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Brandon Smith

Music production software company based in Berlin, with a branch in New York. Ableton (Ableton AG) was founded in 1999 by Gerhard Behles, Robert Henke, and Bernd Roggendorf. Its main product is a computer program called Live, which was released in 2001. This is a digital audio workstation (DAW) environment for recording audio and MIDI with an emphasis on working in real time, essentially allowing the user to play the software as an instrument. Practically any operation can be controlled via MIDI. Since its introduction, Live has become popular among electronic music artists for its ability to allow spontaneous manipulation of audio in a performance situation. Many manufacturers of MIDI controllers have developed control surfaces for Live, bridging the gap between software and hardware.

Live is equally suited to arranging and production applications, with abilities similar to those of other popular recording platforms such as Cubase and Pro Tools. It can run in tandem with most other DAW systems using the ReWire protocol by Steinberg Media Technologies (the creators of Cubase), allowing Live and other programs to share audio and MIDI information with a host DAW. In many ways Live has redefined the role software and computers in general have had in music creation and production. It was among the first programs able automatically to ‘beat match’ (synchronize audio files with different tempos). An integrated Max/MSP platform (a visual programming language) allows users to program their own virtual instruments by linking together pre-made blocks or ‘objects’. Ableton also produces virtual instrument plug-ins and libraries of samples for their Live platform....



Laurence Libin


Pneumatic-mechanical device for amplifying sound outdoors and in large indoor spaces. It was patented in England in 1898 and 1901 by the aviation engineer and acoustician Horace Short (1872–1917) and developed (initially as a hobby) from 1903 by the mechanical engineer and inventor Sir Charles Algernon Parsons (1851–1931), who had purchased the patents. It was intended for use with gramophones and was also applied to instruments for live performance, like the earlier diaphragm and horn amplification system of Augustus Stroh. As applied to the gramophone, the auxeto modulates a flow of compressed air by means of a grid-valve (a reed assembly operating somewhat like the reeds of a harmonica). As the needle moves along the record groove, a metal comb affixed to the stylus bar opens or closes slots in the valve seat, imparting powerful pulses of air corresponding to the sounds originally recorded; these sound pulses are then projected through a large horn. The air compressor, which feeds a cylindrical pressure tank, is driven by an electric motor, and the air is filtered to remove particles that might clog the valve. When less volume is required or no electricity is available, a so-called soundbox can be substituted for the auxeto, allowing the gramophone to operate normally....


Circuit bending  

Brandon Smith

Creation of new connections inside sound-generating electronic devices to provide sounds unintended by their original designers. A wide range of effects can be achieved, and extra tactile controls such as potentiometers, switches, photocells, and body contacts can be added to control the new effects, the most frequent modification being for pitch control. Often various ‘bends’ are found accidentally by arbitrarily connecting two different points on the circuit board. Circuit bending has attracted considerable attention among persons interested in experimental electronic music and synthesizers, and it can be achieved with limited electronics knowledge and construction skills. Because circuit bending calls for unauthorised, sometimes radical changes to the circuitry’s original pathways, it risks damaging or destroying the device being modified. Toys are often exploited for circuit bending because of their ubiquity and low cost and the small risk of electrical shock from their low voltage. Battery-operated toys such as the Texas Instruments Speak n’ Spell and the Casio SK-1 have latent sonic potential and are prime targets for tinkerers seeking such sounds inexpensively or at no cost and because they tend to ‘glitch’ easily, spewing out fragmented bits of digital speech and strange sounds. Examples of circuit-bent creations include electronic keyboards, sound modules, drum machines, effects pedals, and karaoke machines. Video bending uses these same methods to modify video-game consoles to make abstract visual patterns in addition to novel sounds....


Coupleux-Givelet organ  

Hugh Davies

[orgue des ondes (Fr.: ‘organ of the waves’)]

Electronic organ designed by the organ builder Edouard Eloi Coupleux of Tourcoing and the radio engineer Joseph Armand Givelet in Paris in 1929–30, and produced under patents of 1934 and 1936. It was the first successful polyphonic instrument based on electronic oscillators (demonstrated already in Givelet’s monophonic piano radioélectrique in 1927) and the first electronic organ to be in regular use. In 1931 Charles Tournemire played the Coupleux-Givelet organ at the church of Villemomble. Up to the mid-1930s at least four were installed in churches in France and Switzerland and one at the Poste Parisien broadcasting station (hence the instrument’s alternative name). The prototype contained only 12 oscillators, the signals from which were routed through frequency doublers; this rather primitive system in which each oscillator signal could be transposed only to other octave positions did not permit the simultaneous sounding of octaves. The finished organs normally had two manuals, with one easily tunable oscillator for each note, necessitating a total of 250 to 700 valves. The Poste Parisien organ (...


Digital Audio Workstation  

Alex U. Case


A digital audio workstation (DAW) comprises a combination of computer hardware and software used for the computer-based creation of recorded music through multitrack production. It typically consists of a multitrack recorder, a mixer, and a diversity of signal processors, such as faders, pan pots, equalizers, compressors, delays, and reverbs. The DAW unites within a desktop or laptop computer the full functionality that the analog recording studio offers across many separate components, including tape machines, mixing consoles, and effects devices.

While the DAW possesses all of the essential functional capabilities of a stand-alone recording studio entirely within the computer environment, it generally permits interfacing with additional tools. Third-party software called plug-ins may be incorporated into the DAW through industry standard protocols. This enables the DAW to leverage the features and qualities of different tools from a variety of software developers. On the one hand, audio interfaces possessing digital-to-analog converters enable the audio to leave the DAW platform and have the benefit of any available external, outboard analog signal processors. On the other hand, analog-to-digital converters return analog-processed audio back into the DAW. In this way, the DAW takes advantage of both new and legacy analog recording studio devices, providing the user the best of both worlds, analog and digital....


EMS (ii)  

Hugh Davies

revised by Anne Beetem Acker

[Elektronmusikstudion] (Swed.: ‘electronic music studio’)

The Swedish national centre for electronic music and sound art, in Stockholm. It was preceded by a smaller studio run by the Worker’s Society of Education from 1960. EMS was established by Swedish Radio in 1964 under music director and composer Karl Birger Blomdahl (1916–68), who hired the composer and performer Knut Wiggen (b 1927) to take charge of creating the studios. In 1965 an old radio theatre studio called the klangverstan (‘sound workshop’) opened for composers. Construction of a new facility was begun, but after Blomdahl’s death EMS became independent, funded only in small part by Swedish Radio, and otherwise by Fylkingen (a society for experimental music and arts) and the Swedish Royal Academy of Music.

Wiggen envisioned EMS as both a place to produce electro-acoustic music and a research institution that would give the composer ‘the possibility of describing sounds in psychological terms’. The studio was equipped accordingly. The sound sculpture ...


Encoding, music and multimedia  

Shlomo Dubnov

Many encoding formats exist today to represent music, such as DARMS, NIFF, and MusicXML for score typing and publishing, Csound, MIDI, and SASL/SAOL for computer-generated performances, and AAC, MP3, and MPEG for audio and video recordings. These formats capture specific aspects of music but are unable to encode all of these aspects together.

First proposed in 2001, the IEEE Standard 1599 has been developed to allow interaction with music, such as notes and sounds in video applications, and in ad hoc interactive devices by providing a technological framework that makes prerecorded music and related media content navigable and interactive. This is achieved by the use of layers that combine encodings of music with structural and logical representations to allow alternative versions and random access within the piece. These layers are logically organized and synchronized by XML files consisting of symbols that represent an event, referring and pointing to different instances of the same event in the various layers....


Envelope generator  

Anne Beetem Acker

[envelope shaper]

Electronic circuit that controls a voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA), voltage-controlled filter (VCF), or voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO), allowing the output behaviour (or envelope, as the output curve is known in electronics) of a sound signal to be shaped over time. When controlling a VCA the envelope generator shapes volume; controlling a VCF affects timbre, while mixing signals to a VCA and VCO produces a frequency contour. The most common envelope shaper, the ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release), generates a four-segment signal that allows for setting the rise and fall rates for the attack, decay, and release, and setting a level for the sustain. Some ADSRs allow each segment to be scaled proportionately to an input signal such as key velocity. Advanced envelope generators, such as a UEG (universal event generator), can have hundreds of segments for which time and slope can be set, and provide a means to repeat, skip, or abbreviate a segment....


