Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course meetings are divided into two categories. Topic meetings combine lecture, demonstration, listening, and discussion to explore particular areas of focus. Discussion and workshop meetings enrich and extend topics through discussion, collaborative hands-on experimentation, and improvisation with software, circuits, and musical interfaces.




An investigation into the history, culture, and aesthetics of music and technology as deployed in experimental and popular musics from the 19th century to the present. Through original research, creative hands-on projects, readings, and lectures, the following topics will be explored: the history of radio, audio recording, and the recording studio, as well as the development of musique concrète and early electronic instruments; the creation and extension of musical interfaces, both physical and virtual; the exploration of electromagnetic technologies in pickups, and the development of dub, hip-hop, and turntablism; the history and application of the analog synthesizer, from the Moog modular to the Roland TR- 808; the history of computer music, including music synthesis and representation languages; historical and contemporary practices in live electronics, circuit bending, and electro-acoustic music; contemporary issues in copyright and intellectual property.


  1. To gain a critical understanding of the recent history of music technology, including events, musics, technologies, and artists.
  2. To develop listening skills with attention to qualitative and quantitative attributes of sound, sound organization, and the sound production process.
  3. To critically evaluate claims of aesthetic and technological advancement, quality, and promise.
  4. To develop creativity and hands-on experience with select contemporary music technologies.

Required Materials


Regular access to the following complete texts is required.

1. Buy at Amazon Braun, H. Music and Technology in the Twentieth Century. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780801868856.

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

3. Buy at Amazon Holmes, T. Electronic and Experimental Music. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008. ISBN: 9780415957823. [Preview in Google Books]

Additional required readings in other books, articles, and chapters are also assigned during the term.

Digital Materials

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 Web site. Course announcements and comments on submitted work will always be distributed via email.

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.

  • 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

The following texts and Web sites may provide useful references for terms, people, and concepts presented in this course.

  1. Oxford Music Online/Grove Music Online
  2. Buy at MIT Press Buy at Amazon Roads, C. The Computer Music Tutorial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780262680820.
  3. Crab, S. "120 Years Of Electronic Music (This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.PDF)."
  4. Stolet, J., et al. "Electronic Music Interactive v2." University of Oregon, 2009.


Reading Assignments

All reading assignments, unless marked with an asterisk, 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

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 mask critical sonic details.

Reading and Listening Discussion Leader

For each class, two students will be assigned to deliver written and in-class summaries and commentary on assigned readings and listening assignments. Discussion leaders for reading assignments are required to post at least minimal notes, outlines, key terms, concepts, and/or critical responses. Discussion leaders for listening assignments 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. These discussion posts must be completed before the start of class.

Music Technology Case Study

A written research paper (at least 2600 words) offering original and critical analysis of an artifact or system of music technology, including specific instruments, instrument manufacturers, industrial processes, performance practices, software systems, or new musical interfaces or networks. The paper must be based on substantial research, offer an original and unifying argument, and must, at least in part, employ approaches to investigating the aesthetic and cultural context and construction of the music technology.

The music technology must be critically examined. Opportunities for critical examination include the following: investigations into the cultural, political, economic, and aesthetic contexts that led to the development, success, and/or failure of a particular technology; histories of paths and networks of development, as well as comparisons to similar alternative and/or failed technologies; examinations of aesthetic and creative constraints and opportunities embedded in technologies, as shown through comparative design analysis and/or musical applications in composed or performed works.

Music Technology Case Study Draft

A complete draft, meeting the minimum requirements for the Music Technology Case Study, submitted with citations and a complete bibliography.

Sonic System Project and Presentation

This project includes the creation of an original sonic system that functions as either an instrument with a performance interface or as a static or dynamic musical work. This project can be created with mechanical and/or acoustic tools, electrical circuits, creative extensions of conventional musical instruments and processors, or original software designs in any language or system. Students will present and demonstrate their system to the class and provide a written report describing their approach.

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

Sonic System Project Draft

Students must bring to class a working prototype or minimal implementation of their sonic system, and be prepared to demonstrate and discuss their goals and plans as they approach completion.

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 5 MB) via email attachment or (if larger than 5 MB) via Pando (with the free Basic Version), YouSendIt (with a free Lite account), or a similar free digital delivery service. 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. All digital media assignments must be submitted as MIDI (.mid), AIFF (.aif), or WAVE (.wav) files.

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. As all assignments are digitally-submitted, assignment deadlines remain regardless of attendance.

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.


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

Reading and listening discussion leader 20%
Music technology case study 25%
Music technology case study draft 5%
Sonic system project and presentation 20%
Sonic system project draft 5%
Quizzes 15%
Participation 10%

Students are responsible for tracking their progress and cumulative grade throughout this course. Students may request via email information about grades at any time.

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.

Questions about possible grading errors must be addressed to the instructor within one week of receipt of the graded assignment, quiz, or exam. The original document must be retained by the student and resubmitted to the instructor for review.

Additional Policies

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.

Practical and Common Courtesies

Cell phones, pagers, and similar distracting and noisemaking devices must be silenced and put away during class. Text-messaging, emailing, and other external communication is not permitted during class. Eating, drinking, or sleeping in class is not permitted.

Computer-based note-taking must be done quietly (keystrokes should be as silent as possible and built-in speakers should never emit sounds) and attention must be directed to the class. Use of a computer during class may be prohibited at any time.

Students are responsible for maintaining digital copies of all in-progress and completed assignments.


Part I. Foundations
1 Music and music technology  
2 The science and visualization of sound  
Part II. Recording
3 The history of analog audio  
4 Microphones and Radio  
5 Discussion and workshop  
6 Digital audio  
7 Processing audio and the modern recording studio  
8 Musique concrète and electronic music  
9 Discussion and workshop  
Part III. Interfaces
10 Mechanical automations and innovations  
11 Electronic and electromagnetic instruments  
12 Discussion and workshop  
13 Modular synthesizers  
14 Sequencers, rhythm machines, and samplers  
15 Discussion and workshop Music technology case study draft due
16 Turntables  
17 Live electronics and circuit bending  
18 Discussion and workshop Sonic system project draft due
Part IV. Languages
19 The history of notation and MIDI  
20 The early history of music programming and digital synthesis  
21 Synthesis with code Music technology case study due
22 Discussion and workshop  
23 Intellectual property and copyright Sonic system project due
24-25 Sonic system project presentations