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Western facade of the IRCAM building Predio Ircam.jpg
Western façade of the IRCAM building

IRCAM (French: Ircam, Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique, English: Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music) is a French institute dedicated to the research of music and sound, especially in the fields of avant garde and electro-acoustical art music. It is situated next to, and is organisationally linked with, the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The extension of the building was designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. Much of the institute is located underground, beneath the fountain to the east of the buildings.


A centre for musical research

IRCAM's machine room in 1989 IRCAM machine room in 1989.jpg
IRCAM's machine room in 1989

Several concepts for electronic music and audio processing have emerged at IRCAM. John Chowning pioneered work on FM synthesis at IRCAM, and Miller Puckette originally wrote Max at IRCAM in the mid-1980s, which would become the real-time audio processing graphical programming environment Max/MSP. Max/MSP has subsequently become a widely used tool in electroacoustic music. Many of the techniques associated with spectralism, such as analyses based on fast Fourier transforms, were made practical by technological contributions at IRCAM. For instance, researchers at IRCAM have developed a special microphone capable of isolating each of the cello's four strings for separate amplification or electronic treatment. Along with tools for sound synthesis and analysis, IRCAM has played an instrumental role in developing programs for visualization of musical form with the creation of OpenMusic, a Lisp-based visual programming language. [1]

IRCAM provides classes to train composers in music technology. [2] Composers who do not have programming experience to create the technology end of a piece for ensemble and electronics are provided with an assistant who helps them to realise technically intensive parts of the piece. The assistant will follow the conceptual advice of a composer with no technology experience to realize a computer part, or will help a composer who can program in Max/MSP to make their "patch" more efficient and elegant. Tristan Murail's Désintégrations is an example of a piece realized in this program by a composer with significant technological skill, whereas Harrison Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus required an active and creative role for the technology assistants, such as Barry Anderson and Ian Dearden.

A cultural centre for musical modernism

Apart from electroacoustic programmes, IRCAM has programmes in contemporary classical music. It has disseminated music of post World War II modernist musicians such as that of Luciano Berio or Pierre Boulez, as well as younger performers and composers. Musical spectralism such as that of Tristan Murail, has also received support from IRCAM. Murail taught at IRCAM for a time. [3] Kaija Saariaho, whose work has been influenced by spectralism, has also been supported by IRCAM. [4]

IRCAM has also helped to develop various performance models. A resident ensemble of IRCAM, Ensemble InterContemporain, specialised in contemporary classical music, where each performer could be called upon to perform solo literature or ensemble literature. The Ensemble InterContemporain has been a model for many large ensembles in Europe, for example the Ensemble Modern and Klangforum Wien. Many classical contemporary pieces have been written for the chamber orchestra section of Ensemble InterContemporain.

There are regular concerts at IRCAM. [5]


In 1970 President Georges Pompidou asked Pierre Boulez to found an institution for research in music. In 1973 the section of the building underneath Place Igor-Stravinsky  [ fr ] was finished, and IRCAM opened in 1977. From the outset, Boulez was in charge of the institute. [6] The initial administrators included Luciano Berio, Vinko Globokar, Jean-Claude Risset, and Max Mathews. 1990 Ircam established the Cursus Program for young Composers, a training in Computer Music and Composition. In 1992 Boulez, who then became honorary director, was succeeded by Laurent Bayle  [ fr ]. [6] In 2002 the philosopher Bernard Stiegler became the new head of the institute. On 1 January 2006, Stiegler became Director of Cultural Development at the Centre Pompidou and was replaced by Frank Madlener  [ fr ].

The creation of IRCAM coincided with the rise of the debates about modernism and postmodernism in culture and the arts. [7]

Its multimedia library [8] was established in 1996. [9] It is one of the first music hybrid libraries to have been created with close to 1000 hours of recorded music and over 2,000 scientific articles available online, in addition to its physical collections of sheet music and books on music and related domains.

Several international conferences have been held at IRCAM:

Research and development teams

Software developed at IRCAM

Some software is being developed at IRCAM, such as OpenMusic, AudioSculpt, OMax, Spat, Modalys, Antescofo and Orchidée.

Orchidée is developed as a tool to aid in orchestral composition in which musical scores using traditional instruments are generated by imitating a target input sound. It is used in Jonathan Harvey's 2008 piece, "Speakings", a composition based on emulating speech patterns and inflections. Orchidée is capable of computing the complex combinatorial possibilities of an orchestra based on musical attributes such as dynamics and instruments, perceptual attributes such as brightness, and timbre models. [12]

IRCAM software is distributed via a subscription-based Forum. [13] As of 2011, IRCAM Forum has 534 members including individual artists and art institutions around the world. [14] IRCAM Forum members gather yearly at IRCAM for workshops regarding new technologies developed at IRCAM and elsewhere. IRCAM has also created a music file format, .sf. [15]

There are also partnerships with companies such as Cycling 74 (Max/MSP) and Flux:: (IRCAM Tools) for the development of proprietary software.

Notable works composed at IRCAM


IRCAM is part of a consortium with Stanford's Center for Computer Research and Acoustics (CCRMA) and the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) in Berkeley, California.

See also

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  1. "openmusic:home [OpenMusic]". Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  2. Software Training Courses Archived 8 July 2009 at the Portuguese Web Archive, IRCAM
  3. Anderson 2001.
  4. Born 1995, p. 363, fn3.
  5. Concerts, Performances Archived 8 July 2009 at the Portuguese Web Archive, IRCAM
  6. 1 2 Manning 2001.
  7. Born 1995, p. 32.
  8. "Pôle documentaire". (in French). Retrieved 1 March 2023.
  9. Chronological History Archived 2 August 2012 at
  10. "ISMIR 2002 - 3rd International Conference on Music Information Retrieval". Retrieved 1 March 2023.
  11. Frank Madlener. "Acanthes@IRCAM". Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  12. Bob Shingleton (5 September 2010). "Chance Music with Jonathan Harvey (interview)". Future Radio. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  13. "Accueil | Ircam Forum". Retrieved 1 March 2023.
  14. "Ircam Activity Report 2011" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 May 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  15. Kabal, Peter. "Audio File Format Specifications". Audio File Format Specifications. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Retrieved 9 September 2023.
  16. "Kaija Saariaho: NoaNoa" (work details) (in French and English). IRCAM . Retrieved 4 July 2022.


Further reading

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