digital sound cultures

Fall Quarter 2011

DIGITAL SOUND CULTURES explores some of the cultures of artists, producers, distributers, and listeners that have formed around digital audio technologies and their most important analog ancestors. The class combines reading of critical texts with the study of several audio genres, including post-WWII electronic music, science fiction film scores, space age lounge and exotica, cosmic music, Krautrock, psychedelia, heavy metal, punk, post-punk, afrofuturism, dub, hip-hop, free jazz, improvisation and jam, new age, ambient, techno, trance, drum’n’bass, and microsound. This class encourages us to listen to these sonic forms as intersections of technological, ideological, and imaginative forces.

We will cover the works of many individual artists and groups, with a particular desire to reflect the international scope of digital sound practices and their influences, as well as the unique role that the Internet now plays in fostering the efforts of independent producers, micro-labels, and file-sharing. Interdisciplinary in scope, the main conceptual methods brought to this material are drawn from philosophy, media archaeology and history, media studies, science fiction studies, and a wide variety of music-related critical theory.

For output, students will write and produce short audio pieces on the sound-related issues, artifacts, and practitioners of their choice, culminating in a radio-style podcast.

This class fulfills a DMS Critical requirement.

PDF download
Calendar Tweaks overview
Critical Voice Podcast assignment

Required Texts
Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, Continuum 2006
Timothy Taylor, Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture, Routledge 2001

Additional Text for Grad Students
choose one from the recommended list for additional discussion


Required BLOG POST

November 22, 2011

Blog Post due by 11-22-2011

Post your one to two-paragraph overview of your final podcast at the Digital Sound Cultures blog by 2pm,


Required assignment 2-3: final

November 22, 2011

Stage Two (25%): Due by 2pm, Tuesday, Nov. 22

7-10 minute podcast (undergraduates): 3-5 segments of “focus” audio examples (no more than 1 minute each); no more than half of the podcast can be “focus” samples.

15 minute podcast (graduates): 5-7 segments of “focus” audio examples (no more than 1 minute each); no more than half of the podcast can be “focus” samples.

Final audio files should be submitted in the .wav audio format.


Required media: session thirteen

November 17, 2011

Readings read by 11-17-2011
Strange Sounds III: Space (Ch. 6-7) -- grads only, u-grads optional


Technicians of Space lecture / presentation on 11-17-2011
6. Contemplative Radio
Throughout the various waves of new age space music we encounter a common concern with sonic environmentalism for the mind. Tuning into the vast, intergalactic communications system that Philip K. Dick names “Radio Free Albemuth,” this presentation explores the dream radios, mood organs and spiritual cyborgs of new age music, with works ranging from Karlheinz Stockhausen and Steve Hillage to Robert Rich, Lustmord, and Meg Bowles. Such space music performs a technological religiosity situating terrestrial experience and mental health within the grand scale of cosmic event, as well as sustaining the belief that the human enterprise is inextricably bound in an impulse to leave the planet Earth behind.


EVENING SESSION (time / location TBD): Graduate Student wrap-up discussion


Required media: session twelve

November 15, 2011

Readings read by 11-15-2011
Strange Sounds III: Space (Ch. 8) -- grads only, u-grads optional


Technicians of Space lecture / presentation on 11-08-2011
5. Space Rituals
From the Pink Floyd's space rock shows at London's U.F.O. club to Hawkwind's free concerts and the disasters of a Sex Pistols gig, media ritual surrounds these artists. Concentrating on space-related performers ranging from Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, Yes, Tim Blake's Crystal Machine, and Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One to Sun Ra and Parliament, I consider the spatial nature of group identity and the practice of collective deep listening and communal trance in relationship to the telematic bodies described by Roy Ascott and Derrida's echographies of television. I'm particularly interested in conflicts between zones of cosmic spiritual identity and electronically mediated presence.


Required assignment 2-2: podcast proof

November 10, 2011

Stage One (15%): Due by 2pm, Thursday, Nov. 10

Please bring to class a 2-3 minute “proof of concept” audio mix plus a draft of your full podcast script (u-grad = 5 pages; grad = 8 pages), emphasizing your own voice-over segments and questions.


