Sample Syllabus

Proposed Syllabus

Digital Audio: Sampling and Sound Composition

Jacob Walls

Meetings: 75 minutes, twice weekly, 12 weeks

Course description:

In the realm of digital audio, much expressive potential can be gained from the most straightforward techniques of manipulation. In this course we will learn to manipulate audio in the service of creativity, commentary, and documentary.

Through a series of creative and technical exercises, the design of a personal sample library, and a final composition project, this course builds technical skills in digital audio. Topics include sample recording and editing, effects processors and sequencers, sound design through synthesis, and modular patching. We will also develop the listening skills and vocabulary to provide feedback on each other’s work in progress, and to relate sampling and sound composition in film, popular music, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary classical, and experimental practices in various genres to each other and to historical precedents. No musical background is assumed, but those with musical persuasions of all kinds will be encouraged to apply theirs.

Week 1

Sampling and its contexts, avenues for listening

Vocabulary for texture, identity of sounds

Finding sound outside (field recording), online (data scraping), oneself (improvisation)

Class field recordings, in-class manipulation of results

Technical skill: waveform editing and hygiene (fade, normalization, zero crossing)

Assignment: Improvisation with body, voice, breath; in-recorder piece

Week 2


Drones and loops

Vocabulary for sound engineering, production

Discussion of student-selected examples

Technical skill: recording techniques, sample isolation

Assignment: Field recording, create sounds with distinct textures

Week 3

Filters and bands


Vocabulary for pitch and rhythm

Technical skill: DAW fundamentals

Assignment: Etude with envelopes of pitch and density, motive

Week 4


Transposition, continuity of pitch and rhythm

Recognizability of sound sources

Vocabulary for harmony

Technical skill: exercising control over each band of density and frequency

Assignment: Transposition and resonance etude

Week 5

Noise, Randomness, Data

Quantization, MIDI, digital vs. analog

Technical skill: Parameterizing a sound

Assignment: Engineer control over a quasi-random process applied to a well-known sample and use layers to comment or convey a point of view

Week 6

Lightning presentations on student sample libraries

Conferences with instructor on etude portfolio, direction for final composition

Week 7

Modularity, unit generators, patching, synthesis 

Technical skill: Basic synthesis in Max

Assignment: Pair programming

Week 8

Control signals, further topics in synthesis

Technical skills: LFOs, granular synthesis

Assignment: Pair programming, continued

Week 9

Process, algorithm, artificial intelligence, improvisation

Begin work on final creative projects

Reading: George Lewis, Eliane Radigue, Pierre Schaeffer, Brian Kane

Week 10

Sound in multimedia


Short writing assignment due

Week 11
Techniques for live performance

Begin workshopping final projects in progress

Week 12

Continue workshopping final projects 


Creative project submission

(TBA: Class concert, invite friends!)