This page contains writings, interviews and lectures on composition, aesthetics, and computer music technology.

Download Selected Writings

VisualAudio - An environment for designing, tuning and testing embedded audio applications - 2005 Conference of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), New York City, 2005.

Extensions of the Karplus-Strong Plucked String Algorithm - by D. Jaffe and J. O. Smith, in Computer Music Journal (Summer 1983-vol. 7, no. 2).

Musical and Extramusical Applications of the NeXT Music Kit, Proceedings of the 1991 International Computer Music Conference, Montreal.

Intelligent Musical Instruments: The Future of Musical Performance or the Demise of the Performer? , Interface Journal for New Music Research, December, 1993.

JSTOR articles

Impossible Animals: Notes on Birds and Musical Style - by D. Jaffe, Perspectives of New Music, 1995.

The Computer-Extended Ensemble - by D. Jaffe and W. A. Schloss, in Computer Music Journal, 1994.

Spectrum Analysis Tutorial, Part1: The Discrete Fourier Transform - by D. Jaffe in Computer Music Journal, 1987

Ten Criteria for Evaluating Synthesis Techniques - by D. Jaffe in Computer Music Journal, 1995.

Symposium on Computer Music Composition - Edited by Curtis Roads, Computer Music Journal, 1986.

SynthBuilder: A Graphical Rapid-Prototyping Tool for the Development of Music Synthesis and Effects Patches on Multiple Platforms - by N. Porcaro, D. Jaffe, et. al., Computer Music Journal, 1998.

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Tribute to Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, who died last month, was more than a musician, more than an activist, more then a folklorist. He was a purveyor of hope in the darkest of times. In the McCarthy era, when he was blacklisted, he sang, defiantly, "Wasn't that a time?" and taught music to children. In the 1970s when the Left was imploding, he founded a new cause that transcended the left/right division: cleaning up his own backyard, the Hudson River. He was a fierce believer in political freedom and economic justice. But, while Woody Guthrie's guitar said "This machine kills fascists," the words Seeger wrote on his banjo head read "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." He was a shy man who could command the stage and perform as no one before or since. While others, like Bob Dylan, sang protest songs as long as it was in fashion, or, like Phil Ochs, struggled internally with a desire to be famous, for Pete, the decision was always clear: do the right thing. When he was finally permitted back on television in the 1960s, he immediately threw caution to the wind and sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," a protest song against the war in Viet Nam.

I grew up with Pete Seeger as a beacon of light. One of the first records I ever heard as a toddler was "Birds, Beasts and Bigger Fishes," with songs like "Leatherwing Bat" and story-songs like "Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase." Our family went everywhere that he performed. Many of these were not "concerts" at all, but political rallies of one form or another. I remember clearly a rally for Mikis Theodorakis, the greek song-writer and activist who was jailed by the military junta in the 1960s. The rally was entirely in Greek, with a translator. Eventually, the translator became so caught up in the emotions of the crowd that he stopped translating and just cheered.

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Audio recording: 2013 Orion Visitor Lecture, University of Victoria

On November 6, 2013, I delivered the Orion Visitor Lecture at the University of Victoria. I discussed my studies with Henry Brant, the early days of computer music at Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the making of Silicon Valley Breakdown, the development of time maps and plucked string synthesis, and my collaborations with Julius O. Smith III, Bernard Mont-Reynaud and others. A complete recording of the lecture is here.

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A Conversation With David A. Jaffe

Interview with Professor Dr. Tom Moore, published in Sonograma magazine, 2011.

TM: What sort of musical background was there in your family?

DJ: My father was an amateur mandolin player, and his father was also a mandolin player. My grandfather played in a Jewish mandolin orchestra in New York City – there were a couple of them. Depending on how far left your politics were, that would dictate which one you would play in. He was in the one that was associated with the newspaper called the Morning Freiheit, which was a Yiddish newspaper. My father took mandolin lessons – he was quite a good player, had excellent technique, and enjoyed it a lot. My mother played piano, but not so much.

I started playing violin at school when I was in fourth grade. I later studied with Samuel Applebaum, father of Michael Tree. and a well-known pedagogue who wrote a lot of books on violin technique and literature. I started playing oboe a couple of years later, then started playing guitar, and moved through a lot of different instruments, picked up the five-string banjo, and played fiddle music on the violin, then started playing mandolin, and at some point dropped classical violin, played a lot of bluegrass music, and different kinds of music – rock, jazz… I played bass in a jazz band with a couple of saxophones and piano; I played in rock bands – lots of different kinds of things. Around eleventh grade I started composing, and also picked up the cello. I was taking a music appreciation class, and they were playing recordings of Mozart. I thought that the cello parts sounded pretty easy, so I asked if I could borrow a cello. They lent me one, and I went home and learned the cello parts. Then I started studying cello more seriously and was composing string quartets in high school. I was thinking of going to college as a cellist, applied and was accepted at various places, but instead decided to join a bluegrass band called “Bottle Hill” fulltime, and toured with them for a couple of years...

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In Memoriam, Henry Brant

I first met Henry Brant in the late 1970s when I studied composition, orchestration, and 16th century counterpoint with him at Bennington College in Vermont. This eventually led to a thirty-year friendship with discussions of music that have been among the most important in my life.

Henry Brant was unlike any other composition teacher I've ever had in that he offered a meta-perspective on the process of composing. Instead of suggesting that a particular theme should be developed or that a particular note might sound better as a Bb, he taught how to write quickly, how to think hierarchically, how to make deadlines, how to ask for commissions, and how to avoid writers' block. He also was the first to suggest to me that there might be a place in my musical language for the various non-"classical" styles I played, such as bluegrass, klezmer and jazz. This directly led to my writing such works as Silicon Valley Breakdown and Cluck Old Hen Variations.

Throughout the years, I have discussed many incipient projects with Henry and invariably he would offer key insights and suggestions that would lead me in fertile directions. As an example, in 1992, I was planning a concerto for RadioDrum-controlled Disklavier piano and large ensemble. I discussed the project with him, including my plan to use a string orchestra. He suggested I instead employ an ensemble of plucked strings. When I pressed him to elaborate, he suggested mandolin, guitar, harp, harpsichord, harmonium, bass and two percussionists. This became the seventy-minute work, "The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” premiered by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players in 1998. Such interactions were always at the very start of a project. Then, at the conclusion, I would play him the result, he would offer his thoughts and then ask "what next?"

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Orchestrating the Chimera: Musical Hybrids, Technology and the Development of a "Maximalist" Musical Style

This article describes the "maximalist" approach I take in my musical composition. This approach embraces heterogeneity and allows for complex systems of juxtapositions and collisions, in which all outside influences are viewed as potential raw material. I focus here on the notion of hybridization, in which two or more sharply-defined and highly-contrasting aspects of experience are combined to produce something that is both alien and strangely familiar. Recent technological advances have allowed hybridization to extend into the realms of the synthesis of sound itself, the ensemble relationship between musical lines and the connection between performer and instrument.

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