Despite the dominance of search engine giant Google, newer alternative search engines such as Cuil, Bing, and others have cropped up in an attempt to grab a share of the market. One very interesting new player is WolframAlpha, the “computational knowledge engine.” Here’s a small blurb from their About page, which explains exactly what the search engine does, and how it differs from Google.
Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.
Sounds pretty ambitious, doesn’t it? And before you begin to wonder just exactly what this has to do with music or horn playing, check out the Examples page. Just like Google and other search engines, there is a learning curve when first using WolframAlpha, and this page contains several helpful examples of how to use the database. For example, looking at the Music Examples page, there are some pretty interesting applications. Not only can you plug in various pitches, chord names, scales, or frequencies, but you can also have WolframAlpha generate audio waveforms according to the frequency or frequencies you enter. In addition, you can query the engine for information on various song titles and composers.
Other applications under People and History include comparing several people. So, I entered the first three composers that popped into my head, Mozart, Bela Bartok, and Tan Dun. Pretty neat, isn’t it? You can also enter various materials, like red brass, which brings up lots of interesting information. For an application very practical to horn playing, try checking out the Acoustics examples. You can compute the perceived loudness of a given frequency and decibel level. So, lets do A (440Hz) at 85 decibels, which gives us a perceived loudness of 88 phons (unit of measurement for perceived loudness). Now, do the A one octave below, 220Hz at the same 85 decibels. The perceived loudness is different, which provides scientific evidence for why teachers and conductors ask you to bring out the lower parts – they sound softer, even though they may be at exactly the same measured volume.
I know I’m only scratching the tip of the iceberg here. Play around with WolframAlpha, and I’m sure you’ll find lots of other uses; music and non-music related. Let me know if you come across anything really cool! By the way, I am not being compensated, coerced, or otherwise persuaded in this endorsement of WolframAlpha – I just thought it was a nice change from some of the inane things Google and other similar search engines generate. Google is a tremendous tool, but even it has limitations.