Atomic decompositions (from the title above), is actually a tendril of Curtis Roads’ research, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Decomposition, as in spectral, is Roads’ mainstay. Many of the WMDs (weapons of massive decomposition) in Roads’ technical arsenal could be labeled microsound (indeed his book on the subject, Microsound (MIT Press) is an excellent academic narrative that allows the reader to adjust to the idea and learn of the possibility of soundscapes culled from compositional constellations computed and rendered via sonic particles and quanta of rarified and compressed air.
Below the level of the musical note lies the realm of microsound, of sound particles lasting less than one-tenth of a second. Recent technological advances allow us to probe and manipulate these pinpoints of sound, dissolving the traditional building blocks of music—notes and their intervals—into a more fluid and supple medium. The sensations of point, pulse (series of points), line (tone), and surface (texture) emerge as particle density increases. Sounds coalesce, evaporate, and mutate into other sounds.
Composers have used theories of microsound in computer music since the 1950s. Distinguished practitioners include Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis. Today, with the increased interest in computer and electronic music, many young composers and software synthesis developers are exploring its advantages. Covering all aspects of composition with sound particles, Microsound offers composition theory, historical accounts, technical overviews, acoustical experiments, descriptions of musical works, and aesthetic reflections. The book is accompanied by an audio CD of examples. – MIT Press synopsis
The approach (Wikipedia… *sigh*):
Microsound includes all sounds on the time scale shorter than musical notes, the sound object time scale, and longer than the sample time scale. Specifically this is shorter than one tenth of a second and longer than 10 milliseconds, including the audio frequency range (20 Hz to 20 kHz) and the infrasonic frequency range (below 20 Hz, rhythm).
These sounds include transient audio phenomena and are known in acoustics and signal processing by various names including sound particles, acoustic quantum, sonal atom, grain, glisson, grainlet, trainlet, microarc, wavelet, chirplet, FOF, time-frequency atom, pulsar, impulse, toneburst, tone pip, acoustic pixel, and others. In the frequency domain they may be named kernel, logon, and frame, among others.
(1971 Nobel Prize (Physics)) Physicist Dennis Gabor was an important pioneer in microsound. Micromontage is musical montage with microsound.
Indeed Roads is no newbie when it comes to musical signal having written (another recommendation) one of the books on the subject: “Musical Signal Processing.” He also authored “The Computer Music Tutorial” (MIT Press) a telephone book sized tome for those of us excited to handle business in Csound rather than a looper or some other such piece of highly abstracted user level software that has most of your composition built into its menus and allows anyone with fingers (not even sure of the opposable thumb) and a mouse to “make beats.”
The Computer Music Tutorial is a comprehensive text and reference that covers all aspects of computer music, including digital audio, synthesis techniques, signal processing, musical input devices, performance software, editing systems, algorithmic composition, MIDI, synthesizer architecture, system interconnection, and psychoacoustics. A special effort has been made to impart an appreciation for the rich history behind current activities in the field – MIT Press.
Following the heavy percolations and Sasquatch-sized musico-historical and compisitional footprints of innovators like Iannis Xenakis and Nobelists like Gabor is no small task, but having the opportunity to hear Roads give a talk at ACM Siggraph some years ago and becoming familiar with Roads’ work (both sonic and textual… But always grammatical) I believe he is a wonderful leaf in the academic/musical phylogenetic tree of applied signal processing, criticism, education and sound science.
Rhoads’ compositions, software and writings can be found on his website, amongst other particulates of information,bits served up as bitstreams that splash across your monitor and from your monitors like literary and musical liquid. Apt for a composer whose primary focus is reducing sound and ideas about process into atoms and then allowing them to flow into our neural structures, dancing and jumping from basin to basin and in attractive and accessible currents, eddies and rivulets.
His Self-reported Research Agenda:
My research interests encompass electronic music composition, digital audio signal processing, sound analysis, and related areas. In 2007-2009 I was Co-principal investigator of a research group focusing on dictionary-based pursuit of analyzing audio signals: the analytical counterpart of granular synthesis. This research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. I am also interested in the general topic of modeling granular processes: different rules apply when handling a million things as opposed to one thing.
My initial attraction to computer music was prompted by a fascination with algorithmic composition processes coupled with digital sound synthesis. In this same period, I began experiments in granular synthesis of sound, which is of continuing interest. This expanded into the broader field of microsound, i.e., the analysis, synthesis, and transformation of sound on a micro time scale (less than 100 ms).
An encounter with Xenakis’s original UPIC system in 1986 led to an interest in graphical visualizations and notations and their counterpart in sound synthesis by graphical means. I have collaborated with a number of artists and engineers on visualizations of my music, including Brian O’Reilly, Woon Seung Yeo, James Ingram, Garry Kling, Bob Sturm, and Aaron Mcleran. The related issue of data sonification remains of interest, and we are exploring this prospect in the UCSB Allosphere.
I am also interested in three-dimensional spatialization of sound. I am currently engaged in a project to generatively upmix my two-channel composition Modulude to 128 channels for projection in the UCSB Allosphere.
My scholarly interest in the history of electronic music is long-standing and I have collected many artifacts. Finally, I am convinced that reflection on aesthetic philosophy is essential to artistic practice, so questions of aesthetics are always in the foreground of my thinking. My forthcoming book Composing Electronic Music: A New Aesthetic is my statementtechniques, signal processing, musical input devices, performance software, editing systems, algorithmic composition, MIDI, synthesizer architecture, system interconnection, and psychoacoustics. A special effort has been made to impart an appreciation for the rich history behind current activities in the field on aesthetic philosophy.