UGS 2050-001 Spring 2015 Exploring Digital Media


Making Noise: Sound Art and Digital Media
UGS/CS 2050, Spring 2015

Instructor: Erik Brunvand, School of Computing
When: T-Th 2:00-3:20pm
Where: Merrill Engineering Building (MEB) 3105

Textbooks: Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking by Nicolas Collins
                   also Lights! Speed! Action! Fundamentals of Physical Programming for Programmers by Erik Brunvand

hemcoverthumbbig.gif LightsSpeedAction.jpg






In addition to these books, I've put some books on reserve for our class at the Marriott Library that are full of interesting information and essays on the subjects of sound art and audio culture. You can access the reserve list here. These books all have interesting information in them, but I particularly like the book Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. It has a very interesting collection of essays from a wide range of writers/musicians.  

What: Electronic technology is pervasive in our modern world but how it actually works can be a mystery to many people. In this class students will explore the fundamentals of electronic technology with a goal of increasing their “technological fluency.” This class does not assume any specific background in electronics or computer programming. Through hands-on labs and projects students will gain a fundamental understanding of how electronic things work and what are their capabilities and limitations. This will be explored in the context of making art and noise with electronic components, some of which will be built from scratch, and some of which will be discovered from existing cast-off or broken devices. This blending of arts and technology, sometimes called “circuit bending,” involves learning enough about technology to modify simple circuits (that were likely never intended to make noise) to make strange and unexpected sounds. The final project will be to design, build, program, and perform with an electronic musical (or at least noise-making) gizmo that has never previously existed.    

Beware that you've signed up for the very first offering of a very experimental course! I have a broad outline of the material in mind, but many of the details will be worked out as we go along. The schedule will almost certainly change as the semester progresses... 

Lecture Series

During this semester I will be organizing a lecture series on the subject of arts and technology. The speakers are all practitioners of various art forms that also involve technology, or of technological subjects that also involve art. The speakers will meet with our class to engage in a discussion of how arts and technology intermingle.

They will also give a public lecture in the Gould Auditorium in the Marriott Library that you should all attend if at all possible. Lectures will be 4:00-5:00pm (refreshments at 3:45pm). 

  • Thursday, Jan 22: James Coupe 

    • James Coupe is Associate Professor at the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS), University of Washington. His artwork is concerned with systems of observation and control. He has received numerous grants, commissions and awards from organizations including Creative Capital, Toronto International Film Festival, and the Prix Ars Electronica. His work has been exhibited widely in Europe, North America and Asia, at venues such as Camden Arts Centre, Parsons The New School for Design, and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.
  • Tuesday, Feb 17: Lindsay Grace

    • Lindsay Grace is an Associate Professor at American University in Washington, D.C. He is a professor, game designer, and researcher. He directs the AU Game Lab and Studio. His game designs have received awards and recognition from the Games for Change Festival, Meaningful Play Conference, ACM SIGGRAPH Digital Arts Community, and others. His creative work has been selected for showcase in more than seven countries and 12 states.
  • Tuesday, Mar 24: Mark Koven

    • Mark Koven is an Assistant Professor of Art at Utah State University. Since earning a terminal degree in Masters of Fine Arts in digital media from the University of Miami in 2005, Mark Lee Koven has worked as an interdisciplinary artist whose research merges materials and processes of art with those of science. Since 2000 Mr. Koven has shown in over 90 exhibitions and art venues such as StoreFront for Art and Architecture New York, FlashArt Milan, Art Basel Miami, Southern Exposure San Francisco, Taipei Taiwan, and Scope London.
  • Tuesday, Apr 21: Bill Manaris

    • Bill Manaris is a professor of Computer Science at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. He is currently director of the Computing in the Arts program. His interests include computing in the arts, human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence. He explores interaction design and modeling of aesthetics and creativity using statistical, connectionist, and evolutionary techniques. He designs systems for computer-aided musical analysis, composition, and performance in music and art.

