Rachel McClure is 27 years old. Born in Belfast, she moved to Derry-Londonderry at 17, to study Music at the University of Ulster. Her background is in classical music, her instruments the horn and the piano.
After her degree, Rachel took her Masters in sound design, and followed that with a PhD in the same area. In her post-graduate studies, she explored the use of technology in music, the way technology alters or enhances the perception of sound, the application of technology in the experience of music, and the creation of music using electronic sensors. Long before she completed her qualifications, Rachel was spending more time in the sound recording studio than in the orchestra pit. As part of her final work, she recorded sounds that characterised different locations throughout Northern Ireland. She produced a sound map of the country, movement across which triggered sensors that played back the sounds of the region touched.
Given her background, it’s no surprise that last year Rachel joined CultureTECH, as she’s pretty much the embodiment of everything it stands for and is trying to promote. CultureTECH operates under the umbrella of the Derry-Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and seeks to act as an interface or broker between the worlds of the creative arts and digital technology.
'It’s about the merging of culture and technology,' says Rachel. 'Hence the name. We’re all about the showcasing of digital aspects of creative and artistic work in the city.'
It’s the marriage of ideas and means. A performance during the 2013 CultureTech Festival provides an illustration of what the organisation is trying to do. Inheritance was written and performed by Derry-Londonderry actor, Amanda Doherty. The stage was the city walls, and the audience followed Doherty on the character’s journey, listening to her words, recorded in a local sound studio, in the form of a podcast. The use of technology affected the experience of the audience and changed the nature of the play. Using the same format, developed in Derry- Londonderry, Doherty is taking the play to New York in the Autumn.
CultureTECH is the brainchild of Creative Director, Mark Nagurski. It began life as a three-day conference in 2012. In April 2013, Rachel McClure and Connor Doherty came on board, to assist Nagurski in the running of the first CultureTech Festival. Over the course of a week in September, more than 70 events took place in the city, combining technology, digital media, the arts, and music.
As part of the festival, CultureTECH Junior was held in the Venue. More than 8000 schoolchildren attended, making it the biggest Science Technology Engineering and Maths event ever held in Northern Ireland.
The under-18s are Rachel McClure’s special area of concern. She produces in- school workshops throughout Northern Ireland, promoting the importance of digital technology, and stressing the vital role coding and programming can play in career development.
'Kids need to know how to code,' she says, 'because that’s the way jobs are going. That’s what employers are looking for. If you know how to code, you can get a job. That’s the message.'
CultureTECH is currently involved in two major schools projects promoting the importance of technology and the need to know among young people. The Creative Schools App Challenge – funded by DCAL, administered by NORIBIC, and promoted by CultureTECH – was a simple proposition: come up with a great idea for a mobile app. Entries were invited from groups of no more than five students. Over 500 pupils responded, producing a total of 162 submissions. The shortlisted entries presented their ideas at a workshop event at St Cecilia’s College, Derry- Londonderry, after which the five winning submissions were each paired with a professional app developer and charged with the task of producing a prototype of the idea.
Another competition – bigvideochallenge.com – has just been launched. Again, students across Northern Ireland are invited to think creatively, this time to come up with a video no more than five minutes long showing how the STEM subjects can be fun, interesting, and engaging. Workshops will be held at 30 different schools, and the winning entries will be paired with start-up companies such as Uproar Comics, to learn about film production using only the equipment present in those schools. Script-writing, storyboarding, filming, and editing will all be areas covered, and the winners will be invited to present their work at the 2014 CultureTECH Festival, in Derry-Londonderry, in September.
In the case of both challenges, the pattern is the same: think creatively, and then learn the technology. In that way, the idea, the means, and the application merge together. More such projects are planned for the future, to encourage the next generations of artists, illustrators, scientists, musicians, writers, designers, and architects, and to show how technology can be used to turn an idea into an industry, just as is the case with businesses such as Learning Pool, Troll Inc, Dog Ears, and Zombiesaurus.