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MMEDIA 2G03 Introduction To Digital Audio (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2019

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. David Ogborn


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 306

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 27603

Office Hours: Tuesdays 2:30-3:30 PM (TSH-306), and by appointment

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.

The course aims at the following principal learning outcomes:

  • assess the qualities, limitations, and applications of audio recordings, using sound-specific vocabulary

  • select and configure audio hardware for diverse audio recording situations

  • select and transform audio recordings according to expressive and perceptual criteria, using  standard techniques and software interfaces

  • analyze audio compositions from diverse sound art genres and traditions

  • create and deliver audio compositions employing original field recordings, studio recordings, synthesized sounds, and exploratory sound transformations

In support of the above learning outcomes, we will create two smaller, specific, audio miniatures (phonography and radioplay) as well as a sound art term project (from a range of possible formats), with the possibility to present the term project in a concert/festival setting. 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:

Students are required to own a studio-grade pair of headphones (circumaural, closed design, without any active noise cancellation) and a large, fast portable hard drive.

Students must also register with Humanities Media and Computing for access to the Multimedia wing and equipment bank (a small fee is required). In addition, after registering, students must access the online equipment booking system, and then carefully read and agree to the terms & conditions for use of the equipment bank and booking system. Please note in particular that failure to return the equipment on time, in addition to incurring penalty fees, can get in the way of other students’ work.

Required Texts: The instructor has created a detailed, freely-available online textbook. All other 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.

Required Software: Students will use a variety of software, including Reaper, SuperCollider, and Sonic Visualiser. 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%    Quizzes (highest 10 out of 11 online quizzes, 10 x 1%)
  • 9%    Tutorial Assignments (highest 9 out of 10 for-credit tutorial assignments, 9 x 1%)
  • 6%    Side Quests (highest 5 out of more than 20 possible quests during the semester, 6 x 1%)
  • 75%    3 x 25%, highest three grades from these four assessments:
    • Sound Art Miniature #1: Phonography (due Fri 8 Feb)
    • Sound Art Miniature #2: Radioplay (due Fri 8 Mar)
    • Sound Art Term Project (due Fri 12 Apr)
    • Final Exam (during examination period)

(100% Total)

Quizzes: Most lectures are followed by a reading assignment (from the free textbook created by the instructor) and then a short online multiple choice quiz covering material both from the reading and the lecture that week. These multiple choice quizzes can be redone as many times as you want until the deadline for completing a given quiz, and every time you complete the quiz you will have access to detailed feedback on your answers (whether correct or incorrect). In this way, you can use the process of completing these quizzes both as a check on your progress, and as a way of preparing for the final exam. In all cases, the deadline for a quiz is by the end of the Sunday following a lecture. There will be no extensions on the deadlines for these quizzes. Instead, the quiz grade is calculated from the ten highest grades out of eleven possible quizzes. In this way, accommodation has been made in advance for circumstances where a student may be unable to complete a quiz before the deadline.

Tutorial Assignments: Each tutorial session involves being guided through one or more practical tasks in audio production, as well as one or more perceptual experiments (“ear training”) with sound. At the end of the tutorial, you’ll be asked to answer one or more questions, in comprehensible prose, reflecting on what is learned through these experiences. You are strongly encouraged to use these reflections as preparation for the conceptualization and framing of your term project in the course. In some tutorials, you may also be asked to submit (and receive additional points for) audio materials you have produced, or provide evidence of the completion of ear-training exercises. Students are strongly encouraged to complete the tutorial requirements on the day of the tutorial, but may take until Friday at 5 PM the same week if extra time is required. After Friday of the week in which a tutorial takes place, all of these tutorial activities will no longer be eligible for credit, without exception. Please note also that while many tutorial activities can be begun in the tutorial session and completed later in the week, this is not necessarily true for all tutorial activities, some of which can only be completed in person during your assigned tutorial session. There will be no extensions on the deadlines for these tutorial assignments. Instead, the tutorials grade is calculated from the nine highest grades out of ten possible “for credit” tutorials. In this way, accommodation has been made in advance for circumstances where a student may be unable to complete a tutorial assignment by the deadline.

