Our goals in this class will be threefold: to fill gaps in your understanding of the principles and basics of audio, to introduce you to digital audio technology, and to propose ways for you to use the same in your own creations. ITP has a wide assortment of talents, so our goal here is to adapt the course content to whatever will complement your own focus. For some, this may mean learning the basics of live recording, for others it may entail gaining proficiency in a particular audio app, etc.
The hardware and software we'll be using is nothing esoteric or difficult to obtain. You may decide to purchase your own copies during the course, and I'll be glad to assist you in getting the best price. Student discounts are often available, both from the manufacturers and from third party distributors. There are several audio workstations on the floor, and our work will revolve around the software and hardware found in them.
Anything you do with audio can be thought of as a kind of music, whether you're just editing spoken sound bites or making button clicks for your latest UI. While no musical background is assumed here, expect to be introduced to a lot of musical concepts and terminology. We will spend some time in the musical domain with MIDI, but your main focus will be the creation and manipulation of digital audio clips (MIDI is treated in more depth in the Digital Sound workshop here at ITP).
Attendance and participation are taken very seriously. This is a graduate level course and we sometimes move quickly, so missing a single class can easily cause you to fall behind. Likewise, if you come in late, you'll undoubtedly be the one to ask a question which has already been asked and answered…and cause your colleagues to give you dirty looks. You'll find that I'm one of those who often try to explain things by posing questions. Please use those opportunities to throw out ideas and wild speculations. Literally no wrong answers, here. More likely, what you think should be the answer to some problem could turn out to be the next innovation.
Think of this class as a forum in which
you're encouraged to contribute as much as possible through the weekly
assignments. Each week has a suggested assignment, which you'll do
in order to cement the ideas and techniques we go over in class.
I reiterate: you're all grad students, so I expect you to handle those
assignments in the way which best fits your own needs. Many times you'll
probably already have something in mind you want to try. Always be prepared to play something! This means you
should always bring your work materials to class, so we can study and offer suggestions.
We use the Blackboard site as a media storage facility, and it's a great way for you to have material prepared to show. Once you start digitizing things, it will save a lot of time if you upload your work (smaller files, anyway) to the blackboard using the 'digital drop box' feature, as we'll explore in class. That way, you can just let me know at the beginning of class that you have something to share and we can quickly retrieve it from there, as opposed to having 20 people trying to find their stuff on USB drives and what not. The thing to remember though, is if you want me to look at it you have to SEND it, not just SAVE it.
Although we don't follow a specific textbook, I do recommend a couple of books that parallel some of the topics we discuss. Many books on Pro Tools are on the market, and some are available at the NYU bookstore (and Amazon, of course). Sound Check by Tony Moscal (Hal Leonard, pub.) is a very readable and down to Earth introduction to the things you need to know about the electronics of sound. Another fine all around manual for analog aspects of audio production is Audio in Media, by Stanley Alton (ISBN 0-534-06156-7). It is expensive, but a good volume for your bookshelf. Science and Music, by Sir James Jeans is an excellent introduction to the general principles of audio. He covers a lot of ground in a small inexpensive paperback, which, despite the fact that it was written in 1937, still presents the material in a pleasant and readable form. Kenneth Pohlman's Principles of Digital Audio is a standard in the industry, and has just been updated. Not cheap, but it's very comprehensive. If you intend to go into audio systems design, or simply really want to understand what goes on in all that digital gear at the machine level, it would make a great reference. For MIDI, I use MIDI for the Professional, by Lehrman & Tully. All of these books are available at the NYU bookstore. If you get excited about the musical side of things, you might want Curtis Rhoads's magnum opus The Computer Music Tutorial , available from the NYU computer store. I will hand out excerpts from various publications from time to time, and we shouldn't forget that source of sources, the WWW, including the Wiki, which is becoming a very good quick reference (you'll notice an increasing number of my glossary defs are now linking there.
