This is the online syllabus for my Sound Art class at Cooper Union Art School in NYC which I’ve been teaching since 2007.
FA281: Project in Sound Art
This class will introduce strategies for understanding and participating in the aural world. The course is divided into specific weekly topics including acoustic ecology, circuit-bending, radio transmission, and others. Screenings, readings, and discussion are supported by hands-on workshops in capturing, manipulating, and reproducing sound in unconventional ways. Grading is based on student projects and participation in class discussions. Syllabus is available in advance at www.zachpoff.com. Attendance at first class session is important.
Related Courses: For hands-on sound production for film/video, including Pro Tools editing software, take FA381 “Sound As a Secret Weapon” (Jacob Burckhardt).
Disability Accommodations, Title IX & Counseling
The Cooper Union will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students with disabilities who are seeking accommodations because of their disability must contact the Dean of Students at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Dean of Students will evaluate your documentation and issue you a letter informing you of the accommodations you are eligible to receive. Disability accommodation services are available only to students who are registered with the Dean of Students and submit appropriate documentation.
Students who register for disability accommodations will receive a detailed letter from the Dean of Students. Students are responsible for reading the letter provided by the Dean of Students and following all instructions.
Students with disability accommodations are encouraged to speak with the Dean of Students as soon as possible.
Additional information can be found online at http://cooper.edu/students/student-affairs/disability.
Sexual Misconduct & Discrimination Reporting Requirements
While I want you to feel comfortable coming to me with issues you may be struggling with or concerns you may be having, please be aware that I have some reporting requirements that are part of my responsibilities as a member of the faculty. If you inform me of an issue of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or discrimination, I will keep the information as private as I can, but I am required to report the basic facts of the incident to Cooper’s Title IX Coordinator, Grace Kendall. If you would like to speak to the the Coordinator directly, she can be reached at email@example.com, 212-353-4053, or in person on the 3rd floor of the residence hall (29 3rd Avenue). The Title IX Coordinator will be able to assist you in understanding all of your options and in connecting you to available resources on- and off-campus. Speaking with the Title IX Coordinator does not obligate you to file a complaint or participate in an investigation unless you choose to do so.
To speak with someone CONFIDENTIALLY about issues of sexual misconduct, you may contact the Student Care Coordinator and Counselor, Cassandra Jolicoeur at firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-353-4006, or in person on the 3rd floor of the residence hall (29 3rd Avenue). Off-campus CONFIDENTIAL support for sexual violence is available through the Safe Horizon Crisis Center (212-577-7700) or the RAINN hotline (877-995-5247) or can be found in the Cooper Union Sexual Misconduct Policy (https://cooper.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/assets/site/files/2015/2015-Unified-Nondiscrimination-policy-Final.pdf).
Counseling & Mental Health Support
Counseling Services at The Cooper Union are coordinated through the Office of Student Affairs. Our Student Care Coordinator and Counselor, Cassandra Jolicoeur, is here to meet with students to provide support and to discuss mental health and counseling needs. Cassandra can be reached at email@example.com or at 212.353.4006. Cassandra will work with each student on an individual basis to connect them to the necessary care and supportive services. Additional information can be found here: http://cooper.edu/students/student-affairs/health/counseling/services. General health and wellbeing resources can be found here: http://cooper.edu/students/student-affairs/health.
Class Expectations & Grading
Readings, Discussion, & Following Directions
- This class has weekly readings and occasional discussion. If most students aren’t reading, I will assign weekly response-papers or quizzes. (This has happened in the past!)
- There are numerous situations in this class where you will need to follow simple directions. If you can’t bear the thought of bending your will to someone else’s expectations then this is not the class for you. (See any of the yellow project prompts below.)
- 20% Reading and Discussion You need to participate in the discussion every week to get a good grade. If you are silent, you can’t get better than a B in this class.
- 20% Exercises These are 2 quick techniques assignments with very rigid guidelines. I may ask you to repeat one until you have mastered the skill.
- 60% Projects The first project is your participation in a class performance. Two self-directed projects follow later in the semester. I give A’s for manifest investment in concept and technique, willingness to take risks, originality, and honesty.
- I feel lucky that we can all come together for 4hrs to concentrate without distractions. No answering calls or texting during class. No little glowing screens, period!
- If you miss a class, you need to get notes from another student. (This class moves fast. Every missed class is a missed topic.)
- If you miss more than 2 classes, your grade automatically drops one letter-grade.
- If you miss more than 3 classes, you may be asked to withdraw from the course, or risk failure.
- Late work will always be downgraded (usually one letter grade). Contact me before it’s due.
- This class gives you access to sound recorders and microphones from the Equipment Checkout, as well as the ability to reserve our sound booths and editing computers. To gain access, you must agree to our loan terms (described in detail in class) and return things on time and in good condition.
- Equipment for installations (MP3 players, amps, speakers, mixers, contact-speakers, etc) comes from Dan Porvin in the Editing Lab. They require 1 week advanced notice, via a simple form that you fill out and I sign.
Online Syllabus & Email List
- The class syllabus is online at https://www.zachpoff.com/site/project-in-sound-art/. You are responsible for checking it each week. (My site also includes some free software tools that might come in handy during the semester.)
- After the 2nd class, we will have eachother’s email addresses. Please check your email often, and add me to your address book so my messages stay out of your spam box. I’ll gladly forward any announcements that you want to share with the class.
Resources for Research
Libraries and Archives
An amazing archive of streaming / downloadable media art, best described by its curator Kenneth Goldsmith: “But by the time you read this, UbuWeb may be gone. Cobbled together, operating on no money and an all-volunteer staff, UbuWeb has become the unlikely definitive source for all things avant-garde on the internet. Never meant to be a permanent archive, Ubu could vanish for any number of reasons: our ISP pulls the plug, our university support dries up, or we simply grow tired of it. Acquisition by a larger entity is impossible: nothing is for sale. We don’t touch money. In fact, what we host has never made money. Instead, the site is filled with the detritus and ephemera of great artists”
A wiki for collaborative studies of the arts, media and humanities. It has an amazing summary of Sound Art resources, including some rare downloadable media.
- NYU Bobst Avery Fisher Center
NYU’s media library is like Netflix but with stuff that’s actually interesting! You can’t take their CDs and DVDs out of the library but you can spend hours listening and watching stuff that you can’t find anywhere else.
- SONM Archives
An archive of the CDs, cassettes, vinyl and books collected by sound artist and performer Francisco Lopez. (You need to register to get free streaming access)
- Her Noise
An archive that brings together women artists who use sound as a medium. Most of the content is from a 2005 exhibit in London. Be sure to check out the video interviews.
- Audible Women
A listing of contemporary women artists who work with sound, created by Australian sound artist Gail Priest.
- Radio Papesse
An online audio archive devoted to contemporary art; it is a place for the documentation and the articulation of a critical discourse around the visual arts and at the same time it is a radio project dedicated to sound art production and distribution.
- Radio MACBA
An internet radio station founded at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in 2006. Initially an extension of the museum’s exhibitions, it has developed into a platform for sonic art programming. They produce long-form audio essays (like Variations, an excellent history of sonic appropriation) as well as artist interviews.
A multi-platform archive of sonic innovators. The project began as a web-based archive of the history of female, trans and non-binary artists working with the technologies of sound, now expanded to include live events.
- Audio Arts Archive
In 1973 William Furlong and Barry Barker established Audio Arts as a cassette-based audio magazine. It provided a dedicated space for artists and art-world professionals to speak about their work in a free and unmediated way, often in direct proximity of their creations.
- Women’s Audio Archive
A series of recordings from 1984-1990, taped by artist Marysia Lewandowska. These recordings document public events, seminars, talks, conferences, and private conversations with Judy Chicago, Mary Kelly, Barbara Kruger, Yvonne Rainer, etc. This 2017 piece from Radio MACBA contains excerpts from the archive with contemporary commentary by Lewandowska herself.
- The London Sound Survey
A collection of creative-commons licensed field-recordings from London, organized by Ian Rawes
A sound map platform created by UK artist Stanza.
- Radio Aporee Maps
A flexible global sound mapping platform created by Udo Noll. It’s really easy to upload your own sounds and/or make your own customized maps.
- Locus Sonus Live Map
A live-streaming sound map from a French research group. Check out some of their other projects here.
- Sound cities
A sound map of user-contributed field recordings with a twist: Each uploaded sound is paired with a remixed “memory” version.
