Sound: Advanced Topics II

Columbia University
Spring, 2016 -- G6611
Brad Garton and Alec Hall

course syllabus

This will be an ... interesting semester. We have purchased a range of interactive technological devices for use at the CMC, and it occurred to us that perhaps we should explore their characteristics in a class. So, this is it! The TRULY FUN part of all this is that neither Alec nor I have done much with these devices ourselves. This will be a real learning-by-doing class. I expect that some of it will go very well, some of it will be ok, and sometimes the class will be a total disaster. It's kind of like the three bears of computer music pedagogy. At least you can't say we did not warn you!

I'm looking forward to exploring these tools, though. We won't be getting into any seriously-heavy coding in the class, although we will be hitting Max/MSP a lot because most of the extant capabilities for the snazzy interfaces are addressible from within that environment. Of course, I'll also throw in a bit of RTcmix via the rtcmix~ object as well as using some javascript (available inside Max/MSP) to handle the more text-based, procedural and data-structured tasks. But not to worry if you are a programming neophyte! We'll be providing many examples of things to do, and our hope is that you can easily adapt them for your own nefarious purposes. Don't be bashful about contacting either Alec or me if you are having difficulty with the class.

So what are these wondrous devices? Over the course of the semester, we plan to take a look at these:

Yeah. This is insane. But it will be FUN! Along the way, we'll get a chance to discuss aspects of "interactivity" (and what the heck, "music") that will be exposed by the tools we attempt to use. Hey hey: "hands-on" scholarship! We'll also have a number of special guests coming through, many of whom know much more about these interactive things than we do.

You are also welcome to use other programming environments (like pd for example), but we'll be working within the framework mentioned above. To be honest, unlocking some of the deeper features of these devices requires the use of more extensive SDKs (such as OpenFrameworks or Xcode/iOS Developer Tools), but that means more intensive programming than we will be doing.


Class meets on Tuesdays in 320H Prentis from 6:00 to about 8/8:30 or so. We will make assignments throughout the term intended to get you working with the technologies and also to spur class discussion. Hopefully some of the assignments may lead to your final projects for the class.

Collected here are links to software that we may be using in class:

Many of the devices require specific software installations. We'll be covering these in the class to show you what is necessary to get things running. We'll also include links to the necessary software packages in the class pages. These pages are linked from the course syllabus.

For our guest speakers, watch for announcements on the syllabus. We may need to rearrange the classes as the term unfolds to accommodate these guests. Plus if we're getting totally behind, then we'll modify the schedule accordingly.


Nearly all of the CMC studios and hardware resources are available for you to use. Room 324 is set up specifically for development using the interactive devices we'll be covering in class.

If you prefer to work on your own computer, that's perfectly fine. You may temporarily take some of the devices from room 324 to work with them on your own machine, but they have to remain at the CMC and you will be required to return them to room 324 when you are finished using them.

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!

Do let us know if you are having problems getting equipment or software to work for you. This promises to be a more intense term because of the range of material we will be discussing. 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, Alec 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 determined 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!