Research & Resources

The pages of this syllabus are filled with hundreds of “Further Research” links but here are some basics to get you started…

Libraries and Archives

  • UbuWeb
    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”
  • Monoskop
    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
    Do people still go to libraries? Bobst 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.
    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.

Sound Maps

  • The London Sound Survey
    A collection of creative-commons licensed field-recordings from London, organized by Ian Rawes
  • 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.

Radio, Podcasts & Record Labels

  • Framework Radio
    Weekly sound art and field recording radio show (+ podcast)
    An international collective of radio artists. They take turns producing a 28 minute show each week. (info on Wikipedia, listen on
  • Radio MACBA
    An internet radio station founded at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in 2006. Initially an extension the museum’s exhibitions, it has developed into a platform for sonic art programming. They produced Variations, an excellent history of sonic appropriation.
  • 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
  • WFMU
    OK it’s not really sound art, but WFMU is an amazing local freeform radio station
  • Sonic Terrain
    A free net.label dedicated to field recording (now transformed into Sonic Field below)

Current Sound Events & Interesting Links

  • New Music World Events Calendar
    A website for announcements of avant-garde music and sound art
  • 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
  • Rhizome
    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.

Field-Recording & Sound Experimentation Blogs

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.

Books: Autobiographies, Manifestos, Interviews

  • 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, 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)
    Cage’s contextual framework for his music. It’s a whole revolutionary philosophy of listening… and it’s funny too!

Books: Histories of Sound Art

  • 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
  • Harvestworks
    A center for digital arts, sound and music. They have workshops, performances, residencies, etc.
  • 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
  • Roulette
    A pretty big venue that mostly books music and dance
  • The Stone
    An artist-run performance space for experimental music
  • The Kitchen
    One of NYC’s oldest non-profit spaces dedicated to multidisciplinary performance and art
  • Eyebeam
    A major center for art and technology, sometimes sound-related.

Residencies and Exhibition Opportunities

(This isn’t an exhaustive list. Note that some residencies aren’t available to students.)

  • RESartis
    A worldwide network of artist residencies. Get on their mailing list!
  • Art Opportunities (sound art category)
    A global hub for artist opportunities (open calls, residencies, etc)
  • Sound And Music (Opportunities)
    This UK arts organization mostly supports local composers but they have a database of arts opportunities that are often global.
  • Binaura/Nodar
    A sound art residency in rural Portugal
  • MoKS
    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)
  • Q-O2
    A residency program in Brussels, focusing on improvised music and sound art. Be sure to check out their publications too, which are mostly downloadable.
  • Wikipedia’s List of Sound Art Organizations and Festivals

Other Peoples Links


Jan 18 | Intro to Listening

We Will Read In Class

In Class

  • Change class time to 6:30-10:20 (if it’s not already)
  • Discuss everybody’s previous experience with sound
  • Syllabus intro (expectations, grading, attendance)
  • Software suggestions (ProTools, Reaper, etc…)
  • 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?


  • Listen to an assortment of field-recordings, considering them on the basis of Chion’s 3-part taxonomy
  • Introduce a few pieces of sound art and new music
    • “Harmonic Bridge”, Bill Fontana
    • “Into the Labirinth”, Hildegard Westerkamp
    • “He Destroyed Her Image”, Charles Dodge
    • “More From the Case of Death”, John Oswald
    • “Blinking Lights”, Norbert Moslang
    • “Solo for Wounded CD”, Yasunao Tone
    • “Two Listening Rooms / Birmingham”, David Cunningham
    • “Maresia Shadow-Walk”, Viv Corringham
    • “Temporarily Humbolt County”, Firesign Theatre

Further Research

Be sure to check out my Research & Resources page for archives, blogs, websites & books pertaining to sound in art.

… Exercise : “Reduced Listening”


Find a sonic environment with interesting layers of sound. 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.)

  1. Sit for 10 minutes listening, without saying, writing, or recording anything.
  2. Take 10 minutes to list the sources of each sound that makes up your environment (jackhammer, air-conditioner, fish tank)
  3. Take 10 more minutes to listen deeper, ignoring the sources of each sound. List the properties of the sound itself, starting with the total mass and going deeper into whatever threads you discover. Feel free to follow any metaphors, memories, impressions the sound suggests, or explore questions of pitch, loudness, timbre, and duration. Try to be very specific.

