Record Sound 2014

Recorded Sound 2014

Recorded Sound

  • Individual Projects In Computer Music – Terry Pender
  • G6630, call # 97748
  • email:
  • 3 Credits
  • Mondays 1 to 4
  • Room 317, Prentis Hall
  • Office Hours: Tuesday 1 to 3.

Course Description

As music moves into the next millennium, we are continually confronted by the pervasive use of new music technologies. The world of music is changing rapidly as these technologies open and close doorways of possibility. An appreciation of this shifting technological environment is necessary for active listeners seeking a profound understanding of how music functions in our society. Furthermore, understanding how these technologies function is now almost essential for contemporary composers and theorists working to build an intellectual context for the creation of new musical art. This class will make use of the Columbia University Digital Recording Facility for all of the course work.

Class attendance is mandatory – you must attend class; there will be no make up sessions if you miss a day. Missing three classes will lower your final grade by one grade level.  Assignments will be due when noted in this syllabus. Late assignments will be lowered by one grade. Lecture notes will be available on the Web.

You will be responsible for one final project due on 05/12/14.


Week 1 – 01/27/14 – Introduction to the studio, signing up for studio time online, backing up files.  Introduction to recording, digital sound fundamentals. The early days of recording – Thomas Edison, Bill Putnam, Les Paul and the art of innovation.  Dynamic Microphones.

Discussion: Final Projects.

Aural historical references:

Early Cylinder Recordings:

  • Phonographic Letter – A. H. Mendenhall
  • I  Pagliacci (1907) – Enrico Caruso – 1st million selling record
  • Early Electric Recordings:
  • Dippermouth Blues (1923) – Sidney Bechet –early disc-to-disc overdubbing
  • Trickaufnahme (1930) – Paul Hindemith – records and “live” instruments
  • Peg ‘O My Heart (1947) ­– Bill Putnam – The Harmonicats – 1st artistic use of reverb
  • Lover (1948), How High The Moon (1951/52) – Les Paul – creating and imaginary soundfield

Assignment 1:

Download the free Audacity Audio Editor:

Watch the following Youtube videos:

Week 2 ­– 02/03/14- Early studio manipulation techniques.

Formal Principles: Recording audio.  Reverse, pitch shift, time stretch, layering techniques, looping, overdubbing. Basic mixing automation – volume and panorama. Audio editing using Audacity and Logic. Exploring Musique Concrète.  Condenser Microphones.

Aural/Historical References:

  • Dippermouth Blues (1923) – Joe “King” Oliver – first known disc-to-disc overdubbing
  • Trickaufnahme (1930) – Paul Hindmith- instruments with records
  • King Kong (1933) – early special effects by sound designer Murray Spivak.
  • I Confess (1947) – Patti Page – disc-to-disc overdubbing of two vocal tracks
  • Étude aux chemins de fer (Study of the Railroads) (1948) – Pierre Schaeffer – one of first examples Musique Concrète
  • Timbres-Durées (1952)  – Olivier Messiaen
  • Sonic Contours (1952) – Vladimir Ussachevsky – early tape manipulation
  • Low Speed (1952) – Otto Luening – octave transpositions, using tape as an accompaniment
  • Poème électronique (1958) – Edgard Varèse – early sound collage
  • Jazz Et Jazz (1960) – Andre Hodeir – tape techniques plus jazz band
  • Collage #1 – “Blue Suede” (1961) – James Tenney – early sound art collage/Remix
  • Porte et Soupir 5, 6, & 8 (1963) – Pierre Henri (Door and a Sigh) Ballet

Assignment 2 due 02/10/14.  Follow the instructions exactly.

  1. Record several audio samples using an interesting sound source from around your apartment or the studio.
  2. Edit the samples, create fade-ins and fade-outs.
  3. Assemble the samples in Logic using it as a canvas for your sonic painting. The mix should be mono.
  4. Apply basic audio volume automation in Logic.
  5. Create a two-minute Musique Concrète study.
  6. No MIDI, no pre-recorded samples, no musical instruments allowed.

Week 3 – 02/10/14 – Signal Processing part 1

Formal Principles:  Panorama, ambience, reverb. Defining an aural sense of space and creating a virtual sonic world. Ribbon Microphones.

