When the funk hits the fan

Adjunct professor David Heise

Adjunct professor David Heise mixes computer science and music to create a new sound.

By Leon Stevenson III

Meet David Heise: Computer science instructor, PhD in electrical and computer engineering and Stevie Wonder connoisseur who plays a mean sax.

Wait, what?

Yes, the adjunct professor in Columbia College’s Computer Science department is also very musically inclined. He currently plays in a seven -piece horn band, and he regularly performs with the Norm Ruebling Band at sporting events on the main campus.

In February, Heise premiered a composition that combined both his loves of science and music called “Digifunk” (pronounced Dig-a-funk).

Listen to "Digifunk."

Heise explains, “In my graduate program at the University of Missouri, I took a class called ‘Intro to Digital Synthesis’, and the final project was to write a composition. Now I’ve arranged music before, but never actually composed anything. I ended up making a piece that had some Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston influences, generated completely from digital instruments I created on a program from my computer.”

And while the concert went well, he’s very much an instructor first, and there’s one thing he wants to make sure his students learn in each of his classes. “I aim to bring every student to a complete working understanding. You need to know how things work,” Heise says. “And I have to explain things in a manner where they can draw a mental picture and actively solve problems – and problem solving is an art. As a matter of fact, computer science is the art of problem solving.” He adds, “I give them the tools they need to analyze and solve problems on their own.”

When asked about whether performing music on a stage or in a band is similar to teaching in front of a classroom, Heise provides a different analogy. “Wow.” He pauses. “I mean they are both collaborative and require teamwork, but if I had to, I’d liken it to being an umpire … An umpire has to be able to handle high-pressure situations, know the rules of the sport inside and out, then have to be able to explain those rules to everyone else. And most of all, you have to expect anything. Teaching is a lot like that, in my opinion.”

Recently, Heise finished his doctorate while combining his interests in computing and music. “My dissertation research is about creating a program that can automate the process of transcribing songs into sheet music. Normally, for a band to play popular music, someone has to painstakingly write instrumental parts by hand, and the process is long and tedious.” He continues, “I’m trying to create software that can take an mp3 or wav file and compile the music for each instrument in the song – really create a ‘hands off approach’ to a time consuming task.”

And since it is finals week for the students and faculty (in Heise’s case, both), he’s has some parting wisdom for the graduating seniors. “For those who have questions and fears about attending grad school, first decide what you want to do,” he says.

So if you come up with a goal for yourself and grad school helps you get there, what then?

“Just keep in mind that each step prepares you for the next. Remember when you were in high school, and you were worried about finishing that? Guess what? You finished! The same way you’ll finish college, and high school prepared you for what you faced in college. And it’s the same way; college prepares you for grad school.”
He finishes, “You never know why you learn things when you learn them… it’s only later that you can appreciate it and apply it.”


wrhays1 said...

Congratulations Dr Heise.