Topics in American Music: Sound Art
An interdisciplinary studio course in sound art and experimental musics

Insructor: Abby Aresty
Office: Bucksbaum room 261
Email: arestyab [at] grinnell [dot] edu
Preferred Phone: (206) 745-2372
Local Phone: (641) 269-4638
Course website:
Office hours (By appointment):
Tuesdays – Fridays, 3:20 p.m. – 5 p.m. (Schedule an appointment.)

Feel free to drop by office hours without an appointment, but if you want to be certain I will be available, please schedule an appointment at least 24 hours in advance.

Class Meetings: Mondays 7 p.m. to 10:20 p.m.

Course Description
Topics in American Music: Sound Art (Music 202-02, 4 Credits)

In this interdisciplinary studio class we will investigate the world through its sounds, exploring the unique opportunities and challenges that this “immaterial material” affords. From musique concrète to investigations of the boundaries between noise, silence, and music, we will explore how diverse historical movements and moments have shaped the relatively new and necessarily broad contemporary field described as ‘sound art’. As listeners, we will develop the requisite vocabulary to critically engage with sound in a variety of contexts. This will include terminology gleaned from the study of acoustics and psychoacoustics, as well as listening modes and soundscape studies. As artists, we will explore the unique ways in which sound communicates, defines spaces, shapes memories and creates connections between people, places and objects. We will work out in the field and back in the studio, learning the technologies, creative processes, and critical skills we need to meet the needs of your artistic vision.

Required Materials
*Please wait to download max/msp until prompted*

15% Participation
15% Quizzes
40% Proto-Projects
30% Final Project

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will explore diverse creative processes, and learn to generate and self-curate ideas for creative, technical, and logistical merits.
  • Students will develop effective use and comprehension of vocabulary relating to sound studies, listening practices, and related topics.
  • Students will develop understanding of historical narratives relating to sound art in the 20th and 21st centuries, and be able to cite relevant historical influences as they develop their own project ideas.
  • Students will develop proficiency in all course tools.

I encourage you to explore the possibility of a collaborative effort for one or two of your projects. If you decide you would like to collaborate on a project, please keep the following in mind:

  • The maximum no. of project collaborations per student is two
  • It is expected that students will put in as much time and effort as if they were working solo, and the scope of collaborative projects should reflect this.
  • While students are encouraged to help each other out, and to use their strengths to their advantage, collaborative projects should foster mutual growth and learning, and not be an excuse to avoid challenges that would otherwise push you outside your comfort zone. It will be important that you demonstrate what you’ve learned from each other in working together on this project.
  • The final iteration of a collaborative project will receive two grades — a fixed base grade assigned by the instructor, and an additional variable point-grade set by the instructor, but distributed by team members. For example, a team may receive a 3.0 base grade for each student and 0.6 * 2 students = 1.2 variable point grade to be distributed amongst students within the group. As a group, you may choose to split these points evenly, or, if you feel your partner went above and beyond, you my elect to award them with extra points.
  • Recall that for the proto-projects, the final project grade is comprised of many sub-grades from process-oriented tasks. The dual project grade described above is worth only 2.5% of the final proto-project grade. The rest of these grades are calculated separately.

Attendance Policy
To succeed in this class (and for this class to succeed) you will need to attend all course sessions, and to arrive to sessions on time. If this is likely to be a problem given your other commitments, this class may not be for you. The official attendance policy is as follows:

  • You will receive an automatic zero for any work missed due to an unexcused absence*.
  • Beginning with your second absence, your grade will drop one letter per absence. (With your second absence an A becomes an A-, with your third absence the A- becomes a B+ and so on.)
  • Two late arrivals (~15 minutes late or more) count as one absence.

*An unexcused absence is any absence that has not received explicit approval at least 1 week in advance of the class in question. (Excluding true family or medical emergencies.) If you have a prolonged illness or have other unexpected circumstances that will affect your attendance, please reach out as soon as possible so that we can find a solution together.

Academic Honesty
Using others’ ideas without including appropriate credit constitutes plagiarism. Plagiarism will result in failure of the assignment, and possible failure of the course. If you have any questions on this topic, please speak to me directly. For information about academic honesty at Grinnell, please see the Academic Honesty booklet. In the digital age, as art often repurposes other art, and as borrowing code to create something new is the norm, this becomes a particularly interesting topic—one that we will discuss as relevant in the context of the course. If you ever have concerns or questions, please stop by to discuss this topic further in person.

Students with disabilities will receive appropriate accommodations. Please provide documentation from Disability Resources at the beginning of the semester, to ensure timely accommodations.

Religious Holidays
Students who have conflicts with course meetings due to religious holidays will receive excused absences, so long as they provide reasonable notice so that accommodations may be made. A minimum of one week advance notice is required to receive an excused absence.

Course Overview
This course is divided into two phases. The first phase involves a series mini-creative projects designed to help you generate and explore many new ideas, and to identify and learn a repertoire of tools for use in the second phase: a final creative project.

Course Schedule

9/1 Introduction to Sound Art
9/8 The Listening Machine (Concept Lab)
9/15 The Listening Machine (Workshop)
9/22 The Listening Machine (Crit/Reflection)
9/29 Sonic Cinematic (Concept Lab)
10/6 Sonic Cinematic (Workshop)
10/13 Sonic Cinematic (Crit/Reflection)
10/20 Fall Break
10/27 Objectified, Electrified Sound (Concept Lab)
11/3 Objectified, Electrified Sound (Workshop)
11/10 Objectified, Electrified Sound (Crit/Reflection)
11/17 Site-specific sound (Concept Lab)
11/24 Site-specific sound (Combined Workshop/Crit)
12/1 Final Project (Proposals/Concept Lab/Workshop)
12/8 Final Project (Workshop, course wrap-up)

Important Dates to Remember:
November 1: First quiz deadline (Must be scheduled two weeks in advance, last date to schedule is October 18)
December 12: Second quiz deadline (Must be scheduled two weeks in advance, last date to schedule is November 28)
December 19: Final Crit is @ 2 p.m. Location TBD.


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