Radio, Podcasts & Record Labels
- Framework Radio
Weekly radio show (+ podcast) dedicated to field recording, where you can hear long-form work and excerpts, sometimes curated thematically. A great cross-section of work from all over the globe. (Submissions accepted.)
- Sound Matters podcast
Sound Matters investigates our noisy cosmos, how we listen to sounds, the stories we tell about them, and all the ideas, inventions, discoveries, possibilities and ideas that live in the realm of the audible.
- Phantom Power podcast
A podcast on the sonic arts and humanities. Interviews with contemporary scholars and artists, topical sound essays. Good stuff!
- Sonic Field Radio podcast
Podcast series from Sonic Field, a community driven, inter-disciplinary vault for research on sound in multiple angles, openly exploring arts, sciences and philosophies of the paradigm we use to call sound.
- The Dominant Eye podcast
Responding to the overload of visual media dominating our contemporary senses, Siân Lyn Hutchings and The Noematic Collective will develop a series of interconnected projects that foreground the use of sonic interpretation on site: a series of live weekly podcasts, a tailored programme of sonic workshops and, installed permanently in the Bold Tendencies Auditorium, a sonic library of the site’s ongoing and evolving aural history.
An online gallery of evolving exhibits of sound art. It’s like a museum. It’s also like a radio program with occasional practitioner interviews transformed by Earlid’s radiophilic curator, Joan Schuman.
An international collective of radio artists. They take turns producing a 28 minute show each week. (info on Wikipedia, listen on Archive.org)
- Radio MACBA
An internet radio station founded at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in 2006. Initially an extension of the museum’s exhibitions, it has developed into a platform for sonic art programming. They produce long-form audio essays (like Variations, an excellent history of sonic appropriation) as well as artist interviews.
- Wave Farm (WGXC)
An upstate NY community FM station & arts organization. (Check out their Saturday schedule for the avant-garde stuff.)
- Resonance FM
A London FM station dedicated to radio art
An experimental radio broadcast platform located in Chicago, IL that features a new project monthly with statements by artists who use radio as a primary element in their work. Radius provides artists with live and experimental formats in radio programming.
- Clocktower Radio
Founded in 1972 in Lower Manhattan by MoMA PS1 Founder Alanna Heiss, Clocktower is the oldest alternative art project in New York, and its radio station, Clocktower Radio, was founded in 2003 as one of the first all-art online museum radio stations in the world.
- Kunstradio (Austria)
A weekly program on Oesterreich 1 (the cultural channel of Austrian National Radio). Founded in 1987 as a space for radio art – i.e. an art that reflects the radio medium itself.
OK it’s not really sound art, but WFMU is an amazing local freeform radio station
- NTS Radio
An online freeform radio station with a studio in London but contributors from around the world. (Like WFMU but international!)
- Sonic Terrain
A free net.label dedicated to field recording (now transformed into Sonic Field below)
- Touch Music
Publisher of music and other things. (including Chris Watson’s field-recordings)
Prolific record label dedicated to field recording releases
“environmental recordings and more”
Record label in Slovakia run by field-recordist Jonas Gruska (also sells interesting microphones)
- Very Quiet Records
“The idea is simple. We release recordings of quiet places or situations from sound artists and field recordists from around the world.”
Artkillart is a label based in Paris and Berlin, created in 2007. Its purpose is to promote experimental audiovisual and sound art. In reaction to dematerialized music, the artists of the label refocus on material objects.
Calendars & Interesting Links
- Everyday Listening
collects inspiring and remarkable sound art and creative sound design projects, installations, etc
- Create Digital Music
CDM is generally focused on the tools of electronic music but it’s worth a look for sound art too
It’s the place to go for net art and new media
Magazines, Criticism, Interviews & Essays
- The Wire
A UK avant-garde music magazine that covers sound art too
- Ear Room
Great interviews with contemporary sound artists
An informal space maintained by Hannah Kemp-Welch, dedicated to sound, and its creative and artistic uses
- Sounding Out
A scholarly blog that analyzes sound’s role in constructing social difference, identity & power
- Sonic Field
As the result of merging David Vélez’s “The Field Reporter” and Miguel Isaza’s “Sonic Terrain” (created along with Nathan Moody) and “infinite grain”, this site arises as a community driven, inter-disciplinary vault for research on sound in multiple angles, openly exploring arts, sciences and philosophies of the paradigm we use to call sound.
- Reflections on Process in Sound is a free online journal with the aim to provide a forum where artists can engage in discussions about how they create the work they do, what their practices are influenced by and how their ideas manifest themselves within the final artwork. In short, it puts the spotlight onto process in sound arts practice, from the practitioner’s point of view.
Field-Recording & Sound Experimentation Blogs
- The Music of Sound
occasional posts from a sound designer and recordist
- Sounds Like Noise
Field-recordings and thoughts by Australian artist Jay-Dea Lopez
Forums / Email Lists / Facebook Groups
- naturerecordists on groups.io
An active group dedicated to field-recording, acoustic ecology, and bioacoustics (Formerly on Yahoo Groups)
- micbuilders on groups,io
Anything for the mic do-it-yourselfer. Ideas, advice, inventions, images. (Formerly on Yahoo Groups)
- World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) Mailing List
Announcements and discussions related to Acoustic Ecology, soundscape composition, noise pollution, and aural literacy in general. Lots of smart people there!
A forum mostly populated by film sound production folks. Lots of practical discussions about field-recording technique and equipment within that context.
- Field Recording subreddit
- Several Facebook groups are dedicated to field recording: “Field recordings” (public) and “Field Recording” (private).
Books: Sound In Context
- Audio-Vision by Michel Chion (1994)
This book deconstructs the image/sound relationships in cinema, with one foot in the theories of Musique Concrete pioneer Pierre Schaeffer. Intended for film studies but a pretty amazing read for anybody working with sound.
- The Sound Studies Reader edited by Jonathan Sterne (2012)
This is a collection of essays that situate sound and listening in the academic context of social science, compiled by my absolute favorite public academic. (Also see Sterne’s excellent books The Audible Past and MP3: The Meaning of a Format. His prose is as generous and comprehendable as his theories are rigorous.)
- Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (2004)
This collection of essays by artists, composers and theorists traces the genealogy of the issues that surround avant-garde music (and by extension sound art).
- On Listening edited by Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle (2013)
For this book Lane and Carlyle commissioned 40 short essays about listening from experts in fields like art, anthropology, science & activism.
- The Soundscape of Modernity by Emily Thompson (2002)
Thompson reflects on the transformation of the culture of listening as architecture and interior acoustics changed throughout the 20th century.
- Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds is an “alphabetical sourcebook of eighty sonic/auditory effects” compiled by Centre for Research on Sonic Space and the Urban Environment (CRESSON) in Grenoble, France. Their accounts of sonic effects such as echo, anticipation, vibrato, and wha-wha integrate information about the objective physical spaces in which sounds occur with cultural contexts and individual auditory experience.
- Errant Bodies Press has been developing publishing projects since 1995. Since this time, it has been dedicated to supporting diverse discourses and projects in the fields of sonic and spatial practices, auditory culture and performativity, experimental writing and political thought. Errant Bodies further aims to consider the specifics of location, media, and modes of address, and the co-productive narratives generated from cultural work and its place, through site-based research, collective actions, and collaborative projects.
Books: Autobiographies, Manifestos, Interviews, Catalogs
- In the Field edited by Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle (2013)
Interviews with contemporary sound artists, field-recordists, and experimental musicians. It’s an inspiring resource for understanding how other artists approach their practice and connect to others within and outside their fields.
- Pink Noises : Women On Electronic Music And Sound edited by Tara Rodgers (2010)
Interviews with women DJs, artists and musicians about their practice. It’s an extension of the now-defunct pinknoises.com, a 2000-era website dedicated to making electronic music more accessible for women and girls.
- The Soundscape by R. Murray Schafer (1977)
From the Canadian Acoustic Ecology pioneer who coined the term “soundscape”. This book changed the way people listen to natural and built environments.
- Reflections by Alvin Lucier (1995)
Interviews, scores, and writings from one of the smartest and most accessible American composers of experimental music and sound
- Silence by John Cage (1961)
Essays & lectures to contextualize Cage’s music and philosophy. Like his sound work, many of the texts are structured via chance operations.
- SFMoMA Soundtracks (2017)
Thorough online exhibition catalog featuring the work of Guy Ben Ner, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Paul DeMarinis, Brian Eno, Bill Fontana, Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon, Chris Kallmyer and Mark Allen, Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader, Ragnar Kjartansson, Christina Kubisch, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Amor Muñoz, Camille Norment, O Grivo, Susan Philipsz, Amalia Pica, Anri Sala, Sergei Tcherepnin, Richard T. Walker, & Lyota Yagi.
