Music 151/215
Computer Music Composition

University of California, Irvine


Assignments are posted here for the immediately upcoming class session and all past class sessions.

For Wednesday March 12, 2008:

Turn in your completed composition as a stereo audio file (.wav or .aif) or--if it's music for video--as a self-contained movie file (e.g., .mov) with stereo soundtrack. Turn in any accessory working files that will help show your working methods (source audio files, Pro Tools session folder, Reason song file, etc.), and--optionally--a written description of what you were trying to accomplish musically and technically (.doc, .pdf, .rtf, .txt, etc). The materials should all be turned in on CD-R (or DVD-R) clearly labeled with your name.

For Wednesday March 5, 2008:

Bring to class an audio file of your composition on CD-R. Include on the CD whatever Pro Tools project folder or Reason song files will help show your working methods. If your composition is incomplete or has some shortcomings you want to resolve, come prepared to ask questions or ask for advice about how best to complete it.

In class we will also receive a presentation from guest speaker Kojiro Umezaki on his own work developing commercial interactive computer systems for music performance.

For Wednesday February 27, 2008:

Experiment with the Pro Tools software (particularly the effects plug-ins and automation) and Reason (especially the various pattern generators and ways of modulating audio signals), exploring unconventional uses of the software to achieve sounds or musical structures that are somehow outside of your standard conception of music or your standard working methods of organizing a composition. Consider this week to be one primarily of exploration and experimentation, to generate new ideas, without worrying too much about working directly on your full composition.

For Wednesday February 20, 2008:

Prepare a plan for your computer music composition. The composition itself is to be completed by March 12, and should be at least three minutes in duration. The composition can include any combination of recorded acoustic sources and electronic/digital sources. Decisions you should make include duration (how much time, how many measures at a given tempo, etc.), formal structure (how will the overall duration be divided into contrasting sections or developing trends), sound sources you will use, intended function of the music (for video, dance, etc.), mood, and any extra-musical concepts that will be expressed. Prepare to discuss your plans in class.

If you are interested in composing for documentary videos for the Bren School of I&CS, you can see examples of their videos, and can view one short video for which they need music. You are encouraged to compose music for video -- be it existing footage or footage you create -- as it can be helpful for developing a musical structure.

For Wednesday February 13, 2008:

Using Reason's MIDI sequencer and any combination of Reason devices, compose an interesting rhythm made up of multiple sounds. The sounds you use may include any desired combination of synthesized sounds and sampled sounds, and any desired combination of pitched and unpitched sounds. The main goal of the assignment is to employ the time grid provided by the sequencer to help you organize events in a way that creates an engaging "groove" or sense of rhythmic pattern.

If you don't have a clear concept in mind for a groove you want to try to create, it will be helpful to listen to music that has a rhythmic groove you like, and analyze how the component sounds are combined to create that effect, as demonstrated in class, to get some initial ideas. The examples analyzed in class focused on patterns that repeated (with variations) every 4 or 8 beats, with each beat divided into 4 parts. That model (or a "swung" version of that model) is useful for recreating a great many of the grooves used in popular music. However, you are not required to use that format. (For example, your groove could be in some other meter such as 3/4 or 7/8, or could use some other beat division such as triplets, or could employ patterns that repeat with some other periodicity). Deciding on a meter, a tempo, and a predominant underlying pulse (main beat division) is a good first step in any case. (You don't have to just adopt the default settings, unless those are the settings you actually want.)

Begin by constructing different "layers" of pattern -- individual events located at desired moments in time, or rhythmic patterns of pitch, or patterns of percussive sounds -- and experiment with combining different layers. To keep the pattern interesting over a longer period of time, try adding or removing layers, or varying the layers slightly. Try to develop your pattern in a way that remains interesting for 20-30 seconds (or more). Although the main focus of this exercise is rhythm, paying attention to contour, timbre, accent (some things louder than others), panning, etc. can all add to the rhythmic interest.

Things you might want to read in the manuals include: "The Sequencer - Basics" (pp. 57-69) in the Getting Started manual and "Redrum" (pp. 97-106) in the Operation manual.

