Book Review: Musimathics I & II


    Aside from the standard Max patch grovel, one of the most common categories of requests for assistance on the Max Forums seem to have to do with wrapping one's head around the mathematics associated with a given task. Those requests run the gamut from initial anxieties, lurking suspicions of the usefulness of mathemetics, to specific (and complex) subjects.
    Most of us have been there. I suppose that in my case, the jury seems equally divided between attacks of a lack of numeracy shading to occasional bouts of outright mathophobia. If it's the former, then I can take some small comfort that I may not be alone. If it's the latter, then behavior therapies - such as the ownership and use of Gareth Loy's Musimathics Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 has been a great help to me - along with The Computer Music Tutorial, I would have these two volumes on my desert island Max bookshelf (or my Kindle).
    The arrangement of the two-volume set collects the broad range of subject matter into two basic groups:
    • If part of the problem of wrapping your head around the maths of dealing with music has to do with visualizing the numbers behind the ideas you already think you’re familiar with (musical scales and notes and intervals) or more general notions about audio (timbre, and the ever-popular trio of frequency, amplitude and duration), the first volume will be just what you’re looking for. As a bonus, the discussions of psychoacoustics and numerical approaches to composition will give you more to think about and integrate into your conceptual toolbox.
    • The second volume delves into matters more directly concerned with music and computation - starting from basic digital audio concepts (binary representations and digital sampling), the book moves on to explaining why you need complex numbers when doing audio with computers, and from there moves on to a variety of subjects that I expect will have unnerved many of you as well as myself: convolution, digital filtering, Fourier and and wavelet transforms.
    If (like me) you're the kind of person who panics the moment you see a typeset equation, patiently following along with Gareth will take you much farther into the numbers than you probably ever thought you could go. While Gareth describes himself as a composer seduced by mathematics, I'm a much simpler person - I'd like to have a better idea of what I'm doing and why things work the way they do. I have come to really value those relationships and - yes - those books that have helped me to do that.
    Note: Several Cycling '74 Facebook group readers have reminded me that it's important to have a good source for errata for books like these (or places to put sticky notes/markers in your Kindle). Happily, Gareth has done a first-class job of updating the errata and provided an easy-to-follow list for any addition of the books you may have. You can find that list online here.