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Experimental Music Studio recordings

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: EMS

Scope and Contents

Provided by Thera Webb, assembled by Kayla Allen

The collection contains 132 open-reel audio tapes comprising over 150 compositions, performances, and interviews with composers and musicians involved with EMS. The magnetic tapes and reels vary between the formats 1/4" tape, 7" reel; 1/2" tape, 10.5" reel; and 1/4" tape, 10.5" reel. The tapes are dated from 1978 – 1988, although many are undated, and feature work by people such as John Chowning, who was responsible for the discovery of the frequency modulation synthesis (FM) algorithm; Judith Eissenberg, founding member of the Lydian String Quartet; Paul Lansky, generally considered one of the creators of electronic and computer music; Mario Davidovsky, Pulitzer Prize winner; Jeanne Bamberger, music cognition theorist; and John Stautner, one of the pioneers of standardizing music storage files leading to the mp3. Please see the “Subjects and Genres” section of the finding aid for a more comprehensive list of creators. The bulk of these performances were recorded at various locations at MIT. We also have two live recordings from performances in Vienna. Some of these recordings were made as part of a summer residency, as part of a class, or for radio stations, such as WBUR and WGBH.

Once digitized, the collection will also comprise over 150 digital copies of the aforementioned open-reel audio tapes. Based on industry standards, digital audio recordings will be formatted and stored as 24 bit master .wav files at a sample rate of 96khz.


  • 1973 - 1988
  • Majority of material found within 1979 - 1986


Access Note

This collection is open for research on a limited basis by appointment or by email ( The physical reels will not be available due to their fragile conditions. When the collection is fully digitized, some of the sound recordings will be accessible online, depending on copyright.

Conditions Governing Use

Provided by Thera Webb, assembled by Kayla Allen

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law and the Music Modernization Act. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original creators may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical / Historical

Created by Thera Webb, edited by Kayla Allen

Professor Barry L. Vercoe, the creator of the EMS and contributor of this collection, is best known as the inventor of the Music-360, Music-11 , Csound, and RTCsound languages for digital music synthesis, which have been used by thousands of composers around the world. He is a respected composer, teacher, and software developer, and a broad thinker who was one of the founding faculty members of MIT's renowned Media Laboratory.

Vercoe was born in New Zealand in 1937. He received bachelors degrees in music and mathematics from the University of Auckland, followed by the Mus. D. from the University of Michigan, where he studied under Ross Lee Finney. After brief stints at Princeton, Oberlin, and Yale, he settled at MIT in 1971, where he was granted tenure in 1974 and became full professor. Professor Vercoe founded the MIT Experimental Music Studio (EMS) in 1973, the first facility in the world to dedicate digital computers full-time to research and composition in computer music.

The EMS was one of the great innovating studios in the field. This was at an active point in the development of digital tools for music production and recording. The EMS’s history spans over a decade during which technological innovations were growing at rapid speeds. In 1973 composers worked with a 16-bit DEC PDP-11/50 computer, and by 1988 they were using Music Macro Language (MML) and MIDI interfaces. The EMS is best known for developing or significantly improving technologies such as real-time digital synthesis, live keyboard input, graphical score editing, graphical patching languages, synchronization between natural and synthetic sound in composition, and advanced music languages. Composers at EMS got to experiment with the first versions of CSound and create some of the first music written using the MIT Graphic Score Editor. They also worked using the early artificial intelligence program Synthetic Performer, an MIT-created program in which a computer learns and then creates interpretations of music.

In 1976, the EMS hosted the First International Conference on Computer Music (International Computer Music Conference, ICMC). In 1981, Professor Vercoe's support encouraged the MIT Press to take over publication of the Computer Music Journal beginning with Volume 4. In 1985, the EMS was integrated into the new MIT Media Laboratory to carry on its work in a new, cross-disciplinary context of multimedia research.

At the Media Lab, Professor Vercoe directed research groups on Music and Cognition, Synthetic Listeners and Performers, and Machine Listening. His own publications span many fields of research, from music theory, to signal processing, to music perception, to audio coding. His students from the EMS and the Media Lab have seeded the academic and industrial worlds of computer music and music technology. Among his many honors, Professor Vercoe was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1982-83 for his innovative work exploring Synthetic Performers and other forms of automatic accompaniment systems. In 1992, he received the ComputerWorld/Smithsonian Award in Arts and Media. The study of interaction between human and computer performers remains his closest research interest.

To access an interview with Barry Vercoe, conducted by Nyssim Lefford in 1999, please contact

EMS Timeline of Events

Provided by Thera Webb, abridged by Kayla Allen

This timeline has been abridged for the EMS recordings finding aid. If you would like to view the full timeline, please contact


  • Professor Barry Vercoe joined the MIT Music Department faculty.

  • EMS was founded by Professor Barry Vercoe. The original studio was located in the basement of Building 26 at MIT. Later, the studio was moved up to the third floor and occupied the former laboratory of Amar Bose.
  • Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) donated a PDP-11/50 computer which became one of the central tools of the studio along with an IMLAC PDS-4 computer.

  • Barry Vercoe composed “Synapse” for viola and computer. It was the first major work to emerge from the EMS. In addition, it was the first piece of music written using the MIT Graphic Score Editor.
  • MIT hosted the first International Computer Music Conference (ICMC).

  • "New Music for Computer," a concert held at MIT's Kresge Auditorium, featured works by Edith Smith (“Spinner Web”), Richard Boulanger (“Trapped in Convert”), and others.
  • 1979 Summer Workshop participants included John Rimmer, Richard Boulanger, and Peter Child. Child stayed on at the studio as a member of the Graduate Seminar in Composition.

