CFA offers music and technology major

Carnegie Mellon’s strengths of music, computer science, and technology will be combined to offer new joint degrees next year.

The bachelor of science in music and technology and the master’s of science in music and technology will be based in the Carnegie Mellon’s School of Music while involving professors from the School of Computer Science and the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

While this new combination of arts and sciences may at first seem strange, junior electrical and computer engineering major Stelios Melachrinoudis explained, “Now with the inclusion of ECE courses into the curriculum, it gives students something to associate many of the audio concepts with.

“For example, there are plug-ins that can design digital low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass filters with various quality factors and gains with tremendous ease. Someone who doesn’t have the necessary background will already ask, ‘what is a gain and what is a quality factor?’

“By adding ECE courses into the curriculum, students will then say ‘oh, that’s where this concept came from’ and realize why certain parameters were incorporated in the first place.

“In other words, it evokes the idea, ‘we had to start from somewhere, and this is where’ — you cannot go back that much further.”

Undergraduate and graduate students pursing one of these new degrees next year will explore new ways of performing, composing, presenting, and archiving music.

Like their peers enrolled in most other programs at Carnegie Mellon, science in music and technology students will receive help from a team of academic advisers in course planning and achieving professional goals.

The degree programs will also culminate in a research-based capstone project.

Dominic Mazoni, who created the music editing program Audacity as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, praised this new program, saying, “Carnegie Mellon should always be on the forefront of technological integration ... I am glad to see that they are finally seeing the benefits of an understanding of both music and technology.”

“By studying music and technology together, it gives the student a deeper appreciation of what digital music is all about and why software makes it more convenient to create it and otherwise manipulate it,” added Melachrinoudis.

“Before sequencing and editing programs were available, editing was done using analog tape. To do even one edit, you had to record a segment on tape, mark where the edit had to be made, then record another segment on another part of the tape, mark the edit, cut it at the edit points, and splice it together using editing tape.

“The equivalent in software — Cut-And-Paste, Ctrl X, then Ctrl V at the point you want. And edit points? You could put cue markers in software that could easily be remembered.”

Although stereotypes may not imply that music majors are interested in engineering, Melachrinoudis argued, “One thing that we cannot forget about technology is that it makes certain operations easier. As operations get easier, people will overuse technology to the point where they become indolent, and their creativity takes a toll.

“To put it in a simple analogy, what did you learn first: how to add two numbers or how to use a calculator to do that same thing for you? First you learned the basics of addition, and then you realized that human capacity can only allow for a few of them at a time of a certain magnitude, so then you learned how to use calculators and then computers, both of which are adding machines at their core.

“With this in mind, far too many producers are learning the ‘calculator’ approach to audio without knowing the basics, leading to the all-too-common syndrome of songs that sound the same by the same producer and a lack of creativity and skills.”

Derrick Walker, senior electrical and computer engineering student, was excited for the additional majors “because our school allows students to push boundaries and encourages interdisciplinary projects.

“I wish these majors were available for me when I was a freshman because I definitely see the advantages of studying music technology, especially with the amount of creativity that flows through the school of music. Mainstream music needs something new, so hopefully music and tech students will add something of substance to the music scene.”

Melachrinoudis believes that “as soon as people in the audio and music industry realize this, I think the demand for these degrees will rise to the point where there will be no room for the amateur.

“There are many technological advances that have been made in the entertainment industry, and regardless of the economic downturn, it is still flourishing; thus it will need highly skilled professionals to meet the demand.”