Computer Music

Larry Polansky's update of Charles Ames's entry for an earlier edition.

Encyclopedia of Computer Science, 4th edition (2003) pp. 396-404.

ACM Digital Library


Historically, the first application of computers to music resulted in compositions such as Hiller and Isaacson's famous 1957 Illiac Suite for string quartet. In this work, a mainframe (q.v.) computer was used to emulate stochastically well-known musical stylistic rules, and derive some of its own in a very loosely constrained random compositional procedure. Shortly thereafter, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Max Mathews and his colleagues at Bell Laboratories introduced the first programs for digital sound synthesis. This work began as tangential to the laboratory's work in speech synthesis and recognition, but soon became musically important in and of itself. Today, computers participate in all aspects of music making, including composition, live performance processing, the study of music cognition, musicology, music notation and score printing, sound production, studio editing of performance data and digitized audio signals, and sound reproduction. In addition, sonic representation, audio compression and communications protocols have become extremely important in the use of the Internet (q.v.) as a tool for commercial and artistic musical activity.

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