Mehmet Vurkaç

As of July 2017, I am an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Seattle University. Previously, through March 2017, I was a (tenured) associate professor of electrical engineering at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy at Oregon Institute of Technology.

My Ph.D. is in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Portland State University. My dissertation was on generalization improvement via information-theoretic prestructuring of multi-layer perceptrons (standard “shallow” neural nets). As part of that work, I developed a direct mapping from OCCAM3 RA models to neural-net structures, along with two search strategies, and a new theory of Afro-Latin American music (published by Columbia University’s Current Musicology), which I used as the test bench for my neural-net experiments. My work on mathematical music theory has been cited in a CRC Press (Taylor & Francis) book and on Music Theory Online.

At Oregon Tech, I regularly taught communication systems/signals & systems, CMOS IC design, circuit analysis, electronics, and critical thinking, as well as less frequent courses in machine learning, electricity & magnetism, vector calculus, senior project, and samba percussion.

At Seattle University, I teach embedded systems, machine learning, introduction to programming, VHDL, CMOS VLSI (IC design), engineering electromagnetics, MATLAB, CAE tools, DSP lab, and a senior-design team each year.

I have 16 years’ experience teaching at the university level (more than seven years full-time), including co-teaching courses that combined writing, formal logic, and statistics at Portland State University, and electronic music production (sound synthesis) in the Music Department at Whitman College (as an adjunct, after getting my bachelor’s degree there in math/physics).

My research interests are modular and self-configuring neural nets, automated music recognition, automated music accompaniment, music genres, a role for multi-valued logic in criminal sentencing, music perception and cognition (specifically with regards to meter, rotation, and clave direction), and principles of clave alignment in various musics of the African Diaspora.

My intellectual interests are Statistics, philosophy of Statistics, medical philosophy, logic, philosophy of science, evolution, genetics, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, audio and visual perception, systems science (complexity/dynamics), quantitative literacy, discrete mathematics, history of medicine, history of science, history of religion, popular culture, and social justice.

I am also preparing a public presentation, akin to a TED talk (perhaps a TED talk indeed), which will feature real-time signal processing (music event detection and mapping) as well as live looping, to demonstrate a neat observation related to the history of popular music.

Demographically, I’m a US permanent resident, a native of Turkey, and a 28-year Pacific Northwesterner. Professionally, I’m a teacher, musician, and engineer, with four years’ industry experience at Roland and NEC, and a full-time engineering professor since 2010.

I was one of two founding members of the Japanese dentou geinou ensemble and non-profit cultural organization Takohachi. I have also played in (and occasionally directed) the popular Portland samba group Lions of Batucada (1996 through 2009) as well as teaching their beginners’ class from 2001 to 2009). Previously, I played in the Portland trip-hop/rock band The Rotating Leslies (which is featured in the movie ‘American Desi’ and the Discovery, History, and Learning channels), as well as percussion projects Creative Rhythm Workshop and Obsessive Percussive Disorder.

My main musical pursuits between 2008 and 2017 have been the eclectic avant-pop/jazz-punk/prog band toyboat toyboat toyboat, and its side project Endless Rivers, as well as Portland’s “new” samba community, Bloco Alegria, and the seasonal maracatu de baque virado group MARACATUpdx. Since moving to Seattle, I have sat in occasionally with Power Skeleton and VamoLá!, but I am now focused on redeveloping my research career, so music is limited to playing part-time with my band.

Other occasional musical engagements have included Mirah  (on her 2009 album (a)spera and several Portland shows), Axé Didé Afro-Cuban Music and Dance Company (including some lead singing on the troupe’s show with Michael Spiro & Mark Lamson in Portland), and sitting in with Jorge Alabê, Fishbone, Olodum, Mirah, Airto Moreira, Tara Jane O’Neil, and Obo Addy on one-off gigs.

In addition, I have recorded with Pink Martini (not used), and shared concert bills with Smash Mouth (with my band Mais Que Samba in which I arranged and sang), My Name and Sage (with Presordid), and Morcheeba, Sean Lennon, Irma Thomas, Dirty Martini, and Storm & The Balls (with Lions of Batucada).

I have studied (to varying extents) aspects of Brazilian, Cuban, Ghanaian, Senegalese, Turkish/Egyptian, Bulgarian/Macedonian, and Japanese drumming. My teachers have included Jorge Alabê (of Mocidade), Mestre Nininho, Gamo Da Paz, Mark Lamson, Bruno Moraes & Alex Rangel (of Mocidade), Curtis Pierre, Justino Roger, Marcio Peeter (of Ilê Aiyê), Wagner Profeta Abultre, Airto Moreira, Boca Rum, Emiliano Benevides, Jorge Martins, Brian Davis, Andrew Hartzell, Derek Rieth, Jake Pegg Barbudo, David Huerta, Andy Sterling, Tobias Manthey, and Derek Wright (all of the above for Brazilian music), Michael Spiro and Scott Wardinsky (Cuban music), Okaidja Afroso (Ghanaian music), Alioune Kane (Senegalese sabar), Michael Beach (Middle Eastern drumming), and Torimaru Yumi and Kimura Kohei (Japanese drumming).

I was introduced to music-making by guitar instructor İzi Eli and guitarist Yavuz Çetin in Turkey, and began to do it seriously upon the encouragement of Dr. David Glenn at Whitman College, followed by numerous percussion teachers (Joe Covill, and others at Whitman, and later at PSU).

In 2005, a version of the first two sections of my rhythm composition ‘Baião Rumba a la Turc’ was included on the full-length CD release World of Percussion by the Engin Gürkey Percussion Ensemble.

Later, in 2009, the Mirah album (a)spera featured four layers of my capoeira/samba-reggae/baião/samba-mixture percussion on the song ‘The Country Of The Future’. The album, which also featured Chris Funk of The Decemberists and Emily Kingan of The Haggard rose to #5 on the Rolling Stone college-radio chart.

Since then, I have focused on toyboat toyboat toyboat, which has been featured on two compilations: Related Records’ Live Through THIS!: A 20 Year Anniversary Tribute To Hole’s Best Album and a short-run Pacific Northwest compilation out of Seattle.

Our first EP, ‘Ample Fire’, has been released in three formats, first online, then as a LEGO set with a USB drive, also featuring extra tracks and videos, and finally as a 10″ record (which you can buy from the cover-artist here, signed). Our second EP, ‘Complicated Bodies’ was released on CD in 2017 by Failing Records. The third EP is due to be released February 2018.

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