Flexibition #3: The Science of Musical Sound

This book, published in 1983, was lent to me by DJ Vadim back in the late ’90s. Nestling in the back cover are two double-sided 7″ flexi discs with electronic examples of sonics described in the text. A couple of them made their way onto the ‘Kaleidoscope’ album, in fact I think the very first sound you hear on the record comes from one of these discs.
Flex3_Sciencefront The author, John R. Pierce, worked extensively in radio communication, computer music and psychoacoustics and was one of the inventors of something called the Bohlen-Pierce Scale which I’m not going to even attempt to describe as it’s way over my head. He worked at Bell Labs, coined the term ‘transistor’ and helped develop the first communications satellite, Telstar 1. He wrote several academic books like this and also wrote science fiction under the name J.J. Coupling. He also composed several electronic pieces, some of which were featured on the ‘Music From Mathematics’ album originally issued by Bell Labs and recently reissued across two 45s by Finders Keepers.
There’s a nice little piece about the book here and I’ve cribbed some text about the flexi discs from it. Sadly the links on the page are long gone but the French versions of the discs are on the web under the translated title ‘Le Son Musical’.

“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.”





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