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Columbia University

Sound Design Course: Experimental Foundations

Columbia University via Kadenze


This course will focus on the application of historical and experimental analog electronic, recording, and studio techniques to deepen an understanding of the building blocks of sound creation. Presenting this course is instructor Seth Cluett, artist-in-residence at Nokia Bell Labs and instructor at Columbia University’s Computer Music Center.

By translating classic techniques ranging from Musique Concrete and Elektronische Musik to the studio experiments of Dub mixing and Les Paul into modern production platforms, composers, sound designers, sound editors, and independent filmmakers can expand their craft outside of their routine practices. Learners will create their own compositions using Ableton Live 10 and Audacity while drawing from the rich legacy of invention in electronic and experimental music. Session planning, score, and production analysis exercises will complement both small-scale sound creation and large-scale structural thinking for music production workflow.


Session 1: Overview 
We begin by focusing on the earliest recorded works and the characteristics of those recordings. An examination of how recording changed music. An overview of the Edison and Victor record companies. This class will focus on several of the most prominent aesthetic debates that surrounded early recording efforts and provide context for the study of music production techniques. Session 2: New Electrical Recording Techniques 
This session will cover the shift from Cylinders to Discs and the impact of the new electrical recording techniques. How innovators possess the ability to “see through” the technology and discover new methods of using the technology to their creative advantage. The difference between early Film and Music recording aesthetics. Session 3: Reverb And Ambience 
This session will focus on natural reverb and room ambience. It will also introduce the concepts of volume, basic mixing and panning, and it will explore equalization. An overview of the groundbreaking work of Leopold Stokowski and Harvey Fletcher. How to use psychoacoustics creatively in the production process. Understanding how volume, reverb and frequency can be altered to create a dynamic movement Session 4: Musique Concrète 
This session will focus on the techniques used to edit magnetic tape and the creation of the first Sound Art Movement – Musique Concrète. Examination and analysis of several early experiments with phonographs and tape. The influence of film editing techniques. A look at Bing Crosby and his role in bringing tape to radio broadcasts. Session 5: The Rise Of The Producer 
The rise of the producer: Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller (Elvis, The Coasters), Bill Putnam (Universal Audio), Phil Spector (Wall of Sound), Sam Phillips (Sun Records), Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic Records), Barry Gordy (Motown), Leonard Chess (Chess Records), Phil Ramone (A&R), Quincy Jones (Mercury Records), Cossima Mattasa (J&M Records), George Martin (The Beatles). Session 6: Artificial Reverb 
This session focuses on a deeper exploration of reverb and echo, specifically addressing types of artificial reverb. Discussion of slapback tape echo and the dramatic use of echo on recordings by Bill Putnam at Universal Audio and Sam Phillips at Sun Records that were vital in the sonic creation of Rock & Roll. Session 7: Double Tracking & Half Speed Recording 
This session will focus on the technique of double tracking and half speed recording. How to create fuller tracks through creative doubling, panning and equalization. Session 8: Flanging, Phasing And Chorus 
This session focuses on creating new dynamic sounds through the use of flanging, phasing and chorus. Session 9: Distortion Techniques 
This session will concentrate on the introduction and use of distortion techniques. The history of distortion and how to use it effectively. Session 10: Vocoding And Ring Modulation 
This session will focus on vocoding and Ring Modulation. An overview of Stockhausen’s 1970 composition Mantra. Session 11: Audio Compression, Gating And Limiting 
This session looks at audio compression, gating and limiting. Side-chain compression techniques and an overview of Logic’s compressor models. Session 12: Spectral Manipulation 
This session will focus on spectral editing and transforming sounds through spectral manipulation. Spectral editing using Logic’s Alchemy synthesizer and SPEAR. A look at convolution reverb and pitch correction.

Taught by

Terry Pender


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