Courses in Electroacoustic Music & Art



Instructor: Barry Truax, 6146 CC, 291-4261, email:

Website: &

Course Description:

Digital technology has changed both the process and products of contemporary creativity in artmaking. This course will focus on the history and practice of this shift in the fields of visual art and music with reference to related disciplines. The emphasis will be on instances where both the process and product are inconceivable apart from digital technology, in other words, where the computer is intimately involved in the creative process, not merely the realization stage. A range of processes from interactive systems through to algorithmic approaches (stochastic, deterministic, chaotic) will be examined as they have been used by artists in visual arts and music composition. Of particular interest will be cases where similar techniques and concepts are used across media. The course will attempt to blend aesthetic criticism with applied experimentation.

Texts: FPA. 389 Readings (two copies on reserve in Library)


L. Manovich, The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001 (P 96 T42 M35 2001)

T. Druckrey, ed. Ars Electronica: Facing the Future, MIT Press, 1999. (NX 260 A77 1999)

Steven R. Holtzman, Digital Mantras: The language of abstract and virtual worlds. MIT Press, 1994. (QA 76 H2786 1994)

S. Mealing, ed. Computers and Art. Intellect Books, 1997. (N 7433.8 C666 1997)

Randall Packer, ed. Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality. Norton, 2001. (QA 76.575 M8319 2001)

Leonardo, vols. 1-34, 1968-present, MIT Press. (bound volumes in the stacks)

Leonardo Electronic Almanac website: /e-journals/LEA/home.html

Leonardo Music Journal, vol. 1-present (ML1 L2)

Organised Sound, vol. 1-present (stacks)

M. Emmer, ed. The Visual Mind: Art and Mathematics. MIT Press, 1993 (N 72 M3 V58 1993)

C. Dodge & T. Jerse, Computer Music. Schirmer, 1985 (ML 1092 D54)

R. Rowe, Interactive Music Systems. MIT Press, 1993 (MT 723 R7 1993)

J. Chadabe, Electric Sound. Prentice-Hall 1997. (MP 1380 C43 1997)

S. Emmerson, ed. The Language of Electroacoustic Music. Macmillan, 1986. (ML 1092 L35)

Recommended Readings:

Druckery, T. ed., Electronic culture: Technology and visual representation. Aperture, 1996. (N 72 T4 E54 1996)

Franke, Herbert W., Computer graphics, computer art. 2nd ed. Berlin, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1985. (T 385 F6913 1985)

Holtzman, Steven R., Digital mosaics: The aesthetics of cyberspace. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. (NX 260 H65 1997)

Krueger, Myron, Artificial Reality II, Addison-Wesley, 1991 (NX 180 T4 K7 1991)

Johnson-Eilola, J. Nostalgic angels: Rearticulating hypertext writing. Ablex Publishing, 1997 (QA 76.76 H94 J63 1997)

Joyce, Michael, Of two minds: Hypertext pedagogy and poetics. Univ. of Michigan Press, 1995 (PN 56 T37 J69 1995)

Lansdown, John & Rae A. Earnshaw, eds. Computers in art, design and animation. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989. (N 7433.8 C67 1989)

Malina, Frank J., ed. Visual art, mathematics and computers: Selections from the journal Leonardo. New York: Pergamon Press, 1979. (N 72 M3 V57)

Moser, M.A. & D. MacLeod, eds. Immersed in technology: Art and virtual environments. MIT Press, 1996 (N 72 T4 I48 1996)

Peitgen, Heinz-Otto & P.H. Richter, The beauty of fractals: Images of complex dynamical systems. Berlin, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1986 (QA 447 P45)

Prueitt, Melvin L., Art and the computer. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984. (N 7433.8 P7)

Schwartz, Lillian, The computer artist's handbook: Concepts, techniques, and applications. New York: Norton, 1992. (N 7433.8 S39 1992)

Spalter, Anne Morgan, The computer in the visual arts. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, 1999. (N 72 E53 S65 1999)

