Rocking On

Author: Eric Nelson
Math + science + music = acoustical engineering

Depending on your generation and personal tastes, Philip Zumbrun’s burgeoning career could be either wildly dissonant or perfectly harmonious.

Philip Zumbrun translated a love of math, science and music into a career as an acoustical engineer. He makes music these days as a guitarist, songwriter, booking agent and producer at Sonic Iguana Studio in Lafayette, Indiana.

Graduating in May 2010 from Purdue’s Interdisciplinary Engineering Program, Zumbrun earned a degree in acoustical engineering, a discipline traditionally associated with noise control and the reduction of unwanted sound.

As a producer at Sonic Iguana Studios in Lafayette and veteran pop-punk musician, Zumbrun has the volume set to loud, bringing joy to fans of the genre — and likely annoyance to their parents.

Zumbrun first discovered an affinity for math and science at the rigorous Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis, where he also immersed himself in music, playing a variety of instruments in several area rock bands.

“I was led to Purdue by academics, and became fascinated by the idea of acoustical engineering,” he says. “It seemed like the perfect place for my love of math, science, and music to meet.”

As a Boilermaker, Zumbrun founded the Purdue chapter of the Audio Engineering Society, worked behind the scenes as a theatre technician in numerous Hall of Music productions, served as an engineering ambassador and peer mentor, and completed two initiatives in the EPICS program.

In his off time, he also guided the band Highway Magic as lead guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, booking agent, and producer for more than 150 live performances and three albums.

Today, Zumbrun continues to advance his musical career with a less demanding role in his new band, It’s All Happening, which includes several members of his former act and complements his work at Sonic Iguana.

“It’s easy to look at music purely as a form of art and self-expression, but there’s a lot more to it,” he says. “I like to sit down with bands and examine what they’re trying to accomplish with their sound.

“Through acoustical engineering, I help them identify the particular steps and techniques needed to produce that sound and accomplish what they want.”

Zumbrun credits mechanical engineering professor J. Stuart Bolton and theatre and sound design professor Rick Thomas for helping him make the link between disciplines, and the EPICS program for helping him put it to work.

“The key benefit I took from EPICS was an understanding of the engineering design process, which is very similar conceptually to the recording process,” he says. “There are a lot of connections between engineering and music, from math to the physics of sound. I didn’t really think about them when I started, but learned about them at Purdue.”

Those same lessons are now proving valuable for the bands Zumbrun produces at Sonic Iguana, which was founded in 1990 by local musician Mass Giorgini and has carved out a niche as one of the leading pop-punk recording studios in the Midwest.

“Having a technical mindset and applying it to the arts helps make the creative process more intentional and specific,” Zumbrun says. “And when you look at music from a business standpoint — making an album that will sell — it’s absolutely critical.”