Books: Histories of Sound Art
- Earth Sound Earth Signal by Douglas Kahn (2013)
A study of energies in aesthetics and the arts, from the birth of modern communications in the nineteenth century to the global transmissions of the present day. Kahn Evokes the Aeolian sphere music that Henry David Thoreau heard blowing along telegraph lines and the Aelectrosonic sounds of natural radio that Thomas Watson heard through the first telephone; he then traces the histories of science, media, music, and the arts to the 1960s and beyond.
- Noise Water Meat by Douglas Kahn (2001)
This wide-ranging book traces the (mostly) unwritten history of sound-making and aurality as it intertwines with the dominant movements in 20th century art.
- Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art by Brandon LaBelle (2007)
One history of sound art, largely concerned with the relationship between sound and place. LaBelle argues that sound is a relational actor: defining and violating territories, constructing and challenging identity.
- In The Blink Of An Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art by Seth Kim-Cohen (2009)
Kim-Cohen asks why writing about sound art has tended towards phenomenology. He cites the ascendancy of conceptualism in visual art decades ago and proposes a revision of the young history of sound art and a refocusing of attention on the “non-cochlear” qualities of current and future sonic practice.
Books: How To Make Things
- Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins (2006, 2009)
The only book that blends audio electronics tutorials with historical context and a DVD featuring examples of contemporary artists who build their own gear. Go buy it now! (this link points to the first edition. If possible try to get the newer edition from 2009)
NYC Venues & Organizations
- Experimental Intermedia
Performance space run by composer Phil Niblock
A center for digital arts, sound and music. They have workshops, performances, residencies, etc.
- Hans Tammen
A composer/performer/teacher. He is involved in multiple ensembles, so his email list often alerts me to things happening around town that I would otherwise miss.
- Fridman Gallery
Gallery that represents artists in a variety of media, but also puts on amazing live shows. Get on their list ASAP!
- Issue Project Room
A great venue for performance-based projects in music, sound, dance, and more
- Blank Forms
A group that organizes avant-garde performances around NYC. Go to their shows!
- The Silent Barn
A volunteer-run DIY space that books a wide variety of performance-based work. (They lost their space in spring 2018 but will hopefully continue in other ways.)
- Flux Factory
An incubator for experimentation with collaborative processes showcased in Flux’s 1400 sq ft gallery, which hosts over 75 annual multidisciplinary events – all Flux events are free and artists are compensated for their work. Flux provides affordable space to emerging Artists-in-Residence.
- Knockdown Center
Art and performance space dedicated to cross-disciplinary projects and collaborations.
A pretty big venue that mostly books music and dance
- The Stone
An artist-run performance space for experimental music
- National Sawdust
An artist-led, non-profit performance space.
- The Kitchen
One of NYC’s oldest non-profit spaces dedicated to multidisciplinary performance and art
A major center for art and technology, sometimes sound-related.
A long-running weekly collaborative jam session: “Participants bring their portable equipment, plug into our system, improvise on each others’ signal and perform live audio and video.”
Residencies and Exhibition Opportunities
(This isn’t an exhaustive list. Note that some residencies aren’t available to students.)
A worldwide network of artist residencies.
- Sound And Music (Opportunities)
This UK arts organization mostly supports local composers but they have a database of arts opportunities that are often global.
A sound art residency in rural Portugal
An arts organization and residency program situated in a small town in southern Estonia (typically open to individual artists but only doing groups in 2015)
A residency program in Brussels, focusing on improvised music and sound art. Be sure to check out their publications too, which are mostly downloadable.
A collective in Porto, Portugal that offers residencies to folks exploring electro-acoustic music and sound art.
- Wikipedia’s List of Sound Art Organizations and Festivals
Other Peoples Links
- acousticecology.org has a great links page: better annotated and exhaustive than this one
- Artist Seth Cluett has an exhaustive list of Sound Art links
Exercise 1: Deep Listening
Now that we have practiced listening in class, I’d like you to consider what it means to “record” a place in sound, expanding the definition beyond literal phonography. Find a sonic environment with unique layers of sound that interest you. It should be relatively quiet so you can really listen carefully. Find a comfortable position where you can linger for a long time. (This place must be accessible later because you will eventually record there.)
Do Activity #1 (deep listening exercise) from the Listening To The City Handbook from MIT Colab
Return it to me at the next class. (You will get it back.)
Some more to think about:
- What inscriptions may be left behind by an action or an environment? (sonic or otherwise)
- How might a “found sound” (or object) reflect upon its surroundings?
- How do you “perform” a place, or activate it with your presence? (intentionally or otherwise)
- How can the experiential, sensorial aspect of sound be elicited in a textual mode? What escapes description?
Exercise 2: Recording
In this exercise you will learn how to capture environments in sound. Engagement with your medium will define the conceptual scope of your practice. (In other words, your art won’t communicate what you want if you don’t know how to make it.)
I will collect 3 labeled WAV files from you in class:
(Bring them on a USB stick, hard drive, or cloud storage and transfer them to the class computer during our break. We won’t listen in class, but I’ll give you written feedback.)
A radio-style voice-recording (without using a professional vocal booth).
It should be close and clear, without any room reflections – the classic disembodied radio voice. I want to hear the voice and nothing else, so you need to alter your sonic environment to eliminate echoes and unwanted noises. Get under the covers, tell your room-mates to take a hike. Put your keys in the fridge and pull the plug. (The keys will remind you to plug it in again!) I don’t care about semantic content. I’m listening for evidence of your listening. Can you identify and eliminate echoes and background noises?
Pro Tip 1: Plosive vocal sounds like “P” and “B” produce a lot of air that will overload the sensitive mic when used at the close proximity required for this recording. Use wind protection for your mic to prevent this.
Pro Tip 2: Don’t use the recorder’s built-in stereo mics for voice recording. Every little movement of your head will send the voice flying back and forth between the speakers. Use a shotgun or cardioid mic instead.
A compelling soundscape.
Remember the writing assignment from last week? Make a recording of a sonic environment that encapsulates some of the effects you wrote about. (It doesn’t need to be the same environment you wrote about.) I’m listening for distinct elements in different planes of depth (foreground and background layers at minimum). You won’t get a compelling result if you just stand back and point the mic. It hears differently than your ears, so you need to be a translator. Identify where the sounds are located and position the mic to reveal relationships between the sounds (spectral, dynamic, rhythmic, social…). Experiment: How does it sound near the ground, near a wall, on the roof…? Implicate yourself. Move. Get involved.
NOTE: If you realize during this process that your site lacks sonic diversity, it may be too “lof-fi” to make compelling recordings. Go somewhere else. You’re hunting for sound relationships, so be open to changes in your plans.
An isolated element from the soundscape.
Get closer to something – make it the foreground. Use mic patterns and mic placement to “crop out” unwanted sounds so your chosen sound is unambiguously the center of attention. (This should sound very different than track #2. If not, try again!)
NOTE: If your site has a fan of some sort, please don’t do a close-up of it. That’s way too easy and usually results in a boring recording of white noise. There’s plenty of broadband noise in NYC. Seek out more subtle sounds and help them rise above the noise!
Things to Keep in Mind:
- For this exercise at least one track must be recorded with an external microphone. The stereo mic built into the sound recorder is great, but you need experience with other ones too.
- Some of our mics come with “shock mounts” that isolate them from your hands, but you still need to move quietly and carefully to avoid rumbling sounds. We also have shock mounts for the recorder itself in case you’re using the built-in mics.
- Use furry wind-muffs if you go outside. Some mics are so sensitive that just waving them around will fill your tracks with swooshy wind noise. When speaking, loud “P” and “B” sounds will do the same thing.
- Record several solutions to each prompt, but only give me three files. I will interpret everything as intentional, so be clear. If your recordings don’t sound good enough, I will ask you to do them again until you’ve mastered your tools. It’s worth it!
- We haven’t covered editing yet, so just download your tracks to a computer, label them, and bring them to class. (No editing required or desired.)
Project 1 (Performance)
You need to prepare a short performative “solo” (<5min) that utilizes some of the techniques and ideas we have covered so far. I want to establish a space for everybody to take risks and step outside their comfort zone. A performance is a brief moment within a long relationship between your body and your materials, so please practice and refine your before class. Looking for inspiration? Peruse the “Further Research” sections of each syllabus section, or get lost in the “Resources For Research” section above.
If you need equipment or guidance, find me or email me to start working it out. (I made some free software that may be useful, like Video Trigger.)
