Computer Music II

Columbia University
Spring, 2010 -- G6611Y
Brad Garton and Sam Pluta

course syllabus
general resources

Based on the good experience we had with last term's class, especially the use of 'special guest stars' to discuss different viewpoints about computer-aided musical analysis, we've decided to continue with the same approach, i.e. the employment of talented visitors as an essential feature of the course. We're going to shift into a new area, though: the exploration of technology -- software and hardware -- used for interactive musical performance. As before, we will be using this framework as a way of showing various tools and techniques related to contemporary computer music, but it won't be a straightforward "tools and techniques" class. Instead, we will be covering a range of topics related to real-time musical performance and using an array of different packages to demonstrate the concepts we discuss. You may use any or all of the methodologies we show, or you may want to develop your own strategies for working up applications to try in the class.

Make note of that last sentence. For this class to function well, we will be expecting you to create patches/code/processes/whatever to try with our guests (wow, brad actually requires stuff in his grad seminar! yikes!). Don't worry, the course is intended to be "experimental", so please don't think that what you develop has to work, or even be 'good'. This is a chance to find out what's possible! We'll also be very available this term to help you put together things to try. Because this will be a relatively 'hands-on' class, we will necessarily cover the more mundane aspects of doing interactive musical work that we sometimes overlook when presenting the more theoretical concepts of real-time performance (how to mic a sitar? what sort of feedback does a performer need? and what about feedback?, etc.).

One final comment: musical interactivity is a HUGE topic to cover, and we will obviously have to limit what we can present in the time alloted for the semester. Don't feel constrained by what we are able to accomplish. We will certainly try to incorporate the extant basic approaches in the course, but what we chose to highlight will reflect our particular engagement with interactive technologies. At the very least, this class will provide a chance to try out a lot of interesting ideas with supremely skilled musicians. Who knows? It might even lead to some extended collaborations, or WHOLE NEW WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT ZEE VORLD!!!!!!!


Class meets on Tuesdays in 313 Prentis from 5:30 PM to about 8 PM or so. The general outline of the term is to divide the course into two main sections. The first five or six weeks will be devoted to covering different aspects of musical interactivity, ranging from DSP of real-time audio to the design of performance interfaces. During the second half of the class we will be visited by five (or so) performers to try various techniques; we will intersperse a few classes among the visitors for additional discussion and work.

Because a few of the performers have conflicts with the Tuesday class meeting time, we will occasionally be rescheduling the class towards the end of the semester. We will try to make sure that the rescheduled classes work for all of us.

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

As we hinted above, any/all of these languages and packages, plus others you might be more comfortable using, are fair game for you to draw upon 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 as the term unfolds.


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.

Check to see when our Special Guest Stars will be scheduled. We'll also 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 in large part on your participation in the class, as having patches and code ready to try with our visitors will be important. Maybe we'll even ask for a final version of something at the end of the class. To be honest, our goal is to (hopefully) spark your interest in doing this stuff, plus it's kind of fun to see what you all can do. If you are becoming concerned about your grade, please come to see us. If we get concerned about your grade, we will probably try to get in touch with you.

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!