Musique Concrete – Room 243

**Note that when I share a weblink to a Max/MSP Tutorial below, you will want to find the corresponding tutorial through Documentation >> Tutorials on your computer. The weblink will not link to the demo files that you can use in your own project. The files found under Documentation >> Tutorials will link to the demo files.**

Helpful Max/MSP Links:
Keyboard shortcuts are the fastest way to work in Max. Get in the habit of using these:
This object database may be useful down the road–consider bookmarking it for future use:
The Max object thesaurus is most useful when you have some audio background and are trying to find out the Max object name for something. For instance, if you want to make a sine wave, the max thesaurus will tell you that in max/msp you would need to use the cycle~ object:</


For your lab, you will be blending your ‘musique concrete’ topic with our Halloween theme to create a live, 3D sound object composition performance. You will provide seating for your classmates throughout the darkened room, leaving space so that you may move freely about, triggering different sounds from laptops and/or phones in different locations.

Pierre Schaeffer, the composer who coined the term ‘Musique Concrete,’ was not particularly interested in the meaning or associations related to the source of a sound he recorded. Instead, he was interested in the inherent musical properties of the sound as an object in and of itself. Experiencing a sound in this way requires a sort of ‘reduced listening’. In our everyday lives, we typically listen ‘causally,’ to identify the source of a sound, or ‘semantically,’ to understand the meaning of spoken words. Reduced listening is musical listening, listening for the pitch, loudness, or timbre of a sound, for instance.

To blend Musique Concrete with Halloween, your task is, in part, to determine what makes a sound scary. But, rather than focusing on meaning or the visual or narrative context, you must focus only on the sounds themselves, their sonic properties and their aural context–the sounds, sonic space, or silence that surround them.

To explore this question, the live 3D sound object composition you create should be inherently scary, without implying any particular narrative. When your classmates enter the room, you will have them sit down, close their eyes, and then play the piece. Your lab is quite different than the rest in that the others are both more narrative, and more interactive. You will need to compensate by creating particularly effective sounds and sonic structures. While your audience will be in fixed positions, you may choose to move around, and use laptops and/or phones as mobile sound sources. You may also choose to incorporate live acoustic sources (vocal or otherwise) into your performance as well.

For inspiration, check out this random video of scary sounds I found (see link below). You may find that these sounds are more cliche than scary. That’s fine. Use them as a starting place for a discussion. If they are scary, why? If not, why not? After listening, think about how you can create your own bank of scary sounds to work with, and how you will structure these in space and time.

Use this story to help guide the types of sounds you choose, and the environment(s) you try to create.

To create this experience, you will need:

1. A tape recorder. Make your initial recordings (field recordings from outside, Foley recordings etc.) on a mini-cassette, which I will provide. Play these back on the tape player and record them to a computer. (You will lose some audio quality, but try to use this to your benefit.) Make as many sounds as you can with tape before incorporating sounds you find online.
2. A tape head and mini-amp, some wires, scissors, mini-screw driver and tape (both kinds — the sticky as well as magnetic variety). You will take apart the tapes you’ve compiled and experiment with playing back the tapes using the stand-alone tape head. Note: the yellow wire goes to the ‘ground’ or longer leg of the audio plug. The white wire goes to the smallest leg of the audio plug. You will need to find a way to stabilize all of the components to get the most control over the tape sounds. You can also play credit cards.
3. A laptop with a power cord. Record your sounds to the computer. Don’t worry about loss of quality.
4. Max/MSP. With Max/MSP you can store a series of recordings and have them triggered by specific keyboard keys. This way you can each trigger different sounds yourself as you perform the piece live. You can also use the mouse location to manipulate sounds. I have provided you an initial patch with some basic interaction already set up, as well as additional instructions to help you get started. You will want to build on this initial patch for your lab. You may download the patch HERE. The tutorials that I hacked together to make these demos are HERE. Not all links are relevant for your group.
5. Some ideas about how to process these sounds to provide some variety. In the demo I’ve provided you with some initial, very basic ways in which you can process sounds (speed or rate, amplitude, choice of sound file). If you have time, I recommend exploring tutorials in the documentation and on youtube by Dude837 for some additional ideas. HERE ARE A FEW to get you started.
6. A plan for how you will link these items together (the sounds and the keystrokes, the performance/structure as a whole). Will specific keys trigger specific sounds?
7. Ideas for the presentation: how will the room be set up? How will you encourage interaction? Will you give some sort of prompt?

During the first half of the lab, consider dividing up some of the above tasks amongst yourselves, and check-in periodically with updates. Begin making and manipulating sound as soon as possible. During the second half of the lab, work together to piece together the different elements you have each created, test them out in action, and refine them.

As you begin to work on your lab, a few notes:

First, if you haven’t figured this out yet: expect things to go wrong. From the very beginning, always have a plan B in mind. What will you do if you can’t get some piece of technology to work? How can you mock-up a similar experience? Tech will always fail at one point or another. Having a back-up plan will give you some peace of mind. Note that one of the main selling points of Max/MSP is its capabilities for live, interactive installations. That said, as humans, you are all capable of live-interaction, too. If Max fails, can you use a person to trigger events instead of the computer?

Second, of all the programs we have looked at, Max/MSP will probably seem the most intimidating, initially. It is also the most powerful program we will look at, and it provides you the most flexibility. It is not something you can learn in a single lab, and I don’t expect that you are going to do a lot of coding tonight. Instead, think about this as an exercise in hacking. Rely heavily on the example patch I provided, and the built-in tutorials (when you first open Max, click on ‘Documentation,’ and then go to the ‘tutorials’ tab on the right to find example patches). Find a way to reclaim the tutorials/help files for your own purposes. If you are stuck, step away from the computer and think through what it is you want to happen as a simple list of instructions (like a recipe), some pseudo code, or a flow chart. Know that if you are having difficulties and getting stuck, you are doing something right. It should be hard.

Group Report Questions are here:

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