Sound: Advanced Topics I

Columbia University
Fall, 2015 -- G6610X
Brad Garton and Onur Yildirim

course syllabus

We plan to cover "algorithmic composition" this semester, or the use of computers by lazy, lazy composers to get the machines to do all their work for them. Ha ha! We'll be doing a bit of programming in the class BUT don't be scared or worried if you have never thought of doing this yourself. We will be approaching everything from a musical perspective, and the tools we have for you to use should make any algorithmic coding a snap.

In the past when I've taught this topic, I've usually gone through the list of the usual algorithmic suspects (probabilistic, markov, chaotic attractors, L-systems, all that fun stuff) and shown how they can be employed to make weird and wonderful sounds. We're slicing the algorithmic world a little differently this term, looking at 'natural' models vs. 'synthetic' models of data/music generation. We'll still be learning the grand old techniques, but our method this term will also allow us to delve into the use of Real World data (and that BIG fun new area: BIG data) as an algorithmic compositional technique. A lot of this we'll be making up as we go along, so at least a few of the lectures will be only slightly-baked.

I'll be using RTcmix for many of the class examples. It's a functional, procedural language and I think it does a nice job of showing how various compositional algorithms work. It runs as a standalone program (for free!), or you can run it inside Max/MSP or pd (pd is also for free!). RTcmix has a feature that allows you to translate scripts you develop using it into apps for iOS or Android devices. If we have some free time towards the end of the term, I will show you how to do this.

I expect we will also be touching on some other computer music languages and apps, things like SuperCollder and perhaps OpenMusic. So if you do have a decent amount of programming experience, then the class should still be informative because of the specific tools and techniques we will be covering. Plus all that music stuff we do. During the term, if you are having serious problems, please come to talk to Onur or me so that we can work with you or adjust the syllabus to get things back on-track.


Class meets on Tuesdays in 320H Prentis from 6:00 to about 8/8:30 or so. We may make a few assignments throughout the term, mainly to spur class discussion. Hopefully some of the assignments may lead to your final projects for the class.

Here are a few links to software that we may be using in class:

We will have several guest speakers in the class during the term. Watch for announcements on the course syllabus.


Nearly all of the CMC studios and hardware resources are available for you to use. If you prefer to work on your own computer, 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. If you are having trouble getting access to the hardware or software you need, 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!

Please let us know if you are having problems getting equipment or software to work for you. In general, if you are having difficulty understanding the programming paradigms we are using or the applications and information we are covering. be sure to talk to us. We'll be happy to sit down and work through any issues with you.


The course syllabus is located here.

Each week we do will become a link to information relating to that class. We'll try to keep up with linking in class patches, examples and information, but we may fall behind. Yell at us when we do.

Contact Information

The best way to reach us is through e-mail: I will be holding semi-official office hours from 10:30 AM - 12:00 noon on Wednesdays in Dodge Hall (my Dodge office is room 807). I will also usually be around before or after class. In addition to being around the CMC on various days, Onur will be available by appointment for informal "lab" sessions. If it looks like we need to schedule some more formal sessions for additional info, we will.

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. If you need to contact someone at the CMC or Music Department using your actual voice, the relevant phone numbers are:

Security and Access Policy

For graduate students and external auditors taking our classes, the policy is 24/7 with card-swipe access. You will need to be approved for access -- Prentis is not open to all CUID holders. For undergraduates, however, you will not be allowed to be in Prentis between midnight and 7 AM. Card-swipe access for undergraduates will be turned off during these hours, and (unfortunately) we will need to enforce sanctions against any undergraduate student who remains in Prentis during this time-period. This policy is also listed here. External auditors will also need to obtain a CUID card for access, obviously. Talk to me about how we can arrange that.


Grades will be based mainly on the final projects you do, and of course they will be completely subjective and based on our own personal whims -- so ya better treat us right! We will discuss projects as the semester progresses. As noted above, we may be making some assignments throughout the term and discussing these in class. It'a always fun to see what you all can do.

I say this every year, and generally people believe it (I think): 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!