this schedule will shift a bit over the course of the semester — be sure to check back weekly

08.23      Introduction

Slides (pdf)

no lab sections this week

band practice. overview of course structure, logistics, and policies.

08.28       Spinning records

Slides (pdf)

The invention of the phonograph in 1877 allowed for sound to be recorded and reproduced. The phonograph’s wax cylinders were eventually replaced by the spinning discs of the gramophone, an early record player. In tracing the evolution and influence of the record player through the 20th Century, we examine how playing records shaped music and how musical ideas, in turn, shaped the record player. Today we will look at how the spinning record has been refigured in the hands of experimental composers, 70s Disco DJs, early Hip-Hop musicians, and current conceptual artists, introducing the questions that propel this course…

Before recording media—wire, wax, vinyl, tape, plastic, silicon, etc—sound disappeared with time, an fading echo was the only record. But the phonograph detached sound from the here and now of its source and stored it in a material — readable and malleable. Etched in vinyl, sound can be saved, traded, and manipulated, and in time, playback came to reframe play…

“Sounds just like the record.”

Watch a few minutes of this video of Grandmaster Flash
Watch this performance excerpt by Maria Chavez
Watch a few minutes of this video of DJ Sniff


Lab requirements, expectations, grading. Introduction to Audacity.

08.30       Early Electronic Instruments

Slides (pdf)

How did people make electronic music before computers, analog synthesizers, and electric guitars? who pioneered the use of electrons for musical purposes? and why? From instruments the size of buildings to magic ‘air’ oscillators, we’ll explore the early days of electronic musical instruments.

We should also remember that no machine is a wizard, as we are beginning to think, and we must not expect our electronic devices to compose for us. Good music and bad music will be composed by electronic means, just as good and bad music have been composed for instruments. The computing machine is a marvelous invention and seems almost superhuman. But, in reality, it is as limited as the mind of the individual who feeds it material. Like the computer, the machines we use for making music can only give back what we put into them.

Edgard Varése, The Liberation of Sound

Read Thom Holmes, Chapter 1 (on collab)
Read The Liberation of Sound by Edgard Varése (optional but highly recommended — pay attention to what he says about rhythm and form)

Watch Clara Rockmore play “The Swan” by Saint-Saëns (video)

09.04       What is Sound?

Slides (pdf)

Sound can be described as waves of compression and rarefaction that propagate through the air or some other elastic medium. It is also our perception of these movements. Sound is generated by vibrating objects (a string, a speaker, a falling rock, the movements of our circulatory systems). In order to explore methods for organizing and manipulating sound, it is helpful to first investigate the physics of sound (broadly, acoustics) and how we perceive sound (psychoacoustics). Although a satisfactory answer to the question, What is sound?, might evade our grasp, there are components and characteristics of sound that will help us to discuss, visualize and manipulate it. When we talk about sound, it is good to keep in mind that it has physical characteristics that can be measured, the amplitude and frequency of fluctuations in air pressure, and perceived characteristics, loudness and pitch. The wikipedia definition alludes to this dual nature…

In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as a typically audible mechanical wave of pressure and displacement, through a medium such as air or water. In physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain.

watch this wonderfully old film (1933?!) about the physical properties of sound and this mildly new video about how we hear

09.06       Timbre and Noise

Slides (pdf)

Beyond Amplitude (loudness) and Frequency (pitch), there is another more nebulous characteristic of sound that we call timbre. Timbre might be perceived as the quality or texture of the sound and it is largely determined by spectral content or overtones as well as durational aspects like the sound’s envelope (attack and decay). Another element that effects a sound’s timbre is noise, or the unpredictable, aperiodic fluctuations within a sound. In 1913, Italian Futurist composer Luigi Russolo penned a now famous ‘noise manifesto’ called The Art of Noise…

Read The Art of Noise by Luigi Russolo


Introduction to Assignment 1 (Collage Beats). Introduction to Garage Band.

09.11      Class Cancelled 🙁

09.13      Tape Music and the European Centers

Slides (pdf)

How has the practice of manipulating recorded sounds influenced the way we understand music (and sound)? Music Concrete and early tape music become objects for thinking about the materiality of sound and abstract nature of notated music.

