Syllabus

A summary calendar of topics for each class session is at the bottom of this page.

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: Two sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course meetings are divided into two categories. Most sessions are topic meetings, which combine lecture, demonstration, listening, and discussion to explore particular areas of focus. Every 5th session is a workshop meeting, which enriches and extends topics through presentation of student work, criticism, and collaborative hands-on experimentation.

General Information

Description

This course examines the history, techniques, and aesthetics of mechanical and computer-aided approaches to algorithmic music composition and generative music systems. Through creative hands-on projects, readings, listening assignments, and lectures, students will explore a variety of historical and contemporary approaches. Diverse tools and systems will be employed, including applications in Python, MIDI, Csound, SuperCollider, and Pure Data.

Objectives

  1. To gain a critical understanding of the history, aesthetics, and techniques of live electronics instruments.
  2. To develop approaches to interface and system design for real-time performance instruments.
  3. To develop musical creativity and expression in composition, performance, and improvisation with live electronics.

Required Texts

Buy at Amazon Collins, N. Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2009. ISBN: 9780415998734. [Preview in Google Books]

Additional readings are comprised of various papers, articles, and book chapters. See the Readings and Listening page for a complete list.

Required Materials

Hardware Resources

This subject requires students to purchase hardware materials costing less than or near $100. These materials must be obtained and brought to every class no later than Meeting 4 (SES #4). Three items are required:

REQUIRED HARDWARE RECOMMENDATIONS**
Small portable amplifier, such as a portable keyboard-style amplifier or monitor Amps made for guitars are not recommended for use with a laptop (such amps often are designed for quieter signals, have distortion and other effects-built in, and generally only support one channel input). The following are in order of preference:
  1. Buy at Amazon Phonic MK15 Keyboard Amp with 3.5mm stereo to RCA male cable (at least 6 feet long).
  2. Buy at Amazon Behringer Ultratone KT108 15w Keyboard Amplifier with 3.5mm stereo to RCA male cable (at least 6 feet long) and two RCA female to 1/4 inch TS (mono) male adapters.
  3. Altec Lansing iM-237 Orbit Ultraportable Speaker or similar (includes attached cable).
Appropriate cable to connect to a laptop
Dual-analog game controller Buy at Amazon Logitech Dual Action Gamepad or closely related dual-analog game controller

** For all other alternatives, please consult with the instructor.

Computer and Software Resources

All students are expected to have regular access to a computer (Windows, Macintosh, or GNU/Linux) with an internet connection, be able to listen to sounds on this computer (with or without headphones), and regularly check their MIT email account and the course website.

Lecture notes will be provided online, but these notes do not contain all necessary course information and are not a substitute for attending class and taking notes. Online lecture notes may be made unavailable at any time.

This course will use several free, cross-platform, stand-alone, or web-based applications and resources, including

  • Audacity
  • The Freesound Project
  • Martingale
  • PureData
  • SuperCollider

Assignments, projects, and demonstrations may be facilitated by the use and installation of these software tools.

Reference Materials

These reference works may be useful for terms, people, and concepts presented in this course.

  1. Oxford Music Online/Grove Music Online [subscription service]
  2. Buy at Amazon Roads, C. The Computer Music Tutorial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780262680820.

Assignments

Reading Assignments

All reading assignments, unless marked optional, are required. Reading assignments should be completed prior to the scheduled course meeting. Note the specified page numbers, as complete chapters are not always assigned. Taking notes while reading is strongly recommended.

Listening Assignments

All listening assignments, unless marked optional, are required. Listening assignments should be completed prior to the scheduled course meeting. Focused and critical listening is required, giving attention to duration, instrumentation, method of production, recording or performance context, notable sonic events, form, temporal design and proportions, aesthetic or historical contexts, and/or critical and subjective responses. Taking notes while listening is strongly recommended. The sonic materials engaged in this class require broad-bandwidth speakers or headphones; small computer or laptop speakers may hide critical sonic details.

Reading and Listening Discussion Leaders

For each class, students will be assigned to deliver in-class summaries and commentary on assigned readings and/or listening assignments. For reading assignments, discussion leaders are required to post notes, outlines, key terms, concepts, and/or critical responses. For listening assignments, discussion leaders are required to post commentary on duration, instrumentation, method of production, recording or performance context, notable sonic events, form, temporal design and proportions, aesthetic or historical contexts, and/or critical and subjective responses. Posts should be around 300 words, or about 1 double-spaced page in a 12 point serif font with one inch margins; and must be completed before the start of class.

