Engineer Loves Music


How would you choose between music and computers? Chuck-jee Chau, PhD student of Computer Science and Engineering is smart enough to combine two by carrying out research on the synthesis and analysis of sound. As always, cross-curricular study is encouraged in UST to enrich our educational experience and broaden our minds.

Chuck-jee Chau

PhD, Computer Science and Engineering (2017)

MSc, Computer Science and Engineering (2011)

I decided to do my PhD at HKUST because Prof Andrew Horner, the only computer music researcher in Hong Kong, is based here at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Exploring computer software and hardware was my hobby since primary school, and while I was at secondary school I started developing websites and programs. I have been playing the piano since I was five or six, and I have tried different instruments since then – most recently I am working on the marimba, which is a big kind of xylophone with rich and mellow bass sounds.

So with this background in music and computers, I had a hard time determining which to study when I left secondary school. I took advice from my family and friends and for career reasons I chose computer engineering with a music minor. After all, engineering and music are both "arts" – yes, even engineering – with delicate craftsmanship and communication vital to both.

For my PhD, I am carrying out research on the synthesis and analysis of sound. Together with Prof Horner, we dismantle sound – for example, the pure sound that comes from a violin, which we then rebuild using software programs. We are now working on timbre – or tone color – and emotion of various instruments. For example, do guitars and harps sound sad? Do xylophones have a happier sound?

There is a lot of freedom here at the School of Engineering, especially in the relationship with my research advisor. I benefit from abundant valuable experience outside of studies: I am involved in the HKUST Summer Musicals, for instance – I helped as the rehearsal pianist, and I encountered so many talented musicians, singers and actors here in the university. It was simply fun to make music with these students. I perform as a collaborative pianist and percussionist at my leisure.

Being involved in music and computers is rewarding because cross-curricular study has increasing prominence recently. We always need to ensure that our minds do not get too narrow. Achieving a balanced life is certainly challenging yet satisfying. There is hardly a measurement for a successful life, but for me, success is about making a difference in the lives of others – with arts which communicate emotions and thoughts, and with technologies which connect and enhance the communication.

Source: IN FOCUS Summer 2014