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Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center

Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center



An overview of materials in the archives of the former Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (now the Computer Music Center at Columbia). ...

An overview of materials in the archives of the former Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (now the Computer Music Center at Columbia).
Sorry, audio examples not included in this version. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. /Nick Patterson



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  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
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  • Antonino,

    Very glad that you found it useful, and thanks for your comment. The archives are awaiting preservation and digitization; this will proceed as funding and resources permit. A portion of the collection, the recordings of the New York Composers Forum, from 1951-1975, have been digitized; the first selection of 30 concerts is available for listening in the Music & Arts Library at Columbia University. These are concerts that the CPEMC staff recorded (since they had the tape recorders!), but the content is almost all instrumental music, not electronic.
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    Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center Presentation Transcript

    • Archivesof the Columbia-PrincetonElectronic Music Center(C-PEMC)
      Nick Patterson
      Columbia University
    • A daunting prospect…
    • Some History
      Composers Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening…
    • Vladimir Ussachevsky
    • Otto Luening
    • Some History…
      … had been experimenting with the use of tape recorders since the early 1950’s
      Columbia had obtained an Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder for recording concerts…
    • “The tape recorder was put in my charge, and one day I suddenly realized that it could be treated as an instrument of sound transformation.” - Ussachevsky
    • Early Experiments
      Both composers collaborated on early experiments, some of which took place at Bennington.
      A concert of some of the resulting music was presented by Leopold Stokowski at the Museum of Modern Art, on October 28, 1952
    • Ussachevsky: experiment for “Sonic Contours”
      He and his wife Betty can be heard in the mix
      Luening: experiment for “Fantasy in Space”
      • Regular flute is mixed with pitch-transposed layers
    • Formal incorporation
      In 1959, the C-PEMC was formally incorporated, assisted by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
      Ussachevsky’s notes indicate a grant of $175,000.
      Ussachevsky, Luening, Babbitt, and Sessions formed the Committee of Direction (Ussachevsky as chair).
    • In notes, Ussachevsky described the Center’s aims:
      “… a certain amount of research in sound synthesis and some analytical studies will proceed, parallel to the composers’ creative work.”
      He goes on to mention work in musical acoustics, and supplementing studies in psychology, psychoacoustics, speech and electrical engineering
    • The RCA MKII Synthesizer
      This “state-of-the-art”, room-sized synthesizer was the second model built by RCA, based on work by H.F. Olson and Herbert Belar (the earlier model was at Princeton)
      It formed the centerpiece of the newly-established Center
    • The RCA MKII Synthesizer
      Olson and Belar’s 1955 paper in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, v.27, no.3 provided an interesting engineer’s perspective on sound:
    • “The tones produced by bells… glockenspiel, and xylophone are objectionable for two fundamental reasons: first, because the strike tones are disagreeable and, second, because the overtones are not harmonics”
      “… the bow scratch which has always been objectionable in the violin…”
      “The objectionable noise of the hammer striking the string together with mechanical rattle of the piano does not exist in the tones produced by the electronic system.”
    • The RCA MKII Synthesizer
      Babbitt, Peter Mauzey (engineer), and Ussachevsky
    • The RCA MKII Synthesizer
      Note the keypads for punching the paper rolls
      which drove the synthesizer
    • The RCA MKII promised new levels of control…
    • … but, “any sound that may be imagined by the human mind” for RCA apparently meant this:
    • … Milton Babbitt, however, had other ideas… such as “Philomel” (1964):
    • … He could do this, because he’s a card-carrying member of the Audio Engineering Society…
    • The RCA MKII Synthesizer was used mostly by Babbitt but also by composer Charles Wuorinen, for his 1970 Pulitzer-prize winning composition “Time’s Encomium”
    • Other notable pieces realized at the Center (but not using the RCA MKII) included:
      MarioDavidovksy’s “Synchronisms No.5” (1969)
      • Charles Dodge’s “Earth’s Magnetic Field” (1970)
    • Some later milestones
      • Renamed Columbia University Electronic Music Center in 1980 (Mario Davidovsky, director)
      • Renamed Columbia University Computer Music Center in 1994 (Brad Garton, director)
      • Center is still active and well-represented in the New York and international music scenes
    • So… didn’t you mention some archives?
    • The Archives contain:
      4,859 reel-to-reel tapes (ca. 55% 10” and 45% 7” reels)
      700 recordings in other formats (DATs, phonorecords, CDs, etc.)
      ca. 72 linear feet of printed documents, manuscripts, and ephemera
      I conducted a rough survey and inventory to obtain the best estimate I could, within time constraints
    • The content?
      Full works by composers working at the Center
      Work tapes (source material, manipulated recordings, loops, etc.)
      Some music manuscripts of full scores, and sketches and work notes
      Technical documentation relating to the RCA MKII and other studio equipment
      Photos, slides, and ephemera
    • But wait, there’s more…
      Recordings of the New York Composers’ Forumconcerts, from ca. 1951 through the late 1970’s
      These continue the Composers’ Forum concerts begun under the WPA Federal Music Project in the 1930s, by Ashley Pettis, which went on hiatus during WWII, but was revived by Columbia and the NYPL in ca. 1947
    • Composers’ Forum concerts…
      One interesting feature, present in the original series, is the inclusion of question and answer sessions with the featured composers
      Virgil Thomson served as moderator for some of these
      NYPL has some program notes…
      … but I believe Columbia has the only copies of the reels
    • Here’s one example of a reel, which contains a discussion by composers Luigi Dallapiccola and Chou Wen Chung, from 1957
    • What’s happening with the archives?
      In addition to the inventory, I did a sampling survey to assess the condition of the audio materials
      I used an open-source audio collections survey tool, AVdB, developed by Columbia and audio engineer Marcos Sueiro Bal
      Short answer… condition is not good!
    • What’s happening with the archives?
      Storage in the poorly controlled environment has taken its toll
      The collection has now been deeded to the Libraries
      Physical transfer is the first step
      Preservation and re-formatting urgently needed
      Grants to pay for this all (Grammy? Other?)
      Card file for Composers Forum tapes, listing contents, is being converted and checked against reels on shelf
    • Summary
      The archives of the Center is an important collection of materials which provide insight into the development of tape, electronic, and computer music in the United States and internationally; it documents the work of several important composers, and contains many unique original recordings, including the New York Composers’ Forum concerts from ca. 1951-late 1970’s
    • Summary
      The Composers’ Forum recordings feature question & answer sessions with the composers, some moderated by Virgil Thomson. Some of the performers are also of interest. Even with very limited access and lack of arrangement, this collection has already been visited by researchers, and improved access and preservation would no doubt attract the interest of future researchers.
    • Thank You!Questions?
      Nick Patterson
      Columbia University