ESP Biography



ROB SPEER, MIT alum who does AI, and music on the side




Major: EECS

College/Employer: Luminoso

Year of Graduation: 2006

Picture of Rob Speer

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Rob Speer graduated from MIT with degrees in computer science and music, and now is a co-founder of a Cambridge startup called Luminoso that helps computers understand text.



Past Classes

  (Look at the class archive for more.)


History of Video Game Music in Splash 2014 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2014)
Video game music has evolved over three decades from simple blips and bleeps into a genre of its own. This genre has been influenced by the technological limitations of its roots, and also by numerous crossovers from popular music, electronic music, film soundtracks, and anime. In this class, I’ll give a tour of the history of video game music and the programmers and musicians who made it what it is, and we’ll take time to appreciate some of the most significant technological and artistic accomplishments along the way.


Listening to Bach in Splash 2014 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2014)
Let's listen to some Bach music. Not for some utilitarian purpose like learning about music history or music theory, studying an instrument, or "training your brain", whatever that means. No, let's listen to Bach for the sheer enjoyment of it, because lots of people agree that the music he composed was really, really good. I'll tell you about what to listen for, the different styles of pieces Bach wrote, and how to find great performances to listen to. There will be a bit of history and music theory to provide context, but the main focus is the music.


Where the Musical Scale Comes From in Splash! 2011 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2011)
Why does the musical scale we know consist of 12 notes, and why are they those notes in particular? It turns out that there’s some simple math that describes what sounds good to the human ear, and you can use that math to build up the familiar Western scale. Like curious engineers, we’re going to take apart the scale and see how it works — and then we’re going to put it back together differently. By making different choices, you can end up building other musical scales used through history and around the world, or exotic scales that few people have ever heard. Instead of 12 notes, you could have 5, 19, 22, or even 53 notes in each octave. You’ll hear some examples of music with intervals you've never heard before, learn why every piano is “out of tune” in one way or another, and you’ll even have a chance to improvise on a keyboard with a 19-note scale.


History of Video Game Music in Splash! 2011 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2011)
Video game music has evolved over three decades from simple blips and bleeps into a genre of its own. This genre has been influenced by the technological limitations of its roots, and also by numerous crossovers from popular music, electronic music, film soundtracks, and anime. In this class, I’ll give a tour of the history of video game music and the programmers and musicians who made it what it is, and we’ll take time to appreciate some of the most significant technological and artistic accomplishments along the way.


Where the Musical Scale Comes From in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Why does the musical scale we know consist of 12 notes, and why are they those notes in particular? It turns out that there’s some simple math that describes what sounds good to the human ear, and you can use that math to build up the familiar Western scale. Like curious engineers, we’re going to take apart the scale and see how it works — and then we’re going to put it back together differently. By making different choices, you can end up building other musical scales used through history and around the world, or exotic scales that few people have ever heard. Instead of 12 notes, you could have 5, 19, 22, or even 53 notes in each octave. You’ll hear some examples of music that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before, learn why every piano is “out of tune” in one way or another, and you’ll even have the opportunity to play a keyboard with a 19-note scale.


History of Video Game Music in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Atari. Commodore 64. The NES. Sega Genesis. The demoscene. MIDI. SoundBlaster. Koji Kondo. Bobby Prince. Nobuo Uematsu. Yasunori Mitsuda. OverClocked ReMix. Video game music has evolved over three decades from simple blips and bleeps into a genre of its own. This genre has been influenced by the technological limitations of its roots, and also by numerous crossovers from popular music, electronic music, film soundtracks, and anime. In this class, I’ll give a tour of the history of video game music, and we’ll take time to appreciate some of the most significant technological and artistic accomplishments along the way.


History of Video Game Music in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Atari. Commodore 64. The NES. Sega Genesis. The demoscene. MIDI. SoundBlaster. Koji Kondo. Bobby Prince. Nobuo Uematsu. Yasunori Mitsuda. OverClocked ReMix. Video game music has evolved over three decades from simple blips and bleeps into a genre of its own. This genre has been influenced by the technological limitations of its roots, but also by numerous crossovers from popular music, electronic music, film soundtracks, and anime. In this class, I'll give a tour of the history of video game music, and we'll take time to appreciate some of the most significant technological and artistic accomplishments along the way.


Where the Musical Scale Comes From in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Why does the musical scale we know consist of 12 notes, and why are they those notes in particular? It turns out that there’s some simple math that describes what sounds good to the human ear, and you can use that math to build up the familiar Western scale. Like curious engineers, we’re going to take apart the scale and see how it works — and then we’re going to put it back together differently. By making different choices, you can end up building other musical scales used through history and around the world, or exotic scales that few people have ever heard. Instead of 12 notes, you could have 5, 19, 22, or even 53 notes in each octave. You’ll hear some examples of music that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before, learn why every piano is “out of tune” in one way or another, and you’ll even have the opportunity to play a keyboard with a 19-note scale.


