Where to learn more about sound synthesis
January 21, 2007 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Where do I start learning more about sound synthesis?

I have always wanted to be able to write music software or design musical toys. Unfortunately I always feel like I'm at the bottom of a cliff when it comes to navigating the complicated landscape of synthesis techniques. I don't even know where to start. Is there a good book for beginners on the topic, perhaps?

I'm specifically interested in the math bits, I guess. I'm a software engineer by trade so I think can handle the programming parts; it's the algorithms that confuse me.
posted by mkb to Technology (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know of any books offhand but this Csound tutorial page might be useful.
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:55 PM on January 21, 2007

There's how to make a noise, which is about programming synths in the sense of designing patches for different types of synthesis (which seems like a prerequisite for actually designing synthesizers). If you haven't actually spent some time trying to program (in this sense) a semi-modular synth (such as zebra 2 or something) you may want to do that before getting into actually writing them.

Have you considered trying one of the modular synth design programs like reaktor, synthedit, or max/msp (well, this does much more than synth design), which provide a level of abstraction over common things you would do in audio-oriented DSP? Also in that line but free/open source are csounds, puredata, and supercollider. Basically all of these have large communities and libraries of code/patches available to look at, as well as tutorials (max/msp in particular seemed to have good dsp tutorials).

p.s. hi mkb...I used to know you from the dirtylist.
posted by advil at 6:07 PM on January 21, 2007

Tangential, but could be very helpful: Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound [pdf ebook]
posted by Burhanistan at 6:24 PM on January 21, 2007

Ah, I had forgotten that SuperCollider had become open source! Wonderful.
posted by mkb at 6:30 PM on January 21, 2007

Computer Music - Charles Dodge
Noise, Water, Meat - Douglas Kahn
The Computer Music Tutorial - Curtis Roads
Any Sound You Can Imagine - Paul Theberge
Electric Sound - Joel Chadabe
posted by rhizome at 8:07 PM on January 21, 2007

I'd stay away from hardcore C coding at first, and stick with one of the environments focused on helping you make sound. I'm partial to max/msp myself, but pd or any of the other recommendations here so far should do you well. You want to learn about the principles of synthesis first, in an environment that encourages experimentation.
posted by mattly at 12:35 AM on January 22, 2007

Just yesterday, I stumbled upon Building Digital Instruments with jMusic. I haven't gone through it in detail yet because I wasn't actually looking for synth programming resources, but it appears to be a pretty good high-level overview that uses the jmusic API to cover the computational heavy lifting.

That said, I second MAX/MSP if you can afford it, and PD if you can't. As much as their paradigm sometimes causes me to pull out my hair in frustration, they're a good place to start playing with synthesis if you want to skip the crazy low-level C business.
posted by Alterscape at 4:12 AM on January 22, 2007

I've always been interested in this as well. I highly recommend the free online book by Miller Puckette (creator of Max/MSP and Puredata) The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music. The book contains numerous examples done in Puredata, which is both free and available on many platforms.

The book starts off with the basics, then goes through wavetable synthesis (whcih introduced me to some new ideas in synthesis even though I've been toying with synths for many years) and eventually has you building analog style synths. It also goes through the math behind the techniques, which many other texts gloss over.

Building things in Puredata or Max/MSP and then recreating those things in C/C++ seems to be the way a lot of people work. I believe the Korg KARMA software was developed this way and I've seen several references that most of the audio effects and instruments in Ableton Live were done this way (Robert Henke is supposedly quite adept at Max/MSP).
posted by metajack at 7:52 AM on January 22, 2007

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