Basic Electroacoustics

Columbia University
Fall, 2004 -- G6601X
Brad Garton and Jason Freeman

course syllabus
general resources

Welcome to Basic Electroacoustics, the class that has launched thousands of digital sounds! We'll be covering a lot of ground this term, but the general goal of the class is to get you intrigued and inspired about our fun digital world. We won't be assuming a lot of knowledge about computer music, but we do anticipate that you have a healthy interest (i.e. you'll actually do this stuff) in learning the basics of how audio technologies can be used to make snazzy music and art.

The field of computer music has experienced explosive growth in the past several decades, and it has been a challenge to decide exactly what we should attempt to cover in the class. To be honest, I'm not even sure how much meaning the term "computer music" actually has these days -- the field has become so broad as at encompass nearly all areas of musical creation and scholarship. There are several trends and 'hot' topics of discussion in digital audio these days, however. In designing the course syllabus, we wanted to engage a few of these to give you a foundation for advanced work here at the CMC.

In particular, we will be comparing and contrasting "real-time" (or "interactive") musical uses of computing hardware with "non-real-time" approaches for making sound. We'll also be covering the cognitive and psychoacoustical aspects behind the material we present during the course of the class. Much of the work we do in class to demonstrate synthesis and signal-processing concepts will also illustrate more advanced computer music techniques (algorithmic composition, etc.).

Implicit in all this is the notion that we're going to do musical stuff in the course. This is not a heavy computer science DSP class, it is not a recording-studio-engineering class, it's not even a straight-ahead "tools&techniques" class. Everything we show will be aimed at a musical application or result. It may be tremendously boring, but what the heck. If you truly hate this stuff, then maybe you should seriously considering not taking this class.


Class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 3:10 -- 5:00 PM in room 313 Prentis Hall. In general, we will be using Tuesday's class to discuss the theory behind the concepts, and Thursday will be intended to show practical applications (sort of a loose "lecture/lab" approach). We will certainly violate this division as the course progresses.

The applications we show in class will be Macintosh-based, although most have Windows or Linux equivalents. Our primary software platform will be Max/MSP because of the common interface it provides to a number of computer music tools. For example, we will also be making heavy use of RTcmix, an algorithmic synthesis and signal-processing language we developed here at Columbia, but we will be using it through the rtcmix~ Max/MSP object. Other popular synthesis and signal-processing languagse such as JSyn and CSOUND can also be accessed through Max/MSP. Even SuperCollider 3 can be controlled using the Open Sound Control interface protocol.

It is not essential that you work exactly the same way we demonstrate in class -- Any/all of the languages mentioned above are fair game for you to use. As much as possible, we will try to use public-domain or shareware programs in the class. RTcmix, CSOUND, JSyn and SuperCollider are all free for developers to use. Check the resources page for links to the download sites. We realize that Max/MSP is a commercial package, but (in addition to giving us a common platform to begin teaching about computer music) it is about the best there is at present for doing interactive music work.


Nearly all of the CMC studios and hardware resources are available for you to use in this class. If you prefer to work on your own computer using applications you find comfortable, that's perfectly fine. Otherwise you may sign up studios and machines for doing your work at the CMC using our on-line signup system (this link is also located on the resources page). If you are having trouble getting access to the hardware or software you need to work, please let us know! The CMC is intentionally in a state of perpetual flux, reflecting the rapid evolution of the field of computer music. Our primary guide for the kinds of hardware and software investments we need to make comes from you, our happy students!

At some point, we will assume that you sort-of know your way around our studios and hardware. Please let us know if you are having problems gaining access to our facilities or getting equipment to work for you.


The course syllabus is located here.
[Note: We may be password-protecting this syllabus at some point in the term because of potential copyright issues. We will give out the password in class if we do this.]

We will be linking in discussions of each class topic, class examples, on-line resources, etc. to many of the syllabus entries. Probably we'll get waaaay behind in doing this about halfway through the term, but it will hopefully help a little. Also, certainly don't be shy about 'googling' information we present in class -- there are many terrific on-line resources for doing and unerstanding computer music.

Contact Information

The best way to reach us is through e-mail: If the machines are in flames and our e-mail server is down, you can also contact me via: I will also be holding semi-official office hours from 10:30 AM-12:00 noon on Wednesdays in Dodge (my Dodge office is room 807). I will usually be around before or after (except when I have to frantically drive like a maniac to get home) class. Jason is always here. Always.

It's always a good idea to make an appointment to see me, even during my purported office hours, because I often have to run around campus like a maniac doing strange, computer-music stuff. You can also call on the phone, but please refrain from calling my home much after 11:00 PM or my wife will mutter evil curses that will affect Your Future. Relevant phone numbers are:


Grades will be based mainly on the final project you do, and of course they will be completely subjective and based on our own personal whims -- so ya better treat us right!

Seriously, by this point in your career the last thing you should be worrying about is a grade. The main thing is to find something that you'd really like to do and then do it. Please don't try to impress us with your consummate knowledge and skill, we are more impressed by people who do things. Honest!

Hope you enjoy the class!