Fall 2014»HONS 381 Homework 4

HONS 381 Homework 4

Assigned Date: Friday, Oct. 10 , 2014
Due Date #1: (Artistic concept, piece title, aesthetic outcome, people): Monday, Oct. 13, 2014
Due Date #2: (Sound collection, manipulation, and cataloguing): Monday, Oct. 20, 2014
Due Dates #3: (Individual meetings with Dr. Vassilandonakis): Monday, Oct. 20 - Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014
Due Date #4: (Final piece, submission of materials, and class performance): Monday, Oct. 27, 2014
Due Time: 11:50am

NOTE: No late days can be used for this assignment.

Last modified on October 09, 2014, at 12:17 PM (see updates)

This is an assignment that could be pursued either solo or in pairs. Pair and solo designations will be decided and approved by the instructors within a day of the initial assignment (and finalized no later than Monday, Oct. 13, 2014). You may discuss the assignment only with your partner or the instructors.


This assignment aims to develop and apply skills in:

  • Planning, designing and executing a sound-based composition inspired from the musique concrète stylistic tradition.
  • Recording, collecting, or generating primary sound source material.
  • Gaining experience with audio recording/manipulation software and generating soundscapes and textures.
  • Combining use of sampled sounds.
  • Shaping formal structures building upon experience acquired throughout the semester.
  • Developing GUI’s for realization of live performance.
  • Realizing finalized compositions in performance.


Compose a 4-5 minute piece for laptop performers using Audacity to record, collect and manipulate sounds.

Design and implement an interactive musical interface using Python (and the music and gui libraries) to facilitate performance of the piece and interaction between performers.

Composition Details

Musical Process

Follow these steps:

  1. Decide what "kind" of piece you want to compose: Are you interested in creating an ambient piece? a speech/text based piece? an industrial/mechanical piece? a noisy piece? a beat-based piece? This is an important decision that will guide your search for sound material.
  2. Select a title for your piece. Write it down.
  3. Familiarize yourself with Audacity: Experiment with loading pre-existing soundfiles, splicing them (cutting and pasting), processing them (by using some of the following found in the Effects menu: Change Speed, Change Pitch, Equalization (try extreme settings), Invert, Reverse, Sliding time Scale/Pitch Shift, Echo, Reverb), and assembling them in various ways by creating new tracks and layering them up against each other.
    • Explore how to make a loop of your own here and here.
  4. Decisively begin searching for source material: Of course, you need an idea of what "kinds" of sounds you are seeking (i.e., metallic, vocal, grainy, ambient, etc.). This will make your search more directed and fruitful. Look for sounds with interesting identity, rich in timbre and/or envelope. You can record sounds yourself, using your smartphone, or computer (good mics will give you better sound quality). Alternatively, you can find great recorded sounds (audio files) here:
  5. Catalogue your sounds and categorize them by description, source, etc. Start loading them on Audacity and process them in any and every way that seems appropriate/relevant. Save every interesting result and re-name it. It is very important that you document your work in every step of the way. Frequently pause and audition what you have, and reassess/revise your original composing plan.
  6. Finalize your piece conceptually, and create a sketch diagram/score: Decide what needs to be pre-assembled and what can be put together live in performance. How many performers will be needed? How will sounds be projected? What is the best method in presenting the material?

Interactive Musical Interface

Follow these steps:

  1. How many individual musical objects does your piece have? What types of actions does your piece require for each of these objects (e.g., start/stop, loop, pause/resume, change volume, change pitch (frequency), etc.)?
  2. What types of GUI widgets or graphical objects would you like to use on your interface? Does your interface make use of the computer keyboard or the mouse? In what ways?
  3. Does your interface make use of color or randomness? In what ways?
  4. Carefully read the paper prototyping section in Ch. 8 of the textbook (pp. 262-265).
  5. Create a paper prototype of your musical interface. It should be hand-drawn, but feel free to use color to make it more realistic.
  6. Observe all coding style guidelines presented in class (e.g., top-level documentation, in-line comments, good variable names, etc.).


Your submission will consist of the following:

  • A hardcopy of a written report (created via Google Docs or similar), to include:
    1. Your name, class, assignment, and title of piece.
    2. Your composition work journal.
    3. List of sounds (for those obtained from a website, include URLs).
    4. Formal designs, sketch diagram/score description of sound processing.
    5. Your final GUI paper prototype (as a digital image) with caption/description.
    6. Your Python source code (in an Appendix).
  • A USB stick (will NOT be returned), in an envelop labeled with your name, class, and assignment. The USB stick should contain:
    1. Your report in PDF format (see above).
    2. In a folder called "sounds", all your source sound material (strictly WAV or AIFF format).
    3. In a folder called "Audacity files", all your Audacity project file(s).
    4. In a folder called "code", all your Python programs (source code, sound files, any images used, etc.). Include JEM2.jar here. Also, include a "README.txt" file providing instructions on how to perform the piece (e.g., which programs to run, in what order, etc.).

Important Note

We should be able to perform your piece simply by running JEM inside your "code" folder following the README.txt instructions.

Make sure everything is there and that it works.


Your grade will be based on how well you followed the above instructions. Also on:

  • How interesting your music is.
  • The variety of ideas you tried in your composition.
  • The aesthetics and usability of your GUI design.
  • Quality of coding (e.g., comments, variable names, etc.)
  • Live performance of your piece in class.