Contemporary Music Analysis Package, by Craig Harris and Alexander Brinkman (1986)

The Contemporary Music Analysis Package (CMAP) is a set of computer programs for analysis, modeling and composition of atonal and serial music that I created with music theorist Alexander Brinkman. Completed in 1986, the package includes a set of programs designed to be used in an interactive computer environment such as UNIX or MS-DOS. This article describes the origin of the development of CMAP. At the time of writing this article CMAP is no longer available for distribution.

In 1980 as a graduate student at Eastman School of Music I had the opportunity to learn about and become immersed in the application of set theory in contemporary music theory and composition under the esteemed theorist and composer Robert Morris. This area of study and research was illuminating to me in many ways:

  • Set theory provides a meaningful pathway into understanding and analysis of the pitch material in large bodies of 20th Century western classical music;
  • Set theory provides an important underlying infrastructure to understand serial music of that era; and
  • This approach to music theory provides a rich palette of possibilities for new music composition.

This area of music theory was spear-headed by several renowned theorists, including John Rahn, Michael Forte, Robert Morris, Daniel Starr and others, and was emerging as a crucial direction in music theory in the late 1970s and 1980s. This work was both invigorating and exhausting, guided by Robert Morris, a true master musician, composer and theorist. The group in the class was also a remarkable collection of bright, creative and highly driven young composers. Hours were dedicated to making charts with numerous pitch class set annotations; filling in 12-tone pitch matrices; pouring through scores of compositions to analyze music of current and recent composers. And, as this was a course for graduate composition students, we composed compositions exploring various aspects of the generative possibilities for use in our own music.

I quickly discovered that work in this area was an extremely time consuming process – exploring pitch class similarities and differences; investigating the characteristics of pitch class sets in various inversion and complement forms, and, when it came to applications in serial music, probing all of these characteristics in the realm of ordered pitch classes (and their inversions and retrograde forms). It was clear that the available tools for working in this area were negatively impacting development of the field. Theorists were limited in their ability to cover large bodies of the music repertoire; and composers were stifled in their ability to creatively explore diverse musical materials.

During this period, I was also immersed in learning how to use computers and computer applications in music. It seemed that there should be a way to develop computer-based resources to better serve the needs of the field – to lessen the computational burden, and to facilitate propagation of this work out into the community. To accomplish I collaborated with Aleck Brinkman, a wonderful music theorist at Eastman who had developed a unique computer music score system, Score11, which was used as a composer-friendly front end compositional resource to generate computer instructions used by Music11, a computer music sound generation and processing system developed by Barry Vercoe at the MIT Media Lab.

Together Aleck and I created the Contemporary Music Analysis Package (CMAP), a rich set of tools and a flexible processing environment to be used for set theoretic and serial analysis and music composition. CMAP was a combination of standalone tools to analyze pitch material in various ways, and it functioned in a UNIX operating system that made it possible to sequence and filter data and operations to greatly reduce the amount of time required to work in this way. The package made it possible to cover a significantly broader amount of material, and to probe deeper into aspects of the information than previously possible. This work was the foundation of the theoretical component of my PhD dissertation, and in the late 1980s the system was in use at approximately 84 institutions around the world. Music Theorist Peter Castine developed a Macintosh version of the system as well.

Our article “An Integrated System for Set Theoretic and Serial Analysis of Contemporary Music“ was published in 1989 in the Journal for Computer-Based Instruction.

I reached out to reconnect with Aleck Brinkman as I was writing this, and was sad to learn that he had passed away in April 2019. Aleck was a wonderful, thoughtful human, an inventive music theorist, and played a mean jazz bass.

Here is a review of CMAP by John Wm. Schaffer published in the Intégral: The Journal of Applied Musical Thought  in 1988.