The Wire


Max Mathews RIP

Electronic music pioneer Max Mathews died of pneumonia at the age of 84 on 21 April in San Francisco. In 1957, while working at Bell Laboratories, he wrote MUSIC – one of the first music generation programs. He became director of the Bell Labs Acoustical and Behavioral Research Center in 1962, and Professor of Music at Stanford University in 1987.

Mathews's composition of digital voice ditty "Daisy Bell" appeared in 2001: A Space Odyssey after Arthur C Clarke saw it performed at Bell Laboratories and asked Kubrick to include it in the film. He invented and built a number of electronic instruments, including a violin made of sheet metal that transmitted sound from a pickup under each string, and the radio baton, which used two baton controllers and a base to receive a signal and convert it into instructions for synthesis when the batons were moved.

Mathews collaborated with Edgard Varèse, John Cage, and was the Scientific Advisor to the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique which he helped start with Pierre Boulez. He told Wired magazine earlier this year: "A violin always sounds like a violin, but a computer is unlimited in terms of timbre it can make, so it can enrich music… Computers are so powerful and inexpensive, but nobody knows how to take advantage of it in music."

Mathews is included in the NAMM Oral History Project, and detailed obituaries can be read at the New York Times and Synthtopia.