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Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition, and Performance, 2d ed.

2d ed. By Charles Dodge and Thomas A. Jerse. New York: Schirmer Books, 1007. [xv, 455 p. ISBN 0-02-864682-7. $42.]

This book is a valuable source of techniques for computer sound synthesis and sound processing. It explains the concepts that an electrical engineer or a programmer needs to know to undertake work in computer audio, and it is therefore appropriate as a reference or as a text for a college course in audio applications of digital signal processing. It would be equally useful in a music library or the library of any scientific or technical school.

It is not, however, a book that a musician without prior experience in the field will readily understand, despite the authors' efforts to start with basics. A novice would likely find it appropriate only with the help of an instructor, as a textbook in a course on the underlying workings of computer synthesis. For the reader who does have some prior experience, however, it will be valuable as a reference for broadening or deepening existing knowledge. The authors present the theory and the practical implementation of a wide variety of methods of synthesizing and processing sound with a computer, and although their account is quite technical, it is admirably clear and concise. The book does not lack detail and gives the reader fully adequate information to implement any of the ideas presented, yet it contains no more mathematical formulas than are necessary. The authors rely heavily on diagrammatic flowchart depictions of the techniques and their sonic results. This is a wise and effective choice because the graphics are an excellent complement to the text and are independent of any specific computer platform.

This second edition differs most notably from the first, published in 1985, in its addition of several ideas and techniques that have since gained greater prominence, such as phase vocoding, granular synthesis, and physical modeling. The examples of actual programming code originally provided in the now archaic FORTRAN language have either been replaced with flowchart diagrams or updated to the modern C++ language. In the two chapters dealing with music composition and performance, many of the music examples have been changed to include more recent works.

In the twelve years between the first and second editions, the field of computer music has become much larger and more diverse. Today the ubiquity and power of personal computers and computerized synthesizers have almost completely replaced the 1985 modus operandi of laborious software synthesis on large mainframe computers described in the first edition. Computer music is now as prevalent in the studios of freelance composers and commercial recording artists as in the academy, and there are now so many branches of interest that the term "computer music" means radically different things to different people. For this reason, it is worth clarifying what this book is not about. There is little or no mention of computer music outside academic circles, or of synthesizers, audio processors, or personal computer software (contrary to the publisher's decision to adorn the cover with images obviously intended to evoke a Macintosh computer). This book is not a historical account of the use of the computer in music, nor does it deal substantively with cultural or aesthetic issues. It deals specifically with music composition and performance only in the last two of its twelve chapters, although throughout the entire text the authors cite musical works that use the techniques under discussion and provide discographic references.

The book excels in its chapters containing explanations of specific techniques for computer audio and computer-aided composition, intended for the reader who wishes to program these ideas directly or simply to understand them more profoundly. The first chapter attempts to give an overview of how computers work and how they can be used to deal with the concepts of sound and music. While this may seem necessary, it proves to be of dubious value; it is too complicated and technical for the novice, and superfluous for the experienced reader. The final chapter, dealing with real-time performance of computer music, suffers from the attempt to cover too large a topic in a single chapter; it points to some example works that are of interest to the authors without adequately discussing their significance. Despite these weaknesses, the book is well constructed and lucid overall.

As a survey and explication of the most important fundamental techniques of computer audio, this book is one of the most current, thorough, and comprehensible resources available and is highly recommended for inclusion in any library.

CHRISTOPHER DOBRIAN University of California, Irvine
COPYRIGHT 1998 Music Library Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Dobrian, Christopher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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