Max Mathews, computer music pioneer, dies

SAN FRANCISCO, April 24 (UPI) -- Computer music pioneer Max Mathews has died from pneumonia at age 84 in San Francisco, his son said.

Mathews, often called the father of computer music, wrote the first program to enable a computer to synthesize sound and play it back, the New York Times reported. Mathews died Thursday, his son, Vernon Mathews, told the newspaper.


His first computer program was written for the IBM 704 mainframe computer when he was an engineer at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., in 1957. It played a then-amazing 17-second composition devised by Mathews.

"The timbres and notes were not inspiring," Mathews told a conference on computer music at Indiana University in 1997, "but the technical breakthrough is still reverberating."

He later developed the first computer system for live performance. His early work influenced developers of current computer music programs such as Csound, Cmix and MAX, a visual-programming language for music and multimedia developed in the 1980s and named in his honor.

He also developed the Radio Baton, forerunner of the hand-held controllers developed by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. The controllers can be used to swing a tennis racket, roll a bowling ball, swing a bat or perform other activities that appear on the computer monitor.


Mathews was born Nov. 13, 1926, in Columbus, Neb. After graduating from high school he joined the Navy, where he was trained as a radio technician, setting him on his future path. He earned a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1954.

In addition to Vernon, Mathews is survived by two other sons, Guy and Boyd, as well as six grandchildren.

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