That’s 30 min and 2 lists, written down and ready to hand in and discuss for the next class.

Jan 25 | Recordering & Mics | Listening Due

Read Before Class


In Class

Listening Exercise due.

  • “Cage Talk” (introducing facilities, 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)
  • Explore some different contexts in which recordings are situated (via Chris Watson, Steven Feld, Hildegard Westerkamp)
  • 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!
  • During cleanup, practice the ancient Zen art of cable-coiling!


  • Photos and recordings from early recording devices.

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…

Melodian Toy example

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!


Paris Subway Station example

WAV file: uncompressed original, with dense crowd noise and occasional sharp bursts

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!


Further Research

… Exercise: “Recording 101”


Engagement with your medium will define the conceptual scope of your practice. (In other words, your art will suck if you don’t know how to make things.) In this exercise you will learn how to capture environments in sound.

Submit 3 tracks:

  1. A radio-style voice-recording (without using a professional vocal booth).
    It should be close and clear, without ambiance – the classic disembodied voice. I want to hear the voice and nothing else, so 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!)
  2. A complete soundscape from the “reduced listening” assignment.
    Listen through the microphone while recording. It hears differently than your ears, so you need to be a translator. Try to capture the interesting elements you wrote about, the tension between the sounds. I’m listening for distinct elements in different planes of depth (foreground and background layers at minimum). What makes it more than your average boring “noise”?  This can be difficult!
  3. An isolated element from the “reduced listening” assignment.
    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 it doesn’t, try again.)

I will collect 3 labeled files from you in class – not via network or email!
(We probably won’t listen in class, but I’ll give you written feedback.)

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • For this exercise, do not use the (dynamic) mic included in your “Sound Kit.” Borrow a condenser mic instead. Dynamic mics are OK for speech, but not for critical details. If you use the dynamic mic I will hear it and ask you to do it again.
  • Most of our mics come with mounts that isolate them from your hands, but you still need to move quietly and carefully to avoid rumbling sounds.
  • 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.
  • We haven’t covered editing yet, so just download your tracks from the recorder onto a computer and bring them to class on a portable drive, CD, etc.)

Feb 01 | Contact Mics & Installations | Recordings Due

Read Before Class


In Class

Recording exercise due.

Bring $5 (for contact mic parts) and a resonant object.

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 oscilloscope was s(M)exoscope . The spectrum analyzer (MAnalyer) and tone generator (MOscillator) were from the MFree effects bundle. The spectrograph was a built-in Reaper plugin called gfxspectrograph.)
  • Introduce the installation equipment available from Dan in the editing room (players, amps, speakers, etc) and set up an in-class installation with amplified contact-mics.


  • 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.

Further Research

  • “Soundings” by Gary Hill
  • “The Queen of the South” by Alvin Lucier
  • In class today we used a subwoofer driver to vibrate a tray of water to explore cymatic phenomena. There are special drivers called “tactile transducers” (AKA “bass shakers” or “aural exciters”) 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.

… Performance & Project 1 Prompt

Class Performance – Feb 22

The first half of class will be devoted to audio performances. Each student needs to prepare a short performative piece that utilizes some of the techniques and ideas we have covered so far. We will look for opportunities to link together different activities into larger collaborative improvisations.

This is a moment to participate, explore, and try new things, but please be prepared. (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.

Looking for inspiration? Peruse the “Further Research” sections of each syllabus page. We will record everything and make the sounds available for …

Project 1 – Due March 8

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.)

Feb 08 | Light, Radio, Synesthesia | Editing

Read Before Class


In Class

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.

  • 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.
  • Go into the editing room to introduce audio editing in Reaper (+ details like reserving Media Drives & the sound booth)
  • Introduce Cooper’s sound effects library.