EVENING MAKE-UP SESSION (6:30-8:30pm): Podcast Script Workshop


Required media: session eleven

November 08, 2011


Bring your materials to work with in class.


Required assignment 2-1: podcast proposal

November 03, 2011

Pre-Stage (10%): Due by 2pm, Thursday, Nov. 03

Your 2-page podcast proposal should:

1) Clearly indicate your primary audio focus in one of the following categories:
•  individual artist or group
•  musical genre (e.g., hip-hop; minimal techno; dub)
•  other topical or thematic arrangement (e.g., regional/national; gender; space music; mash-up; film soundtrack)

2) Introduce the theme that you want to discuss (e.g., generative sound games; musical primitivism; authenticity; sonic ecologies; recording and memory; individualism in participatory culture; the studio as instrument).

3) List 3-5 possible, additional individuals (artists, writers, critics) who will help you illuminate your theme in addition to the primary artist(s).

4) Include a set of 5-7 questions that you would want to ask the subject of your podcast or another relevant expert in the field.

5) List 3-5 specific primary audio works that you want to feature.

In addition to the written proposal, please bring in the primary audio clips from item 5 above, and at least 2 secondary source recordings of human voice relevant to item 4 above.


EVENING MAKE-UP SESSION (6:30-8pm): Podcast Production Workshop


Required media: session ten

November 01, 2011

Readings read by 11-01-2011
Audio Culture V: Experimental Musics
Ch. 36: David Toop, "The Generation Game: Experimental Music and DIgital Culture"

Audio Culture VII: Minimalisms
Ch. 41: Susan McClary, " Rap, Minimalism, and Structures of Time in Late 20th-Century Culture"
Ch. 46: Philip Sherburne, "Digital Discipline: Minimalism in House and Techno"

Aucio Culture IX: Electronic Music and Electronica
Ch. 56: Ben Neill, "Breakthrough Beats: Rhythm and the Aesthetic of Contemporary Electronic Music"
Ch. 57: Kim Cascone, " The Aesthetics of Failure: 'Post-Digital' Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music"


Audio Materials listen by 11-01-2011
Listen to the various minimalist tracks in the "session07" folder.


Technicians of Space lecture / presentation on 11-01-2011
4. Microsound and Telharmonic Space
Sonic telematics research into Internet-based music in the late-1980s and 1990s threads together an occult history of sound and space for the digital era. This presentation draws broadly from the genres of ambient dub, minimal techno, microsound, databending, and minimal house to suggest a broad model for sound in networked environments, which I call disassociative telematics. I am interested in the micro-cosmological outburst of space-related audio works on the Internet, which take the form of blogs, micro-radio stations and audio streams, podcasts, and micro-labels, as a localized reflection of larger collisions between cosmology and cyberspace.


Required BLOG POST

October 31, 2011

Blog Post due by 10-31-2011

Our first review blog entry emphasized descriptions of sonorous objects rather than assessed, analyzed, or analogized around that sonic material. Now it is time to bring some of these other elements into the review's language, balancing descriptions of sonorous objects and production strategies with accounts of some of the historical, formal or genre, and theoretical contexts with which the individual work resonates. We want to explore these resonances as a way of mixing larger complexes of meaning and vibrant networks of association across different sources and sets of material.

First of all, pick a track from either the “session05” folder (reinforcing chapters 3-5 of Taylor) or “session06” folder (reinforcing chapters 21, 22, 47, 49, and 50-51 of Audio Culture ). Then, draw at least one concept from either the Taylor or theAudio Culture chapters listed above, and use this concept as a way to review the audio track. That is, you should discuss the audio track in a way that questions, illustrates or clarifies the concept drawn from the reading. You should anchor your account of this concept with one key but short passage quoted from the text. Incorporate comparisons to at least one other audio work introduced so far in our class.

Post your two-paragraph entry at the Digital Sound Cultures blog by 5pm, Monday, 10-31-2011.