Amplification & Other Equipment
- We will have a mixer in the front of the classroom with 4 XLR mic inputs and several stereo line inputs (for sound recorders, phones, etc). It will feed the main stereo speakers in the classroom.
- We will have 2 self-amplified PA speakers and stands. Each accepts 1 XLR (mic) or 1/4″ (line) input. These can be taken out of the classroom into the 5th FL lobby or other nearby places.
- It’s your responsibility to borrow mics, cables, contact mic preamps, recorders, etc from Equipment Checkout.
- If you need other installation gear (players, amplifiers, speakers, tactile transducers…) you need to contact Dan Porvin in the Video Editing Room one week in advance.
We will record everything and make the sounds available for Project 2.
Make a short (< 5 min) sound composition that utilizes any of the recordings we made in the class performance. Feel free to add your own recorded sounds (or live performative elements) and explore whatever interests you. There are no conceptual boundaries for this project, but I need to hear evidence that you are using your ears to navigate toward your conceptual goals: All we have is the sound you give us, so if your recordings or edits sound terrible then your ideas won’t come through.
On crit day I need an AIFF or WAVE file (not MP3) to document the piece.
If your piece is stereo or surround audio, intended for acousmatic listening then just arrive with your file and you can play it from the computer.
If your piece is a sculpture or installation, take into consideration the environment where the sound will be presented, and see Dan Porvin in the editing room to get headphones, speakers, amplifiers, etc. He needs one week of advance notice. Please respect that.
Be practical: If your piece requires headphones, prepare multiple headphones so we don’t spend an hour listening individually. (We need to finish the crit in 4 hours so we can’t spend too much time on each piece.)
Prompt: Project 3
Think of a sound project that acknowledges the space in which it is presented. The ideas and motivations are up to you. Maybe it uses recordings (from “its space” or elsewhere) but it engages the here and now in a meaningful way. Perhaps the audience comes to “it” (consciously or not) or perhaps it comes to them. It could be ephemeral or portable or have no specific “site” at all. It could be performative but it must extend beyond accompaniment. It could be a process but we must be able to take part in it or see its effects.I’m looking for an internal logic in the work; a framework that guides your intentions and reflects your investment in the issues we discuss in this class. If you use this same work for another class, the burden is on you to make it appropriate here. (Usually it is not appropriate, and I can tell when people are trying to put a square peg in a round hole.)
- Be honest, not merely clever. It’s easy to play loud sounds and say you’re “commenting on noise pollution”, but irony is not necessarily commentary. A more articulate method is usually harder to perfect, and much more rewarding.
- Consider your means. I want you to try new techniques, so keep your ideas simple enough to finish on time.
- Stay in touch. I’m around, so find me before disaster strikes
- If your piece is a sculpture or installation, see Dan Porvin in the editing room to get headphones, speakers, amplifiers, etc. He needs one week of advance notice. Please respect that.
GREY – Normal Week RED – Something Is Due
Jan 21 - Intro To Listening
We Will Read In Class
- “The Three Listening Modes”, from Audio-Vision by Michel Chion
- Confirm that class time is 6:30-10:20
- Discuss everybody’s previous experience with sound and expectations of the class
- Syllabus intro (expectations, grading, attendance, email list, password for readings)
- Introduce phenomenology and the representation of the eye v. the abstraction of the ear. What makes up the experience of sound?
- Consider the formalism of pop music and the lack of a popular “visual music”. Can we divorce sounds from their creators and their contexts?
- Read Chion before break.
- After break, listen to recordings acousmatically, considering Chion’s taxonomy
- At end of class, warm up with Oliveros’ sonic meditation then do blindfolded soundwalk outside
- Listen to an assortment of field-recordings, considering them on the basis of Chion’s 3-part taxonomy
“Hearing is something that happens to us because we have ears – it is our primary sense organ. Listening is something we develop and cultivate our whole life, and maybe all of our lifetimes. Listening is what creates culture. Listening is very diverse and takes many forms as cultures take many forms.”
– Pauline Oliveros (from her book Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice)
Oliveros developed Deep Listening practice to expand creativity, compassion, and highlight awareness of the self and others.
Composer Max Neuhaus stamped the word LISTEN on the hands of his audience and took them for a sound walking tour of the Lower East side of Manhattan in 1966. It was a pivotal moment in his transformation from Composer to Sound Artist.
Jan 27 - Recording & Mics (Exercise 1 Due)
Read Before Class
- An Introduction To Sound Art by BBC radio broadcaster and composer Robert Worby
- “The Industrial Revolution” chapter from “The Soundscape”, R Murray Schafer
- Within a Grain of Sand: Our Sonic Environment and Some of Its Shapers Short interviews with several contemporary sound artists.
- stereo mic techniques pages from “The New Stereo Soundbook”, Ron Streicher and F. Alton Everest
- stereo hearing and psychoacoustics pages from “The New Stereo Soundbook”
- Description of “Vespers” from the book “Reflections”, Alvin Lucier
- “Clear Density, Dense Clarity” from School of Sound lecture transcript, Walter Murch
- Introduction from “All That is Solid Melts into Air”, Marshall Berman
- Bring Da Noise: A Brief Survey of Sound Art by ubuweb founder Kenneth Goldsmith.
- What is Sound Art? N.B. Aldrich interviews several artists about their approaches to Sound Art
- Annotations for Sound Art – Julian Cowley A great collection of little historical sound nuggets
- Audio Art in the Deaf Century, Douglas Kahn. A detailed stroll through the art-historical precedents for Sound Art (1990)
Exercise 1 is due today.
- “Equipment Talk” (introducing our checkout facilities, rules & responsibilities)
- Discuss the readings.
- Introduce the history of sound recording (Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonoautograph, Edison’s phonograph, Berliner’s gramaphone, tape recording, etc)
- Intro to recorders: basic recorder info like menu settings, level control and monitoring.
- Intro to microphones (dynamic/condenser and polar patterns, stereo techniques)
- Intro to digital audio formats: uncompressed (WAV. AIFF) and compressed (MP3, AAC).
- Go out in groups and record! Then play back our recordings to make a stochastic composition.
- During cleanup, practice the ancient Zen art of cable-coiling!
- Photos and recordings from early recording devices.
- Sound Fields mini documentary about contemporary artists & musicians who use field recording.
Useful trivia: The MP3 compression system was developed at Fraunhofer IIS in Germany. They used the acapella version of Susanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” to tune the algorithm (see Vega’s blog post, ). A human voice is complex, but it’s a lot simpler than a full band, and much easier to compress. Here is an analysis of the sonic mangling of data-compression (with bird-songs and pretty graphs).
Why you should never record in MP3 format…
WAV file: uncompressed original, with sharp attacks and complex buzz in the background
320k MP3: highest quality MP3 option, generally indistinguishable from the original
128k MP3: typical web stream setting, smeared attacks and swishy unstable background noise
64k MP3: whoa, is that your cell phone!
- Some excerpts from Charles Grivel’s essay “The Phonograph’s Horned Mouth” in the book Wireless Imagination:La Mort et le coquillage” (” Death and the Seashell”)The parable relates the following: a musician listens to the recorded voice of his deceased friends; he’s a very melancholy man; the refinement of his musical ear and his grief compel him to seek the means to hear directly, without phonography and without recording, the voices of his dear departed. “What the mouth of a seashell says”: this phrase opens up horizons for him in this regard. His idea is to write down at the piano, without intermediary, to reproduce with his hands and with musical notation, from breath to art, with and without a machine, this primordial, definitive, funereal sound.Nerval seized the miraculous shell from me and ran to the piano. For a long time he tried to write down its divine sexual clamor. At two o’ clock in the morning, he finally gave up. The room was strewn with blackened, torn sheets of paper. “You see, you see,” he said to me, “I can’t even transcribe the chorus under dictation!.. . “
He went back to his armchair, listening, despite my efforts, to the venomous paean. Around four o’ clock, he started to tremble. I begged him to get some rest. He shook his head, and seemed to lean over an invisible abyss. At half past five, he fell, forehead on the marble of the hearth: dead. The seashell broke into a thousand little pieces.
- “Listen” documentary about R. Murray Schafer, from the National Film Board of Canada
- The World Soundscape Project (“WSP”), Schafer’s 1970’s research group at Simon Frasier University was a foundational force in the field of Acoustic Ecology. We will study it in detail later on in the semester.
