Computer Music Composition

ARTS 2020-01, 4:00-5:50 DCC 168

Dr. Curtis Bahn : email


Office Hours: TBA

Objective and Activities

This course will focus on the development of electronic music composition

techniques through a series of creative studio projects using the resources of the EMAC studio (DCC 125). Activities involve the exploration of this equipment as it relates to topics in computer-based music sequencing and instrumentation, sampling, sound-synthesis, digital audio recording/editing, and audio production. Compositional issues and the philosophy behind a technologically facilitated music are addressed as well both by example, readings and through discussion of student compositions. Creative work assigned may take any style or direction from the commercial to the experimental.

Computer music involves a diverse set of disciplines including among other disciplines: mathematics, acoustics, physical and electrical sound transmission, digital representation of sound, digital signal processing, computer programming, music composition, music performance, aesthetic/social/cultural implication of technology in music. We will touch upon the relationships between these disciplines, touching on some superficially and others in depth. The primary goal of the course is always to enable the student to work effectively and knowledgeably in sound and music production.

The Arts Dept. Media Arts Studio sequence is a prerequisite for all EMAC majors. Upper-class non-majors with musical experience may be allowed to take the course without the prerequisite by permission of the instructor if there is space.

Course Requirements and Grading

  1. Class attendance (much material is not in the texts). 4 unexcused absences will lower your grade one letter.
  2. Participation in discussions of readings, listenings and class works (10%)
  3. Studio assignments and compositions (30%)
  4. Midterm written exam, multiple choice and short answer (20%)
  5. 3 EAPS or concert reviews (10 %)
  6. Final project composition (30%)

EMAC Studio Software Applications

In order to complete your assignments you will be expected to gain facility with the resources of the EMAC studio and the following Macintosh applications:

Peak, Soundedit16 - digital audio samplesr, processors and editors

Logic Audio Platnum - MIDI and digital audio processor/sequencer

SoundHack - digital audio sound processor

Opcode Max - object oriented programming environment

MSP – real-time interactive digital sound generator/processor.

Assigned Reading

There is no required text for the course. Readings will be handed out during class or assigned from materials available on-line.

Manuals are available in the file cabinet in the EMAC lab. DO NOT EVER REMOVE THESE FROM THE LAB. Additional manuals may be checked out from the equipment room. Manual readings may cover a large number of pages, but, the student is often only required to familiarize themselves with the information available, and to consult the manual independently to solve problems.

Under a new rule in the Arts Dept., there may be a small copying fee charged the student mid-semester for materials. In this class the fee would be minimal.

Music Studio Assignments

The main requirement for success in this course is consistent work in the studio. Students should plan on spending between 2 and 10 hours a week in the lab. Specific studio assignments will be handed out in class. All composition assignments will be played and discussed in class and may include a brief oral presentation and a written. Assignments will be turned in after the class, each assignment will specify the format in which the assignment must be handed in.

With the instructor’s permission, studio assignments may be carried out at home or in another laboratory with similar studio equipment using similar applications. This will not excuse you from sharing your work in class or submitting it in the format assigned.

Electronic Arts Performance Series (EAPS)

Students are required to attend at least three of the scheduled EAPS events and write a two page review of each performance. Reviews must be word-processed and should include both a technical description of the musical aspects of the event as well as a reasoned critique of the materials and performance. See the EAPS calendar on-line for a listing and description of the events.

Final Project

For your final project you will create a 3-5 minute composition using the equipment of the studio, with the final version mixed down to CD. A term project presentation concert will be given during the end of the semester EMAC exhibition.

Electronic Mail

All students will be expected to monitor their RCS electronic mail account for information regarding the course. Email provides an excellent forum for sharing technical information, as well as for posting changes in assignments, readings, listening etc.


Students will need to purchase zip or jazz disks for backup and storage of their class projects. Sound and other data files will be stored on these disks and not on studio computer hard drives. Many assignments will be handed in on CD. Blank media is available in the RPI computer store.

Studio Rules and Regulations

As with all studio classes, all students must read and sign the iEAR Studio Rules and Regulations Agreement. A presentation by the iEAR engineering staff will acquaint the students with the studio access and sign-out procedures. See for more information.


The table below gives a flexible outline of topics covered and dates of assignments. Subject to change.


August 28 Curtis in Berlin for ICMC

August 31 no class (class time made up in individual lessons and meetings

through-out the semester)


"Keep Your Ear-Lids Open," By: Gary Ferrington

Demonstrations in Auditory Perception - McGill University

Topics 1,2 and 3

Assignment: Sound Graphic

Sept. 4 Labor Day – no class

Sept. 7 Topic: Basics of Acoustics and Digital Audio

Studio Orientation, Basics of Acoustics and Digital Audio

Application: Peak, Sound Edit 16

Reading :

Peak Manual - Chapter 3 – 6 (skim for content and consult for problems)

Audio Design: Creating Multi-Sensory Images For The Mind

By Gary Ferrington

Assignment: sound editing #1


Sept. 14-28 Topic: Mixing, sound processing and soundscape composition

Applications: Peak, Protools, Soundhack



User Guide

Ch. 2 Essential Concepts, pp. 9 - 20

Ch. 3 Creating Sessions, pp. 21 - 56

Ch. 4 Working With Tracks, pp. 57 - 78

Plug-In User's Guide

SoundHack Manual and Help files

Noise Picture Method: A Manifesto? By David Rothenberg.

