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Microphone Month 3

Max Mathews Passes

Max Mathews, computer music pioneer for whom the MAX software program was named, passed away on April 21. Mathews was born in 1926, and studied electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving his doctorate in 1954. After graduating, he worked at Bell Labs, where in 1957 he wrote MUSIC, a computer program for generating sound. He is credited with the first computer performance of music as well as a very early example of digital synthesis, with a 17-second piece of music that was played on an IBM 704 computer (also in 1957).

After developing several generations of MUSIC (which led to later languages such as Csound), in 1970 his interest shifted toward interactive performances featuring computers and live musicians. He invented the radio-baton, which worked with a conductor program, for use with traditional scores. He also worked with composition algorithms, pre-composed sequences, random functions, and computer interpretation of live performance gestures, with programming in the C language. His work with human voice synthesis and synthesiszed singing using computers so impressed Arthur C. Clarke that he asked Stanley Kubrick to use it in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For many years Mathews directed various fields of research at Bell Labs. He was also an advisor to IRCAM (Institte de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in Paris, and was later a research professor of music at Stanford University, where he was a colleague of John Chowning, who developed FM synthesis. He was a member of many arts, sciences, and engineering societies and academies, and received several awards and honors over the years.

Known as the “Father of Digital Synthesis,” Mathews’ research, inventions, and work were the basis for, or were influential on, much of the computer music that is created today.

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