- “On Acoustic Design” is a 20min audio essay about noise pollution from R Murray Schafer’s 1973 LP titled “Vancouver Soundscape” (now available on CD)
- On the topic of politics v. formalism (see Marshall Berman’s critique of John Cage), here’s a link to a 2009 piece by composer Peter Ablinger: Speaking Piano is an automated piano that is operated like a voice synthesizer, speaking the text of a UN declaration on the environment.
- Blogs devoted to field-recording pop up all the time. Some eamples: Noise Jockey, Sonic Terrain, Field Sepulchra, Sound of Critters, Wild Echoes
- EAR ROOM has in-depth interviews with sound artists and writers about sound.
- Aaron Ximm, AKA “Quiet American” has an amazing links page that provides thorough advice on field-recording, from history to gear recommendations.
- My recorder recommendations in case you are looking to buy a portable recorder or microphones
Feb 03 - Physics & Vocab, Built Contact Mics (Exercise 2 Due)
Read Before Class
- “Sound and Hearing: An Introduction” and frequency chart from Audio in Media , Stanley R. Alten
- The First Rule of Contact Mic Club from The Music of Sound blog.
- “Soundings” essay from Sound by Artists , Suzanne Delehanty
- How to Make a Contact Mike from Handmade Electronic Music, Nic Collins (p 27-36)
- “Microphone Types” from Sound Engineering Explained, M. Talbot-Smith
- “Mic Patterns and Audio Connectors” from Film Production Technique, Bruce Mamer
- Here is an online frequency chart with other useful information
Exercise 2 is due today.
Bring $5 (for contact mic parts) and at least 3 resonant objects.
Examples: Something that “sings” when you hit it (bowl, sheet-metal, etc). Something with stretched strings (a guitar, rubber bands wrapped around a box), anything that sounds good!
- Did everybody get the welcome email from the class list?
- Collect files from the “Recording 101” exercise.
- Build contact mics.
- Introduce basic audio signal flow (mic level / line level / speaker level).
- See the excellent Acoustics and Vibration Animations – Dan Russell, Grad. Prog. Acoustics, Penn State
- Discuss resonance.
- Introduce the basic vocabulary of sound (Frequency, Amplitude, Spectrum, Dynamics) via analysis plugins inside Reaper audio editing software. (The tones were created with “JS: Tone Generator”. The oscilloscope was “JS: Oscilloscope Meter”. The live spectrum analyzer was “JS: Frequency Spectrum Analyzer Meter” and the scrolling spectrograph was “JS: Spectrograph Spectrogram Meter”.
- John Cage’s Cartridge Music (1960)
- Bill Fontana’s “Harmonic Bridge” at Tate Modern
- Toshiya Tsunoda’s intense and subtle field recordings of banal places
- Rob Duarte’s “MOVEMENT” … a machine performance that documents the activities of a heap of small contraptions and mundane mechanical movements
- Tomomi Adachi’s Tomoring instruments made of springs and other objects, amplified by contact mics.
- Steven Conner’s recorded essay about Resonance.
- Camille Norment’s Rapture installation
- John Grzinich’s Transduction Twentyfifteen
- Brenda Hutchinson’s Long Tube
- Harry Bertioa’s Sonambient sculptures, as played by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
- “Soundings” by Gary Hill
- “The Queen of the South” by Alvin Lucier
- In class today we used “tactile transducers” (AKA “bass shakers” or “aural exciters” or “contact speakers”) that are designed to vibrate surfaces instead of air. Parts Express sells a wide variety of them. You can also use a piezo buzzer element and a small audio transformer to turn lightweight rigid surfaces into speakers. (See book Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins)
- German artist Markus Kison used tactile transducers to hide sound in a metal railing overlooking a river in Dresden. In “Touched Echo”, listeners put their elbows on the railing and cover their ears. The sound conducts through their bones, revealing aural artifacts of the WWII bombing of Dresden.
- “Wavetable” by veteran sound and media artist Liz Phillips
- A very geeky Chladni plate Youtube video from Edwin Wise, also featured in MAKE Magazine. (Subscription required to view article. Ask me and I’ll print it out for you.)
- In this extremely corny PBS video, you can see an alligator rippling the surface of water using only its low voice.
- Richard Lerman’s “Travelon Gamelon” bicycle piece and his guide for contact-mic construction
- David Dunn shows how to build a hydrophone, tubular contact mic, and ultrasonic “probe mic” in this pdf.
- Open Music Labs has a very helpful page about piezo products (including the discs commonly used for contact mics.)
- In his “Rainforest” series, David Tudor attached contact mics to suspended objects to created resonant feedback loops.
- Annea Lockwood did a performance in 1966 called Glass World where she played resonant glass objects with fingers, mallets, etc.
- The Music of Sound blog has a great list of favorite contact mic field recordists, in particular Toyisha Tsunoda.
- Kabir Carter‘s performances activate acoustic space using simple microphone feedback to make complex aural gestures.
Feb 10 - Radio / Synesthesia + Editing + Installation
Read Before Class
- The Key of Clear Green: Synesthesia and Music from Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks
- Voice, Technology, and the Victorian Ear, Steve Conner (It’s a really smart essay despite the horrible typos!)
- Radio As Instrument essay by Anna Friz
- “Music Video:Video Music” (Chapter 25) from Handmade Electronic Music by Nicolas Collins
- “Visual (Ec)Static: On National Radio Silence Day” , Daniel Gethman, from Sound Art, Between Avant-Garde and Pop Culture
- Photophonics lecture and Atmospherics essay by Steve Conner
- “Visual and Acoustic Space”, Marshall McLuhan, from Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music
- “Kublin, Theorist of Synesthesia” by Mel Gordon (from Wireless Imagination)
- “The Peakaboo World” , Neil Postman, from Amusing Ourselves to Death
(MP3 audio version also available)
- Interview with Graham Wrench, who helped Daphne Oram develop the Oramics system.
Bring your laptop & headphones for the editing intro
(if you have them).
We have enough lab computers to work in pairs, but if you bring your laptop you can install the Reaper editing software and work solo.
- Introduce Anim Lab and editing in Reaper (+ details like reserving Media Drives)
- Introduce SFX library, sound booths and studio microphones.
- Introduce the installation equipment available from Dan in the editing room (players, amps, speakers, etc).
- Discuss radio: its history, and its distance from the characteristics of the sound object; collapsing geography, encouraging simultaneity. Also include Burroughs and WR Reich in relation to systems of broadcast control and spiritual transmission.
- Discuss synesthesia in literature and art from Pythagoras’ “Music of the Spheres” through Romanticism, Symbolism, Theosophy, and into the “information age”.
- Introduction to Wave Farm transmission arts organization and DIY radio transmitter hardware.
- Transmit sound over a laser and use light-listeners in class, observing the sound that light makes inside, outside, natural, artificial.
- Introduce software for image -> sound -> image conversion (Metasynth, Sonic Visualiser, my MAX patches)
- Use an inductive pickup to explore the tiny radio emissions around everyday objects.
- “Drive In Music” (1967) and “Radio Net” (1977) by Max Neuhaus
- Alessandro Bosetti’s Arcoparlante (2009) – a remixed game of radiophonic telephone based in incomprehensible shortwave broadcasts.
- The “Electrical Walks” of Christina Kubisch
- Haroon Mirza, Chamber for Horwitz: Sonakinatography Transcriptions in Surround Sound
- My experiments with an inductive pickup, listening to Sferics with a VLF receiver, & listening to flies with a light-listener.
- Mark Vernon’s Domestic Weather, a 60 minute radio art piece that explores radio transmissions as carriers of meteorological data and the effects of weather on the propagation of radio signals.
- Looking for the Silent Interference by Tetsuo Kogawa
- NPR interview with Steven Vitiello about his World Trade Center recordings (his site)
- “Pen Point Percussion” film (Intro to Norman McLaren)
- Lis Rhodes 16mm optical sound film “Dresden Dynamo” (description & video) and her dual-screen “Light Music” installation.
- Thomas Dexter’s expanded cinema performances with 16mm projectors, light sensors, and guitar pedals.
- Alexander Graham Bell’s Photophone, which transmitted voice over a light beam, years before radio could do it.
- The animator and “visual music” pioneer Oskar Fischinger experimented with photographing regular patterns onto the soundtrack portion of film in 1932. His essay on Ornamental Sound & some film scans.
- Daphne Oram’s Oramics system (1960’s) for controlling early synthesizers using patterns drawn on optical film. (She co-founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Later at the workshop Delia Derbyshire co-created the Dr. Who theme.)
