Timeline of Events
Professor Barry Vercoe joined the MIT Music Department faculty.
EMS was founded by Professor Barry Vercoe. The original studio was
located in the basement of Building 26. Later the studio was moved up to
the third floor and occupied the former laboratory of Amar Bose.
Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) donated a PDP-11/50 computer which became
one of the central tools of the studio along with an IMLAC PDS-4 computer.
Barry Vercoe composed Synapse for viola and computer. It was the
first major work to emerge from the EMS. In addition, it was the first
music written using the MIT Graphic Score Editor. Synapse is essentially
a small viola concerto with orchestra part performed by the computer. The
piece was written for respected violist Marcus Thompson.
MIT hosted the first International Conference on Computer Music (ICMC).
"New Music for Computer," a concert held at MIT's Kresge Auditorium, featured
works by Edith Smith (Spinner Web), Richard Boulanger (Trapped
in Convert), Pamela Marshall, John Duesenberry, Dexter Morrill and
Jean-Claude Rissett. Richard Buell, Globe correspondent, wrote of the affair,
"The concert at Kresge Friday night was to show what these 10 composers
could create via the rich instrument they were learning about. It was down-to-the-wire,
more deadline-racing composing, much of it; even to the afternoon of the
Technology Review printed special report on the up and coming EMS.
"What we're seeing now is the active development of a third medium -- not
of mechanically produced sound (like a violin) but of electronically produced
sounds." - Majorie Lyon
Peter Child composed Three Brief Impressions for Computer while
a participant in the Summer Workshop in Computer Music. Child stayed at
the studio as a member of the Graduate Seminar in Composition. Other Summer
Workshop participants included John Rimmer and Richard Boulanger.
February: Washington Post story "Science Meets the Muse In The Arts
of the Future" highlights the projects which would form the basis of the
Media Lab, scheduled to open five years down the road. "What Vercoe has
developed is essentially a communication system. His piano-style keyboard
allows composers to use a language they understand and translate it into
a language the computer - a sort of ultimate musical instrument - can use."
- Joseph Mclellan.
Martin Brody (Moments musicaux) and John Lunn (Echoes) participated
in this years Summer Workshop.
November: A concert review of "Music for Instruments and Computer Processed
Sound" appeared in the Boston Globe. Among those reviewed were Elliot
In My Future and Barry Vercoe's Synapse. Richard
Buell wrote, "If the listener had had any preconception that computer-generated
music is being written today in a single conformist "blip-blip" style,
that listener soon heard otherwise."
A Computer Music Journal (CMJ) review of Barry Vercoe's Synapse
the musicality of the computer's part. "Its rhythms are fluid and the computer
part is fully as flexible and nuanced as Thompson's expressive viola playing."
The New York Times article, "Computers Turn Artistic and the Artists
Like It," mentioned the EMS in an analysis of how computers are shaping
art. "Computers go a step further, creating sounds that instruments cannot
even imitate. One of Professor Vercoe's compositions, for example, includes
the sound a gong would make if it were to shrink in size during the course
of the note. Computers can also play notes faster than human musicians
and maintain more complex rhythms without tiring and without error." -
The New Yorker reviewed several EMS concerts and commented upon
the status of electronic music. "Today, at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology Experimental Music Studio, a composer with little experience
of the medium can, after a few classes and some private instruction, sit
at a computer linked to a digital synthesizer, choose timbres and textures
with immense precision from the computer's huge resources, and create a
composition." - Nicholas Kenyon
Barry Vercoe was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship which takes him to Paris
to the Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music (IRCAM).
Simultaneously, the EMS was awarded $1.1 million by the System Development
Foundation of Palo Alto.
March: Musica Viva performed Peter Child's Ensemblance, a piece
that incorporates computer generated sounds engineered at the EMS.
"Micro Music, Live" brought together EMS performers to support computer
music at MIT.
Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities awarded the EMS a $40,000
grant, and enabled the EMS to commission five new works (by five different
composers) combining computer-synthesized sound with live performers. The
first of five composers was Graham Hair.
September: Graham Hair described his thoughts on the use of the computer
in music to the Boston Globe, "One of the idiomatic characteristics
of the computer is that it doesn't have any. ...It's a completely
Barry Vercoe wrote a computer program called "the Synthetic Performer"
which can accompany a human performer. The program detects pitches in a
flute performance and compares the notes with a musical score stored in
memory. It then analyzes the tempo of the performance and generates an
March: Charles Dodge's "The Waves" premiered at the "Voicing: Music for
Voice and Computer-Processed Sound" concert at MIT's Kresge Auditorium.
