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MAKING MUSIC HAPPEN

A look at the live music scene at MIT


Vibin Kundukulam

“The first song we’re going to do was actually written by someone who went to

this school… Make some noise, let’s see if you like it!” shouts the lead singer of

Crossroads before the bands starts up “More Than a Feeling”, originally written by

Boston frontman and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Tom

Scholz in the 1970s. It’s MIT’s Campus Preview Weekend, and hundreds of eager

prospective students have arrived on campus to attend special lectures, explore


living groups, and otherwise get a taste of MIT’s culture. With dozens of other

activities occurring at the same time, and many possible parties to check out later

in the evening, the students have a hard time choosing which events to attend.

On this blustery April night, many have been lured in by the flashy lighting and

deep bass hits coming from the second floor of the Stratton Student Center,

where Crossroads is playing a number of classics including Boston’s biggest hit,

and a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”


The rock band, along with six other music groups, is competing in MIT’s annual

Battle of the Bands, where each band has 15 minutes to prove they are “the

hottest band on campus” in front of a panel of three judges. What is remarkable

is that each band is not only composed of talented musicians, including several

who have put out their own records, but each one is also a full-time student at

MIT. A student group on campus, called the Live Music Connection, is responsible

for bringing these groups together and for hosting Battle of the Bands.

THE MUSIC MAKERS

Founded in fall 2009 by junior Kevin Rustagi, junior Tom Cervantes, and

sophomore Alejandro Arambula, the Live Music Connection (LMC) is a non-profit

group aimed at bringing “live music by students, to students.” It put on its first
concert on October 16th in the campus student center. Its inaugural event was a

huge success, with more than 70 in attendance to hear Levi Schmidt, MIT

mechanical engineering senior and acoustic singer-songwriter, and The Guitar

Knives, a rock band composed of the three founders of LMC. Since then, LMC has

put on shows about once every two weeks, and have featured MIT bands

covering every genre from jazz to punk rock.


MISSION: BRING MUSIC BACK TO MIT
Not surprisingly, the three founders of LMC are in a band themselves.

Sophomore Alejandro Arambula, or Alex, met Kevin at a Christian smores event

during Alex’s freshman orientation. After a jam session during the first few weeks

of school, they grouped with Tom Cervantes to practice together in his

dormitory’s music room.


Soon after The Guitar Knives formed, and the band played its first concert in May

in the basement of Simmons Hall at MIT. Self-described as “Jet meets U2”, their

first concert included covers of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, The

Romantics’ “What I Like About You”, and The Barenaked Ladies’ "If I Had

$1000000.”

After a hiatus in the summer, Tom, Kevin, and Alex came back to MIT in the fall

with a new mission in mind—to bring live music back to the campus.
The LMC was born out of this idea, and since then has hosted performances by

more than a dozen music groups on campus, including Battle of the Bands this

spring. A large competition-style concert during MIT’s Campus Preview Weekend

that draws in dozens of prospective freshman, Battle of the Bands features three

guest judges and offers a $500 cash prize to the winning group. Like all of LMC’s

concerts, the bands featured in this classic event are almost exclusively composed

of MIT students.
BEFORE THE CONCERT

Hours before each show, members of LMC arrive at the venue to set up audio and

visual equipment, and to run sound checks for each performing band. The

founders of LMC have recruited several new members for help in this setup, in

addition to helping publicize each event and for mixing and recording tracks.

Junior Yue Li and sophomore Krista Speroni both joined the LMC this semester,

and are responsible for helping design posters for LMC concerts, in addition to
helping set up speakers, mic stands, and seats for every concert. For Battle of the

Bands, the group sent out messages to students on campus via Facebook and

dorm e-mail lists, and strategically placed posters in well-travelled areas several

days in advance.

As the day of the show nears, LMC picks the publicity up a notch by manning a

booth right in the middle of the student center, where they blast recorded songs

from their previous concerts and sell a CD of compiled singles to interested

passerby. The Saturday of the concert, LMC occupies a booth at the front of the
activities fair, where prospective freshman come to learn about activities they

may want to join after they come to MIT in the fall. Here, Kevin and other

members of LMC explain to students the concept of their organization and display

a few musical instruments, offering to jam with them on the spot.

