University of Rochester

Course on Engineering and Science of Musical Sound

November 3, 1994

Digital technology rules the airwaves: The songs on the radio, hit movie scores, even symphony recordings are usually a product of electronic music manipulation, a staple of the music industry.

Next semester students at the University of Rochester will study the technical side of musical sound in a new course offering: Musical Sound: Science and Synthesis.

Students will study how instruments such as flutes, violins and guitars produce the sounds they do. Then they'll learn how to model those sounds digitally, generate them by computer, and manipulate those sounds electronically using new synthesis techniques.

"Many of the musical scores you hear for movies and TV shows are computer-generated," says Mark Bocko, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, who is offering the course along with graduate assistant Silagh White. "Today, when a composer writes a symphony, the first place he'll hear it played is on the computer, using electronic synthesis. Digital processing is becoming more and more a part of music."

Students in the course will study the fundamentals underlying electronic music technology, particularly music synthesizers. A synthesizer is much more than a keyboard, notes Bocko; it's really a computer that generates sound. Some of today's synthesizers can even handle input from musicians that alters the sounds the synthesizer produces, allowing musicians to customize the sounds coming from the synthesizer as the musician performs.

"It's no longer just hitting a key and hearing the sound that comes out," says Bocko, who played bassoon in the University's symphony and wind ensemble as a graduate student. "Once you have a digital representation of the sound, you can manipulate it in any way you'd like."

The class will meet Tuesday and Thursday from 12:15 to 1:30. Laboratory sections will be offered Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The laboratory is equipped with computer work stations and a variety of synthesizers and audio equipment to allow the students to generate and manipulate their own sounds and carry out student projects.

The only pre-requisite for the course is some background in mathematics, or, says Bocko, "A lot of motivation. This course is not just for engineers.

"We've got the premier music school in the country, and one of the top electrical engineering departments. It's only natural that we offer a course like this." tr