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.

Wednesday, March 18, 5:00-7:20 pm:

Final listening/discussion session for all final composition projects. This is the equivalent of a final exam session, and participation is mandatory. (This session is in place of the scheduled final exam time, originally scheduled on Friday, March 20, 10:30am-12:30pm, which has been cancelled.)

For Thursday, March 12:

Final written examination; a short-essay and multiple-choice exam on all topics covered in class lectures, reading assignments, listening assignments, and guest presentations.

Turn in your completed composition project 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. The composition can include any combination of recorded acoustic sources and electronic/digital sources, and should be made primarily using the Pro Tools and/or Reason software. It should be at least three minutes in duration. 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 a thorough 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 Tuesday, March 10:

No new assignment. Continue composing your final project, due Thursday March 12. If you have questions or need advice about your work in progress, some class time will be dedicated to advising on composition projects.

For Thursday, March 5:

Study all previous reading assignments and your notes from all previous lectures and performances in preparation for in-class review. Come to class with questions regarding topics you do not fully understand.

If you did not turn in a proposal/plan for your final project on the original due date of Tuesday February 24, make sure that your plan is posted on the class MessageBoard for approval by this date at the latest.

For Tuesday, March 3:

No new assignment. Continue composing your final project, due Thursday March 12.

For Thursday, February 26:

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, or could use changing meters). 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. Note that these sounds are not necessarily drum sounds; any sound can be an articulator of a point in time. 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.

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 Tuesday, February 24:

Prepare a plan for your computer music composition. The composition itself is to be completed by Thursday 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. Planning the composition consists primarily of making decisions -- true statements -- that describe the piece you want to make. 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. Your plan will likely be in textual form, but could easily include charts, diagrams, or notated musical ideas, as well. Post your plan on the class MessageBoard by 6:00 AM on Tuesday. Prepare to discuss your plans in class.

For Thursday, February 19:

In the Reason manuals, read: "Tutorial 3 - Creating a drum pattern" (pp. 53-56) and "Tutorial 4 - Recording a bass line" (pp. 57-64) in the Getting Started manual; and "Chapter 5 - The Sequencer" (pp. 51-98) and "Chapter 18 - Redrum" (pp. 175-186) in the Operation Manual.

You can find these documents in the Applications/Reason/Documentation/English/ folder, or in the downloadable Reason Complete Documentation (.zip, 18 MB).

Listen to Musicology by Prince and Drive by Bobby McFerrin. (You will need to have RealPlayer installed on your computer.) Pay particular attention to the way that each piece creates a characteristic rhythmic "groove" or "feel" by the interplay of different recurring individual rhythmic components. In both pieces, the complex composite rhythm is created by layering multiple simple rhythmic patterns. In Musicology, focus on the first 16 measures, and pay particular attention to the first 4 measures, analyzing what instruments are present and what rhythmic pattern each plays. In Drive do likewise for the first verse.

For Tuesday, February 17:

Make a complex evolving sound lasting approximately (i.e., at least) 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 and timbrally 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 goal 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 Thursday, February 12:

No new assignment.

Wednesday, February 11:

Attend Mari Kimura's lecture on "Traditional Musical Instruments in Interactive Computer Music", at 5:00 in Winifred Smith Hall.

Attend Mari Kimura's concert "Reinventing Tradition: Violin and Computer plays the East and Beyond", at 8:00 in Winifred Smith Hall.

For Tuesday, February 10:

Read the Tutorial on MIDI and Music Synthesis by Jim Heckroth.

In the Reason Getting Started manual (.pdf, 5.1 MB), read the "Guided Tour" chapter, and read Tutorial 2: "Playing Devices and Selecting Sound".

In the Arts Media Center or the Gassmann Studio, experiment with the Subtractor synthesizer in Reason in an effort to understand all of its features (to understand the role and effect of all of its buttons, faders, etc.). To this end, the chapter on the Subtractor in Reason's Operation Manual is very well written, comprehensible and helpful. Reading it is highly recommended. You can find this document in the Applications/Reason/Documentation/English/ folder, or in the downloadable Reason Complete Documentation (.zip, 18 MB).

If you learn better from instructional videos, watch the "New to Reason?" basic instructional video.

For Thursday, February 5:

Read the one-page text and summary (.pdf) of Marc Battier's Capital Bird, which will be the topic of his in-class lecture.

Wednesday, February 4:

Attend Marc Battier's lecture on "The study of electroacoustic music in East Asia", at 1:00 in MMB 216.

For Tuesday, February 3:

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 in the small recording room right in the AMC (see AMC director Ross Whitney), or using portable recording equipment checked out from the Arts Media Center (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 (or in MMB 115 for graduate students). 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 Thursday, January 29:

No new assignment.

Wednesday, January 28:

Attend the lecture by visiting professor Marc Battier on "60 years of electroacoustic music in France, from musique concrète to acousmatic music (part 1)" in Room 216 of the Music and Media Building at 5:00 pm.

For Tuesday, January 27:

To refresh your memory, review the article on microphones that was originally assigned on January 8.

In preparation for the next pair of lectures by professor Battier, read the following articles, available online in PDF format.

Listen to the following musical works.

For Thursday, January 22:

No new assignment.

Wednesday, January 21:

Attend the lecture by visiting professor Marc Battier on "Noise and artificial sound in music and art, and the role of technology (part 1)" in Room 216 of the Music and Media Building at 5:00 pm.

For Tuesday, January 20:

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 1/20; the (considerably more complicated) method of routing digital audio signals will be reserved for a future lesson.

Turn in your finished musique concrète composition on a data CD with your name on it, containing a) a complete Pro Tools session folder of your project (session file, audio files, etc), b) an audio file of your final "bounced" composition in AIF or WAV format, and c) a text file containing any information you want me to know about your project, in .txt. .doc, .rtf, or .pdf format. Please name the files in such a way as to indicate clearly what they are.

Obtain a Gassmann Studio key from the Arts facilities office.

For Thursday, January 15: (due date postponed till Tuesday, January 20)

Using Pro Tools in the Arts Media Center, or in the Sound Design lab if you are a grad student, or on your own computer if you own Pro Tools, 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.

Any sounds you can find are legitimate for use in this assignment; however, if they are copyrighted, you must attribute credit to the "author" and cite the source of those sounds. You can register at to obtain download access to the many sound files there.

Since there are only four ProTools systems in the AMC and seventeen 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.

For Tuesday, January 13:

Read the article Dobrian, Christopher. Digital Audio. (1997). Come to class with specific questions regarding topics, (italicized) terms, or concepts discussed in the article that are unclear to you.

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 MessageBoard. Don't forget to check the NoteBoard regularly to answer any questions others might have posted there.

For Thursday, January 8:

Read the Shure Educational Publication on Microphone Techniques for Live Sound Reinforcement (PDF file). Read at least pages 1-11, and more if you're interested. (This article contains quite a lot of useful information, fairly clearly explained. You might also be interested in pp. 32-33 discussing microphone placement.)

Read the Soundcraft Guide to Mixing, an instructional brochure available online as a PDF document, to reinforce your understanding of the explanation given in class. Read at least pages 3-7, and more if you're interested. There is a lot of useful information in this brochure, fairly clearly explained. You might find particularly useful section 3 (pp. 10-16) on Mixing Techniques and Section 6 G-J (pp. 28-30) on techniques In the Studio.

March 3, 2009
Christopher Dobrian