Music 103: Music for Fixed Media

I. Course introduction

This is a course about listening: listening differently, listening microscopically, listening expansively, listening deeply. The evidence of your listening skill will be creative work in sound.

We will undertake an integrated study of the creation, history, and aesthetics of electronic and computer musics from around the globe and from the last 100 years. Technical topics include acoustics, digital audio recording and synthesis, MIDI, mixing, film scoring, digital signal processing, and interactivity. Readings will encompass topics including sampling culture in 90s hip hop, aural representations of material and space, racialized sound, feminist listening practices, and collaboration + community. Coursework includes the creation of several études and a final creative project, as well as regular reading, written reflections, analysis of pieces, and active participation in class meetings. A willingness to engage openly and seriously with an extremely wide range of creative practices is essential.

This course assumes no background in music technology or music theory; but it is designed to offer new insights to those who already possess some knowledge in these areas. The emphasis is on imparting a set of flexible skills and a broad familiarity with aesthetic concerns in electronic music, so that students can develop projects that are meaningful to them.

II. Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

Compose, record, and mix music using digital audio workstations (DAWs)
Understand the historical background of the tools of the music studio and the ways those tools have been used in different genres
Hone faculties of engaged and active listening
Think about the relationship between technology and listening, doing and learning, creation and perception
Write about electronic music and attendant issues with clarity and specificity

V. Assignments/grading

Homework/Quizzes        15%
Etudes                60%
Final Project            25%

Homework will generally be comprised of short responses to a reading or listening example. These are to be posted to the class On Course site by 9 am on the day of class (ideally, the night before class is best), and we will go over them as a group.

Most of the work of this course will be in the form of short etudes meant to develop and showcase particular skills. Unless otherwise noted these pieces must be submitted via Soundcloud or Vimeo, so that everyone in the class has the chance to view your work. We will share and discuss each other’s work in class. Use the hashtag #music103 to mark your work!

Final Project
Students will propose and execute a larger final project that relates to their longterm interests and which uses skills learned in the course. A short written work will be required to accompany this project. We will present these works in an informal public listening party during exam week.

Weekly schedule of topics:
Introduction, acousmatic music, musique concrète
Recording in DAWs, microphones
Recording, mixing, editing, automation
Recording, mixing, editing, automation
Acoustics, Timbre
EQ/DSP, synthesis
MIDI, interfaces, mapping
Film scoring and foley sound
Aesthetics, communities, histories, futures
Final project workshopping
Final project workshopping
Final projects due

List of etudes:
Etude 1: Musique concrète composition using Audacity, iphones/field recorders (using only cutting/copying/splicing; time effects; reverse)
Etude 2: Multi-track recording of at least two instruments, one in stereo and one in mono
Etude 3: Mixing a recording with at least 12 tracks (Generally I give them an unmixed session that I've engineered in the past)
Etude 4: Song written using software instruments, must include drums
Etude 5: Song written only using samples derived from one source track (some from past years: Baby Shark; "Lucky Star" by Madonna)

Sampling of typical readings I assign:
Weheliye - Feenin' - Posthuman Voices in Black Popular Music
Rodgers - Feminist Historiography of Electronic Music
Lewis - Too Many Notes
Demers - Listening Through the Noise (chapter 1)
Boulez - Technology and the Composer
Eimert - What Is Electronic Music
Smalley - Spectromorphology
Oliveros - Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice