New Computer Music Resources I

by Giorgio Sancristoforo

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We are entering in a new era of sounds.

As multiphysics engineering softwares become more and more accessible and the personal computer gained the necessary power to run physics simulations at home, we’ve found a new meaning to the words sculpting sound.

To the musician, until some time ago, not so many resources were available in the field of modal synthesis. They were almost all commercial products with a limited choice of models and materials. On top of that, polyphony was a serious issue. Due to intense calculations running in background, one could expect to run a maximum of 3, 4 voices at once.
But the point is that it’s not that interesting to just “strike a plate”.

What about the shape of the plate? Is it round or hexagonal? Is it made of glass, stone or plastic? If it’s metal, what sort of metal? Platinum? Palladium? Aluminium or chrome plated steel? What about gems?

What if I want to design my own shapes? What’s the sound of a 30cm long and 1.2mm thick swirling tube made of glass connected to a thin platinum semi-sphere? What is the sound of a glass cello, plucked by water? What’s the sound of a gold heart-shaped box caressed by feathers? With the aid of computer modelling, an universe of new instruments is unfolding in front of our eyes, and the possibilities are endless.

As the listener enters for the first time in this world, it will take a few seconds for him to realise the striking realism of this sounds. The advantage of modelling sound sources with resonators, lies not only in its semplicity, but also in its capability of creating hyper-realistic frequency and dynamic responses.
Since the modal system of synthesis requires just two basic elements: a resonator and an exciter, we can use any kind of sound as an exciter. Not only we can create it synthetically, but most importantly, we can use real acoustical sources, from contact or aerial microphones or files.
A contact microphone attached on a wooden plate can drive a polyphonic metal model with such realism (both in sound produced and gesture made by the performer) that it would not be distinguishable from a real acoustical instrument. And we can even go further by pre-processing exciters sounds with other well-known techniques, such as granular synthesis to go for a more radical sound..

Realism, however, here has only a functional role, rather than aesthetical. The aim of this research is to create surrealistic instruments, impossible, or immensely hard to build and mise en ouvre.
The most logical consequence of acousmatic music, is the establishment of a meta-acusmatics science of creation where found sounds are substituted by new virtual-acoustical-objects, impossible to distinguish from real life sounds (until they fade in the "impossible", 
at the will of the musician.)

Physical Modelling of course is not new, but new software tools bloomed during these years, thanks to research fields such as aerospace and building industries. These softwares create an essential bridge to set the foundamentals for a new numerical lutherie...


released April 19, 2016



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Giorgio Sancristoforo Milan, Italy

Giorgio Sancristoforo is an italian sound artist member of AGON Contemporary Music Center of Milan, working with interactive installations, experimental music and software' design.
He lectures sound design and Max/MSP at Milan’s SAE College since 2002.
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