The Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center

By Patterson, Nick | Notes, March 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center

Patterson, Nick, Notes


The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (CPEMC, hereinafter referred to as the Center) was one of the earliest and most influential hubs of electronic music activity in the United States, especially during the decade or so after its founding. Established in 1959, assisted by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, it was a joint venture between Columbia and Princeton Universities. Composers Otto Luening (1900-1996) and Vladimir Ussachevsky (1911-1990) representing Colum bia, and Milton Babbitt (b. 1916) and Roger Sessions (1896- 1985) representing Princeton, formed the Committee of Direction for the Center, with Ussachevsky serving as chairman.1 Roger Sessions's involvement appears to have been rather nominal ( judging at least from his record of compositional activity at the Center). Peter Mauzey (b. 1930) served as the Center's lead engineer, and played a critical role in enabling Ussachevsky, Luening, Babbitt, and no doubt many other composers, to technically realize their ideas at the Center. Personnel added at later dates included associate directors and graduate assistants. Alice Shields, who served 1965-82 as a technical instructor and then associate director, has described four broad periods of activity relevant to the Center: (1) 1951-59, as an independent studio created by Luening and Ussachevsky, in various locations on the Columbia campus; (2) 1959-83, as the official Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Studio; (3) 1983-94, as the Columbia University Electronic Music Center, under director Mario Davidovsky (after Ussachevsky's retirement); and (4) 1994 to the present, as the Columbia University Computer Music Center, under codirectors Brad Garton and Fred Lerdahl.2

A very important component of the Center was the RCA Mark II synthesizer, the first programmable electronic synthesizer (manufactured by the Radio Corporation of America at their Sarnoff Lab in Princeton in 1957) which was subsequently installed in 1959 in one of the Center's studios at Columbia, in Prentis Hall on 125th Street. Luening and Ussachevsky were also important pioneers of using the tape recorder as a compositional tool, and had been actively experimenting and composing using the tape recorder since 1951-52, laying the groundwork for the establishment of the Center.

The Center was active in supporting the work of many U.S. and international composers wishing to work in electronic media, and was the locus for the composition of many important and influential works of electronic music by Luening, Ussachevsky, Babbitt, Mario Davidovsky, Halim El-Dabh, Bülent Arel, Charles Dodge, Jacob Druckman, Charles Wuorinen, and many others. From the mid-1960s forward, voltagecontrolled synthesizers, digital computer music, and, eventually, commercial digital synthesizers with MIDI control (MIDI [Musical Instru - ment Digital Interface] was introduced in 1983)3 gradually eclipsed both the RCA Mark II and classic tape-music studio techniques, changes reflected in the output of composers working at the Center (the RCA Mark II was no longer functional as of 1976, after vandalism during a break-in). The Center today remains active and engaged in the New York, U.S., and international music communities.

This article will provide a brief overview of the history and importance of the CPEMC, and will then describe the archives of the Center (the collection was recently deeded to the Columbia University Libraries) which contain important records, including audio recordings of concerts, program notes, work tapes, technical documentation, music manuscripts and sketches, printed music scores, photographs, and administrative records, all documenting the Center's vital role in the history and development of electronic music in the United States and elsewhere.


The Center was officially established in 1959, but this event represented a culmination of activities and compositional interests around electronic music, which both Luening and Ussachevsky had been pursuing since (at least) the early 1950s.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?