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Making music from numbers: lessons in Break Through Tech’s CS 100 summer course

composing music on a computer

In the introductory CS 100 course that is being offered tuition-free as part of Break Through Tech Chicago, students have begun to discover computer science in an assortment of ways: via text-based programming, Python, image processing, plotting data and, most recently, EarSketch, a program that teaches coding through music.

Andrew Davis, a computer science professor at Wellesley College and classically trained composer, was a guest at “tea time,” the course’s recurring time slot for conversation with guest experts. He shared how computer science is a big part of the music industry. Increasingly, musicians and artists want to be well versed in music software. That software is designed and created by a legion of computer engineers and computer programmers. Davis demonstrated SuperCollider, a free program he uses, which comes with basic predefined instruments and is also a programming language, allowing artists to build their own virtual instruments to produce music. In his view, a computer is just another musical instrument.

“At the end of the day, audio is just a set of numbers, and we can manipulate numbers,” Davis explained. “On your computer, music is just a set of numbers.”