2023 Scholarship Recipient
NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music
Our board members sat down with our scholarship winner, Senaida Ng, to get to know more about the NYU student. Its fair to say, each member left mesmerized by Senaida's many accolades such as running a start-up company, creating safe spaces on her campus for
women and non-binary individuals, and her Youth Showcase program she started in her hometown of Toronto, Canada.
Can you explain music neuro-technology to the
Music neuro-technology, as I understand it, is any kind of music software,
hardware or combination of the two that allows people to create or interact with
music. There are three main brain computer interfaces that we're able to use at
the moment and that have been used in research. The first is non-invasive, which
is the most commonly used right now, and that includes like EEG or ECG- and that's basically just sensors around the brain. It can sense neural-activity, but it's very limited. The second one is semi-invasive which is electrocorticography, where they take electrodes and put them on the brain and it sends electrical activity into the cerebral cortex to activate certain parts of the brain. The most interesting part of neurotechnology that sparked my interest in it was invasive neurotechnology. At the time when I first came across this concept, Elon musk's company NeuraLink was becoming a very big topic in the news and I was reading about it in one of my classes. So that's how I came across this topic, and I think a lot of the companies are investing in invasive neurotechnology which include Synchron. I think it's something that is going to be in our future, so I am interested in building upon this technology and its applications.
Can you tell us about your company MiSynth?
MiSynth is a combination of the words “mind” and “synth”. So, out of that class that I
took called ‘Our Friends Electric’ with Professor Errol Kolosine, I came up with a
kind of business pitch that was supposed to be a fictional business pitch for this
company, MiSynth, which would use brain waves to create synthesizers, music
synthesizers, or use the structure of the brainwave as the building blocks of a
certain synthesizer that you'd be able to manipulate. In the future you would be able
to use artificial intelligence to map each person's individual brain and how they
listen to music and create it through their own brains. I then pitched to an incubatorat the New York City Media Lab and the project was accepted! We did 12 weeks of research and I hired two neuroscientists and coders/programmers to build this synthesizer and we ran into a lot of challenges. I mean, even just like our budget and being able to collect neuro data is really difficult, so it's something that I've been exploring more now on a creative side and as a creative tool for music therapy. I've been seeing a lot more projects by artists which take non-invasive EEG data and use it for large scale installations which people can meditate in, and it's a very mindful and grounding experience. That's where I want to take the company now. I learned a lot in the two years of founding the company, founding an LLC and hiring people, interviewing people and building something from the ground up and coming up with business plans. We pitched to a whole bunch of investors and everyone could see the potential in this project, but the technology is still way too early. And I mean, that was even a year ago so now people are talking a lot about artificial intelligence. It's looking good!
What made you decide to make the switch from classical music?
I started out when I was 4 years old playing classical music, and I got a lot from classical music. I think both in terms of music theory, which is the building blocks and fundamentals of music, and I studied a lot of classical music. I eventually got the highest certificate that you can get at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada, and it taught me discipline, and it taught me that it really does take 10,000 hours or more to master something. You know, I owe a lot to classical music and I still listen to and play it sometimes, but I think I moved away from it because it felt constraining, and I needed to explore more of my own voice. I was kind of tired of playing music written by old-dead-white dudes, and trying to perfect something that wasn't really supposed to be perfect in the first place. Especially in the world of classical music, the only way to get famous is to do competitions and I never really understood the point of competition in music, especially in something that is a craft that is so personal. I always try to express my own voice through a piece of classical music whereas in competitions it's more about the composer's intentions.
Could you talk more about the Youth Showcase Concert you arranged?
When I was back in Toronto, which is where I grew up, I wanted to perform. I was still a
singer-songwriter and I was performing covers and my own songs around at bars and stuff.
Since I was young, a lot of bars wouldn't let me perform. I look back now and I'm like, yeah that
was kind of silly. I was a 15 or 16 year old trying to play at these bars and they didn't let me so
I was like whatever, I'm going to start my own music festival. I had a connection at a new shopping district that opened up in Markham, and they called it ‘Downtown Markham’. There was a really beautiful theater and everything, so over the summer we put on a stage and did a full five weeks of performances in the afternoons, which featured all youth performers, anyone between the ages of 8 to 25. People came from all over. I met so many cool local youth musicians and they also experience the same thing where it's like they don't have many performance opportunities outside that are really big, and so this was a really great way to get people together. We did that for two years. The second year was Covid-19 so it went online and that year it actually was live streamed and we got submissions from all over Canada because people didn't have to commute or travel into the city. That was also a really cool wherein we did a fundraiser for the Nia Centre for the Arts in Toronto and we live streamed the performances every weekend. I got to meet a lot of cool artists from that who I still keep in touch with..
Could you tell us more about the Gender Equality in Music club you started at NYU?
When I came to college I was looking for clubs to join and I realized that there wasn't a space in the university for music students from across colleges could find resources, which was really strange. You would think at a school that big with big music programs, there would be a club dedicated to women and non-binary individuals who are in music. So I was like, well I'll just start one at NYU and see if people are interested! So I went through that whole process and I had a few people from my program help me start that, and within the first year we got 300+ people because the university is big and people really needed this space. We've been hosting a lot of events, like last year I was away and my friend Sophie Perez was the President. We do all kinds of workshops and networking events and we've also had panels and singer-songwriter producer matchup kind of events. This year, since it's my final year, I really want to do a big concert and get a guest artist to perform and have some student openers and sell tickets. It would be really fun! It's something more like a legacy at the school that I want to continue and that I want people to have.