Wikipedia: Behind the Scenes in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It's an incredible source of information on millions of topics, but it can be bewildering at times, especially if you venture onto the editing side. How do you edit Wikipedia in a way that won't just be undone by another editor? Who decides what belongs in Wikipedia and what doesn't? How can you tell whether to trust what's written in an article? Rob Speer, a Wikipedia admin, will answer these questions and more. This class will make you a more informed user of Wikipedia, and show you how you can contribute to it yourself as well.


Where the Musical Scale Comes From in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
Why does the musical scale we know consist of 12 notes, and why are they those notes in particular? Are there other scales that would sound just as good if you had been listening to them your whole life? (There are, because people throughout the world play music on many different scales.) It turns out that scales arise from some simple mathematical rules about when notes sound harmonious together. This class will show you how the Western musical scale arises from those rules, and how with some different choices we could have ended up with 5, 19, 22, or even 53 notes. You'll hear what music sounds like on unfamiliar scales, and even get the opportunity to play a piano keyboard with 19 notes in each octave.


Wikipedia: Behind the Scenes in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It's an incredible source of information on millions of topics, but it can be bewildering at times, especially if you venture onto the editing side. How do you edit Wikipedia in a way that won't just be undone by another editor? Who decides what belongs in Wikipedia and what doesn't? How can you tell whether to trust what's written in an article? Rob Speer, a Wikipedia admin, will answer these questions and more. This class will make you a more informed user of Wikipedia, and show you how you can contribute to it yourself as well.


Introduction to European Games in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Tired of Monopoly, Taboo and Trivial Pursuit? This class will introduce “European-style” board games, which range from monks in a monastery trying to solve a murder mystery to settling an island to building Arabian palaces. These games are social, fun and themed while still incorporating interesting strategy. We'll explore several varieties of European games, including some specific examples, and examine sources for these games. This class will include, of course, a “games tasting” session, where we will break into groups and play some of these games. Estimated attendance: 10 students (including other sections of the same class).


Where the Musical Scale Comes From in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Why does the musical scale we know consist of 12 notes, and why are they those notes in particular? It turns out that there's some simple math that describes what sounds good to the human ear, and you can use that math to build up the familiar Western scale. Like curious engineers, we're going to take apart the scale and see how it works -- and then we're going to put it back together differently. By making different choices, you can end up building other musical scales used through history and around the world, or exotic scales that few people have ever heard. Instead of 12 notes, you could have 5, 19, 22, or even 53 notes in each octave. You'll hear some examples of music that doesn't sound like anything you've heard before, learn why every piano is "out of tune" in one way or another, and you'll even have the opportunity to play a keyboard with a 19-note scale.


Where the Musical Scale Comes From in Spark! Spring 2008 (Mar. 08, 2008)
Why does the musical scale we know consist of 12 notes, and why are they those notes in particular? Are there other scales that would sound just as good if you had been listening to them your whole life? (There are, because people throughout the world play music on many different scales.) It turns out that scales arise from some simple mathematical rules about when notes sound harmonious together. This class will show you how the Western musical scale arises from those rules, and how with some different choices we could have ended up with 5, 19, 22, or even 53 notes. You'll hear what music sounds like on unfamiliar scales, and even get the opportunity to play a piano keyboard with 19 notes in each octave.


Wikipedia: Behind the Scenes in Spark! Spring 2008 (Mar. 08, 2008)
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It's an incredible source of information on millions of topics, but it can be bewildering at times, especially if you venture onto the editing side. How do you edit Wikipedia in a way that won't just be undone by another editor? Who decides what belongs in Wikipedia and what doesn't? How can you tell whether to trust what's written in an article? Rob Speer, a Wikipedia admin, will answer these questions and more. This class will make you a more informed user of Wikipedia, and show you how you can contribute to it yourself as well.


Introduction to European Games in SPLASHONWHEELS (2008)
Tired of Monopoly, Taboo and Trivial Pursuit? This class will introduce “European-style” board games, which range from monks in a ...


Where the Musical Scale Comes From in SPLASHONWHEELS (2008)
Why does the musical scale we know consist of 12 notes, and why are they those notes in particular? Are ...


Wikipedia: Behind the Scenes in SPLASHONWHEELS (2008)
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It's an incredible source of information on millions of topics, ...


Improv Workshop in SPLASH (2006)
You're the host of a party where everyone is spontaneously turning into chickens. You're a film director with a time ...


Improv Workshop in SPLASH (2006)
You're the host of a party where everyone is spontaneously turning into chickens. You're a film director with a time ...


Introduction to European Games in SPLASH (2006)
Tired of Monopoly, Taboo and Trivial Pursuit? This class will introduce "European-style" board games, which range from monks in a ...


The Mathematics of the Musical Scale in SPLASH (2006)
Almost all the music you hear is based on the 12-tone musical scale. Why does it have those particular twelve ...


Voting Theory in SPLASH (2006)
Can math tell us why politics is messed up? Well, partially. It can tell you why we've got a two-party ...