Music with Computers

Each assignment is posted one week in advance of the due date.

For each reading or listening assignment, each student is asked to write a brief summary of what s/he has learned from the assigned material. In the case of reading assignments, the summary should include a concise restatement of the most important points, and a personal evaluation of the information in the reading. In the case of listening assignments, the summary should include observations about the music and its experimental goals, as discussed in class. The summary should be either a) computer-printed and handed in during class on the due date or b) sent as a plain-text email before the start of class on the due date.

Due June 6, 2005:

"Techno-aesthetics" is a term to express appreciation of the inherent beauty of technology (especially digital technology in the current time). Some examples in the popular music use of (pre-digital) electronics are the song "die Roboter" ("We Are the Robots") by Kraftwerk and (although not explicitly the topic of the song) "I Feel Love" by Pete Bellotte, Giorgio Moroder, and Donna Summer (produced by Moroder). In contemporary music techno-aesthetics are evident in rock music infused with overt use of digital technology and "industrial" sound by groups such as Linkin Park, Radio Head, Nine Inch Nails, et al.

Listen to the pre-digital examples cited above, and find some contemporary examples on your own. In your writing and discussion for the final class session, consider some of these questions (as well as any others you come up with). What are characteristics unique to electronic sound, and to digital sound, that make it distinct from non-electronic sound? How are these characteristics used, and even glorified, in electronic music? Based on what you've seen/heard this quarter - artificial intelligence, algorithmic composition, digital recording/production technology, MIDI, interactive computer music, Fourier anlaysis/resynthesis, sampling, etc. - what new aesthetics can you foresee developing in the near future as a result of the use of computers in music?

Due May 30, 2005:

There will be no class meeting on May 30, due to the Memorial Day holiday. There is no assignment due on May 30, and no NoteBoard contribution is required during the week of May 23-30.

Due May 23, 2005:

Read the definition of "Plunderphonics" on Wikipedia.

To see what John Oswald actually said, read the article Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative by John Oswald.

[Suggested but not required] Read the article Plunderphonics, a history by Chris Cutler.

If you want to hear the original "Plunderphonics" recordings, you may be out of luck. The CD has been banned from distribution, and links to the files on the web are mostly dead-ends or broken. Can you find any of the original tracks? [Extra credit research project. :)]

You can hear some of Oswald's other work, however, in a collection called "Mystery Tapes".

Note that this work is done with tape machines and other mostly pre-computer technology. What is its relevance to computer music today?

Due May 16, 2005:

Read the article Digital Audio by Christopher Dobrian. If you'd like, you can supplement that by reading a very brief article on the Basics of Digital Recording by Peter Elsea.

[Optional] If you want to try out digital recording, editing, and processing yourself, download a copy of the Audacity software for audio recording, editing, mixing, and processing. You might also want to check out Audacity's online tutorials.

Post your observations or questions to the discussion group. To hand in, write briefly about the technology and advantages of digital audio recording.

Due May 9, 2005:

There is no written assignment for May 9. The class will consist of a guest presentation by Joshua Clayton. He will also be giving a lecture the next day in the Department of Informatics. You can read about these lectures on the Gassmann Electronic Music Series website. If you want to know more about him, you can read his bio online. If you want to hear some of his music, you can find some music samples online.

Due May 2, 2005:

Read the section titled "Exploring the Combination of Computers and Korean Instruments", on pages 10-13 of Cultural 'Content' in Korean Music Made with Computers (.pdf) by Christopher Dobrian.

Read pages 1-2 of Strategies for Continuous Pitch and Amplitude Tracking in Realtime Interactive Improvisation Software (.pdf) by Christopher Dobrian.

Visit the research web site of Christopher Dobrian and read about some of the works of interactive computer music there, such as Microepiphanies, Talk to Me, and Motion Capture for Gestural Control of Music.

Write briefly about your understanding of how computers can play a role in interactive live music performance.

Due April 25, 2005:

Read Stillframe, or Periodic Infinities and a Button to Push (.pdf) by James Keepnews about the piece "Stillframe" by John Jannone, and visit this web site to listen to some other musical works by Jannone.

Do some research to learn the definition of "Fourier analysis" and "Fourier synthesis" and the application of them in digital audio. You might start with this definition, and the article Spectral Analysis: Taking the Waveform Apart by Peter Elsea (and the companion article The Mathematics of Electronic Music).

Write a brief summary of what you understand Fourier analysis/synthesis to be, how it might be useful in computer music, and how you expect Jannone might use it in his work "Stillframe".

Due April 18, 2005:

Read about, and listen to, the Musical Dice Game (Musikalisches Würfelspiel) attributed to Mozart in the late 18th century. A brief description, and programs that let you try it, can be found at this web site and/or this web site.

Read about, and listen to, the work on "Experiments in Musical Intelligence" by David Cope. The best place to start is on his web page, and you can listen to some of the compositions done by his programs on his page of MP3 examples.

You needn't write at great length about the work by these two composers (Mozart's Dice Game and Cope's Experiments in Musical Intelligence), but you should at least give brief consideration to questions such as "How is music constructed?", "How are compositional decisions made?", and "Who is the composer of such pieces?"

Read the article Music Programming (1988) by Christopher Dobrian. You are not required to write any summary for this article; just read it to get a simple overview of how computer programs work and how they might be used to perform musical tasks.

Read sections 1-4 and section 7 of the article Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950) by Alan Turing. Obviously, some parts of the article are of mainly historical interest because it was written more than fifty years ago, but it still poses relevant questions about the meaning of "intelligence" and the potential for computers to produce artificial "humanity". You can skip section 5 of the article, "Universality of Digital Computers", which is now antiquated, and you can just skim over section 6 "Contrary Views on the Main Question" (reading as carefully as you'd like based on your interest level) in which Turing presents and claims to refute many arguments against thinking machines. However, do read section 7 "Learning Machines". Your summary of this article can be very brief, and might address the questions, "What is intelligence?" and "Can computers think or know?"

The Turing article, and the so-called "Turing Test" of intelligence that it describes have been the topic of much debate over the years. If it interests you, you can research it on the web. Specifically, you might want to read an argumentative rebuttal by John Searle titled Minds, Brains, and Programs (not required).

Due April 11, 2005:

Read the first two chapters of What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland, available on reserve under "Dobrian" in the Arts Media Center.

Read the articles "The Future of Music: Credo", "Experimental Music", and "Experimental Music: Doctrine" by John Cage. These are pp. 3-17 of his book Silence, and are on reserve in the AMC.

This page was last modified May 31, 2005
Christopher Dobrian,