Gradually supplanting paper as a source
of knowledge, of course, is the web itself. Here, for instance, is
an excellent place to get started in your exploration of sound:
ITP has a great resource page for help with the audio workstations. My nyu email is: email@example.com. In class I'll give you a preferred email address to use, though. I'll be around on Mon. afternoons before class, and will be available other times by appointment. You can also call me at work if you need assistance in the labs (can't get sound, midi, etc.) I'll give the number in class. There is also a list where you can post questions, comments, news, etc., it is itp-sound. You get to it via home.nyu.edu, and subscribe with your net id and a password which I'll give in class. I'll also give you an IM address so you can send me an IM from any pc if you have trouble or a question. This course has a Blackboard account. You can find it under the Academics tab when you log into http://home.nyu.edu .As a class member you'll automatically be added to the blackboard list. The site serves as a repository for all sorts of class materials, and has things like email addresses for your colleagues, etc. Still, the itp-sound list has been around longer, so please use that to post your sound related questions. It's also frequented by such luminaries as Josh Goldberg, Luke Dubois and Jeremy Bernstein, who are always ready with a quick solution (or at least a snappy answer)…
Here, also, is a new link from Miller Puckett, one of the fathers of
Max/MSP, an online version of his excellent treatise on digital sound,
for your reference:
Audio hardware and software tend to be loaded with features and options, which has the side effect of making them complex to configure. Once they've been set, though, they tend to be quite stable... until someone comes along and decides to start changing settings. With the shift away from a hardware-centric workstation to the integrated soft-synth approach we're now using, there's relatively little hardware routing necessary; You should be able to accomplish anything you want using the preset configs. If you do need to do something esoteric, make sure you know how to put it back first!
A Note on the Final Project
Six weeks is not a lot of time! So from the very start we'll be thinking of things that could make for an interesting final creation. This will give you something to work towards, and also provide a useful framework for the various elements you pick up from class to class. By the mid point you should have collected enough audio to put together something fun with Ableton, Reason or the like. I'd like for you to leave with a real product in your pocket (or ipod)
Here is a general plan for material to be covered. The structure and content is subject to change, depending on your interests, new floor acquisitions, and the general state of a particular piece of hardware/software in the classroom. A note on the glossaries after each segment: the terms in these charts are organized (top to bottom, left to right) roughly in the order in which you'd expect to encounter them in an exploration of a given topic, but of course a lot of audio technology is circular, so don't be surprised if some terms tend to be self-referential: part of the knack of getting all this info is in a willingness to hold a complete understanding of a term in suspense until its neighbors have been somewhat understood. The more you 'grok' one concept, the more the others will make sense.
LIST OF CLASSES: CLICK HEADERS TO EXPAND
WEEK 1: (Mon.)
Class Introductions: names/aspirations, syllabus review, website, itp-sound info, blackboard info.
theory: concept of Waves (what is sound), freq, amp, resonance
practical: driver demo, resonance demo,freq sweep demo.
theory: how analog gets to digital, advantages/disadvantages
practical: CPU audio system: Core audio, directX, DAC, ADC options
Find 5 useful sound-related websites for our class compilation list, e.g.:
This will be an ongoing process, and hopefully by the end of class we'll have a massive set of sound-related bookmarks!
Send me a test document to the digital dropbox.
Launch Audacity, change the built-in input on a mac from mic to line-in, record from a plugged in device to Audacity, export the file. Familiarize yourself with the toolbar, make notes of any questions.
Familiarize yourself with the sound facilities at ITP. This includes the equipment which may be checked out of the equipment room (mics, recorders, MIDI gear, etc.), as well as the audio workstations themselves.
Study terms in the chart below. All should have active definition links, if not please let me know.
WEEK 1: (Wed.)
Theory: Measurement of Fq, measurement of Amp.: linear vs. logarithmic. Harmonic theory; Electrification of sound, circuits, balanced/unbalanced
Practical: scope demo, cables/connectors
Theory: inside a digital recording system: bits, sampling, ADC/DAC process.
