UPIC: A Musical Instrument or A Drawing Device?

By Jason Noghani

UPIC (Unité Polyagogique Informatique du CEMAMu) is an electronic music device, where drawings are inputted onto a screen, and the resulting shapes and images are translated into sounds via a computer. Images are inputted onto a graphics tablet with an electromagnetic stylus, and another screen corresponds to alphanumeric data, which in turn process signals for translating the sounds through the computer. It was initially developed in the late 1970s, although the impulse for developing such a program had intrigued its most famous developer, composer and architect Iannis Xenakis, since the 1950s, around the time he began working with computers. 

Nowadays, UPIC appears in software format to correspond to today’s digital world, making it easier to access and create music with than previously. The original model developed in 1977 is now on display at the Museum of Music at La Philharmonie in Paris. Upon its inception, other musicians and artists have created works using UPIC, resulting in unique offerings that have inaugurated its possibilities.

The original UPIC Model on display at the Museum of Music at La Philharmonie in Paris, France.

Whereas the applications of the raw materials on their respective canvases is a somewhat self-explanatory matter, UPIC is a technological phenomenon, as unlike most music-making mediums, musicians and non-musicians alike can create on an equal playing field. Furthermore, architects like Xenakis would be more likely to create geometrically sublime patterns resulting in cohesive albeit strange soundscapes, than musicians with rudimentary drawing skills could conceive. This is revolutionary, in that not only can it allow non-musicians to create music as effortlessly as professional musicians seemingly would, but it can also mean that people without a musical background can create compositions of a higher quality than many professional musicians could!

One of Iannis Xenakis UPIC drawings. We can see how Xenakis background as an architect impacts the output of the structural graphic | Photo Courtesy of Iannis Xenakis.



Author: Jason Noghani

Jason Noghani is Listen to the World’s UK-based contributor. He is a composer, musician, cognitive psychologist, writer, illustrator, thinker, psychonaut and devout agnostic.

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