Aural/Historical References:

  • My Blue Heaven (1927) – Gene Austin
  • Peg O’ My Heart (1948) – The Harmonicats (Bill Putnam) – first artistic use of reverb.
  • Juke (1952) – Bill Putnam and Little Walter – the birth of rock and roll
  • Telstar (1962) – The Tornados – Joe Meek’s strange new sounds,
  • Be My Baby (1964) – The Ronettes (Phil Spector, Gold Star Studio – 2 Echo chambers).
  • Running Scared (1961) – Roy Orbison (EMT 140 Plate Reverb)
  • Are You Experienced? & Third Stone From The Sun (1967)– Jimi Hendrix – innovative panning, backwards tracks, flanging.
  • Baby Love – The Supremes – Attic reverb
  • I Got You – James Brown – Spring Reverb
  • Baby I Love You So Dub – King Tubby – Spring Reverb
  • The Boxer (1968) – Simon and Garfunkel – using reverb & volume to help define structure.
  • Snatch It Back and Hold It (1973) – Junior Wells – interesting panning.

Assignment 3 due 2/24/14.

  1. Record and edit a new set of samples.  You may now record instruments. No MIDI. This mix should be stereo.
  2. Process samples with various levels and types of reverb.
  3. Create a composition that incorporates a creative use of panorama and then uses reverb and ambience to articulate structure and form.
  4. The composition should be 2 minutes and 30 seconds long.
  5. Analyze your composition.  What kinds of problems arise from layering multiple iterations of the same sounds, and what tools could you use to correct them?

Week 4 02/17/14 – Applying Equalization, using comb filters.

Formal Principles: Types of EQs and how they’re used, determining the frequency content of a signal, common EQ settings, frequency charts. The ear, psychoacoustics and equalization – creating a sense of depth and motion with EQ. Multiband EQs, and comb filtering.

Aural/Historical References:

  • Imagine (1971) – John Lennon – creating a smooth transition between sounds recorded in radically different places
  • Wish You Were Here (1975) – Pink Floyd – extreme EQ on acoustic guitar introduction
  • A Plateaux of Mirrors (1980) – Brian Eno and Harold Budd – creative multiband EQ
  • There’s More To Life Than This (1993) – Björk – creating a narrative with EQ
  • Around The World (1997) – Daft Punk – extreme EQ on introduction
  • Halo – Porcupine Tree

Assignment 3 – Proposal for Final Project – Proposal due on 02/24/14.

Week 5 – 02/24/14 – Basic mixing techniques. Using Logic’s Ultrabeat drum machine and Drummer plug-in. Drum machine tricks and tips.

Formal Principles:  Recording the voice and the guitar.  Should I record in mono or stereo? X/Y crossed pair and Blumlein Technique for stereo recording.

Discussion – How to strike a realistic balance between your recorded tracks and sampled instruments and loops.

Aural/Historical References:

  • It’s A Family Affair (1971) – first “hit” with a drum machine – Sly & The Family Stone
  • Sexual Healing (1982) – 1st Pop hit with the 808 drum machine
  • Looking For The Perfect Beat (1982) – Afrika Bambaataa (Mini Moog, drum machine, early use of turntables)
  • Kiss (1986) ­ Price – Drum machine and effects
  • Man In The Mirror (1988) – Bruce Swedien and Michael Jackson – gorgeous choral vocals using Blumlein technique

Assignment 3 due 3/24/14.

