Burke Jam Helping Foster the Growth of Creative Technology

SMU M.A. in Creative Technology visiting professor Burke Jam leverages experience and expertise to foster growth and understanding for students in his Interactive and Experiential Design course.


As creative technology continues to expand into different areas of art and tech, the innovators who utilize it have the opportunity to help mold the future capabilities of emerging tools and processes. SMU Meadows visiting professor Burke Jam knows how to leverage his experience as a programmer with a knowledge of sound design and acoustics to foster this dynamic hybrid of artist and technical professional.

As a programmer, Jam focuses on generative systems and data representation, exploring human and environmental relationships. During his ongoing research with music composition, Jam leaned into basic machine learning and deep learning and how they can relate to natural environmental systems. Jam says, “I became interested in generative systems behavior as a tool to emulate natural systems. I’m fascinated by ecological systems and the more that we understand them and understand our relationships with them, I think the better our ability to move forward sustainably becomes.”

Jam is currently a visiting lecturer in the Center of Creative Computation, and program director of SMU in Tokyo – Study Abroad at the SMU Meadows School of the Arts. He also teaches the Interactive and Experiential Design course in the M.A. in Creative Technology graduate program.

Call of the Wild

Born and raised in Montana, Jam was a first-generation college graduate. He completed his Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art: Sound and Installation from the University of Montana. During this time, he also worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a forestry technician, including 12 years as a smokejumper with the West Yellowstone Smokejumper Base.

Upon completing his Master of Fine Arts, he was awarded a Fulbright grant to research acoustic-ecology and expanded field-recording techniques in Iceland. This experience helped shape his perspective, impacting both his life in academia and his career. “So much of living in a remote place like [Iceland] is all the ways you become immersed in it. While working on my undergrad I was also actively touring and playing music. I was very focused on the idea of the ‘performance as experience’ and wanting people to be immersed by it – and leaving the venue with a kind of recalibration to the world.”

This perspective continues to serve as inspiration for Jam’s work in interactive and generative systems and the relationships people have with them. As he explains, “The goal with programming or more broadly with technology is to create more intimate understanding and relationship to the world not to separate ourselves from it. Consider something as small as tactile technology like haptic feedback. It can, very unobtrusively, allow people another dimension of awareness to the things that they’re doing. Whether that's through gaming or a smart device, it can enhance your knowledge and how you experience and interact with the physical world.”

Jam believes in the creative capacity for systems and technology to be a driving force for democratization in the tech space. “One of my passions is digital literacy; especially the creative aspect of it, where you're not just learning systems and procedures, you're learning ecosystems, their reach and their possibilities. One of the MIT Media Lab’s guiding principles is ‘compasses over maps.’ Digital literacy is about learning how to think and navigate that way. How technology evolves and is marketed is often designed to not make the end user have to think too much about it to be ‘intuitive,’ which can be effective for selling products and basic use. But when people better understand the capabilities of what is at play around them, what their digital fingerprint and personal data is and how it can be used – the more agency they have to move forward in informed and intentional ways.”

Jam’s other research interests include the Anthropocene, perceptual coherence, speculative ecosystems, experiential design and immersive media. He has also curated performances and symposia for the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art and Portland Art Museum.

Translating Experience to the Classroom

In Jam’s Interactive and Experiential Design course, students will explore system design for innovative audience engagement and immersive experience of places, environments, ideas and products. As for what they can expect to gain, he says, “My goal with this class is to look at experiential design on a holistic large scale and the way that it impacts how we navigate the world; how we have emerging unique opportunities to change the way we perceive and understand things for the better with more detail and nuance. To develop new possibilities and solutions with the dynamic skills of the creative field.”

Jam is excited at the prospect of impacting students and their know-how directly in this course and helping set them up with the tools to be successful in the long-term. “By the time they're done with this class, students should be able to employ their skills in their personal practice and work, work comfortably on an experiential design team, or target unique problem areas in large-scale project environments.”

The SMU Meadows School of the Arts M.A. in Creative Technology graduate program is designed to help prepare both creative and technical-oriented individuals to combine skill sets across interactive mediums, design, programming, blockchain and generative AI applications. To learn more about SMU’s M.A. in Creative Technology program, visit our program page.