Biography of Max Mathews

Max Playing his Radio BatonMax V. Mathews was born in Columbus, Nebraska, on November 13, 1926. He studied electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology receiving a Sc.D. in 1954.He worked in acoustic research at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1955 to 1987 where he directed the Behavioral and Acoustic Research Center. This laboratory carried out research in speech communication, visual communication, human memory and learning, programmed instruction, analysis of subjective opinions, physical acoustics, and industrial robotics.From 1974 to 1980 he was the Scientific Advisor to the Institute de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), Paris, France. In 1987 Mathews joined the Stanford University Music Department in the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) as Professor of Music (Research) where he developed a new pickup for electronic violins and a real-time computer system for music performance called the Conductor and Improv Programs and a 3D MIDI Controller called the Radio Baton.AT Bell Labs in 1957, Mathews demonstrated synthesis of music on a digital computer with his Music I program. Music I was followed by Music II through Music V and GROOVE, all were involved in the composition and performance of music on and with computers. These programs have been influential in the development of computer music. For this pioneering work he has been called the “father of computer music,” and most recently, “the great grandfather of techno!”Max Mathews has conducted research on computer methods for speech processing, human speech production and auditory masking, and developed techniques for computer drawing of typography. He created the first computer singing, “Bicycle Built for Two,” made famous by the Kubrick movie 2001 as the swan song of the dying computer. The developer of “Music V” synthesis software and “Groove,” the first computer system for live performance, he is also the inventor of the Radio Baton, a computer-driven device that allows the user to conduct their own orchestral performances from MIDI files stored in the computer. This gives the user control over tempo, dynamics and balance among all the orchestral instruments. The commercial software product “Max” was based on Mathews’ ideas for a flexible, user-patchable sound generating system.Mathews is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and is a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Acoustical Society of America, the IEEE, and the Audio Engineering Society.Among the more idiosyncratic forms of recognition he has received, Mathews’ Electronic Violin was featured recently on the cover of Playboy magazine. He has won the IEEE Gold Medal, Acoustical Society of America Silver Medal, and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres, République Française.

Max Mathews wrote the following summary of his work in computer music for “Horizons in Computer Music”, an event that took place March 8-9, 1997 at the Simon Recital Center of the School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana:

“Computer performance of music was born in 1957 when an IBM 704 in NYC played a 17 second composition on the Music I program which I wrote. The timbres and notes were not inspiring, but the technical breakthrough is still reverberating. Music I led me to Music II through V. A host of others wrote Music 10, Music 360, Music 15, Csound, Cmix, and SuperCollider. Many exciting pieces are now performed digitally.

“The IBM 704 and its siblings were strictly studio machines–they were far too slow to synthesize music in real-time. Chowning’s FM algorithms and the advent of fast, inexpensive, digital chips made real-time possible, and equally important, made it affordable.

“Starting with the Groove program in 1970, my interests have focused on live performance and what a computer can do to aid a performer. I made a controller, the Radio-Baton, plus a program, the Conductor Program, to provide new ways for interpreting and performing traditional scores. In addition to contemporary composers, these proved attractive to soloists as a way of playing orchestral accompaniments. Singers often prefer to play their own accompaniments.

“Recently I have added improvizational options which make it easy to write compositional algorithms. These can involve precomposed sequences, random functions, and live performance gestures. The algorithms are written in the “C” language. We have taught a course in this area to Stanford undergraduates for two years. To our happy surprise, the students liked learning and using “C”. Primarily I believe it gives them a feeling of complete power to command the computer to do anything it is capable of doing.”