Take music and engineering together, they may seem at first as an odd pair. Let’s face it, the stereotypes linked to engineers typically are not similar to those of your favorite singer. However, the vital relationship between engineering and music has existed ever since the first instrument was produced.
Take Johann Sebastian Bach, a famous organist, for example. The first time he heard a piano being played in the early 1700’s, he was not impressed; Bach thought it needed to be tweaked in order to become a mainstream instrument. Nevertheless, his son, J.C. Bach went on to become a famous piano composer. This is not because the piano players got better, but because the pianos sonically improved. This trial and error process of mechanical improvements took close to 50 years. Only after these improvements did the piano rise to popularity in the 1750’s. It became trendy because people could have a piano in their homes as opposed to an organ, which is almost impossible to move. Along with a rising demand for pianos, came a demand for people who could build them. So much so that people began opening piano guilds to teach how to build pianos.
Fast-forward a few centuries to the 1960’s. Perhaps you have heard the song “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys. That song features an instrument called a Theremin. Leon Theremin was the electrical engineer who created the Theremin. The Theremin is the only musical instrument that is not touched by the person who is playing it. Instead, the person playing the Theremin controls volume and pitch by waving their hands to interfere with the electromagnetic waves generated by the device. In its time, the Theremin was well received among various international patrons including Albert Einstein.
Today people are going to college full time to earn a degree in musical engineering. Although that specific major is not offered at this campus, certain aspects of nearly every discipline within the College of Engineering can be seen in today’s musical instruments. Computers are replacing musical instruments at techno and dub-step concerts and artists are able to record an album in a fraction of the time because they can digitally alter their mistakes. Singers can also digitally tune their voice using auto-tune. To some, this has changed music for the worse. To others, it has given a different sound and definition to music. Take the effects available on an average keyboard today; the keyboards allow you to record yourself, play to a prerecorded drum track, or even alter the sound produced by the keys. Most of the songs that you hear on popular music radio stations are produced using synthesizers and drum machines. Both of these instruments were designed by an electrical engineer and coded by a software engineer to be capable of working with a computer.
Musicians have relied on the craftsmen who make their instruments since the beginning of music. Today, musicians rely on technology to produce and promote their music. It seems that the credit given in the relationship is a little one-sided, but maybe engineers prefer life behind the scenes.