Practical: Using digital recorders, SignalScope Pro overview.
record several short sounds into digital recorder. Keep a take sheet, and change input settings for each recording, taking notes about what was changed. Play back the recording each time for comparison. Transfer the recorded sounds into a cpu and save.
Spend some time with Signalscope, using a mic as input. Study the FFT plotter and waveform displays. Say ‘UU (long ‘u’) into the mic, watch the displays as you slowly change from UU through OO, ah (short o), a (short a), e (short e), AA, I (short i), EE. Describe how the waveform changes.
Go to the Pro Audio parts dept. at either Sam Ash (48th between B'way and 7th) or Manny's (ditto), and buy two mono ¼” phone plugs, a stereo mini plug, and some three conductor shielded cable (at least 10 feet). Radio Shack may or may not have the same things, unlikely that they'd have the cable. Solder yourself an adaptor cable from these parts, respecting the proper TRS routing. Make it well, you'll probably find it very useful. Here's a wiring diagram:
USE THE DIGITAL DROP BOX TO SEND ME ONE OF YOUR FX (or more if you like)
WEEK 2: (Mon.)
- theory: signal chain, I/O, transduction, typical configurations, routing
- Audacity I/O, recording basics
- Ableton Live basics
There are many resources for collecting sound effects. http://www.sound-ideas.com is one of the most comprehensive (I've heard the same one of their unaltered female screams used in at least four major movies, which speaks both to their quality and to the laziness of your typical hollywood fx artist). Sounddogs.com is another good source. However, we want to learn how to do this ourselves, so I'd like for you to start your own library of FX (some of which might find their way into your final project). A great habit would be for you to start maintaining a list of your fx. Word, Xcel, all make great ways to keep track of files. It's also good to have a naming convention for files. I usually try to incorporate the date, and some form of categorization string, e.g. wood_door_close_20090405. While the method may change as you do ore and more fx, you'll still be able to keep things nicely organized.
So, for the assignment: Run Audacity, configure it for external mic input and use a good quality mic to record several short fx (try to make them as different as possible, using different materials).
See this doc on adjusting your input source and levels if you're using Audacity in Windows:
Pay close attention to meter readings, try to get them as hot as possible without clipping. Don't let them drag on so you can focus on the quality of each, and compare. Keep some sort of info sheet like this:
(example take sheet:):
Scary cat, door slam (bad take)
Launch Ableton, work through the Audio I/O and Recording Audio tutorials. Capture some of your fx using this method as well, compare the export method between the two apps. Review the differences between 'live' and 'arrangement' modes.
WEEK 2: (Wed.)
- Microphones: condenser/dynamic; pickup patterns; lo-hi impedance, phantom power, Lo-cut filtering, tips/tricks.
- Audacity processing 1. Basic Processes, e.g. normalizing, EQ, manipulating sound in the timeline.
- Ableton processing 1 . Combining assets, basic realtime processing, clip manipulation.
Sign out two contrasting mics (for instance, an SM58 and an NT1), find a quiet spot and a pair of headphones with good isolation. Spend time monitoring the sound of the mics through the phones, switching back and forth between them (a small mixer makes that easier). Note the most and least sensitive areas in each mic.
Pick one mic and three different devices at random. Try to plug the mic into each and do a short recording of an identical audio source. Make note of the problems you run into, if any. The goal is to produce exactly identical recordings on different devices, e.g. Audacity, a digital recorder, a DV cam. Note any special impedance matching or adaptors you end up having to use.
Open each of your recorded FX into Audacity and perform the following processes: Normalize, Noise Reduction, trim (crop). Clone an FX a few times on the timeline and experiment with the different flavors of EQ. Export the results as separate .wav files.
