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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. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to compose acousmatic music which offers a conceptually coherent sonic experience.

  2. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to work creatively with sonic materials and resources to formulate musical ideas.

  3. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to use a variety of studio tools and techniques in combination to creative ends.

  4. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to critically evaluate their own work as part of the creative process.

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

  6. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to demonstrate a synthesis of aspects of acousmatic music theory through creative work.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Coursework 1 - Recording and Developing Sources 25
COURSEWORK Coursework 2 - Gesture, texture and articulation 25
COURSEWORK Main Assignment - Acousmatic Composition 50

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 156

11 weekly studio-based seminars of 1.5-2 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


Michel Chion, Audio-vision: sound on screen. Translated by C. Gorbman (New York, 1990).

Simon Emmerson, The Language of Electroacoustic Music (London, 1989).

David Moore & Adrian Moore, Sonic Art: Recipes and Reasonings. (e-book, 2011!/file/sonicart_recipesandreasonings.pdf last accessed 17 September 2014.

Pierre Schaeffer, In Search of a Concrete Music. Translated by Christine North and John Dack (Berkeley 2012).

Trevor Wishart, On Sonic Art (London, 1996).

–––––– , Audible Design (York 1994).


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

Francois Bayle, Toupie dans le ciel (1979)

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