Andrew J. Nelson – The Sound of Innovation: Stanford and the Computer Music Revolution

Andrew J. Nelson – The Sound of Innovation

The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262028769, English, 248 pages, 2015, USA

In the sixties, computer music was mostly produced in isolated laboratories and university departments situated in various parts of the world. Only a few of these are still active in any comparable form. Nelson details in this text the history of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced “karma”) at Stanford University in the United States. His research has taken a decade, digging into the Stanford archives and spending hours interviewing key people and pioneering electronic musicians involved with the center. CCRMA was renowned for fostering interdisciplinary and open innovation through FLOSS software (for example, psychologists were part of the team), but also for decades of commercial agreements forged with the Yamaha Corporation. This is a quite specific history, then, different from many others of the same years in Europe and Australia, but still, in a way, drawing a parallel trajectory with them. The author accounts successes and the development of brilliant ideas, but he is also explicit about the internal struggles the center went through, giving a realistic depiction of the organization. At times, the book inevitably reads as a celebration of CCRMA, and, beyond praise of the various innovative models, more details about technical advancement in specific strategic moments would have been very useful. Beyond the printed page, a whole website has also been added to the project, hosting documents, data and media as a possible companion of the book, truly sharing parts of the original research materials.