Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 1, last updated 6/25/2013
production required a wall full of equipment interconnected with scores of patch cables, all
working together to play a single instrument's sound, live, one note at a time.
The concept of using digital technology to create sound has been around for a long time.
The first documented instance of the idea was in 1842 when Ada Lovelace wrote about the
analytical engine invented by Charles Babbage. Babbage was essentially making a digital
calculator. Before the device was even built, Lovelace saw its potential applications beyond mere
number crunching. She speculated that anything that could be expressed through and adapted to
“the abstract science of operations” – for example, music – could then be placed under the
creative influence of machine computation with amazing results. In Ada Lovelace‟s words:
Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the
science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such
expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific
pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.
It took 140 years, however, before we began to see this idea realized in any practical
format. In 1983, Yamaha released its DX-series keyboard synthesizers. The most popular of
these was the DX7. What made these synthesizers significant from a historical perspective is that
they employed digital circuits to make the instrument sounds and used an early version of the
Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), later ratified in 1984, to handle the communication
of the keyboard performance data, in and out of the synthesizer.
The year 1982 saw the release of the digital audio compact disc (CD). Researchers from
various electronics companies had been experimenting with the idea of recorded digital audio
since the mid-1960s, but it took many years before all the technology came together that allowed
an analog audio signal to be stored digitally at an acceptable resolution and then written onto an
optical disc. The first commercially available compact disc was pressed on August 17, 1982, in
Hannover, Germany. The disc contained a recording of Richard Strauss‟s Eine Alpensinfonie,
played by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
Today, digital sound and music are flourishing, and tools are available at a price that
almost any aspiring sound artist can afford. This evolution in available tools has changed the way
we approach sound. While current digital technology still has limitations, this isn‟t really what
gets in the way when musicians, sound designers, and sound engineers set out to bring their ideas
to life. It‟s the sound artists‟ mastery of their technical tools that is more often a bar to their
creativity. Harnessing this technology in real practice often requires a deeper understanding of
the underlying science being employed, a subject that artists traditionally avoid. However, the
links that sound provides between science, art, and practice are now making interdisciplinary
work more alluring and encouraging musicians, sound designers, and audio engineers to cross
these traditional boundaries. This book is aimed at a broad spectrum of readers who approach
sound from various directions. Our hope is to help reinforce the interdisciplinary connections
and to enable our readers to explore sound from the perspective and at the depth they choose.