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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) is one of the most important European institutes for both science about music and sound and avant garde electro-acoustical art music. It is situated next to, and is organizationally linked with, the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The extension of the building has been designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.


A Center for Musical Research

Since its conception, IRCAM has been the birth place for many of the most important concepts for electronic music and audio processing. John Chowning did much of his pioneering work on FM Synthesis at the IRCAM, and the real-time audio processing graphical programming environment Max/MSP and its successor jMax, were developed there. Max/MSP has subsequently become one of the most widely used tools in electroacoustic music. Many of the techniques associated with spectralism, such as analyses based on Fast Fourier Transforms, were only made practical by the technological clout of IRCAM. IRCAM also developed a special microphone capable of isolating each of the cello's four strings for separate amplification or electronic treatment. While IRCAM continues to produce many innovations, its role at the world's central music laboratory was lessened with the rise of cheaper electronics from Japan, which put complex audio computing within the reach of smaller institutions.

IRCAM provides classes to train composers in music technology, and selects established composers to work within an unusual model; Composers who do not have programming experience to create the technology end of a piece for ensemble and electronics are provided with an assistant, who helps them to realize technically intensive parts of the piece. For example, the assistant will follow the conceptual advice of a composer with no technology experience to realize a computer part, or will help a composer who can program in Max/MSP to make their "patch" more efficient and elegant. Tristan Murail's Désintégrations is an example of a piece realized in this program by a composer with significant technological skill, whereas Harrison Birtwistle's Mask of Orpheus required an active and creative role for the technology assistants, such as Barry Anderson and Ian Dearden.

A Cultural Center for Musical Modernism

The IRCAM has not only been instrumental in electroacoustic innovation, but as a sort of cultural mecca for contemporary classical music. It has been important in the dissemination of the music of post World War II modernism, such as that of Luciano Berio or Pierre Boulez, as well as an important means of support for younger performers and composers. The growth of musical spectralism is in many ways associated with the IRCAM. As mentioned above, Tristan Murail, one of the bellwethers of spectral music, received support from the IRCAM, and also taught there for a time. Kaija Saariaho, whose work has been influenced by spectralism, has also been supported by the IRCAM.

IRCAM has also helped to develop innovative performance models. What began as the resident ensemble of IRCAM, Ensemble InterContemporain, was designed as an ensemble that would specialize in contemporary classical music, where each performer could be called upon to perform solo literature or ensemble literature. The enhanced flexibility of such an arrangement anticipated contemporary problems with orchestras, whose cumbersome size and format expectations have caused some to question their viability. Hence, Ensemble InterContemporain has been a model for many large ensembles in Europe, for example the Ensemble Modern and Klangforum Wien. Many interesting classical contemporary pieces have been written for the chamber orchestra dimensions of Ensemble InterContemporain.

There are regular concerts at IRCAM.


In 1970 president Georges Pompidou asked Pierre Boulez to found an institution for the research of music. In 1973 the part underneath Place Igor Stravinsky was finished, and the center opened in 1977. From the outset, Boulez was in charge of the center, but the initial success of the IRCAM depended also on a diverse and innovative group. The initial administrators included Luciano Berio, Vinko Globokar, Jean-Claude Risset, and Max Mathews. In 1992 Boulez, who then became honorary director, was succeeded by Laurent Bayle. In 2002 the philosopher Bernard Stiegler became the new head of the institute. On January 1, 2006, Stiegler became Director of Cultural Development at the Centre Pompidou and was replaced by Frank Madlener.

The creation of IRCAM coincided with the rise of musical postmodernism, and a sort of crisis of confidence for musical modernism. Because of the IRCAM's associations with musical modernism, and the ways that it puts into practice theoretical ideals of musical modernism, such as the advocacy of musical styles positively influenced total serialization, education of audiences, or state funding of the arts, it has often been criticized by the advocates of musical postmodernism, who suggest that the arts would be better served by the intellectual and financial support of a mass market.

Its multimedia library was established in 1996. It is one of the very first music hybrid libraries to have been created with close to 1,000 hours of recorded music and over 2,000 scientific articles available online, in addition to its physical collections of sheet music and books on music and related domains.

Several international conferences have been held at IRCAM:

Research and development teams

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