State-of-the-Art Musical Funhouse

"We've found that it's much easier to take trained musicians and teach them about technology than to take people who know how to use this technology and teach them to write music," says Jeffrey Hass, assistant professor of music at the School of Music, Indiana University Bloomington, and director of the Center for Electronic and Computer Music (CECM).

Hass says that IU's School of Music is one of the top places in the country to study music composition. In fact, the school was rated first in a survey recently published by U.S. News and World Report. Although it has recently estalished a music information technology minor in its graduate program, not all music school faculty and students compose electronic music. Hass points out that the CECM is one part of a very diversified program.

The center enables musicians and composers to visualize and edit sound on a computer. One of the studio's most used pieces of software, the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) sequencing program allows users to slow down and stretch sound out as though it were taffy or to speed it up without changing its pitch, to rearrange or take out notes, and to play over a piece of music a hundred times if that achieves the desired effect. The MIDI indexes all of the notes in digitally recorded sound and displays them for editing either in a comprehensive list, as musical score notation, or as a piano roll.

"In the last three years," notes Hass, "we have received the equivalent of twenty years of our annual budget." He is referring to a Research Facility Grant that enabled the center to build what is now one of the top three electronic and computer music studios in the country. A recently awarded University Computing Services New Initiatives Grant made it possible for the center to set up its Silicon Graphics workstation: a Silicon Graphics computer that achieves virtually instantaneous graphic representations of sound that would take an Apple Macintosh computer several hours to accomplish. Incorporated in the CECM because of its capabilities in sophisticated audio frequency analysis, a similar Silicon Graphics computer was also used to create all the dinosaurs for the film Jurassic Park.

Because the initial trend in computer music--to replace musicians with taped instruments and electronics--proved such a boring enterprise in the recital hall, the contemporary focus for composers of electronic music involves concert compositions for instuments coordinated with taped, computer-generated music. Hass recently finished just such a piece. Commissioned for IU's 175th anniversary, Hass's recent composition for symphonic band and tape is titled "Lost in the Funhouse." Hass notes that while the composition does conjure funhouse images, the title is also self-reflexive: "For me, being able to compose and play in the studio is like being lost in the funhouse. Most of what we do here is fun and serious at the same time."

--Susan Moke