Side Quests: Throughout the semester, side quests will be announced. These are diverse additional learning activities that students may choose to do in support of our learning activities. For example, many side quests ask for a detailed written reflection on a text from audio research literature, while some others ask for an analysis of an audio object from the standpoint of a particular week’s thematic focus. Each side quest is worth up to 1%, with the overall grade for side quests formed from the highest six individual side quests. Some side quests are specific to particular weeks of the course and will be announced (together with their non-negotiable deadlines) as the course proceeds. There are, however, five  “course level” side quests as follows (with full details for each side quest available on Avenue):

  1. “Showing Up”: Complete at least 4 hand-in activities during “lecture” meetings. Hand-in activities take place in many but not all “lecture” meetings.

  2. “Teaching and Learning Reflections”: Complete 4 teaching and learning surveys at specific points (end of week 2, end of week 5, end of week 9, end of week 13).   

  3. “Inner Ear”: Spend at least 3 hours during the semester working with at least 6 different exercises from the Inner Ear ear-training platform, providing detailed learning reflections during each exercise (in the Inner Ear interface). This represents about 1.5 hours beyond the hours spent with Inner Ear during regular tutorial sessions.

  4. “Early Bird”: Sign up for and complete a studio orientation session during the first third of the course (before the end of Week 5).

  5. “Stepping Out”: Present your sound art term project during an end of semester concert opportunity.

Sound Art Miniatures and Term Project: 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.

Final Exam: The final exam takes place during the final examination period, as scheduled by the registrar. The exam consists of 50 multiple choice questions (similar in nature and complexity to the multiple choice questions included in the regular weekly quizzes) plus 5 short written answer questions in which students are asked to make a detailed recommendation (with rationale) for how to handle a specific audio challenge. We will practice making these kinds of recommendations during some lecture activities. The multiple choice questions are worth 50% of the exam grade, with the short answer questions worth the other 50%. Note also that the grade for the miniatures, term project and final exam is calculated based on the highest three of these four items.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

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

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 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 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:

Part One: The first third of the course is organized around field recording, with the following specific learning outcomes:

  • Describe sounds using sound-specific qualities (reduced listening) and measurements

  • Explore the effects of microphone proximity, including as a way to minimize noise

  • Avoid clipping by setting preamplifier gain to establish headroom on field recorders

  • Use trimming, fades (short and long), filters (EQ), and mixing to compose audio projects

  • Export DAW projects that are normalized to -0.3 dBFS, without intermediate exported files

  • Apply poetic and aesthetic criteria to art made with field recordings

Module One: Sound as Phenomenon

  • Lecture (Tue 8 Jan): Modes of Listening; Course Overview

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 9 Jan - Sun 13 Jan): textbook chapter "Sound as Phenomenon"

  • Acquire studio-grade headphones and portable hard drive

  • Register with HMC for Multimedia wing and equipment access

  • Tutorial (Mon 14 Jan): Introduction to the DAW + ear-training (threshold of silence)

Module Two: Sound as Signal

  • Note: *** no in-person meeting on Tuesday 15 Jan - the lecture will be posted as a video (re: soundscape composition, microphone proximity, etc) on Avenue to Learn before Tuesday 15 Jan

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 16 Jan – Sun 20 Jan): textbook chapter "Sound as Signal"

  • Tutorial (Mon 21 Jan): Working with field recorders + ear-training (harmonic distortion). Note: this tutorial activity MUST be completed by attending the tutorial as it involves guided work with field recorders.

Module Three: Frequency, Spectrum, Filters

  • Lecture (Tue 22 Jan): Sine waves and Spectrograms; Sound Art Miniature #1 Ideation

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 23 Jan – Sun 27 Jan): textbook chapter "Frequency, Spectrum, Filters"

  • Tutorial (Mon 28 Jan): Filters and long fades + ear-training (gain)

Module Four: Digital Audio and Sampling Theory

  • Lecture (Tue 29 Jan): Sampling Theory; Mixing/Delivery of Audio Projects

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 30 Jan – Sun 3 Feb): textbook "Digital Audio and Sampling Theory"

  • Tutorial (Mon 4 Feb): Normalizing without intermediate files + ear-training (boost/cut of five band spectrum)

