Engineering and Music: A Powerful Duet for Art and Science – Science Nation


(Clarinet playing)
MILES O’BRIEN: This is clarinet professor Kenneth Grant at the Eastman School of Music.
But who are these guys? Engineering students from the other side of campus
at the University of Rochester, using the other side of their brains to teach
the computer to play the clarinet, too. MARK BOCKO: The computer learns what the
musician did to make the sound that the musician is making. So what the computer learns
is their blowing pressure at every instant in time, what their mouth clamping
force was on the reed. MILES O’BRIEN: While you might think an
electrical engineer and a music theorist would make a curious combo, Mark Bocko and Dave
Headlam are pioneering a fusion of art and science that’s music to the ears. DAVE HEADLAM: And the idea is to combine the
precision that you have in a computer with the aesthetic values that you have in music.
And try to combine those in a way that’s educationally sound and musically sound. MILES O’BRIEN: With help from the National
Science Foundation, Bocko and his colleagues have also made huge strides in compressing
audio files, nearly a thousand times smaller than an MP3 file. But their research
is not aimed to building a better iPod. Bocko says this advancement could revolutionize
video conferencing, and someday, musicians in different cities could perform together
without a noticeable time lag. MARK BOCKO: So this is a small echo-free
room where we can place our musical instruments, and do the acoustic measurements that we
then turn into a computer model. MILES O’BRIEN: This is where Bocko does
a kind of musical forensics, bringing the tools of his trade to bear
on musical instruments. MARK BOCKO: Were just trying to capture the essential physics of how the
instrument works. MILES O’BRIEN: The computer can then turn
sound into a visual display, showing students the subtle details
of their musical notes. DAVE HEADLAM: So the students in the practice
room can observe some kind of display that helps them to train their ears. MILES O’BRIEN: Of course, computers will
never replace the skill and emotion of musicians like oboist Richard Killmer. But as it turns out,
music and electrical engineering make for a sweet, albeit unlikely duet. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

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