Required media: session nine

October 27, 2011

Readings read by 10-27-2011
Audio Culture VIII: DJ Culture
Ch. 50: Paul D. Miller, "Algorithms: Erasures and the Art of Memory"
Ch. 51: David Toop, "Replicant: On Dub"


Technicians of Space lecture / presentation on 10-27-2011
3. Cognitive Dub Science
This presentation zooms in on "memory" as a particularly important, discrete state of consciousness with powerful parallels in the use of magnetic tape in recording, manipulating and composing sound. Listening to diverse works by Brian Eno, Eno and Fripp, Richard Pinhas, Jamaican dub engineers, William Basinski, Boards of Canada, Tricky, DJ Spooky, and Kode9 + the Spaceape. I consider the relationship of the delay effect and sound recording to the phenomena of death, decay, and disintegration. Informed by the works of Jacques Derrida, I suggest a philosophy of electronic voice phenomena that helps us consider how dreadlocked systems produce sonic intelligences, Others otherwise known as ghosts.


Required media: session eight

October 25, 2011

Readings read by 10-25-2011
Audio Culture III: Music in the Age of Electronic (Re)production
Ch. 21: Glenn Gould, "The Prospects of Recording"
Ch. 22: Brian Eno, "The Studio As Compositional Tool"

Audio Cuture VIII: DJ Culture
Ch. 47: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, "Production-Reproduction: Potentialities of the Phonograph"
Ch. 49: Christian Marclay & Yasunao Tone, "Record, CD, Analog, Digital"


Required media: session seven

October 20, 2011

Technicians of Space lecture / presentation on 10-20-2011
2: The German Space Program
This presentation considers parallel inquiries into human biocomputing, cybernetic engineering, and space exploration conducted by the American space program and the German acid rock scene during the early 1970s. Swapping Werner von Braun and Timothy Leary, as it were, I present the Kosmische Musik phenomena as it reflects research and experiments in biocomputing and cyborg studies, the psychedelic sciences, and interspieces communication in the projects of John Lilly and Ed Mitchell.


Video Playlist view by 10-20-2011
Digital Sound Cultures 2: Kosmische Musik
total time: 2hr 10min


Audio Materials listen by 10-20-2011
The two TOS2_The German Space Program mixes feature the sound and music of German space and acid rock, experimental electronic music from the 1970s, German New Age or Kosmische Musik, and German sci-fi film and TV soundtracks.

Sequence 1: Stern Trek
Cosmic Jokers, “Galactic Supermarket”
Tangerine Dream, “Rubycon, Part 1”
Klaus Schulze, “Satz Exil Sils Maria”
Cluster, “03,” “01”
Conrad Schnitzler, “Contrapuntal Interstellar Radars”
Popol Vuh, “Ich mache einen Spiegel”
Harmonia, “Sehr Kosmische”
Tangerine Dream, “Phaedra”
Popol Vuh, “Aguirre”
Tangerine Dream, “Alpha Centauri”
Ash Ra Tempel, “Traummaschine”

Sequence 2: Kosmos
Thomas Lück, “Kosmos” soundtrack
Cosmic Jokers and Sternmadchen, “Der Magier / The Electronic Scene”
Amon Düül II, “Wie der wind am ende einer strasse”
Stern Combo Meiden, “In Den Kosmos” soundtrack
Manuel Gottsching, “Echo Waves/Quasarsphere”
Tangerine Dream, “Birth of Liquid Plejades”
Klaus Schulze, from Cyborg
Cosmic Jokers and Sternmadchen, “Meine Kosmiche Musik”
Outro: Soundtrack collage

The second half of the program does not start automatically, so you will need to do so manually. If the embedded player doesn't show up below or you prefer direct downloads, these may be found here.


Required assignment 1: critical mashup

October 18, 2011

Assignment due by 2pm Tuesday 10-18-2011
Audio Mix: 3-5 minute mix
Undergraduate Essay: 5 pages, double-spaced
Graduate Essay: 8 pages, double-spaced
NOTE: we will have an hour-long audio mixing workshop as part of class session on Tuesday, Oct. 04.

1) Using sound materials provided in class throughout our first unit, please create a 3-5 minute audio mix that responds to ideas presented in "Stockhausen vs. the Technocrats," supplemented by the Bjork's interview. We discussed, for instance, such basic elements of sound as rhythm, tone, voice, repetition, and others. Pick ONE of these elements as your main focus, incorporating at least SIX audio sources drawn from the “Session 01” through “Session 04” folders. Three audio sources should represent the early generation of sound artists, while the other three should represent work produced since the late 1970s. Your audio mix should cut between, layer and process your primary sources in ways that emphasize the sonic elements on which you focus.

