Randall Packer - Course Information

Sound Art

IM 230A / 5230A
Syllabus - Spring, 2004
Maryland Institute College of Art
Tuesday, 4:00 - 10:00 PM
BC206, Brown Center

Randall Packer, Instructor
Web site: http://www.zakros.com/
On-line course information: http://www.zakros.com/mica


When we consider art from an historical perspective there are always new concepts to communicate and new paradigms to define. Artists move across the boundaries of discipline without shifting their identities. While artistic genres continue to evolve, nothing is lost; conceptual approaches are reapplied and new ones introduced. In this course, we will explore sound art as a complex multidimensional medium situated in both physical and virtual space. The main objective is to develop the appreciation and application of the many ways that musical composers, sound artists, and visual artists have conceived of and developed sound as a unique and powerful artistic medium.

Course Description

Sound Art exposes students to the evolution of sound art and avant-garde musical technique, from the early 20th Century to the present. The course introduces artistic strategies, narrative structures and compositional methodologies for the creation of interactive sound installation, sound sculpture, networked media, and live performance projects. The emphasis of the course is on real-time systems of creating and generating sound, using the MAX/MSP object oriented programming environment for the creation of interactive projects.

The course will cover key genres of sound art and musical composition that include: noise art, musique concrete, sound poetry, serialism, minimalism, biofeedback, etc. There will also be an extensive survey of contemporary composers and sound artists, as well as those artists whose work demonstrates a recent trend among visual and performance artists to embrace the artistic medium of sound.

Required reading and listening

Selection of key essays and works by pioneering composers and sound artists, as well as contemporary media artists.


Informal presentations in class; end of the semester performances and installations; documentation of sound projects on the Web.

Max / MSP

Max/MSP is a set of graphical programming tools that has a broad range of artistic application from electronic music to media installations. Originally developed at IRCAM (the computer music institute at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris) in the late 1980s, Max / MSP has since formed the basis for a surging interest in interactive computer music, and more recently has been used by sound and visual artists interested in its capacity for real-time live performance and interactive installation environments. The software is sold and developed by Cycling 74.

Week 1 : 1/20 - Overture

    Context – Review of course objectives, concepts, readings, listening/viewing assignments, and projects.

    An overview of sound as art; interactive, real-time computer music; my own sound projects for installation, live performance, and the Web: Arches, Mori (patch screenshots), Media Deconstruction Kit

    Lab - Overview of the Lab facility, including: the Macintosh Sound Control Panel; audio input/output; headphones; recording and storage devices, software

    Overview of the Max authoring environment; basic objects, and an introduction to real-time signal processing. Max / MSP Tutorials: Max: 1 - 5 (messages, printing, bang, numbers, metronome).

Assignments for Week 2


Reading: "Art of Noises" by Futurist Luigi Russolo

Listening: Selection from Playlist:

"Risveglio di una Citta" by Luigi Russolo

Writing: Describe how the artist uses noise as a means of artistic expression. What does the piece evoke? How is it shaped? How would you describe it texturally? What is the dramatic effect? Is it imitating nature, technology, etc?

Lab - Review Max. Tutorials: Max : 1 -5

Week 2 : 2/3 - The Art of Noise

    Context – Noise as material for sound composition. Discussion of Luigi Russolo, his manifesto "The Art of Noises," and his invention of Futurist noise instruments.

    Overview of basic principles in sound acoustics. Glossary of terms.

    Lab - Max / MSP Tutorials: Max : 7 - 10 (computation, data flow, controllers); MSP: 1, (oscillators, frequency, amplifier); 9a, 10a, 11 (synthesis: amplitude and frequency modulation)

Assignments for Week 3


Reading: "The Liberation of Sound" by Edgard Varèse
Listening: Selections from Playlist: Edgard Varèse:

Poéme Électronique

Writing: Write a brief summary on Poéme Électronique.

Lab - Review tutorials.

