Computer Music

Columbia University
Fall, 2008 -- G6610X
Brad Garton and Damon Holzborn

course syllabus
general resources

The purpose of this class is to explore bold and exciting new musical applications of computers and digital technology. In other words, we get to make it up as we go along! So this may not be the most coherent and unified pedagogical experience that you will ever have, but it should be a fun term.

We're taking a very different approach to the class this term than we have in the past. The field of 'computer music' has become increasingly diffuse, encompassing many different areas of work. We have a lot of talent here at Columbia, and rather than present our particular view of things we've decided to use that talent to show the various activities we call 'computer music' here. A glance at the course syllabus will show that we have a number of guest speakers scheduled throughout the term (hey! they're our students! go lions!). We'll also have a few other outside speakers doing presentations about their work; they'll be announced in class and on the syllabus. We'll also be adding links from each weekly listing on the syllabus to information, example projects, class work, etc. as the course unfolds.

If there is any overarching theme to the class, it is probably "interactivity", fitting nicely with the other courses being offered this term. We'll be uisng a very expansive definition of "interactivity", ranging from a high-level focus on relations between processes and complex models to a lower-level engagement with direct synthesis and signal-processing of sound.

Along the way we intend to introduce a number of contemporary computer music languages and interesting software applications. Hopefully you will find some of these intriguing and will develop a class project using these tools. We will be available to help work through any problems you encounter as you explore these packages in more depth. Just ask!


Class meets on Tuesdays n 313 Prentis from 5:30 to about 8 or so. We can't really say too much more about the structure, because (as noted before) we're making it up as we go along.

Such is life.

Here are a few links to software that we probably will be using in class:

and these may also be useful to you (we don't want to limit you to just the packages we use to show off the course concepts): It is not essential that you work exactly the same way we demonstrate in class -- Any/all of the languages mentioned above, plus others you might be more comfortable using, are fair game for you to employ. As much as possible, we will try to use public-domain or shareware programs in the class. Check the resources page for links to additional download sites. As noted earlier, we'll also be adding links to information on the course syllabus.


Nearly all of the CMC studios and hardware resources are available for you to use in this class. If you prefer to work on your own computer using applications you find comfortable, that's perfectly fine. Otherwise you may sign up studios and machines for doing your work at the CMC using our on-line signup system. If you are having trouble getting access to the hardware or software you need to work, please let us know. The CMC is intentionally in a state of perpetual flux, reflecting the rapid evolution of the field of computer music. Our primary guide for the kinds of hardware and software investments we need to make comes from you, our happy students!

At this point, we assume that you sort-of know your way around our studios and hardware. Please let us know if you are having problems gaining access to our facilities or getting equipment to work for you.

If you are having difficulty understanding the programming paradigms we are using, or getting the hardware/software to work for you, be sure to talk to us. We'll be happy to sit down and work through any issues with you.


The course syllabus is located here.

We'll try to keep up with linking in class patches and examples, but we may fall behind. Yell at us when we do.

Contact Information

The best way to reach us is through e-mail: If the machines are in flames and our e-mail server is down, you can also contact me via: garton-at-columbia-dot-edu. I will also be holding semi-official office hours from 10:30 AM-12:00 noon on Wednesdays in Dodge (my Dodge office is room 807). I will usually be around before or after (except when I have to frantically drive like a maniac to get home) class. In addition to being around the CMC on T/Th, Damon will be available by appointment for informal "lab" sessions.

It's always a good idea to make an appointment to see me, even during my purported office hours, because I often have to run around campus like a maniac doing strange, computer-music stuff. If you need to contact someone at the CMC or Music Department using your actual voice, the relevant phone numbers are:


Grades will be based mainly on the final project you do, and of course they will be completely subjective and based on our own personal whims -- so ya better treat us right! We will be making little 'assignments' throughout the term, but this is mainly to (hopefully) spark your interest in particular topics, plus it's kind of fun to see what you all can do.

I say this every year, and generally people believe it (I think): by this point in your career the last thing you should be worrying about is a grade. The main thing is to find something that you'd really like to do and then do it. Please don't try to impress us with your consummate knowledge and skill, we are more impressed by people who do things. Honest!

Hope you enjoy the class!