Erbe, Thomas  

Eliot Gattegno

(b Milwaukee, WI, June 27, 1960). American computer musician, sound engineer, and educator. Erbe has played an important role in American experimental and electronic music since the late 1980s. He wrote the pioneering and widely used program SoundHack, has taught computer music at key institutions, and has become one of the most highly respected sound engineers for contemporary music. Erbe studied computer science and music at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and got his start as an audio engineer by volunteering at WEFT, WPGU, and Faithful Sound Studios.

He was the technical director of the Center for Contemporary Music (CCM) at Mills College (1987–93). There he worked as a computer musician and recording engineer with composers Robert Ashley (Improvement, 1992), Larry Polansky (The Theory of Impossible Melody, 1993), James Tenney (Selected Works, 1993), and Alvin Curran (Schtyx, 1994). During this period he also developed a four-channel spatial audio processor for the NASA Ames Research Center. His research at CCM included the development of SoundHack (...



Hugh Davies, Annette Vande Gorne, and Anne Beetem Acker

[Générateur automatique de musique électronique] (Fr.: ‘automatic electronic music generator’)

Composition machine developed by the Belgian composer Léo Küpper (b Nidrum, 16 April 1935) in Brussels between 1968 and 1978. Küpper had begun experimenting with electronic music in 1959 while a student at Liège University, using two Brüel & Kjaer oscillators and a tape recorder. In 1962 he began work in Brussels at APELAC, the first Belgian electronic music studio, and joined the musical sound-effects department of the RTBF. The GAME system formed the basis of Küpper’s electronic music studio in Brussels, the Studio de Recherches et de Structurations Electroniques Auditives, which he founded in 1967. The first version of the GAME, completed in 1971, was used in concerts and installations. It consisted of 60 separate modules, using a combination of analogue and digital techniques, which could be freely selected and combined. The modules were programmed in an upright console approximately 4 × 2 metres by making a large number of patchcord interconnections, so that the surface of the console was festooned with cables. Most of the controls operated during a performance were placed in front of the console....


Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology  

Jason Freeman and Frank Clark


Interdisciplinary research centre for music, computing, engineering, design, and business, founded in 2008 at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The Center focuses on the development and deployment of transformative musical technologies, and emphasizes the impact of music technology research on scholarship, industry, and culture. In 2012 the Center had 23 faculty members.

Numerous projects have involved the development of new musical instruments, particularly mobile instruments for smartphone devices; robotic musicians that can listen to and collaborate with human performers; and novel instruments and interfaces designed for health and educational applications. GTCMT research projects have received many grants, mostly from the National Science Foundation. Two spinoff companies, ZooZ Mobile and Khush, have commercialized research results to produce mobile music creation applications.

Though the GTCMT does not have a direct educational mission, it collaborates closely with the university’s School of Music, and several of its faculty members teach courses and advise students in Georgia Tech’s Master of Science and Ph.D. programmes in music technology. The GTCMT presents concerts featuring new instruments, and related events, notably the annual Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, co-sponsored since ...


Helmholtz resonator  

Murray Campbell

An enclosed volume communicating with the atmosphere through a relatively small aperture or neck. Such a cavity has the property of resonating over a narrow range of frequencies; the frequency of maximum response was derived by the 19th-century acoustician Hermann von Helmholtz, and is known as the Helmholtz resonance frequency.

An everyday example of a Helmholtz resonator is provided by an empty bottle. An increase in the air pressure outside the bottle tends to push the air in the neck further into the bottle. This compresses the air in the main volume of the bottle, resulting in a force tending to push the air back out of the neck. The plug of air in the neck bounces on the main volume, like a weight bouncing on a spring. The natural bouncing frequency is the Helmholtz resonance frequency; a note of the corresponding pitch can be sounded by blowing across the open end of the bottle....


