Computer Music (1989-1997)

Computer Music works based on Cmix

Although I had early experiences with computer music at La Trobe in the early 1980s, it was only when I went to Princeton that I undertook serious compositional engagement with computer-only technology. And there was a crucial difference between the two experiences. Earlier experiences were with synthesis, whereas at Princeton it was signal processing mostly. Synthesis was possible but less emphasis was placed on it in the Lab there. In hindsight, I can appreciate that Signal processing was the more expensive way to go. With synthesis, computational speed counted mostly, but with signal processing both computation speed and memory (disk) storage when hand-in-glove. One needed both. It didn’t take much experimentation to realize how necessary large disks were.

All compositions were produced using Cmix. This suite of digital processing and synthesis tools was bound together with a language system, somewhat resembling the C programming language. Very early on in my time working with Cmix, I found it to be quite restrictive in itself but that issue could be overcome through the use of Perl which was a vastly more powerful language for text manipulation language.

Audio recordings were eventually recorded onto DAT (Digital Audio Tape).

During my 4 years at Princeton, I produced audio works on the first NeXT machines these are listed below. I released a CD of recordings in 1997, called ’42’. I was 42 that year. The CD was packaged in modified 5.25 Floppy Disk cases with the original floppy left in there. One side was guillotined to let the CD in. I had the cases printed on which proved to be a problem and the track order on the case was, in the end, wrong for the track order on the CD itself.

Below is the page information with relevant modifications, from my original site in 1998. It has been left in the original HTML form of the time.

101010 – 42- A new CD from amr
Date Last Modified – January 28 1998
© Alistair M. Riddell 1997

Australia Only – A$15.00 (postage included)
Overseas – US$15.00 (postage included)
send email to:

Special thanks to the Australia Council for funding the project and Woody for graphic design and production.

The Track order is :

  1. Entering 2-12 (1990)      8:33
  2. Atmistfearia (1989/90)     8:44
  3. Dave Reviews (1993/94)    7:50
  4. Third Hand (1992)      14:09
  5. Legend (1996)           8:59
  6. Z says… (1993)          18:22
  7. Culture Doof (1997)       5:10


In The Wire, issue 162 August 1997 on page 74, David Toop wrote:

“I guess I like the kind of pure sound art represented on the WrK(?) release more than I like most current post-Techno twiddlings. The pursuit of process is more honest, at least; the grain of the technological sound left to its own devices is more absorbing.”

Toop’s observations caught my attention at the time this CD was release. As a collection of works, 42 represents an almost fanatical private search for unique compositional processes. Those I employed are highly idiosyncratic and thus difficult to explain (If you are really keen to appreciate the details, check out Chapter 4 and the relevant appendices of my PhD dissertation at Theses index).

Of course the works speak of other things. Concern for process arose from a need to articulate difficult concepts. Every piece involved a protracted period of searching and experimentation, aligning concept with technique until the composition fell out. Once complete, it was time to move on. I remember the trials and tribulations of some works only when reviewing code that I plan to scavenge for a new project. Rarely in listening to the music. So the compositional details are now inscrutable, yet the overall methodology for me remains clear. A kind of philosophy of composition which I turn to instinctively, almost subconsciously, now.

Ironically, with the release of this CD, my enthusiasm for process as compositional adjunct had cooled. I felt exhausted and wanted a change. But what to do? It’s a dimension of my compositional activity that’s hard to give up!


Entering 2-12 (1990)

The basic sound for this work was the squeaking of door hinges which was to the computer music lab at Princeton, room 212. The door stopped squeaking years ago and, in fact, the room is completely new, part of the department’s long awaited rennovations. Anyway, I used to sit and stare out at the Palmer Physical Laboratory just across the way; a building in which Einstein hung out in for awhile.

So for the longest time, the door squealled like crazy and one day I couldn’t take it any longer, so I recorded it . I resonated the sound using a collection of pitches derived from the harmonic structure of the opening of the second movement of Bartok’s second piano concerto. If you look closely at the opening string section you’ll notice that the orchestral part can be reduced to a series of stack 5ths for the piano. No surprise really, considering his pianistic background. The opening and closing sections of the work (pun intended) were processed through a series of elliptical filters and the output was collated later to more or less reconstruct the actual hinge noise.
Track list

Atmistfearia (1989/90)

I came to Princeton with a collection of computer controlled piano pieces and the first thing I did was process the crap out of some of them.

This work, if I remember right, used IIR filtering in Cmix. The opening sound is actually a recording of a resistor exploding. It just disintegrated on the driver circuit board of the computer controlled piano system. This was back in 1987, I think.
Track list

Dave Reviews (1993/4)

I recorded David Sanford, a fellow grad student in the summer of 1993. He was reading from the “Village Voice” and although I recorded nearly an hour of him at two locations around Princeton, I only ended up using about 1 minutes worth of material.

This is a convolution piece. I worked his voice recordings over with synthetic clarinet and flute sounds and percussion sounds. The convolution instrument was driven by perl scripts. I also denoised the voice recordings because they were done outside and also removed breathing points. It’s a good way to get an intense reading.
Track list

Third Hand (1992)

This work started from experiments in algorithmically generating Kora patterns. I sampled the Kora (thanks to Eric Charry) and wrote the algorithms in perl. I eventually thought about the idea of someone busking and how people walk by listening to the music and the sounds of the day. I was interested in the idea of a balance or equality between the sound. Neither the instrument part or the environmental sound really dominants and eventually they merge, where the environment is pulsed with the Kora notes. I had fun with that part.
Track list

Legend (1996)

Another voice work. This time the voice of Caroline Connors. Set against the driving force of a 10 part Samba rhythm, Caroline tells a story of immense significance to our contemporary lives. The work is all her, mixed using my perl sequencer. A fun piece.
Track list

Z says… (1993)

Another voice peice. This time the voice of my then 17 month old daughter. This is a long work in three sections of 6 minutes each. The process here involved perl scripts controlling intense band pass filtering and reconstruction of the carved out material. A number of bands were sliced from the recordings, those in the low frequency range were transposed up and those in the high frequency range were transposed down. All up, an interesting process but haven’t used it since. The perl scripts can be found in Appendix_D (wait till I reformat it!)
Track list

Culture Doof (1997)

This is a fun piece. OK, so I decided to end on a more up beat note.
The orchestral sound is courtesy of Warren Burt and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Kick drum sound is from the Rave-o-lution 309.

If nothing else, it probably marks a transition point for me. Thanks to Gregory Taylor for pointing out that “Culture Doof” is a pun. “Doof” is Dutch for Deaf. Culture Doof is an extract of a longer piece which uses the processed orchestral sounds, processed saxophone, and processed 303 like sounds. The saxophone was played by Dak (David A. Karla) and the 303 synth sounds were from a program (rack747 ) written by David for the Be box and can be found on the net (email ). You can also check out the Be archive at for the rack747 (its actually 8 303s in software with midi control/ drum map and sampling option).
Track list

This CD can also be acquired from:

In the U.S.A:
Anomalous Records. A great source for rare/experimental/underground music.

In Canada:
Verge Music Distribution. Also a great source for rare/experimental/underground music.

In Australia:
Peril – Off Elizabeth st. Melbourne.
Australian Music Center
SYNAESTHESIA – Level one, 28 Block place, Melbourne. Victoria. Australia

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