In the past, the quality or nature of sounds used in music was set by the technology of instrument design, and conventions about performance and musical 'expression'. In the 19th century, european composers became increasingly concerned with 'sonority', through development of new orchestration techniques, and new instruments. However, a systematic approach to sound itself had to wait for the invention of sound recording and the accurate computer analysis of sounds. Studios, and then computers, also provided powerful new tools for musicians to work directly with sound.
The book Audible Design, provides detailed description of the craft of sound transformation using new software instruments, with non-mathematical explanations and recorded music examples of all processes.
Many of these processes (e.g. sound morphing, spectral stretching, waveset distortion, sound shredding, grain manipulation, moving harmonic field filters) were first developed by Trevor Wishart, either at IRCAM, or as part of the Composers Desktop Project. Virtually all processes described in Audible Design are available on the Sound Loom.