Key Character  

Paul Ellison

A term used to define the theory that affective meanings are conveyed through the considered selection of particular keys. Many composers and theorists embraced this theory in some form from the late 17th century onwards.

While key character had its origins in the affective nature of individual modes, the process of transmission of meanings and their transformation for tonal music is not completely clear. The Venetian music theorist Gioseffo Zarlino categorized differences between the meaning of the modes in ancient Greece and those of the contemporaneous church modes in his influential treatise Institutione harmoniche (Venice, 1558). An important element in this transition was the contrasted affective potential of thirds. He was the first to identify the concept of associating the major third (maggiore) with happiness – deeming it ‘lively and cheerful’ – and the minor third (minore) with sorrow – ‘rather sad and languid’ (Institutioni, p.182). Zarlino also differentiated major and minor triads, describing the first as ...



Anne Beetem Acker

Unique MIDI synthesizer controlled by a gamma-ray spectrometer designed and built by Jerry Chamkis (b Los Angeles, CA, 1942). He studied physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but disillusioned by the emphasis on military applications, he left and became chief engineer at a radio station in Houston, Texas. In 1975, he formed AERCO (Acme Electric Robot Company), where he initially produced peripheral devices and memory expansions for small computers and then moved on to computer-controlled hot wire cutting systems, broadcast equipment, and microphone preamplifiers. Since about 2000 he has concentrated on various art projects such as the Kosmophone.

The gamma-ray spectrometer used for the Kosmophone operates at 3–7 million electron volts, the energy coming primarily from very high-energy cosmic radiation. Although mostly stopped by the atmosphere, gamma rays produce secondary energy emissions that the Kosmophone detects, sending the information to a synthesizer MIDI control port. The radiation pulses are processed and digitized to 12 bits, 7 of which are sent as the MIDI pitch value and 4 as the MIDI velocity value. The first Kosmophone was built from standard nuclear instrumentation modules and custom circuit boards. The second version is a self-contained portable unit with an integral detector, a self-contained nuclear analyser, an Alesis QSR synthesizer, and a 100-watt-per-channel amplifier. It was first shown publicly at the Electricity and Me show at Gallery Lombardi in Austin, Texas, in ...


McMillen, Keith  

Anne Beetem Acker

(b Bermuda, July 10, 1957). American audio engineer, musician, and owner of Keith McMillen Instruments, based in Berkeley, California. He received his BS in acoustics from the University of Illinois, where he also studied classical guitar and composition. In 1979 he founded Zeta Music, which designed and sold electric and electronic violins and basses. In 1992 he organized a research laboratory for Gibson Guitars. He developed a computerized composition, notation, and performance system, and also helped devise ZIPI, a MIDI-like music control language. At the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at the University of California, Berkeley, he researched audio networking, synthesizers, and string instruments. In 1996 he became director of engineering for the audio processing and distributed music networks division of Harmon Kardon. In 1999 he founded Octiv, Inc., an Internet audio signal processing company, which produced the ‘Volume Logic’ plug-in for iTunes that allows digital audio remastering to improve the sound produced by computers and MP3 players....


Mobile phone  

Alexander Bonus

[iPhone, Android, smartphone]

Portable electronic communication device. These have become robust platforms for digital audio production, composition, and music performance since the beginning of the 21st century. Recent compositions for mobile-phone ringtones might represent an emerging music genre. Since 2008, many commercial apps have transformed mobile devices into miniature synthesizers. Popular virtual-instrument programs such as Ocarina (2008) by the Smule Corporation and Band (2008) by MooCowMusic harness the phone’s numerous interfaces in various ways. Multi-point touch screens offer players the ability to manipulate graphical fingerholes, fretboards, drum pads, and keyboards, thus approximating the playing experience of acoustic wind, string, percussion, and keyboard instruments. Beyond its use in voice recording and transmission, a device’s microphone can register breath intensity, enabling users to initiate tones and alter dynamics as though playing a wind instrument.

