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School of Music
Intro to Composition with Electronic Media

MUSIC 3366/6366
sample syllabus

Fall semester; 2 hrs weekly class mtg
Lab: scheduled individually, minimum 4 hrs/wk
Ed Jacobs: 302 Fletcher Music Building; 328-4280;JacobsE@ecu.edu

Our musical alphabet must be enriched. We need new instruments very badly . . . In my own works I have always felt the need of new mediums of expression . . . which can lend themselves to every expression of thought and can keep up with thought. . . Speed and synthesis are characteristics of our own epoch. We need twentieth century instruments to help us realize them in music.   
Edgard Varèse (1883-1956), from the New York Morning Telegraph, 1916

The title of this course is somewhat misleading: you have certainly been introduced to electronic music already. Though you may not realize it, electronic music has been with us for over 50 years and, as the quote above illustrates, its earliest proponents were voicing their ideas even earlier. In its most simple guise—recording and amplification—you are exposed to electronic music constantly in today’s culture. This course will broaden and deepen your sense of the historical development and some of the practical issues of electronic music.

In order to build a sense of the development of a variety of techniques used in the manipulation of sound, we will be listening to a variety of musical works, from the 1940's-present, which point to the many ways in which stylistically diverse composers have used electronic resources. We will begin with the writings of those (Busoni, Russolo, etc.) who could only dream about what is now familiar, and conclude with some contemporary "dreamers" (Lansky, Anderson). Along the way, we will hear, and read from the works of some who have shaped many arts, not just music (i.e, Cage).

In order to become familiar with the practical, technical concerns of electronic music, this class will be similar to a studio art class. You will get your hands ‘dirty’ by gathering, manipulating, and recombining music's raw material; sound. You will constantly be creating and manipulating sounds into phrases, groups of phrases and short forms. Your works-in-progress will be presented and discussed by the class as a whole.

Classroom participation and discussion is no less critical than your independent creative work in the studio. Perhaps the most important goal of this course is to help you develop some tools for experiencing many types of music—and other modes of expression—with greater sensitivity, awareness, and enjoyment. You are expected to listen to works assigned, keep a journal of your aesthetic and compositional concerns about those works, raise those issues in class discussion, and respond openly, honestly, constructively and thoughtfully to the issues raised by others in the class.

The single most important activity is asking questions: Never hesitate to inquire about something—either technical or conceptual—which is unclear to you, the only ‘stupid’ questions are the ones that are never asked. If you feel shy about asking a question in class, please realize that others probably have the same question, and your inquiry with help others, as well. If questions arise outside of class, don’t hesitate to meet with me during office hours (M-Th 10-11), make an appointment, or simply stop by the office: If the door's open, feel free to walk in.

Due to the ‘hands-on’ nature of this class and the single-user nature of the equipment, you must commit at least four hours each week to independent work in the Center for Composition with Electronic Media (CCEM). A sign-up sheet will be distributed on the first week of class, on which you will establish regular weekly lab times. The schedule will be posted on the CCEM door shortly after the second class meeting. If the class size is small enough, you may sign up for additional regular hours.

During your time in the CCEM, you will work on assignments designed to familiarize you with some area of the studio. There is a good deal of trial and error involved in the creative process, but the technical process should not involve random button-pressing, etc. If confusion or misunderstandings arise—and they inevitably will for everyone—re-read your class notes and relevant handouts. If you are still unclear, I am usually readily available to help. I will not re-teach material presented in class, but I will do what I can to clarify sources of confusion; just call (x4280) or stop by my office.

You are expected to bring your assignment-in-progress to each class, so that it may be heard, discussed and openly critiqued by the entire class. Also, each week one (or two) students will be asked to bring in other examples of music which make creative use of electronic means; we will dedicate time for listening, discussing, and critiquing these works, as well as periodic reading assignments.

You are expected to maintain a journal to record comments and reactions, both creative and technical, to music, critiques and reading discussions heard in class. Your journal will be reviewed frequently, on an unannounced basis. Comments made in class and in your journal, as well as presentation of your own works and those of others, will comprise the "Class Participation" component of your grade.

In computing your grade, each of the requirements are (roughly) weighted as follows:

  • Class Participation 25%
  • Lab Assignments (5 @ 12% each) 60%
  • Final Project 15%
  • Grading is on a standard scale, i.e. >90=A, >80=B, etc.

Security is a constant issue in the CCEM. In order to have access to the (usually locked) studio, keys are to be signed out, for the duration of the fall semester only, from the receptionist in the main office.  If a student loses a key, he will be charged for all costs associated with replacing the lock.

No one other than students enrolled in this class is authorized to use the CCEM without the express permission of Prof. Jacobs.

Each of the readings listed in the Course Outline below are on reserve in the Music Library.

  • Busoni, Ferruccio. "Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music," trans. Baker, Three Classics in
    the Aesthetic of Music
    . New York: Dover, 1962.
  • Cage, John. Silence, Consciousness and change, Maintal: Komista, 1992. Excerpts.
  • Cope, David. New Directions in Music. Dubuque, IA: W.C. Brown, 1989. Excerpts.
  • Russolo, Luigi. "The Art of Noises; Futurist Manifesto," trans. Brown, Monographs in
    ; No. 6. New York: Pendragon Press, 1986
  • Salzman, Eric. Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction, Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
    Prentice-Hall, 1974. Chapter 13, "Technological Culture and Electronic Music, pp. 139-144.
  • Wörner, Karl H. Stockhausen, Life and Work, Los Angeles: University of California, 1976.
    Excerpts from "New Forms in Music," "Electronic music," "Spatial location in music."

Some other interesting reading, these on the links.

There are certain materials which you will need to purchase, specifically a journal and some blank CD-Rs, available in the bookstore.





Independent Lab Work

I. Wk. 1-4
The Studio Basics and
Sound Organization:

Patch Bay, Reel-to-reel mach.
The Art of Noises, Russolo
Sketch, Busoni
Hendrix, Davidovsky
Recording from source target
Concepts of "electronic" and "music"
Analog Tape Manipulation
Basic Manipulation
20th Cent. Music, Salzman
Babbitt, Schaeffer, etc.
Assigment #1
splicing, tape manipulation
Analog Sound Synthesis
Moog Synthesizer
  Oscillators, White noise filtering, Envelopes, Analog tone generation
II. Wk. 5-8
Digital Sound Synthesis
Unisyn (Mac)
Korg 01W via Unisyn
New Directions, Cope.
Berio, Stockhausen, etc.
Stockhausen, Worner
Assignment #2
Using Unisynto create sounds from the Korg 01W
Saving voice banks, performance banks for use with "Dig. Perf."
Digital Performer (Mac)
Lansky, Harvey, etc. Assignment #3
Sequencing with Digital Performer using Unisyn-created sounds
III. Wk.10-13
Digital Audio Editing
Peak, ProTools (Mac)
Silence, Cage Assignment #4
Computer generation and manipulation of sound
Digital Mixing
ProTools (Mac)
Cage, Berio, IRCAM, etc. Assignment #5
Computer mixing, automated mixing
IV. Wk. 13-16

Setting your own boundaries   FINAL PROJECT