David Wessel received a BS in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Illinois and then a PhD in Mathematical and Theoretical Psychology from Stanford in 1972. From his high school years onwards his musical activities were central to his life and after his PhD he committed himself to blending his science and technology skills with his musical interests. In the early 70’s at Michigan State University as an Assistant Professor his experiments with perceptually-based dimensionality reduction techniques provided expressively powerful control of high-dimensional sinusoidal-track sound synthesis algorithms. In 1976, at the invitation of Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor, he moved to Paris to work as a researcher at the then nascent Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustic/Musique IRCAM. In 1979 he was made head of IRCAM’s Pedagogy Unit and linked the science and technology side of the institute and the artistic side. In the mid-eightes he started a new unit in IRCAM dedicated to developing real-time music software for personal computers. At the time Wessel taught the first computer music class at the Paris Conservatory. For his work at IRCAM he was recognized as Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture.
In 1988, he arrived at UC Berkeley as Professor of Music with the charge of building the interdisciplinary Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT). He organized CNMAT as a laboratory wherein both science and technology people interact on daily basis with musicians. Wessel insists on an instrumental conception – the computer as musical instrument equipped with gesture sensing devices and sound diffusion systems.