- The ANS synthesizer was developed in Russia (1930’s-50’s) by Evgeny Murzin. It used optical tonewheels and a backlit glass surface where compositions could be drawn and scanned for realtime playback. The name is a tribute to Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, composer, occultist, and generally eccentric person. Note: You can do your own image-to-sound or sound-to-image conversions with Alexander Zolotov’s Virtual ANS (Mac/Win/Linus/Android/iOS) for free!
- The UPIC (Iannis Xenakis), a 1970’s era synthesis system controlled by drawings. A good example composition is Mycenae Alpha. (A modern software version exists called HighC. Another Xenakis-inspired piece of software is IanniX.)
- Spectrographic “easter egg” in Aphex Twin’s “Equation”
In class today we introduced Reaper, a powerful audio editor that you can download and evaluate for free (Mac & Windows) without time limits. If you continue to use it, you are morally obligated to spend $60 to register it. (In contrast, Pro Tools has been the industry standard audio editor for years. It has artificial limitations, an outrageous price tag, and draconian copy-protection. Media professionals still use it because it works and they learned it in school. You don’t need to make the same mistake.)
• Reaper supports AU & VST format plugins on the Mac, and VST plugins on Windows. There are many free and inexpensive plugins produced for these formats, so look around the web periodically. The Resoundsound blog does “best free plugin” posts every few years.
• Don’t forget to download the PDF Reaper User Guide.
• Watch the excellent Video Tutorials (and some more on YouTube.)
Further Research: Radio
- “Imagine radio that, instead of numbing us to sounds, strengthens our imagination and creativity; instead of manipulating us into faster work and more purchasing, it inspires us to invent…instead of silencing us, it encourages us to sing or to speak, to make radio ourselves.”
—- Hildegaard Westerkamp
- Transmission Arts Archive, courtesy of Wave Farm
- Kunstradio (Austria) has a great Radio Art manifesto.
- Radia.fm is the home of the Radia Network, a worldwide collective of community radio stations dedicated to radio art.
- Room-sized inductive loops (like Christina Kubisch used) are built into some movie theaters and public places to assist people with hearing aids. Most hearing aids have a “t-coil” or “telecoil” mode that disables the onboard microphone and enables a tiny inductive listener that can tune-in to the electromagnetic signal from a loop embedded in the walls. You can make your own with a normal audio amplifier and long wires.
- Read about the Local Community Radio act of 2010 (pitchfork) which may help bring more low-power FM stations to the dial.
- Online “microcasting” instructions (both printed and video tutorials) from transmissionarts.org
- Many small FM transmitters (for cars) can be hacked to increase their meager range. The simplest hack involves simply lengthening the antenna, but some transmitters have deeper possibilities: Here are instructions for an old Belkin Tunecast II and Tunecast III). I wrote my own FM transmitter hacking summary.
- The cheap & tiny Raspberry Pi computer can be used as an FM transmitter. The only part you need to add is an antenna! It has no FM hardware, but one of the high-speed internal clocks can be re-programmed to generate a standard FM stereo signal that broadcasts farther than a hacked MP3 transmitter. Flash the downloaded disc image to an SD card, add audio files, select a frequency with a text file, and you’re done. Amazing! (As far as I know, there is no way to support a live input. It can only transmit pre-recorded audio files.)
- Radio history & theory excerpts from episode 205 of the early 1990’s TV documentary series The Secret Life of Machines (episodes online at archive.org).
- Radio Basics (how to build a simple AM radio & limited transmitter, from sci-toys.com)
- Marshall Mcluhan’s LP recording version of “The Medium is the Massage” (ubuweb)
- On the subject of the latent ideology embedded in visual media, check out John Berger’s 1972 BBC TV series “Ways of Seeing” (YouTube clip or VHS tapes (!) in NYU Bobst library). There’s also a book version.
- If you’re interested in tinkering with radio or other electromagnetic phenomena, find a copy of this out-of-print book:
“Exploring Light, Radio & Sound Energy with projects” by Calvin R. Graf
(Alvin Lucier used it to build receiving equipment for his “Sferics” piece; recordings of “natural” low frequency radio signals emanating from the Earth itself.)
- The Conet Project is a 4CD anthology of shortwave “Numbers Stations”, undocumented international radio broadcasts that are widely believed to be messages from espionage organizations like the CIA, MI6, and Mossad. All tracks can be (legally) downloaded here.
Further Research: Synesthesia
- Some excerpts from Charles Grivel’s essay “The Phonograph’s Horned Mouth” in the book Wireless Imagination:The connection between sound and inscription inaugurated by phonography, or rather, the phonautograph that preceded it, took on poetic ramifications for Rainer Maria Rilke in his 1919 essay Primal Sound. In this essay he first recounts a childhood classroom project of constructing a crude phonograph, and then, some fifteen years later in his study, seeing out of the corner of his eye a jagged line much like that inscribed by the phonograph. The line was that of the coronal suture atop a skull he had acquired for contemplative purposes. If the line inscribed by a phonograph could be retraced to return the voice/sound that had created it, what sound would be returned from the coronal suture or, for that matter, any line along any contour in the visible world? Once this idea is taken out of the ridiculous it works very nicely on the sublime to suggest ways to proceed aurally, with sonic/semiotic animation, amid the spatialization of not merely the visual world but the conceptual world as well…
- Derek Holzer’s A Brief History of Optical Synthesis is not brief. It’s an amazingly thorough chronology of light-to-sound synthesizer technology. (He performs improv sets called TONEWHEELS where he generates sound and light by shining lamps through spinning patterned discs.)
- Michael Vorfeld’s Lightbulb Music is a performace piece based on a table full of light bulbs
- The Cyborg Foundation aims to help people become cyborgs. Their founders built the eyeborg which translates colors to audible frequencies via a webcam and skull implant.
- How to build a Simple Laser Communicator (from sci-toys.com)
- “Cloud Music” by Bob Diamond, Robert Watts and David Behrman, 1974. A set of synthesizer tones controlled by a video camera pointed at passing clouds.
- The Voyager probes launched by NASA in 1977 contained gold records encoded with images and sounds, along with diagrams to explain how to decode them.
- It’s easy to make “light-listeners” like the one Steven Vitiello used in “light-readings”. Consult this week’s chapter from Handmade Electronic Music for a method that uses a photoresistor, or use the solar cell from a cheap solar calculator, or buy super-tiny solar cells like these: Vishay BPW34 Silicon Photo-diode. (Larger cells are more sensitive)
- Alessandro had a great blog called 5volt.eu (now gone, so try his flickr stream or the wayback machine.) I captured a pdf of his post describing a circuit that amplifies the photo-diode above so it can directly drive a small speaker.
- The Texas Instruments TSL230 Light-To-Frequency Sensor converts light level to an audible square wave signal in one step without any extra components. (More light = higher pitch)
- Eric Archer makes “Sound Cameras”: old 8mm film cameras with built-in light-listeners and headphone amps. (Plenty of audio samples on his page.)
- Russian artist Andrey Smirnov explores the popular eavesdropping technique of reflecting laser light off windows to hear the conversations inside.
- The Ruben’s Tube (video, wikipedia) traces audio waveforms with jets of flame, due to standing-wave patterns within a long tube.
- 20 years before the invention of the phonograph, sound was inscribed visually onto paper with a device called the phonautograph. One of these inscriptions was converted back into sound (mp3 link) in 2008 via digital imaging and custom software. One of the collaborators in that project, Patrick Feaster, maintains his own site phonozoic.net and co-founded FirstSounds.org which seeks to apply their techniques to other collections of historical recordings.
- The Brainport is an experimental device that provides a limited “sight” to blind individuals via a head-mounted camera and a grid of electrodes worn on the tongue. It’s a simple conversion of visual pixels into tactile sensations but the brain quickly adapts, creating real “images” in the mind of the wearer. (video here)
Feb 17 – No Class (President’s Day Holiday)
Feb 24 - Electronics & Synthesis + Editing
Read Before Class
- Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method by Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka
- “Tickle the Clock” from Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins
(includes historical notes about the Composers Inside Electronics group)
- Soldering and Electronic Parts pages from “Circuit Bending” by Reed Ghazala
- Printable electronics quick-reference cards from Adafruit (NYC based woman-owned electronics company).
- Essay about David Tudor The Art of the Impossible by D’Arcy Philip Gray (originally published in Musicworks: Issue #69, Winter 1997)
Bring your laptop & headphones for the editing intro
(if you have them).
- We have enough lab computers to work in pairs, but if you bring your laptop you can install the Reaper editing software and work solo.