  1. Record or import a single instrument composition (such as a work for solo piano or acoustic guitar);
  2. Create three loops of differing lengths edited out of your recording, one on each track;
  3. Duplicate each of the three loops on 3 additional tracks each;
  4. Equalize each of the duplicates so that one has only the upper frequencies (using a high pass filter), the second with only the low frequencies (using a low pass filter), the third should contain just the middle frequencies of the sound (band pass filter). As the composition progresses use volume automation to mix between the three tracks so the timbre varies over time based on your selection;
  5. For the fourth duplicate track of each loop use a band pass filter with a narrow width or “Q” and automate the center frequency so it moves over time;
  6. Automate this band pass filter on the fourth copy of each loop in different ways and let the automation progress slowly over the entire length of the composition. An example would be to start one at the upper register and have it slowly move to the lower register and do the reverse on the second loop.  For the third loop create a more varied automation that moves up and down several times over the length of the piece;
  7. The goal is to create a sense of subtle variations of the timbre within the rather fixed frequency range of your source sound.  The shifts in timbre can gradually be made more abrupt and could occur at points where the loops sync up to create a formal contrast with previous sections, using the changes of equalization to help delineate the form of your composition;
  8. Experiment with adding reverb to help fuse the tracks together.  The reverb processing could be on auxiliary sends or on the main output bus. Remember to equalize your reverb;
  9. As a final step, use a frequency chart and determine the lowest frequency of the lowest note of your source material.  Add a single band, high pass equalizer to the main output bus and set the cut off frequency slightly below the frequency of the instruments lowest note.  This will help reduce any unnecessary low frequencies.  This same strategy can be used on every individual track if needed.

Week 6 – 03/03/14 – Microphone technique.

Formal Principles:  Different types of microphones, pickup patterns, microphone placement, finding the “sweet” spot, transients, proximity effect. Understanding your room and equipment, learning to get a variety of sounds from your setup.


  1. Record yourself or your instrument through as many different microphones as possible and analyze the results. Record the same piece of music using the same setup, distance from mic, same room, same position, etc. Decide which mics make you sound best and how you can use each microphone to best effect.
  2. With your favorite microphone, record yourself varying the distance from the mic, from extremely close – 1 to 2 inches, then 6 inches, 12 inches, 3 feet, and finally 6 feet away.  Adjust the recording level appropriately each time you move the microphone further from the sound source.  Examine the various timbres you get from your “room.”  Now you can decide if you want more or less “room” sound in your recording.
  3. Extend this experiment to the room where you record.  Record in different places around the room, in the middle, in the corner facing the wall, etc.  Listen carefully to the results and decide where in the room various instruments sound best.

Use this exercise to record source material for the assignment due on 3/31/14.

Week 7 – 03/17/14 No Class – Winter Break

Week 8 – 03/24/14 – This lecture will focus on double tracking and half speed recording.

Formal Principles:

  • Discussion of double tracking
    • Creating a fuller sound through double tracking
    • Creating stereo width by panning double tracks
    • Applying additional effects to doubled tracks for variety
  • Discussion of George Martin and The Beatles and how double tracking became a feature of their production style
    • Double tracking for fullness
    • Half-speed recording to change the timbre of a sound
    • Half-speed recording to make recording difficult passages easier
    • Automatic double tracking
  •  Delaying double tracks to create a signature sound
    • Ken Scott and Elton John – Elderberry Wine (1973)
    • Ken Scott and David Bowie – Quicksand (1971)
  • Ideas for equalizing and panning double tracks
  • First look at chorus and phase shifting

Aural/Historical References:

  • Mystery Train (1955) – Elvis Presley – slap-back echo.
  • Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis – slap-back echo.
  • The Big Hurt (1959) – Miss Toni Fisher – early flanging.
  • She Loves You (1963) – The Beatles – 1st Beatles vocal doubling
  • Tomorrow Never Knows (1966) – The Beatles – flanging and pitch shifted tape loops, backwards guitar solo, lead vocal sung through the rotating speaker of a Hammond organ’s Leslie Cabinet, heavily compressed drums.
  • Itchycoo Park (1967) – The Small Faces  – flanging.
  • A Day In The Life – The Beatles – using tape echo on lead vocal
  • One Of These Days – Pink Floyd (1971) – echo builds and re-enforces the rhythm.
  • He Loved Him Madly – Miles Davis (1972) – interesting panned echo supports development and structure – early ambient jazz.
  • She’s Not There – Santana (1977) – modern panned, slap back echo on guitar solo.
  • Superstition – Stevie Wonder – 8 tracks of Clavinet
  • Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody – extreme doubling/overdubbing

