It’s difficult to measure the enormous impact that digital technology has had on sound design, engineering, and related arts. It was not that long ago that the ideas of sound designers and composers were severely limited by the capabilities of their tools. Magnetic tape, in its various forms, was king. Sound editing involved razor blades and bloody fingertips. Electronic music production required a wall full of equipment interconnected with scores of patch cables, all working together to play a single instrument's sound, live, one note at a time.

The concept of using digital technology to create sound has been around for a long time. The first documented instance of the idea was in 1842 when Ada Lovelace wrote about the analytical engine invented by Charles Babbage. Babbage was essentially making a digital calculator. Before the device was even built, Lovelace saw its potential applications beyond mere number crunching. She speculated that anything that could be expressed through and adapted to “the abstract science of operations” – for example, music – could then be placed under the creative influence of machine computation with amazing results. In Ada Lovelace’s words:

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.

It took 140 years, however, before we began to see this idea realized in any practical format. In 1983, Yamaha released its DX-series keyboard synthesizers. The most popular of these was the DX7. What made these synthesizers significant from a historical perspective is that they employed digital circuits to make the instrument sounds and used an early version of the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), later ratified in 1984, to handle the communication of the keyboard performance data, in and out of the synthesizer.

The year 1982 saw the release of the digital audio compact disc (CD). The first commercially available compact disc was pressed on August 17, 1982, in Hannover, Germany. The disc contained a recording of Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie, played by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Today, digital sound and music are flourishing, and tools are available at a price that almost any aspiring sound artist can afford. This evolution in available tools has changed the way we approach sound. While current digital technology still has limitations, this isn’t really what gets in the way when musicians, sound designers, and sound engineers set out to bring their ideas to life. It’s the sound artists’ mastery of their technical tools that is more often a bar to their creativity. Harnessing this technology in real practice often requires a deeper understanding of the underlying science being employed, a subject that artists traditionally avoid. However, the links that sound provides between science, art, and practice are now making interdisciplinary work more alluring and encouraging musicians, sound designers, and audio engineers to cross these traditional boundaries. This book is aimed at a broad spectrum of readers who approach sound from various directions. Our hope is to help reinforce the interdisciplinary connections and to enable our readers to explore sound from their own perspective and at the depth they choose.