From acoustic to electric, from analog to digital, Todd Larson has seen and heard it all.First as a music student, then as a photo/film major, then as a new media installation expert, and now as MCAD’s director of technology support services, he helps anyone translate an idea into sound and image.
His path to now has been variable but inevitable. Studying music at Normandale Community college (as a bassist) led to a string of bands (Brazz, then Slice, and others) and studio sessions, mostly in the jazz/funk vein. Music studio experience fed a growing fascination for media technology, though his arrival at MCAD took an unlikely detour:
“I thought I was going to be an illustrator!” He laughs. “I thought I could draw. My grandfather was an artist, and he really encouraged me.” But “I got here and had to re-learn how to draw.” So a “sidetrack,” as he puts it, into photo and video seemed natural because of his existing audio experience.
As a student, Larson was still performing around the Twin Cities, but after graduation he began working media and performance events at the Walker. “I once had to tell Yo-yo Ma to stop rehearsing right now, because the audience was already at the door,” he recalls. Such experience, as well as years of freelance sound design for artists’ projects, made him a natural for a full-time position once MCAD’s technology needs exploded, with student laptops and digital production for nearly every kind of art or design.
With digital making and learning, “there’s always something new,” he notes. Fifteen classrooms are now all full-fledged digital, high-resolution, interactive audio/visual environments. Larson’s ready to adapt to whatever new learning opportunities come along—right now, it’s tablets like the iPad—and he’s eager for faculty and students to push the digital envelope.
“I wanted the classrooms to run as simply as an ATM menu,” he explains. “It should be push-button-ready, with no learning curve. And people do appreciate it.” Yet while instructors and students alike now have instantaneous access to sounds and pictures from multiple sources, Larson says “We’ve kind of plateaued with these rooms. Ninety percent of the instructors are happy with what we have, but I’m ready for the other ten percent to come and say, ‘Hey, let’s do something really wild.’ Then learning will really flourish.”
Larson’s ear training continues to flourish outside of the full-time job. He’s bass player for Basic Food Group, a jazz trio that includes MCAD professor/photographer Rik Sferra (on drums) and guitarist/composer Steve Boyles. And he can’t help but notice too closely what his car sounds like: “I pay way too much attention to it. I get freaked out when my car sounds different. With a Volkswagen, it makes me really nervous!”