What/Who do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from a lot of things. I think from my experiences, and I like to read a lot, especially philosophy. I recently got into feminist philosophy and I've been delving into post-cyber feminist theory, which is all about how as women and as a society, we are surviving in this kind of age of the internet because it's part of our lives now. Some of the pioneers I look up to include Suzanne Ciani, and Lorraine James, both incredible musicians and producers in the field of electronic music, and LuYang, who is a digital artist that created these 3D animated figures. I love going to art galleries and just getting lost in the art and seeing what I find inspiring.
How do you stay motivated with everything you have going on, like your radio show Classy & Sassy and your "We Are The Future!" parties?
Classy & Sassy is our radio show and it airs Thursdays at 7:45 at wnyu.org! That was a really cool project that I wanted to start with my friend, Jackson Waters who had a podcast. He was also an incoming freshman at NYU and I met him because I was a guest on his podcast and I was like “Oh you like doing this kind of stuff?”, just talking about music and I was said “we should apply for the radio show!". You know, I had seen Pitch Perfect and I was like “I love being at the radio station”. I'm here right now and it looks just like the Pitch Perfect radio station and I'm like wow, that's really cool and I want to do that! We started that, and it's been running for four seasons. I'm so sad because after we graduate we're not going to be able to run the show, but it was a project. Basically our whole idea is to play music from the 20th and 21st century, modern and contemporary music that features underrepresented artists, mainly women and BIPOC composers or just generally smaller composers that are up and coming. We'll even get student artists or guests to come in and curate their own playlists and play their own music and talk about it. It's a really chill, fun time that we do every Thursday night.
Recently, because I've been curating so many spaces, I wanted to start more of an immersive art/music experience in NYC. I was in Berlin during the fall semester and I really love the club community and the culture. I wanted to bring that back and that's how’ We Are the Future’ was born. That project is about bringing creatives together. I have a lot of friends who are artists and I just never get to see their work. Some people are very shy about sharing their work, and I get it, but I feel like they just need a little encouragement sometimes. So I set up this party at my own apartment which I decorated and made it look all cool. So we’ll have these parties where it's like a show and tell, where people get to go up and talk about their art and share like five minutes of it. We also have art vendors who come and sell, which are usually my friends, they sell like homemade DIY little gifts or clothing. Recently we did a Pride Weekend Edition at the Sulton Room rooftop and that was our biggest one yet. I'm really happy because it was a huge success and we sold out the venue! One of my friends did a bunch of flash tattoos, and we also had a tarot card reader and my favorite dispensary in town which is run by a bunch of DJs as well. One of my friends was a vendor and she made these rainbow scrunchies, and was giving out 5 minute portraits. I invited a bunch of my friends to DJ and we even had an artist group all the way from Boston who shared their work, it was a great time. I.love holding spaces for people to just gather and share experiences through art, and it was really great to do it with all these friends that I've made.
So Senaida, what's next for you?
I'm thinking about grad school just because it feels safe and there's a great grad program here at NYU. It's one year intensive, and it'll allow me to travel, which is also what I want to do in the future! But for now I'm working on an album for my senior year called "Kunst Kaputt". This is a project that came out of my time in Germany and my exposure to electronic and avant garde contemporary music. I basically did a project there that I called ‘Beatober’. So in October I made a beat every single day of the month and it was sort of like a diary of my day, like a sonic time capsule of my feelings and whatever happened that day.. So I have 31 of these ‘Beatober’ beats that I wanted to condense down and make into an album. The album is this whole world that I'm trying to build and tell a story of me coming out as the identity that I am trying to carve for myself. I guess as an artist, my last few projects that I've released were EPs and it was like singer-songwriter projects and I'm still learning how to produce, and now I feel like I want to explore this post-cyber feminist ideology. Recently I've seen a lot of media about things like cyborgs and AI. It's all over the news and I think it's very relevant to talk about as an artist and explore because I'm very supportive of AI as a creative tool and as an artist but I know a lot of people have reservations about it and there's a lot to unpack there. So I want to, through this world that I'm creating using both 3D animation and VR, embrace all these new technologies to create something beautiful and dystopian, that is also very real to my experience I guess as a woman of color growing up in North America.
And what does "Kunst Kaputt" mean?
"Kaputte Kunst" means "Broken Art" in German. This was the phrase that a security guard said to me when I got kicked out of the Berlin Art Week opening night. I don't know what happened but I was just so dizzy that I passed out and I hit my head on a piece of art on the opening night and it broke.
We've just about reached the end of our interview! One last thing we'd like to know is how will the KRMF scholarship help you?
I actually wanted to say that I was really inspired by Kyle's story and him being a light in other people's world. I really identify with that, like trying to be a positive light to the people around me and building these communities and gathering people together and connecting them because I think our time spent here is so limited, and what we choose to do with it is so valuable. I feel like I want to create just anything, you know? Anything that I find interesting that I want to memorialize because I feel like as an artist I want to create artifacts that capture our society and our history that people can look back on and remember like "Oh! This is what that was like!" Whatever it may be. So I would really like to use this scholarship to inspire others, like it inspired me! And of course it'll help me give me more time to work on that album. We're doing a crowdfunding project right now for a music video that's going to be part of the project called "Princess of the Hills". I really, really, appreciate this scholarship and Kyle's story is just incredible.