- First we will continue our exploration of editing in Reaper:
– EQ, compression/expansion, delay effects, noise reduction, pitch and time
– surround panning & export
– dealing with vox plosives, handling noise, wind blasts
– clipping & hiss
- We will introduce basic electronics by building audio oscillators whose properties are controlled by light, physical touch, graphite lines, etc.
- Here’s an excellent tutorial from Casper Electronics that mirrors our circuit-building process.
- Also see these CMOS Synthesizer Workshop posts from Parasit Studio.
- Ernesto Oroza on “Technological Disobedience” in Cuba.
- Leon Theremin and his eponymous instrument, Great Seal and Buran covert listening devices. (Aura Satz video featuring Lydia Kavina, theremin virtuosa and grandniece of Léon Theremin.)
- David Tudor’s Bandoneon
- Peter Vogel’s sculptural circuits (via 2011 documentary The Sound of Shadows)
- Motherboard mini-doc Soundbuilders: Reed Ghazala, the Father of Circuit Bending
- In 1993, the Barbie Liberation Organization swapped the digital voice-boxes of 300 Barbies and GI Joe dolls, then returned them to store shelves. A (faux?) AP news article published in the 1990’s zine “Unit Circle” and “Home Surgery Instructions” (pdf) describing their not-so-simple hack. Analysis of their strategy on Beautiful Trouble. (BLO was created by Igor Vamos who later co-founded the Yes Men.)
- Garnet Hertz (conceptlab) uses circuit-bending as a gateway to STEM education.
- TECHNE is an arts education organization that introduces women and girls to technology-focused art making, musical improvisation, and community collaboration.
- Theremin laid the groundwork for the analog synthesizers and their digital successors. Over the years these instruments attracted artists who were marginalized by the record companies and producers of their era. Wendy Carlos (Switched-on Bach, Clockwork Orange Soundtrack), Suzanne Ciani (On Letterman in 1980 & amazing Buchla synth walkthrough from 2016), Laurie Spiegel, Eliane Radigue.
- Jessica Rylan is a noise musician and synthesizer-maker. Here’s a charming video of a hands-on noise generator circuit.
Further Research – Artists and Musicians
- BENT Fest was a yearly circuit-bending festival from 2006-2009.
- Tristan Perich is a musician who programs microcontrollers to produce “1-bit music”. One of his releases is a circuit inside a CD case. It produces an album-length composition via the included headphone jack.
- Sonic Arts Union LP on UbuWeb
- Gordon Mumma and his “cybersonic” devices (ubuweb tracks) ff
- David Tudor’s diagram for Rainforest IV, and an extensive interview.
- Michel Waisvisz’s Cracklebox (1975) was a chaotic DIY noise machine, recently re-issued.
- I use circuit-bent Buddhist chant-boxes in a series of projects: Witnesses, Witnesses:Scope, Witnesses: Trikaya.
- Chinese electronic music band FM3 created looping machines (inspired by Buddhist chant-boxes) and released them like albums. FM3 Buddha Machines
- Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe demonstrates how he uses modular synthesizers in his performances, specifically in relation to voice.
Further Research – Electronics Resources
- In NYC we’re lucky to have Tinkersphere (walkable from Cooper!) They have a bewildering array of electronic parts at fair prices.
- Adafruit is a woman-owned mail-order DIY electronics powerhouse in Tribeca.
- Sparkfun is another mail-order electronics store, catering to hobbyists.
- We read an excerpt from Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins. This is the book you want to get if you’re interested in electronics. It’s the perfect mix of background info and hands-on tutorials. No math!
- Also check out Hackaday’s Logic Noise series for step-by-step instructions for simple synths (made of CMOS logic chips like the ones Nic Collins writes about.)
- Beavis Audio Research (offline in 2015. RIP!) DIY stomp-boxes and effects. Check out their excellent guide to CMOS “1-bit” synthesizers (via Wayback Machine), which paraphrases a lot of the info from the Nic Collins book.
- The Drawdio! A little oscillator circuit that responds to resistive surfaces like pencil lines, streams of water, etc. If you’re experimenting, I recommend this version. It runs on a 9V battery, drives a speaker directly, and uses very few parts.
- Arduino is an inexpensive platform for “physical computing” or “creative coding” (Meaning: “You can make physical objects do fun things via small computer programs, and you don’t have to be an expert.”) It’s the defacto standard for creating interactive objects or interfacing real-world objects with computers. There is a massive community online.
- If you continue working with electronics, you’ll need a soldering iron. Most are crap. I recommend getting a temp-controlled soldering station from Tinkersphere or Circuit Specialists. Your solder won’t bead up and roll off the tip like it does on the cheap ones. Most include a stand and a sponge so you won’t burn your apartment down.
- No resources list would be complete without the famous Engineer’s Mini Notebooks by Forrest M. Mims III, previously sold by Radio Shack. Within those yellowed pages you can find hundreds of circuit diagrams for LED flashers, tone generators, solar battery chargers, light-sensitive switches, and more. Mims made sure that the parts were available from Radio Shack, and most of them still are. These days you can find similar projects online, but most of them are pretty badly documented, so I refer to these books often.
- My printable resistor color code chart for decoding the value of resistors using their colored bands.
Mar 02 - Project 1 (Performance)
Prepare your part for the class performance today.
Everything will be recorded from different perspectives so we have a library of sounds to use for your next project.
- Interview with Andrea Parkins about her work (which includes improvised sound performance)
Mar 09 - Noise / Music & Analog Media
Read Before Class
- “The Art of Noise” by Luigi Russolo, 1913 (ubuweb PDF)
- Script for “Symphony of Sirens” by Arseni Avraamov (WI p. 245-252)
- “The Future of Music: A Credo” by John Cage
- interview with Christian Marclay and Yasunao Tone from MUSIC magazine
- Tape Heads (Chapter 9) from Handmade Electronic Music (p. 47-52)
- Noise In And As Music, 2013 – a book-length anthology of essays about noise and music
- Hacking the CD Player, by Nic Collins – about his “circuit-bent” CD player instruments
- Arseni Avraamov’s fascinating biography on Monoskop.org
- “Engineering Noise Abatement” from The Soundscape of Modernity by Emily Thompson (p. 144-157)
- “Histories of Sound, Once Removed” , Douglas Kahn, from Wireless Imagination
Today we are focusing on what he calls “inscription” but the rest of the article applies too.
If we have time today we might be able to make cut-up records like Christian Marclay. If that interests you, bring several 12″ records that you are willing to destroy.
- Discuss noise and the way it was rejected and accepted, aestheticized and modified by 20th century artists and composers:
- Explore the percussive symphonic noise of Edgard Varése, the mimicry of Russolo’s Intonarumori, the actualities of Musique Concrete, and John Cage’s embrace of all sounds as inherently musical.
- Explore the physicality of phonography and its potential for modification. (DIY record lathes, sonification of other vibratory phenomena…)
- Break and remake LP records to make fractured aural collages
- Make cassette or 1/4″ tape loops and experiment with the physicality of linear media.
- Discuss how limitations can become assets in recording, embracing noise within process
- Russolo – Intonarumori samples (on ubuweb)
- Varése – “Ionizations” (alternate version on ubuweb)
- Schaeffer – “Etude Aux Chemins De Fer” AKA “Railroad Study” (excerpt on youtube)
- Cage – “Williams Mix” (excerpt on media art net)
- Cage documentary from “4 American Composers” series
(dir. Peter Greenaway, available on ubuweb)
- Christian Marclay mini-documentary and performance on YouTube and article from Frieze Magazine
- Maria Chavez getting amazing variation from one record and a DJ mixer at End Tymes Festival in 2012.
- Walter Kitundu’s instruments that incorporate turntables.
- Yasunao Tone on Wikipedia
- Alyce Santoro’s “sonic fabric” (and a related YouTube video that Pierre Schaeffer might enjoy)
- Laurie Anderson invented the Tape-Bow Violin (with recorded tape in place of horse-hair and a tape-head on the instrument.) Example on ubuweb.
- Steve Reich’s early tape music (“Come Out”, “It’s Gonna Rain”)
- Burroughs and Brion Gysin cut-up recordings (ubuweb)
- John Oswald’s remixed audio book “The Case of Death by Agatha Smith” and “Power”, a 1975 track that combines a charismatic preacher with Led Zeppelin’s “The Wanton Song” (both available on the CD “Plunderphonics 69/96“)
- Automamusic film by Aura Satz (link to excerpt on The Wire magazine website)
- William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops consist of tape loops that gradually deteriorated each time they passed the tape head, the unexpected result of Basinski’s attempt to transfer his earlier recordings to digital format. The completion of the recording coincided with the 9/11 attacks, which Basinski witnessed from his rooftop in Brooklyn.
