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Module WXK-3235:
Acousmatic Composition

Module Facts

Run by School of Music, Drama and Performance

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Prof Andrew Lewis

Overall aims and purpose

  1. To compose acousmatic 'sonic art' using sound as 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

The word ‘acousmatic’ describes something we can hear but not see. Acousmatic Music is experimental sonic art which uses sound as its raw material, and multiple loudspeakers as its mode of delivery. It has been described as the art of projected sounds which is “shot and developed in the studio, projected in halls, like cinema”.

This module aims to develop your skills in acousmatic composition. It has a creative emphasis, and seeks to equip you with the basic technological, compositional and aesthetic knowledge and understanding necessary for acousmatic composition

Assessment Criteria


The distinguishing quality is the creation of a compelling, engaging and aesthetically satisfying overall outcome through sustained musical imagination and technical command The composition exhibits a majority of the following: a coherent, tightly constructed global structure; a cogent, convincing and sustained musical argument, constructed through the exploration and development of the full potential of musical ideas and materials; musical ideas conceived and articulated with evident flair and imagination, and some degree of originality; an entirely appropriate (but not necessarily equal) balance of unity and diversity, such that interest and coherence are sustained throughout; distinctive, creative and idiomatic use of instrumental, vocal, sonic and/or technological resources; confident, fluent and discerning use of appropriate technical means; evidence of acute sensitivity to the effectiveness of, and assured control over, the shaping of phrases and gestures, pacing, tempo, dynamics, sonorities and textures, and the combination, juxtaposition and relationship of ideas and materials; impressive presentation, with excellent attention to detail and full consideration of the practicability of performing materials (whether for live performance or the realization of electroacoustic presentation).


The crucial element is the creation of musical ideas. Factors which may limit a mark to this level include: a simplistic or over-complex global structure not supportive of or supported by the material of which it consists; musical argument only intermittently discernible with only limited exploration of materials; musical ideas few and/or of questionable value; an imbalance in unity and diversity at the expense of sustained interest (especially through uncritical repetition of material verbatim); variability in the appropriateness of the use of instrumental, vocal, sonic and/or technological resources; technique restricted to a rather basic level; some basic, though not always successful, attempts to achieve musical shaping and control of phrases, gestures, pacing, tempo, dynamics, sonorities and textures; mostly adequate presentation, though with some significant lapse, and materials that may need some revision to be of practical use in performance.


The distinguishing quality is the creation, technical realisation and organisation of imaginative musical ideas to create an aesthetically convincing overall outcome. The composition exhibits a majority of the following: a well articulated and effective global structure; a clearly discernible musical argument, constructed through the exploration and development of musical ideas and materials; imaginatively conceived and articulated musical ideas; unity and diversity well balanced, such that the composition achieves a good degree of interest and coherence; appropriate and effective use of instrumental, vocal, sonic and/or technological resources contributing to creative ends; assured use of appropriate technical means; good sensitivity to the shaping of phrases, gestures, pacing, tempo, dynamics, sonorities and textures, showing an appreciation of their overall effect on the musical outcome; presentation of a good standard, with good attention to detail and some evident consideration of the practicability of performing materials.

Learning outcomes

  1. Compose acousmatic music which offers a conceptually coherent sonic experience.

  2. Work creatively with sonic materials and resources to formulate musical ideas.

  3. Use a variety of studio tools and techniques in combination to creative ends.

  4. Critically evaluate one's own work as part of the creative process.

  5. Compose with a degree of creative independence.

  6. Demonstrate a synthesis of aspects of acousmatic music theory through creative work.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Coursework 2 - Gesture, texture and articulation

Create a study of between 1 min 30 sec and 2 min in duration, in stereo. Your study should contain some sections which are ‘gesture carried’ and some which are ‘texture carried’. You should connect these sections together using articulating gestures.

For example, your study might have the following structure:


(* indicates an articulating Gesture)

You should ALSO submit a Word or PDF document containing a simple graphic score of your study. This should be labelled to show the gestural and textural sections, and the location of the articulating gestures.

COURSEWORK Coursework 1 - Recording and Developing Sources

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.

COURSEWORK Main Assignment - Acousmatic Composition

Compose a piece in 8-channels, of 5 to 8 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)


Teaching and Learning Strategy


11 weekly studio-based lectures of 1.5 – 2 hours. Other classes coinciding with an acousmatic concert or the visit of a composer or ensemble may also be arranged as appropriate.

Private study 167

11 weekly studio-based seminars of 1 hours.


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.
  • 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
  • Technological skills – digital capture, digital expression, digital innovation
  • 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)


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Cox, Christoph, and Daniel Warner (Eds.), Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017) Collins, Nick, Julio d’Escrivan, The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) Demers, Joanna Teresa, Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) Emmerson, Simon, Living Electronic Music (Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2007) ———, The Language of Electroacoustic Music (London: Macmillan, 1986) Expanding the Horizon of Electroacoustic Music Analysis (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016) Kane, Brian, Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014) Moore, Adrian, Sonic Art: An Introduction to Electroacoustic Music Composition (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016) Schaeffer, Pierre, In Search of a Concrete Music (Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 2012)Wishart, Trevor, Audible Design: A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Sound Composition (York: Orpheus the Pantomime, 1994) Wishart, Trevor, and Simon Emmerson, On Sonic Art, New and rev. ed (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1996)

Articles Francis Dhomont, ‘Acousmatic Update’, Contact! (8(2), 1995) pp. 49-54. Jonty Harrison, ‘Sound, space, sculpture: some thoughts on the what,how and why of sound diffusion’, Organised Sound (3(2), 1998), pp. 117–127. Denis Smalley, ‘Spectromorphology: Explaining sound-shapes’, Organised Sound 2(2), 1997) pp. 107–126. ––––––, ‘Space-Form and the Acousmatic Image’, Organised Sound (12(1), 2007) pp. 35-58. Simon Emmerson, ‘Aural Landscape: musical space’, Organised Sound (3(2), 1999) pp. 135- 40.

Musical Works (For further listening, visit Francois Bayle Toupie dans le ciel (1979) Manuella Blackburn Time Will Tell (2013) Christian Calon Portrait d’un visiteur (1985) Francis Dhomont Points de fuite (1982) Paul Dolden Veils (1984-85) Gilles Gobeil Le vertige inconnu (1993-94) Jonty Harrison Klang (1982) Jonathan Harvey Mortuous Plango, Vivos Voco (1980) Robert Normandeau Rumeurs (Place de Ransbeck) (1987) Bernard Parmegiani De natura sonorum (1975) Åke Parmerud Repulse (1986) Denis Smalley Pentes (1974), Wind Chimes (1987)
Trevor Wishart Encounters in the Republic of Heaven (2011)

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules


Courses including this module

Optional in courses: