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Carmine Cella, Composer and Scholar of Music and Applied Mathematics Joins UC Berkeley Music Department

Where does musical knowledge, signal processing, and artificial intelligence intersect?

Carmine Cella

It’s an ambitious question, and new UC Berkeley Music Assistant Professor Carmine Emanuele Cella’s research is at the center of it. Cella joined the Department for the spring 2019 term, and is also working closely with the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT).

“I have been very excited in accepting the position of Assistant Professor of Music Technology in the Department of Music at University of California – Berkeley,” said Cella. “This position is extremely interesting for me: my commitment to education, my transversal vision spanning from mathematics to musical composition and my interdisciplinary research background fit perfectly with CNMAT and I am honoured to collaborate with the faculty to expand its potential and to produce tools and algorithms freely available for the community.”

A native of Italy, Cella is both a researcher of applied mathematics as well as a composer. Born with a curious ear, Cella wrote his first composition at age 6. The piece was made in 4/4 time, but contained rhythm for 5/4. Puzzled by why this could not be done, he developed his first program on a Commodore 64 to generate all subdivisions of 4/4 in odd values. Cella was only 7 years old.

“More than thirty years later, I still compose music and write programs for it,” noted Cella. “In other words, my whole life has been about music and how to use science to understand it better.”

Cella studied at the Conservatory of Music G. Rossini in Italy, receiving his master’s degrees in piano, computer music, and composition. He earned his PhD in musical composition at the Accademia di S. Cecilia in Rome. He also studied philosophy and mathematics and earned his PhD in mathematical logic at the University of Bologna, with a thesis titled “On Symbolic Representations of Music.” Cella served as composer in residence and held a research position at Paris’ famed Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM) from 2007-2008. He has composed numerous pieces including Gia’ s’ottenebra il giorno for orchestra and was commissioned by IRCAM for a new work by the Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio France that premiered in June 2013 in Salle Pleyel. In 2015-2016, he conducted research in applied mathematics at École Normale Supérieure de Paris. In 2016, he served in residence at the American Academy in Rome, where he worked on his opera Pane, sale sabbia, that premiered in June 2017 at the National Opera of Kiev.

It is fitting that Cella would end up in Berkeley. Much of the research around the relations between music, science and cognition was pioneered by David Wessel (1942-2014), who taught at Cal for over 20 years and helped found CNMAT. “He has been a pioneer. The transversal approach of my research, moreover, resonates with Professor Wessel’s legacy,” said Cella.

-Alex Coughlin