Pd Tutorials

Pd Tutorials are short Pd programming tasks, to be submitted as complete Pd files. Written comments and answers to questions must be included as comments. Each tutorial will be reviewed at the beginning of class on the due date. Tutorials must be submitted via email before class on the due date.

Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 1 Implementation and Report

An original design for and implementation of a controller/interface/instrument employing a dual-analog game controller and a Pd synthesis, sampling, or signal processing system. Students must submit the complete Pd code with the written report.

The report is a written document (at least 500 words, or about 2 double-spaced pages in a 12 point serif font with one inch margins) consisting of at least the following sections. (1) A discussion of musical and/or aesthetic motivations. (2) A brief analysis of the system's main components, interface, and sound production techniques. (3) An evaluation of the aesthetic quality of the results and a description of how the system might be improved and expanded.

Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 1 Draft

An operational prototype or minimal implementation of the controller/interface/instrument. Students must be prepared to demonstrate and discuss their goals and plans towards completion.

Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Implementation, Report, and Presentation

An original design for and implementation of a controller/interface/instrument employing any mechanism and/or sound production process. The system must have at least two performative input parameters. The project report is a written document (around 800 words, or about 3 double-spaced pages excluding citations and bibliography in a 12 point serif font with one inch margins) consisting of at least the following components. (1) A discussion of musical and/or aesthetic motivations. (2) An analysis of the system's main components, interface, and/or sound production techniques. (3) Comparisons to related historical or contemporary musical controllers, interfaces, or instruments. (4) An evaluation of the aesthetic quality of the results and a description of how the system might be improved and expanded.

Students must prepare and deliver a ten minute aural presentation on their design. The presentation should include main points from the project report. Additionally, students must demonstrate the sonic possibilities of the controller, interface, or instrument, treated in isolation and/or in the context of other sound sources and/or music.

Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Proposal

A written document (around 300 words, or about 1 double-spaced page in a 12 point serif font with one inch margins) describing a plausible controller/interface/instrument system and the necessary materials and components.

Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Draft

An operational prototype or minimal implementation of the controller/interface/instrument. Students must be prepared to demonstrate and discuss their goals and plans towards completion.

Performance Framework

A Performance Framework is a creative assignment, completed in small groups, specifying interfaces, procedures, musical materials, and/or interactions for an ensemble performance lasting from four to eight minutes. The performance framework must be delivered in any of the following formats: written graphical, textual, or symbolic notation; sound file or sonic materials; signal processing designs or implementations; and/or interface designs or implementations.

Performance Framework Draft

A presentation including a sketch, outline, or preliminary materials and designs for the Performance Framework.

Assignment Submission and Late Work

All written assignments, unless otherwise indicated, must be submitted digitally via email attachment. Upon receipt by the instructor students will receive an email confirmation within twelve hours. If a student does not receive an email confirmation, it is the student's responsibility to contact the instructor and/or re-send the assignment.

Digital media assignments, when required, must be submitted (if smaller than 10 MB) via email attachment or (if larger than 10 MB) via a digital delivery service like Pando (free Basic Version) or YouSendIt (free Lite account). Upon receipt by the instructor students will receive an email confirmation within twelve hours. If a student does not receive email confirmation, it is the student's responsibility to contact the instructor and/or re-send the assignment.

Late assignments will receive a grade reduction. Students are encouraged to submit all assignments, even if late. Assignments turned in within seven days after the due date will be deducted 20 percent of the total points possible. Assignments will not be accepted one week after the due date or after the last scheduled course meeting.

Attendance and Participation

Attendance and participation, as integral parts of this course, are required. Excused absences include illness or emergencies communicated to the instructor before the absence. Students are permitted one unexcused absence without penalty. Beginning with the second unexcused absence, the final course grade will be reduced 3% with each additional absence. If a class is missed, it is the student's responsibility to make-up any missed work.

Always arrive to class on time. Early departures are not permitted. Frequent tardiness may negatively affect final course grade.

Quizzes and Exams

Throughout the semester there will be occasional in-class quizzes. These quizzes will require short, written responses. These quizzes will ask questions about material presented in lecture, readings, and listening assignments.