Todd, Stephen, Evolutionary art and computers. London, San Diego: Academic Press, 1992. (TR 897.5 T624 1992)

Toffoli, T. & N. Margolis, Cellular automata machines. MIT Press, 1987 (QA 267.5 C45 T64)

Whitney, John, Digital harmony: on the complementarity of music and visual art. Peterborough, NH: Byte Books, 1980. (ML 3849 W5)

Prix Ars Electronica annual competition publications:

1990, 1992, 1996 editions on reserve (N 7433.8 C 9248 1990, 1992, 1996)

Schenck, Christian, ed. Cyberarts (Prix Ars Electronica 97). Wien, New York: Springer, 1997. (N 7433.8 C925 1997)

Project Descriptions and Deadlines:

Week 4: Review article
Week 7: Applied exercise
Week 10: Essay
Week 13: Applied design project

Note: in both the written and applied work, students are encouraged to follow one or more of these options, with respect to their background in music, visual art or computing:

(a) remain in your most familiar area, but pursue the implications of computer-assisted composition and design in greater depth than before;

(b) explore a different area from the one with which you are most familiar, but attempt to draw some parallels between your own area and the new one;

(c) in the applied work, collaborate with a student who is based in a different area from your own, with each of you following either option (a) or (b) as above.

1. Review Article: (20%)

Select 4 or 5 articles from Leonardo or Leonardo Music Journal or Organised Sound (or from links in their websites) which deal with the use of computers in artmaking. The norm here is the "Artist Article" in Leonardo. Summarize each article with respect to the nature of the computer's involvement, and the resulting design and aesthetic implications of the results. Include a discussion of the group of readings as a whole, bringing out similarities and contrasts, or other issues that arise from your choice of examples. Suggested length: 2000-2500 words.

2. Applied Exercise: (20%)

This is a free-form exercise in which you utilize one or more types of software to generate and organize your material. In particular, you should endeavour to include significant involvement of the computer in your process at one or more levels. This can include use of algorithmic approaches, stochastic variables, non-linear techniques or other formalized systems. Where direct software involvement is unavailable or impractical, attempt to follow an algorithm or system in your own set of choices. The result may be fixed (i.e. in a file or other medium) or interactive. Include a brief documentation of how the exercise was created.

3. Essay: (30%)

Write an essay on any topic in digital art, including an analysis of specific works wherever possible. You may wish to concentrate on a specific artist, or technical approach, or compare more than one. Your paper should include at least 5 references outside of the course texts and 5 references from the readings and texts listed here. Suggested length: 3000-3500 words.

4. Design Project: (30%)

The form of this project is open, given the wide range of possible approaches and material. The emphasis here will be more on the quality of the design process rather than the production of a "finished" work ready for public consumption. Here are a few suggested types of projects you might consider:

(A) Design a CD-ROM or website using HTML and Netscape that incorporates text, visuals and sound. The subject matter is free, but it should reflect the ideas found in the course.

(B) Create a short audio-visual work where there is some parallel between the component elements.

(C) Create a set of graphic images or musical composition where the computer plays a significant role in the design process.

(D) Create an interactive "program" with various algorithmic components as well as options for user input.

Grading: Grading will be based on a letter grade average of four projects, namely two written projects (a review article and an essay, weighted 20% & 30% respectively) and two applied projects (an exercise and a design project, weighted 20% & 30% respectively). A range of topics involving visual art and music will be available, plus others with permission. Note: students who choose to collaborate on an applied project will each receive the same grade

Seminar Topics and Readings:

Note: The numbered articles are found in the FPA.389 Readings. Readings to be done for the date shown. The second half of the course will feature a more detailed presentation of specific artists and their work, with emphasis on those who combine sound and image. Each time the course is offered a different group of artists are featured with those who are local invited to talk about their work. Each lecture will include audio-visual presentations.


