Thom Holms book and online readings
The Wired Magazine article called “Wave of the Future – The story of the next generation in sound technology”, provides a 1963 quote by Max Mathews, “There are no theoretical limits to the performance of the computer as a source of musical sounds.” The computer technology Mathews refers to was not fully available when he wrote those words, however his words ring true today. Using modern computers it is possible to create an amazing range of sounds; indeed there are no “theoretical limits”.
The article continues with a summary of important steps, which lead to the technology used today. In 1967, John Chowning of CCRMA (Computer Research in Music and Acoustics) made a remarkable discovery. Chowning was simply experimenting with oscillator pitch control, when he noticed how rich the harmonics instantly became. Chowning had unknowingly discovered frequency modulation (FM). In 1972, Yamaha engineer Kazukiyo Ishimura, visited the lab and listened. Ishimura understood the principal of FM synthesis, and a deal for Chowning’s patent was struck. Seven years later, Yamaha introduced the FM synthesizer DX-7 on the market, selling more than 200,000 units.
In order to improve quality of sampling, Julius Smith was driven to develop waveforms, reducing sounds to numbers, which allowed greater versatility and control. The algorithms contain subtle variables, making it much easier to simulate natural parameters. This technology has led to a number of successful products, including the Yamaha VL-1 synthesizer.
Computers now are capable of housing this technology. In 1998, Sim Wong Hoo, CEO of Creative Technology, built Creative Music System, a synthesizer card enabling PC music composition. In the same year, Ad Lib sold a Yamaha FM synthesizer-chip-based board which supported hundreds of video game titles. Soon Yamaha, introduce the chip on the open market, making it readily available. Creative Technology soon came out with a board mounted with the Yamaha chip. The new board called Sound Blaster, allowed music synthesis and the digital sound capabilities known to Mac users. Today sound boards (cards) are affordable and part of almost every computer sold. Max Mathews words were proven true long ago.
Chapter 10 of Thom Holms book is titled “Music from Mainframes: the Origins of Computer Music”. The chapter begins with an overview of the applications available to the electronic music composer, including: composition and notation; MIDI control and sequencing; sound synthesis and modification; digital recording and mixing; digital sampling; and performance and control software. Many of today’s electronic music composers use only computers for their creations, most others use combinations of hardware devices and computers.