Technosonics is a course in digital music and sound art composition for 300 students. Our class will create 1200 new electronic music compositions this semester! Started in 2006 at UVA by Prof Burtner, Technosonics explores the history, theory and practice of digital music and sound art. Students learn tools and techniques that infuse music of many genres and traditions. From experimental computer music, ambient and dance music, sound art and multimedia, digital tools have changed the way we make and listen to music. This course offers a wide view of computer music as “technosonics”. Students all compose original compositions and these can be presented in public if you wish via our SoundCloud channel. We also maintain a Podcast on the iTunes Store.

In 2008, with the assistance of a Teaching+Technology Initiative Fellowship, Technosonics expanded into the area of interactive computer music performance. Since then, the class hosts the Mobile Interactive Computer Ensemble (MICE) Orchestra, an orchestral-scale human-computer group using mobile computing for live, interactive performance. The MICE Orchestra debuted on April 30, 2008 on Jefferson's UVA Lawn at the Digitalis Festival.

In 2009 the class began using NOMADS, a new software system designed by UVA's Interactive Media Research Group. The semester culminated in a large-scale Digital NOMADS performance in collaboration with electronica duo, Matmos. Since then we have premiered many new compositions written for orchestral-scale laptop orchestra, and participated in several events such as ZeroSpace and Auksalaq.

podcast :

about the class

our team







about the class

MUSI 2350, Digital Music and Sound Art Composition
class: Monday and Wednesday, 12-12:50pm, Maury 209
discussions sections: New Cabell Hall 268 or Gibson Hall 041

Course Overview

MUSI 2350 explores the history, theory and practice of digital music and sound art in the 20th and 21st centuries. Students gain insight into a variety of tools and techniques that have grown and expanded to infuse music of many genres and traditions. From experimental computer music, ambient and dance music, sound art, and multimedia digital tools have made a major impact in the world of music. This course offers a wide view of computer music as “technosonics”. In addition to learning theory and history, students will compose using digital tools for musical creation. No previous music experience is required.

our team

Professor Matthew Burtner
112 Old Cabell Hall
office hours: Tuesday,9am-11am

Ryan Maguire, Teaching Assistant

Kristina Warren, Teaching Assistant

Chris Luna, Teaching Assistant

Aaron Stepp, Teaching Assistant

Eli Stine, Teaching Assistant

TA Office Hours will be announced for the discussion sections

Course web sites
syllabus :
assignment submission/materials/grading/evaluations:


required materials: headphones (we strongly recommend over-ear headphones, not ear buds), USB data drive (at least 2GB).

class computers

These University Apple computers have Garage Band; SoundHack; Spear; MaxMSP Runtime and Audacity.They are available for student use on the schedule of those rooms/buildings.
* Discussion sections are in Wilson 306: 20 workstations (including instructor station)
* Bryan Hall, 235: 4 workstations
* Ruffner Hall, 277: 4 workstations
* Clemons Library (4th floor): 7 workstations
* Robertson Media Lab (in Clemons): about 10 workstations

We use freeware and home made software. You can download the tools to your own personal computer.

software downloads:

If you want to install the software on your own computers you can download it here.
You can also use other software if you wish.The Collab Resources contains a folder of home-made software designed for the class.

(Mac or Windows)
Reaper multitrack editor
(Mac or Windows)
Ardour multitrack editor
(Mac or Windows)
Max/MSP Runtime (the free version)
(Mac or Windows)
(Mac only)


(Mac only)


Attendance of the class lectures and lab/discussion section is required.

We do not take attendance in the large lectures, the Quiz/Exam material will come directly from the lectures. We do not post lecture slides or notes so you need to attend class in order to do well on the exams. If you miss a lecture, you should get the notes from a friend or come to Burtner's office hours the following week.

The labs are very important for your composition work. Your TA will take attendance and assess an attendance grade as part of the section grading.

All students are required to attend one of our class computer music concerts (sign-in sheet available with your TA):
Technosonics 10/16 8pm concert in Old Cabel Hall, or the 24-hour concert starting at 12:01am on 10/17 in the UVA Chapel

Other event to be announced

Composition Assignments 30%
Each student will compose three short etudes (musical studies).
Together these
are worth 30% of the final grade. The weighting is graduated in the following way:
Assign 1=5%, Assign 2=10% and Assign 3=15%

Assignments are due on Friday at 5pm. This will give every lab a chance to meet during the week an assignment is due.

General grading for all the assignments:

* timely completion and clear organization is essential: 1) Turn it in on time
(late assignments will be marked down without exception and Assignments will not be accepted more than two weeks late for any reason), 2) your assignment is in the proper format (If we ask for an mp3 don't provide a Garage Band project for example), 4) follow the exact naming convention for submitting files as outlined by your TA. (for example "yourlastname_assignX.mp3").

* complete all aspects of the assignment: Read the instructions carefully to make sure you are doing all the parts. Did it ask for a write-up in addition to the digital file for example?

* creativity and imaginative composition. Be fiercely creative, daring, and nonconformist. As students of composition and technosonic experimenters it is your job to try new things.

* evidence of work: composing music takes time and you will need to put thought and work into every assignment. You will need to work on your assigments independently outside of the labs.

The assignment is considered submitted when it is posted in the proper format on the Collab site in the proper location. Assignments will not be accepted more than two weeks late for any reason. Audacity or Garage Band archive files will not be accepted as assignment submissions.
Export or Bounce your assignment and check that it will play in iTunes. Convert the soundfile into the proper format, then upload those sounds to the Collab folder.

Assignment 1: noise beats (5%)

Make between 10 and 30 short percussive sounds out of found sound samples. Use anything *but* a drum/percussion sample. For example, you might make your short sounds out of birds, cars, voices and a river for example. These short sounds should not be longer than one second. Use Audacity to make your sounds. Then assemble them into a rhythmic sequence, a "noise beat".
Compose a short rhythm composition in Garage Band or Audacity. Try using very, very short sounds. You might end up making 100 short sounds to create your noise beat. You may layer, process and expand this project as desired.
min. duration: 10 sounds less than 1 second each, and a 20 second rhythm composition using those sounds

Assignment 2: timbre clouds (10%)
Compose a slowly evolving timbre cloud (in music, timbre means the acoustic "color" or "quality" of a sound. For example the difference between a trumpet and a flute playing the same note at the same loudness is a timbral difference). This etude should use the sound design programs.
Your cloud should have a form of at least three sections. These A, B, and C sections should transform or crossfade smoothly so that the sound "develops" and changes.
This project will teach you about textural and timbral transformation and formal organization.
minimum duration: 1'

Assignment 3: cyber melodies (15%)
Compose original melodic lines made up of sounds you generate using modulation synthesis. Imagine the song of a strange cybernetic bird or trumpet and write the melody it might sing/play. Mix your melodies into a short composition in Garage Band.
You should compose at least three different melodies and mix them in your piece.
You may choose to combine your cyber melodies with your digital clouds and noise beats from the previous two assignments.
minimum duration: 1'

Exams 25%

Quiz 1: focus on early electronic music (5%)
Quiz 2: focus on computer music history
Final Exam: cummulative(

Writing 10%

artist review

Discover a new technosonic sound artist and listen to as much of her or his music as you can find. This artist should be new to you, someone that you discover while looking for new electronic music this semester. Find someone relatively "underground", unfamiliar to the larger public, perhaps an emerging artist. It should not be a popular band, artist or DJ. We want you to discover music outside of the mainstream. Write a report on a single sound art piece by this artist. Discuss 1) who is the artist, 2) how does the piece you chose fit into the overall work of the artist, 3) how does the piece fit into the historical material we cover in class, 4) what are the characteristics of the rhythm, texture and melody of the music (remember your three assignments!). The writing is 1000 words, submitted on Collab as a PDF or word file.

