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One of the objectives of FPA 147 is to combine the theoretical and
the practical. In other words, in this course, you will learn about
many of the theoretical and contextual issues pertaining to
electroacoustic music, and then you will implement this knowledge
by creating your own electroacoustic music.
Therefore, the course has two separate components: the
twelve Study Guide units and the eleven labs. Sixty-five per cent of
your mark is based upon practical work; however, the relationship
to the theoretical and historical material is direct. In other words,
the creative assignments (Projects Three and Four) depend very
much on the written material, not only in theory but also in the
style of the music discussed, which is in the tradition of European
art music (rather than commercial electronica).


There is always a great diversity among the students in the class:
some of you may already be creating electroacoustic music, and
some of you may never have created any music at all. There may be
different levels of musicianship, from professional musicians to
those who have never taken a music lesson and cannot read a note.
Let me reassure the latter group that no traditional musical
knowledge is required for this course. The ability to read music is
of no benefit when you are creating electroacoustic music because
you are not dealing with traditional musical materials (notes,
harmony, acoustic instruments). Instead, you will be dealing
directly with sound and using your ears (and brains, of course!) to
make decisions about what works musically and what doesnt.
Secondly, if you have not yet created music you may feel that
you somehow lack musical talent. I would suggest that you simply
have not had the opportunity to create music. One of the benefits of
electroacoustic music is its inclusive nature; because you are using
your ears and creating the final result immediately, you do not
need years of training in a complex formal language in order to
notate instructions for performers.

Lab One

What I do consider to be a prerequisite for the successful

completion of this course is an open mind about what music is and
what it can be. You will be creating music that will be, on the
surface, quite different from the music you probably listen to. We
will look at the relationship between electroacoustic music and
more popular music to discover the similarities in structure and
concept between them and to recognize the differences in style.
A good deal of time in the later labs is spent in considering
craft, not only in manipulating sound, but also in assembling sound
ideas (composition). By identifying certain conventions, we will
demystify the creative process. In the final project, creativity has a
place in the marking scheme; however, the many other elements
that contribute to craft (rather than inspiration) have more
significant weighting.
Some students have made the mistake of assuming that since
they were already creating electroacoustic music on their own, their
current compositional style and technique would enable them to get
a good grade for the practical work. This is not necessarily the case,
since such students are often the most closed minded about what
music is and what it can be. Quite often, students who have little or
no compositional or creative experience but who have open minds
and a sense of adventure get the highest marks in the projects.

Everything you need to know is included in the Study Guide and
this Lab Guide. Occasionally, you may wish to find out more about
the software and/or terminology. There are several valuable
resources on the Internet, one of which is the Zen Audio Project,
found at:
The Zen Audio Project contains definitions and references for all
things audio, and it includes many excellent animated diagrams.
Another good reference is Barry Truaxs Handbook for Acoustic
Ecology. This online reference tool is an excellent source for
terminology related to acoustics, psychoacoustics, and acoustic
ecology, and it contains many diagrams and sound examples. Its
thematic search engine and extensive cross-references (links) make
it particularly useful for understanding the terms used in Units One
and Two.

Lab One

As I pointed out in the Introduction, the computers at CLMS are all
Macs. Traditionally, audio professionals have used Macs almost
exclusively; however, many of the professional audio programs are
now available for PCs. Because all of the practical work for this
course can be accomplished using any number of audio programs,
it will not make any difference which platform you use: the final
result will be an audio file.
A caveat for PC users: technical support for the audio
programs will not be as readily available as it is for the Mac, since
your tutor-marker will most likely be a Mac user. However, posting
technical questions to the Class e-mail list on WebCT might elicit
the answers you need.

There are three separate concepts that we will deal with in the three
assignments. These concepts emulate the traditional analogue
studios way of working:

Cutting and splicing the tape (Editing)

Mixing several tapes through an audio mixer (Mixing)

Processing the sound via external audio processors (Signal


This emulation of the traditional or classic tape studio

paradigm will be discussed more in upcoming labs.

Basic audio editing, which entails removing extraneous material
from a file (trimming) and moving portions of the audio around
(copy and paste), is best done in an audio editor. Such a program
edits one file at a time, much the way a word processor is used to
work on one document at a time.
On the Mac, the editor of choice is Peak <http://www.biasinc.com>. Peak is a professional program, and it is not free;
however, limited-time demonstration versions of Peak are available
on the bias web site. Peak supports VST plug-ins, which will be
discussed in Lab Five.
A very good shareware editor for the Mac (it costs only US $25,
and a demo version is also available) is Amadeus <http://www.

Lab One

hairersoft.com/Amadeus.html>. Amadeus has an excellent analysis

menu, with 2-D, 3-D Spectrum, and sonographs available. Amadeus
also supports VST plug-ins and comes with several free ones.
On the PC, some of the better editors are:

WaveLab <http:// www.steinberg.net >

Goldwave <http://www.goldwave.com>

SoundForge < http://www.sonymediasoftware.com/ >

Other programs can be found on the Shareware Music Machine,

These programs are not free either, but some offer limitedtime demonstration versions.
Another interesting editor for both Mac and PC is the freeware
program Audacity <http://audacity.sourceforge.net>. It is rather
quirky, but it offers interesting effects as well as VST support.
The first assignment concentrates on basic editing of a single
audio file. In the second and third projects, you may continue to
use an audio editor to create many individual sound files.

