An Introduction to Music Technology, Second Edition

Dan Hosken
New York: Routledge, 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-415-82572-6 (hardcover), 978-0-415-82573-3 (paperback)
RRP: US$147.00 (hardcover), US$68.95 (paperback)

Martin K. Koszolko

Melbourne Polytechnic (Australia)

Dan Hosken explores the myriad of ways in which technology can be implemented in the practices of composers, performers and teachers. This introductory text spans a large group of topics covered in a comprehensive and accessible way. The volume is divided into four sections: Sound, Audio, MIDI and Software Instruments and Computer Notation and Computer-Assisted Instruction. Included are also two appendices, covering Computer Hardware and Computer Software. Each of the main sections is preceded by an overview text summarising the key issues discussed.

Hosken argues that principles of music technology should be analysed in the context of practical work, and throughout the text he provides suggested activities, complementing the core content. The importance of aural experiences is also emphasised and the book is presented with a companion website featuring audio examples relevant to the covered topics. The website is up to date and provides a large collection of resources, such as audio examples, YouTube videos and URLs to relevant online content. The online component is a helpful expansion of the material covered in the book and allows dissemination of various types of information conveniently gathered in one place, which is practical in a teaching environment.

Hosken is pragmatic in his approach and prioritises the importance of the presented material to students operating in the contemporary music production landscape. An example of this method is the choice of topics for the appendices. The decision to include the discussion on computer hardware and software in the appendices was dictated by the fact that, while important, these topics are intuitively understood by current generations of students who grew up with computer technologies. While a good understanding of the fundamental knowledge related to computer hardware and software is very helpful in troubleshooting of the technical problems as well as the efficient day-to-day work with music technology, the priority in the volume is given to sound-related topics, which is a sensible choice.

The second edition of the book, reviewed here, sees a restructure of some of the content as well as new additions. Section three MIDI and Software Instruments now includes chapters on synthesis and sampling, which in the first edition of the book were presented separately. The new edition offers several references to mobile platforms, particularly iOS-based apps facilitating music creation and performance as well as computer-assisted instruction. This discussion on mobile apps is a welcome update, as since the launch of the iOS App Store in 2008 musicians have gained access to an ever-growing range of tactile apps with unparalleled music capabilities. In addition to the information on iOS apps, the updated text features references to hardware accessories relevant to the iOS platform.

The book helps to facilitate an understanding of the key principles that lie behind the technology, rather than discussing specific software or hardware tools. While the text does not focus on specific software there are numerous references to popular plugins and digital audio workstation (DAW) programs. These examples offer a fairly broad overview of available software options, with the most frequently mentioned DAW applications being Pro Tools, Reason and Logic Pro, while other popular DAWs such as Cubase and Ableton are mentioned only in passing. This approach helps to avoid the dangers of analysing minute details of technological tools that change at a rapid pace, which would quickly render such analysis obsolete. As such, there is a degree of reliance on the reader’s capacity to conduct further research into various, more specific aspects of audio technology that they might be utilising or learning at the same time. This additional research can hopefully be facilitated and aided by lecturers of undergraduate courses, as students are Hosken’s primary reader group. In my own tertiary teaching practice, I found the segments of the book discussing the properties of sound, MIDI, synthesis, sampling and bit rates to be of particular value to students new to these aspects of music technology. Such content has proven to be an excellent resource for introductory information on these topics.

The book is designed for makers and creators who want to use technology in their present or future professional activities and for whom, Hosken argues, it is important to understand how music technology works. He does not discuss technology separate to music, which, I believe, is a step than can help practitioners who frequently wear a hat of musician and sound technician at the same time. In my practice as a music producer I found that it is often easy to fall into the trappings of technological solutions to problems encountered in a mix and forget about the musical ones. An example of a discussion just as important to music performers as it should be to music technologists is Chapter Three, featured in the first section of the book focused on Sound, where topics such as harmonics, overtones and timbre modification are discussed.

A limitation of the book is the lack of more in-depth explanation of some complex topics or processes that might be challenging for beginners. Examples of such topics, covered rather briefly, include a discussion on tuning and temperament in the section on Sound, and the description of compression in the section covering Audio. A topic that could be also expanded in a future update to the section on MIDI and Software Instruments is elaboration on how MIDI technology and computer software can be used in a live performance context. The closest the book gets to this issue is a discussion on performance apps for iOS devices and a brief description of MIDI mapping. Yet there is no discussion on the possibilities for interactive performance facilitated by programs such as Ableton Live. This software is discussed primarily as an example of a DAW capable of hosting Max for Live, where the latter is mentioned as an illustration of a programming environment. It is possible, however, to use other featured topics on MIDI hardware and iOS performance apps as a helpful guide covering at least some issues related to live performance set-ups. At the beginning of the book, Hosken clearly states that the amount and depth of coverage was carefully considered and designed in a way to make the content suitable for an introductory class. To combat the issue of limited coverage of some of the more complex issues, at the end of each of the sections we find a list of further readings as well as suggested activities, expanding on the initial topics.

The overarching thesis of Hosken’s book is that the understanding and mastering of technology empowers musicians to focus on music and ultimately provides them with the means of making a living in a variety of ways, such as arranging, composing, teaching and performing. This is aligned with my own experience, as I found that the merging of strong musical skills with an in-depth knowledge of technology is a reliable recipe for being able to gain independence as well as authority in the studio, on stage as well as in the music technology classroom. Overall, Hosken has successfully analysed and presented a wide breadth of material that is of importance to music practitioners utilising technology. The book is a comprehensive introductory resource on a variety of topics that can be used as a valuable starting point to further investigations in the field.