Week 1

Organizational meeting


Week 2

Design systems: interactive to algorithmic

Articles 1 & 2 (Franke, Lansdown)

Week 3

Algorithms: deterministic & stochastic

Articles 3 - 5 (Truax, Laske, Koenig)

Week 4

Algorithms: fractals & non-linear chaotic

Articles 6 & 7 (Mandelbrot, Wright)

Week 5

Algorithms: genetic, cellular automata, granular

Article 8 & 9 (Franke, Truax)

Week 6


Article 10 (Holm-Hudson)

Week 7

Hypertext, CD-ROMs and the Internet

Article 11 (Truckenbrod)

Week 8

Artists: John Whitney, Brian Evans

Articles 12-16 (Evans)

Week 9

Artists: Thecla Schiphorst

Article 17 (Sava)

Week 10

Artists: Henry Daniel


Week 11

Artists: Theo Goldberg & Barry Truax

Articles 18-20 (Goldberg, Truax)

Week 12

Artists: Jean Piché


Week 13

Artists: Dennis Miller





1. H.W. Franke, "Art in the electronic age," from "Prologue (1979)", in T. Druckery, ed. Ars Electronica: Facing the Future, MIT Press, 1999.

2. J. Lansdown, "Some trends in computer graphic art," in S. Mealing, ed. Computers and Art, Intellect Books, 1997

3. B. Truax, "Computer music language design and the composing process", in The Language of Electroacoustic Music, S. Emmerson, ed. London: Macmillan, 1986.

4. O. Laske, "The computer as the artist's alter ego," Leonardo, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 53-66, 1990.

5. G. M. Koenig, "PROJECT 1 revisited: On the analysis and interpretation of PR1 tables," in Otto Laske: Navigating New Musical Horizons, J. Tabor, ed. Greenwood Press, 1999.

6. B. Mandelbrot, "Fractals as an art for the sake of science," The Visual Mind, pp. 11-14, 1993. (reprinted from Leonardo, Supplemental Issue, pp. 21-24, 1989)

7. R. Wright, "Computer graphics as allegorical knowledge: Electronic imagery in the sciences," Leonardo, supplemental issue, pp. 65-73, 1990.

8. H. W. Franke & H. S. Helbig, "Generative mathematics: Mathematically described and calculated visual art," The Visual Mind, pp. 101-104, 1993. (reprinted from Leonardo, vol. 25, no. 3/4, pp. 291-294, 1992)

9. B. Truax, "Composing with real-time granular sound," Perspectives of New Music, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 120-134, 1990.

10. Kevin Holm-Hudson, "Quotation and Context: Sampling and John Oswald's Plunderphonics," Leonardo Music Journal, vol. 7, 17-25, 1997.

11. J. Truckenbrod, "Integrated creativity: Transcending the boundaries of visual art, music and literature," Leonardo Music Journal, vol. 2, pp. 89-95, 1992.

12. B. Evans, "Elemental counterpoint with digital imagery," Leonardo Music Journal, vol. 2, pp. 13-18, 1992.

13. B. Evans, "Number as form and content: A composer's path of inquiry," The Visual Mind, pp. 113-120, 1993. (reprinted from Leonardo, vol. 25, no. 3/4, pp. 303-311, 1992)

14. B. Evans, "Temporal coherence with digital color," Leonardo, Supplemental Issue, pp. 43-49, 1990.

15. B. Evans, "Integration of music and graphics through algorithmic congruence," Proceedings of the 1987 International Computer Music Conference, pp. 17-24.

16. B. Evans, "Enhancing scientific animations with sonic maps," Proceedings of the 1989 International Computer Music Conference, pp. 105-108.

17. S. Sava, "Thecla Schiphorst: Opening the door of perception," Altered Visions, Artspeak Gallery, 1998.

18. T. Goldberg & G. Schrack, "Computer-aided correlation of musical and visual structures," Leonardo, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 11-17, 1986.

19. T. Goldberg & G. Schrack, "Computer-aided correlation of music and graphic image," Computers and Graphics, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 109-110, 1984.

20. B. Truax, "Discovering inner complexity: Time shifting and transposition with a real-time granulation technique," Computer Music Journal, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 38-48, 1994.