Final Composition, 20%:
The final project is your original composition using whatever tools you like from the class. Graded on 1) digital sound art composition technique, 2) compositional form, meets duration requirements (at least 2min), 4) imagination and creativity, 5) evidence of care and work put into it. Your piece should have a title and an idea. Along with your soundfile, submit a short text describing your idea and how it fits in the music.

Lab Section Grade, 15%:
Your work in the Lab/Discussion Section accounts for 15% of the grade. This grade may include attendance, participation and lab work as defined by your TAs. Your TA will supply an additional specification that will describe how you will be evaluated for this element.


Wed 8/26: Introduction to the class / digital musi composition
listening: Matthew Burtner, "That Which is Bodiless is Reflected in Bodies" for Rotunda Dome Room, Tibetan bowl and computer

lab sections: no discussion/lab sections this week

The pre-electric origins of digital music

Mon 8/31
The pre-electric origins of digital music; editing sounds in Audacity
listening: The Orb, Little Fluffy Clouds, Guillaume Dufay, Nuper Rosarum flores (1400s isorhythmic motet)
reading: Thom Holmes, Chapter 1

lab sections: introduction to the composition environment and Audacity

Wed 9/2
Pre-20th Century background
listening: Kraftwerk, The Robot and Calculator; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Musical Dice Game; Aphex Twin, Track #2 from Windowlicker, Erik Satie, Vexations; Julian Carillo, Preludio a Colon

Early instruments and the use of noise
Mon 9/7
Russolo’s Art of Noises and the Noise Orchestra;
live electronic music of the early 20th Century.
reading: Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noises: Futurist Manifesto
listening: Ryuichi Sakamoto, 20Msec, and Ngo; Yellow Magic Orchestra, Computer Game; Erik Satie, Gymnopedies 1

lab sections: Audacity and Garage Band

Wed 9/9
Electronic instruments from the 1920s and 1930s.
reading: Holmes, Chapter 2;
listening: Lee Scratch Perry, My name is from Techno Party; DJ Spooky (with Mad Professor and Lee Scratch Perry), Dubtometry; Clara Rockmore performance of Sant-Saens The Swan on the Theremin; Beach Boys, Good Vibrations; Olivier Messiaen, Livre du Sacremant for organ; Messiaen, Fête des belles eaux for 6 Ondes Martenot; Led Zeppelin, Whole Lotta Love; Nine Inch Nails, Just Like You Imagined; Tchaikovsky, Valse Sentimentale performed by Clara Rockmore; Radiohead, Where I End and You Begin.

discussion sections: sound editing and mixing for noise beats assignment

Mon 9/14: Electronic instruments from the 1920s and 1930s continued
listening: Amon Tobin (Cujo), Traffic, and Verbal; Suba, Seria; Suba/Bebel Gilberto, Tanto Tempo;

discussion sections: sound design using spectral filtering

The Electronic Music Studio as Instrument / Modulations and Acoustics

Wed 9/16
Musique Concrete; working with samples
listening: Goa Gil, Hux Flux; Ravi Shankar, Morning Raga; Pierre Schaeffer, Etudes du Bruits; Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer, Etude por un homme seule; Piere Henry, Psyche Rock; and Futurama theme song

Fri 9/19 Assignment 1 due by 5pm

Mon 9/21: Electronische Music; working with oscillators in Max/MSP (Frequency Modulation, Additive Synthesis and Amplitude Modulation);
listening: Bjork, An Echo/A Stain; Medula and Joga; Matmos,California Rhinoplasty; Stockhausen, Gesang der Junglinge and Studie I

Wed 9/23: Poeme Electronique and Midterm Exam review
listening: Avalanches, Flight Tonight; Daniel Blinkhorn, Gossimia Collective; Varese, Poeme Electronique; Xenakis, Concrete PH

discussion sections: sound design workshops

Mon 9/28:
Listening to your assignment 1 pieces and the Music of your TAs, part 1