General Strategy 

Each week there are readings and listening assignments. We'll discuss the readings on Tuesdays, and the listening assignments on Thursdays. The readings are related to the history of electronic and experimental music, and sound art, and the listening assignments are designed to give you practice in listening and hearing. These should be reasonably quick and easy assignments designed to keep everybody engaged. Still, I realize that 10 readings and 10 listening assignments is a lot. You will be graded on eight of each. That is, your two lowest reading response scores, and your two lowest listening assignment scores will be dropped. 

There are also four projects, and a final comprehensive project (details coming!)

  1. Induction coil field recordings - Using an inductive pickup to record electromagnetic noise. Collect and catalog your recordings. 
  2. Arduino based programmed sound  - Write programs that make music/noise. Compose short pieces using programmed algorithms. 
  3. Oscillator circuits - Build oscillators and couple them together to generate more noise. Collect and catalog sounds from your oscillators. 
  4. Toy hacking - Convert a toy to make new and noisy sounds. 

These four projects will result in a set of "raw material" that you can use in your final project. I expect you to end up with a good set of sound clips that you can use to assemble together into larger music compositions, and also a set of physical pieces that you can build upon to make your project. The final project will be your own concoction from these materials. You could do a composition using all the sound clips and materials, you could build a new instrument and perform with that instrument, you could assemble a set of circuits and sounds for a sound art installation. There are many possibilities! There will also be an opportunity to build a "cigar box amplifier" to amplify your projects, or just for fun. 

Academic Integrity 

You are expected to do your own work in this class. You can discuss with, study with, and learn from other students in the course, but any work that you turn in should be your own. Here's a link to the School of Computing's Academic Misconduct policy. Please read it, and please don't give any cause for sanctions. 

Class Schedule (this will almost certainly change during the semester!)



Links (these will be activated as they become available)

Week 1: 1/13-1/15

Lecture: Introduction and overview of digital media, electronic and experimental music, and sound art

Also start our intro to basic electronics - electrons, voltage, current, etc. 

Intro slides (in PDF) 

CourseNotesSmall.pdf - These course notes are the draft of a book on Physical Computing that I'm working on. Chapter one is the interesting bit for basic electronics introduction

Some slides about electronics (from a SIGGRAPH course)

Some old slides about electronics (mostly for reference if you want more info)

Week 2: 1/20-1/22

Reading/Music: Luigi Russalo
Listening assignment - week 2

Lecture/Demo: Inductive pickups: electronic sound collecting and field recording

Guest Artist: James Coupe will be visiting on Thursday, 1/22 - check out his web site ahead of time -

 Audacity is a free open-source sound editing program

Here's a web site with a nice "concise electronics for geeks" explanation 

Week 3: 1/27-/129

Reading/Music: Edgar Varese
Listening assignment - week3

Lecture: Continue electronics introduction -  Ohm's Law, Kirchhoff's laws, voltage dividers, etc. 

 Slides on Varese: Varese.pdf

Week 4: 2/3-2/5

Reading/Music: John Cage
Listening Assignment - week 4

Lecture/Demo: Simple soldering - contact microphone, music flasher and cigar box amplifier circuit

Project 1: Induction coil field recordings due

Note that I've moved the due date on this to Friday to give you time to use Audacity to normalize your recordings for submission. Details in class... 

Here are some slides on soldering through-hole components. They also include a step-by-step on the music-flashing circuit that you can solder together



 There are lots of "how to solder" resources out there. This youTube video is a nice basic introduction to simple "through hole" electrical component soldering (the type we'll be doing). Soldering tutorial. 


