Sunday, 21 October 2007

John Chowning: Interview, KFCJ, 2006

In conjunction with my previous post (Nonesuch's Computer Music), here's an interview with composer John Chowning, a leading pioneer of digital music. The interview was recorded in 2006 at KFCJ Radio.

From Wikipedia:
Born in Salem, New Jersey, John M. Chowning is known for having discovered the FM synthesis algorithm in 1967. In FM synthesis, also known as frequency modulation, both the carrier frequency and the modulation frequency are within the audio band. In essence, the amplitude and frequency of one waveform modulates the frequency of another waveform producing a resultant waveform that can be periodic or non-periodic depending upon the ratio of the two frequencies.

Chowning's breakthrough allowed for simple yet rich sounding timbres, which synthesized 'metal striking' or 'bell like' sounds, and which seemed incredibly similar to real percussion. (Chowning was also a skilled drummer.) He spent six years turning his breakthrough into a system of musical importance and eventually was able to simulate a large number of musical sounds, including the singing voice. In 1973 Stanford University licensed the discovery to Yamaha in Japan, with whom Chowning worked in developing a family of synthesizers and electronic organs. This patent was Stanford's most lucrative patent at one time, eclipsing many in electronics, computer science, and biotechnology.

The first product to incorporate the FM algorithm was Yamaha's GS1, a digital synthesizer that first shipped in 1981. Some thought it too expensive at the time, Chowning included. Soon after, in 1983, Yamaha made their first commercially successful digital FM synthesizer, the DX7.


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