Assignment 4 due 04/07/14

  1. Record a piece for voice and acoustic guitar;
  2. Record five exact duplications of both the guitar and the vocal track;
  3. Start your arrangement with a single tracked voice and guitar;
  4. With each new section (verse or chorus), add one of the doubled tracks, slowly building up the texture until all of the doubled tracks are playing;
  5. Make sure to pan each new double track to a new position slowly increasing the stereo width of the track;
  6. If the track starts to get too muddy, equalize the lower end of each new double track with a low shelf EQ, gradually EQ-ing out more and more of the low end on each newly added double track;
  7. Experiment with processing the doubles with some light reverb, chorusing or phase shifting to create modulations within the sound;
  8. Experiment with withdrawing all of the doubles at some point to create a sudden change of density and texture;
  9. Use these shifts in density and texture to help delineate the formal aspects of the composition.

Week 9 – 03/31/14 – Introduction to synthesizers

Formal Principles: Common types of synthesis, AM, FM, additive, subtractive, Wavetable, and Granular.  Automating synthesizer parameters.

Aural/Historical References:

  • Occasional Variations – RCA MkII, Milton Babbitt
  • Brandenburg Concerto – Wendy Carlos – Moog
  • Kolyosa (1970) – Pril Smiley (Buchla Synthesizer)
  • Stria (1977) – John Chowning (FM)
  • Riverrun (1986) – Barry Truax (Granular)
  • Looking For The Perfect Beat (1982) – Afrika Bambaataa (Mini Moog, drum machine, early use of turntables)
  • Blue Monday (1983) – New Order – Mini Moog Bass Line.
  • Supreme Balloon – Matmos
  • Altibzz – Autechre
  • That’s It For The Other One – Grateful Dead – ring Modulation
  • On The Way Home – Mahavishnu Orchestra – ring modulation

Assignment 5 due 04/14/14

  1.  Create a slow ambient composition that uses four synthesizer tracks.
  2. Design four motifs, one for each track.  Each motif should have a different, odd number of beats so that when looped their loop points are out of sync with each other but are otherwise playing in the same tempo.
  3. Setup and automate some filter effects so that they change very slowly over the course of the composition.
  4. Pan, process and set your four loops in motion to create an interesting generative composition.

Week 10 – 04/07/14 – Creating Movie Soundtracks

Formal Principles: Importing movies into Logic, using Logic to compose music, mix foley, dialogue, special effects and music together. Important criteria for composing background music for movies, radio, or TV. This week will focus on creating movement within the stereo field.  It will explore how the previously covered techniques for reverb, equalization and panning can be used together to create stereo width, depth of field and movement within that field based on psychoacoustics.

  • Stereo width – panorama
  • Depth of field using equalization
    • Making sounds move forward and backwards with equalization
    • Emphasizing high frequencies to make a sound seem closer to the listener
    • Emphasizing the lower frequencies to make a sound seem further away from the listener
    • Reverb – creating depth with reverb
      • Altering the volume and equalization of the reverb to create movement and a sense of distance

Visual/ Historical References:

  • M (1931) – Fritz Lang – How sound is integral to the storyline in this early sound film.
  • The Conversation – Francis Ford Coppola (1974), Walter Murch sound design.
  • The videos of Stan Brackhage, Robert Breer, and The Open Ended Group.
  • 77 Million Paintings – Brian Eno

Assignment 6 due – 04/28/14.

  1. Create a new one-minute film score/composition that is all background music, foley (natural everyday sounds), and special effects, but don’t use a movie.  The sound will have to fully convey the action of this imaginary film.  Pay particular attention to simple volume, panning, and EQ for movement and depth. How much auditory information can you include in the soundtrack to portray a sense of place, time, season, historical epoch, mood, temperament, etc.
  2. Be creative and apply effects processing to some foley sounds as well as transposing and layering them. For example record the wind, transpose it up a third and a fifth and layer them together to create a major chord of harmonized wind.
  3. Open the composition with a natural repetitive rhythm like a faucet dripping or a clock ticking and have it slowly evolve into the rhythm of the background music.  Try to find a natural element that can become a musical element so the foreground and background meld together momentarily.

Week 11 – 04/21/14 – This chapter will focus on audio compression, gating and limiting.