Slides on Cage: Cage.pdf


Week 5: 2/10-2/12

Reading/Music: Vladimir Ussachevsky
Listening Assignment - week5

Lecture/Demo: Programming introduction with Arduino - flashing LEDs and more

 Arduino is an open-source embedded computing platform

Slides on programming are here: Programming1.pdf

Slides on Ussachevsky: Ussachevsky.pdf

Week 6: 2/17-2/19

(no reading this week - guest artist on Tuesday)
Listening Assignment - week 6

Lecture/Demo: Sound synthesis with Arduino, speakers, and buzzers

Guest Artist: Lindsay Grace will be visiting on Tuesday, 2/17. Check out his web site ahead of time -

The tone library can be used to output square wave tones on Arduino digital pins

Here's another example of using the tone library on Arduino

Some examples from me on using the tone library: 

These examples all use the pitches.h file. See the assignment for details on how to add the pitches.h file to each project. 

Week 7: 2/24-2/26

Reading/Music: Iannis Xenakis
Listening Assignment - week 7

Lecture/Demo: Circuit bending and hardware hacking

 A youTube video showing how I discovered the correct component to replace to hack the clock on a toy from the DI

 Hacking the Clock

Nicolas Collins (author of our textbook) has on-line video tutorials for circuit hacking. They are at: 

Clock-hacking on a toy:

Here are the slides on Xenakis: Xenakis.pdf 

Week 8: 3/3-3/5

Reading: Reed Ghazala
Listening Assignment - week 8

Lecture/Demo: More circuit bending and hardware hacking

Project 2: Arduino composition project due

NOTE: Nick will be out of town this week. While he won't be holding office hours, he will still respond to email (sporadically).

NOTE: Erik will be out of town on Tuesday 3/3. We'll have a guest speaker on that day - Tim Grant will lecture on analog synthesizers. He'll talk about history and operation of classic analog music synthesis, and demo some old-school synths. This will relate directly to the simple oscillator circuits for next week. 

A youTube about Reed Ghazala:


Thursday, 3/5: Bring in a toy or two to class. We'll take things apart in class and see what they look like.  


These slides have some details on the types of components you may see in your circuit bending: components.pdf

Week 9: 3/10-3/12

Reading: John Richards and Phil Archer
Listening Assignment - week 9

Lecture/Demo: Simple oscillator circuits


Spring Break

No class...


Week 10: 3/24-3/26

(no reading this week - guest artist on Tuesday)
Listening Assignment - week 10

Lecture/Demo: Multiple oscillators

Guest Artist: Mark Koven will be visiting on Tuesday 3/24 - check out his web site ahead of time -

Project 3: Hardware Hacking project due

 Thursday, 3/26: Bring your Hardware Hacking / Circuit Bending / Upcycled Toy project to class for a demo! 

Week 11: 3/31-4/3

Reading: Karlhienz Stockhausen
Music: Stockhausen, Aphex Twin, Plastikman, Scanner, Dan Pemberton
Listening Assignment - week 11

Final Project: Planning and scoping

Here are some slides on oscillator components: Components-Audio.pdf

Slides on Stockhausen: Stockhausen.pdf

Slide on Richard Garet: Garet.pdf 

Week 12: 4/7-4/9

Reading: Sound Art NYT 
Sound Art: MOMA sound art catalog

No class on Thursday - Thursday Nick will be in the lab Thursday during class time to help with your oscillators! 


Thursday, April 9 there is a lecture by sound artist Richard Garet in Art 158 at 5:00pm

Friday April 10 there is a hands-on workshop by sound artist Richard Garet from 12:30-4:30 in the Art building. Email to RSVP. This should be fantastic - you should do it! 


Week 13: 4/14-4/16

Reading: Anne Thurman-Jajes and Max Neuhaus
Sound Art: 
web site visits

Project 4: Oscillator project due
FInal Project:
 Proposal due

 Thursday, 4/16: Bring your oscillators to class and we'll make a huge noise with all of them oscillating at the same time.  

Week 14: 4/21-4/23

Final Project: Refinement

Guest Artist: Bill Manaris will be visiting on Tuesday, 4/21

Week 15: 4/28  Demonstration and concert featuring project devices, and experimental sound compositions  

Friday, May 1, 1:00-3:00 is our final class demo/performance! Place TBA. 


Some links to additional information pages


Course Summary:

Date Details Due