How We Hear and Experience Classical, Computer, and Virtual Music

How We Hear and Experience Classical, Computer, and Virtual Music

Robert C. Ehle
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7371-5.ch005
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This chapter examines occurrences and events associated with the experience of composing, playing, or listening to music. Discussion of popular music and computer music begins the chapter, including issues pertaining the tuning systems, digital interfaces, and software for music. It then recounts an experiment on the nature of pitch and psychoacoustics of resultant tones.
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The new generation of popular music (that teenagers listen to) is not guitar-based, as young people no longer desire to play guitar. The new popular music features a young generation of singers, but the accompaniments is created in recording studios with keyboards, workstations, and various types of MIDI controllers capable of producing a wide variety of electronic sounds. All of these devices are, in fact, computers. Thus, the music they are creating is computer music. Figure 1 presents a studio comprising old and new music technologies.

Figure 1.

The author’s studio with a collection of hardware, software, and interfaces for creating music (2015, © A. Ursyn. Used with permission)


Computer music has been around for 50 years but the popular musicians have generally resisted it. Possibly, the change at this time has to do with intonation – the general pervasive adoption of equal temperament tuning. The change seems to have been initiated by the extensive use of auto-tune software that made it possible to correct the intonation of singers or instruments. Such software made it possible for all vocal and instrumental intonation to be corrected to precise equal temperament, something that can only be accomplished with computers.

This series of events is totally unexpected, remarkable, and surprising. It is a generational shift comparable to the rock and roll revolution of the ‘60s. But so far it seems to have largely gone unnoticed by the writers and commentators on popular music, probably because they all focus on the singers and ignore the backup musicians. Attempting to explain why and how it happened will require a considerable amount of studying history and music theory. Some beginnings of this work are provided below.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Tritone: An interval of three whole tones with an augmented fourth. For example, between C and F sharp.

Acoustic Waves: Longitudinal waves with the same direction of vibration as the direction of their traveling in a medium such as air or water. Linear mixing of acoustic waves results in forming periodicity pitches of the resultant tones.

Tonotopic: Organization means the arrangement of spaces in auditory cortex where sounds of different frequency are processed in the brain. Tones close to each other frequency are represented in topologically near regions in the brain.

Sound Waves: Sinusoidal waves characterized by their frequency, amplitude, intensity (sound pressure), speed, and direction. Pairs of sound waves may reveal additive and subtractive interference.

Pitch: A sound quality describing the highness or lowness of a tone, defined by the rate of vibration that produces it.

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