Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 1, last updated 6/25/2013
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1 Chapter 1 Getting Ready
1.1 Sounds Like Fun!
We walk through this world wrapped in the vibrations of sound. Sounds are all around us all of
the time, whether we pay attention to them or not. Most people love music. Its melodies,
harmonies, rhythms, consonances, dissonances, reverberations, tonalities, and atonalities find
resonance in our souls and echo in our minds. Those of us with an artistic calling may love the
form, structure, beauty, and endless possibilities for creativity in music and sound. Those of us
with a scientific bent may be fascinated by the intellectual intricacy of sound and music,
endlessly moldable by mathematics, algorithms, and computers. Sounds can be maddeningly
impossible to ignore, or surprisingly difficult to notice. If your neighbor decides to begin his
deck construction project early on a Saturday morning, it's likely that you won't be able to tune
out the pounding and sawing. But when your heart starts racing at a bullet-riddled chase scene in
an action movie, you probably won't even notice how the movie's background score is
manipulating your emotions. Music gets attached to events in our lives so that when we hear the
same music again, the memories come wafting back into our thoughts. In short, sounds are a
significant part of our experience of life.
So that's why we're here we musicians, theatre and film sound designers, audio
engineers, computer scientists, self-taught audiophiles, and generally curious folks. We're here
to learn about what sound and music are, how they interact with the digital world, and what we
can do with them when we apply our creativity, intellect, and computer-based tools. Let's get
started!
1.2 How This Book is Organized
What follows is a series of chapters and learning supplements that explore the science of digital
sound with a concerted effort to link the scientific principles to “real life” practice. Each chapter
is organized into three sections. The first section covers the basic principles being taught. The
second section provides examples of where these principles are found in the professional practice
of digital sound. The third section explores these principles further and allows for deeper
experimentation with programming and computational tools. As you progress through each
chapter, you‟ll come across demonstrations, exercises, and projects at varying levels of
abstraction. Starting at the highest level of abstraction, you might begin with an off-the-shelf
software tool like Logic Pro or Cakewalk Sonar, descend through tools like Max and MATLAB,
and end with a low abstraction level in the form of C programming exercises. This book is
intended to be useful to readers from different backgrounds musicians, computer scientists,
film sound designers, theater sound designers, audio engineers, or anyone interested in sound.
The book‟s structure should allow readers to explore the relationships among fundamental
concepts, professional practice, and underlying science in the realm of digital sound, delving
down to the level of abstraction that best fits their interests and needs.
1.3 A Brief History of Digital Sound
It‟s difficult to measure the enormous impact that digital technology has had on sound design,
engineering, and related arts. It was not that long ago that the ideas of sound designers and
composers were severely limited by the capabilities of their tools. Magnetic tape, in its various
forms, was king. Sound editing involved razor blades and bloody fingertips. Electronic music
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