I’m working on a PhD looking at the impacts of modular synthesis upon how we compose music and think about music composition. Along the way, I often come across really interesting academic papers and dissertations that I imagine might be of interest to others on lines.
I’m thinking we could use this thread to share links to papers (that are available outside of gated academic systems - many of them are).
I’ll kick things off somewhat egotistically with a paper I presented last year at the computer music conference in Australia, looking at the history of synthesizers as event generating compositional tools and some impacts of these processes on my own practice:
ANALOG ALGORITHMS: GENERATIVE COMPOSITION IN MODULAR SYNTHESIS
I’d be keen for thoughts and feedback from the lines community
To prove my intentions aren’t entirely egotistical here is a paper that I love by Matt Dalgleish looking at the relationship between modulars and keyboards:
The Modular Synthesizer Divided THE KEYBOARD AND ITS DISCONTENTS
Wow - I hadn’t’ come across the Coren and Smoliar before - thank you!
Here is a cliche computer music paper with some context. Apologies in advance if it is too off topic.
“The Digital Computer as a Musical Instrument” By Max Mathews in 1963 is probably (one of) the first published papers on computer music.
I only mention it because even then, you could see the influences that analogue modular synthesis had in digital music making.
In a particular section, he talks about building instruments in MUSIC N (known as the “orchestra”), and basically describes a simple modular patch:
The interconnected blocks of program which make up the instrument unit are called unit generators. There are a number of different types of unit generators, each of which has a specific function. A typical instrument unit is shown in Fig. 2. This instrument-unit is composed of five unit generators; three of them are oscillators, one is a random number generator, and one is a summing circuit. Each oscillator has two inputs and one output. The upper input specifies the amplitude of the output; the lower input specifies the frequency of the output. The wave shape of the output need not be sinusoidal and can,indeed,be any one of 20 arbitrary functions stored in the computer memory. In the example given,the wave shapes are sketched on the oscillators,oscillator 1 producing a damped sinusoid, oscillator 2, a triangular attack-and-decay function and oscillator 3,a sinusoid.
Nearly six decades (!) later, it’s easy to dismiss this because that’s just how we do things now. However, keep in mind that two years before, John L. Kelly and Carol C. Lochbaum had created the first computer-based physical model of a musical instrument: the singing voice , which is conceptually a very different approach to instrument design. Had things gone just a bit differently, perhaps computer music today would consist of people building instruments using virtual wood, steel, and glass materials, rather than connecting modules together using virtual cables.
Link dumps, sorry, but these may be of use:
I’ve just put a pre-press version of a forthcoming journal article on research gate that might be of interest. Its looking at intersections between improvisation and tape music in the development of the first modular synths and the ongoing effects of this.
Thank you for sharing this - I’d never encountered it before.
Fair enough - however the intention wasn’t to produce a complete survey of improvisation in relation to modular synths, but rather to establish that the earliest modular synths were born from a desire to improvise and perform in real-time with the possibilities encountered in ‘classical’ tape music processes. To my mind this is significant when considering how modular synths are being used in relation to other electronic instruments in that they encourage or enable the formation of musical structure through real-time and improvised processes.
I’ll need to look into the names you mention, but if their contribution falls after the initial development of the Buchla and Moog then I would say their work falls out of scope and certainly the ARP 2600 came much later.