  • Sound Art Miniature #1 due Friday 8 February


Part Two: The middle third of the course is organized around studio recording, with the following specific learning outcomes:

  • Select and position appropriate microphones for monaural studio recordings

  • Make very low-noise voice recordings in a studio environment

  • Assess real and artificial reverberation, using it for representational/expressive purposes

  • Control the dynamic range of delivered audio projects

  • Explore the poetic and aesthetic possibilities of diverse human voices

Module Five: Microphones, Noise, and the Studio

  • Lecture (Tue 5 Feb): Microphones, Noise and the Studio

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 6 Feb – Sun 10 Feb): textbook “Microphones and Noise Strategies”

  • Tutorial (Mon 11 Feb): Noise Strategies (once the damage has already been done) + ear-training (addition of white noise)

Module Six: Aural Architecture and Reverberation

  • Lecture (Tue 12 Feb): Aural Architecture and Reverberation; Miniature #2 ideation

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 13 Feb – Sun 24 Feb): textbook chapter “Reverberation”

  • Tutorial (Mon 25 Feb): Reverberation

Module Seven: Dynamic Range

  • Lecture (Tue 26 Feb): Dynamic Range

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 27 Feb – Sun 3 Mar): textbook chapter “Dynamic Range”

  • Tutorial (Mon 4 Mar): Compression and Gentle Finalization + ear-training (compressed vs. uncompressed)

  • Sound Art Miniature #2 due Friday 8 Mar


Part Three: The final third of the course emphasizes synthesis and sound transformation as a source of sound materials, with the following specific learning outcomes:

  • Create sound materials via synthesis and exploratory sound transformations, with attention to “artifacts”

  • Create and transform stereo audio signals, including choosing and implementing appropriate stereo recording techniques in specific situations

  • Perform live diffusion/spatialization of audio projects

  • Deliver complex audio projects, featuring synthesis and/or exploratory sound transformations, in portable, fully-framed formats

Module Eight: Synthesis

  • Lecture (Tue 5 Mar)

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 6 Mar – Sun 10 Mar): textbook chapter “Synthesis Basics”

  • Tutorial (Mon 11 Mar): Introduction to synthesis with SuperCollider

Module Nine: Exploratory Sound Transformations

  • Lecture (Tue 12 Mar)

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 13 Mar – Sun 17 Mar): textbook "Time and Frequency Transformations"

  • Tutorial (Mon 18 Mar): microsound via patterns

Module Ten: Stereo

  • Lecture (Tue 19 Mar): Stereo Situations; Project Ideation

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 20 Mar – Sun 24 Mar): textbook chapter "Stereo Theory & Practice"

  • Tutorial (Mon 25 Mar): automation, panning, stereo transformations

Module Eleven: Diffusion and More about Delivery

  • Lecture (Tue 26 Mar): Diffusion, Stems, Mastering; Lines of Flight

  • Reading & Quiz (Wed 27 Mar – Sun 31 Mar): textbook chapter “Delivery Formats, Dither and Data Compression”

  • Optional Tutorial (Mon 1 Apr): work and consultation on final sound art project (no for credit assignment in this tutorial)

End of Term Activities:

  • Lecture (Tue 2 Apr): Diffusion/discussion of work in progress

  • Optional Tutorial (Mon 8 Apr): work and consultation on final sound art project (no for credit assignment in this tutorial)

  • Lecture (Tue 9 Apr): Diffusion/discussion of work in progress & Exam Review

  • Sound Art Term Project due Friday 12 Apr

  • Final examination, administered by the examinations office, during the examination period


Other Course Information:

Studio Orientations and Open Studio: During modules 3 through 7 of the course students will be able to sign up for and attend studio orientation sessions (maximum 3 students per session) in the Multimedia program’s surround sound studio (TSH-208). From module 8 until near the end of the course, the instructor and/or teaching assistant will hold optional open studio sessions in the studio, at various times to be determined, in order to help with any technical or creative questions that come up, and also to experiment with sound and the studio together.

Basic Needs Security: Any student who faces challenges securing their food or housing and believes this may affect their performance in the course is urged to notify the instructor, if they are comfortable in doing so. This will enable him to provide any resources that he may possess.