Customer Reviews: Music, Physics and Engineering (Dover Books on Music)
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on May 10, 2000
The science of musical sound has evolved a great deal since 1966 when the second edition of 'Music, Physics and Engineering' was first published. However, this historical work can be of value to musical engineers even in today's fast changing technological world.
The author, Harry F. Olson was staff vice president of the acoustical and electromechanical research department of RCA laboratories. The thorough science reported in this book was perhaps instrumental in the development of the RCA Mark II Electronic Music Synthesizer of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.
Chapters such as: Sound Waves, Musical Terminology, Musical Scales, Resonators and Radiators, Musical Instruments, Characteristics of Musical Instruments and Properties of Music have much to teach those with an engineering background about the science of music.
This book has been extraordinarily useful to me in seeking to design sound events in software with nothing other than a 'C' compiler and some audio file format spec sheets to work with. It is a great read for the aspiring musical engineer.
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Although this book was first published over 50 years ago, there are still many parts of it that can still be read profitably, due mostly to the fact that musical theory and the physics of musical instruments does not change with time. I read the book years ago to get some ideas for physics demonstrations in the classroom, and it was of great assistance in that regard. Those readers who intend to specialize in musical engineering would still find it a useful supplement to more modern treatments. The audio CD of course was not known at the time of publication, nor even the 8-track tape, but the development of both of these technologies was dependent on what came before them, and so a perusal of this book will allow insight into more contemporary technologies. The book also is one of the first to emphasize the psychological factors that must be taken into account when developing a technology for sound reproduction. The author in fact emphasizes the need for paying attention to the psychological factors in the preface to the second edition of the book. With the incredible advances in sound reproduction that have taken place since this book was written, one can appreciate his comments even more. One can only give thanks to the ingenuity of the sound and musical engineers both in the author's time and now for giving the listener an incredibly rich and satisfying auditory experience.
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on January 25, 2009
Sure, electronic music technology has advanced a fair bit since this book was written. BUT, the laws of physics have not changed. Olson's book does a fantastic job of explaining the inner workings of timbre, acoustics, recording, sound reproduction, music synthesis, and various other scientific rigor concerning all things sound. This book should be required reading for anyone who does anything in the fields of sound design, recording, production, and even composition and performance of music.

In addition to containing a great explanation of the theory behind musical acoustics, the book is also loaded with lots of empirical measurements of the acoustic characteristics of real-world instruments; it's an invaluable reference for anyone working with live music.
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on May 26, 2009
The author is a relatively unknown giant in the world of electronic music - though he was not a musician. For many years, Dr. Olson was the head of research at RCA Laboratories where he made significant contributions to the development of the field of Acoustic Research. While Olson also made significant contributions to the development of the modern microphone and magnetic tape recording (among other things), he is best known, perhaps, as being a key member of the team that researched and developed the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer - the first synthesizer used to create and market music for mass consumption. The book, originally published in 1952, hearkens back to the days when sound studio engineers wore white lab coats and carried clipboards. It takes the reader, chapter by chapter, from the basic physical nature of sound waves up to the production of electronic music. Most of the important topics are treated, like how different musical instruments produce and manipulate sound (the section on trumpets is very cool), how sound waves behave in the physical world, the physical and psychological aspects of sound and music perception (how your ears and brain work), the design of sound stages, studios, etc, and ends with an introduction to the basics of recording technology and electronic instruments (electric guitar, synthesizers, etc.), such as they were in the 1950s. The book is aimed at the non-specialist, but has enough information to give a solid foundation in the basic physics of sound and how it applies to the production of music. While it is true that much of the technology discussed in the book is no longer in common use (i.e. magnetic tape, massive synths, etc.), the basic concepts of sound still hold true and thus make this book a still-useful reference. It should also be noted that this book is very often cited in musical texts of many types.
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on October 13, 2014
This is a must have for anyone interested in recording or live sound. It's a little dry for reading cover to cover, and long winded as a refference, but the information it contains makes it well worth having.
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on May 30, 2012
It is true that there have been many developments in audio since Music, Physics and Engineering was originally written in the 1950's, with the revised version coming out in 1967. But, as other reviewers have pointed out, the laws of physics as applied to sound and the characteristics of musical instruments and music have not changed. If you really want to understand such things, this text is a good place to start.

But there is more you should know: Harry F. Olson was one of the giants who created the recording industry. He first joined RCA right around the time electrical recording was introduced, in the late 1920's, and quickly made himself very valuable by designing the first practical ribbon element microphones. The famous RCA 44BX and RCA 77DX microphones are Harry Olson designs. Olson went on to do other important design work--his studio monitor speakers were among the best available--and he proved that ordinary people prefer wide-range, high fidelity sound with a series of ingenious laboratory experiments, which are recounted in this book.

If I had to name the three most important individuals in the development of modern, high fidelity, multi-channel sound recording and reproduction, I would pick Harvey Fletcher of Bell Labs (you have heard of the Fletcher-Munson equal loudness curves, perhaps?), Alan Blumlein of EMI (he literally patented stereo recording and reproduction in the 1930's) and Harry F. Olson of RCA. If you want the basics of audio, straight from one of the pioneers of the industry, get this book.
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on August 19, 2015
I got this book , when I was 16 , studied music technology and engeeniring , at venezuela TAS , and all I can say , no matter how technology is going forward , this book keep , on the gain , what you will learn from it, would be a great foundation for life , it is a must have book
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on June 16, 2014
Although I have learned quite a bit from going to school for Audio Production (degree of Art) I love this book for teaching me more more about the scientific side of audio engineering.
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on September 25, 2014
quite good if one has math skills - definitely for the professional or student audio engineer
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on August 10, 2015
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