Wed 9/30
Listening to your assignment 1 pieces and the Music of your TAs, part 2

Mon 10/5 Reading Day Wed 10/7: Quiz 1 on Early Electronic Music

The 1950s and 1960s: Sequencers and Sound Synthesis

Mon 10/12: Sequencers and Electric Instruments for live performance;
listening: Moog sounds; The Monkees, Star Collector; Wendy Carlos, Switched on Bach.

discussion sections: Spear sound design workshop

Wed 10/14 Synthesizers and Computer Music/Digital Audio
listening: The Moog Cookbook, Smells Like Teen Spirit; David Rosenboom, In the Beginning - Etude II; David Bowie (Brian Eno) from Low; Gary Numan, I Dream of Wires, Cars; Morton Subotnick, Silver Apples of the Moon

Fri 10/16 Assignment 2 due by 5pm

Technosonics Festival begins with concert in Old Cabell Hall at 8pm. Continues at 12:01AM on 10/17 in the UVA Chapel for a 24-hour concert that will end at midnight on Saturday evening.

Mon 10/19 Computer Music
listening: Pharrell, the Neptunes, Missy Elliot and Timbaland, Work it and Pass that Dutch; Neuman Guttman, In a Silver Scale; Max Mathews' Music 1, Daisy; 2001 Space Odyssey

Wed 10/21 1970s to the 1980s
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
listening: John Oswald, Brown, Net, Dab and Urge-Marianne Faith No Morrisey (from Plexure); John Chowning, Stria; Barry Truax, Riverrun; A-Ha, Take on Me

discussions: working on assignment 3

Mon 10/26: Soundscape composition and EcoAcoustics

Wed 10/29: temporal and timbral layering techniques;
reading: R. Murray Schafer, The Music of the Environment; Brian Eno, Ambient Music;
listening: Cocosuma, Tapping the Source; Erik Satie, Gymnopedie 1; Brian Eno, Music for Airports and Unfamiliar Winds ; Tangerine Dream, Phaedra; Pink Floyd, a Saucerful of Secrets, Hildegard Westerkamp, Talking Rain; Barry Truax, Pendlerdrom

Mon 11/2: Music of your TAs Part 3

Wed 11/4: Contemporary Computer Music Fri 11/6: Assignment 3 due by 5pm

Mon 11/9 Quiz 2 review and
looping and polyrhythm techniques;
readings: Steve Reich: Music as a Gradual Process
listening: Steve Reich, Come Out, African Head Charge, No Don't Follow Fashion and Pursuit; Gyorgy Ligeti, Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes; Conlon Nancarrow, Study 21 for player piano

Wed 11/11: Quiz 2 on Computer Music and MIDI

discussions: polyrhythmic and looping technique

Mon 11/16: Media Art part 1 on turntablism
reading: Christian Marclay & Yasunao Tone: Record, CD, Analog, Digital (p341, Cox)
listening: Invisibl Skratch Piklz, World Cut Scratch; The X-ecutioners, Mad Flava; John Cage, Imaginary Landscape No. 1 and No 4;
Herby Hancock, Rockit; Beastie Boys (with Mixmaster Mike), 3 MC's & 1 DJ; Christian Marclay, Night Music; DJ Shadow, Flashback; Mixmaster Mike, Well Wicked; excerpts from Scratch, the movie by Doug Pray.

Wed 11/18:

Fri 11/20 Writing due by 5pm

Mon 11/23:
Media Art part 2 on other media
listening: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kurzwellen; Scanner and Tonne, Sound Polaroids;

Wed, 11/26: no class for Thanksgiving

Mon 12/1: Final projects review

Wed, 11/30: Wed, 12/2: Final exam review

Fri 12/ Final Projects due by 5pm

Final Exam: Saturday, December 12, 2-5pm (block 9)


2006-2015Matthew Burtner