If a quiz is missed, it is the student's responsibility to take the quiz at the beginning of the next (and only the next) class meeting. Quizzes cannot be taken more than one class meeting after the quiz was originally given.

There will not be a final exam for this subject.

Grading

The final course grade will be determined from the following components:

COURSEWORK GRADE COMPONENT
Reading and Listening Discussion Leaders 10%
Pd Tutorials 10%
Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 1 Implementation and Report 15%
Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 1 Draft 2.5%
Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Implementation, Report, and Presentation 20%
Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Draft 2.5%
Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Proposal 2.5%
Performance Framework 10%
Performance Frameworks Draft 2.5%
Quizzes 15%
Participation 10%

Grading policies, the use of grade modifiers, and additional grades will be given in accordance with policies set forth in the MIT Course Bulletin, Academic Procedures and Institute Regulations. Grades are given on written assignments based on the following criteria. An F is given for incorrect, incomplete, and unsatisfactory work that demonstrates neither effort nor critical thought. A D is given for incomplete and unsatisfactory work that demonstrates some effort and minimal critical thought. A C is given for complete and satisfactory work with little or no creative or critical thought. A B is given for thorough, well-written, and well-presented work with some creative and critical thought. An A is given for substantial and creative original work and critical insight, executed without flaw.

Grades will be reduced for poor writing and/or an unreasonable number of grammatical errors. Grades are given for class participation based on the quality, relevance, creativity, and insight of aural questions, answers, and discussion points based on assignments, lectures, in-class demonstrations, or other student's work. As much as possible, participation grades follow the standards for written assignments as presented above.

Academic Integrity, Intellectual Property, and Plagiarism

Students are encouraged to discuss course content with other students taking the course. Each student must, however, produce their own original work. Students are expected to observe the highest levels of academic integrity. All cases of academic dishonesty will be taken very seriously. For more information on academic integrity, citing sources, and plagiarism see Academic Integrity at MIT.

Assignments may involve using digital media or intellectual property produced by others. Materials used in such situations, and provided by the instructor or obtained from the internet, must be either in the public domain or licensed specifically for shared use. Students are expected to follow all relevant copyright and intellectual property laws.

Plagiarism includes using the words, ideas, or creative works of another writer or commentator without acknowledgment. It does not matter where these words or ideas are found or if they are signed or anonymous. When using or referencing ideas that are not your own, a citation must be provided. It is the student's responsibility to understand what is plagiarism and how to cite sources. Parenthetical in-text MLA-style citations are acceptable. Footnotes are optional.

In the case of unattributed and/or suspicious student work, software may be used to search the internet, literature archives, and current and past assignments for possibly-plagiarized material.

Suspected cases of academic misconduct will be handled according to section 10.2 of MIT Policies and Procedures.

Unauthorized use and distribution of student-recorded or transcribed course lectures or materials, without written permission of the instructor, is prohibited.

Calendar

SES # TOPICS KEY DATES
1 Foundations: Live Electronics  
2 Foundations: Sounds, Signals, Samples, and Encodings  
3 Foundations: Envelopes, Filters, Modulation, and Mixing Pd Tutorial 1 due
4 Foundations: Managing Events, Signals, and Data

Pd Tutorial 2 due

Obtain all hardware materials

5 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation Pd Tutorial 3 due
6 Foundations: Processing and Transforming Sounds  
7 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation Pd Tutorial 4 due
8 Practices: The Early History of Live Electronics  
9 Practices: Extending Common Physical Controllers  
10 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 1 Draft due
11 Practices: Touch Interfaces and OpenSoundControl  
12 Practices: Laptops and Laptop Orchestras  
13 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 1 Report due
14 Practices: Analog Electronics and Circuit Bending  
15 Practices: Electronics and Sensors  
16 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation  
17 Practices: Approaches to Composing Improvisations Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Proposal due
18 Practices: Timing and Networking  
19 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation Performance Frameworks Draft due
20 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation

Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Draft due

Performance Frameworks due

21 Practices: Novel and Custom Interfaces  
22 Workshop: Performance and Improvisation  
23 Practices: Live Coding, Live Algorithms, and Generative Techniques  
24 Class concert performance  
25 Design 2 Presentations Controller/Interface/Instrument Design 2 Report due
26 Design 2 Presentations & final performances