Charles Petzold on writing books, reading books, and exercising the internal UTM

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Adventures in Electronic Music

September 29, 2011
Roscoe, N.Y.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I designed and built several electronic music instruments, including a computer-controlled digital synthesizer capable of generating 80 simultaneous sine curves combined into 40 simple-FM voices.

This was a hobby. It was entirely for my own amusement and I had no interest in creating commercial products. But as a hobby it was rather fruitful: This was how I learned digital electronics (which later allowed me to write Code), and 8080 assembly language (so leaping to 8086 assembly language wasn't too difficult when the IBM PC came out).

Two summers ago I attempted to gather some artifacts from those electronic-music projects — including photographs, documents, scores, memories, and over 4 hours of virtually unlistenable "music" ripped from reel-to-reel and casette tapes — and put them on a web page. At the time, I thought it would be fun to code a bunch of Silverlight 2 utilities to help with the presentation of this material, and I guess I got hung up on the code and never finished getting the page in shape.

Recently I decided to forget about the Silverlight utilities and do the whole web page in straight HTML 4. And so I did and here it is:


Oh no, this must mean Silverlight is dead!

— MC, Fri, 30 Sep 2011 03:09:32 -0400

Actually, anybody who wants to read the 80-page descripton of the digital synthesizer from a Silverlight app can do so from a blog entry posted two years ago: Using Silverlight DeepZoom for a Document Viewer — Charles

this was a joy to read, thank you for sharing! :)

Prabhu, Fri, 30 Sep 2011 09:47:42 -0400

NASA wants to borrow your tape recorder. It might be reeely valuable in recovering some of the audio from the moon landings (if they didn't give up and discard the tapes).

Meanwhile in those days, computers played music by executing loops of instructions with tuned execution times. They generated electromagnetic interference that could be picked up by AM radios. No custom hardware was needed. Those computers cost more than yours though.

To celebrate the silence of the tunes, I'll refrain from mentioning mangoes. I'm not sure when the refrain will take place, but I promise someday.

— Two part harmony (free and other), Tue, 4 Oct 2011 02:28:11 -0400

While that was a pretty fascinating essay, I had to first complete the mini-game of "pause each track before my head exploded". Perhaps it's just my own browser's setup, but when I opened that page, every sound clip started playing at once. Actually, with my sound down to a more reasonable level now, it's pretty interesting to listen to the cacophony swell as each subsequent track finishes buffering.

— Doug, Mon, 17 Oct 2011 10:30:03 -0400

If you view the source, you'll see that all the embed elements have the autoplay attribute set to false, so I suspect the problem is on your end. — Charles

Wow that was a great read Charles! I started getting into acoustic home recording in 2001 and electronic music and synthesizers a few years later. Everything I've done has been through multi-track recording software on Windows or through a digital multi-track recorder (e.g. a Yamaha AW16G). I've learned everything on my own, but now I feel like I barely know anything at all after learning how much building and research you did on your own. Those photos are fun to look at!


Mike Hodnick, Mon, 17 Oct 2011 12:42:11 -0400

The page says "Missing Plug-In" a lot. I am using chrome on windows 7 - which plugin is it that I need?

— drozzy, Mon, 24 Oct 2011 10:43:10 -0400

I don't know. All I'm using is an embed tag, so the browser should pick up whatever's available to play WMA files. — Charles

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