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Module WXK-1010:
Sonic Art

Module Facts

Run by School of Music and Performance

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1 & 2

Organiser: Prof Andrew Lewis

Overall aims and purpose

The aim of this module is to equip students with the fundamental knowledge and understanding of composition of sonic art forms that make creative use of technology. Students will explore a range of compositional methods, aesthetic approaches and technological applications (including programming with Cycling74 Max). They will undertake a series of projects making use of creative hardware and software applications, developing the skills and understanding required to required to work in innovative and creative ways appropriate to our technological age.

The module will provide the foundation required to progress to second year modules that further explore sonic creativity and experimentation with sonic art forms.

Course content

This module is designed to provide students with an appreciation of sonic art forms through a series of lectures and practical seminar sessions. Students will explore and discuss various technological applications used to transform and manipulate sound to compose works of sonic art, suitable for both fixed and live (performance) media. In Semester 2, technological work will focus on learning simple programming in Cycling74 Max. A portfolio of coursework will lead to a mini concert at the end of each semester in which students will be offered the opportunity to demonstrate their work.

Assessment Criteria


Work which displays a sound grasp of the subject, adequate control of music-analytical and critical tools and conceptual engagement, researched using a good range of sources, and expressed intelligibly and interestingly.


Work which demonstrates a thorough grasp of the subject and mastery of music-analytical and critical tools, with evidence of further study, outstanding intellectual engagement and originality of approach and/or insight, researched using a very wide range of appropriate sources, and expressed convincingly and compellingly.


Work which displays basic knowledge of the subject, with limited ability at conceptual thought and musical analysis, a limited awareness of issues, and researched using a limited range of sources. Nevertheless the work has some evidence of a generally intellectual approach, with fair expression.

Learning outcomes

  1. On completion of the module, the student should be able to demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of sonic art forms.

  2. On completion of the module, the student should be able to demonstrate a theoretical understanding of basic music-technology tools.

  3. On completion of the module, the student should be able to use technology in the realisation of music and sonic art.

  4. On completion of the module, the student should be able to work independently in the music studio environment.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Coursework 1

Compose a short study which illustrates some of the principles and approaches of Acousmatic Music.

Your study should be between 1 and 2 minutes in duration, and should exploring and developing one particular sound source that you have recorded yourself. Although the focus will be on one sound, you may also include others, but these must be sounds you have recorded or synthesised yourself.

You may develop your sounds using any techniques and software you feel appropriate.

You study should be in stereo.

COURSEWORK Coursework 2

Record, edit and produce a recording of live musicians playing in one of the following styles: popular music; classical music (including new music); jazz; world music; hybrid/fusion. The music may be original, or pre-existing.

Your finished recording should be between 3 and 4 minutes in duration, and should involve more than one musician. There must be at least one instrument/voice recorded using a microphone.

The recording may be made all at one time, or may be 'overdubbed' with successive takes. It may be edited to combine the best parts of different takes.

You may include electric instruments (e.g. bass guitar) and synthesised instruments (e.g. keyboards, sequenced samples), as long as the above requirements are also me.

You should 'produce' your recording using EQ, reverb and other processing, as appropriate to the musical style or genres involved.

Your recording should be in stereo.

The quality of the performances heard on the recording will not be assessed directly, but you should demonstrate that you have taken steps post-production to lessen the impact of any shortcomings in the performances (for example, by correcting poor intonation).

The quality of musical composition will not be assessed directly, but be aware that it is hard to make a convincing and satisfying recording of a poor piece!

COURSEWORK Coursework 3

Create a Max patch that is able to take input from a live source (a voice or instrument playing into a microphone).

Your patch must have user-adjustable input and output levels, and input and output meters.

Your patch must transform the incoming sound using ONE OR MORE of the following:

1. Delay required features: adjustable delay time; adjustable feedback amount; adjustable balance between delayed and normal sound; OR

2. Pitch shift required features: adjustable pitch shift; adjustable balance between pitch shifted and normal sound; OR

3. Spatialisation (stereo or multi-channel panning) required features: panning control; some element of automatic panning (with variable control); OR

4. Another transformation of your choice for example: reverb, EQ, granular 'brassage', etc. with appropriate user controls.

You must choose ONE of the above, but you can also choose to implement more than one, in the same patch. In this case, it must be possible to mix the outputs of the different transformations.

COURSEWORK Coursework 4

Produce ONE of the following creative sonic art projects:

1. Recording A recording of a performance of 'classical' music, 'folk' music or jazz, that uses only acoustic instruments.

" The performance may be a live concert, or a recording made in the studio; " The recording may be made using more than one take; " Your finished recording should be edited and processed so as to produce the clearest and most natural impression of the music.

Duration: 3 to 10 minute; Submission: Audio file plus 'write-up' (c. 250 words).

2. Popular music production A song or instrumental track in any historical or current popular music genre.

" Your track must include at least some elements recorded using microphones; " It may include electronic, virtual and sequenced (MIDI) elements if you wish; " It may be original, or a 'cover version'.

Duration: 3 to 5 minutes; Submission: Audio file plus 'write-up' (c. 250 words).

3. Acousmatic composition An acousmatic composition in stereo or multi-channel.

" You can include concrete and synthesised sounds as you wish; " The composition should focus on the nature of sound, rather than relying too heavily on a concept or narrative; " The piece should be intended for concert presentation.

Duration: 2 to 5 minutes; Submission: Audio file plus programme note (c. 250 words).

4. A notated live composition using Max A notated piece for one or more live musicians, incorporating live transformation using a Max patch.

" The Max patch may be your own, or one made by another student (who will not gain any marks for it), or downloaded from the internet; " The patch may be new, or one that was submitted earlier in the semester.

Duration: 2 to 5 minutes; Submission: Notated score (with notation for using the Max patch); the Max patch (even if not your own); audio file of a recording or simulation of the piece; guide to using the patch, which includes acknowledgement of any sources of the Max patch (c. 250 words).

  1. An interactive installation using Max A Max patch that creates a continuous sound experience suitable for installing in an art gallery, building foyer, or similar.

" The installation may use concrete sounds (raw or transformed), synthesized sound, or a combination; " It must be at least stereo, but may be multichannel; " The patch must be designed and made by yourself; " You may use Max patches you have found on the internet, on YouTube etc., but must clearly adapt them to your own needs. You must acknowledge any sources used in this way.

Duration: continuous; Submission: Max patch; Audio file of the output of the patch (around 5 minutes); Description of the artistic and creative concept of the installation, which includes acknowledgement of any sources used in the Max patch (c. 250 words).


Teaching and Learning Strategy


22 lectures/workshops of up to 2 hours, one per week across 2 semesters (11 per semester).

Private study 156

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Musicianship skills – recognition, classification, contextualisation, reconstruction, exploration
  • Creative skills – conception, elaboration, adaptation, presentation, collaboration, preservation
  • Intellectual skills specific to Music – contextual knowledge, cultural awareness, critical understanding, repertoire knowledge, curiosity, analytical demonstration
  • Technological skills – digital capture, digital expression, digital innovation
  • Intellectual skills shared with other disciplines – research and exploration, reasoning and logic, understanding, critical judgement, assimilation and application
  • Skills of personal management – self-motivation, self-critical awareness, independence, entrepreneurship and employment skills, time management and reliability, organisation, etc.
  • Enhanced powers of imagination and creativity (4.17)


Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: