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Module WXK-2235:
Acousmatic Composition

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

  1. To compose acousmatic 'sonic art' using sound as the creative medium, and digital studio technology as the means.

  2. To encourage bold artistic experimentation and the development of musical ideas beyond conventional notions of 'music'.

  3. Through composition, to explore the possibilities of a variety of innovative digital technologies and to become adept in their use.

  4. To study the compositional techniques of a variety of acousmatic composers, and to apply the lessons learned to the composition of original musical works.

  5. To consider aesthetic, philosophical and musicological issues of relevance to acousmatic composition, and to explore the implications of these through the act of composing.

  6. To contribute to the personal development of student composers through the development of their creativity as individuals.

Course content

Acousmatic music is experimental sonic art which uses sound as its basic material, and the loudspeaker as its mode of delivery. This module aims to introduce students to acousmatic composition in a more focused way than is possible in the Year 1 Practical Music Technology module, and with a more creative emphasis. It aims to equip students with the basic technological, compositional and aesthetic knowledge and understanding necessary for acousmatic composition. (This module is not intended for students wishing to compose popular music, or music using conventional approaches to harmony, melody or rhythm.)

Assessment Criteria


The composition displays some limited creative imagination, with restricted control of musical materials, and minimum understanding of the capabilities of acousmatic resources. There is scant evidence of a generally intellectual approach.


The composition displays a good level of creative imagination, with good control and elaboration of musical materials, based on technical competence in use of acousmatic resources. There is also evidence of intellectual acumen.


The composition displays a high level of creative imagination, with emergent individuality of compositional voice, skilful control and elaboration of musical materials, and technical mastery of acousmatic resource. There is also evidence of high level of ability at conceptual thought, penetration of issues, originality of approach and/or insight.

Learning outcomes

  1. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to work effectively with sonic materials and resources.

  2. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to work with the tools and techniques of the composition studio.

  3. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to critically evaluate their own work.

  4. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to compose with a degree of creative independence.

  5. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to apply an understanding of acousmatic music theory and concepts to creative work.

  6. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to compose acousmatic music which could offer an engaging listening experience.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Coursework 1

Part 1 - source recording and editing

Submit TEN examples of original 'sound-objects' you have recorded for this semester's composition, properly edited ('topped-and-tailed')

These need not be ten different physical sound-producing objects, you might produce ten interesting 'sound-objects' from just one physical object.

They need not be ten very different sound-objects. For example, you might submit three versions of striking the same physical metal object to produce similar but clearly different resonances with different distributions of partials ('harmonics'). These would be three different 'sound-objects'.

Essentially the question to ask is whether including two or more versions of the same type of sound really increases the musical possibilities open to you when composing.

Part 2 - source development

Using just ONE of the ten sound-objects submitted above, submit FIVE examples of that one sound-objects processed or transformed in different ways PLUS FIVE further transformations of just ONE of the first five.

In other words, you need to submit five '1st generation' plus five '2nd generation' transformations.

COURSEWORK Coursework 2

Using the sounds you submitted for Coursework 1, and/or other newly created sounds, create 12 single sound objects, each of which consists of a number of sounds combined.

Your 12 sound objects should consist of 6 sound objects of the following types and characters:

  1. short percussive attack
  2. longer attack/resonance
  3. sustained non-pitched texture
  4. sustained pitched sound
  5. a sound with an evolving spectro-morphology
  6. an object made up of discrete sub-objects

The other 6 sound objects should be slightly different version of the first six (so: 1, version of 1, 2, version of 2. etc.)

COURSEWORK Coursework 3

Make a graphic score of the first four minutes of Gilles Gobeil's Le vertige inconnu, using the supplied score template.

Label your score to show as many of the gestural types as you can. You may like to use the gestures listed here, but the list is not exhaustive - you can use your own words, or gestural types taken from Smalley's article 'Spectromorphology: Explaining Sound Shapes'. (If you make up your own, remember that we are trying to find implied human actions, so the words will most likely end with '-ing')

COURSEWORK Main Assignment 1

Compose a piece of 3 to 5 minutes duration which makes full use of the unique possibilities the acousmatic medium

Also submit a brief 'programme note' for your piece (about 100 words)

COURSEWORK Coursework 4

Step 1 Record some sounds, choose some of the best, and form sounds which could be used to form many of the musical gestures identified in Coursework 1.

Step 2 Using the sounds you have recorded (and transformed if you wish) create six different gestural 'strings'. That is, chain the gestures together one after another to make a sequence of gestures.

a) initiating > continuing > receding

b) approaching > continuous > terminating

c) preparing > initiating > continuing A > diverting > continuing B > terminating

d) initiating > continuous > interrupting > silence > resuming > continuous > receding > interrupting > (silence)

e) a gestural string of your own invention

f) a gestural string of your own invention

COURSEWORK Main Assignment 2

Compose a piece of 3 to 5 minutes duration which uses at least 8 spatial channels of audio, and which makes full use of the unique possibilities the acousmatic medium

Also submit a brief 'programme note' for your piece (about 100 words)


Teaching and Learning Strategy


In each semester there will be 11 studio-based classes of up to 2 hours each. Other classes coinciding with an acousmatic concert or the visit of a composer or ensemble may also be arranged as appropriate. There will be a Reading Week in both semesters.

Private study 156

Transferable skills

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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


Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses: