Computer Music, Digital Signal Processing, Acoustics and Aesthetics

Winter 2021
Spring 2021
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 25
12 16 Credits per quarter
Log in to add this offering to your saved list.
Taught by

This two-quarter program will address the fields of computer music, acoustics, and creativity. We will be using the synthesis language SuperCollider, which is a programming language for sound synthesis and music composition. 

The function of the computer in the creation of music has been wide-spread since the 1980s. Computer synthesis programs have been commercially available since the 1990s. However, the underlying scientific principles have remained the same since the early 1950s, when first occurrences of digitally generated sound and computer assisted music composition were made.

In our class, we will study the underlying principles of sound production by a computer, including some of the mathematics of digital signal processing and acoustics.

We'll be exploring four areas:

  • Computer synthesized music
  • Digital signal processing
  • Acoustics
  • Aesthetics and the History of Electro-Acoustic Music

The synthesis language SuperCollider was created about fifteen years ago. It survives today in a freely available form, and is used for the generation of both pop (or dance) music, as well as for experimental research in music composition. 

In learning SuperCollider, we'll also be studying the basics of Digital Signal Processing. This involves learning the mathematics behind the building of simple waveforms, learning the fundamentals of digital filters and reverberation, frequency and amplitude modulation, and slowly moving on to learn more advanced topics such as Fourier transforms and convolution.

We will be using  The SuperCollider Book (published by the MIT Press in 2011) for both the winter and the spring quarters.

Alongside this study, will be the study of the acoustic principles of instruments. We'll be studying the acoustical properties of string instruments, wind instruments, percussion, and others. This knowledge is intended to help students when building their own synthesis algorithms in programming.  We’ll be using the book Horns, Strings and Harmony , written by Arthur H. Benade, and published by Dover Editions.

During the Spring Quarter, the class will go down to 12 credits.  However, I will be accepting 4-credit ILCs that will address the history of aesthetics and the development of electro-acoustic music, from its beginnings in the early part of the 20th century up to the present.  We’ll be using the book Composing Electronic Music: A New Aesthetic by Curtis Roads, published by Oxford University Press.  This book has many acoustic examples of compositions, written from the 1950s up through 2010.

This will be a project-oriented class, in which students will be expected to create 3 or 4 individual projects (compositions) each quarter. There will be group research presentations on acoustics (fall quarter) and on music history (winter quarter). And there will be regular readings and listening assignments. There will be a series of quizzes each quarter on signal processing, acoustics, and programming.

To successfully participate in this program, students will need access to reliable internet service, and a desktop or laptop computer with a modern web browser.  Access to good quality speakers is very important.  (Unfortunately, headphones and computer speakers do not transmit low frequencies very well.) Students can expect our remote teaching to be around a 12/2 blend of asynchronous (self-paced) and synchronous (scheduled) coursework, using Zoom and Canvas. Students will have access to alternatives to synchronous (in person or remote) participation if conditions require.


Winter 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20228
Spring 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (12): 30123

Academic details

Preparatory For

Music composition

Computer programming

Media arts

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


In Person or Remote
Remote (W)
Remote (S)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting



Date Revision
2020-11-09 This program is now 12 credits in spring (was 16)
2020-11-09 Student fee removed for both winter and spring quarters