Music 25: introduction to sonic arts

Course Overview

What is the relationship between technology and aesthetics? Since antiquity, composers have incorporated new tools to create unique and original artworks. This course will explore the interaction between sound, art, and technology in the recent past. Starting with the birth of electricity, Futurism, and Dada, students will examine the practices and innovations that led to the most current ideas about sonic art, and from here develop contemporary analytical methods for exploring and creating music. Students will be expected to develop a rounded twenty-first-century musicianship through the weekly Tonmeister labs, and the course will culminate in the public performance of an original sonic arts composition utilizing techniques and aesthetic principles learned throughout the course. Students will be assigned weekly reading, listening, and sonic composition exercises, using commercial music production tools. 


  1. Three creative assignments using the software we will study
  2. Short written reflections on listening and writing assignments
  3. Enthusiastic class participation

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course you will be able to:

1. Exhibit basic literacy in sonic and musical notation.

2. Understand key concepts pertaining to audio signals, technology, and acoustics.

3. Program / create music using common tools for music production and analysis.

4. Describe Sonic Arts in broader historical and cultural frameworks.

5. Compose and perform original sound art.

Course Schedule


Week 1: Noise and Technology

1/5 Tuesday: What is Sound Art? (Good question)


1/7 Thursday:

Reading: Luigi Russolo, “The Art of Noises Futurist Manifesto”, Henry Cowell “The Joys of Noise

Listening: Henry Cowell, The Banshee (1925)

IN CLASS: Russolo

Introduction to Audacity


Week 2: The Soundscape

1/12 Tuesday

Reading: R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape, Parts III and IV; John Cage, “Credo, the future of music”, Douglas Kahn, Noise Water Meat, pp. 161 – 165;

Listening: R. Murray Schafer, Vanscape; Toshiya Tsunoda Small Sand-Stream on a Beach

Upload Listening and Reading Reflection Response 1 to Canvas before class

Audacity lesson: cutting and arranging.


1/14 Thursday

Reading: Barry Truax, “Sound, Listening and Place: The aesthetic dilemma”, Organized Sound, Vol. 17, 03, December 2012, pp 193 – 201;

Listening: Cage, William Mix

PROJECT 1 DUE Soundscape. Upload your visual score (either pdf of jpg) and reflection paper to Canvas by Wednesday at 11:59 pm.


Week 3: Musique Concrete

1/19 Tuesday:

Reading: Eric Drott, “The Politics of Preque Rien”, in Sound Commitments: Avant-Garde Music and the Sixties, edited by Robert Adlington, pp. 145 – 164.

Listening: Luc Ferrari, Preque Rien No. 1

Audacity: Recording techniques.

Upload Listening and Reading Reflection Response 2 to Canvas before class


1/21 Thursday:

Reading: Pierre Schaeffer, “Acousmatics”, Don Ihde, “The Auditory Dimension”

Listening: Pierre Henry, “Variations pur une porte et un soupir” (1963).


Week 4: Amplification

1/26 Tuesday:

Reading: Seth Kim-Cohen In the blink of an ear: toward a non-cochlear sonic art, pp. 1 – 30.

Listening: Muddy Waters, I feel like going home; Steve Reich, Pendulum Music; Hildegard Westerkamp, Into the Labyrinth; Berio, Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) 

Project 2 Workshop and Critique


1/28 Thursday: Microphones

Reading: Friedrich Kittler, “The Gramophone”, in The Sound Studies Reader; Mara Mills, “Media and Prosthesis”

Listening: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Microphonie 1; Velvet Underground live performance (

Download Ableton Live


Week 5: Space

2/2 Tuesday:

Reading: John Durham Peters, “The Telephonic Uncanny and the Problem of Communication”; Michele Hilmes, “Radio and the Imagined Community”; Brandon Labelle, Acoustic Territories, excerpts

Listening: Xenakis, Pithoprakta; Marianne Amacher, Head Rhythm 1;

Upload Listening and Reading Reflection 3 to Canvas


2/4 Thursday:

Reading: Dick Higgins, “A Child’s History of Fluxus”, Allan Kaprow “How to Make a Happening”

Listening: Lamonte Young, The Well Tuned Piano; Nam June Paik, TV Bra for Living Sculpture (; Gyorgi Ligeti, Ramifications;


Week 6: Synthesis

2/9 Tuesday

Reading: Tara Rodgers, “’What, for me, constitutes life in a sound?’ Electronic Sounds as Lively and Differentiated Individuals” (American Quarterly, Sep 2011, Vol. 63(3), pp. 509-530); Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, “Shaping the Synthesizer”

Listening: Jonathan Harvey, Mortuous Plango, Vivos Voce; Pauline Oliveros, I of IV; Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gesang der Jungling; Kraftwerk, Trans Europe Express (1977)

Upload Listening and Reading Reflection 4 to Canvas


2/11 Thursday

Viewing: Mauricio Kagel, Ludwig Van (1969)

In class performances of Pauline Oliveros, Sonic Meditations, Carol Erion, Humming and Whooping.


Week 7: Listening

2/16 Tuesday

Reading: Michel Chion, Audio-vision, Part 1

Listening: Merzbow, Wood Pecker; Throbbing Gristle, Industrial Intro; Steven Takasugi, “Letters from Prison”, Matmos, “California Rhinoplasty” 

Project 3 due (In Class Happening)


2/18 Thursday

Reading: Don Ihde, “The Auditory Dimension”

Listening: Phillip Glass, Glassworks; Laurie Anderson “O Superman”; Steve Reich “Come Out”;


Week 8: Bodies and Voices

2/23 Tuesday

Reading: TBA

Listening: Robert Ashley, Perfect Lives, part 1; Art Ensemble of Chicago, TBA (

Rick Burkhardt, Great Hymn for Thanksgiving (

Upload Listening and Reading Reflection 5 to Canvas


2/25 Thursday

Reading: TBA

Listening: Alvin Lucier, “I am sitting in a room”; Pamela Z, TBA


Week 9: Final Projects

3/1 Tuesday

Workshop Final Projects


3/3 Thursday

Workshop Final Projects


Week 10: Final Performance and Workshop TBA


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