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Microsound Kindle Edition

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Length: 424 pages

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Editorial Reviews


The 'final frontier' of computer music is undoubtedly microsound -- the quantum level of acoustics -- and Curtis Roads boldly leads us into this new domain, which will become increasingly important in the twenty-first century. In providing the history, theory, and compositional practice of the micro scale of sound design, Roads clearly lays out the roadmap to this exciting and challenging area of digital research. The book is destined to become the standard reference in the field for years to come.

(Barry Traux, Professor, Simon Fraser University)

The best survey to date of real-time machine techniques for musical composition, performance, and improvisation.

(Miller Puckette, Professor, Department of Music, University of California San Diego)

Microsound is packed with insight and stimulating ideas.

(Douglas Geers Electronic Musician)

Microsound offers an enticing series of slice 'n' dice audio recipes from one of the pioneering researchers into the amazingly rich world of granular synthesis. I can't wait to try these at home.

(David Zicarelli, founder and president, Cycling '74)

Roads has assembled a thorough survey of software and techniques for granular synthesis, and provides a useful discussion of related musical practices and aesthetic implications that arise.

(Miller Puckette, Professor, Department of Music, University of California San Diego)

About the Author

Curtis Roads is Associate Professor of Media Arts and Technology, with a joint appointment in the Department of Music, at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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More About the Author

Curtis Roads (b. 1951) holds a joint appointment as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Media Arts and Technology (MAT) and in Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), where he is also Associate Director of the Center for Research in Electronic Art Technology (CREATE). He studied music composition and computer programming at California Institute of the Arts, the University of California, San Diego (BA Summa Cum Laude with Highest Departmental Honors), and the University of Paris VIII (PhD Très honorable avec félicitations). From 1980 to 1986 he was a researcher in computer music at the MIT Media Laboratory. He then taught at the Federico II University of Naples, Harvard University, Oberlin Conservatory, CCMIX (Paris), and the University of Paris 8. He has led masterclasses at the Australian National Conservatory (Melbourne), Prometeo Laboratorio (Parma), Ionian University (Corfu), Goethe Institute (Rome), Kunitachi College of Music (Tokyo), Royal Conservatory (Aarhus), Catholic University (Porto), and the Zürich University of the Arts, among others. He is co-organizer of international workshops on musical signal processing in Sorrento, Capri, and Santa Barbara (1988, 1991, 1997, 2000). He served on the composition juries of the Ars Electronica (Linz) and the International Electroacoustic Music Competition (Bourges, France). Certain of his compositions feature granular and pulsar synthesis, methods he developed for generating sound from acoustical particles. A cofounder of the International Computer Music Association in 1979, he was Editor of Computer Music Journal (The MIT Press) from 1978 to 1989, and Associate Editor 1990-2000. His books include Foundations of Computer Music (1985, The MIT Press), Composers and the Computer (1985, AR Editions), The Music Machine (1989, The MIT Press), Representations of Musical Signals (1991, The MIT Press), The Computer Music Tutorial (1996, The MIT Press), Musical Signal Processing (co-editor, 1997, Routledge), L'audionumerique (1998, Dunod), The Computer Music Tutorial - Japanese edition (2000, Denki Daigaku Shuppan) and Microsound (2002, The MIT Press), which explores the aesthetics and techniques of composition with sound particles. A revised edition of L'audionumerique was published in 2007. A Chinese version of The Computer Music Tutorial is scheduled for publication in 2010 as a national textbook. His music is available on compact discs produced by Asphodel, MODE, OR, the MIT Media Laboratory, and Wergo. His composition Clang-Tint (1994) was commissioned by the Japan Ministry of Culture (Bunka-cho). His electronic music collection POINT LINE CLOUD won the Award of Distinction at the 2002 Ars Electronica and was released as a CD + DVD on the Asphodel label (San Francisco) in 2005. In 2007 he received a National Science Foundation grant for research in algorithms for sound analysis (dictionary-based pursuit). He is currently completing a new book Composing Electronic Music: A New Aesthetic for Oxford University Press, a revised edition of The Computer Music Tutorial for The MIT Press, and a new set of electronic music entitled FLICKER TONE PULSE.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By calvinnme HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Many people today seem to be obsessed with recreating 'classic' sounds, whether it's Minimoogs, TB303s or even traditional orchestral instruments. So it's refreshing to find that there are still people out there intent on pushing the boundaries of synthesis further and creating new sounds. Curtis Roads has done more than most in this field, and this book on granular synthesis that he has authored is a fairly comprehensive guide to the subject.