Week 3 : 2/10 - Zones of Intensities and Textures

    Context – Methodologies, approaches, and technique in the organization of sound. Discussion of the ideas and work of Edgard Varèse. Graphical representation of sound in musical composition.

    Lab - Overview of MIDI and Quicktime Music: History and use of MIDI; Quicktime Music & General MIDI; OMS; MIDI commands: note, velocity, channels, program, controllers, pitch bend; Max objects: keyboard, makenote, sliders, dials.

    We will work with Pete Yandell's SimpleSynth. Download and burn on your CD so you can bring to class. Launch the application, set the MIDI source to "from Max / MSP 1" and run in the background while you are using Max. This will give you a synthesizer to use with the qtmusic object.

    Additional object for assignment: random

    Contemporary work : Golan Levin, Dialtones: a Telesymphony

Assignments for Week 4


Listening: Selections from Playlist: John Cage:

Cartridge Music

Writing: Write a brief summary on Cartridge Music.

Lab - Assignment 1: Create an algorithmic composition in Max / MSP using simplesynth which incorporates real-time control of pitch (note), amplitude (loudness) spatialization (pan) and timbre (instrument). Use techniques of indeterminacy: metro, random, slider range, together with user interaction. The goal of the assignment is to combine algorithmic processes with interactivity to achieve unpredictable, indeterminate musical events.

Week 4 : 2/17 - Indeterminacy

    Context - Discussion of the music of John Cage, prepared piano, chance composition, and indeterminate structures in the composition of sound and silence.1.

    Lab - Max / MSP tutorials: Max - using the Mac keyboard (20); send and receive (24); and mousestate 39a.

Assignments for Week 5

Lab - Complete algorithmic composition project

Reading: "History of Experimental Music" by John Cage
Listening: Selections from Playlist: Karlheinz Stockhausen,

Studie II

Week 5 : 2/24 - Space-time Continuum

    Context – Complete discussion of John Cage: indeterminacy, chance and sound.

    Discussion of the electronic music of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, his use of formal techniques including serialism, pointillism, etc. in the organization of musical time and timbre. Of particular interest is the relationship between musical time and space, as demonstrated in the composers works that employ spatial dimension as an integral component of the work. We will also look at how the composer represents sound in time in electronic music through the graphical score. Stockhausen home page for more information on the composer.

    Presentation – Algorithmic composition projects.

    "Very Special Guest," a graphic realization of Stockhausen "Studie II" created in Max / MSP, located in the examples folder of the Max / MSP folder.

    Lab - Groove object:

Assignments for Week 6


Reading: Interview with David Tudor by Teddy Hultberg
Optional Reading: Interview with Karlheinz Stockhausen (introduction) by Teddy Hultberg
Listening: Selections from Playlist: David Tudor


Writing: Write a brief summary of Rainforest

Lab - Generate a graphic score (look at the Varèse and Stockhausen for reference), that suggests duration, amplitude, frequency, timbre, stereo positioning, etc., and the change over time of these elements. Scan the graphic score and save as a pict file. Follow your projected graphic score to generate a real-time performance in Max / MSP. You may indicate time-points, such as in the Stockhausen score, or, you may create a performance that is scalable in time, in which a mark can last as long as you want, so long as you follow its attributes, and durations are scaled consistently. Indicate any special instructions you wish. Your Max / MSP patch needs to be designed so that you can control all the parameters mentioned above. You may construct your patch using the objects we have discussed so far: synthesis, quicktime music, etc.

Week 6 : 3/2 - Real-time Interaction

    Context – Discussion of the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen and David Tudor and his investigation of real-time performance interaction, installation environments and improvisatory techniques.

    Listening: Kontakte, by Karlheinz Stockhausen
    Viewing: Variations V, by John Cage, performed by David Tudor

    Lab – Delay & feedback (tutorial 28). Work on graphical score / real-time performance projects.

Assignments for Week 7

Lab – Complete graphical score / real-time performance projects.

Week 7: 3/23 - Real-time Interaction

    Presentation – Graphical score / real-time performance projects.

Assignments for Week 8

Remix project - For our purposes, remixing is a process of appropriation, reuse, and transformation. In the case of sound, audio is taken from its original context (recordings, television, environment, etc.) and placed into a new context where it is transformed according to the artist's specifications. For this project, choose sound material from any source you like, bring the sounds into max, fragment them for real-time manipulation, and generate a new "sonic context," as articulated through a live performance. You may choose spoken text, that is re-oriented to change its meaning; you may take recorded music, and "remix" it beyond recognition; you may take sounds from the environment, remixing to create an "imaginary landscape," or anything else you can imagine. We will use exclusively the Groove~ object in Max / MSP that allows for changes in speed, direction, amplitude, start/stop point, looping, etc.

Reading: "Warhol's American Dream" an essay on a remix by DJ Spooky
Listening: Peter Trieb, Bits & Pieces; Yeagh, Remix of Howard Dean; other Howard Dean remixes; Pharmakon.t, Amerika Phones Home (Trace Reddell / DJRabbi),
Writing: Write a brief summary of reading.

Week 8 : 3/30 - Remixing

    Context – Influenced by DJ and Hip-hop culture, as well as the hypermediated technologies of the Web, sound artists such as DJ Spooky, Peter Trieb, and others are sampling and remixing found material.

    Lab - Max / MSP Tutorials: Max - 32, 39 (tables and mouse control) MSP - chorus and flange (effects processing)

Assignments for Week 9

Lab - Complete remix projects.

Week 9 : 4/5 - Remixing

    Presentation – Remix projects.

    Lab - Max / MSP tutorials: Max - 24, 26, 27 (distributing max messages); MSP - delay (effects processing)

Final Project Assignment

Final Project - It is up to each student to determine a final project to be created in Max / MSP. Using methodologies and tools as introduced in the course, your project should fall into one of two general areas:

(1) Live performance - this involves creating a real-time composition, without or without score, that will be performed live. The key is determining an overall shape and general duration, in addition to building a user interface that allows you to effectively perform the work according to sound structures, processes, etc., that are programmed into the composition.

(2) Installation - you may also create an installation piece that does not necessarily have a set "shape" or duration, but rather operates continuously in relation to the physical space and the orientation of the viewer. Given resources, we will setup one space with a stereo sound system and a Macintosh computer and rotate all the installation projects. If the piece is interactive, you will be responsible for designing and finding resources. The goal would be to find interesting ways to engage the viewer in the provided space, through the location of sound, construction of narrative, transformation of the space, etc.

Develop final project proposal.

Week 10 : 4/12 - Spatial Transformation

    Context – Artists are using sound to bring about the transformation of our experience of space and architecture. Installations and performance works by Pauline Oliveros, Janet Cardiff, Bill Fontana, Ron Kuivala and Christina Kubisch have been inserted into public and museum spaces to alter our perception of those spaces, evoking memory, dream, and emotion.

    Discuss final project proposals.

    Lab - Recording aiff files in MSP with sfrecord~.

Assignments for Week 11


Reading: "Location/Dislocation"
Listening: Selection from Playlist: [User] Silophone
Writing: Write a brief summary of Silophone

Week 11 : 4/19 - Networked Sound

    Context – Discussion of music that transcends boundaries of space and time, bridging real and virtual space. Projects will be discussed including Telemusic by Randall Packer, Global String by Atau Tanaka, and Ping by Chris Chafe and Greg Niemeyer.

    Lab - Streaming media: Realmedia, Quicktime streaming, encoding, live broadcasting, etc.

    Work on final project.

Assignments for Week 12


Reading: "Music and the Internet" by Josephine Bosma from the Web journal "Crossfade."
Listening: Selections from Playlist: Atau Tanaka / Sensor Band, Global String
Writing: Write a brief summary of Global String

Lab - Work on final project.

Week 12 : 4/26 - Topic tba

    Lab - Work on final project.

Assignments for Week 13

Lab - Complete final project.

