Sometimes, looking back at pioneers can be nostalgic. “Back in my day,” goes the story, “electronic composers were real electronic composers.” But then you hear from someone like Curtis Roads, and his mind-blowing ideas are coupled with a belief that we’re only now reaching the Golden Age of electronic sounds. Rory Ahearn writes to share the latest episode of the show Motherboard on VBS TV, which talks to composer Curtis Roads. Roads was ground-breaking in his early granular synthesis work in the 1970s as he continues to be today.

Motherboard: Curtis Roads – Think Granular

Rory writes:

There are two divergent streams in 20th century electronic music: The one most people are familiar with starts out with goofballs like Jean-Jacques Perrey and Vangelis noodling around on synthesizers and eventually devolves into Kaja Googoo. Curtis Roads is part of the other path, the one that follows insane geniuses like Stockhausen and Morton Subotnik and uses whatever-period-it-happens-to-be’s state-of-the-art computer technology to produce compositions that completely defy conventional music logic and sometimes sound more like a freaked-out ATM than tunes you put on and listen to.

Even having heard him say it before, I never get tired of hearing Roads speak about working with music “below the note level,” and even below the surface level, to sounds that are only perceived when you hear the resulting, total composition. He describes going beyond just notes in the interview:

Electronic music extends the domain of composition from a closed, homogenous set of notes … to an open universe of heterogeneous sound objects … All of a sudden, we’re working with any sound possible. And that really changes the game.

There’s also a rather poetic comment on why synthetic sounds can be wonderful – a notion that always bears repeating:

Natural sounds are beautiful … but the virtual sound world is also beautiful, the world of sine waves, of impulses, of electronically-generated tones. That’s a vast space… Voila!

As seen, as well, on Synthtopia.

  • truly wonderful. truly inspiring. thanks.


    watched this last night. and again this morning. fantastic piece.

  • pho

    I can't believe it…

    Amidst Curtis' squeaky-clean studio with a spare selection of choice gear, what do I see displayed prominently throughout the video series?

    A Micron!

  • Ben There

    excellent, thanks.

  • i love his speaking. he's just great and classy as his music.

  • this is amazing. i almost took one of his classes but i missed the first session because of some ridiculously useless section. i did manage to take a couple computer music synthesis classes with JoAnn Kuchera-Morin which were very rewarding. having been able to take those classes in spite of being a humanities major was the most scholastically rewarding part of my UCSB career. you can check out their department's site at:

  • azt

    Thanks for this. I bought Microsounds book and I've read the first 30 pages… simply amazing.

  • Pingback: MOTHERBOARD: The Granular Synthesis Of Curtis Roads - superhumanoids blog()

  • poopoo

    Great interview. Wish there was more of this sort of thing on TV.

    watch for the awkward moment after the drug question!

  • He got perhaps some of the worlds greatest speakers.. Mhmmm.. B&W 802D

  • tfstw

    the CREATE website (linked above) isn't updated very regularly these days. take a look at for a more current look at the department at UCSB.

  • Thanks for this.

    I read Microsound cover to cover, but somehow never got around to listening to the accompanying CD. Instead I went off and started doing my own experiments, feeling like I was cheating because I was using Cool Edit 2000 and FLStudio 8 and a bunch of VST plugins, on a computer that cost me only about a week's salary.

  • graham

    was that supercollider i saw on his screen a few times, i really do think it was? if not maybe it was just a similar gui?

  • Andrew Turley

    @graham, it probably was SuperCollider. He mentions it a lot in Microsounds, which leads me to believe that it is probably his tool of choice these days.

  • michel

    yup, that's supercollider.

    now what was that completely unnecessary question about drugs all about?

  • What an inspiring guy. Please post more videos like this, even from the archives.

  • Yeti

    The guy makes some good points, but he such a self centered ass hole. It'd be one thing if he spoke highly about micro sound, which he does, but it's about him making this music, not the music.


    @ yeti

    maybe it makes a difference that he was one of the first to make granular synthesis possible on computers and practically was the first to extensively think and write about microsound. before that you had xenakis cutting grains out of tape.

    that, and i wouldn't compare your inside with the outside of somebody else.