Battle of the Bands begins late that Saturday evening, after all the prospective

students have come out of Kresge Auditorium, where they were formally given a

farewell by the MIT admissions office.


Guided by bright posters and numerous helpers pointing the way, many of them

make their way to the second floor of the student center, where the Battle is

about to commence.
Around 7:30 PM, when enough people have arrived to fill the room, the lights dim

and the show begins. Once the first group, The Guitar Knives, takes the stage, all

eyes are focused on the three to five band members competing for the chance to

win $500, as well as recognition within the MIT community. They are judged by a

panel including a member of MIT admissions office, a blogger, and a member of

the incoming class to MIT.


IN THE CLASSROOM

The performers at Battle of the Bands include more than just undergraduates.

From the moment they step on stage, the members of self-proclaimed “gypsy

pirate rock band” Supa Dupa, led by mechanical engineering PhD candidate Barry

Kudrowitz, draws attention to its unique costumes.

Barry, the lead guitarist, sports a bright red T-shirt and accompanying arm and

headbands. Each of the other band members wears a different color of the
rainbow. Their playing style is equally unique, influenced by Eastern European

music, despite none of the band members being Eastern European.

Barry is a standout in the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering, having

created a popular new class at MIT focused on toy product design, and holding a

patent on a mechanism for launching Nerf foam balls. He was recently awarded

for his outstanding service to the department at an awards banquet last spring.

For Barry, his involvement with both academics and the arts is a testament to his

“love to work on projects combining design, art, and the entertainment industry.”
Other performers at LMC shows are equally accomplished both on and off the

stage. Levi Schmidt, who just released his first album “Like Water” on May 4th, is

also an accomplished inventor.

Schmidt helped design a detachable tricycle wheelchair attachment, which allows

for fast and more efficient wheelchair travel in developing countries. Last fall, he

worked with a team to create aquAIRius, a backboard with variable buoyancy

controlled by inflatable chambers, which is designed to rescue an injured

swimmer from a pool.


Capricho, and MIT-based flamenco fusion band, is composed of students Serdar

Karatekin and Xavier Gonzalez.

Serdar, originally from Turkey, trained with flamenco virtuoso Rafael Riqueni in

Madrid before studying with guitarist Juanito Pascual in Boston. The electrical

engineering and computer science major is also a self-taught audio engineer, and

is producing the group’s upcoming album. Xavier, Capricho’s other half, is a senior

in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. In addition to being a


talented guitarist, he is currently researching “developing innovative molecular

gastronomy products for high-end restaurants.”


AND THE WINNERS ARE…

Battle of the Bands nears its conclusion around 10:00 PM, ending on a strong note

with disco-funk band Technicolor. Despite having formed only a few months ago,

the group wows the audience with its original melodic lines and vibrant sound.

Almost as a testament to the band’s musical prowess, MIT mascot Tim the Beaver

jumps into the crowd halfway through the performance and crowd-surfs for a few

minutes. It is no surprise at the end of the concert when the judges reveal the
winner of the entire competition—Technicolor, who chooses to donate the

money to Camp Kesem, a summer camp for children of cancer patients.

According to Technicolor band members Robert Boyd, Ari Miller, and Paul Jaffe,

all MIT students, the band is named because their live set-up includes “two

computers, a MIDI controller, a MIDI keyboard, an analog synthesizer…and

cables.” Thus, Technicolor, along with Supa Dupa, the Guitar Knives, Capricho,

and all the other bands featured in LMC concerts, are an implausible fusion of

MIT’s techie and creative sides, which would be difficult to find anywhere else

except on the stage.


THE END
SOURCES:
“Bands of MIT”, Monica Gallegos, The Tech (April 23, 2010)
MIT Live Music Connection (http://theinfinitemusic.posterous.com/)
The Guitar Knives (http://guitarknives.com/)
Capricho (http://vivacapricho.com/)