“Everything that we learn is stuff that the industry uses now. They prepare you very well.”
In elementary school, Justin Mathew started playing the classical Indian drums and then, after hearing Louis Armstrong on his dad’s car radio, picked up the trumpet. He took keyboard lessons in middle school and taught himself how to play guitar as a high school sophomore.
With such an extensive musical background, the electrical and computer engineering major was in his element as an undergraduate research assistant at the Music Research Lab, a University of Rochester and Eastman School of Music research and teaching facility that combines music theory and performance with acoustics, signal processing, telecommunications, and computing. The lab’s innovative work has resulted in a digital reproduction of a 20-second clarinet solo nearly 1,000 times smaller than a regular MP3 file—less than a single kilobyte. The musical reproduction, announced in April 2008 at the International Conference on Acoustics Speech and Signal Processing in Las Vegas, is the closest yet to a realistic sound.
During his job at the lab, Mathew tried to better the sound of that 20-second solo by running tests on a driver used to power the clarinet and designing a stand to hold eight microphones surrounding the instrument.
“Most of my friends I talk to at other schools just get jobs or internships—they don’t really do a lot of research,” says Mathew, who plans to open his own recording studio someday.
His favorite aspect of the Music Research Lab was its weekly meeting of professors and students to talk about the projects they were working on. The informal group routinely drew listeners from throughout the University, including biomedical, physics, and astronomy professors.
Nostalgic for those cross-departmental gatherings, Mathew has applied to the new master’s program in engineering and music, in which he hopes to earn his Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering with a concentration in musical acoustics and signal processing.