Once you have multiple sound files, you will want to begin
creating some relationships between them in time, and to hear
these relationships. This process involves mixing different sounds;
it is done using a digital multitrack program such as ProTools
http://www.digidesign.com, Audacity (see above), or Adobe
There are several other programs that have this ability;
however, many are based on a fundamentally different conception.
Programs such as Digital Performer (Mac), Cubase (Mac and PC),
Logic Audio (Mac and PC), and Cakewalk (PC) are MIDI sequencers
with the additional capability of mixing digital audio. Because they
are MIDI tools (which are discussed in Unit Eight), they are
structured to represent time in bars and beats rather than seconds.
While some multitrack audio editors can be configured to represent
time in this way, we will always use seconds, allowing for more
abstract conceptions of rhythm and time. Representing time in bars
and beats forces you to think about the music you are creating in a
certain way, and it is not the way most electroacoustic composers
conceptualize and structure their compositions.

Lab One

While it is possible to complete the assignments in such

programs, I strongly recommend that you use a more flexible
program like ProTools, Audacity, or Audition.

Finally, you will need to take your sound files and process them in
various ways (discussed in Unit Five). Most audio editors and
mixing programs have the capability to process signals, usually in
the form of plug-ins (which are discussed in Lab Four).
One necessary feature in signal processing is the ability to set
parameters precisely. Many inexpensive audio editors (particularly
shareware programs) offer only rudimentary control over signal
processing or have preset processing. If your program has a preset
for adding Outer Space Reverb, for example, then it is not a
worthy signal processor. One issue that will continually arise is
achieving subtlety. Creating the weirdest sound possible, which
lower-quality tools will do, is not the object of the exercises.


Audio editing, mixing, and signal processing are all possible within
ProTools, Audacity, and Audition, and each will be discussed in the
appropriate lab.


The Lab Guides contain both concepts and practical
information. Since the practical tasks assigned in the Lab Guides
can be done on various software, the step by step methods to
accomplish the tasks in the different software are included in the


You need to have a certain level of proficiency on your computer to
complete this course. Apart from working within any audio
software you want to use, you will need to move, copy, and delete
audio files as well as back them up to removable media (CD-R, CD5

Lab One

RW, or ZIP disk). Such tasks are accomplished in the operating

system of your computer. On the Mac, you would use the Finder;
on the PC, you would use Windows or, more specifically,
Windows Explorer.
If you are not comfortable performing these tasks, please
review your operating system guidelines and help files.


One concept that must be reinforced is the difference between your
computers memory (RAM, or Random Access Memory) and its
available disk space. Without getting too technical or pedantic,
memory provides temporary storage, whereas material on the hard
drive is more permanent. When your computer is running, the
different applications are actually instructions to the computer
(what to do when a user moves a mouse, clicks on a menu, etc.).
When you start up a software program, these instructions are
loaded into memory. Some programs handle data (a wordprocessing document, a graphics file, an audio file, etc.): the data
must also be loaded into memory. Your computer therefore needs
enough memory to hold the instructions for its operating system,
several programs (if you want to run more than one program at a
time), and the data for those programs. Nowadays, operating
systems (either Mac OSX or Windows XP) are so complex, they
require huge amounts of RAM (half a gigabyte, for example)
simply to run efficiently. None of my own computers have less
than 1 GB of RAM.
Whenever you save your data from within an active program,
the computer moves information onto storage media, most likely a
hard drive (discussed in Unit Two). Audio files are quite large
approximately one megabyte for every six seconds of stereo or ten
megabytes per stereo minuteand you will be dealing with
perhaps hundreds of files in the course of your assignments. Thus
you need to have a large hard drive with at least a gigabyte (one
GB) of free space.
Having more RAM on your computer tends to speed it up. A
1GB RAM chip sells for between $150 and $250 at the moment
(prices can vary wildly, depending upon supply and demand).
Most retailers will install the RAM in your computer for free or for
a nominal price.
Purchasing an extra hard drive is more involved, since it
requires either swapping the drives on your current computer (and
moving all your data, which can take time) or making the proper
external connections. This will not speed up your computer, but it

Lab One

will allow you to store more information. Most computers sold in

the last five years have copious amounts of disk space (i.e. 60 GBs).
This seems like a inordinate amount (considering my first
computers had to be booted up from floppies); however, computer
users tend to become packrats, and never delete files (particularly
video files, which can take up enormous amounts of hard drive
space). Thus, if your computer is more than a year old, it might
benefit from some clean-up.

If you are working at home, you may not be in danger of having
someone directly erase your data, as you would be working in a
multi-user studio; however, there is always the risk of losing data
through disk error, human error, and (on PCs, at least) viruses.
Thus, you must back up your data on removable mediaa storage
medium such as a disk that can be kept separately from the
computer itself and that can be switched with other disks.
The two best methods of backing up data is through CD-R
(burning a CD) or memory sticks (USB drives). Most computers
have the ability to burn a CD often, simply inserting a blank CDR (the R stands for wRiteable) into the CD drive will open up the
default CD burning application on your computer. Blank CDs are
inexpensive less than a dollar each but cannot be rewritten.
They also hold a fairly limited amount of data up to 800 MB.
USB memory sticks seem to offer the best solution, since they
are re-writeable, are easy to use (simply insert them into the USB
port of your computer), work on both Mac and PC (and are
therefore ideal for moving files between the two platforms), and are
relatively inexpensive (my 1 GB stick cost me less than $100 in
spring 2006).

Find an audio editor that you can use on your computer. If
possible, also find a multitrack editor. The free program Audacity
will run on both Mac and PC, and is sufficient for this courses
needs. For additional software, one site to start your search could
be Hitsquad http://www.hitsquad.com, and excellent source for
shareware and demo audio software, for both Mac and PC.