David M. Howard: Science underpins music making

David Howard is a Professor of Music Technology at the University of York, UK. His teaching and research are concerned with the analysis and synthesis of sounds, especially singing, speech and music. He is author with Jamie Angus of “Acoustics and Psychoacoustics”, 3rd Ed., 2006, Oxford: Focal Press and with Damian Murphy of “Voice science, acoustics and recording”, 2008, San Diego: Plural Press.

Music needs notes, notes are sounds and sounds need a vibrating source. The nature of the vibrations, the pitch of the notes and how notes of different instruments sound different can all be described by science. These scientific descriptions are an essential part of the success of the electronic and acoustic worlds of music and sounds that are all around us, from ring tones, fire alarms, warning sounds, entertainment systems, MP3 players, recording studios, public address systems, radio and television, cinemas, concert halls and opera houses.

Mathematics underpins music in terms of the definitions of the notes of a scale from whatever culture and whatever historical period. Electronic synthesis offers the possibility of recreating sounds from anywhere and anytime through the application of historical knowledge and science. These principles can be extended to take us into realms of music making that could never be realised with physical acoustic instruments through a process known as “physical modelling”.

Such acoustic science also has applications in the forensic world when seeking to establish who is speaking on a recording and what is being said, whether a recording has been tampered with or not, whether a music track is a copy of an original or not, whether a recorded gunshot sound came from a particular gun, who made a 999 call or what was being said on a cockpit voice recorder recording after a plane crash.

Science is not enough on its own, it also requires a large measure of creativity. Add ingenuity and you are in the realm of engineering.

I believe that creativity is in everyone - it is a simply matter of how much it is allowed to flourish.

One Comment

  1. Realm
    Posted January 23, 2009 at 3:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Really have to say this article was great. "Everything's great!" I was so in awe when I watched the commercial where the car drove down the road and the road played music by driving over the road. The Music Industry keeps changing and getting in is about being creative and passionate about, well, even science and music. RC trains around your schedule under a mentor on real gigs. http://www.recordingconnection.com

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