Hand in your assignment as a finished stereo sound file (AIFF or WAVE) and the Reason file (.rns) that you used to create that sound. Ideally, your Reason file should be saved such that it will make the exact sound you want when it is opened and played. Hand in your assignment on a CD-R labeled with your name and the assignment name (Assignment 4).

For Wednesday February 6, 2008:

Make a complex evolving sound lasting approximately 30 seconds. You should produce this sound using only Reason software. Within Reason, restrict yourself to using only the Subtractor module for sound synthesis. Since the Subtractor is a monophonic synthesizer, you may want do one or more of the following to make your final sound stereophonically interesting: a) use more than one Subtractor, b) route the Subtractor(s) to a mixer and use mixer panning for spatialization, c) apply stereo effects processor(s) (e.g., delay, reverb, etc.) to the Subtractor's output. For example, you might create a rack that contains a mixer, one or more effects processors connected to the auxiliary sends/returns of that mixer, and one or more Subtractor modules connected to the inputs of the mixer.

The objective of this assignment is to explore and understand the components of the Subtractor synthesizer by designing a Subtractor patch that has interesting possibilities and using control automation to change its parameters in real time. The objective is to make a single, fairly unified sound (though it may be arbitrarily complex internally) that is interesting because of the way it changes over time, not to make a composition of rhythmic notes in a traditional musical sense. Obviously you will need to have at least one note of long duration stored in the MIDI sequencer part of your file, presumably at the beginning and lasting about 30 seconds. If you need multiple notes to play an interesting chord or to activate multiple Subtractors, or even need to have some new notes occur in the middle of the sound to add to its interest, that's fine, but try to refrain from relying on "melody" (a succession of different notes) for interest.

You are strongly advised to read the chapter of the Reason Operation Manual (Macintosh HD/Applications/Reason/Documentation/English/Operation manual.pdf) that explains the Subtractor synthesizer module in detail. It's very thorough and well-written. For that matter, both the Operation Manual and the Getting Started manual are remarkably clear and helpful, so don't hesitate to consult the online documentation regarding any questions you have as you work.

If you make more than one such sound that you think is interesting, by all means feel free to hand in multiple versions of your assignment (properly named to make clear what each file is). Hand in your assignment as a finished stereo sound file (AIFF or WAVE) and the Reason file (.rns) that you used to create that sound. Ideally, your Reason file should be saved such that it will make the exact sound you want when it is opened and played. (Before you hand it in, save it, close it, then reopen it and play it to be sure that the saved version works as you want it to.) Hand in your assignment on a CD-R labeled with your name and the assignment name (Assignment 3).

For Wednesday January 30, 2008:

Make a good quality recording of instrument and/or voice -- enough to give you at least 30 seconds of finished program material. You may make this recording using portable recording equipment checked out from the Arts Media Center (see AMC director Ross Whitney; you might be able to record in the small recording room right in the AMC, or you can take the equipment to another location) or using the Gassmann Studio and its adjacent recording room. Experiment to find the best microphone placements, levels, etc. for your particular source material, and record enough takes to be sure you have the quality you require. (You'll doubtless record more material than you'll end up using.)

You're advised/encouraged to team up with classmates for this portion of the assignment. It's much easier to record if at least one person is concerned with the technology while another is the "talent" providing the sound. With good planning, you should be able to record more than one person's source materials in a single session by trading duties.

Once you have finished recording, edit it in Pro Tools to remove parts you don't want, organize parts you do want, make sure the levels are as you desire them, etc. You may also add audio effects if you so desire. The objective is to end up with at least 30 seconds of good-quality, good-sounding recorded material, such as a short musical performance, a short voiceover or dialog (use your imagination -- and possibly your voice-imitation skills -- for the textual content), or even a combination of music and spoken word. (Examples: a short instrumental piece, a short song, a 30-second mock radio advertisement or public service announcement, a dramatic monologue or dialogue, etc.)

