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News Release

Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
3003 N. Charles Street, Suite 100
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-3843
Phone: (410) 516-7160 | Fax (410) 516-5251

March 1, 2002
CONTACT: Amy Cowles
(410) 516-7800

Baltimore's Noise Is Music to Hopkins Student's Ears
Rjyan Kidwell blends atmospheric sounds with original techno music

Some people walk down Baltimore's streets and hear nothing but noise: shrill sirens, buses roaring like giant vacuum cleaners and the metallic squink of Light Rail cars grinding into the station. But Johns Hopkins University junior Rjyan Kidwell walks down the same streets and hears music. Unlike pedestrians who carry portable CD players and wear headphones to block out the world, Kidwell does the exact opposite. "I've always wanted to have a magic Walkman that could record sound," Kidwell says.

Rjyan Kidwell
Photo by Will Kirk.

An undergraduate research grant allowed Kidwell, whose first name is pronounced "Ryan," to purchase special microphones that sit in his ears just like headphones and a portable DAT machine to digitally record ambient sounds. With the microphones in his ears and the DAT machine in his backpack, Kidwell could walk or ride his bike while recording the sounds around him. Since Kidwell started his project last fall, the Writing Seminars major has recorded close to six hours of sounds and turned much of it into music that subtly captures Charm City's clamor. His goal is to create more songs and compile them as a CD.

As one of 42 Johns Hopkins students who received Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards in the 2001-2002 academic year, Kidwell will perform selections of his Baltimore music during an upcoming ceremony. It will run from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 7, in the Glass Pavilion on the Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles St., in Baltimore.

After nearly seven years' experience making electronic music -- using first his parents' home computer in Baldwin, Md., then his own network in the bedroom of his apartment in the Waverly neighborhood near the Homewood campus -- Kidwell, using the stage name Cex, has released two CDs and four vinyl EPs on two independent record labels. As chronicled on his Web site, www.rjyan.com, he's a regular performer in clubs across the country and has also played in England, Germany and Japan. On March 9, the Dulaney High School graduate begins a month-long tour with stops in Nashville, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Toronto, and Chicago, with his final stop in Baltimore at the Ottobar on April 2.

His Baltimore songs include the instrumental "Bad Girls," which mixes the high-pitched whine of the Light Rail into the background. The flicking sound of his bicycle's spokes while riding to campus is predominantly featured in "First Glass Cloud," and another song features the whoops and shouts of his Thursday night dodge ball team playing a game in Catonsville. You can even hear the bassy "ping" of the balls pegging the players. By Kidwell's design, none of the songs are abstract or ethereal.

"It would have been disingenuous to take the city that belongs to everyone and paint it so it was accessible only to academics," Kidwell says. "With electronic equipment, it's tempting to use nothing but tricks. But the challenge is to incorporate those tricks and make it into something people can feel."

Color images of Rjyan Kidwell are available. Contact Amy Cowles at 410-516-7800.

The Johns Hopkins University is recognized as the country's first graduate research university, and has been in recent years the leader among the nation's research universities in winning federal research and development grants. The opportunity to be involved in important research is one of the distinguishing characteristics of an undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins.

The Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards program provides one of these research opportunities, open to students in each of the university's four schools with full-time undergraduates: the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the Peabody Conservatory and the School of Nursing. Since 1993, about 40 students each year have been awarded up to $2,500 to propose and conduct original research, some results of which have been published in professional journals. The awards, begun by then provost Joseph Cooper and funded through a donation from the Hodson Trust, are an important part of the university's commitment to research.

Return to Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards news release.

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