Experiential Grooves

Have you ever been experienced--in the back of an 18-wheeler?

If not, now's your chance. Next Monday, the Experience Music Project Electric Bus will roll its wheels onto Duke's campus for a week-long visit. Starting Monday at 9am, the bus, which is actually a semi-truck, will open up for Durham residents and Dukies to take a gander at the 10,000-square-foot music exhibit and make some music of their own.

The traveling exhibit, which concludes its stay in Chapel Hill today, is divided into three different themes that are displayed in six tents surrounding the bus. Origins and Impact explores the social and historical factors that influence how songs are created, through interviews with songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen and Jill Scott. The exhibit area is designed to help visitors understand the personal process each artist goes through in creating music. There are also video interviews with Brian Wilson, Joan Baez and others, who discuss the impact specific songs have had on their lives. (Think VH1's Storytellers.)

John Morrison, touring and logistics director for the EMP Bus, describes the Origins and Impact tent as a glimpse into the minds of musicians to understand what music means to them. "Origins and Impact explores questions like OWhy did Bruce Springsteen write "My Hometown"?' and OWhy did Madonna write "Material Girl"?' It also exposes you to thinking about what different songs mean to you."

In the Artists and Artifacts section of the bus, you can see bits and pieces of music history on display, like the smashed parts of one of Kurt Cobain's guitars and an original lyric sheet from Bob Dylan. There are even some "hip-hop artifacts" in the mix (maybe Flava-Flav's clock, or a pair of Run DMC's shell-toed Adidas?)

For those of you who still want to be rock stars, you can make your way over to the "Song Lab," where you'll find an interactive exhibit that allows you to write, record and mix your own songs. The lab also includes a demo stage area staffed by people who will help you learn how to write a song if you're feeling artsy.

Morrison has traveled with the bus on previous tours and says the Song Lab is the part that impacts people the most. "It's really fun to watch people create music for the first time. I've seen three or four people go up to the microphone, and they're all singing together, and they're oblivious to everyone else in the room. And you know, sometimes they're really good and sometimes they're really bad. They finish and they all laugh, but then they're all like Ocool!' Seeing people react like that, seeing them realize that maybe it's not so hard after all, is really amazing."

Morrison and the rest of the EMP staff coordinate the bus's touring schedule as it makes stops across the country on college campuses, at music festivals and other special events. According to Morrison, Microsoft Jobs, the project's main sponsor, helps determine where the bus will stop based on colleges they hope to recruit from.

The Electric Bus is an extension of the EMP Museum that opened in Seattle in June 2000. The museum, founded by Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) features the world's largest collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia and houses interactive exhibits similar to the ones the bus brings on the road.

"The museum is 140,000 square feet, so the bus is just a little piece of the museum. We just focused on one aspect of it, and we tried to explore that through the bus," said Morrison.

The museum in Seattle is home to over 80,000 artifacts from music history, including guitars owned by Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley and other legendary performers. The building, designed by architect Frank Gehry, also houses a restaurant, cocktail bar and 200-seat performance theater used for guest lectures, master classes and small performances.

But if you can't make it to Seattle, you can still make it to the Beta parking lot sometime next week. The interactive exhibit will be open Monday through Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm, and best of all, it's free.

"I think people who come are really going to enjoy it," said Morrison. "We're not selling anybody anything; we're not pitching anybody anything. It's simply about coming to learn about and experience music."


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