Vol. 28 Issue 4 Reviews
Peter Manning: Electronic and Computer Music, Revised and Expanded Edition

Softcover, 2004, ISBN 0-19-517085-7, 474 pages, illustrated, bibliography, discography, index; Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK; telephone (+44) 1536-741-727; electronic mail bookorders.uk@oup.com; Web www.oup.com/; in North America, contact Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016, USA; telephone (+1) 800-451-7556; electronic mail orders@oup-usa.org; Web www.oup.com/

Reviewed by James Harley
Moorhead, Minnesota, USA

Book CoverIn 1994, I was working on designing a new course at McGill University on the history of electoacoustic/computer music. Joel Chadabe’s Electric Sound hadn’t been published yet, and neither had Curtis Roads’ Computer Music Tutorial. There were older books, such as those by Jon Appleton, Barry Schrader, and Allen Strange, but they were either out-of-print or out-of-date or both. Then there was Electronic and Computer Music by Peter Manning. It was in print, and less out-of-date (first published in 1985). It was with some relief that I learned that this book had been updated (in 1993) and was coming out in softcover (late 1994—I recall it did not actually arrive at the bookstore until sometime after the start of term in winter 1995). The updates on MIDI technology and the shift to microcomputer were useful, along with a listing of compact discs, all new since 1985.

Electronic and Computer Music is a book outlining the history of the field. In addition, it devotes a good deal of ink describing specific studio techniques and technical concepts. And, I was also pleased to see that it does not ignore the innovative applications of electronic and digital technology in popular music, even if this topic is treated comparatively briefly.

In the decade since the release of the second edition, much has changed. Too much to track, but Mr. Manning has nonetheless expended a great deal of effort updating the book, particularly in the realms of MIDI, computer technology, and digital audio. This part of the book has been greatly expanded and reorganized, as Table One shows.

1993 edition: 2004 edition:
1. The Background to 1945 1. same
I. Developments from 1945 to 1960 I. same
2. Paris and Musique Concrète 2. same
3. Cologne and Elektronische Musik 3. same
4. Milan and Elsewhere in Europe 4. same
5. America 5. same
II. New Horizons in Electronic Design II. same
6. The Voltage-Controlled Synthesizer 6. same
III. The Electronic Repertory from 1960 III. same
7. Works for Tape 7. same
8. Live Electronic Music 8. same
9. Rock and Pop Electronic Music 9. same
IV. The Digital Revolution IV. The Digital Revolution to 1980
10. The Birth of Computer Music 10. The Foundations of Computer Music
11. New Horizons in Digital Technology 11. From Computer Technology to Musical Creativity
12. The MIDI Synthesizer 12. The Microprocessor Revolution
13. From Microcomputer to Music Supercomputer V. Digital Audio
14. Conclusion 13. The Characteristics of Digital Audio
  14. The Development of the MIDI Communications Protocol
  15. From Analog to Digital: The Evolution of MIDI Hardware
  16. From Microcomputer to Music Computer: The MIDI Dimension
  17. New Horizons for MIDI-based Technologies
  VII. Desktop Synthesis and Signal Processing
  18. Personal Computers and Sound Processing
  19. Music Workstations and Related Computing Architectures
  VIII. The Expanding Perspective
  20. Performance Controllers
  21. New Horizons in Synthesis and Signal Processing Software
  22. Conclusions

Rather than make a futile attempt to be current and comprehensive, the author instead traces the history of the various topics, providing information about early research and concerns, products and applications that have been developed, and directions that have been pursued more recently. This approach provides a good foundation for understanding the background and technology underlying current products and software applications. To be up-to-date, one would need to supplement the book with articles and announcements from journals, digital audio-related magazines, and relevant Web sites.

The first three sections of the book, up to The Digital Revolution, are pretty much untouched. The chapter on Rock and Pop Electronic Music has been updated, with a brief discussion of “techno” music and mention of a few of the practitioners and related genres. I do think that it would have been useful to update the other two chapters of Section III. It is somewhat misleading to title this “The Electronic Repertory from 1960” when no tape music or live electronic music beyond 1977 is mentioned in these chapters. As much of the later part of the book is concerned with technology, not repertoire, there is really very little mention of the music produced over the past three decades. I do acknowledge that in a new field such as electronic/computer music it is important to examine the work of the pioneers. But, many of these composers have continued to be productive, and their work has often evolved in new and interesting directions. Little of this is discussed. In addition, there are many other works, produced more recently by newcomers to the field (i.e., anyone active over the past 30 years), that could be considered touchstone pieces, or masterworks, and could/should be represented.

To give Mr. Manning his due, he has made an effort to update his Discography, providing a good listing of CDs going far beyond the works and composers mentioned in the body of the text. This should provide a useful resource for leading interested readers to recordings of more recent music. I would have liked to see a listing of works at the end of each chapter, though, creating a more direct link between particular technologies and examples of music produced using those techniques or tools.

With regard to the sections on computer music, Mr. Manning begins with an exposition of digital technology, helping the reader to understand enough of the basic principles of computing to appreciate how the main approaches to producing audio by means of computers developed. Some of the history presented here includes the innovations of computer hardware (the development of Intel microprocessors, for example).

There is an introductory discussion of how the basic parameters of sound (e.g., frequency, amplitude, etc.) are represented and processed in digital form (chapter 13). This is well-written and relatively clear. One correction: on p. 256, the listing of extended sampling rates should include 192 kHz rather than 196 kHz.

Chapter 11 is organized into two sub-sections: “Software Synthesis and Computer-Assisted Composition” and “Hybrid Synthesis.” Further on, chapter 15 contains five sub-sections: “The Pioneering Phase, to 1983,” “The Development of the MIDI Sampler,” “New Directions in Synthesizer Architectures,” “Beyond the Keyboard: Alternative Performance Controllers,” and “Other MIDI-related Hardware.” There is a lot of pretty obscure detail here on the history of digital music hardware. But, it’s an interesting read, and young musicians in 2004 may be unaware of all the technology that was produced prior to the rise to power and dominance of the personal computer.

These days, the personal computer and the various software tools that run on it are central to music-making. Most of the mountains of hardware that used to be necessary to the production of audio have been rendered obsolete and unnecessary. Mr. Manning does not bring his story quite to that point, but his later chapters point the way.

Electronic and Computer Music is well-researched and clearly written. I would prefer to have more emphasis placed on the “music” part of the title, and perhaps less on the technology required to produce that music. Too often throughout the book, it is the evolution of the technology that seems to be the main point, when it should be supportive to the creative applications that have made use of the innovative hardware and software. Nonetheless, there isn’t a better book out there in English that presents the history of this field as clearly or comprehensively.