HomeHistorical referencesUPICUPIC - presentation

UPIC - presentation


"One should not use the computer only for sound synthesis, but also for macro-structures, building on a large scale [...] The obstacle stood on the side of IT : how to teach notation and concepts that musicians are taught in conservatories to the machine? The solution was the hand: that the musician give orders to the computer through drawings, not punched cards or programs. " Xenakis, Iannis. Si Dieu existait il serait bricoleur, Le Monde de la musique. n°11, 05/1979, p. 9

Starting from this premise, and as early as the 1950s, Iannis Xenakis had the intuition to develop a machine that enabled one to break free from the constraints of traditional music notation while simplifying the exploration of this new way of composing. In his mind, this instrument should facilitate, for example, the graphic and sound transcriptions of the glissandi in his work Metastaseis from 1954. But the prototype of a machine hybridizing drawing, sound synthesis and music was born only in 1977 in the research center founded by Xenakis (the CEMAMu): it is called the UPIC (Unité Polyagogique Informatique of CEMAMu).

The "agogic" suffix evokes all parameters specific to the expressiveness of music notation; by appending this to the prefix "poly", Iannis Xenakis opened up the field of the compositional process by making drawing the main vector of music composition (graphically incorporating musical structure, sound, dynamics, envelopes, etc.).


Since its first version, with a large graphic table, an electro-magnetic pen and a computer interface, UPIC has enabled composers to visually design all the elements of her/his opus—from the micro to the macro form of the work—combining, in a single machine, both formal design and sound synthesis. 


Thanks to its versatility and opening up musical composition through drawing, the UPIC has attracted many composers and paved the way for multiple experiments, the only limit being the imagination of its users.

The first UPIC machine, developed by the CEMAMu, was created in 1977. Working from a large graphic table, this technical innovation enabled one to design all the elements of musical composition: from creating wave forms and dynamic envelopes to the macro-structure of an entire work, in variable time scales, hybridizing in a single machine both overall structure and sound synthesis.

Different versions of the UPIC have evolved adapting new technological capabilities, up to the creation of UPIX (UPIC software) solution for Windows dating from 2001. This version is entirely software - it no longer depends on the specialized equipment manufactured by the CEMAMu.

Among the composers who have used the UPIC include Julio Estrada, Gerard Pape, Bernard Parmegiani, Jean-Claude Risset, Daniel Teruggi, Iannis Xenakis ...

Since September 2013 a group of Master’s students in Computer Engineering was formed at the University of Rouen, to update and upgrade this UPIX software. A new cross-platform version of the software should be released by the end of the academic year in 2015, a first since the death of Iannis Xenakis in 2001.