“…Photography, whether the fact be denied or admitted, has completely upset painting, just as the recording of sound is about to upset music … . For all that, traditional music is not denied; any more than the theatre is supplanted by the cinema. Something new is added: a new art of sound. Am I wrong in still calling it music?”

– Pierre Schaeffer

Read Thom Holmes, Chapter 2 (on collab)


Cinq études de bruits (1948) // Pierre Schaeffer
Symphonie pour un homme seul (1949-50) // Pierre Schaeffer & Pierre Henry
Dripsody (1955) // Hugh Le Caine
Poem Electronique (1958) // Edgar Varese
Concret PH (1958) // Iannis Xenakis


Time to work on Collage Beats Assignment. Assignment 1 Due At End of Week.

09.15       Project One due by 5pm

09.18       Electric Guitar and Parallel Realities

Slides (pdf)

The electric guitar, multi-track tape recording, and audio effects modules influenced popular music as well. We will look at the ways in which the techniques used by Cage, Schaeffer, Oram, and Stockhausen made their way into the musical mainstream. What new genres and possibilities grew out of multi-track recording? How did the roles of performer and engineer begin to blur?


Muddy Waters, Catfish Blues
Les Paul, Lover
The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (full album)
The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (full album)


Post-Collage Beats Assignment Discussion. Introduction to Assignment 2 (Ambient Textures)

09.20      Indeterminacy and Improvisation in Live Electronic Music

Slides (pdf)

How do John Cage’s theories of indeterminacy and chance operation inform the performance of electronic music? What does it mean to “play the laptop”? How can performers of live electronic music engage with their audience? We will investigate the ways in which the American Avant-Garde, improvisation, and new technologies can inspire fresh concepts of what it means to be a composer, performer, and instrument builder in the world of live electronic music.

Read Thom Holmes, p. 97-111 & p. 411-422

listen / watch…

William’s Mix by John Cage
Minecat by Ikue Mori
Rocket Science (Sam Pluta on laptop) improvisation set

09.25       Innovations in Rock Music

Slides (pdf)

The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa were just a few of the artists to release influential albums in 1967. As civil rights movements, war protests, peace gatherings dominated the cultural landscape, popular music added volume, distortion, and politics. We’ll examine the artists, music, and technologies that drove music into the 70s — effects pedals, amplifiers, psychedelics, and studio albums — by looking at a few landmark albums, all released in 1967.


Purple Haze and Wind Cries Mary from Are You Experienced? (1967)
Jimi Hendrix

The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
The Velvet Underground

Unfinished Music No. 1 (1968)
John Lennon & Yoko Ono


Introduce SPEAR

09.27      Synthesizers

Slides (pdf)

How do analog synthesizers work? We’ll explore analog synthesis and the music that grew out of these new instruments. We’ll look at the standard components of a modular synthesizer (VCO, VCF, Envelopes, and LFOs). Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita brought the sounds of Moog to the masses by performing covers of classical music pieces. The Minimoog was the first portable synth used by Keith Emmerson, Yes, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, and countless others. Lastly, we’ll do some live exploration of the Minimoog with our resident synth expert, Travis Thatcher.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (1968) 6′ – Wendy Carlos
Phaedra (1974) 17′ – Tangerine Dream
A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur (1978) 20′ – Morton Subotnick

10.03       No Class – Reading Day – No labs this week

10.04      Spectral Music

Slides (pdf)

