Photo: Udo Siegfriedt / CTM Festival.

Listen to John Chowning tell how he invented FM synthesis

To this day, it’s a synthesis method capable of producing wonderfully otherworldly sounds. And now as its applications on cell phones and cheap PC audio fade into distant memory, FM synthesis is left as one of the great achievements of musical invention, full stop – let alone being a key milestone of 20th century technology. So perhaps it’s time to revisit its significance.


Read the article Bob Moog wrote when he met Leon Theremin

It’s hard to imagine what the evolution of the synthesizer would have been without Leon Theremin. For one, it was Theremin’s invention that first captivated Robert Moog. Theremin kits were Dr. Moog’s first product and many would say, his first electronic instrumental love. That impact was significant, too, on a whole generation – actually, even my own father made building a kit Theremin one of his early experiences with electronics. The fall of the Soviet Union still has ripples felt in the electronic music world today. And surely there’s no more poignant moment in the intertwining of post-Cold War history …


Free AudioKit Lets iOS, Mac Developers Code Synths and Sound

AudioKit is a promising-looking new open source tool set for coding synthesizers, music, and sound on Apple platforms (though it could certainly be ported to other places if you have the time). The draw: you get not only a robust library but loads of examples and tests, too, for a variety of applications, in both Objective-C and Apple’s new Swift language. And it’s free. The contributors will look familiar – and the core engine comes from community contributions around that most enduring of synthesis tools, Csound. (For those worried about obsolescence and the pace of technology, Csound has its roots …


How Music Can Predict the Human/Machine Future [re:publica Talk, Video]

This week, at Germany’s re:publica conference – an event linking offline and online worlds – I addressed the question of how musical inventions can help predict the way we use tools. I started all the way back tens of thousands of years ago with the first known (likely) musical instrument. From there, I looked at how the requirements of musical interfaces – in time and usability – can inform all kinds of design problems. And I also suggested that musicians don’t lag in innovation as much as people might expect. I thought about whether I wanted to post this as …


Borderlands, Amazing-Looking Granular Sampler [iPad, Desktop, Free Source], and Beautiful Sound

How do you visualize the invisible? How do expose a process with multiple parameters in a way that’s straightforward and musically intuitive? Can messing about with granular sound feel like touching that sound – something untouchable? Music’s ephemeral, unseeable quality, and the ways we approach sound in computer music in similarly abstract ways, are part of the pleasure of making noise. But working out how to then design around that can be equally satisfying. That’s why it’s wonderful to see work like the upcoming Borderlands for iPad and desktop. It solves a problem familiar to computer users – designing an …


csGrain Gets Granular Goodness on iPad 2/3; Vanguard of Multi-Platform Csound Renaissance

Technology may be about the next Big New Thing, but as with music making in general, making music with tech is for many of us a lifetime vocation. So, it’s welcome news to find that time-tested tools, maturing over decades rather than months, are enjoying greater use than ever before. We saw Pure Data (Pd) attracting new interest as the embeddable libpd version allows use in a range of development environments and mobile platforms. Now, it’s about to be Csound’s turn. Of course, before we get to that, if you’ve got an iPad 2 or “3” (aka “the new iPad”), …


Csound For Live: Powerful Sound Creation in Ableton, With or Without Any Coding

With great power comes great learning curves – or maybe not. Csound for Live, just announced this weekend and shipping on Tuesday, brings one of the great sound design tools into the Ableton Live environment. You can use it without any actual knowledge of Csound, without a single line of code — or, for those with the skills, it could transform how you use Csound. For anyone who thinks music creation software has to be disposable, you’ve never seen Csound. With a lineage going literally to the dawn of digital synthesis and Max Mathews, Csound has managed to stay compatible …


Max Mathews, Father of Digital Synthesis, Computer Innovator, Dies at 84

Max Mathews is best known for his involvement in the debut of digital synthesis, but he contributed much more. His Radio Baton predicted gestural controllers that arrived much later from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, and it may be his code design ideas that outlast even the memory of the computer’s first musical utterances. Photo CC-BY-NC-SA) Rainer Kohlberger. Max Mathews, the man who literally first gave voice to computer music, died yesterday at age 84. I can only offer my heartfelt condolences to Max’s friends and family. Max was the man present at the moment when the very subject matter of …


Crowdsourced Vocal Synthesis: 2000 People Singing “Daisy Bell”

Bicycle Built for Two Thousand from Aaron on Vimeo. The song “Daisy Bell” has a special place in computer history. Max Mathews, who had by the late 50s pioneered digital synthesis using IBM 704 mainframe, arranged the tune in 1961 for vocoder-derived vocal synthesis technology on technology developed by John Larry Kelly, Jr.. Kelly himself is better known for applying number theory to investing in the markets — an unfortunate achievement in the wake of a financial collapse brought down by misuse of mathematical theory. In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke happened to hear the 704 singing the Mathews/Kelly “Daisy Bell,” …


Electric Violins, IBM Mainframes, and Playboy

Pop quiz: what instrument by pioneering “father of digital audio” (or, if you’d rather, “great-grandfather of Techno”) Max Mathews was featured on the cover of Playboy Magazine? If you guessed the IBM 704 mainframe, the computer on which Mathews generated the first computer music the world ever heard, you’d be — wrong! Would that we were so lucky. I’m sure you hard-core geeks can imagine your favorite woman or man sprawled over those . . . crisp lines . . . cold, slab surfaces . . . humming away . . . see the 704 photos here and here. The …