Acoustic & Ethnic Instruments - Microphone Techniques

As Published in EQ Magazine April '97

Microphone Theory 1& 2 (basic w/ drawings of different types of mics)

Mixing Board Basics

Oct. 28th, first compositions due

10/2 Midterm Exam - Acoustics, Psychoacoustics and Basic Digital Audio


10/5 –10/30 Sequencing and MIDI

Application: Logic Audio Platnum

Reading: Logic Manual TBA


Harmony Central: MIDI Tools and Resources - excellent resource. full documentation of the MIDI specification, guides to making a MIDI interface, links to development tools, keyboard specific resources, interactive forum and more.


The Official FAQ for alt.binaries.sounds.mp3 Version 2.2

MP3 2000

daily updated news, software, skins, tutorials, music reviews, and more.

11/2 second composition due in class

11/2-11/20 Interactive Music, Putting it all together

Applications: Opcode MAX, MegaMax and MSP


MAX Manual and tutorials (in studio and on-line)

MSP Manual ( in studio and on-line) and the Unmax Site

Max resources and more hosted by iEAR grad Johnny DeKam

11/27-11/30 private meetings

12/4 Final Compositions/Presentations Due



Computer Music Composition Listening List:

Class listening drawn from (but not limited to):

Excerpts from the Futurists

George Antheil, "Ballet mecanique"

Arthur Honegger, "Pacific 231"

Edgar Varese, "Ionisation", deserts

Charles Ives, "Symphony #4"

Clara Rockmore, Rachmaninoff piece from "Art of the Theremin"

Origins of electronic music

Pierre Schaefer, "Etude de Chemin de Fer" from "Cinq Etudes de Bruits" and

Schaefer and Pierre Henry, excerpts from "Symphony Pour L'home Seul" (both

on "L'Oeuvre.."),

Edgar Varese, "Poem Electronique" on "Electroacoustic Classics",

Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Kontakte," on "Elektronische Musik 1952-1960"

John Cage, "First Construction in Metal," "Unvoiced Essay," "Imaginary Landscapes"

Steve Reich, "Come Out" from "Early Works"

Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Gesang der Junglinge,", from "Elektronische Musik


Babbit, "Reflections"

Digital Synthesis/ Computer Music

Max Matthews, "Bicycle built for Two," and other historical works

Jean-Claude Risset, "Computer Suite from Little Boy," "Sud,"

Charles Dodge, "Any Resemblence," "Profile" "Speech Songs"

Brad Garten, "Ruff Raga Riffs," "Home Guitars," more

Chris Penrose, "Manwich"

Paul Lansky, "Tables Clear," "Idle Chatter," more.

Paul Koonce, "Pins"

Bahn, "Meditation," "Zeltzimba," others

Francois Bayle, "Fabulae"

Sarah Peebles, "Nocturnal Premonitions"

Cecile Le Prado, 'Le triangle d'incertitude' and excerpts from Musicworks CDs

Horacio Vaggione, "Thema" tape and bass sax

Live Electronics and Interactive Performance

David Tudor, "Pulsers" from "Three Works For Live Electronics"

Sal Martirano, from "restrospective"

Bahn and Trueman, "Interface"

Examples from David Behrman, Geroge Lewis, Neil Rolnick, The Hub, David Rosenboom, Chris Dobrian, others

Contemporary, techno and electronica

Chemical Brothers, Moby, Daft Punk, Tricky, Autechre ep7, Squarepusher, Underworld, Massive Attack, Orbital, The Orb, Prodigy, Banco de Gaia, Roni Size, Paul Miller (a.k.a. D.J.Spooky), Plaid's "Rest Proof Clockwork", and other class suggestions



Assignment #1 - Sound Graphic


Create graphic representations of sound that will clearly communicate sonic events to the class.


1) Make or find a 1 – 2 minute recording of an environmental or ambient sound by any means available to you. The sound should not be something that is pre-composed music or a packaged environmental CD such as a CD or Video. The sound could be a natural environment; such as a stream, woods etc. Or, the sound may be an environment where man-made sounds figure heavily; such as a factory, machine, street, highway airport, except of television show etc.

2) Listen carefully to the sound several times. Listen to it on different audio systems, headphones etc.

3) Write a short paragraph describing the sound excerpt. Write in such a way that someone may be able to imagine your sound from the description alone.

4) Create a small graphics that represent a sonic event in some way. Portray as much detail as you can in the sound(s). Bring 5 copies of the graphics to the class on Thursday for discussion.

Be sure to bring your taped sound and your copies to class!


How do you deal with multiple and simultaneous sounds.

How does making the representation influence your memory or perception of the sound.