Open your Ableton Session (or create a new one). Record (or import) sounds into it and compare the various EQ tools with those in Audacity.
|BI-DIRECTIONAL||LO-Z||GRAPHIC EQ||PITCH SHIFT|
WEEK 3: (Mon.)
mixers : concept, types, typical features, using in live and studio context.
Ableton Processing 2. Bouncing/mixing down complex sessions, integration with other apps.
Start with the Ableton DJ tutorial. Once you understand the principles involved in cross fading and reordering clips, switch out the sample with a collection of your own recorded samples. (short, well defined samples will probably work best). Once you have a nice groove going, add the 'borg' grain delay effect as a send. Play with the settings as the session loops, and capture the output to a track, then export it as a 48k 16bit stereo .wav file.
|SUBMIX||AUX SEND||+4dB||PEAK LIMITING|
|GROUP||AUX RETURN||-10dB||GAIN REDUCTION|
|TRIM||VU METER||1KHz REFERENCE TONE||DELAY|
|"0" DB (REFERENCE LEVEL)||MUTE||GRANULATION||PHASER|
WEEK 3: (Wed.)
- Midterm projects
WEEK 4: (Mon.)
- theory: MUSIC. MIDI: concept overview (musical representation), nuts & bolts. Discussion: Electronic Music. The Narrative vs. Interactive experience; Authorship vs. Anonymity; the question of sampling (does anyone create anything?).
- midi wiring, routing, interfaces, devices, channels, ports. At this point the class content will be adapted to needs of this specific class. The syllabus may also be modified depending on certain purchases, e.g., Logic Pro, which will send the MIDI portion of the class in a much different direction. For now we'll stick with Ableton, just bear in mind that it may change.
Assignment: Bring into a new session several devices from the Instrument Rack. Use something from each of the 'classes' of instruments (synth, pad, Simpler,Impulse, etc.). Sculpt an atmospheric, ambient texture using those elements, by drawing into the midi track for each. Make judicious use of effects to enhance the basic synth material. Apply graphic envelopes to controller 7 (vol), 10 (pan) and specific controllable parameters of each instrument. Attach a MIDI controller and modify some of the envelopes in realtime.
|FULL DUPLEX||STEP RECORD|
|PLAYBACK HEAD||GENERAL MIDI||MERGE|
WEEK 4: (Wed.)
While there are many reasons to perform on hardware synthesizers (response time, integration of controls), CPUs have become fast enough to do the severe number crunching involved in fluid sound synthesis. As a result, there are numerous virtual synth platforms on the market (payware, shareware and freeware). Some, such as Propellerheads Reason, offer a realistic user interface (GUI), while others leave the driving to you. We'll explore both, looking at Reason and Supercollider
Continue working through tutorials in Ableton, add Reason as a slaved Rewire app. Compare Reason's Subtractor synth with Ableton's Simpler/Analog Saw. Look for the same elements in each device, study how each parameter is treated in the UI. Incorporate two or three Reason modules/tracks into your work. Try out the JSYN samples at Http://www.softsynth.com and visit the download pages for Supercollider, RTCMix, ChucK, CSound and JMSL.
WEEK 5: (Mon.)
Sound design in video
Further explorations of Reason/Supercollider. Concepts in sound design. Comparison between Ableton and Logic Pro.
Using the animation I provide (or something of your own), create a sound track using both foreground fx, ambience, proper reverb, and music.
Note: You'll probably find it easier to work in the 'arrangement' mode in Ableton for timeline-based design.
Or if you prefer, work on your final project..
WEEK 5: (Wed.)
Podcasting, sound on web
Overview of sound as it features in the internet. Past platforms (beatnik, etc.), current trends. Creating a podcast, RSS feed, MetaData. I will demo the creation and publication of an Ernst & Young Thought Center podcast.
WEEK 6: (Mon.)
Overview of Max/MSP/Jitter. This class will demo the highly interactive and flexible tool made by Cycling74. If Ableton has released v.8 of Live by then we may even explore the integration of Max into that.
WEEK 6: (Wed.)