‘GROOVE Systems’, Max Mathews & Richard Moore, USA 1970

Max Mathews with the GROOVE system

Max Mathews with the GROOVE system

In 1967 the composer and musician Richard Moore began a collaboration with Max Mathews at Bell Labs exploring performance and  expression in computer music in a ‘musician-friendly’ environment. The result of this was a digital-analogue hybrid system called GROOVE  (Generated Realtime Operations On Voltage-controlled Equipment) in which a musician played an external analogue synthesiser and a computer monitored and stored the performer’s manipulations of the interface; playing notes, turning knobs and so-on. The objective being to build a real-time musical performance tool by concentrating the computers limited power, using it to store musical parameters of an external device rather than generating the sound itself :

“Computer performance of music was born in 1957 when an IBM 704 in NYC played a 17 second composition on the Music I program which I wrote. The timbres and notes were not inspiring, but the technical breakthrough is still reverberating. Music I led me to Music II through V. A host of others wroteMusic 10, Music 360, Music 15, Csound and Cmix. Many exciting pieces are now performed digitally. TheIBM 704 and its siblings were strictly studio machines–they were far too slow to synthesize music in real-time. Chowning’s FM algorithms and the advent of fast, inexpensive, digital chips made real-time possible, and equally important, made it affordable.”
Max Mathews. ”Horizons in Computer Music,” March 8-9, 1997, Indiana University

Richard Moore with the Groove System

Richard Moore with the Groove System

The system, written in assembler, only ran on the Honeywell DDP224 computer that Bell had acquired specifically for sound research. The addition of a disk storage device meant that it was also possible to create libraries of programming routines so that users could create their own customised logic patterns for automation or composition. GROOVE allowed users to continually adjust and ‘mix’ different actions in real time, review sections or an entire piece and then re-run the composition from stored data. Music by Bach and Bartok were performed with the GROOVE at the first demonstration at a conference on Music and Technology in Stockholm organized by UNESCO  in 1970. Among the participants also several leading figures in electronic music such as Pierre Schaffer and Jean-Claude Risset.

“Starting with the Groove program in 1970, my interests have focused on live performance and what a computer can do to aid a performer. I made a controller, the radio-baton, plus a program, the conductor program, to provide new ways for interpreting and performing traditional scores. In addition to contemporary composers, these proved attractive to soloists as a way of playing orchestral accompaniments. Singers often prefer to play their own accompaniments. Recently I have added improvisational options which make it easy to write compositional algorithms. These can involve precomposed sequences, random functions, and live performance gestures. The algorithms are written in the C language. We have taught a course in this area to Stanford undergraduates for two years. To our happy surprise, the students liked learning and using C. Primarily I believe it gives them a feeling of complete power to command the computer to do anything it is capable of doing.”
Max Mathews. ”Horizons in Computer Music,” March 8-9, 1997, Indiana University

The GROOVE System at the Bell Laboratories circa 1970

The GROOVE System at the Bell Laboratories circa 1970

The GROOVE system consisted of:

  • 14 DAC control lines scanned every 100th/second ( twelve 8-bit and two 12-bit)
  • An ADC coupled to a multiplexer for the conversion of seven voltage signal: four generated by the same knobs and three generated by 3-dimensional movement of a joystick controller;
  • Two speakers for audio sound output;
  • A special keyboard to interface with the knobs to generate On/Off signals
  • A teletype keyboard for data input
  • A CDC-9432 disk storage;
  • A tape recorder for data backup



Antecedents to the GROOVE included similar projects such as PIPER, developed by James Gabura and Gustav Ciamaga at the University of Toronto, and a system proposed but never completed by Lejaren Hiller and James Beauchamp at the University of Illinois . GROOVE was however, the first widely used computer music system that allowed composers and performers the ability to work in real-time. The GROOVE project ended in 1980 due to both the high cost of the system – some $20,000, and also  to advances in affordable computing power that allowed synthesisers and performance systems to work together flawlessly .


Sources

Joel Chadabe, Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music, Prentice Hall, 1997.

F. Richard Moore, Elements of Computer Music, PTR Prentice Hall, 1990.

http://www.vintchip.com/mainframe/DDP-24/DDP24.html

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