Extra_Credit Sound and Science Symposium by Richard Jin

Sound and Science Symposium – Gabor’s Sonic Model: A Research Review

The section of the Sound and Science Symposium I attended was lecture by Curtis Roads, a professor at UC Riverside, on Gabor’s Sonic Model and the research currently being down with this model as its basis as it relates to electronic music.

Although I was unable to comprehend a great deal of the lecture –the target audience of the lecture being audiophiles and music theorists – I found that for the most part, the portion of the lecture I could understand was pretty interesting. Roads first went into primitive traditional electronic sound, the basis of electronic sound today. On this level, the sounds that were being produced consisted of a great deal of beeping, buzzing, knocks – very computerized “music.” Though, in my interpretation of the word “music” I wouldn’t consider what I heard music.

Then he went on to discuss the fundamental differences between acoustic sound and electronic sound. He played a clip of an orchestra and asked if anyone could tell him whether it was produced by humans or by a machine. I could not, but by the way he posed the question, I assumed it was made by a computer. I think it’s amazing what computers can produce now. Electronic music can essentially mimic acoustic music, eliminating the need for true artists/musicians.

Electronic Music mimicking Acoustic Music (sorry for the bad quality, I have a recorded it from the lecture on my computer)

In his discussion of the difference between acoustic and electronic music, he outlined the major advantages of electronic music over acoustic:

1.      Liberation of sound. Electronic music is not confined traditional notes. There is a heterogeneity, of sound; not static or fixed, but it can evolve/mutate on the microsound level (i.e. each grain of sound can be different). Essentially it is not confined to common music notation.

2.      Virtual reality of composition programs. Music is no longer confined to one place, but rather, can electronic sound can be imposed on any virtual setting like a church, a cathedral, a lecture hall, with reverberation and constructed sound effects.

3.      The composer is the performer. There is no need for an extravagant orchestra or band.

4.      The notation of music in electronic music is graphical, not structural, allowing for a full range of sound.

5.      Frequency precision allows for polytonal constructions, pitch vs. noise.

6.      Temporal precision allows for the construction of precise rhythms and eliminates the need for meter.

7.      Memorized control and algorithmic control, let’s a composer handle more layers and depth of music than capable


Electronic music essentially allows the composer to focus on different aspects of music compared to the traditional composer can because it can focus on smaller time intervals and more precision.Electronic Music


However, the setback of electronic music is that there is no aesthetic component to it. Roads mentioned the Phillips Pavilion which is a concert hall for electronic music. If it is just a hall full of speakers, I believe that in some regards, the music is missing something, almost as if it were just cold and mechanical despite its precision and beauty. When he first mentioned the Phillips Pavilion and described it, I immediately thought of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley where the citizens when to “The Feelies” a concert hall where “At the beginning of the movie a scent organ spills a diversity of fragrances through the theatre and delights the audience by smells of rosemary, lavender or sandalwood and new-mown hay. After that a music machine produces sounds of synthetic music and warbling human voices that changes its heights every couple of seconds to fascinate the listeners. The “feely” effects are caused by metal knobs on the arms of “pneumatic” chairs” (Groth, Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World - Entertainment for the Masses).


Phillips Pavilion

Phillips Pavilion


As for the research, Roads went into some of the research he was doing with Gabor’s Model which included pulsar synthesis which includes a special separation of formance, something not possible in acoustic music. This allows composers to go in between form and rhythm. Other research includes emission control, which is essentially a voice modulator which can control inflections in sound/voice, tone, and speed without compromising pitch. The Perhaps the most interesting proposal Roads made was the notion that we have programs which can superimpose a setting on music (set a piece in a cathedral or a bedroom, reverberation techniques), however it would be interesting to develop a program which can take a piece and then extract the reverberation to construct the architecture of the building it was most likely played in.


However, although electronic music provides a new method in which we can delve further into music, I feel that in order for music to be experienced in its entirety or fullness, there needs to be a component of humanity in it.

By Richard jin

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