The Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center

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

The Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center


Patterson, Nick, Notes


INTRODUCTION

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.

HISTORY & ORIGINS OF THE CPEMC

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. …

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