Please note: The motivation for OpenMuse has its origin, in part, in work done by Jim Wright while a member of the ICM Computer Music Center (CMC). OpenMuse is totally independent from IBM, and participation in OpenMuse (by Jim Wright or others) is on an individual basis, not as a member of any corporate entity. While information about the CMC is presented here for historical interest, there is no relationship of any kind between OpenMuse and IBM or any other corporate entity.

The IBM Computer Music Center: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Steven Abrams, CMC Manager 1999-2001

For nearly 8 years, from 1993 to 2001, IBM carried out an experiment to test the hypothesis that interesting discoveries can be made when studying the intersection of computers and music. This experiment was the Computer Music Center. It began with an effort focused on developing the underlying technology for KidRiffs, a consumer software product which IBM eventually marketed and sold. Over time, it grew to encompass involvement in MIDI standards, invention of core music technology, and ultimately led to research in the area of software tools designed to support creative endeavors, as exemplified by film scoring.

The CMC's original mission was to use the computer music field as a test-bed for research in both HCI and real-time computer systems, and was jump-started by an effort to help IBM's consumer software group develop an innovative, educational music program. This took on a life of its own, and was the primary focus of the Research group for several years. During that time, research continued in real-time and interactive music systems. As IBM exited from the consumers software business, the group's focus turned to interactive music composition tools, with a emphasis on understanding the special demands that large-scale creative endeavors, such as music composition (and ultimately, film-scoring), place on software tools. Visual programming languages, interactive graphics, real-time systems research, and audio identification research provided a diverse backdrop for the group's core interactive music composition work. The QSketcher system, developed in close collaboration with faculty and composers affiliated with the Berklee College of Music, was the CMC's last project. It pioneered several HCI mechanisms and clearly showed that the group was moving towards the broader subject of tools in support of creativity.

The Center served a number of additional functions as well: It was a musical focal point within the lab, hosting talent which performed in a concert series funded through the line management in the lab. Visiting artists in this series ranged included Patrick Moraz, Stanley Jordan, the Lark String Quartet, and the Dorian Wind Quintet, plus computer music performances including Roger Dannenberg and Bruce Pennycook. It was a recruiting tool: members of the center often interviewed high-potential candidates to show off the diversity of research done at IBM. Center members served a P.R. function for the company, participating in variety of education and outreach programs (demonstrating music technology at the "Future Cities" competition in Washington DC, designing and hosting a "Musical Instrument Design Challenge" for local middle school students). The center members were often invited to give talks, presentations, or demonstrations to other parts of the company.

Shifting priorities at IBM, however, resulted in this work being cut short. Citing the small size of the music software business overall, and the relatively low probability of the company making a substantial business venture into the software tools business, IBM, in 2001, decided to close the Computer Music Center. The team was given a six-month window in which to gracefully bring their work to a point of closure -- including completing some software development, writing papers, and filing for patents. Importantly, none of the members of the CMC lost their jobs over this, suggesting the value that the company placed on the individuals and their work. Equally importantly, the members of the center found that their experiences in the center greatly influenced their next assignments, and most are finding ways to leverage the experience gained via the CMC into advances in their new areas of work.

In retrospect, was the CMC a successful experiment? Clearly, it was not successful in launching IBM into a music-related business, but that was not its primary mission. However, the center was successful in other ways. The lab produced a fairly steady stream of inventions for IBM: 16 patents filed over the center's last 4 years; more than 15 papers in journals and conferences in fields ranging from real-time systems to visual programming languages to creativity. The former center members are now working in fields ranging from high-performance super-computers to software design and development tools to HCI. Much of that work traces its roots back to work done while at the CMC. In summary, not only did the CMC provide a home for computer music technology; it also served as an incubator in which a great many ideas were born in a variety of fields. The jury is still out on what the impact will be from those ideas outside of the lab, which will be the ultimate measure of the success of the experiment.

The (woefully outdated) CMC website is available here.

IBM Computer Music Center: Selected Papers

Note: These papers are Restricted-Use Content - not licensed under the Common Public License.

Abrams, S., Bellofatto, R., Fuhrer, F., Oppenheim, D., Wright, J. (IBM Research); Boulanger, R., Leonard, N., Mash, D., Rendish, M., Smith, J. (Berklee College of Music) (2001) "QSketcher: An Environment for Composing Music for Film", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Havana.

Wright, J. and Brandt, E. (2001) "System-Level MIDI Performance Testing", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Havana.

Wright, J. and Brandt, E. (2000) "MidiWave Analysis of Windows 98 Second Edition MIDI Performance", Presented at Windows Audio Professionals Roundtable (Winter NAMM 2000) and at the 2000 Annual General Meeting of the MIDI Manufacturers Association.

Abrams, S., Fuhrer, R., Oppenheim, D., Pazel, D., Wright, J. (2000) "A Framework for Representing and Manipulating Tonal Music", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Berlin.

Pazel, D., Abrams, S., Fuhrer, R., Oppenheim, D., Wright, J. (2000) "A Distributed Interactive Music Application using Harmonic Constraint", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Berlin.

Abrams, S., Oppenheim, D., Pazel, D., Wright, J. (1999) "Higher-level Composition Control in Music Sketcher: Modifiers and Smart Harmony", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Beijing.

Wright, Oppenheim, Jameson, Pazel, Fuhrer. (1997) "CyberBand: A “Hands-On” Music Composition Program", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Thessaloniki.

Wright, J., White, T., Fay, T., Petkevich, D. (1997) "The Downloadable Sounds Level 1 Specification", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Thessaloniki.

Oppenheim, D., Wright, J. (1996) "Towards a Framework for Handling Musical Expression", Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Hong Kong.