2) Incorporating and responding to our readings and at least FOUR of the SIX audio sources you used in part one above, please write an essay that addresses the following:

a. Pick ONE of Timothy Taylor's primary categories from the second chapter of Strange Sounds :

    • music (production; storage/distribution; consumption/use)
    • technology/agency (voluntarism; determinism; somnambulism)
    • practice (cultural; societal; individual)

    Write about the primary category in ways that emphasize one of the sub-sets provided above, briefly comparing that sub-set to one other sub-set (for example, if you focus on the technological agency idea of “determinism,” how does this differ from “voluntarism”?)

    b. Relate Taylor 's concept to ONE author/critic that he reads and quotes; indicate Taylor 's position in relation to this author/critic (e.g., agrees or not, revises idea).

    c. Relate category to TWO reading selections assigned from Audio Cultures.

    d. Relate category to TWO audio selections used in your Critical Mashup.

You may incorporate discussion of your primary audio sources throughout the entire essay, emphasizing the ONE basic element of sound that you also chose in part one. Rather than write about the works as sonorous objects, you should begin to consider the sound object as it relates historically, artistically, culturally, socially, technically, and so on as it relates to your areas of focus in the mashup and essay.

Undergraduate essays should address sections a, b, c, and d in the order given. Graduate essays should demonstrate their own organization and synthesis of these elements. Title the essay in a way that reflects the connection between your ONE basic element of sound and the ONE category you have selected from Taylor 's book (for example, “Technological Determinism and Repetition in Electronic Music”).


Required media: session six

October 11, 2011

Readings read by 10-11-2011
Strange Sounds II: Time (Ch. 4-5)


Audio Materials listen by 10-11-2011

Harry Revel & Les Baxter, Music Out of the Moon [1947]
Track 01 Lunar Rhapsody
Track 02 Moon Moods
Track 04 Celestial Nocturne


Louis & Bebe Barron, Forbidden Planet [1956]
Track 01 Main Titles (Overture)
Track 02 Deceleration
Track 03 Once Around Altaire
Track 04 The Landing
Track 14 The Mind Booster / Creation of Matter
Track 19 Battle with the Invisible Monster
Track 21 The Monster Pursues / Morbius Is Overcome


Bobby Christian, Strings for a Space Age [1959]
Track 02 Out of This World
Track 06 How High The Moon
Track 08 Space Suite 2: Count Down / Flight Into Orbit / Empyreon


Russ Garcia, Fantastica: Music from Outer Space [1959]
Track 01 Into Space
Track 04 Monsters of Jupiter
Track 05 Water Creatures of Astra
Track 07 Red Sands of Mars


Perrey-Kinglsey, The In Sound from Way Out! [1966]
Track 02 The Little Man From Mars
Track 03 Cosmic Ballad
Track 11 Computer In Love


Pierre Henry & Michel Colombier, Les Yper Sound [1967]
Track 01 Psyche Rock
Track 04 Teen Tonic


Stereolab, Mars Audiac Quintet [1994]
Track 01 Tree-Dee Melodie
Track 04 Des Étoiles Electroniques
Track 08 Nihilist Assault Group
Track 10 The Stars Our Destination
Track 13 Outer Accelerator


Required media: session five

September 29, 2011

Technicians of Space lecture / presentation on 09-29-2011
1: Sonic Science Fiction
Throughout the history of the science fiction film, the soundtrack plots a unique trajectory from ordinary consciousness to unusual, altered states. Considering works ranging from Rocketship X-M (1950) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) to Blade Runner (1982), The Fountain (2006), and Wall-E (2008), I present science fiction cinema in terms of the developments and transformations of consciousness from alienated, mythic, archetypal and psychotechnological states on toward the plateaus and peaks of complex cosmic and oceanic modes of consciousness.


Readings read by 09-29-2011
Strange Sounds II: Time (Ch. 3)


Audio Materials listen by 09-29-2011
The two short TOS1_Sonified Science Fiction mixes mash up my own interests in the sound and music of science fiction film soundtracks with Timothy Taylor's interests in space age bachelor pad exotica and spacey ephemera.

