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Computer Music Center

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Title: Computer Music Center  
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Subject: Halim El-Dabh, Computer music, Robert Moog, Déserts, Musique concrète
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Computer Music Center

The Computer Music Center (CMC) at Columbia University is the oldest center for electronic and computer music research in the United States. The Center was founded in the 1950s as the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.

The CMC is housed on 125th Street in New York City. It 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 has no degree program of its own, and draws students from throughout the Columbia community, primarily from the departments of Terry Pender, Douglas Repetto, and R. Luke DuBois, 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 flagship piece of Center equipment, the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer, was delivered to the Center 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 -awarded the 1970 Pulitzer Prize in Music. In 1961 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, Halim El-Dabh, Bülent Arel, Mario Davidovsky, Charles Dodge, Pril Smiley, Alice Shields, Wendy Carlos, 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 to purchase equipment, etc.

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.

General references

  • "Q&A: electronic music comes of age" (interview with director of research Douglas Repetto) by Daniel Cressey Nature 456, 576 (4 December 2008) | doi:10.1038/456576a; Published online 3 December 2008

External links

  • Columbia history of the Electronic Music Center
  • Ohm Site on the Electronic Music Center
  • The Computer Music Center, Columbia University
  • Princeton Sound Lab
  • Nick Obourn, Center for Computer Music: 60 Years of Revolutionary Sound [1]


  1. ^ Obourn, Nick. "Center for Computer Music: 60 Years of Revolutionary Sound".  
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