How IEEE Makes Music Better
by Robin Hegg
IEEE members across disciplines research and develop music, music technology, computer programs, and more, all of which lead to our being able to understand music better and do more with it.
The very first IEEE society to be founded is the Signal Processing Society. The Signal Processing Society supports research and development among signal processing professionals. Signal processing is the technology that enables information to be generated, transformed, and interpreted. Signals (information) can take many forms, including audio, music, speech, and language. Audio engineers are able to electronically manipulate audio signals by developing algorithms to process them. These algorithms are what allow them to use make changes to recorded tracks, like adding reverberation or Auto-Tuning vocals.
In 2009, IEEE 1599 became a new standard to encode music with XML symbols. Using these symbols allows them to be read by both machines and humans. IEEE 1599 also introduced the use of layers, allowing all aspects of musical information to be accessed individually and as parts of a whole. The information encoded in music can include audio and sound, graphics, historical data, and performance information.
IEEE has three music-related journals, which publish research about music, music technology, psychoacoustics, algorithms, computer science, and more: IEEE Multimedia Magazine, IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, and IEEE Transactions on Audio, Speech and Language Processing.
One of IEEE’s top members working with audio and music was Amar G. Bose. In 1972, IEEE named Amar G. Bose an IEEE Fellow for “contributions to loudspeaker design, two-state amplifier-modulators, and nonlinear systems.”
Bose started out repairing model trains and home radios for money as a teenager. He attended MIT for his bachelor’s degree, became a Fulbright Scholar at the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi, then returned to MIT for his PhD in electrical engineering.
An electrical and sound engineer, Bose found himself disappointed with the quality of the high-end stereo equipment that was available and set out to design equipment that would give the listener a more lifelike experience. Having learned that in a concert hall 80 percent of sound reached the listener indirectly (by bouncing off walls and ceilings rather than traveling directly to the ear), he set out to replicate the experience of listening to live music. He invented the Bose 901 Direct/Reflecting speaker system, which was one of the first to use the space around a room and remained an industry standard for 25 years.
Bose founded Bose, Corp., which is famous for its speakers and noise-canceling headphones. The company has been able to funnel most of its money into long-term research in acoustical engineering. At age 68, Bose held more than two dozen patents. His products are used in theaters, Olympic stadiums, and even the Sistine Chapel. His noise cancellation system was even used in space shuttles to protect astronauts’ hearing from permanent damage, and is used by military and commercial pilots to cancel out noise from airplanes.
Bose also donated to the IEEE Foundation, IEEE’s philanthropic foundation.