Music and Mind

How are we able to distinguish instruments, timbres and rhythms from the intertwined sonic stream presented by the world?  How do we organize these elements in time to create rhythms, melodies, phrases and pieces?  How do perception and memory interact to allow us navigate a musical work?  We will explore these questions by considering the cognitive and perceptual processes that shape our musical experience.  Topics will include event distinction, temporal perception, hierarchical organization, perceptual grouping, expertise, memory and categorization.  We will illustrate these ideas in musical contexts by listening to a variety of musical works.  We will consider how psychological principles are applied to music technologies, such as compression algorithms, mixing methodologies and the field of music information retrieval.  We will consider experiments that focus on some of these topics to further our understanding about how we experience music.

Making Music with Machines

The combination of music and robotics offers exciting possibilities for artistic and technical innovation.  While much of the development in this field has been the result of recent efforts, the history of automatic mechanical instruments reaches back centuries.  We will consider this history by looking at past designs and listening to the music that has been composed using such instruments.  We will also survey modern machines, which have increasingly moved towards robotics with the integration of computer-based processing and sensing capabilities.  We will entertain technical and aesthetic questions relating to these systems and their musical output.  We will do all of this with our mind open to the question of how we can design new machines to make new kinds of music.

Topics in Digital Sound

Digitial technologies have meaningfully changed the way that composers, producers and musicians develop and express their ideas.  This course explores the theory behind and use of some of these technologies.  In regard to theory, topics covered include the physical principles of sound and its transmission, waveforms, noise, digital encoding, and sampling.  In regard to practice, students will learn how to use modern digital audio technologies in their our own music-making activities by building technique and considering how digitial production environments allow us to shape and represent our ideas.  The course will survey a vareity of software environments to show the different kinds of functionality that is available, which will allow us to highlight relative advantages and disadvantages between platforms.  Listening will be an important part of these explorations, as the ideas and techniques discussed will be illustrated in the context of a variety of musical examples.  This course will be project-intensive as we put theory into practice by making music!


Producer as Composer

In this course, each student will produce, compose, record and mix an EP of his own music (three to four songs).  In each class, we will devote time to higher-level ideas involved in music production and composition, specific production techniques, and project presentations.  We will consider what a music producer does and what a composer does through reading, discussion and listening.  We will explore the spaces where the producer and the composer overlap in the context of modern music making.  We will consider the aesthetics of modern recordings in a variety of genres so that our own musical choices will be more thoughtful.  Because it is assumed that students have familiarity with at least one DAW platform, we will spend time furthering our abilities and knowledge in specific musical and production areas such as composing rhythms, form, EQ, compression, and sound synthesis.  Ultimately, students will use this information to compose and produce and EP of their own music.  This will involve composing, orchestrating, arranging performers, recording, sound design, mixing, and mastering.  Each student will present her project each week, which will then be discussed by the class.  In seven weeks, students will complete their own EP.

Machine Rhythms

In this course, we will explore rhythms produced by machines.  We will consider how machine rhythms differ from those produced by human performers.  We will consider how particular technologies have expanded rhythmic possibilities and inspired artists to create novel musical works and styles.  We will approach these topics by listening to, talking about, analyzing, and composing rhythms.  When we listen to, talk about, and analyze rhythms we will ask questions such as: how can we describe rhythms using concepts from Western music theory such as beat, tempo, and meter? How does technology allow us to organize elements in time, and thus create rhythms?  How do these organizational capabilities differ from that of human performers?  How do we perceive rhythms made by machines?  How do technological tools shape rhythmic expression?  We will explore these questions in a variety of musical contexts in order to illustrate how rhythm can define the character of individual works and musical genres.  In our compositional activities, we will use music software to compose original rhythmic material that builds upon the knowledge gained from our listenings and analyses.  We will explore how we can use technological tools to create rhythms.  The insight gained from these activities will be applied in a final project that can be either a rhythmic analysis of a musical work(s) or a composition.

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