There were many editions and translations of John Robinson Pierce‘s influential book ‘The Science of Musical Sound’, published by Scientific American Library, 1983, but only the French translation came with a couple of 7-inch vinyl records with sound examples from Bell Laboratories, IRCAM and Stanford University. Through many historical and scientific references, electronics engineer J.R. Pierce [+] (1910-2002) shows how music is grounded in mathematics, whether we are talking of sound waves, pitch, echo, human hearing, auditorium acoustics, etc.
The cover of The Science of Musical Sound‘s original edition (pictured right) shows a page from Stockhausen’s Zyklus score – as it were, a piece for solo percussionist, not electronics. The book sums up Pierce’s music theory based on his research on vacuum tubes, psychoacoustic, satellite communication, computer music and his discovery of the non-octave musical scale, or Bohlen-Pierce scale. Pierce composed several electronic music tracks (Stochatta, 1959, Variations in Timbre and Attack, 1961, Sea Sounds, 1963, Eight-Tone Canon, 1966) demonstrating mathematics’ sonic potential – some were included in the 1962 Bell Labs compilation LP Music from Mathematics, available here.
The two 7-inches collect around 10 short sound examples per side of mathematics applied to sound and music, each introduced by speaker Jean-Claude Risset (in French). Some were recorded by Pierce and Max V. Mathews at IRCAM, Paris in 1979. Some were created by Elizabeth Cohen [+] and John Chowing at Stanford University in 1979. Some were recorded by Jean-Claude Risset using Mathews’ Music V program in Marseille, IRCAM and Bell Labs. A biographical memoir was written by colleagues of Pierce in 2002, among them Dr. Max V. Mathews, and is available as a PDF here. Download link comes with 20 or so pictures from the book.
- Side 1 (4:26)
Ondes, battements, consonance
(Sound Waves and Consonance)
- Side 2 (6:15)
Harmonie, accords, puissance, reproduction
(Harmony, phase shifting and electronic reproduction of real instruments)
- Side 3 (6:28)
Synthèse des sons musicaux
(Musical Sound Synthesis)
- Side 4 (6:42)
Paradoxes et illusions
Total time 23:41
2×7” with book ‘Le Son Musical’, editions Belin, France, 1984