  • Discussion of how a compressor works
  • Types of compression and general uses
    • Optical (Teletronix LA-2A)
    • FET (Urei 1176)
    • Vari-mu (Fairchild 670)
    • VCA style (SSL G-series and API 2500)
  • Understanding modern compression controls
    • Threshold
    • Compression ratio
    • Attack and release time
    • Make-up gain
    • Knee settings
  • Discussion of limiting and gating
  • Using a sidechain with compressors and gates
  • Using a sidechained gate to create a tight groove between the bass and drums
  • Using a sidechain compressor to “pump” an entire mix or section


  • New Orleans (1960) and Quarter To Three (1961) – Gary U.S. Bonds – early double-tracked vocals with heavy vocal compression, and one of the first heavily compressed lead vocals
  • Tomorrow Never Knows (1966) – The Beatles – first heavily compressed drums on a Beatles record – kick drum deadened with a sweater inside of it and microphone moved much closer to both kick and snare and a more aggressive use of compression to create a unique drum sound
  • Heroes (1977) – David Bowie – multi-latched gates on three vocal microphones that were 9 inches, 20 feet and 50 feet from the singer, Eventide Harmonizer effects on drums
  • Intruder (1980) – Peter Gabriel – gated reverb on drums
  • In The Air Tonight (1981) – Phil Collins – gated reverb on drums
  • You’re Not Alone (1996) – Olive – gated synthesizer pads
  • One More Time (2000) – Daft Punk – side-chain compression pumping the entire mix
  • Ready, Steady Go (2002) and Faster Kill Pussycat (2006) – Oakenfield – gated synthesizer pads

Exercise 1: Create a sidechained bass using a gate.

  • Create a drum pattern on track one;
  • Using MIDI, draw in a bass line of long sustained notes with a synthesized bass sound.  These notes should be the root notes of the chords you are implying;
  • Put a gate on the bass track and use the drum track as a sidechain to the gate;
  • Experiment with the threshold setting on the gate, lowering it until the bass only plays when the kick drum is sounding.  This creates a very tight groove between the bass and drums and is an effective way to create bass parts.
  • Once you’ve established that groove, go back and refine the bass part by adding or changing the sustained notes to create more movement in the bass line.

Exercise 2: Use sidechain compression to rhythmically pump an entire mix in the manner of Daft Punk.

  1.  Start with a multi-track composition that you have already mixed.  Bounce the mixed track to a new sound file and use it in a new project.  You will also need to copy the kick drum track to use as the sidechain input;
  2. Place the stereo Master on track one and the kick drum track on track two;
  3. Instantiate a compressor on track one and select the kick drum as a sidechain input;
  4. Use a high compression ratio and set the attack time to be very fast.  Adjust the release time much slower and work with the timing of the release so that the compressor reinforces the rhythm of the track by pulling the volume down on the beat.  Let it gradually come back to a non-compressed state before the next kick drum attack.  The timing of the release is the important aspect of this technique.  The volume should pump up and down from beat to beat, re-enforcing and animating it so that you can actually feel the volume pumping in time to the rhythm of the track.

Week 12 – 04/28/14 – Overview of distortion techniques and vocoding

Formal Principles:  Distortion

  • Discussion of the history of distortion
  • Common types of distortion
    • Over driving guitar amps
    • Over driving the mixing console
    • Distortion pedals
    • Tape saturation
    • Bit crushing
  • Using distortion to add upper partials to a dull sound
  • Amplifier simulators

Aural/Historical References:

  • Rocket 88 (1951) – Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats – early guitar distortion
  • Moanin’ At Midnight (1951) – Howling Wolf – early tape saturated distortion recorded at Sun and released by Chess
  • Down Home Special (1956) – Bo Diddley
  • Don’t Worry (1960) – Marty Robbins/Grady Martin – first fuzz tone created by a faulty channel on the mixing console
  • Satisfaction (1965) – Rolling Stones – Maestro Fuzz Tone
  • Yer Blues (1968) – The Beatles – mixing desk distortion
  • 21st Century Schizoid Man (1969) – King Crimson – evil distortion

Formal Principles:  Vocoding

  • Discussion of the history of the vocoder (voice encoder)
    • Channel vocoder invented by Homer Dudley in the 1930s
    • Vocoders were used to encrypt secret messages in WWII
  • Using modern vocoding software
    • Vocoding is an analysis/synthesis technique using multiband filters
  • Ideas for using vocoding on voices and drums


  • The Robots (1977) – Kraftwerk
  • Mr. Blue Sky (1977) – Electric Light Orchestra
  • O Superman (1981) – Laurie Anderson
  • I Believe – Cher
  • Hide and Seek (2005) – Imogen Heap
  • Get Lucky (2013) – Daft Punk

Assignment 7 due 05/05/14: Create a vocoded vocal sound.