- Here are two series from RWM MACBA that you need to listen to:
- PROBES: In the late nineteenth century two facts conspired to change the face of music: the collapse of common practice tonality (which overturned the certainties underpinning the world of art music), and the invention of a revolutionary new form of memory, sound recording (which redefined and greatly empowered the world of popular music). A tidal wave of probes and experiments into new musical resources and new organisational practices ploughed through both disciplines, bringing parts of each onto shared terrain before rolling on to underpin a new aesthetics able to follow sound and its manipulations beyond the narrow confines of ‘music’. This series tries analytically to trace and explain these developments, and to show how, and why, both musical and post-musical genres take the forms they do.
- VARIATIONS: The idea of a completely original piece of music is fairly recent. Music was passed on through sound, through generations, even for centuries after the invention of written music. Only in the 14th century did it become standard practice for a composer to sign his name to a piece of music and claim it entirely as his own, giving rise to the cult of the individual composer. But as recording supplanted sheet music in the 20th century, the presence of communal influence became unavoidably obvious once again as composers began to use recordings to make new recordings. We can now hear the presence of more than one voice. And there is a reason why people don’t say they listen to a record – they say that they play a record. From the beginning, recordings have been instruments.
- Until recently, every New Year’s Eve at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, you could experience something akin to “Symphony of the Sirens” thanks to their chief mechanical engineer and his collection of whistles. Seriously!
- Space Calculated in Seconds by Marc Treib. A book describing the Philips pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (focusing on Poeme Electronique and the work of Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis, and Edgard Varése).
- An in-depth blog entry about Poeme Electronique.
- John Cage’s excellent book, Silence.
- Marina Rosenfeld, art-world turntablist and creator of the Sheer Frost Orchestra (a 17-member all-female guitar ensemble that plays solely using nail polish bottles)
- DJ Spooky (aka Paul D. Miller), turntablist and art/pop/academia crossover sensation, who makes connections between avant garde art history and the contemporary art of the remix.
- “A Brief History of Anti-Records and Conceptual Records” essay by Ron Rice (ubuweb)
- Walter Kitundu builds and performs with homemade instruments that often feature embedded turntables
- Graham Dunning’s Mechanical Techno uses modified records as sequencers that trigger physical objects and synths.
- More CD glitch music from OVAL
- Philip Jeck, an early LP-manipulator
- Brooklyn sound artist, DJ, and curator Maria Chavez uses “ruined” records in her performances and collaborations.
- Break Through In Grey Room, an album of Burroughs speeches and cut-ups made with Ian Sommerville.
- “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative” a 1985 manifesto by avant-garde mash-up pioneer John Oswald (wikipedia, MP3s)
“… All popular music (and all folk music, by definition), essentially, if not legally, exists in a public domain. Listening to pop music isn’t a matter of choice. Asked for or not, we’re bombarded by it…. Difficult to ignore, pointlessly redundant to imitate, how does one not become a passive recipient? …”
- Brian Joseph Davis “10 Banned Albums Burned Then Played” (ubuweb)
- interview with Steve Reich about his early tape music (2002)
- “A New Musical Language” (documentary, 1987) about Steve Reich’s music (ubuweb).
- How to make tape loops with standard audio cassettes.
- or buy pre-made “endless cassettes” designed for pre-digital answering machines.
- “Box with the Sound of its own Making” (1961) by Robert Morris
- “Recorded Delivery” (1995) by Janek Schaefer
- Otomo Yoshihide’s “Without Records” installation featuring modified phonographs playing themselves.
- DIY record lathe video on Youtube, showing an easy way to cut record grooves into a discarded CD.
- “How to make a record without prior acoustic information” (using a laser cutter to engrave waveforms in acrylic!)
- The 1980s/90s BBC science show The Secret Life of Machines did an episode on magnetic tape recording (specifically video recording). They demonstrate how to make audio recordings on adhesive tape dusted with rust particles. Seriously!
March 16 – No Class (Spring Break)
Mar 23 - Voice, Surround, Live Recording
Read Before Class
- Description of “I Am Sitting in a Room” from the book “Reflections”, Alvin Lucier
- “The Phonograph’s Horned Mouth”, Charles Grivel, from Wireless Imagination
- Multichannel mixing in Reaper, using the screening room’s built-in surround setup and our loanable USB interfaces.
On your Master Track’s Router:
• Change Track channels to “6”
• Then change the source of your Hardware Output to “Multichannel Source 1-6”
Each track will need the ReaSurround plugin. Add it and configure it:
• Change the format to “5.1 surround”
• Change the input channels to “1” if your track contains a mono file (recommended) or 2 for a stereo file
• Move the dot on the graph to position your sound in the surround field
- Recording live audio with Reaper using the microphone in the sound booth as well as the Zoom H5 recorders.
- Kurt Schwitters epic Dada sound poem Ursonate (1926, recorded 1932) stands on the shoulders of the Italian and Russian Futurists as well as other Dada contemporaries Hugo Ball and Raoul Hausmann.
- Speaking of Hugo Ball, here’s squeaky clean 80’s pop star Marie Osmond introducing a TV audience to Hugo Ball’s sound poetry. (They got the costume wrong. It was actually much cooler.)
- Meredith Monk documentary clip from Four American Composers series (Specifically her discussion of language, her thoughts about “Dolmen Music” as an overheard conversation in another language, archaic community, etc). Another expert in expanded vocal technique is Joan La Barbara
- Sacred Harp Singing is a participatory religious event powered by sound, focusing inward without an audience. We watched a clip from Kevin Barrans explains Sacred Harp singing in class.
- Mantras and chants exist in most religious traditions, using the voice as a tool to bring people together, and/or aid meditation. The architecture of religious spaces often intersects with these goals.
- Tuvan Throat Singing uses unique overtones in the voice to mimic the sounds of nature (wind whistling, birds, crickets, the rhythms of horseback riding). Blind San Francisco blues musician Paul Pena discovered throat singing via a Radio Moscow shortwave broadcast and taught himself the technique. He was invited to Tuva to participate in a throat singing festival, a journey documented in the 1999 film Genghis Blues. YouTube clip.
- Beatboxing imitates the sounds of electronic percussion. “La Di Da Di” by Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh is an early milestone.
- Alvin Lucier’s I’m Sitting In A Room uses the human voice to reveal the voice of the room itself.
- German artist Martin Riches created Talking Machine, a mechanical voice synthesizer with reed organ pipes coupled to wooden resonators. (short youtube demo and its historical ancestor, Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Speaking Machine.)
- Pictures and sounds of the Bell Labs Voder, debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair, created by Homer Dudley.
- The “Speech Songs” of computer music pioneer Charles Dodge, created in the Bell Labs speech synthesis lab in the early 1970s. The lab had previously recorded “Daisy Bell” (Bicycle Built For Two) in 1961, the first song performed by a computer. Arthur C. Clarke witnessed this demonstration and wrote it into HAL’s demise in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- Paul Lansky’s Artifice: On Ferdinand’s Reflection (1975-76) uses LPC speech synth technology. (Hear more on his site.)
- Contemporary musicians like Lesley Flanigan explore the relationships between the voice and space via feedback & sine waves.
- Charmaine Lee uses extended vocal technique, amplification, feedback, and microphones to augment and distort the voice.
- Deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim has a special definition of voice since she speaks with her hands (ASL) and often uses a speaking interpreter to provide her voice in lectures.
- Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet presents each voice of a large choir in their own speaker, foregrounding the individual bodies that make up the experience of sound.
- Contemporary Dutch composer/performer Jaap Blonk works almost exclusively with sound poetry.
- For some historical background on early speech synthesis, read Dennis Klatt’s 1987 “Review of text-to-speech conversion for English“. There are sound samples from the accompanying record too.
- The sound boxes of Aeschylus explores the acoustic effects of ancient Greek dramatic masks, possibly triggering a state of catharsis when activated by certain vocal sounds.
- Composer Carl Stone extends a brief vocal phrase to 15 minutes in his 1986 track Shing Kee, sliding the loop points slowly forward and backward to reveal micro moments.
- We will explore Steve Reich in our week on analog media. His early tape loops deconstruct speech through hypnotic looping.
- People Like Us (appropriative collage artist Vicki Bennett) made a gigantic 3-part exploration of vocal noise called Blather: “a journey through all the kinds of sounds that the mouth makes, whether that be for artistic, comedy, practical, mind-altering, religious or work reasons. “