Computer Music

Columbia University
Fall, 2011 -- G6610X
Brad Garton and Bryan Jacobs

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 area we'll be exploring is the wild and wonderful field of timbre (isn't wikipedia fun?) We will be engaging more with the 'theoretical' side of doing computer music than in the past as befits the topic. We'll be considering the notion of timbre from three perspectives: perception, analysis and production. Instead of presenting each as a block, they will be interwoven throughout the term. It really isn't advantageous to separate them. For example, a good understanding of many current percpetual theories relies on a grasp of the Fourier transform, which is best presented as an "analysis" tool, and HEY! you can also produce cool sounds with it! So we'll be bouncing between discussions of perceptual research and presentations of how to use DSP tools to create and modify digital audio.

We'll also have a couple of special guest-stars coming into the class as the term progresses. Stay tuned for partciular info about them. They will be listed on the course syllabus as soon as things get set.

Although we will be doing some 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. In fact, this term more than others we will not be emphasizing the low-level 'tech' aspects of computer music, doing more research-ey type work instead. 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 with 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. We will be making a few assignments throughout the term, mainly to spur class discussion. Hopefully some of the assignments may lead to your final projects for the class (see below).

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. 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. If you prefer to work on your own computer using applications you know, 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, 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 getting equipment or software apps to work for you. In general, if you are having difficulty understanding the programming paradigms we are using or the applications and information we are covering. 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.

Each week we do will become a link to information relating to that class. We'll try to keep up with linking in class patches, examples and information, 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, Bryan 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! We will discuss projects as the semester progresses. As noted above, we will be making some 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!