  1. Record a vocal on one track;
  2. Place a vocoder instrument on track two;
  3. On the vocoder, use the sidechain input and select the vocal patch.  The amplitude envelope of the vocal will be used to trigger the synthesizer patch in the vocoder;
  4. On the vocoder, choose a synthesis patch that the voice will “trigger.” Some timbres will work better than others and experimentation will be required to find an appropriate match to the vocal.  Vocoding is a three-step process.  The voice supplies the amplitude envelope, the vocoder supplies the timbre based on the patch you choose.  The harmonic content will be based on whatever notes or chords are played on the vocoder track;
  5. Blend in a bit of the straight vocal track from a copy of the vocal to increase the intelligibility of the text, if desired, although this technique can also be used with instruments or other sound sources;
  6. Use doubling techniques, echo, pan and reverb to create more interest and to refine your vocoded sound;
  7. When working with resonant-frequencies, it’s always a good idea to compress the sound as described in the next chapter.

Week 13 – 05/05/14 – This chapter will focus on transforming sounds through spectral manipulation.

  • Using FFT’s to determine the strongest harmonic partials and how they evolve over the course of a sound
  • Synthesizing new sounds using additive synthesis, based on the partial tracking analysis
  • Discussion of “frequential” or spectral composition
  • Discussion of how to use the analysis data to create harmonic structures
  • Discussion of how to create transformations between two sets of spectral data
  • Embedding the spectral data in other compositional parameters
  • Converting the spectral data to standard music notation for use in orchestration
  • Strategies for working with microtonal frequencies


  • Les espaces acoustiques – V – TransitoiresGérard Grisey – for large orchestra (1980)
  • Désintégrations (1982-83) – Tristan Murail
  • Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco – Jonathan Harvey
  • Winter Fragments (2000) – Tristan Murail

Download the SPEAR spectral editor, created by Michael Klingbeil:

Exercise: Use spectral data to create “tuned” chords from a noise-based source like a tam-tam, white noise or wind.

  1. Choose a sound with a wide-frequency content, like a tam-tam;
  2. Record the tam-tam (you only need one hit);
  3. Using your spectral editor, create an FFT of the tam-tam sound and analyze the frequency content;
  4. Using a chart of the frequencies of musical notes and the analysis data, choose a set of three- or four-note chords you could extract from the tam-tam spectrum (limit yourself to two or three chords);
  5. Using the spectral editor, erase all of the frequencies not related to your chord and re-synthesize the sound with the new spectrum.
  6. Create a few versions of the chords, one with several iterations of the notes you need in different octaves to create very open chord voicing and a second with just four or five frequencies relating to the notes of your chord;
  7. In your sequencer, create four tracks – one for the tam-tam sample, the second the third for the re-synthesized chords you created in the spectral editor, and the fourth for a sampler or synthesizer;
  8. Begin with the tam-tam sound.  About halfway through it, place your re-synthesized chord on track two and slowly raise the volume so that the tam-tam sound gradually transforms into the chordal texture.  Create a few passages like this with your different chords;
  9. On the fourth track, improvise a melodic passage based on the chords you have synthesized;

Experiment with having the chords emerge from the tam-tam sound and the reverse, where the chord cross-fades into the tam-tam sound.  This is a very basic exercise exploring just the surface of spectral music.  For a more detailed explanation of spectral or frequential techniques, I suggest reading “Contemporary Compositional Techniques and Openmusic” by Rozalie Hirs and Bob Gilmore, which provides an in-depth exploration of the music of Tristan Murail.

Final Exam – 05/21/14 – Final projects due. We will listen to all final projects in class.