  • Martin Brody (“Moments musicaux”) and John Lunn (“Echoes”) participated in the 1980 Summer Workshop.

  • Barry Vercoe was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship which took him to Paris to the Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music (IRCAM).
  • The EMS was awarded $1.1 million by the System Development Foundation of Palo Alto.
  • In March, Musica Viva performed Peter Child's “Ensemblance,” a piece that incorporates computer generated sounds engineered at the EMS.
  • "Micro Music - Live" brought together EMS performers to support computer music at MIT.

  • The Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities awarded the EMS a $40,000 grant and enabled the EMS to commission five new works (by five different composers) combining computer-synthesized sound with live performers. The first of the five composers was Graham Hair.

  • Barry Vercoe wrote a computer program called "the Synthetic Performer" which can accompany a human performer.
  • In March, Charles Dodge's "The Waves" premiered at the "Voicing: Music for Voice and Computer-Processed Sound" concert at MIT's Kresge Auditorium.
  • In June, at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York, "New Horizons", a concert of current computer music, included a work by Charles Dodge.
  • In July, the "Very New Music for Computer and Instruments" concert at Kresge Auditorium showcased eight composers who had participated in the 1984 six week Summer Workshop: Toby Mountain, Jon Nelson, Harry Castle, Michael Eckert, David Edelson, Kerry Koitzsch, T. Timothy Lenk and Joel Settel.

  • In January, MIT's Media Lab opened. Professor Vercoe, one of the Lab's founding faculty, and the EMS staff moved into the new space along with five other groups headed by Marvin Minsky, Seymour Papert, Nicholas Negroponte, Ricky Leacock and Muriel Cooper.
  • Barry Vercoe added the "Synthetic Rehearsal" program to his "Synthetic Performer" that he created the previous year. This update enabled the computer to "learn" a particular performer's interpretation of a piece and thus accompany the performer more effectively.
  • In February, the "With Strings Attached" concert at MIT showcased performances including Carla Scaletti's “Lysogeny” for harp and computer.
  • The "Prestidigitations: Music For Piano and Computer" concert at MIT featured works from MIT graduate student Marco Stroppa and others.

  • In February, the EMS presented the "IRCAM" concert in Kresge Auditorium. Composers came from Great Britain (Stanley Haynes and Jonathan Harvey), Finland (Kaija Saariaho), and the U.S. (Tod Machover).
  • In August, James Dashow's “In Winter Shine” and Charles Dodge's “The Waves” were performed at the Festival of Contemporary Music in the Tanglewood Music Center.

  • The "New Music for Computer" concert at MIT featured works by composer in residence Jean-Claude Risset, as well as Madelyn Curtis, Thomas Sullivan, Tom Trobaugh, Takashi Koto, and Nicholas Hopkins.
  • Composer Anthony Davis' debut, “Song Was Sweeter Even So” was realized at the EMS over the summer of 1986. The piece uses digital manipulation of human speech to create a variety of sounds and effects.

  • The "Binary Convergence" concert at MIT's Experimental Media Facility featured live computer and performer works by Morton Subotnick, David Arzouman, Javier Albarez, Jonathan Harvey, and Mario Davidovsky.
  • Jonathan Harvey, Professor of Music at Sussex University in England, was the 1988 composer in residence at the EMSDuring his time there, he created “From Silence.”

  • Jonathan Harvey's “From Silence” is premiered in the Experimental Media Facility (the Cube). The concert also included works from James Mobberly, John Chowning, Jean-Claude Risset and Dexter Morrill.


6 Linear Feet (6 letter-size Paige Cartons)

182 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



The Experimental Music Studio collection is a repository of reel to reel audio tapes produced by students and staff involved with MIT and with the New England Conservatory. The physical materials in the collection are reel to reel audio tapes in 7” and 10.5” reels, using ¼”, ½”, and 1” tape.


The tapes are arranged in original order, as found in the ACT Department Archives and Special Collections in early 2019. Duplicates and back-ups have been preserved. Sound engineer Hal Wagner is currently in the process of digitizing these tapes. The digitized recordings may comprise their own separate series in the future.


Materials are stored on-site at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology. Advanced notice is required for use.

Custodial History

Provided by Thera Webb, assembled by Kayla Allen

All physical tapes are owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The bulk of the performances on the tapes were recorded at various locations on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, MA, mainly at the Experimental Music Studio (EMS) in the Media Lab. In addition, two live recordings of performances by composer Richard Hoffmann were created in Vienna in 1982. Professor Barry Vercoe, head of the EMS, assembled this collection of tapes and held them in his climate controlled office at MIT. After his retirement in 2010, the Arts, Culture and Technology (ACT) Archives and Special Collections took possession of the tapes. Recently, the tapes were being stored at Indigo Sound with sound engineer Hal Wagner while undergoing digitization. When their digitization was halted, they were returned to the climate controlled archive at ACT.

One set of the digitized sound recordings created by Hal Wagner will be kept and accessed on the ACT Archive’s premises, and a second will be maintained on the hosted web server. A copy of the master files will be archived on the ACT local server. Approved web quality files will be made available for the general public on the Collections section of ACT's website.

Existence and Location of Copies

There are no known copies of these recordings.

Legal Status

Copyright of the content is held by the composers, however the recordings themselves are owned by MIT. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially used without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Processing Information

Collection processed by archivist Thera Webb in May of 2019. Finding aid assembled by intern Kayla Allen in the summer of 2021.



Experimental Music Studio recordings, 1973-1988, bulk 1979-1986
In Progress
Kayla Allen
©2021 By Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology Repository

MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology
School of Architecture + Planning
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Building E15-222
Cambridge Massachusetts 02139-4307 United States