Campus & Community

Musicians Meet Developers: Stevens Hosts the 5th International Pure Data Convention

An example of a Pure Data session

On November 16 and 17, a community of artists, programmers and developers filled the halls of the College of Arts and Letters for the 5th International Pure Data Convention, co-hosted with New York University.

Pure Data (Pd), an open source visual programming language that encourages musicians to build their own software for composition and performance, is widely used around the world and taught extensively within the Music & Technology program at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Pure Data conference at Stevens Institute of Technology
Pierre Guillot presenting in the Stevens SCENE Lab on spatialization using ambisonics

Pd is the first programming language freshmen Music & Technology majors are introduced to in addition to their required computer science courses. It teaches them basic synthesis concepts and is accessible to even non-technical people, due to its nature as a visual programming language.

“It’s a gateway into development for all kinds of areas,” said Ricky Graham, assistant professor of Music & Technology. “Our students take this language and extend it into game audio and design, mobile app development and virtual reality.”

This was the first year Stevens has hosted the conference, organized by Graham, and brought the Pd community from all over the world together on the Stevens campus. In addition to Stevens students, nearly 100 people from the Americas, Europe and Asia came to campus to present papers and attend different workshops. Among the paper presenters were two mobile software engineers from Google, whose experience with Pd was particularly energizing to the Music & Technology students. Graham said, “This was an opportune time for our students—it’s the end of the semester, they’re exhausted, but it was a nice boost for them to learn from the paper presentations, get re-energized and continue working on their final projects using Pure Data.”

Of particular note was the student involvement in the conference, from behind the scenes to on stage at a Pd concert hosted at Hoboken venue Maxwell’s Tavern and later at another music venue in Brooklyn. Performances by Music & Technology alumni and faculty side by side with the original author of the Pd software, Miller Puckette, solidified Stevens as a major player in the realm of music and audio technology. 

Stevens students play at Maxwell's in HobokenSenior Daniel Aleman acted as the conference stage manager, an instrumental role in organizing volunteers for paper sessions, running sound checks, and organizing A/V equipment to record each of the sessions. Aleman also has a job lined up after graduation at WorldStage, one of the top event technology firms in the country.

As part of the convention, freshman Music & Technology major Antonella Rafael played with a combined group of Stevens and NYU students using Pd, where she was able to use code to manipulate the sound of her saxophone. She described the collaboration experience as eye-opening and motivating.

“This experience makes me want to search out more projects like this, as it will help me on my journey of being a musician,” Rafael said. “As anyone who plays an instrument knows, it’s hard to find your sound, but that’s what the journey is all about.”