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Computer Music Synthesis MUET 495 Denny Lin Objectives of this course Explore the history of computer music Learn sound synthesis techniques using computer software Build a MIDI music synthesizer system Definitions of Computer Music

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Computer Music Synthesis

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computer music synthesis

Computer Music Synthesis

MUET 495

Denny Lin

objectives of this course
Objectives of this course
  • Explore the history of computer music
  • Learn sound synthesis techniques using computer software
  • Build a MIDI music synthesizer system
definitions of computer music
Definitions of Computer Music
  • Computer music includes theory and application of technologies in music:
    • Sound Design and Synthesis
    • Digital Signal Processing
    • Acoustics
  • Computer music is rooted in electronic music, and early experiments in electronic instruments
  • Recently, all music created with computing technology is called “Computer Music”
approaches to computer music
Approaches to Computer Music
  • Computer Generated Music
    • Computer-generated scores for human players
    • Composed and performed by computer
    • Computer-Aided Algorithmic Composition
  • Machine Improvisation
    • Create improvisations based on existing musical material, by using machine learning or pattern matching algorithms
  • Live Coding
    • Interactive on-the-fly programming, integrating data from real-time controllers and gestures
music synthesis
Music Synthesis
  • Music Synthesis is a particular application of sound synthesis
  • Sound synthesis is the process of generating sound from:
    • Mechanical equipment: Pipe organs
    • Electro-mechanical equipment: Telharmonium and Hammond organs
    • Analog electronic equipment: Moog and Buchla synthesizer
    • Digital electronic equipment: All MIDI controlled, and computer software based synthesizers
  • Computer Music Synthesis is the software driven approach to synthesizing sound for musical purposes
popular sound synthesis techniques
Popular Sound Synthesis Techniques
  • Additive: Combine (adding) many waveforms pitched to different harmonics, each with different amplitude envelope, and inharmonic artifacts
  • Wavetable: Restricted form of additive synthesis, where all partials or overtones are harmonic
  • Subtractive: Remove harmonic content from sound using low-pass filter(s)
  • Frequency Modulation: Alter or distort the (carrier) audio frequency of an oscillator with the amplitude of another modulating audio signal
  • Granular: Cloud of layered sonic events, each 5-100ms long from synthetic waveforms or samples, played at different speed, phase and volume
  • Sampling: Multiple recordings (samples) of instruments are made for each of its registers, and sound levels
  • Physical Modeling: Use the physical model of an instrument, and mathematical equations to simulate its sound
short timeline of music synthesis

Gray’s Electric Telegraph for Transmitting Musical Tones

Edison’s Phonograph

1890s – 1900s

Aeriol Piano (First substantially complete player piano)


Telharmonium or Dynamophone

1910s - 1920s

Ondes Martenot



1930s - 1940s

Magnetophon and Stereo tape recorder

Hammond organ invented

1950s – 1960s

Scott’s Clavivox

Schaeffer’s Concrete Music

RCA Synthesizer (driven by punched-paper tapes)

1950s – 1960s (continued)

ADSR Envelope specified

Chowning discovers FM synthesis

Voltage Controlled Oscillators

First music synthesis software created: MUSIC 1

Moog Synthesizer

1970s – 1980s

MiniMoog, Buchla Synthesizers

IRCAM opens

Yamaha DX-7

MIDI born

1990s – 2000s

Software-based synthesizers

Interactive computer-assisted performance

MAX released

Home-based production studios in software

Short Timeline of Music Synthesis
  • Find an equation that describes the curve of musical note frequencies
  • Write a program that calculates the frequency of each note in real-time, without frequency lookup
  • Program should play recorded notes from file
  • Are other frequencies less “valid” than the 12 tone-equal-temperament tuning?
references and pd links
References and PD Links

Sound Synthesis and Electronic Music references


MUET495 Textbooks:


PD Documentation


PD Tutorials