“This is a sort of drum machine I made using different parts of my body,” he says, moving between the phone and a laptop as he sets up the program.
Each "drum" is a recording of a different action. For example, one plays a clap, another a snap, another a thump on his chest and so on. The dials on the phone control the probability that each drum will be played on each beat. Visualizations on the laptop screen show which sound is playing. When you hear the thump sound, you see Mundinger's fist on his chest. When you hear a clap, you see his hand. The end result—a beat controlled with the phone along with visualizations on the screen—is almost like a live music video.
Mundinger, a sophomore Media Production student, loves almost anything to do with music and sound. He grew up playing the violin and has since learned to play bass guitar, various percussion instruments and more.
“I like to make more contemporary music—music that people can dance to,” he says. “A lot of the projects here allow me to do stuff with sound. Faculty are pretty open, medium wise, because there are so many different types of people in the department.”
As a student in the Department of Critical Media Practices (DCMP), Mundinger has broadened his love of music into an exploration of various types of audio and other media. For one class, he created a large, wooden sculpture—complete with chimes and an old coffee tin—which he plays using drumsticks. The instrument is designed so that multiple people can play it at the same time.
While the wooden sculpture represents a low-tech take on sound and composition, Mundinger is also involved in a far more high-tech project called Sound Planetarium. The project—led by DCMP Associate Professor Tara Knight—will allow people to hear the sounds of the cosmos in all directions using virtual reality goggles and headphones. As an undergraduate research assistant for the project, Mundinger has learned skills like coding, in addition to expanding his knowledge of audio.
“I guess I would call it almost, like, an interstellar synthesizer,” he says. “Every star has a temperature, color, distance and luminosity. They have all these variables that we can convert into musical things. The color of a star could control the pitch of the sound or the luminosity could control the volume of the sound. Each star is like its own instrument that makes its own sound based on the stellar data.”
Recently, Mundinger traveled to Los Angeles to help with virtual reality demonstrations and present a portion of the project at CU Boulder Next. While he’s only in his second year of the Media Production program, projects like the sound planetarium have helped Mundinger gain a sense of what he’d like to do in the future.
"After I leave college I want to become a music producer,” he says. “But I’m also interested in doing multimedia art with things like film, photography and graphic design.”