Fernando Lopez-Lezcano to receive 2014 Marsh O’Neill Award

Lopez-Lezcano, the systems administrator at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, has won the annual prize given to staff members who have made outstanding contributions to Stanford's research mission.

Keeps the lab humming. Faces daily crises with stellar aplomb. Constantly innovating. Intimately “groks” and practices the very science and art that is the research mission of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Increases the creative capacity and artistic agency of all who work there – students, faculty and visiting researchers alike.

Those were some of the many accolades bestowed upon Fernando Lopez-Lezcano, winner of the 2014 Marsh O’Neill Award, which honors staff members who have made outstanding contributions to Stanford’s research mission. O’Neill worked at Stanford from 1952 to 1990, when he retired as associate director of the W.W. Hansen Laboratories. He was the first recipient of the award.

Lopez-Lezcano, the systems administrator at CCRMA – pronounced karma – will be honored Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 4-6 p.m.  at the Faculty Club Red Room. The Stanford campus community is invited.

At CCRMA, Lopez-Lezcano and his two assistants take care of its computer infrastructure, including servers, workstations, networking and Internet phone systems, as well as email, website, wiki and room reservations. He designed its workstations, which need to be completely quiet – no fans anywhere.

The center provides computing services to 200 current users, including faculty, students and staff; visiting faculty and composers; and more than 700 graduates who have ongoing connections to CCRMA.

In 2001, Lopez-Lezcano created Planet CCRMA, a repository of free, easy-to-install software that allows users to turn personal computers into custom, professional-quality audio workstations. He maintains Planet CCRMA, which is used around the world.

At CCRMA, he designed and built – and takes care of – the Listening Room, a 3D listening space with speakers on the ceiling, at ear level and below the floor.

Currently, he is teaching Sound in Space, a Music Department course that deals with sound spatialization for computer music.

In addition to working at CCRMA, Lopez-Lezcano, who is a composer, performer and lecturer, serves the wider Music Department and arts communities on campus as an expert in computing systems.

Exchange program leads to CCRMA

Lopez-Lezcano, who grew up in Argentina, arrived at Stanford in 1990 under a six-month exchange program of the Laboratorio de Investigación y Producción Musical in Buenos Aires (the most important electroacoustic center in Latin America), CCRMA and the University of California, Davis. He stayed another six months and taught in CCRMA’s summer workshops.

In 1993, after working in Argentina and then Japan, he returned to Stanford to become the systems administrator at CCRMA.

Lopez-Lezcano, who began studying the piano as a child, earned a master’s degree in music at the Carlos Lopez Buchardo National Conservatory in Buenos Aires and a master’s degree in electronic engineering at the University of Buenos Aires.

“While I no longer play the piano in the form I did at the time – not enough hours in the day – I still create pieces in which virtuoso piano playing plays an important role, albeit with a heavy dose of computer programming and intervention,” he said, citing “A Very Fractal Cat” as an example.

In addition to Bing Concert Hall and CCRMA itself, his compositions have been performed in Berkeley and San Francisco, as well as in various countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Asked what were the most enjoyable parts of his job, Lopez-Lezcano provided a list that touched on every aspect of his work: “The challenge of solving problems and making things work. Designing and building systems. Composing a new piece. Working with 3D sound. Playing music in concert. Making a concert happen, from designing the diffusion system to curating the pieces. And teaching, of course, and seeing what students come up with.”

Faculty praise Lopez-Lezcano

Ge Wang, an assistant professor at CCMRA, said the center’s systems infrastructure is in top form thanks to Lopez-Lezcano and his team. Wang said it is also completely unique and goes far beyond the ordinary, thanks to Lopez-Lezcano’s vision.

“Fernando is also a computer music composer of immense talent and experience, both of which he shares generously with CCRMA and the research community, and fuels the passion for all other aspects of his multifarious role,” said Wang, who is the founder and director of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra.

“To have a talented, meticulous, tireless systems administrator is essential and quite rare enough, but to have someone who also intimately groks and practices the very science and art that is the research mission of the center is nothing short of sublime.”

Mark Applebaum, an associate professor of music, said the fact that Lopez-Lezcano is a composer – a musician practitioner – makes him an especially valuable and empathetic colleague.

“Put in the most concise terms: I cannot compose, realize and perform my electroacoustic music without him,” Applebaum said.

“His diligence, resourcefulness, and attention to detail are superb – all put in service of the educational mission of our students. He makes CCRMA a place of excellence. In quiet but palpable ways, he increases the creative capacity and artistic agency of all who work there – students, faculty and visiting researchers alike. It is not an exaggeration to say that CCRMA’s fine international reputation as one of a very small handful of the world’s top centers for electroacoustic music is the consequence of Lopez-Lezcano’s contributions over two decades.”

Jonathan Berger, the Denning Family Provostial Professor of Music, said it was impossible to imagine what CCRMA would be, or what the field of computer music would be today, without Lopez-Lezcano’s enormous contributions.

On a day-to-day basis, Lopez-Lezcano keeps the lab humming. Yet, even facing the daily crises of his position – “itself done with stellar aplomb” –  Lopez-Lezcano is constantly innovating, Berger said.

“Fernando has designed and implemented state-of-the-art systems that put CCRMA at the forefront of the field,” he said. “His inventions are all open-source, made freely available, and are used by thousands of users around the world. He is an extraordinary teacher – patiently working with our students. He is a perfectionist in terms of audio quality and has been the key person in ensuring the audio quality of our work in the studio and in the concert hall.”

Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, an assistant professor of music, said that on top of providing impeccably working systems that he is constantly improving, Lopez-Lezcano also offers extra time and advice for artistic projects that require immense creativity on his part.

“Fernando has developed a system for spatialization of sound that is among the most sophisticated and versatile that I have encountered,” Kapuscinski said. “It is not only functioning extremely well, but Fernando spends many extra hours to make it controllable in multiple ways that assure it can be used by the most sophisticated computer programmers and starting undergraduate students alike. On top of his duties, he teaches a course that is among the most demanding at CCRMA.”

Chris Chafe, director of CCRMA and the Duca Family Professor of Humanities and Sciences, said Lopez-Lezcano’s “leadership, innovations and dependability are crucial to the center’s excellence.” He said Lopez-Lezcano also plays an essential role in the faculty’s scholarly and creative work.

At Stanford, musicians and audiences benefit every season from Lopez-Lezcano’s “concert curatorship and technical wizardry,” he said.

Chafe said he has relied on Lopez-Lezcano’s support for his research into network music performance – real-time interaction over a computer network that enables musicians in different locations to perform as if they were in the same room.

“This past March, we had six remote sites connected in a concert in the Bing Concert Hall Studio,” Chafe said. “This work owes much to the research-grade networking capabilities Fernando helps provide.”

Chafe said the CCRMA user community includes various departments, faculty, staff, undergraduate students, graduate students, and visiting faculty and composers. All of them are programmers, he said, and their music computing requires special features concerning sound quality, and high-speed, real-time computing.

“The continuously expanding requirements of their research, coupled with surprises coming from creative enterprise in the arts, means Lopez-Lezcano’s team must stay ahead of the curve while providing reliable services for connectivity, security and persistent storage that allow users to work ‘at home’ from anywhere in the world,” he said.

“Given the fast-paced evolution of computers, these concerns are never-ending and new generations must be re-engineered afresh. The key advantage for the center in this regard is that Lopez-Lezcano uses the tools he builds. No one but a practicing musician could validate solutions to meet these requirements.”