In class today we introduced Reaper, a multi-track 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 multi-track 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.)
• I suggest downloading the 32-bit version, not the 64-bit version (for plugin compatibility reasons)
• 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. Here’s a 3-part guide (from 2013) to get you started.
• 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
  • Historical Transmission Works, as listed by
  • 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
  • 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: If you can find an old Belkin Tunecast II then these step-by-step instructions might be handy! (A newer version, the Belkin Tunecast III, is hackable too.)
  • 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
  • Radio Basics (how to build a simple AM radio & limited transmitter, from
  • 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

  • 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.)
  • 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
  • short docu spot on Paul DeMarinas from KQED TV
  • “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 (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 and co-founded 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 15 | Circuit-Bending & Electronics

Read Before Class

Optional reading

In Class

Bring an electronic sound toy to mangle and cajole into an otherworldy contraption.

  • Battery-powered only. Nothing that plugs into the wall.
  • Older is better: Do some searching at the thrift store because modern toys are often un-hackable.
  • If it’s really boring (like a toy phone that just beeps) you probably can’t do much with it.
  • Things that play a variety of recorded sound-effects are often the most fruitful to hack.
  • Complex devices like professional keyboards are often un-hackable, but cheap or old keyboards are often very hackable.
  • Risks are encouraged and some failure is expected.


  • We will introduce basic electronics (capacitors, resistors, potentiometers, switches, buttons, etc.) via circuit-bending (modifying existing electronic objects) and building audio oscillators whose properties are controlled by light, physical touch, graphite lines, etc.


  • 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 member Igor Vamos later co-founded the Yes Men.)
  • David Tudor pieces
  • Peter Vogel’s sculptural circuits (via 2011 documentary The Sound of Shadows)
  • Léon Theremin’s eponymous instrument that sprang from the imagination of radio. (Aura Satz video featuring Lydia Kavina, theremin virtuosa and grandniece of Léon Theremin.)

Further Research – Artists and Musicians

Further Research – Electronics Resources

  • Radio Shack used to be the place to get basic electronic parts. Now they are few and far between. Consider these alternatives…
  • In NYC we’re lucky to have Tinkersphere (a short walk 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.
  • Argo Electronics is one of the last remaining Canal St. surplus dealers. Give them a look.
  • GetLoFi is a circuit-bending site with excellent kits and advice.
  • Beavis Audio Research (offline in 2015. RIP!) is similar to GetLoFi, with an emphasis on 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 Handmade Electronic Music (today’s reading, BTW)
  • 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 a soldering station from Circuit Specialists. Theirs are temperature controlled, so they warm-up fast and never overheat. They are designed to be repaired, and parts are available. 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.
  • 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.  (PAiA electronics offers something similar: free plans or a simple kit that can be constructed without even soldering anything!)
  • 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.)
  • 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.

Feb 22 | Class Performance | More Editing

In Class

Prepare your part for the class performance today.
Bring laptops for the editing workshop.

Everything will be recorded from different perspectives so we have a library of sounds to use for your upcoming project.

  • After the performance we will go to the editing lab and introduce advanced editing in Reaper: signal-processing fundamentals (EQ, compression/expansion, delay effects, noise reduction, pitch and time) and surround panning & export.

Further Research

  • Regarding signal processing and compression, see the Wikipedia page on The Loudness War (the trend to compress albums in the mastering stage, solely to increase volume rather than enhance the music). A very high-profile casualty is the Metallica album “Death Magnetic” which was so compressed and distorted that people complained, especially when they discovered better-sounding tracks inside the Guitar Hero video game! Here’s a YouTube video comparing the CD and Guitar Hero versions.
  • Interview with Andrea Parkins about her work (which includes improvised sound performance)

Mar 01 | Noise & Music | Analog Media

Read Before Class


In Class

Bring several 12″ records that you are willing to destroy and remake.

Look in thrift stores like the Salvation Army near Cooper. They have records in the basement.

  • 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’s bio page from his label, Asphodel (includes a sample of his “wounded CD” music.)
  • 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)

Further Research

Mar 08 | CRIT Project 1

We will critique the first project today.

