The science of musical sound is a vast topic, stretching at least well back into the 19th Century with the seminal work of Helmholtz, and even all the way back to the beginning of Western Science, particularly with the apparent discovery of Pythagoras of the numerical relationships between numbers and musical intervals. The latter in some sense was the root of the whole program of physics research, that is, the attempt to unearth the hidden mathematical laws of Nature, with the goal of developing a much more profound understanding of the Universe we find ourselves in. It is not insignificant or incidental I think that Pythagoras was so inspired by the connection with music and numbers: Here was a connection between something so deeply tied up with emotions and subjective, and yet seemingly linked strongly with numbers.
By the early 19th Century mathematicians and physicists were hard at work unraveling the behavior of things like the diffusion of heat – something they had finally learned to associate with energy instead of some supposed magical fluid called “caloric,” and in the process Joseph Fourier discovered how the temperature profiles involved could be described as infinite sums of sine waves with different wavelengths, giving rise to “Fourier Analysis” and the general notion of linear suppositions of harmonics. By 1863 Hermann Von Helmholtz was championing the idea of decomposing musical tones into harmonics.
This kind of research continued gradually, with increasing levels of sophistication as electronic devices emerged. A variety of early electronic musical instruments also appeared, most notably the theremin, the Hammond Novachord, and a few others.
Then computers finally arrived on the scene, and really comprehensive analysis of musical tones could begin. One of the first to do so was my father, David A. Luce, working with a team of other graduates students under the guidance of Dr. Melville Clark Jr. at MIT in the period 1959-1963. Suddenly really detailed information about the evolution of musical tones became available. Others such as Max Mathews and James Beauchamp began similar work.
Shortly after this, the appearance of the transistor, and the river of new insights into sound that had suddenly appeared, vastly accelerated the development of electronic music synthesizers, initially carried out largely by Robert Moog, my father (before he came to Moog Music), James Beauchamp, Don Buchla, and a few others, and then soon followed by many others. And in parallel the use of synthesizers by composers also exploded, led notably by figures such as Gustav Ciamaga, Wendy Carlos, Morton Subotnick, Isao Tomita.