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October 3, 2006

Filed under: music»recording»production

Book Review: Real World Digital Audio, by Peter Kirn

At Create Digital Music, Peter Kirn blogs about all kinds of electronic and computer-based music tools, ranging from newly-announced keyboards to tips on running Ableton Live--generally the bleeding edge of digital sound technology. I like reading CDM not only for the news that applies to my own projects, but also because it's a peek into a musical world where I don't spend much time: that of the visualized DJ/sample-based laptop musician. I've had Peter's book, Real World Digital Music, for a few months now, and I recommend it for much the same reasons. It's a little biased towards that type of modern electronic artist, but it's also a good reference that beginners can use.

The book starts all the way back at the physics of sound, from compression and rarefraction to harmonic overtones. From there it moves quickly through the basics of converting analog to digital, setting up a studio, and preparing a computer for audio production. From that point, Kirn begins to get more specific on different kinds of digital production, such as loop-based arrangement, MIDI, synthesis, and traditional DAWs. These chapters are pretty comprehensive, especially considering the wide field of different software and situations that are involved. I was pleasantly surprised to see an entire chapter on different types of microphones and miking techniques for a variety of instruments, since I think that's one of the more difficult tasks for an amateur musician. Likewise, the guide to different effects is well-written and logically-sorted, with plenty of illustrations.

The last three chapters of the book are more niche-oriented. They cover creating printed scores, scoring video, and performing live. I hesitate to say that these were unnecessary, and they fit with the book's theme of being a broad guide to all things digital. But there are areas that I would have preferred to see more in depth--more detail about EQ for different instruments, for example. Still, I'm nitpicking about areas that other, analog-oriented guides probably have covered. This is a clear, thoughtful text, and it's made more practical by the inclusion of a DVD containing a load of free software, such as a demo of Ableton Live that can be used for many of the book's examples. Most of them are free downloads if readers search them out, but having them collected is very nice.

In the end, I think Real World Digital Audio is a good introduction to computer-based sound production. Although it's aimed at musicians (and perhaps musicians aspiring to a very particular niche of music-making), most of the text doesn't require a theoretical background. In fact, I'm considering using it as a reference when teaching other colleagues at the World Bank Institute, due mainly to the way it covers both the basics and intermediate topics without talking down to the reader. It's a good starter text, even accounting for the chapters most people will never use.

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