June: New York: "New Horizons", a concert of current computer music, included
a work by Charles Dodge. It was said the concert was the first since the
sixties in New York City to incorporate computers in performance. According
to Brook Wentz of CMJ, "The three concert festival of computer music was
probably the most eclectic concert ever held in Avery Fisher Hall. It demonstrated
the full spectrum of the computer's use in composition and performance."
July: The "Very New Music for Computer and Instruments" concert at Kresge
Auditorium showcased eight composers who had participated in the six week
Summer Workshop: Toby Mountain, Jon Nelson, Harry Castle, Michael Eckert,
David Edelson, Kerry Koitzsch, T. Timothy Lenk and Joel Settel.
January: MIT's Media Lab opened. Professor Vercoe, one of the Lab's founding
faculty, and the EMS staff moved into the new space along with 5 other
groups headed by Marvin Minsky, Seymour Papert, Nicholas Negroponte, Ricky
Leacock and Muriel Cooper.
Barry Vercoe added the "Synthetic Rehearsal" program to the "Synthetic
Performer" program written the previous year. This update enabled the computer
to "learn" a particular performer's interpretation of a piece and thus
accompany the performer more effectively.
February: The "With Strings Attached" concert at MIT showcased explorations
between computer's and string instruments. Among the pieces performed were
Tod Machover's Electric Etudes for cello, computer and live electronics,
Carla Scaletti's Lysogeny for harp and computer, and Paul Lansky's
If for string trio and computer
Spring: Peter Child premiered Thyrsus for orchestra and computer.
The Boston Globe commented, "It gave off a nice sense of the rhapsodic
contending with the fastidious, and it offered not a moment's boredom."
The "Prestidigitations: Music For Piano and Computer" concert at MIT featured
works from William Albright and MIT graduate student Marco Stroppa.
February: The EMS presented the "IRCAM" concert in Kresge Auditorium (MIT).
Composers came from from Great Britain (Stanley Haynes and Jonathan Harvey),
Finland (Kaija Saariaho), and the U.S. (Tod Machover).
July: Article in the Christian Science Monitor reports on the frontiers
of computer aided music, much of it focused on the EMS. "Composers have
many more options than they used to. They can write a piece just for computers
alone, for computers and five instruments, or using vocal sounds." -Prof.
August: James Dashow's In Winter Shine and Charles Dodge's The
Waves were performed at the Festival of Contemporary Music in the Tanglewood
The "New Music for Computer" concert at MIT featured works by composer
in residence Jean-Claude Risset, as well as, Madelyn Curtis, Thomas Sullivan,
Tom Trobaugh, Takashi Koto, and Nicholas Hopkins.
Composer Anthony Davis debuted song was sweeter even so, realized
at the EMS over the summer of 1986. The piece uses digital manipulation
of human speech to create a variety of sounds and effects. The Christian
Science Monitor reported "The performance of the piece was a fitting
finale to an evening of new music works at MIT...."
April: An article in The Economist analyzed the challenge of automated
musical accompaniment and the EMS's approach to the problem. "The trouble
with playing the flute or the violin - or, come to that, almost any musical
instrument except the piano, the harp and the guitar - is that you usually
need an accompanist.... In 1984, Dr. Barry Vercoe of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology wrote a computer program called the 'Synthetic
Performer'" (see 1984
for more about the "Synthetic Performer")
October: The Washington Post highlighted various projects at the
EMS including the "Synthetic Performer" and "Hyperinstruments", a project
aimed at reshaping the way sound and music is produced at the performer-instrument
interaction level. "And now computer technology is on the verge of freeing
the sound of music from virtually all physical limitations and its creation
from any formal skills of the composer." - Curt Suplee
The "Binary Convergence" concert at MIT's Experimental Media Facility featured
live computer/performer works by Morton Subotnick, David Arzouman, Javier
Albarez, Jonathan Harvey and Mario Davidovsky.
Jonathan Harvey, Professor of Music at Sussex University in England, was
composer in residence at the EMS, and creates From Silence .
Jonathan Harvey's From Silence is premiered in the Experimental
Media Facility (the Cube). The concert also included works from James Mobberly,
John Chowning, Jean-Claude Risset and Dexter Morril.