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Kai-Holger Brassel
Author and Software-Developer

Have I mentioned that I like to make connections? A very special way to do this is with music. Not only can it make us experience different feelings in quick succession. Sometimes it manages to bring together basic feelings such as euphoria, sadness and serenity into a mixture that wasn't experienced before. If contents is added by singing—be it in an opera or a rock song—even feelings and intellect, so often at odds with one another in everyday life, can harmonize.

Speaking of harmony: This article is less about the “higher” connections between musical forms of expression, emotions and reason, as indicated above, and also not about the theory of harmony, which describes on an underlying level of reality how several tones are systematically used in the tradition of Western music can be put together to form chords and chord progressions. No, this is about how musical tones actually arise from acoustic sound. On this “deep” physical level of reality, also something is put together, which is ultimately the reason why synthesizers are called synthesizers.

Sound audible to humans consists of random or repetitive vibrations of air in the frequency range of 16 to 20,000 vibrations per second. If the random proportion is high, we speak of acoustic noise or noise; If the periodic component is high, we hear sounds.

The frequency of a repeating vibration pattern determines the pitch of the sound, and the amplitude of deflections determines its volume. These two quantities can be completely described by two numbers. But what about the sound typical of an instrument or a voice? It is determined by the shape of the vibration pattern. But how can one describe the basically infinite number of possible forms of vibration patterns?

Infinities are a domain of mathematics, and so it is not surprising that it was not a musician but the mathematician Joseph Fourier who discovered in 1822 how every sound (more precisely: every periodic time signal) can be created, or let's say synthesized, by the superposition of individual sine oscillations. The best way to understand something is to do it yourself. That's what the hobbyist thought, who recreated Fourier using fischertechnik to illustrate the effect of superimposing waves in a synthesizer.

Seen in this way, synthesizer is an extremely appropriate name for an instrument that generates various fundamental electrical vibrations and then brings them together, filters, distorts and otherwise modulates them before the sound, consciously assembled in this way, penetrates people's heads via a loudspeaker .

I experienced what synthesizer sounds could do there when I heard Autobahn by Kraftwerk on the radio for the first time in the age of twelve. The fascination of these instruments and their sounds is unbroken, as Doctor Mix vividly conveys on his YouTube channel: “Just [listen] to the first thirty seconds of this album and your life has basically changed forever,” he says Minute 5:50 in Kraftwerk's Autobahn: Understanding the Pioneers of Electronic Music. Also definitely worth seeing, at least the beginning of Kraftwerk 'The Man Machine' Full Analysis. And Deutsche Welle asks: Why Kraftwerk are more influential than the Beatles? (However, this statement cannot refer in any way to the lyrics, but to the music alone.)

Alas, I have now moved away from the physical sound and talked about its “higher” effects. Everything is connected—different levels of reality included: the physically measurable and describable reality of tones and sounds and the effect they have on us.

Anyway: I would like to learn more about synthesizers and their sounds as soon as possible. Maybe, despite all the inevitable dilettantism, I will be able to find some surprising connections between sound design, programming and the sciences.