Courses

Find the descriptions of our regularly offered courses here. Check the Columbia Course Catalog for up-to-date offerings. Please note that many of the courses at the CMC have a waitlist, and give priority to music majors and minors.

Regularly Offered Courses

Introduction to Digital Music

This course introduces the potential of digital sound synthesis and signal processing and teaches proficiency in elementary and advanced digital audio techniques. In addition, this course aims to challenge some of the tacit assumptions about music that are built into the design of various user interfaces and hardware, and fosters a creative approach to using digital audio workstation software and equipment. Topics include the basics of hearing and acoustics, analog-to-digital conversion, audio editing and effects, analog and digital synthesizers, and more. The bulk of the course is made up of creative assignments, but there will also be listening and reading responses, and participation in discussion and sharing of work is central to the class.

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Recorded Sound

Recorded Sound focuses on the fundamentals of sound recording and mixing, as well as on basic acoustics and audio tools. Students learn to use the recording studio as a creative environment to record musical works or audio projects. The main tool used during the semester is Logic Pro, along with the collection of microphones and outboard gear available at the Columbia Music Center studio. Topics include basic acoustics, digitizing sound, signal flow, microphones types and techniques, audio editing, equalization, compression, audio mixing, and critical listening. Ultimately this class is designed for students with a keen interest in integrating recording skills into their practice and is a "hands-on" project-oriented class, where student engagement, attendance, and assignment completion are of utmost importance.

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History and Practice of Electronic Music

This course will provide a critical survey of the development of electronic and computer music and sound from around the world. From early experiments and precursors in the late 19th century through to modern-day experimental and popular music practices, this course aims to trace the development of technologies used in the production of electronic and computer derived sound and music alongside the economic, cultural, and social forces that contribute to the development of audiences. The course emphasizes listening through curated playlists to distinguish styles and genres. Readings and listening examples are paired with small hands-on assignments to demonstrate the impact of music-making tools on genres and styles. It covers a range from experimental practices like musique concrète, drone, and harsh noise to mainstream genres such as dub, techno, vaporwave, hyperpop, and hip hop.

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Music, Math, and Mind

This course is a detailed and hands-on (ears-on) exploration of the fundamental physical, physiological, and psychological aspects of sound. Topics covered include sound waves and their physical nature, the propagation and speed of sound in different mediums, geological and other non-living sound sources, animal and insect sound generating strategies, sound perception mechanisms and abilities in different species, the physiology of human hearing and the structure of the human ear, psycho-acoustics and human sound perception, sonic illusions and tricks of the ear. In-class experiments and research make up the majority of the class. Each student will design and lead at least one experiment/demo session. Students also respond to creative weekly prompts about sound topics on courseworks. We also have visits with a number of special guests during the term.

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Instrument, Interface, Installation: Building Sound

This course will address hands-on making through creative projects reinforced with critical and historical readings to contextualize work. Coursework will explore fabrication, gears and motors, homemade instruments, 3D printing, amplifiers and transducers, circuit bending, and getting comfortable soldering and reading circuits. The course engages creative uses of audio technology within and beyond the concert hall, instrumental acoustics and organology, and movement, gesture, and space as elements of structuring sound work. Fluency, trouble-shooting, and self-reliance regarding basic audio hardware, signal flow, and technical requirements for supporting the addition of amplification, fixed media, or interactive electronics to sound work will be a focus throughout. We’ll explore instrument building and modification, installation design and construction, and physical interfaces to software instruments through hands-on projects supported by readings and repertoire and will culminate in a creative project of your own design.

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Sound: Advanced Topics I & II

This class explores advanced topics relating to the production of music by computer. Although programming experience is not a prerequisite, various programming techniques are enlisted to investigate interface design, algorithmic composition, computer analysis and processing of digital audio, and the use of computer music in contexts such as VR/AR applications. Check with the instructor for the particular focus of the class in an upcoming semester. Some familiarity with computer music hardware/software is expected.

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Techniques of Live Sound

This course explores analog and digital tools for concert sound reinforcement across various formats. Through hands-on experience, students learn how contemporary tools impact the aesthetic choices in musical projects. It provides artists with a solid foundation in live sound concepts to enhance their creative audio work. A key feature is direct experience in producing live concerts, bridging studio preparation and live execution. Students, under instructor supervision, oversee audio aspects of two to three music department events, including the Columbia Composers concert series. Topics include analog and digital mixing, live sound processing, concert diffusion, spatial audio, sound reinforcement, mixed music techniques, concert recording, and efficient equipment setup and teardown.

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Interactive Sound and Video

In this year-long sequence students gain familiarity with the materials used in electroacoustic music and the techniques and equipment that are employed to transform and organize these materials into compositions. Individual projects are assigned.

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Sonic and Visual Representation of Data

This course explores the creative visualization and sonification of data. Humans produce enormous amounts of data representing complex phenomena (including but not limited to our own activities), but there is a deficit in our ability to perceive and understand the patterns in the data. The auditory and visual perceptual systems are optimized for a wide range of spatial and temporal patterns that we process simultaneously to understand our immediate surroundings. How can we use these capabilities to better understand processes that are beyond the range of our direct perception, but we can measure indirectly with a vast range of sensors? This course addresses ways of generating both sonic and visual animations of the same data, from which we will construct videos. Questions of how to design and tune these representations to bring out patterns in the data, based on the nature of human perception and also aesthetic choices, will be discussed throughout. Students will select datasets they are interested in early in the course, and will develop and build these projects over the semester in Python, RTcmix, Max/MSP and other software.

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Computational Sound

In this course, we explore the variety of roles that computation can play in the analysis, creation, and performance of music. We start with the fundamentals of sound in the digital domain, covering issues of representation and audio synthesis. We then move through various synthesis techniques including the additive, subtractive, frequency modulation (FM), and amplitude modulation (AM) synthesis. After covering some core DSP techniques, we put these concepts into performative practice by exploring “live coding”. In the space of live coding, we examine various programming language designs to understand how various domain specific languages (DSLs) support live coding. For the third module, we turn our focus to automated composition and analysis, addressing challenges in music information retrieval, generative art, and autonomous improvisation systems. All the while, we continue to develop our fluency in live coding by putting new topics to practice.

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Sound: Foundations

This foundational course in sound explores listening, capturing, and presenting sound through hands-on experimentation. We'll examine sound's technical and semiotic use in creative practice, covering fundamental studio techniques like soldering to build cables, microphones, and loudspeakers. The course delves into analog and digital sound creation processes, including microphone types and placement, basic synthesis, and techniques for recording, mixing, editing, and mastering. Creative projects will help students learn by doing. We'll study theories of sound and listening influenced by technology, covering physical and social sound dimensions, language, acoustics, acousmatics, and psycho-acoustics. No prior knowledge or technical skill is required. Readings will be assigned, and active participation in discussions is encouraged.

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Creative Embedded Systems

Ubiquitous computing is creating new canvases and opportunities for creative ideas. This class explores the use of microprocessors, distributed sensor networks, IoT, and intermedia systems for the purposes of creative expression. The course is delivered in a mixed lecture and lab format that introduces the fundamental concepts and theory behind embedded systems as well as issues particular to their creative employment. The key objective of the course is for students to conceive of and implement creative uses of computation.

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