… Project 2 Prompt

Start thinking 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

! Mar 15 | No Class This Week

Nobody home

Mar 22 | Soundwalks & Interventions

Read Before Class

In Class

Class does not meet at Cooper tonight! Instead we will have a night of soundwalks and sonic interventions in public space. You will need a smartphone or mobile device. If you don’t have one, share with a friend. Charge your phone and bring headphones!

“Her Long Black Hair” – Janet Cardiff

“Jungle-ized” – Soundwalk Collective


  • After the Cardiff piece we will walk through Times Square and check out the Jungle-ized mobile phone soundwalk by Soundwalk Collective.
  • Download the app in advance over WiFi because it’s huge (400MB)! There is an 80MB “LITE” version with lower quality soundfiles if you’re running out of phone space or bandwidth.
  • The walk covers the area between 43rd and 47th streets along 7th Ave and Broadway.
  • Each street represents a different time of day (north=later)

“Times Square” – Max Neuhaus


Further Research

Mar 29 | The Voice | Proposals Due

Read Before Class


In Class

Written proposals due today for the second project.

  • Bring a short description of one or more ideas for your project.
  • Present your idea(s) to the class to get feedback.

Today’s topics:

  • Discuss last week’s sound walks.
  • How have artists used the voice within & outside of language?
  • What does the separation of body and voice do to our concept of the self?
  • How does sound effect physiology? Does the body have a voice?


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • 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.)

Further Research

  • Contemporary Dutch composer/performer Jaap Blonk works almost exclusively with sound poetry.
  • For some historical background on speech synthesis, read Dennis Klatt’s History of Speech Synthesis, now archived by the Smithsonian. It’s really badly organized, so you might want to cut straight to the sound samples which are archived here.
  • 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.

Apr 05 | Acoustic Ecology & Activism

Read Before Class



In Class


  • Spanish field recordist Francisco Lopez: “The move away from the representational and documentative does not essentially depend on transformation of sounds but fundamentally on the listening mode we carry out,” Listen to La Selva.
  • Leah Barclay’s River Listening project involves immersive community engagement through interactive listening labs, field recording, sound maps, performances and installations to experiment with digital technologies and creativity in understanding river health and aquatic biodiversity. Here are some example sounds from a GPS soundwalk that took place in Brisbane, Australia.
  • Jana Winderen’s compositions using underwater recordings and ultrasound
  • David Dunn’s “The Sound of Light in Trees” (recordings of bark beetles)
  • Listening to Disaster: Our Relationship to Sound in Danger, a wonderful blog post from Maile Colbert –full of field interviews with artists and acoustic ecologists such as Marc Behrens, Andrea Polli, Bernie Krause, and Peter Cusack–as well as a podcast produced by Eric Leonardson, Director of the World Listening Project. I’m particularly impressed by the Bernie Krause before/after recordings.
  • Chris Watson – TV interview (10min) & tracks from “Outside the Circle of Fire” CD. (raw recordings presented as-is)
  • Steven Feld recordings from “Voices of the Rainforest” CD (layered recordings edited “dialogically” with participants)
  • Hildegard Westerkamp’s “Kits Beach Soundwalk” (raw recordings are brought into studio, processed, recontextualized)
  • IM Rawes has recorded an enormous catalog of the sounds of London. The London Sound Survey includes sound maps, archives, and historical data.
  • Framework Radio: Weekly sound art and field recording radio show (+ podcast) This one is a good example of the breadth of field-recording based composition (ie not just the sounds of animals.)
  • Ultra-Red is a collective dedicated to audio art and political engagement. They produce Militant Sound Investigations where listening and recording become tools for social struggle:

    Despite the longing for technology to provide a disinterested position, the microphone does not stand apart from the struggle and represent it dispassionately. Rather, it and the listening it organizes is a part of the production of the conditions of struggle. Listening is a site for the organization of politics. To help conceptualize this process, the formulation can be written: sound field + organizing = soundscape.

  • Christopher DeLaurenti: Towards Activist Sound (The Wire magazine) includes audio clips
  • If we have time: Loss of context: How did Hugo Zemp’s Solomon Islands recordings become a hit for Deep Forest and later for Jan Garbarek?