Week 13 : 5/3 - On-line Presentation

Assignments and Grading

Class Discussion and Presentation (20%)

Attendance (on time) is mandatory and will be incorporated into the grade. Each student is required to participate in class discussion focusing on readings and listening assignments.

Weekly assignments (30%)

Projects are assigned each week, in which students experiment with new concepts and techniques introduced in class, as well as write short summaries on reading and listening assignments. These projects are not intended to be finished work, but rather research-oriented exploration and aesthetic/technical practice in sound composition.

Midterm and Final Projects (50%)

Midterm and final projects will consist of finished pieces, exploring in depth an area of investigation in sound art introduced in the course. The mid-term project can consist of a short interactive performance piece created in Max/MSP and presented in class. The final project will be up to you, but also created in Max/MSP. The project can be for live performance, CD, Web, or physical installation,. The main criteria is to explore the conjunction of sound and media, the interplay between audio and visual or spatial elements. Optionally, the final project can explore a form of interaction with the listener/viewer. More information on both projects will be discussed later in the semester.



Work must be stored on a zip cartridge, firewire drive or CD. All files left on lab computers will be erased. Headphones are required.

Internet Access

Everyone is required to have an e-mail account. All written assignments will be handed in electronically via email.

Required Reading
  1. Luigi Russolo; The Art of Noise (1913); Futurist Manifestos, 1970
  2. Edgard Varèse, The Liberation of Sound, 1936
  3. John Cage; History of Experimental Music ; Silence, 1961
  4. Karlheinz Stockhuasen; Interview from Seconds
  5. David Tudor; Interview by Teddy Hultberg
  6. Bill Fontana; Sound as Virtual Image
  7. Achim Wollscheid; Does the Song Remain the Same?; Site of Sound: of Architecture & the Ear, 1999
  8. Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky; Warhol's American Dream
  9. Josephine Bosma, Music and the Internet; Crossfade
Recommended Reading
  1. Todd Winkler, Composing Interactive Music, MIT Press
  2. Brandon LaBelle & Steve Roden; Site of Sound: of Architecture & the Ear, Smart Art Press, 1998
  3. William Duckworth; Talking Music: Conversations with John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and 5 Generations of American Experimental Composers, Da Capo Press, 1994
  4. Douglas Kahn; Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts; MIT Press, 1999
  5. Joel Chadabe; Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music; Prentice Hall,1998
  6. Michael Nyman; Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 1999
  7. John Cage; Silence; Mit Press, 1961
  8. Neil Strauss; Radiotext(e), Semiotext(e), 1993
  1. Alvin Lucier, I'm Sitting in a Room, Lovely Music, 1970
  2. Bob Ostertag, Burns Like Fire, Recdec Music, 1991
  3. Ikue Mori, The Peony Lantern, Bitstreams, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2001
  4. DJ Spooky, ftp:>snd>, Bitstreams, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2001
  5. Randall Packer, Through Invisible Cities, Chronic Art
  6. Pamela Z, Geekspeek, Bitstreams, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2001
  7. Pauline Oliveros, Suiren, Deep Listening, New Albion Records, 1988
  8. Luigi Russolo, Risveglio di una Citta, "Futurism and Dada Reviewed," sub rosa records
  9. Edgard Varèse; Poéme Électronique, "Music of Edgard Varèse," Sony Music
  10. Karlheinz Stockhausen; Studie II, "Stockhausen (3): Elektronique Music," Stockhausen Verlag; Kontakte
  11. John Cage; Cartridge Music, "John Cage: Music for Merce Cunningham" Mode Records
  12. Karlheinz Stockhausen; Kontakte, "Stockhausen (3): Elektronique Music," Stockhausen Verlag
  13. David Tudor; Rainforest, "David Tudor" Mode Records
  14. Bill Fontana; Sound Island
  15. [The User]; Silophone, live networked sound installation
  16. Scanner; stopstarting, remixed scanned sounds
  17. Atau Tanaka and Sensorband; Global String, networked performance piece