Some mobile sound-production programs feature real-time voice manipulation, including auto-tune or pitch correction. Additional levels of musical functionality can be mapped to a phone’s accelerometer (an internal speed and direction detector). When the device is swung, shaken, or tilted, the accelerometer can trigger alterations in timbre, vibrato, pitch, and other variables. More advanced uses have been proposed. For example, a phone’s camera, acting as a real-time motion sensor, could affect many aspects of sound synthesis and sequencing; and the GPS (global positioning system) indicator has the potential to take location markers from other phones across the planet and turn those data into sonic information....


Novak, Yann  

Mandy-Suzanne Wong

(b Madison, WI, 1979). American sound artist, installation artist, electronic composer, laptop performer, and visual artist. Based in Los Angeles, he has collaborated with Will Long, Mise_En_Scene, and Marc Manning, among others, and exhibited and performed throughout the United States and Europe. He owns and operates Dragon’s Eye Recordings, which promotes promising but under-recognized sound artists and composers.

Novak’s installations, along with his electronic compositions and performances, typically consist of quiet, subtly shifting textures. These sounds are often field recordings of environmental sounds, digitally transformed into exquisite drones or slow-moving melodies, as in +ROOM (2009). Novak’s work is often associated with Ambient music, demonstrating the fluid, and indeed questionable, nature of the boundary between music and field recording or, generally speaking, between music and sound art. However, unlike ambient music, Novak’s pieces are often programmatic. The goal, in many of his works, is to transform documentation into narrative by digitally altering prerecorded sounds and images. His alterations often consist not of fleshing out sounds and images by adding to their characteristics, but of digitally erasing their distinguishing features. He may obliterate the movement that we typically see in video, reducing it to a static expanse of color. Similarly, he alters environmental sounds beyond recognition into contemplative textures....



Electronic circuit that generates a single periodic waveform. Linear or harmonic oscillators produce a sinusoidal output, while non-linear or relaxation oscillators produce a non-sinusoidal output such as a sawtooth, square, or triangle wave. Audio oscillators produce frequencies in the audio range (16 Hz to 20 kHz), RF oscillators in the radio frequency range (100 kHz to 100 GHz), and LFO (low frequency oscillators) produce frequencies below 20 Hz. For the independent use of oscillators as musical instruments, ...


San Francisco Tape Music Center  

Marc Battier

Music studio and composer’s collective. It was established in San Francisco in 1961 by Ramon Sender and Pauline Oliveros, and was soon joined by Morton Subotnick. Its first location was on Jones Street, but after the building accidentally burned down, the center relocated to a large building on Divisadero Street. It was not only the first electronic music studio on the West Coast but also became a hub of artistic activities and technological research. In addition to offering light shows designed by Anthony Martin, it hosted many composers, poets and artists, and programmed various concerts: the Sonics series, regular programming featuring avant-garde music from the Americas, Asia, and Europe, the three Tudorfest festivals, and other events. This is where in 1964 Terry Riley’s In C was first performed and in 1965 Steve Reich first played his It’s gonna rain. The center was the site of a number of technological developments with Bill Maginnis, also a composer, and, in ...


Silva, Cândido [Candido] Inácio [Ignacio] da  

Marcelo Hazan

(b Rio de Janeiro, 1799/1800; d Rio de Janeiro, May 29, 1838). Brazilian composer and tenor. His birth certificate is not extant (the date provided is based on information from an 1821 customs record). At an early age he entered the music course for boys taught by José Maurício Nunes Garcia. Subsequently, he was handpicked by Prince João to take violin and viola lessons from an unknown instructor in preparation for future admission in the royal chamber. In 1820 he joined the royal chapel choir without compensation. In 1827, under Prince Pedro, he petitioned for admission in the chamber orchestra or, optionally, for a promotion in the chapel choir, but precedence was given to other musicians in both instances.

Silva was gravely injured during a theft amidst the urban unrest that surrounded Pedro’s resignation in 1831. Not by coincidence, he appears as a founding signatory of the Sociedade Defensora, whose goals included enhancing the patrolling of Rio de Janeiro’s streets. Throughout the troubled 1830s, when costly operatic productions became unviable in Rio de Janeiro, Silva sang in unstaged performances promoted by the Sociedade de Beneficência, the professional musicians’ association. In ...