The second half of the program does not start automatically, so you will need to do so manually. If the embedded player doesn't show up below or you prefer direct downloads, these may be found here.


Required media: session four

September 27, 2011

Readings read by 09-27-2011
Strange Sounds I: Theory (Ch. 1-2)
Audio Cultures III: Music in the Age of Electronic (Re)production
Ch. 23 John Oswald, "Bettered by the Borrower: The Ethics of Musical Debt"
Ch. 24 Chris Cutler, "Plunderphonia"


Audio Materials listen by 09-27-2011
These selections may be found in the "Session04" folder.

John Cage, "Williams Mix" (1952)

John Cage, "Imaginary Landscapes No. 4" (1951)
WFMU, "New York, NY Radio: The Night John Lennon Died"
William S. Burroughs, "Present Time Exercises" (1971)
James Tenney, "Collage #1 (Blue Suede)" (1961)


John Oswald. 69 Plunderphonics 96 (1988 / 2001)
Track 21 Pretender (Dally Proton)
Track 22 Dont (Vessel Ripley)


Christian Marclay, Records (1997)
Track 02 Jukebox Capriccio


Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The Message (1982)
Track 08 The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1981)


Malcolm McLaren & the World's Famous Supreme Team, "Buffalo Gals" (1983)


Strictly Kev, "Raiding the 20th Century: A History of the Cut-Up" (2004)
DJ Food, "Raiding the 20th Century: Words & Music Expansion" (2005)


Required BLOG POST

September 26, 2011

Blog Post due by 09-26-2011

Use Chris Cutler's paragraph-long description of John Oswald's "Pretender" on page 139 of Audio Culture as a model for writing about one piece of audio introduced this unit. As with Cutler's writing, the emphasis should be on language that presents the audio in terms of a sonorous object . Closely and accurately describe what you are hearing rather than assessing, evaluating, critically analyzing, or analogizing around the audio. There are two exceptions to this:

1) You are allowed ONE general exception to the limitation given above, such as Cutler's statement in the fifth sentence, where he reflects broadly on his own mental activity while listening (but notice, without providing any details of what he's thinking about).

2) You should conclude with a question pointing to the key mystery or surprise of what you hear, the core of the piece's source of wonder or major point of engagement for you.

Post your one-paragraph entry at the Digital Sound Cultures blog by 5pm, Monday, 09-26-2011.


Required media: session three

September 22, 2011

Readings read by 09-22-2011
"Iara Lee's World Beat" by Michelle Goldberg
MetroActive Movies, from the August 10-23, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan


Video Screening view on 09-22-2011
Modulations: Cinema for the Ear (1998) by Iara Lee
total time: 74 minutes


Required exercise: session two

September 20, 2011

Journal Exercise complete by 09-20-2011
1) Pick one selection from the session02 folder, choosing at least 5 minutes of material. If excerpted from a longer piece, note start and end time and always listen to the same selection. You may also choose to listen to mutilple shorter pieces, as long as you listen to the same sequence each day. Finally, you may listen to selections longer than 5 minutes as long as you listen to the same length of material each day.

2) Run through Schaeffer's descriptions under "The Acousmatic Field" (Audio Culture pg. 78):
a. "Pure Listening": this means that you are listening to a recorded object played back over a speaker (e.g., loudspeaker, headphones). For our purposes, it also means that you are concentrating on listening, not multitasking (including not writing while listening). For our exercise, you commit to "pure listening" to your sound selection at least once daily.
b. "LIstening to Effects": this refers to the act of repeated listenings to the same sound selection, noting the ways in which your perception of the sound changes as you become more accustomed to it, hear new things or aspects of the sound upon different listenings. For our exercise, you should commit to listening to your selection at least twice by recreating the same playback conditions (e.g., same place, same volume, same speaker set-up, such as over stereo speakers or through headphones)
c. "Variations in Listening": this refers more to the acts of focus or attention that you bring to the listening exercise. The "subjectivity" that Schaeffer describes reflects on yourself as listener. For our exercise, it might include your choice to listen for particular types or aspects of sound (e.g., listening for very quiet sounds, or listening for sounds that rise in pitch).
d. "Variations in the Signal": this refers to ways in which you change how the sound object plays back. For our current exercise, stick to the following options: changing speaker set-up ( listen over stereo speakers, listen over headphones, change your position relative to the speaers, near or far); change the volume (compare listening to the sound object played very loud, then very quietly); balance (play the sound object over only one speaker); tone equalization (adjust treble, mid-range, and/or bass settings). Let's reserve more radical operations (applying effects like reverb or echo; playing the sound object backwards; or cutting up and resequencing) for later exercises.

