Extended Instrument Composition and Performance


Brown University

Fridays 2:30-5:00

Curtis Bahn crb@rpi.edu






This project-based seminar will focus on the composition of extended instruments for musical or multi-media performance. Our investigation will necessarily involve a range of topics and disciplines including: composition for interactive and improvisational performance, human/computer interaction, interface design, basic electronics, sensors, micro-controllers, and MAX/MSP/jitter programming (www.cycling74.com). This is an intimidating list of topics for most anyone, but one major objective of the seminar is to provide musicians and artists with the tools necessary to begin or expand work in this increasingly important genre with little or no previous experience.


In the course of the semester, students will propose and realize individual or collaborative extended instrument designs and compose contexts for their performance.  You will be expected to demonstrate a steady progress towards that goal throughout the semester.  Issues raised by the collection of projects in the class will be addressed by special sessions, reports and guest presentations.  Projects may be collaborative, but each student must demonstrate their own individual involvement and initiative. Each of us will be expected to operate with a degree of independence, and to share our research developments with the class as we progress. The semester will be culminated by a public presentation/performance of our work.





Introduction/review of MIDI, digital audio theory and basic programming concepts.


Interactive Music/Improvisation and Composition


Basics of MAX Programming structure



            Nested Patchers/ Encapsulation

            Logical Structures and Algorithmic Composition




            Audio Signal Flow

            Sound Synthesis Techniques

            Sampling Buffers and Delay Lines

            Complex Filters

            Granular Synthesis

            Physical Models

Jitter Introduction


Sensors, Microcontrollers and Basic Electronics


            Force, proximity, rotation, tilt, light, etc. etc.

            Video as input

            A/D circuits

            Micro-controller platforms: Basic Stamp, TELEO


Readings will be drawn from current literature and software or hardware manuals and will be either handed out in class or available on-line.  There is no required text to purchase although the following books are recommended:


Todd Winkler: Composing Interactive Music

Roger dean: Hyperimprovisation:  Computer-Interactive Sound Improvisation

Matt Gilliland: Microcontroller Application Cookbooks 1 and 2

Scott Edwards: Programming and Customizing the Basic Stamp





Costs and Materials


Since this class is involved with building an interface you may incur some personal costs depending on your project.  The school has a number of “off the shelf” sensors and interfaces which you may use as long as you follow proper checkout procedures and you don’t permanently install or alter the components.  You may opt to use commercially available technology or build-it-yourself circuits.  Those not building custom interfaces will be expected to spend more time developing the max/msp (or other high level) interface, but will not be penalized for not building a circuit.  There is no reason to build something that already exists.


Those interested in developing basic stamp projects are encouraged to buy a board of education from parallax (www.stampsinclass.com).  TELEO starter kits are also an option but slightly more expensive. Other kits and materials are also available which may help you but are optional depending on your project.



Assignments and Grades


The class will be held in a seminar format.  Classes will generally be divided between the presentation of new material and discussion of student work.  Much of the technical material will be presented very quickly in class, and students are expected to work independently with the equipment manuals in the studio, and with assigned outside reading, in order to reach the level of proficiency with the equipment demanded by the course.  Most of the student’s  grade (50%) will be dependant on their ability to successfully complete the final project, and to demonstrate consistent progress towards that goal throughout the semester.   The remaining considerations in grading are attendance(20%), class assignments and class participation (30%).


Electronic Mail


All students will be expected to check their electronic mail accounts for correspondence concerning this course. Email provides an excellent forum for sharing technical information, as well as for posting changes in assignments, readings, and listenings.


Make sure I have your preferred email address.




Web site:

Related materials will be posted on a (developing) web site as the course progresses: