In the past year and a half, Tyler Morris, EG21, not only earned his MS in electrical engineering at Tufts, but also released his fourth album that debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s blues charts—and the accomplished guitarist is now working on his fifth. How did he find time to do both? By marrying what may at first seem to be two divergent interests.
“I got into engineering through audio,” Morris says. “When I was 11, I started performing on the guitar with B.B. King’s band. I noticed different issues with the gear and equipment when I performed live.”
He’s had plenty of experience to draw from, taking the stage with Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, John Mayer, and more. Tinkering with audio equipment led to creating customized guitar pedals: small, foot-operated devices that help electric guitarists achieve different effects, such as a delay, reverb, or distortion. He developed a name for himself in the guitar industry with his one-of-a-kind effects, taking orders for stars like Brian May of Queen.
Morris realized in high school that his self-taught skills couldn’t take him as far he wanted to go, so he decided to pursue electrical engineering, a decision that ultimately led him to Tufts.
“Working with Dean [of Graduate Education Karen] Panetta, I’ve been able to combine my passion of audio engineering with signal processing and machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, into my master’s research,” he says.
Their work uses machine learning to help musicians record music cleanly, distinguishing between various instruments and identifying extraneous noises.
“Our database takes the same source audio but alters the recording setup and really classifies ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ audio,” Morris says. “In machine learning, if you’re trying to categorize fruit, for example, you feed the machine different kinds of apples: red, green, yellow. Based on the annotated learning you feed it, the machine should be able to spit out categorized data.”
“In music, if you have a poor setup, you might have air conditioning in the background or catch someone talking in another room. Human ears can pick that out, but we’re shaping the machine in a way that it can detect those noises and provide the user with feedback on how to move their microphone or adjust settings on the recording equipment.”
Real-world applications go beyond music. The techniques could be used to filter out noise when air-traffic controllers communicate with pilots or to improve hearing aids.
After graduation, Morris will join STR System and Technology Research, working on underwater acoustics. With access to the latest audio technology through his day job and new opportunities to get on stage in the evenings and weekends as venues reopen post-pandemic, he’s excited about the possibilities in all facets of his career.
“It’s great to have multiple interests,” he says. “I miss playing live. I’m always striving to innovate as I write music and create pedals unlike any others on the market. I want to do things that haven’t been done.”
Profile written by Karen Shih.
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