digital musics

Navigating the Path Between Computer Science and Music

Dana Cook Grossman

In 1959, the British novelist and physicist Sir C.P. Snow gave a famous lecture ruing what he saw as a rift between society’s “two cultures”—the humanities and the sciences. Snow would surely be heartened, half a century later, by Dartmouth doctoral student Andy Sarroff. “I have one foot in the music department and one foot in the computer science department,” says Sarroff.

“I would describe myself as being in the field of music-information retrieval,” he continues. “It’s not such an old field—probably just about 15 years old. Its focus is taking music in whatever format it’s in and extracting meaningful information out of it. Usually, I’m working with digital audio—looking at the zeros and ones in digital audio and mapping the perception to the signal.”

Sarroff came to his interest in “zeros and ones” through his interest in notes and meter.

“Music was a gateway to computing for me. I’ve always played music,” he says.

He was a music major as an undergraduate at Wesleyan and then a recording engineer for eight years or so. He went on to earn a master’s degree in music technology at New York University.