Tag Archives: IBM

The Allegorical April Faith-Slaker

December 18, 2015 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

Classically trained cellist April Faith-Slaker is a composer and multi-instrumentalist. In fact, one could simply call her multi. She has played locally and internationally with various orchestras, performance groups, and rock bands. Andy Miles of Chicago music and art shop Transistor recently asked her to contribute a composition to their webcast. She’s worked with Omaha’s contemporary performance group Aetherplough since 2010, and by day, she is a lawyer and a data scientist who analyzes research to inform social policy in the legal world.

Rather than compartmentalize these seemingly disparate aspects of her personality, Faith-Slaker found a way to bring all of herself to bear on a challenging project: translating social data into music.

“I’d seen someone doing it with weather data,” Faith-Slaker says. “That planted the seed.”

The concept of making music from data is not new. Former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy once worked with IBM to translate tennis data into music. But that was tennis.

With her demonstrable passion for the human side of data—she has advanced degrees in law, research methods, and social policy—Faith-Slaker set her sights higher than racquet sports.

“I started poking around the Internet and couldn’t find anyone that had done it with social data, specifically,” she says. “I was curious about what that process would look like.”

The result of her data music composition is by turns ominous and dissonant, lyrical and shimmering—giving aesthetic weight to statistical trends in child immigration, gun violence in Nebraska, access to justice, gender inequality, and housing segregation.

She didn’t need help from IBM either. She calculated the shape of the music based on her own insights. For instance, according to slides from a presentation she gave at the annual experimental performance festival Omaha Under the Radar, Faith-Slaker calculated pitch and rhythm using 2013-2014 Nebraska gun violence victims’ life expectancies, ages, genders, and date of death. It was a haunting way to visualize a horrific issue.

“Right now I’m looking for the next step with the data music project,” Faith-Slaker says. “Some people feel I should present this information back to either the community I got the data from, or to people who can actually do something with it in terms of policy. I’m seeing if there’s any way to push it out in a more meaningful way.”

The music and presentation slides from the data music project can be experienced at vimeo.com/ datacompositions.

Faith-Slaker’s “non-data” solo music is more rhythmic than algorithmic. For these compositions, she involves an electric cello and a looper pedal, a type of electronic effects box that lets her build a polyphonic composition from a single instrument. She records a snippet of music, loops it in the background, and layers more sounds and passages or subtracts them, all while accompanying herself in real time like someone unbound by the laws of the universe.

The resulting compositions are stunning, exuberant, lyrical, and hypnotically recursive.

Listen to her via her Soundcloud page at soundcloud.com/aprilfs


Grant Stanley

August 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Anyone familiar with his personal and business histories knows Grant Stanley is a natural-born entrepreneur.

Stanley learned first-hand about his desire to be his own boss when he instinctively started his first business as an elementary school student. While walking through his Omaha neighborhood one day, he noticed the many homes that needed landscaping assistance, and despite having no experience, called upon those neighbors and offered suggestions and recommendations.

Recognizing his drive and ingenuity at a young age, they hired him to do their yards, and a future business magnate was born. He went on to attend business school at UNO—studying analytics and graduating in just over two years—and it didn’t take him long to realize that’s where his true future lay.

“I’m not sure exactly where it came from; I guess it was always just part of who I am,” Stanley says of his entrepreneurial outlook. “I enjoy working for myself, calling my own shots, and making my own decisions. Success or failure, it’s just in my nature.”

With his business plan in place, Stanley set out to find a partner—someone who shared his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for data along with a skill set to complement him.

Wanting someone fresh and undisturbed by the corporate world, he set out on the UNO campus and found Tadd Wood, who was still working on his degree.

“I enjoy working for myself, calling my own shots, and making my own decisions. Success or failure, it’s just in my nature.”

Once he agreed to work with Stanley, Wood decided not to limit his learning to one degree. When he was done, he’d earned four degrees in four years and was set to help Stanley move the business idea forward.

“I still had the landscaping business, but I knew it was time to get out of it,” Stanley says. “It’s our vision to make predictive analytics simple and affordable because all companies, not just the largest, should be able to benefit from predictive analytics and data science.”

These days, the two friends and business partners are elbow-deep in providing forecasting (or predictive analysis) for companies throughout the country and world.

Their up-and-coming Omaha company, Contemporary Analysis (CAN), has a simple message: “We build systems that help you work smart.” It’s their contention that their systems help improve sales, marketing, customer service, employee engagement, and strategic planning—all with the goal of achieving optimal performance with less effort.

Simple yet very effective, and considering they are competing with big hitters like IBM and serving clients throughout the world (but largely in Omaha), they are more than holding their own.

“All of our services tie into predictive analysis using database information and looking for patterns in the data to help us predict the future,” says Stanley, who founded CAN in January 2008 and brought Wood into the fold a month later. Both were just 20 at the time.

“Data is a great driver to determine what is likely to happen, particularly with human behavior and patterns. In the case of most of our business partners, we use this information to determine sales, buying patterns, and other historical indicators. It’s all science.”

And chemistry—something the two definitely share as they continue to grow their business and fulfill their dreams.