Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.18

July 28, 2005


Hexagram research facility makes move into new complex

$13 million of $21-million CFI grant went into building

by Robert Winters

High up in the new Integrated Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Complex, the high-tech research facility Hexagram’s new home is taking shape on the tenth and eleventh floors. The large rooms are filling up with sophisticated equipment, such as a computerized fibres loom, futuristic robotics machinery and a sophisticated replicator that can create unusual physical objects that are designed within special computer programs.

Hexagram, which is exploring the growing field where art and technology meet, provided several million dollars of financing for the new building through part of its $21-million grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. More than $13 million of this money went into the new building, with about $5 million of that earmarked for equipment, said Bill Vorn, a member of Hexagram and the project’s former scientific director.

The arrival in its new space will provide fresh momentum to Hexagram, the Institute for Research/Creation in Media Arts and Technologies, which was launched in 2001 to encourage Concordia University and Université du Québec to combine their research efforts in this area. This was part of the Quebec government’s strategy to consolidate Montreal’s position in this sector.

During a tour of the Hexagram facilities last week, some rough edges could still be seen as construction winds down, but there’s a feeling of excitement in the air as the research team finally starts setting up in the new spaces, with many of the areas offering stunning views of the city.

It’s a heady time for Hexagram as it finds itself in a “sweet spot” for attracting funding, from both the public and private sectors.

According to Rosemary Mountain, chair of the Music Department and an electroacoustic specialist who is Hexagram’s scientific director, more than $1 million in new funding was recently obtained from a high-profile private group that includes the Cirque du Soleil, Clear Channel and Gillett Entertainment. The money came from a new special Hexagram fund for university research and creation in the arts and media technologies created by the Daniel Langlois Foundation.

This new Hexagram fund is aimed at supporting research “in the sectors of cinema and digital television, interactive games, performance arts, interactive multimedia (educational and cultural),” according to the Daniel Langlois Foundation. It was created by Montrealer Daniel Langlois, a National Film Board filmmaker who founded 3D-animation software innovator Softimage.

This new funding represents a “strong vote of confidence” from industry, Mountain said. One of Hexagram’s major funding supporters, provincial research agency Valorisation Recherche Québec, “clearly agrees with this assessment, as they gave us another $1 million on hearing the good news,” she said.

The move into the new building will bring together researchers with “a very diverse set of experiences and expertise which is likely to stimulate new strategies and solutions,” Mountain said. Hexagram is expecting a significant number of visitors to its well-equipped labs and spaces, including academics from other research centres, independent artists and industry professionals.

Research is carried out by about 65 research members. Concordia and UQAM faculty members apply to conduct research in the area of their choice, related to one “research axis” of the eight themes that Hexagram has defined as its focus.

For example, Robotic Arts and Artificial Life is one axis, related to research by Hexagram member Vorn, who also is chair of the Studio Arts department. Vorn, also known as Yves Bilodeau, said one of the goals of his research involves finding ways to program interactive robotic devices so they behave in a way that is more animal-like.

As well as high-definition video and editing facilities, Hexagram also includes a three-storey-high “black box” in the basement, a multi-purpose space for research and experimentation,

Vorn said. It’s 60 feet along each edge, and is structurally independent; thus it won’t be affected by the city’s vibrations or sounds, a key factor as the métro line runs close by.

Hexagram’s facilities will also be used for collaborative projects such as the EMS05 conference Mountain is helping organize October 19-22 in Montreal, an initiative of the international Electroacoustic Music Studies Network.

The project is also reaching out to disseminate information about its research activities by launching a series of “Hexagram Mondays,” presentations taking place the second Monday of each month that will involve researchers from Concordia and UQAM.