Back in 2015 Ion Concert Media was a newly established business with some rudimentary software that had proven itself in early testing. CEO Scott Winters and CTO Dr J Allen knew they needed some help with writing code, but where does a brand new software start-up turn to find a computer programmer if the founders cannot do that work themselves?
The answer is that you turn to your friends.
Christopher Baker and J Allen met a few years earlier when they were both graduate students at the University of Minnesota. When Ion needed some coding work done J wrote to his former classmate, who was then living in Chicago, and basically asked for a favor. The rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward five years and Baker is now the Lead Programmer for Ion’s Muséik software and the Muséik Remote iPad app. He and J just completed a major rewrite of the software that doubled its functionality, removed all Java scripts, and made Muséik available for the first time in both Mac and Windows versions. It seems like a very good time to celebrate a critical member of Team Ion.
If you were to watch him work you might think Baker has been coding his whole life; the kind of kid who knew C++ before he could talk. Not so, he says. “To be honest it didn’t really ‘click’ until I started programming 24/7 in art school,” he admits.
After earning his MFA in art and computer science from the U of M Baker took a job at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he teaches artists how to use code and hardware to achieve creative ends. His courses tend to focus on creative uses of machine learning like generative art making and interactive installations. While it is true that Baker is a brilliant coder, it is his deep understanding of the artistic process that makes him such a valuable asset to Ion.
“He just gets it,” says Allen. “We never need to explain to Chris how Muséik should feel to the operator. Muséik is essentially a musical instrument and I don’t think we could train somebody to understand what that means in terms of feel and performance.”
Winters, who came up with the idea for Muséik, admits that Allen and Baker have left a strong impact on the software. “I know very little about coding and technology. Since the start I have shared my ideas with J and then he and Chris get to work and come back with something way better than I could have imagined. It’s kind of a perfect collaboration in many ways.”
In the time of a global pandemic it should be noted that Baker is fairly familiar with remote officing. He began working on Muséik while living in Chicago, holding meetings over Skype and by email. When COVID forced schools into distance learning Baker took the opportunity to move with his wife and two children to the mountains outside of Boulder, CO. At the same time he was appointed chair of the Art and Technology Studies Department at the Art Institute. Today he teaches, administers his department, and codes for Ion from his home in Boulder. Skype and Gmail have been replaced by Zoom and GitHub, but everything else remains the same.
One other change: Baker says that since moving to Colorado he has become seriously hooked on fly fishing and fly tying. Not a bad way to endure the pandemic.