Roads' involvement with granular synthesis began in 1972, and his research in the field has resulted in him eventually developing his own software. Granular synthesis deals with sound at a 'quantum' level: the sonic atom being the individual sample (any one of the 44100 taken in a second at the standard sampling rate). To be audible as anything other than a click, samples need to be grouped together to form grains of sound. These grains are typically anywhere between three and one hundred milliseconds in length. Granular synthesis is concerned with the organization and processing of both samples and grains to create sounds that are often far beyond the range of more traditional methods of synthesis.

The technology and software required to manipulate sound at this level is now commonly available. Popular programs like Chaosynth and Max/MSP offer in-depth granular facilities, and Roads' own programs, Pulsar Generator and Cloud Generator, are, as you might expect, specifically designed for this sort of application. Although this technology has made it possible, granular synthesis remains a complex process. Microsound is perhaps the best theoretical and practical guide to date, its 409 pages concisely and fluently written throughout. The first chapters outline basic time scales in musical structure and the history and theory of microsound.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Tim Opie on January 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Curtis Roads has been working with Granular Synthesis since 1972, following the work of Iannis Xenakis and Dennis Gabor. His decades of research and computer programs in this field have educated and inspired all electronic musicians who work within the particle synthesis field. My first introduction to Granular synthesis was Roads' article from a 1978 issue of the Computer Music Journal entitled 'Automated Granular Synthesis of Sound'.

Microsound marks a milestone in granular synthesis and contains a huge amount of information, relating to it and other forms of particle synthesis, some of which were a direct result of Roads' own research (eg glisson synthesis). The book contains a full history of particle synthesis going back to the early philosophies aroused by the debate of whether sound is a particle or wave, right through to his own recent experiments and instruments. It gives full details on how to work with granular synthesis and also contains a CD full of examples, including some very historically significant pieces of music.

The writing style is easy to follow, including a few humourous anecdotes - well I found them humourous, Roads probably found them frustrating at the time, although I am sure he smiles about it now :)

There are a couple of minor quoting errors, but they do not misconstrue the meaning and are not noticeable unless you are going through the book with a fine tooth comb (like I did).

For anyone interested in working with sound at a low (microsound) level, this is a MUST READ book!

To any reviewers who do not understand all of the terms used, perhaps you should re-read Microsound and also any literature written on this topic in the last 30 years.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Sylvia Pengilly on September 9, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A really excellent book. It is highly scholarly, yet easy to understand. He articulates concepts I have thought about for years, but was never able to express adequately. Roads has a talent for organizing very complex material within a perspective-oriented framework making the macro concept very easy to grasp.

It would be extremely helpful to all serious composers of electronic/computer music.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By 6.00 AM on February 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Firstly I would like to disagree with the reviewer who said granular synthesis was not musical. I use it a musical way quite often. It can make very interesting sounds if you give it a go. I was hoping for a guide to granular syntheis, its implementation in some kind of program like Max or SynthEdit or Reaktor but this is not the book for that. Basically it covers a wide range of slightly different types of Granular Synthesis. Approx 2-5 pages are spent on each type. But as the tpyes are so similar bar the size of the windows or perhaps how the windows are selected it makes the book feel very same throughout. The intro chapter covers the history which is informative and interesting. Although the book covers a lot of ground nothing is covered in terms of practical application. No real reference to use is covered, no real description of how to create granular synth modules and no real description of musically useful approaches. He does let you hear some of his composition that he used for public performances but he doesn't really explain why he thought that particular type f synthesis worked well for that performance. I learned a little more about GS from Microsound but to be honest his Computer Music Tutorial is much better and the description of GS in the CMT is almost a good. Save your sheckles and buy the big brother Computer Music Tutorial.
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