A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Study of Max Programming, Synthesis and Instrument Compilation”

What is junior Digital Audio Recording Arts (DARA) major Calvin Hartsfield up to this summer? He is programming a computer-based musical synthesizer from scratch. The project is part of the SURE program at USF.

Hartsfield explained why he chose this project, stating, “I’ve always had a knack for designing my own sounds from prebuilt synthesizers, but I’ve always been curious about how I could utilize tools I built myself. Plus, I think it’s just great knowledge to have to pass on to others.”

Calvin Hartsfield - Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE)

Creating Virtual Instruments and Audio Effects

Using virtual synths is becoming one of the most popular ways to make music today. Many producers will buy a synth, find a preset they like, and begin creating, but there are few producers who create their own sounds from scratch, let alone create a synthesizer that drives those sounds.

Hartsfield will be using Max, an object-oriented computer language, to create playable virtual instruments and functional audio effects. To do this, he will use additive synthesis and the harmonic series. Additive synthesis is the use of multiple sinusoidal waveforms, or sine waves, to create intricate sounds. A sine wave is the simplest, purest form of sound. When multiple sine waves of varying frequencies are stacked on top of each other, they create a more complex waveform. When the harmonic series, an equation that leads to the next partial of a current frequency in the air, is followed, specific waveforms can be created for use within a synthesizer. Using the harmonic series, Hartsfield can build a new additive synthesizer from the ground up using Max.

Pushing the DARA Program to the Next Level

Hartsfield believes his research will open new doors within the DARA program.

“Creating a synth from nothing and learning the programming language and formulas along the way could be a substantial next step into pushing the DARA program to an even higher level of technical excellence,” Hartsfield explained.

Upon completion of his program, Hartsfield should have functional, easy-to-use, playable instruments stored in a DARA database for all DARA students to use. He will also leave the code for the Max patches that make up these usable tools for current and future students to download, learn from and modify for their own purposes.

It will be exciting to hear what Hartsfield creates!