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In this paper, an approach is introduced based on differential operators to construct wavelet-like basis functions. Given a differential operator L with rational transfer function, elementary building blocks are obtained that are shifted replicates of the Green's function of L. It is shown that these can be used to specify a sequence of embedded spline spaces that admit a hierarchical exponential B-spline representation. The corresponding B-splines are entirely specified by their poles and zeros; they are compactly supported, have an explicit analytical form, and generate multiresolution Riesz bases. Moreover, they satisfy generalized refinement equations with a scale-dependent filter and lead to a representation that is dense in L2. This allows us to specify a corresponding family of semi-orthogonal exponential spline wavelets, which provides a major extension of earlier polynomial spline constructions. These wavelets are completely characterized, and it is proven that they satisfy the following remarkable properties: 1) they are orthogonal across scales and generate Riesz bases at each resolution level; 2) they yield unconditional bases of L2-either compactly supported (B-spline-type) or with exponential decay (orthogonal or dual-type); 3) they have N vanishing exponential moments, where N is the order of the differential operator; 4) they behave like multiresolution versions of the operator L from which they are derived; and 5) their order of approximation is (N-M), where N and M give the number of poles and zeros, respectively. Last but not least, the new wavelet-like decompositions are as computationally efficient as the classical ones. They are computed using an adapted version of Mallat's filter bank algorithm, where the filters depend on the decomposition level.