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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 the 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 honored 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.

David Wessel

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 Ph.D. in musical composition at the Accademia di S. Cecilia in Rome. He also studied philosophy and mathematics and earned his Ph.D. 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.

The story behind the relationship between AI and music is no binary partnership. Compositional relation between AI and music was pioneered in the 1950s at the University of Illinois by mathematician Leonard Isaacson. Using a predecessor to the modern supercomputer, Isaacson was the first to create compositional material and create the musical work fully authored by AI. One of his students was a young mathematician and musician named David Wessel.

With a mind for statical analysis and background as a professional jazz drummer, Wessel began to study the relationship between the compositional control of timbre and musical tone. Recruited to IRCAM, the revolutionary French research institute that reimagined the science of music and sound, Wessel’s scholarship reimagined the personal computers’ role in musical composition. In 1988 Wessel returned to the United States and took over as director of UC Berkeley’s newly-created Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT), which was founded by Professor Emeritus Richard Felciano.

Some 30 years later, Cella is continuing Berkeley’s unflinching commitment to redefining the intersection of art and computation. Where Wessel began, Cella continues. After all, Alan Turing, the father of computation, asked “can machines think?” Perhaps the question is, “can machines create?”

We will leave that to Professor Cella.

-Alex Coughlin