Computer Music

Columbia University
Fall, 2009 -- G6610X
Brad Garton and Sam Pluta

course syllabus
general resources

Typically this seminar has focused upon the use of particular methodologies and techniques for building fun new sounds. Past introductions to this very class have said something like: The purpose of this class is to explore bold and exciting new musical applications of computers and digital technology. We still intend to do a lot of that this year. However, our entry-point will be a little different.

Over the past several years, a number of new and powerful tools for analyzing sound have been developed -- many of them right here at Columbia. Our plan for this term is to investigate how contemporary signal-processing analytic methods can be used to further our understanding of music AND how they might be employed in creating new works. We feel that a serious consideration of the various applications now available might lead to innovative new approaches in both the analysis and the manipulation of digital audio. Or maybe not. But we will certainly have a terrific time trying to do this.

A big advantage for us in locating our primary pedagogical exploration on "analysis" is that we have a lot of major expertise in this area, also right here at Columbia. We have talked to many of our colleagues on the faculty and they have graciously accepted invitations to present their thinking about computer-aided musical analysis. A glance at the course syllabus will show the tentative dates for these presentations. 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.

In the seminar meeting following each guest presentation, we will be attempting to implement and further develop the concepts discussed in the prior class. Don't worry if you don't have major computer-hacking skills: this is not intended as a programming class! Of course, along the way we will introduce a number of contemporary computer music languages and interesting software applications. Hopefully you will find some of these intriguing and will want to learn more about them. We will certainly 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 we'll be 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:

Any/all of the languages and packages mentioned above, plus others you might be more comfortable using, are fair game for you to employ in this class. As much as possible, we will try to use public-domain or shareware programs. 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!

Please let us know if you are having problems gaining access to our facilities or getting equipment to work for you. In general, 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: 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 also usually be around before or after class. In addition to being around the CMC on Tuesdays, Sam 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 some kind of 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 may 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!