Music 250a: Physical Interaction Design for Music

InstructorSasha Leitman

TA:                 Nolan Lem

When: Monday & Wednesday 1:30 – 3:20pm  plus one 2 hour lab every week. The lab times will be decided the first week of class.  It is required that students show up to one of those two hour blocks.

2016 Lab Times:
Tuesday 1:30 – 2:50, 3:00 – 4:20, 4:30 – 5:50
Thursday 1:30 – 2:50, 3:00 – 4:20, 4:30 – 5:50

Where: CCRMA Classroom, The Knoll

Description: In recent years, technologies for synthesizing, processing and controlling sound, as well as those for embedded computing, sensing and inter-device communication have become independently mature. This course explores how we can physically interact with electronic sounds in real time. A series of exercises introduces sensors, circuits, microcontrollers, communication and sound synthesis. We discuss critically what the merging of these technologies means for music and art. Along with new technologies, what new music practices or art forms may emerge?

In the broader sense, this course deals with interaction design: What happens when human behaviors meet those of machines? How do the devices we use determine the style of interaction? How do we design for the limitations of human performance and the affordances of machines.

Learning Goals: 

  • Create one toolchain for creating interactive physical objects for the creation of music.
  • Examine the reasons for and implications of creating new physical interfaces for music.
  • Complete a working prototype of a new device for physical interaction with music involving hardware, software, and sound design.
  • Think critically about the design requirements of musician’s, composers, producers and consumers of music created with computers.
  • Contemplate they “why” of creating new hardware within the context of our musical and technological history.
  • Practice being generous listeners and collaborators.  Help each other to create the best work possible.

Office Hours:

Lab times will function as our office hours but feel free to get in touch if you would like to meet at additional times.  Sasha is at CCRMA every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Grading: Grading will be based on the following criteria:

  • Attendance and Participation: If you are going to miss a class or a lab, please e-mail BOTH Andrew and Sasha. If you miss more than two classes, your grade will suffer. If you are significantly late twice, that counts as a missed class.
  • Readings: There will be 5 readings assigned this quarter. They will be emailed out on Wednesday along with a link to a Google form. You will need to read the article and fill out the form by the following Monday.
  • Homework: The homework in this class is geared towards helping you think about your final project. It will mostly be sketching exercises, brainstorming, and research on previous work done.
  • Labs: There is a mandatory lab in this class each week. The labs are designed to make sure you have the skills to create your own physical interface design.
  • Final Project: This is a project based class and the final project is where the learning really takes hold.
  • Final Project Grading:
    • Cooperation – were you a good group member
    • Expressivity – does it convey its musical intention clearly?
    • Purpose: What is our goal? Why are we doing this? Its cool is not enough for this class.  It can be enough for you in the rest of your life but in this class, you have to ask a question, be trying to solve a problem, or have a conceptual artistic goal in mind.
    • Continuous control as the primary control of sonic material.
    • Feedback – did you take feedback?
    • Completion – did you pull it off?
  • Final Project Process:
    • Ideas
    • Research
    • Proof of concept
    • Firm Proposal
    • Completion

Lab Kit: This class includes a $50 lab fee for a micro-controller and electronics prototyping kit.  This will be handed out during the second class.

Software: We will be using Max/MSP. We encourage you to purchase a monthly license for the duration of the class.  This costs $10/month.  If you are not interested in doing so, however, the software is installed in Studio C, D and E at CCRMA.

Academic accommodations:  Students who have a disability that may necessitate an academic accommodation or the use of auxiliary aids and services in a class must initiate the request with the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) located in the Office of Accessible Education (OAE, The SDRC will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend appropriate accommodations, and prepare a verification letter dated in the current academic term in which the request is being made. Please contact the SDRC as soon as possible; timely notice is needed to arrange for appropriate accommodations. The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk (phone: 650-723-1066).