COMPUTERS and MUSIC at M.S.U.

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

INTRODUCTION

Computers were once primarily used in music in composition and acoustic research and only by a relatively small number of people. In recent years, the situation has changed, and desktop computers and computer workstations are now used in many areas of musical practice by more and more people. Computers are used to generate and analyze sound, to assist in the process of composition, to create and print scores and parts, to record and edit sound, and to capture and transcribe aspects of musical performance. Computers are used to study and make music by grade school and high school children, by instrumentalists, by teachers and students in music history, theory, and education, and they are still used by composers and researchers. The School of Music at Michigan State University has several studios dedicated to fostering education, research, and creative work in the field of computer music.

COMPOSERS AND COMPUTERS

Composers with microcomputers and digital synthesizers can create compositions using the precise and automated control of an ensemble of sound-generating devices that can either store and play samples of any recordable sound or generate synthetic sounds that have a variety and complexity comparable to that of natural sounds. In the same working environment, composers can create detailed sets of instructions that govern the performance of all the sounds created and immediately edit digital copies of both sounds and performances much like the film director edits film.
 
In an environment with a computer music workstation, composers can write programs that allow them to work directly with mathematical or statistical descriptions that can be converted into musical structures and events. They can write programs that allow them to specify the manner in which a musical composition is created by stipulating rules and procedures which search out goal states, applying the entire process to acoustic material stipulated by the composer.
 
Engraved-quality musical scores can be produced using desk-top computers and small laser printers. Most score printing software provides automation routines that allow individual parts to be extracted, or piano-reductions to be created, from the master score, which is itself stored on a diskette and easily modified and revised.
 

PERFORMERS AND COMPUTERS

Performers of music can use digital controllers patterned after their instruments to automatically convert a performance (at a keyboard or some other instrumental controller, like a wind instrument or guitar) into musical notation. The development of computer-assisted transcription of aspects of performance allows for the precise analysis of alternative ways of performing a musical passage. It also allows the performer to compile, out of performance time, complex rhythms and difficult-to-hear relationships between parts, and then, play these parts in the correct time and relationship, aiding the process of rehearsal.
 
Conductors can play digitally sampled selections from a composition under study and hear immediately the consequences of playing those passages in different tempi, or with different dynamics, and so forth. These applications, and others in psychoacoustic research, in music theory, and in historical studies of music, are indicative of the many ways in which computer-controlled technology has begun to permeate every aspect of making and playing music.
 

THE PROGRAM IN COMPUTER MUSIC

From its inception to the present, all work within the field of computer music, of necessity, has had an extremely strong interdisciplinary component: it has entailed aspects of the study of acoustical physics, cognitive and perceptual theory, and contemporary aesthetic theory, computer programming, performance theory, and every aspect of traditional musical craft and compositional thinking.
 
The development of cheaper and more powerful microcomputers and sound generating equipment, along with the development of the MIDI protocol, has led to the use of computer-controlled means of musical production in every phase of music making. Whether these developments in computer music technology and the growing familiarity with its use will be accompanied by a corresponding development of creative and critical thinking by the people who want to work with it, especially with regard to compositional activity and the general level of technical competence brought to bear on that activity, remains to be seen and heard.
 
Philosophically, the diverse technology of the studios and the diversity of instruction at M.S.U. are based on the premise that there is a critical need for informed and expert instruction, particularly by composers, programmers, and engineers with the required artistic and technological competence. Our program assumes that students need to be able to develop both their artistic and compositional talent and their technical competence with sophisticated and rapidly developing technology. It also assumes that students not only may need to learn how to use hardware, software, and related production equipment, but also may need to learn how to design it, according to the envisioned user's needs and according to the character of the research problems they are trying to solve.
In order to gain a truly useful understanding of how the technology of computer music functions and of its potential, and in order to gain the understanding required to approach the design of their own systems in accordance with their own needs, both compositionally and technically, students need to be able to work with diverse technology. Perhaps even more importantly, they need to work with a diverse array of people who are actively engaged in work that concentrates on the most fundamental and the most complex artistic and technical problems in the field of computer music. These are the goals of our program.