We will discuss how composers utilize spectral information to compose & perform new music.  The discussion will begin with an analysis of techniques pioneered by French “Spectral” composers, such as Gerard Grisey & Tristan Murail.  We will take an in-depth look at Grisey’s piece Partiels, specifically examining how emergent computer technologies in the mid 1970’s informed compositional procedures within the French Spectral movement.  We will trace Grisey’s process of gathering spectral data from the Low E of a trombone, analyzing the contents using Fourier analysis, transcribing harmonic partials, and additively “re-synthesizing” the trombone’s spectra using a live orchestra.  From Spectral Music, we will move into the early 1980’s to examine one of Glenn Branca’s early works, Symphony No. 3, Gloria (Music for the First 127 Intervals of the Harmonic Series).  In addition to the more overtly spectral characteristics of the piece, we will begin to examine how analysis of sound spectra, specifically those intervals found high in the harmonic series, can inform the construction of new tuning systems and scales.  Whereas intervals found between partials in the lower reaches of the harmonic series form the basis for familiar scales and chords, intervals found higher in the series represent sometimes drastic, deviations from these familiar structures.  We refer to these deviations from familiar tuning practice as “microtones.”  


Partiels by Gerard Grisey

No labs this week!

10.09      Ambient Music

slides (pdf)

An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint. My intention is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres. ~ Brian Eno

Starting with Satie’s idea of “Furniture Music” and moving through different formulations of ambient music in the 20th century, we will look at a variety of composers whose music plays between foreground and background, expression and function. Wendy Carlos combined field recordings with synthesizer tones in Sonic Seasonings and Tangerine Dream produced long evolving textural synthesized soundscapes, both in the early 70s. In 1978, Brian Eno used the term, Ambient Music, in describing his canonical album Music for Airports.


Ambient Music (pdf) by Brian Eno


Furniture Music: For the arrival of the guests (Grand Entrance) (1917) by Erik Satie
Sonic Seasonings (1972) by Wendy Carlos
World Rhythms (1975) by Annea Lockwood
World Receiver (1996) by Tetsu Inoue
Music for Airports (1978) by Brian Eno
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992) by Aphex Twin
Talking Rain (1997) by Hildegard Westerkamp


Focus on Timbre Assignment (Project 2)

10.11      Sequencing and Automation

Slides (pdf)

I automate whatever can be automated to be freer to focus on those aspects of music that can’t be automated. The challenge is to figure out which is which. — Laurie Spiegel

Hardware sequencers let musicians step away from their instruments and listen, tweak their sounds, and explore the “aesthetics of the machine”. Today we’ll explore different techniques for sequencing and automating sounds.

Read German Scene & Kraftwerk (pdf) by Mark Prendergast


Phaedra by Tangerine Dream
Computer World by Kraftwerk

10.16       Project 2 Due (5pm)

10.16       Midterm Review

midterm review sheet (pdf)

listening examples (link to dropbox zip)

Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part. That is to say, I tend towards the roles of the planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.

~ Brian Eno, Notes for Discrete Music

Looping, polyrhythm and polymeter, phasing.


Music as a Gradual Process (pdf) by Steve Reich


In C (1964) – Terry Riley
Come Out (1966) – Steve Reich
Piano Phase (1967) – Steve Reich
Einstein on the Beach (1975) – Philip Glass
Book of Days (1990) – Meridith Monk

10.18       Midterm Exam

10.23       Digital Audio and Early Computer Music

Today we’ll cover Digital Encoding (PCM) and learn how Sampling Rate and Bit Depth allow us to record and store sound as digital information on a computer. We’ll also listen to some early computer music by Max Matthews, James Tenney, and Laurie Spiegel, among others.

Read Chapter 5: Digital Sound – Jeffrey Haas
Read Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe Liner Notes (pdf)

Numerology (1960) – Max Matthews
Stria (1977) – John Chowning
The Expanding Universe (1980, created 1974-1977) – Laurie Spiegel
Idle Chatter (1985) – Paul Lansky

10.25       Digital Sampling and Drum Machines

10.30       Disco, Synthpop, and Digital Synthesis

11.01       House, Techno, and the origins of EDM

11.03       Project 3 Due (5pm)

11.06       Composition and Mapping

11.08       Dub and Hip Hop

11.13       Sampling

11.15      Electronic Voices

11.20       Sound Art & Sound Installation

11.22       Thanksgiving Break

11.27       Data Sonification / Algorithmic Music

11.29      Controllers and Digital Interfaces

12.01       Last Day to submit Concert Reviews

12.04       Final Exam

12.06       Reading Day (no class)

12.08       Final Projects Due