Collaboration and Musical Assistants at IRCAM, CCRMA, and CSC


Boulez at CCRMA, 1975 – Photo by José Mercado (SU)

On Thursday 14 April, I will present my research at the AHEM (Alternative Histories of Electronic Music) conference (14-16 April 2016). And I will also chair one of the sessions. I’m looking forward to hearing hidden stories happened around the world!


The revolution of sound recording, synthesis and transformation (commenced in 1948 with concrete music and in 1950 with electronic music), followed by the birth of computer music (since 1957), caused the natural emergence of a new professional profile – someone who can work in the phase of researching, writing, creating new instruments, recording and/or performing live during concerts. From the early days, laboratories and electronic music studios have involved the presence of different individuals with diverse but intertwined competencies. This is true for the Milan, Cologne, Paris and San Francisco centres during the first analogue generation; this has continued with the digital revolution (at CCRMA in Stanford and other centres in the United States, in France, Italy, Great Britain, Germany, East Asia, to name a few).

Although books and essays dedicated to the history of Computer Music do agree, in principle, on the interdisciplinary nature of this music and the importance of collaboration,1 and the field of music collaboration starts at last being investigated,2 the existence of the musical assitant has been often unreasonably neglected. In both the musical score and the program notes, or in written sources (a least in the published ones), his/her presence remains hidden most of the time, and literature on the collaboration composer/musical assistant is scattered.

I’ve been studying collaboration in computer music for a few years.3 Previous results have allowed me to trace the history of the name of this profession as it developed at IRCAM (Musical Assistant and RIM, Réalisateur en Informatique Musicale) [Zattra 2013a], to outline the analysis of an anonymous survey submitted to different musical assistants all over the world [Zattra 2013b] and to report findings from semi-structured interviews (Musical Assistants’ self-knowledge, role and visibility: Zattra 2015).

In this communication I will report findings from a study based on primary and secondary sources and administrative documents, conserved at three computer music centres: the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in Paris, the CCRMA (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics) at Stanford University and the CSC (Centro di Sonologia Computazionale) in Padova. The analysis will examine two points: 1) institutionalisation and recognition: I would investigate the presence (or absence or understatement, as the case may be) of an express concern for the theme of collaboration and the role of the musical assistant; 2) the presence of passages inside the sources, describing the ways in which this collaboration was undertaken between musical assistants and composers.

My study covers the technological historical period which runs from the early computer programs until the first real time experiments. It is intended to enlighen the hidden art-science collaboration, the emergence of a profession, the traces remaining from the habitually wordless communication between a composer and an assistant, in the early era of computer music. It introduces questions about cooperation and the way it could induce dilemmas when considering authorship. The choice of these three centres is motivated by the close historical, musical, organisational, scientific and technological connections, and by the numerous technical, cultural and scientific exchanges between the three.


Born Georgina, Rationalizing Culture. Ircam, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde, University of California Press, 1995.

Chadabe, Electroc Sound. The Past and Promise of Electronic Music, Prentice Hall, 1997.

Collins Nick, d’Escrivân Julio, The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Dean Roger, The Oxford handbook of Computer Music, Ney York, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Donin Nicolas, Samuel Goldszmidt et Jacques Theureau, Organiser l’invention technologique et artistique ? L’activité collective de conception conjointe d’une œuvre et d’un dispositif informatique pour quatuor à cordes, Activités, octobre 2009, volume 6 numéro 2, pp. 24-43,

Fourmentraux Jean-Paul , Artistes de laboratoire. Recherche et création à l’ère numérique, Paris, Hermann, 2011.

Manning Peter, Electronic and Computer Music, Oxford University Press, ed. 2013 (1st 1985).

Nelson Andrew J., The sound of innovation. Stanford and the computer music revolution, Cambridge Massachusetts – London England, The MIT Press, 2015.

Pinch – Trocco, Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer, 2004 

Pras Amandine, Guastavino Catherine „The role of music producers and sound engineers in the current recording context, as perceived by young professionals”, Musicae Scientiae, March 2011 vol. 15no. 1 73-95.

Pras Amandine, Guastavino Catherine, Lavoie Maryse, “The Impact of Technological Advances on Recording Studio Practices”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(3):612–626, 2013.

Zattra Laura, 2002. ‘Storia, documenti, testimonianze’, Vent’anni di musica elettronica all’università di Padova. il Centro di sonologia computazionale, S. Durante – L. Zattra eds., Padova, CLEUP / Palermo CIMS, Archivio Musiche del XX secolo, 2002, 13-102.

Zattra Laura, 2013a. ‘Les origines du nom de RIM (Réalisateur en informatique musicale)’, Proceedings Journées d’Informatique Musicale (JIM 2013), Université Paris VIII, Saint-Denis, 2013, pp. 113-120, accessible online, short link:

Zattra Laura, 2013b. “Le RIM – Réalisateur en Informatique Musicale: émergence d’une profession”, paper talk at the Tracking the creative process in music Conference, Montréal, 10-12 octobre 2013. Article accepted and co-written with Nicolas Donin : Musicae Scientiae, forthcoming 2016.

Zattra Laura, 2015. Collaboration in Computer Music. An analysis of the role played by Musical Assistants obtained through semi-structured interviews, paper talk at the Tracking the creative process in music Conference, Paris, October 2015.

Zattra Laura, Friedemann Sallis and Ian Burleugh, 2011. “Studying Luigi Nono’s A Pierre. Dell’azzurro silenzio, inquietum (1985) as a performance event”, Contemporary Music Review, Nicolas Donin (ed.), vol. 30, part 5, 2011, pp. 411-440. 

1 Chadabe 1997, Born 1995, Zattra 2002, Collins & d’Escrivan 2007, Dean 2009, Manning 2013, Nelson 2015.

2 Pinch-Trocco 2004; Donin-Goldszmidt-Theureau 2009; Fourmentraux 2011; Pras-Guastavino 2011, 2013; Zattra-Sallis-Burleigh 2011; the project Music, Digitisation, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies, funded since 2010 by the European Research Council’s Advanced Grants scheme, principal investigator: Professor Georgina Born.

3 In 2012, I undertook a research project funded by French CNRS – chercheuse invitée CNRS INS2I) within the APM-IRCAM équipe in Paris, from June to October 2012.


Richard Teitelbaum (standing) and from left to right Joel Chadabe, and Musical Assistants Mauro Graziani and Alvise Vidolin in 1983 [Source:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s