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Obituary David Wessel

A major figure in the field of computer music, the American psychologist, mathematician and musician was one of IRCAM’s pioneers.

We have just learned with great sadness the passing away of David Wessel. Born in 1942, this American psychologist, mathematician and musician was a major figure in the field of computer music for over forty years. Associated early on in 1977 to the creation of IRCAM, he joined IRCAM’s staff in 1979 as psycho-acoustician and head of the pedagogical department. Later on, in 1986, he headed the Personal Computing Systems and Development group. In 1988 he left IRCAM and joined CNMAT (Center for New Music and Audio Technologies) at the University of California at Berkeley, which he directed until his death. As a member of the IRCAM scientific council, he impressed his colleagues with his active participation and as a constant source of propositions.

Open-minded and generous with his knowledge of the latest scientific and technological advances, he opened up innovative paths in a variety of domains all along his career. His first research in the 70’s at the University of Michigan on the compositional control of timbre found many applications related to research in the area of audio descriptors. Continuing in this area, he contributed to the creation at IRCAM of a research direction on psychoacoustics and cognitive psychology of hearing that continues to this day. During the middle 80’s, with the arrival of the Apple MacIntosh computer and the MIDI standard, which he introduced into IRCAM, he was one of the first to realize the potential of the emerging personal computing phenomenon that revolutionized computer music. As coordinator of the 1984 ICMC (International Computer Music Conference) of unusual breadth, he contributed to the structuring and construction of this interdisciplinary community. His pioneering work in the areas of gesture interfaces and performer/machine interaction paved the way towards the development of the NIME (New Instruments for Musical Expression) community. The OSC format, designed for inter-application communication of structured data over networks, was invented at CNMAT and has become a widely adopted standard for musical and audio applications.

The “IRCAM Live” concert on the 20th of November in the Espace de Projection will be dedicated to David.