Jean-Claude Risset: Simulacra and Illusions: Understanding Perception is Important for Computer Music

Jean-Claude Risset is a composer and researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France.

Digital technology permits to exert compositional control down to the level of the sonic microstructure - beyond composing with sounds, composing the sound themselves. Now the exploration of computer-synthesized sounds shows that auditory perception is complex : the heard musical relations may not be in simple relation with the physical relations prescribed between physical parameters. Music is meant to be heard. Hence pyschoacoustics - the understanding of the relations between the physical structures and the heard effect - is essential for computer music. Trying to synthesize simulacra of traditional instruments is harder than one may think. One can generate auditory illusions, "errors of the senses, but truths of perception". I shall give a number of sound examples drawn mostly but not exclusively from my own work on musical psychoacoustics developed in preparing my computer-synthesized musical compositions. These examples support the view-point that hearing performs auditory scene analysis to provide useful information about the environment: the elaborate mechanisms involved in analyzing the auditory signals are gratuitously involved for our enjoyment when we listen to music.

About Jean-Claude Risset:
Jean-Claude Risset is an internationally renowned theoretical physicist and composer. "Art and science are distinct in terms of their goals, tempo, and criteria," he says, "but my scientific and artistic activities nourish each other. The driving force behind science, as well as creativity, is a kind of emotion and desire." Dr. Risset was awarded the CNRS gold medal in 1999 for his work in theoretical physics. As a composer, he has received numerous awards, including the Prix Ars Electronica (1987) and the GrandPrix National de la Musique (1990). He worked for three years with Max Mathews at the Bell Laboratories (the birthplace of the transistor, satellite communication, solar cells, Unix, and the C programming language), and there he helped to develop the musical resources of computer sound synthesis: imitation of real timbres (brass synthesis, 1965; pitch paradoxes, synthesis of new timbres and sonic development processes, 1967-1969). His musical works typically employ computer synthesis in conjunction with acoustic instruments or he human voice. Risset implemented computer sound systems at Orsay (1970-1971), at the University of Marseille-Luminy (1974), and at IRCAM, where Pierre Boulez asked him to head the Computer Department (1975-1979). As a composer in residence at the Media Labratory, MIT (1987-1989), Risset implemented the first real-time interaction between performer and computer with acoustic piano sounds. He is currently Visiting Professor at Darmouth College (spring term 2004).

This lecture is sponsored by McGill's Music Technology Area and CIRMMT (Schulich School of Music, McGill University)