Computer Music

Columbia University
Fall, 2010 -- G6610X
Brad Garton and Sam Pluta

course syllabus
general resources

This seminar is loads of fun to teach, because we usually choose a topic for the term that resonates with work we are doing. We wind up teaching what we like! This semester is no exception. In past incarnations of this class, we 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, but the particular aspect we'll be exploring has to do with the creation of "soundscapes", or how we can employ various technologies to craft an immersive sonic environment, or at least do a decent imitation of one. We'll be focusing on both 'virtual' and 'real' versions, with a final section designed to meld the two into virtual/real hybrids (interactive spaces, enhanced acoustics, etc.).

We're also doing this class in conjunction with Ana-Maria Ochoa's class SOUND, THE SECULAR, THE SACRED. G4030 (Thursday, 9-10:50 AM). Ana-Maria's ethnomusicology course will be considering the socio-cultural contexts in which different senses of "space" are imbedded; we hope to stimulate cross-boundary inquiry into our notions of acoustic and constructed 'space'. Doesn't that sound like fun?!?

As part of our collaboration with Ana-Maria, we will be having several joint visitors to Columbia. Stay tuned for more details. We will also have several other guest speakers throughout the term. They will be listed on the course syllabus.

Although we will be doing a fair amount of computer-music programming in the class using various languages, you should not 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 indeed 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 in 320H Prentis from 5:30 to about 8 or so. The term will be roughly divided ito three main sections; the first covering the simulation via digital/virtual means of different soundscapes and spaces, the second focusing upon the physical construction of installations and use of actual spaces, and the third attempting to bring the two realms together into one big happy digital-physical space-o-rama. We will be making assignments for you to try during each of these three sections.

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. Of particular use for this class is Room 324, which we have now set up with a discrete 8-channel system for multi-channel experiments. 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 the projects you do, and of course they will be completely subjective and based on our own personal whims -- so ya better treat us right! As noted above, we will be making sectional assignments throughout the term, and we will be discussing these in class. It'a always 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!