You can do your Pro Tools editing work in the Gassmann Studio or in the AMC, whichever you prefer. If you recorded using portable equipment, you will need to import the audio into Pro Tools. If you used the Tascam HD-P2, after you have recorded you can attach the HD-P2 to the computer as an external FireWire device, drag your audio files onto the computer's hard disk (in a folder bearing your name) in the AMC, or onto one of the audio hard disks in the Gassmann Studio. (Ross can check out a FireWire cable to you. There is a setting on the HD-P2 that tells it to behave as an external FireWire hard disk. Check the manual for this.) Then import those audio files into Pro Tools as audio regions. If you recorded using a DAT recorder, after you have finished recording you can re-record (digitally transfer) the audio directly into Pro Tools. (Ross can help you with this if you are struggling.)

If you need/want to, you should be able to transport an entire Pro Tools session between Gassmann and the AMC using a CD-R, a portable FireWire drive, or a flash drive. (If you are starting in Gassmann, and have a session with more than 24 tracks or that uses non-Digidesign plug-ins that you need to transfer to the AMC, some information may get lost, but for most modest purposes the transfer is pretty easy.) In any case, you are responsible for backing up your own data. Hopefully nobody will trash your files, but there's no guarantee of that.

Please note that this full assignment -- recording, editing, etc. -- is quite time-consuming and requires organization and preparation. Plan ahead to make sure you have the Gassmann Studio and/or all your necessary recording equipment reserved for the time you intend to do your work. Anticipate at least two to three hours for your recording: setup time, testing time, recording multiple takes, listening to be sure you got good material, and teardown time. Anticipate at least a similar amount of time, if not more, for editing: importing the audio into ProTools, editing to get only the good bits, organizing the audio regions, setting levels, etc. Everything always takes longer than you'd wish, and problems arise with using the technology. Allot yourself enough time, and be patient.

Turn in your final mix as a stereo audio file -- and your entire Pro Tools session if possible -- on a CD-R bearing your name.

For Wednesday January 23, 2008:

Read the online document Gassmann Policies (.pdf).

Read the online document Gassmann Tutorial (.pdf), from page 1 to the middle of page 4 (through section II.C.4). The rest of the document describes how to route digital audio in the studio and record that digital information to Pro Tools and DAT. However, for now we will just learn to route the audio in analog form, using the analog audio patchbay. That will be demonstrated in class on 1/23; the (considerably more complicated) method of routing digital audio signals will be reserved for a future lesson.

For Wednesday January 16, 2008:

Using Pro Tools in the Arts Media Center, compose a 30-second audio collage using pre-recorded audio files. It can be meterless/beatless or you can use the metric grid to impose a beat. The primary goal of this assignment is to become familiar with Pro Tools -- importing audio, placing audio regions (understand slip, shuffle, and grid modes), editing to create new audio regions (captured from existing regions with command-R), automating volume and panning (either by drawing breakpoint line segments in the edit window or by recording automation of realtime adjustments with the mouse), and as time permits experimenting with audio effects (you can create new effects-processed versions of a selection with the AudioSuite effects, and/or use plug-ins via inserts or auxiliary outputs/inputs). The best way to gain familiarity with the program is just to use it, trying to get the exact sounds, rhythmic placement, volume balance, and panning that your desire, and of course by (gasp!) consulting the .pdf reference manual as needed.

Since there are only four ProTools systems in the AMC and eighteen people(!) enrolled in the class, don't leave your assignment till the night before it's due, or you might not find an available computer! Try to do your work at times when you suspect others won't be there. Of course, it's also OK to intentionally go at the same as a classmate to work side-by-side and consult each other.

Send an email to the professor stating a) your name, b) a four-digit number you would like to use as your alarm code for the Gassmann Studio (may not be 0000 or 1234), c) a one-word username you would like as your user name on the Gassmann computer (could be the same as your UCI ID or anything else you choose), and d) the password you would like for that computer account.

Analyze television commercials (on TV or YouTube) for their composition. (TV ads are some of the most highly produced video clips you will see, in terms of $$ spent per second of video.) Notice the pacing and organization of the video editing and the content, and the balance and relationship of voice, sound effects, and music. If you make any interesting observations, post a link to the video (if possible) and a comment about what you observed on the class NoteBoard. Don't forget to check the NoteBoard regularly to answer any questions others might have posted there.

March 6, 2008
Christopher Dobrian