3) Keep a daily sound journal of listening responses to your selected sound object; the following format may be helpful, both to note the same and differing conditions of the experiment, and to note your reactions:
a. Title of sound object and lengh (if selected from part of a longer file, note start and end times).
b. Playback conditions (e.g., portable MP3 player, volume set at 75%, played over headphones).
c. Variations in Listening (list any subjective focus or directions you give yourself before a listening exercise).
d. Variations in the Signal (list any single or combined changes you make to how the sound is played back).
e. Describe the resulting listening exercise in ways that refrain from source identification and metaphor, taking into consideration variations in listening and in signal.
f. Additional notes or observations.


Required media: session two

September 20 2011

Readings read by 09-20-2011
Audio Culture II: Modes of Listening
Ch. 14: Pierre Schaeffer, "Acousmatics"
Ch. 15: Francisco Lopez, "Profound Listening and Environmental Sound Matter"
Ch. 17: Brian Eno, "Ambient Music"
Ch. 18: Iain Chambers, "The Aural Walk"
Ch. 19: Pauline Oliveros, "Some Sound Observations"


Audio Materials listen by 09-20-2011
These selections may be found in the "Session02" folder.

Pierre Schaeffer, études e bruits [1948]
Track 01 Etude aux Chemins de Fer
Track 02 Etude aux Tourniquets
Track 03 Etude Violette
Track 04 Etude Noire


Francisco Lopez, La Selva [1997]


Brian Eno
Discreet Music [1975]
Track 01 Discreet Music

Ambient 1: Music For Airports [1978]
Track 01 "1-1"
Track 04 "2-2"

Ambient 4: On Land [1982]
Track 01 Lizard Point
Track 05 Lantern Marsh


Aural Walks

Janet Cardiff, "The Missing Voice (excerpt)" [1999]

Annea Lockwood
A Sound Map of the Hudson River [1989]
Track 02 Feldspar Broom, Mt. Marcy - The Highest Tributary
Track 08 Confluence of Patterson Brook and The Hudson River
A Sound Map of the Danube [2008]
Track 04 Passau to Jochenstein Dam

Hildegard Westerkamp, Into India [2002]
Track 02 Into the Labirinth


Pauline Oliveros
"Bye Bye Butterfly" [1965]
"Alien Bog" [1967]


Deep Listening Band, The Ready Made Boomerang [1991]
Track 01 Balloon Payment
Track 06 CCCC (Cistern Chapel Chance Chants)


Required media: session one

September 15, 2011

Video Playlist view by 09-15-2011
"Stockhausen vs. the Technocrats" (plus Björk!)
total time: 1hr 10min


Readings read by 09-15-2011
Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Advice To Clever Children..."
Björk Meets Karlneinz Stockhausen


Audio Materials listen by 09-15-2011
These selections may be found in the "Session01" folder.

Aphex Twin, I Care Because You Do [1995]
Track 01 Acrid Avid Jam Shred
Track 05 Ventolin (Video Version)
Track 10 Alberto Balsalm


Björk, Post [1995]
Track 02 Hyper-Ballad
Track 05 Enjoy
Track 11 Headphones


Daniel Pemberton, Bedroom [1994]
Track 01 Phoenix
Track 02 Basement
Track 10 Voices


PLSTKMN, Sheet One [1993]
Track 01 Drp
Track 02 Plasticity
Track 06 Glob


Scanner, Sulphur [1995]
Track 03 Through Seven Doors
Track 05 Flaneur Electronique
Track 06 Brittle


Karlheinz Stockhausen
Gesang der Jünglinge [1955]
Kontakte (excerpt) [1958]
Zyklus für einen Schlagzeuger [1959]
Hymnen [1969]