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MMEDIA 2G03 Introduction To Digital Audio

Academic Year: Fall 2016

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. David Ogborn

Email: ogbornd@mcmaster.ca

Office: Togo Salmon Hall 306

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 27603


Office Hours: Tuesdays 1:30-2:30 (TSH-306)

Course Objectives:

Introduction to techniques in sound recording and digital audio editing, focusing on uses of audio in Multimedia projects.  Readings, presentations and discussions will support the creation and critique of digital audio.  We will acquire heightened skills in the perception and description of sonic phenomena, learn software approaches to recording and transforming audio for communicative purposes, and gain fluency with diverse historical and contemporary sound art traditions.

In support of these learning goals, we will create two smaller, specific, audio miniatures (phonography and radioplay) as well as a larger sound art term project (from a range of possible formats), with the possibility to present the larger term project in a concert/festival setting outside of class. Readings, from an instructor-created free online textbook and from audio research literature, will help develop our vocabulary for sound phenomena and technologies, and also increase our awareness of the diverse fields, contexts and applications of contemporary audio production. Online reading quizzes help prepare for a detailed, final theoretical exam, while post-tutorial quizzes ask students to reflect on hands-on activities completed during tutorials, helping prepare for the sound art term project.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Course materials: Students are required to own a studio-grade pair of headphones (circumaural, closed design, without active noise cancellation) and a large, fast portable hard drive. These will be used not only for this course but also for numerous other courses in the Multimedia program.

Required Texts: The instructor has created a detailed, freely-available online textbook. All other required readings will either be available through Avenue To Learn or are already freely available on the open, legal web or through the McMaster Library’s collection of electronic journals.  Since there are no texts to purchase for this course, students are strongly encouraged to make a significant investment in studio-grade headphones instead.   Additional reading and listening materials in support of class topics may be made available through Avenue-To-Learn as the course progresses.

Software: Students will use a variety of software, including Reaper, Sonic Visualiser, Max and SuperCollider.  Ownership of this software is not required as it can all be used in the audio section of the Multimedia wing (TSH-202B). However, Sonic Visualiser and SuperCollider are both free and open-source software, readily available for multiple operating systems, and a permanent license for Reaper is highly affordable.

Method of Assessment:


  • 10% Professionalism and Participation (including lecture & tutorial attendance)
  • 10% Timely Completion of Online Reading and Reflective Quizzes
  • 15% Sound Art Miniature #1: Phonography (due Friday 7 October)
  • 15% Sound Art Miniature #2: Radioplay (due Thursday 10 November)
  • 25% Sound Art Term Project  (due Friday 9 December)
  • 25% Final exam (during final exam period)
  • (100% Total)

Professionalism and Participation: A grade for professionalism and participation will be assigned by the instructor in their sole discretion, and will reflect the quantity and quality of your participation and engagement with every aspect of the course, including but not limited to your record of prompt and complete attendance and engagement in all lecture and tutorial sessions.  The following rubric gives a general indication of expectations:

  • 9-10% Strong evidence of professionalism & participation well beyond requirements
  • 8.5% Evidence of professionalism & participation beyond course requirements
  • 7.5% Evidence of professionalism & participation
  • 6.5% Minor problems with attendance, lack of professionalism and/or participation
  • below 6.5% Major problems with attendance, lack of professionalism and/or participation

A further note about attendance: Attendance at all lectures and tutorials is required.  While some course material will be covered in multiple formats (lecture, tutorial, online textbook), other course material may only be presented in a tutorial, or only in a lecture, or only online.  In the professional world, people who succeed show up to everything, all the time, on time!  Your best policy for success is to attend everything, all the time, on time!

Online Reading and Reflective Quizzes:

Reading quizzes: A series of carefully chosen reading assignments, both from the free textbook created by the instructor, and from audio research literature, runs through the course. After each of these readings, you will complete a short content quiz. You may do and redo these reading quizzes until shortly before the following lecture, after which time they will no longer be eligible for credit, without exception. You are strongly encouraged to use these quizzes as preparation for the course’ final exam.

Reflective quizzes: At each tutorial session, you’ll be guided through a series of practical tasks and perceptual experiments with sound. At the end of the tutorial, you’ll be asked to answer some questions, in comprehensible prose, reflecting on what is learned through these experiences. You are strongly encouraged to use these quizzes as preparation for the conceptualization and framing of your term project in the course. After Friday of the week in which a tutorial takes place, these quizzes will no longer be eligible for credit, without exception.

Sound Art Miniatures and Term Projects: Detailed descriptions of the three creative projects (two miniatures and term project) will be posted to Avenue-to-Learn, together with the rubrics used to determine grades.  All creative projects are to be handed in electronically through Avenue-to-Learn.  You are strongly encouraged to begin working on projects well in advance of their due dates.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late policy: Late work will be subject to a penalty of 5% per day (or partial day) of the week (including weekends). Extensions for late work will be granted only upon the recommendation of a student's home faculty – please take such requests directly to your home faculty's office.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

1. Lecture #1 - Tue 6 Sept: Modes of Listening; Sound as Signal

2. Reading: textbook chapter 1 "Sound as Phenomenon"

3. Reading: textbook chapter 2 "Sound as Signal"

4. Reading quiz #1 completed before next lecture

5. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #1: Introduction to the digital audio workstation (DAW)

6. Lecture #2 - Tue 13 Sept: Recording I: Headroom, Gain, Clipping

7. Reading: Alexa Woloshyn (2013). "Playing with the Voice and Blurring Boundaries in Hildegard Westerkamp’s “MotherVoiceTalk””.  eContact! 14:4 http://econtact.ca/14_4/woloshyn_westerkamp.html

8. Reading: textbook chapter 3 "Frequency, Spectrum, Filters"

9. Reading quiz #2 completed before next lecture

10. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #2: Introduction to field recorders

11. Lecture #3 - Tue 20 Sept: Synthesis I: Oscillators, Filters and the Spectrum

12. Reading: Richard Scott (2016). "Back to the Future: On misunderstanding modular synthesizers.” eContact! 17:4 http://econtact.ca/17_4/scott_misunderstanding.html

13. Reading: textbook chapter 4 "Digital Audio and Sampling Theory"

14. Reading quiz #3 completed before next lecture

15. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #3: Introduction to Synthesis with SuperCollider

16. Lecture # 4 - Tue 27 Sept: Delivery I: Sampling Theory; Mixing/Delivery of Digital Audio Projects

17. Reading: Erin Gee (2010). "Other Voices, Other Bodies.” eContact! 12:3 http://econtact.ca/12_3/gee_voices.html

18. Reading: textbook chapter 5 "Microphones and Noise Strategies"

19. Reading quiz #4 completed before next lecture

20. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #4:  Filters, Mixing, Bouncing, Sample Rate Conversion

21. Lecture #5 - Tue 4 Oct: Recording II: Microphones and Noise Strategies

22. Sound Art Miniature #1 (phonography) due Friday 7 Oct

23. *** Fall Recess: International Conference On Live Coding 2016, 12-15 Oct – students are strongly encouraged to attend part or all of this international conference at McMaster and in downtown Hamilton, jam-packed with visiting artists in a wide range of genres and practices from around the world. More info at http://iclc.livecodenetwork.org/2016 ***

24. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #5: Problem-solving audio connections and interfaces

25. Lecture #6 - Tue 18 Oct: Synthesis II: Envelopes and Modulation; guest artist Alexandra Cárdenas

26. Reading: Alex Mclean and Geraint Wiggins (2010). "Bricolage Programming in the Creative Arts." Proceedings of 22nd Psychology of Programming Interest Grouphttp://yaxu.org/writing/ppig.pdf

27. Reading: textbook chapter 7 "Reverberation"

28. Reading quiz #5 completed before next lecture

29. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #6: Envelopes and Modulation

30. Lecture #7 - Tue 25 Oct: Aural Architecture and Reverberation

31. Reading: Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter (2007). “Aural Arts and Musical Spaces.” ch. 4 in Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? pp. 127-61. MIT Press.

32. Reading: textbook chapter 6 "Dynamic Range"

33. Reading quiz #6 completed before next lecture

34. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #7: Reverberation

35. Lecture #8 - Tue 1 Nov: Delivery II: Dynamic Range, Dither, Data Compression

36. Reading: textbook chapter 9 "Stereo Theory & Practice"

37. Reading: textbook chapter 10 "Delivery Formats, Dither and Data Compression"

38. Reading quiz #7 completed before next lecture

39. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #8: Dynamic Range and Data Compression

40. Lecture #9 - Tue 8 Nov: Recording III: Stereo Theory and Technique

41. Sound Art Miniature #2 (radioplay) due Thursday 10 Nov

42. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #9: Panning, Automation

43. Lecture #10 - Tue 15 Nov: Synthesis III: Microsound, Cross-Synthesis, Patterns

44. Reading: Curtis Roads (2001). “Aesthetics of Composing with Microsound.” ch. 9 in Microsound. pp. 325-48. MIT Press.

45. Reading: Margaret Schedel and Alison Rootberg (2009). “Generative Techniques in Hypermedia Performance.” Contemporary Music Review 28:1, pp. 57-73.

46. Reading: textbook chapter 8 "Time and Frequency Transformations"

47. Reading quiz #8 completed before next lecture

48. Tutorial and Reflective Quiz #10: Microsound, Cross-Synthesis, Patterns

49. Lecture #11 - Tue 22 Nov: Genres, Applications and Fields of Research

50. Reading: Karen Collins (2009). “An Introduction to Procedural Music in Video Games.” Contemporary Music Review 28:1, pp. 5-15.

51. Reading: Michel Chion (1990). “The Audiovisual Scene” ch. 4 in Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. trans. Claudia Gorbman. pp. 66-94. Columbia University Press, 1994.

52. Reading quiz #9 completed before next lecture

53. Tutorial: work and consultation on sound art project

54. Lecture #12 - Tue 29 Nov: Delivery III: Diffusion, Stems, Mastering, Framing

55. Reading: Tara Rodgers (2015). “Cultivating Activist Lives in Sound.” Leonardo Music Journal 25, pp. 79-83.

56. Reading: Jonty Harrison (1999). "Diffusion: theories and practices, with particular reference to the BEAST system.” eContact! 2:4 http://econtact.ca/2_4/Beast.htm

57. Reading quiz #10 completed before next lecture

58. Tutorial: work and consultation on sound art project

59. Lecture #13 - Tue 6 Dec: In class diffusion and discussion of work in progress

60. Sound Art Term Project due Friday 9 December

61. Final Exam during exam period (date, time and place to be determined)

62. *** Imaginary Landscapes 2016, a festival of sound and media art, will take place during the exam period. Students are strongly encouraged to present/diffuse term projects from this class during the Imaginary Landscapes concerts ***

Other Course Information:

Open Studio:  All students in audio courses are welcome to drop in to the Multimedia program’s surround sound studio (TSH-208) during the optional Open Studio hours each week (Tuesdays 2:30-4:30).  During the Open Studio hours the instructor and/or teaching assistant will be there to help with any technical or creative questions that come up, and we’ll also experiment with sound together.