“A Brief History of Jim” (or, who is this guy, anyway?)

I've been involved with music technology in one way or another since about 1970, when my best friend Jerry and I built a box of analog processors to mutate my guitar, along with a ribbon controller made from the guts of a ten-turn potentiometer. Jerry went on to MIT, Xerox, Electronic Arts, Apple, 3DO and recently Placeware, while I went on to Hampshire College to do electronic music and jazz and a B.A. in Music and Musical Technology (I avoided computers then because I thought they'd distract me from making music — I was right. They have.)

After a year as an electronics tech at Orban (tweaking processors for recording and broadcast studios), I spent a year at Musician's Institute in Hollywood (getting a certificate in studio guitar, and confirming I would never be a world-class guitarist). Fortunately, I also discovered that I really loved working in the interface between music and technology, and that's where I've spent most of my life since.

Since 1993, I've been a Research Staff Member at IBM Research. For most of that time, I was a member of the IBM Computer Music Center, which existed from 1993 until mid-2001.

  • Selected papers from the CMC are available here.
  • The woefully out-of-date CMC website is accessible here.
  • Bios for several members of the CMC are available here.

As part of my work during that time, I served as four years as a member of the Technical Standards Board of the MIDI Manufacturers Association, and also as Chair of the MMA Transport Layer Working Group, which was tasked with coordinating the use of MIDI over USB, 1394 and other modern media transports. That, in turn, sparked my interest in MIDI performance testing. I was editor of the Specification for MIDI Over IEEE-1394, authored the RMID (SMF w/DLS) File Format specification, and contributed to the MPEG-4 Structured Audio Sample Bank, MMA Downloadable Sounds and General MIDI 2 specifications, among others.

I was also the principal architect and team leader for the IBM KidRiffs project, a multimedia consumer software product developed at the T.J. Watson Research Center and released in 1995. A special touchscreen version of KidRiffs was displayed at the IBM ThinkPlace pavilion at Epcot Center, DisneyWorld during 1996 and 1997. Subsequent projects included MusicSketcher, an interactive visual music construction set based on RiffBlocks, Modifiers and Smart Harmony technology, and QSketcher, an environment for film composing.

Since August 2001, I've been part of the Stellation project, which became an open-source project in mid-2002 as part of the Eclipse Technology Project. Eclipse is “a kind of universal tool platform — an open extensible IDE for anything and nothing in particular.“ Stellation is a research project, born out of a strong interest in programming environments that support collaborative, distributed software development. The initial phase is an advanced, extensible software configuration management system, which will become a central collaboration space used for managing all of the communication, coordination and data storage among members of a distributed programming team. (If this doesn't sound exactly like music, try subsituting ‘composing’ for ‘programming’. The common thread is authoring: using the computer to extend one's creative reach.) I am currently a member of the Pieceware group within the IBM Research Software Technology department, part of the T.J. Watson Research Center.

Before joining IBM (not something I grew up thinking would happen....), I committed mischief in various parts of the pro audio and music industry:

  • In 1981-1983, I was product design engineer for Unicord (now Korg USA), where I helped develop more than 25 synthesizers, drum machines and other music products (beginning with the Polysix and Mono/Poly and continuing through the DW-6000). During that period, I was a (very junior) Korg representative at the meetings where MIDI 1.0 was hammered out between Sequential Circuits, Roland and a number of other farsighted companies. After writing a Polyphony article, What MIDI Means for Musicians, and contributing to Craig Anderton's book MIDI for Musicians, internal pressures forced me to leave Unicord and join Voyetra. I was firmly convinced that, if I couldn't find a way to work on MIDI music software, my brain would probably melt. Thus began my programming career.
  • From 1984 through 1985, at Voyetra, I developed Sequencer Plus with Bruce Frazier and Hugh Steele. Sequencer Plus was the first commercially successful music sequencer for the IBM PC platform, and turned up in many project and film scoring studios during the '80s. It was also the first commercial sequencer to use piano roll notation, which was inspired by the work of Bill Buxton and the Structured Sound Synthesis Project (SSSP) at the University of Toronto. For those willing to run DOS, Voyetra has now made Sequencer Plus freely available here (seq_gold.zip, at bottom of page).
  • During the mid-to-late 1980s, I was a partner in MuLogix, a company providing design services and manufacturing a rackmount form of the Synergy additive digital synthesizer. Clients included Korg and Wendy Carlos.
  • During 1989-1993, at Otari Console Products, Dave Rayna and I developed post-production audio software (DiskMix) and an automated mixing console (the Concept 1). Sites using our software included LucasFilms' Skywalker South, Francis Ford Coppola's production facility, and many other film and recording studios. Films mixed using our software include Godfather Part II, The Doors, JFK, City Slickers and Earnest Gets Scared, among others. The Saturday morning animated series Biker Mice from Mars was mixed using the Concept 1.

In the middle of 1993, I saw an ad in the back of Dr. Dobbs Journal (originally Dr. Dobbs Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia (Running Light Without Overbyte), for the newly-founded IBM Computer Music Center. A few months later, my life took an abrupt shift.