“Sound check two” latest showcase of music at UCSD


A UCSD professor mined the school’s music vaults and his own memories to create a recently released collection of music.

The Department of Music at the University of California, San Diego recently released a compact disc showcasing some of the department’s most experimental work from the past 15 years. The CD, titled “Sound check two,” is the follow-up to the department’s first compilation, 2006’s “Sound check one.”

The department plans to release a CD every year, and this year’s compilation was curated by UCSD music professor Miller Puckette.

The department is making the compilations in order to celebrate the best work produced by UCSD music students, Puckette said.

Puckette selected all the tracks on the album and each one was either performed or written by UCSD students in the past 15 years.

Puckette is a computer music researcher. He joined the Department of Music at UCSD in 1994 and is now associate director of the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts.

He got his undergraduate degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he received his Ph. D. in mathematics from Harvard.

Puckette’s an expert in software and technology as they relate to music.

He has been with the department for the past 13 years, and many of the songs on the CD are from musical performances that Puckette attended. He chose them because they made a lasting impression on him, he said.

He said that he tried to put a CD together with a coherent theme. The overall process took him about a year.

“I tried to have the theme of pushing of boundaries, pushing instruments past their limits,” Puckette said. “Some aspect of all of the performances take an instrument into a new place ... I think it is fair to say that they are all rule-breaking pieces.”

Puckette said all of the songs are very different, but all of the music can be described as challenging.

“It is not music to listen to while you eat dinner,” Puckette said. “It is music that requires your full attention - it is not the stuff you would expect to hear on the radio, not even on NPR.”

The CD is eclectic and it requires an appreciation of music, but many of the unpredictable rhythms are almost hypnotic, Puckette said. He said the CD can be categorized as new classical music. Although computers are used on two songs on the album, it is not an album heavy on electronics, he said.

“In general, the music is supposed to be ear-opening, challenging and new - it is new classical music,” Puckette said.

He said he extensively researched music produced by the department. Although he ended up selecting music that was made while he was at UCSD, he listened to tapes that were recorded before he joined the department, Puckette said.

“I ended up covering my desktop with tapes of old performances and going back and forth and sorting and sifting through the material,” Puckette said.

He listened to many tapes from the department’s archives and he noticed an evolution in the type of music the department has been producing. He said the department makes music with computers more frequently now than it did in the past.

“The music we do really does make frequent and varied use of computers,” Puckette said. “I think watching the department growing into the computer era is really exciting.”

Puckette was very dedicated to the project, but he is pleased with the final product, he said.”

“I’m elated,” Puckette said. “But I did have moments of worry during the process.”

Puckette is not a musical performer, but he said his background in mathematics has helped him prepare for his academic career in music.

“In some sense, mathematics was my entry into music,” Puckette said.

“My involvement in music started at MIT. MIT was maintaining a computer music studio in ’79 so I started writing computer programs to make music and I ended up getting completely swallowed by it.”

Puckette added that he took classes in computer music at MIT and Harvard.

The curator for the next year’s CD has not been named, but Puckette hopes the process is easier for the next faculty member.

“I was very ambitious,” he said.

There are eight tracks on this year’s CD. Seven of the songs are composed and there is one improvisational piece on the compilation.

The entire CD is performed exclusively by UCSD students, and UCSD music professor Steven Schick performed on two tracks.

The composers come from all over the globe, and some of the artists included are former UCSD students like Brett Reid, but the CD also has work written by new, avant garde musicians like Salvatore Sciarrino and older, experimental composers like Edgard Varese.

The CD is a reflection of the department’s effort to stay on the cutting edge of new music and music technology.

The department offers graduate degrees in composition, computer Music, critical studies, and experimental practices and performance.

Puckette said he predicts that there will be changes in musical practices, and the department will try to stay on the forefront of those changes.

“Sound check two” can be ordered on the UCSD Department of Music’s website at