The History of CEMI

In 1963 UNT faculty composer Merrill Ellis established the Electronic Music Center (EMC), a tape music studio in an old Denton home on Mulberry Street. This vital part of the Division of Composition Studies allowed faculty and students to work together creating art with the most experimental modern technologies. During the first ten years, composers working at EMC concentrated on the forms of electronic music that were at the time most prevalent: namely, compositions for magnetic tape, and live performances using analog synthesizers.

During the 1970's, UNT composers increasingly explored "mixed-media" projects—works including dancers, actors, or narrators, with more elaborate theatrical settings and visual projections enhancing the electronic soundscapes. The new Intermedia Theater, built in 1979, as well as an expansion of the EMC studios, and staff, brought Ellis's interdisciplinary vision to a new fruition; in 1983 this was recognized by a change of name to the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia (CEMI).

An important element in CEMI's transformation into an internationally renowned center was pioneering work in the developing field of computer music. Thomas Clark and Larry Austin, who joined the faculty in the late 1970's, shifted CEMI's orientation from the use of hybrid analog/digital systems to software synthesis on UNIX-based workstations. Three years after Austin's appointment, in November 1981, the Center was literally put on the map: North Texas State University (as UNT as then known) hosted four hundred scientists and composers of computer music at the 7th annual International Computer Music Conference (ICMC).

Following Ellis' death in 1981, Phil Winsor joined the UNT faculty, and became co-director of CEMI with Larry Austin in 1983; through the following years, directorship passed to Austin alone in 1990, Winsor in 1991, Clark in 1993, and Austin again in 1995. When Austin retired in 1996, Jon Christopher Nelson joined the composition faculty as the new director of CEMI. Under his leadership, the studios were redesigned to harness the power of modern general-purpose computers as flexible, multi-purpose computer music workstations, and electroacoustic music at UNT reached new levels of sophistication and subtlety.

In 1999 Nelson became Dean of Operations for the College of Music, and passed the CEMI baton to a new hire, Joseph (Butch) Rovan. Rovan's multifaceted work with interactive computer systems, real-time performance, dance, and digital video invigorated the performance and intermedia aspects of CEMI. Fulfilling Ellis's decades-old vision, CEMI embarked upon a new wave of performance events by faculty, students and guest artists - including the 2000 SEAMUS National Conference.

When Rovan left CEMI in 2004 to take an appointment at Brown University, composer and sound artist John Mallia joined the faculty for a year-long appointment and Nelson resumed Directorship of CEMI. In 2005, composer and violinist Andrew May joined the faculty as director of CEMI, bringing a wealth of experience with live performance and interactive computer music systems. In the same year, Damian Keller brought his expertise in intermedia and environmental computer music as a year-long faculty hire.

In 2006, composer, performer, and intermedia artist David Bithell joined the faculty, and in 2008 he spearheaded the Initiative for Advanced Research in Technology and the Arts (iARTA), a research initiative that unites divisions and centers across the campus. Intermedia artist and composer David Stout, a visionary in interdisciplinary collaboration, was hired in 2009 as the first faculty member of iARTA, and teaches in both the College of Music (composition) and the College of Visual Arts and Design (new media). In the same year, with funding from UNT's Research Infrastructure Support Initiative, the CEMI staff completely rebuilt the lighting, audio, and projection infrastructure of the MEIT, bringing our support for intermedia performance up to date with 21st century video and stage lighting technologies.

In 2011, David Bithell left UNT to became Assistant Professor of Art and Art History and Emerging Media & Digital Arts at Southern Oregon University, and Christopher Trebue Moore brought new aesthetic directions to CEMI in a one-year appointment. In 2012 Panayiotis Kokoras left Thessaloniki, Greece to join our faculty, bringing his unique perspective on sound composition and holophony to our community.

Representing the gamut of research and artistic work, from fixed-media computer music to interactive performance to intermedia, the current CEMI faculty and facilities more than fulfill Merrill Ellis's expansive vision. Ellis would have relished the 21st-century world of 3-dimensional immersive video and sound spatialization, interactive and intermedia performance, real-time video processing, physical computing, and all the myriad artistic directions CEMI continues to nurture.