Max Mathews R.I.P.

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Max Mathews died yesterday morning.  For his 80th birthday in 2007, CCRMA's MaxFest described his contributions this way:

Fifty years ago, in 1957, at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Max Mathews demonstrated that the digital computer can be used as a fantastic new music instrument. He created a revolutionary software platform destined to form the basis of all contemporary digital musical systems (Music 1–Music 5).

His audacious ideas were driven by the belief that "any sound that the human ear can hear can be produced by a computer". Mathews's mastery of this new instrument revealed new musical horizons and sparked a burgeoning curiosity into the very nature of sound. His comprehension and elaboration made five decades of art and research possible, laying the groundwork for generations of electronic musicians to synthesize, record, and play music.

Today at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) as a Professor Emeritus he continues not only to educate students and colleagues, but also to guide and inspire with his constant inventiveness and pure musical pleasure.

Join us in honoring Max for two evenings of sound, celebration and discovery of his ideas, works, music, and writings.

Max was the director of of the Acoustical and Behavioral Research Center at Bell Labs from 1962 to 1985, and thus my boss from 1975 to 1985.  His interests in music — digital and otherwise — interacted in a joyous and fruitful way with the work that he supervised in speech and image coding, speech recognition and synthesis, psychology (perceptual, cognitive, and social), and many other areas.

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  1. Roger Lustig said,

    April 22, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

    Met him once, at his lab. A memorable day, especially the part with the violin-synth that could be set to Guarneri del Gesù, Amati, etc. He was clearly having fun in his work, and that was inspiring.

  2. a George said,

    April 23, 2011 @ 10:10 am

    I also only met Max Mathews once, in Stockholm at one of the many seminars arranged around 1980 by the Stockholm Music Acoustics Group under Sundberg and Jansson. I have forgotten which, I only know that it was not the one in 1975 "Music Room Acoustics", in which Max Mathews presented an overview of analysis and synthesis of timbres (the publication has a number of recorded examples on a record). It was at a later one, in which he gave a paper on the electronic violin and how to obtain "quality". A fabulous presentation. One approach was to increase the level in the range from 2.5-3.5 kHz, and in discussion this made me remark that this was actually the "presence filter" [Präsenzfilter] that was known from e.g. audio preamplifers in radios. Incidentally, that is also where we find the singer's formant.
    It is sad to realize that he is gone, and he was younger than I thought.

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