Instructor: Abby Aresty
Contact: abaresty [at] andrew [dot] cmu [dot] edu
Course website:
Monday meetings: 1:30 – 3:30pm, CFA 111
Wednesday meetings: 12:30 – 3:30pm, roving/wandering – see online calendar
Office hours: Monday 2:30-4:30pm, Tuesday 4-5pm, by appointment

Requirements and Prerequisites
Open to artists and musicians, no background in sound editing, making, building, or coding required.

Course Description (10 units)
In this interdisciplinary studio class we will investigate the world through its sounds, exploring the unique opportunities and challenges that this “immaterial material” affords. From musique concrète to investigations of the boundaries between noise, silence, and music, we will explore how diverse historical movements and moments have shaped the relatively new and necessarily broad contemporary field described as ‘sound art’. As listeners, we will develop the requisite vocabulary to critically engage with sound in a variety of contexts.  This will include terminology gleaned from the study of acoustics and psychoacoustics, as well as listening modes and soundscape studies.  As artists, we will explore the unique ways in which sound communicates, defines spaces, shapes memories and creates connections between people, places and objects.  We will be out in the field, recording, building, making, coding and generally learning the tools we need to meet the needs of your artistic vision.

Learning Objectives

      • Technical
        • Effective use of vocabulary regarding properties of sound and listening including topics in: acoustics, psychoacoustics, synthesis, processing and analysis, as well as listening modes, soundscape studies, and etc.
        • Proficiency in all course tools, including: Reaper, Audacity, Max/MSP, Arduino, etc.
      • Historical
        • Thorough knowledge of 20th and 21st century historical narratives relating:
          • Explorations of noise, silence and listening
          • The development of the field of sound art
      • Creative
        • Production of functional works that:
          • Engage technical concepts and use course tools
          • Creatively explore historical narrative
          • Relate content and form
      • Documentation
        • Effective spoken and written communication, as well as audiovisual documentation of projects such that:
          • Intent, inspiration and influences are clear.
          • Relationship between your project and course content are explicit.
      • Critical
        • Articulate perceived strengths and weaknesses of various artistic examples.
        • Find and suggest alternate solutions for perceived weaknesses, and methods for amplifying perceived strengths, where appropriate.


Short Lab Assignments

  • Students will demonstrate technical and creative progress through completion of short lab assignments.  Assignments will generally contain two parts:
    • Problem sets to demonstrate proficiency 
    • Creative extensions of initial assignment

Milestone Projects

  • Three milestone projects and one capstone project provide the opportunity to creatively engage course content.  These projects will be assessed in terms of:
    • Relevance, originality, content, execution, presentation, and effect.
    • Each project will be presented in a class critique.  Your spoken presentation, documentation, project proposal, and artist statement will receive a separate, combined grade.
    • Attendance and participation at class critique is mandatory!
    • Milestones:

#1 – Build a noise machine (2/17): Your project may take any form.  There are no restrictions beyond that you must build it, and it must make noises that interest you.   You must also be prepared to demonstrate it in its ideal artistic environment.  For example, you might perform a short, structured improvisation, or set it up as an interactive installation.  It will be assessed both as an independent sound-object and for the success of the noise art/music/installation experience you create with it.

#2 – Create a found-sound collage (3/17): Your project may take any form, but must be built from 1 or 100 found objects. The work will be judged for choice of object(s) and successful implementation in collage.

#3 – Develop a silent sound art project (4/14):  It must be silent, must be sound art, and must both engage with and depart from course content.

#4 (Capstone) – Site-specific Installation (TBD): Early in the course we will choose site(s) for the capstone project.  These projects will be temporary, local, site-specific sound art installations that critically engage with the installation site.

Writing Assignments and Documentation

  • Students will communicate project intent, inspiration and context through short written, spoken, and audiovisual assignments associated with each project:
    • Initial project proposal (Due two weeks prior to project deadline)
      • Single page that describes the project, your goals and inspiration.
  • Artist statement and short presentation (Due at critique)
    • Single page that describes the project, your goals and inspiration.
    • Must incorporate feedback received on project proposal.
  • Blog
    • Students will document their artistic process and inspirations weekly on a shared blog.  This is a space for creative exploration and documentation, and so generally, blog entries may take whatever form is most useful to the student. If not already acquired, students should obtain a youtube and soundcloud account for posting purposes.  Throughout the semester, some specific prompts will be assigned.
  • Documentation
    • Video, audio and/or photographic documentation for each milestone should be posted to the blog no later than 1 week following the project deadline.

Additional writing assignments:

  • Collaborative Annotated Bibliographies
    • Over the course of the semester, each student will contribute a minimum of three single-paragraph summaries of readings, artworks or artists we discuss.  Contributions will be assigned on a first-come first-serve basis.  After the course is complete this collaborative annotated bibliography will remain available online as reference document.  Additional contributions are encouraged.
  • Collaborative Glossary
    • Over the course of the semester, students will contribute a minimum of three single-paragraph definitions of terminology and concepts we are studying.  Contributions will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis.  This glossary will remain available online as a reference document after the course is complete. Additional contributions are encouraged.

Required Texts and Materials
Readings specified on the schedule will be provided on the course website. These will typically consist of short primary documents written by artists we are studying to provide an inside perspective on their work. Because of the breadth of material, students may be called upon to read different materials and share summaries online and/or in class. Listening materials will similarly be provided online, and/or presented in class for further discussion.

Optional Texts (for more texts and online resources, visit the course website):
Collins, Nicolas. Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Cox, Christoph, and Daniel Warner. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. New York: Continuum, 2004. Print.
Dodge, Charles, and Thomas A. Jerse. Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition, and Performance. New York: Schirmer, 1985. Print.
Kelly, Caleb. Sound. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2011. Print.

10% Participation (Consistent contributions to in-class and/or online discussions)
15% Writing/Documentation
15% Small lab assignments and other homework
30% Milestone Projects 1-3 (10% each)
30% Final Project (Capstone Project 4)

Assignment Policy
No late assignments accepted without prior approval by instructor. In case of emergency, provide documentation as soon as possible to receive an extension.

Academic Integrity
Using others’ ideas without including appropriate credit constitutes plagiarism. Plagiarism will result in failure of the assignment, and possible failure of the course. If you have any questions on this topic, please speak to me directly. For information about Carnegie Mellon’s policies on cheating and plagiarism, see: /documents/Cheating.html In the digital age, as art often repurposes other art, and as borrowing code to create something new is the norm, this becomes a particularly interesting topic. If you are ever concerned, please stop by to discuss this question further.

Attendance Policy
Attendance at all course meetings and labs is required to progress in this course. Missed material cannot be made up and so any absences may negatively impact your grade. After three absences, your grade will automatically drop by one letter grade for each subsequent absence. To receive an excused absence, please provide appropriate documentation in the case of an emergency or illness. If you know you will need to miss a class, please contact instructor as soon as possible.

Disabilities will be appropriately accommodated. Please provide documentation from Disability Resources: at the beginning of the semester to ensure timely accommodations.

Click here to view the tentative schedule.  Updates will be reflected on the schedule as they are made, however check the calendar for the most current information.

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