As part of the first ECA Alumni Micro-Residencies, funded by the Devolved Researcher Fund at the Institute of Academic Development, 2008 MSc Acoustics and Music Technology graduate Julian Parker returned to carry out research into nonlinear systems in musical signal processing and to share with current students his experiences of working as a DSP developer at Native Instruments in Berlin. We caught up with Julian before he started his residency.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was interested in both music and science/maths from an early age. I started my academic career studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge, concentrating on Astrophysics. Following this, I wanted to move into a field that allowed me to satisfy both my scientific and artistic urges. This lead me to Edinburgh, and then onwards to Helsinki and now Berlin, where I work for Native Instruments - one of the biggest manufacturers of software and hardware for music production. Outside of work, I’m involved in performing improv/experimental electronic music.
What did you study at Edinburgh?
I studied for the MSc in Acoustics and Music Technology in 2007/2008. It was a perfect course for me, as it had very strong technical and mathematical content, but also the opportunity to take courses on composition, sound design etc and work on sound art and installations. Edinburgh at the time also had a really interesting underground noise music scene, which I found quite inspiring.
What have you been doing since leaving Edinburgh?
I moved to Helsinki to study for my doctorate at Aalto University. The research group there has close links with Edinburgh. The main topic of my thesis was digital simulation of spring reverb, which is an early (and very interesting sounding) form of artificial reverberation used in old guitar amps and studio equipment from the 50s/60s. After I finished my doctorate, I was offered a job at Native Instruments in Berlin as a DSP developer. At NI, I work on designing and making great sounding synthesizers and effects for musicians and producers.
What will you be doing during your Micro-Residency?
I’ll be collaborating with colleagues at the university on some new research - focusing on the use of nonlinear systems in musical signal processing. I’ll also run a workshop for current MSc students.
How will you share your knowledge and experiences with current students?
I’ll be running a workshop for students during two days of the residency, called “From algorithm to ‘instrument’ “. The idea of the workshop is to get students to start thinking about the aspects of making an inspiring musical device that are not considered during academic work. I want to help them make things that can engage, surprise and delight the musician that uses them. I’ll start the workshop with an introductory talk, explaining my approach to tackling this problem and illustrating this with examples from my own work. The students will then pursue group work where they will start from a very simple algorithm, and try to shape it into an interesting musical device.
Do you have any advice for people interested in what you do?
Maths and art don’t have to be mutually exclusive! Algorithms can be a medium for expression like any other.