Pietro Grossi: An Artisan of Both Informatics and Music

As a middle-aged man, the Italian cellist and composer Pietro Grossi (1917-2002) became fascinated  with avant-garde music. In the early 1960s he established an electronic music studio (S2FM) in Florence and a few years later he moved into computer music with the support of computer companies (Olivetti-General Electric and IBM), research institutions based in Pisa and Florence (CNUCE, IEI, IROE) and scientists. Grossi’s venture into computer music is a fascinating story about how a classical musician turned himself into  an artisan of both informatics and music – “un artigiano informatico-musicale” in Grossi own words. I wrote a contribution on Grossi for a special issue on electroacoustic music published by the journal Organised Sound.

Music without Musicians … but with Scientists, Technicians and Computer Companies
Volume 22, Issue 2 (Alternative Histories of Electroacoustic Music) August 2017, pp. 286-296
In the early days of music technologies the collaboration between musicians, scientists, technicians and equipment producers was very close. How did this collaboration develop? Why did scientific, business, and musical agendas converge towards a common goal? Was there a mutual exchange of skills and expertise? To answer these questions this article will consider a case study in early computer music. It will examine the career of the Italian cellist and composer Pietro Grossi (1917–2002), who explored computer music with the support of mainframe manufacturers, industrial R&D, and scientific institutions. During the 1970s, Grossi became an eager programmer and achieved a first-hand experience of computer music, writing several software packages. Grossi was interested in avant-garde music as an opportunity to make ‘music without musicians’. He aimed at a music composed and performed by machines, and eventually, he achieved this result with his music software. However, to accomplish it, Grossi could not be a lonely pioneer; he had to become a member, albeit an atypical one, of the Italian computing community of the time. Grossi’s story, thus, can tell us much about the collaborative efforts stimulated by the use of early computer technologies in sound research, and how these efforts developed at the intersection of science, art and industry.