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The Computer Music Center (CMC) at Columbia University is the oldest center for electronic and computer music research in the United States. It was founded in the 1950s as the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.
The CMC is housed in Prentis Hall, 632 West 125th Street, New York City, across the street from Columbia's 17-acre Manhattanville campus. The facility consists of a large graduate research facility specializing in computer music and multimedia research, as well as a number of composition and recording studios for student use. Projects to come out of the CMC since the 1990s include:
The Computer Music Center offers the Sound Arts MFA Program, currently directed by Miya Masaoka. The program was formerly directed by Douglas Repetto until 2016. The director of the CMC is Brad Garton, and the CMC offers classes taught by George E. Lewis, Seth Cluett, David Soldier, and Ben Holtzman, as well as a large number of visiting faculty who give seminars every year.
The forerunner of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center was a studio founded in the early 1950s by Columbia University professors Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening, and Princeton University professors Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions. Originally concerned with experiments in music composition involving the new technology of reel-to-reel tape, the studio soon branched out into all areas of electronic music research. The center was officially established with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1959 which was used to finance the acquisition of the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer from its owner, RCA.
The center's flagship piece of equipment, the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer, was delivered in 1957 after it was developed to Ussachevsky and Babbitt's specifications. The RCA (and the center) were re-housed in Prentis Hall, a building off the main Columbia campus on 125th Street. A number of significant pieces in the electronic music repertoire were realized on the Synthesizer, including Babbitt's Vision and Prayer and Charles Wuorinen's Time's Encomium , which was awarded the 1970 Pulitzer Prize in Music. In 1964 Columbia Records released an album titled simply Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center , which was produced principally on the RCA synthesizer.
Most of the luminaries in the field of electronic music (and avant-garde music in general) visited, worked, or studied at the Electronic Music Center, including Edgard Varèse, Chou Wen-chung, Halim El-Dabh, Michiko Toyama, Bülent Arel, Mario Davidovsky, Charles Dodge, Pril Smiley, Alice Shields, Wendy Carlos, Dariush Dolat-Shahi, Kenjiro Ezaki and Luciano Berio. The center also acted as a consulting agency for other electronic music studios in the Western Hemisphere, giving them advice on optimum studio design and helping them purchase equipment.
The staff engineers at the center under Peter Mauzey developed a large variety of customized equipment designed to solve the needs of the composers working at the center. These include early prototypes of tape delay machines, quadraphonic mixing consoles, and analog triggers designed to facilitate interoperability between other (often custom-made) synthesizer equipment. The center also had a large collection of Buchla, Moog, and Serge Modular synthesizers.
By the late 1970s the Electronic Music Center was rapidly nearing obsolescence as the classical analog tape techniques it used were being surpassed by parallel work in the field of computer music. By the mid-1980s the Columbia and Princeton facilities had ceased their formal affiliation, with the Princeton music department strengthening its affiliation with Bell Labs and founding a computer music studio under Godfrey Winham and Paul Lansky (see Princeton Sound Lab).
The original Columbia facility was re-organized in 1995 under the leadership of Brad Garton and was renamed the Columbia University Computer Music Center.
Electronic music is a genre of music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments, or circuitry-based music technology in its creation. It includes both music made using electronic and electromechanical means. Pure electronic instruments depended entirely on circuitry-based sound generation, for instance using devices such as an electronic oscillator, theremin, or synthesizer. Electromechanical instruments can have mechanical parts such as strings, hammers, and electric elements including magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Such electromechanical devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, electric piano and the electric guitar.
An electronic musical instrument or electrophone is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.
Milton Byron Babbitt was an American composer, music theorist, mathematician, and teacher. He is particularly noted for his serial and electronic music.
Miya Masaoka is an American composer, musician, and sound artist active in the field of contemporary classical music and experimental music. Her work encompasses contemporary classical composition, improvisation, electroacoustic music, inter-disciplinary sound art, sound installation, traditional Japanese instruments, and performance art. She is based in New York City.
Brad Garton is an American composer and computer musician who is professor of music at Columbia University.
Electroacoustic music is a genre of popular and Western art music in which composers use technology to manipulate the timbres of acoustic sounds, sometimes by using audio signal processing, such as reverb or harmonizing, on acoustical instruments. It originated around the middle of the 20th century, following the incorporation of electric sound production into compositional practice. The initial developments in electroacoustic music composition to fixed media during the 20th century are associated with the activities of the Groupe de recherches musicales at the ORTF in Paris, the home of musique concrète, the Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne, where the focus was on the composition of elektronische Musik, and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City, where tape music, electronic music, and computer music were all explored. Practical electronic music instruments began to appear in the early 20th century.
The RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer was the first programmable electronic synthesizer and the flagship piece of equipment at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Designed by Herbert Belar and Harry Olson at RCA, with contributions by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Peter Mauzey, it was installed at Columbia University in 1957. Consisting of a room-sized array of interconnected sound synthesis components, the Mark II gave the user more flexibility and had twice the number of tone oscillators as its predecessor, the Mark I. The synthesizer was funded by a large grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Otto Clarence Luening was a German-American composer and conductor, and an early pioneer of tape music and electronic music.
Halim Abdul Messieh El-Dabh was an Egyptian-American composer, musician, ethnomusicologist, and educator, who had a career spanning six decades. He is particularly known as an early pioneer of electronic music. In 1944 he composed one of the earliest known works of tape music, or musique concrète. From the late 1950s to early 1960s he produced influential work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.
Peter Mauzey, is an electrical engineer associated with the development of electronic music in the 1950s and 1960s at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. He served as an adjunct professor at Columbia University while employed as an engineer at Bell Labs in New Jersey.
Vladimir Alexeevich Ussachevsky was a composer, particularly known for his work in electronic music.
Tod Dockstader was an American electronic music composer and sound designer. He is particularly regarded as one of the first American musique concrète composers.
Alice Shields is an American classical composer. She is one of the pioneers of electronic music, and is particularly known for her cross-cultural operas.
Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center was an album of electronic music released in 1964. It was the recording of a concert performed at the McMillin Theater at Columbia University on May 9 and 10, 1961. The stereo version was MS 6566 and the monophonic version was ML 5966. There was a sequel released in 1998 on the New World label titled Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center 1961–1973. Bülent Arel is the only artist who appears on both albums.
A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals. Synthesizers typically create sounds by generating waveforms through methods including subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis and frequency modulation synthesis. These sounds may be altered by components such as filters, which cut or boost frequencies; envelopes, which control articulation, or how notes begin and end; and low-frequency oscillators, which modulate parameters such as pitch, volume, or filter characteristics affecting timbre. Synthesizers are typically played with keyboards or controlled by sequencers, software or other instruments, and may be synchronized to other equipment via MIDI.
The Brooklyn College Center for Computer Music (BC-CCM) located at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (CUNY) was one of the first computer music centers at a public university in the United States. The BC-CCM is a community of artists and researchers that began in the 1970s.
Kristi Allik is a Canadian music educator and composer.
Pril Smiley is an American composer and pioneer of electronic music.
Michiko FrancoiseToyama Muto was a Japanese American composer. She was one of the first women invited to study at the Columbia–Princeton Electronic Music Center.
Prentis Hall is a historic building located on the Manhattanville campus of Columbia University at 632 West 125th Street. It houses the university's department of music and the Computer Music Center, as well as facilities for the School of the Arts. It is one of three historic buildings that survived in the university's Manhattanville plan, the others being the Studebaker Building and the Nash Building.