Further Research

Apr 12 | Guest Artist | Interactivity & Process

Read Before Class

In Class

  • We will be joined by a guest for the first half of class
  • Discuss different flavors of interactivity. Try basic software (my applications, etc) and hardware (MP3 Trigger)
  • Discuss how audio can trace processes or generative systems. (Conway’s game of life…)
  • Aleatoric composition, indeterminacy…


  • Clinamen and From Here To Ear by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot
  • Zimoun
  • Harry Bertoia’s Sonambient metal sculptures
  • Mileece creates participatory performances where plants generate sounds via electrodes that monitor their electrical activity.
  • Pinuccio Sciola’s “singing rock” limestone sculptures
  • Alvin Lucier “Music for Solo Performer” video (from “OHM+” DVD or seek to 57:40 in this ubuweb video)

Further Research

  • Susan Hiller’s Witness (2000) draws a comparison between religious visions and UFO sightings. Hundreds of tiny speakers hang from the ceiling, playing audio from witnesses of UFO activity. Also see this behind-the-scenes video from Tate.

Apr 19 | CRIT Project 2 (week 1)

No readings for today.

Apr 26 | CRIT Project 2 (week 2)

No readings for today.

May 03 | Dream House (field-trip)

Read Before Class

  • “1. Notes on the Continuous Periodic Composite Sound Waveform Environment…” (p 5-16) from Selected Writings by Lamonte Young and Marian Zazeela (previously available on ubuweb but apparently not any more)

In Class

  • Meet at the normal time and place.
  • We will use my Pitch Playground application (made with MAX/MSP) to experiment with aural interference patterns. (It generates multiple sine waves and calculates the “difference tones” produced by different frequency combinations.) Then we will go to Tribeca to visit the Dream House, a continuous sound and light environment created by composer Lamonte Young and sculptor Marian Zazeela.
  • The Dream House is located at 275 Church Street between Franklin St & White St
    • Ring the buzzer for MELA Foundation / Dream House
    • Suggested $5 donation for admission (It’s run by volunteers and they’re amazing!)
    • You will need to remove your shoes, so wear socks. Don’t worry if your feet stink, there will be incense burning.
    • Some people react strangely to aural interference patterns, so feel free to leave if you feel light-headed.

Further Research

  • If you’re interested in the Dream House math, here’s a dense quote from the MELA Foundation:
    Young’s sound environment is composed of frequencies tuned to the harmonic series between 288 and 224, utilizing numbers with factors of only 9, or those primes or octave transpositions of smaller primes that fall within this range.  The interval 288/256 reduces to a 9/8 interval as does the interval 252/224.  Thirty-two frequencies satisfy the above definition, of which seventeen fall within the range of the upper, and fourteen fall within the range of the lower of these two symmetrical 9/8 intervals.  Young has arranged these thirty-one frequencies in a unique constellation, symmetrical above and below the thirty-second frequency, the center harmonic 254 (the prime 127 x 2).
  • Drone music pioneer Phil Niblock
    “Niblock constructs big 24-track digitally-processed monolithic microtonal drones. The result is sound without melody or rhythm. Movement is slow, geologically slow. Changes are almost imperceptible, and his music has a tendency of creeping up on you.” (from his website)
  • Maryanne Amacher made very loud architectural sound installations that exploited psychoacoustic effects to create what she called “third ear sounds” in the listener’s brain. (See NewMusicBox interview.) She explored audio telepresence in the 1960s with her “City Links” project that brought 5 live microphone feeds into one space using high-quality telephone links. (also see “Radio Net” (1977) by Max Neuhaus, Soundbridge (1987) by Bill Fontana.)
  • On the subject of microtonal tuning systems, check out the delightful music of Harry Partch. He spent his early years as a hobo and his later years as an eccentric musician, composer, and instrument builder. A good intro is the track “The Instruments of Harry Partch” on the “Enclosures 7” DVD where he explains and demonstrates several of his instruments. Also see the 2002 documentary “The Outsider: The Story of Harry Partch” (ubuweb).
  • “In Search of Lost Sounds” from Slate Magazine is a fascinating article  about the voicing of modern pianos compared to the instruments that were used in the 19th century by well-known composers. (sound samples included)