The Sound of Innovation

From Inside Technology

The Sound of Innovation

Stanford and the Computer Music Revolution

By Andrew J. Nelson

How a team of musicians, engineers, computer scientists, and psychologists developed computer music as an academic field and ushered in the era of digital music.




Open Access


How a team of musicians, engineers, computer scientists, and psychologists developed computer music as an academic field and ushered in the era of digital music.

In the 1960s, a team of Stanford musicians, engineers, computer scientists, and psychologists used computing in an entirely novel way: to produce and manipulate sound and create the sonic basis of new musical compositions. This group of interdisciplinary researchers at the nascent Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced “karma”) helped to develop computer music as an academic field, invent the technologies that underlie it, and usher in the age of digital music. In The Sound of Innovation, Andrew Nelson chronicles the history of CCRMA, tracing its origins in Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory through its present-day influence on Silicon Valley and digital music groups worldwide.

Nelson emphasizes CCRMA's interdisciplinarity, which stimulates creativity at the intersections of fields; its commitment to open sharing and users; and its pioneering commercial engagement. He shows that Stanford's outsized influence on the emergence of digital music came from the intertwining of these three modes, which brought together diverse supporters with different aims around a field of shared interest. Nelson thus challenges long-standing assumptions about the divisions between art and science, between the humanities and technology, and between academic research and commercial applications, showing how the story of a small group of musicians reveals substantial insights about innovation.

Nelson draws on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with digital music pioneers; the book's website provides access to original historic documents and other material.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262028769 248 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 8 b&w photos, 2 charts


  • Even as a forty-year veteran of the synthesizer industry, I learned a ton from The Sound of Innovation. While the legal and business considerations are interesting on their own, it's their intertwining with musical and technological developments that makes this story so magical. Andrew Nelson's thorough recounting of CCRMA's unique history with all the successes, failures, and tales of the weird and wonderful makes for a great read.

    Dave Smith

    legendary instrument designer, Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society, and 2013 Grammy winner

  • Every year brings a new crop of books promising the secret formula to innovation in your organization. Very few are based on research and evidence. By bringing to life the story of the remarkable fusion of music and computer science at Stanford, Andrew Nelson has provided a work of not only insight but also usefulness. Everyone in government, business, and academia should read it.

    Dane Stangler

    Vice President, Research & Policy, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

  • The Sound of Innovation deftly unpacks the relationship between university research, commercial interests, and new innovation-driven fields. Nelson reveals both the opportunities and the tensions that emerge at unexpected intersections, interweaving a story of entrepreneurial individuals with a rich and detailed sociological analysis. The result is an unprecedented investigation into the origins and impact of interdisciplinary innovations in the creative arts.

    Fiona Murray

    Associate Dean for Innovation and Co-Director, MIT Innovation Initiative, and William Porter (1967) Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship, MIT Sloan School of Management

  • The Sound of Innovation goes beyond many chronicles of inventive, entrepreneurial, or organizational success, in not glossing over the uncertainties, obstacles, and serious setbacks, and in offering a structured analysis of the particular, concrete instantiations of processes that reconceptualizes them in more general and abstract terms. With the aid of fresh frameworks and concepts (including 'radical interdisciplinarity,' 'informal technology transfers,' and 'multivocality'), its author arrives at important concluding insights that should be welcomed by those concerned with the formulation of public policies for science, technology, and innovation.

    Paul A. David

    Professor Emeritus of Economics and by courtesy History, Stanford University; Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research; Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262028769 248 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 8 b&w photos, 2 charts