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An Introduction to a Second Year Electroacoustic Studies Core Analysis Course


At Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, the Major and Minor in Electroacoustic Studies are built around a comprehensive approach to the discipline through study and creativity.

The central first year course, EAMT 205 introduces students to the area with the topics briefly introduced including: hearing, acoustics, psychoacoustics, linguistics, history, repertoire, æsthetics, analysis and composition, studio techniques, equipment and software etc. The lecture position of the course in one half of the class time, and up to one half of the lecture time is spent listening and analyzing.

This general approach is refined in the second year by taking a more “topic oriented” approach. Often the topics are closely related to the listening / analysis, but sometimes the “lecture” (information) portion and the listening portion are not closely related.

Students in the course take notes and are to write a 200–400 report on each class, researching at least four new terms per week. In the period of the 26 weeks of the course, students often research between 150 and 200 ea related terms. This approach, while labor intensive, has shown itself to be remarkably successful for preparing the class for the much more intense and focused 3rd year course.

During the year 2005-06, the 35 students in the class handed in documents totaling over 230,000 words (over 650 pages of text). These documents were combined and edited down to a “basic word list” of about 2,000 words, which included some repetition and quite a lot of “variation in shading”.

However, the list has shown itself as an important archival resource in knowing what went on in the class and the range of materials covered and independently researched.

The terms were very loosely divided into 7 categories, with some obvious overlap in a number of areas. These can be seen as multivalent topics that bridge the categories.

At the end a “repertoire” list will be found. Many of these pieces were played in the class in 2005–06, and others are from previous or subsequent years. Only about one third of the pieces are used in two consecutive years.

A number of classes had clearly identifiable topics. Some of these (with sub-ideas) are found in Section I — General.

I. General | II. Miscellaneous Terms & Ideas | III. Description / Analysis / Composition
IV. Metrics / Physics | V. Psychoacoustics & Perception | VI. Repertoire

I. General

In preparing a concert, stated alphabetically, what are some of the everyday and longer term aspects to be taken into consideration?

Concerts and production will consume much time. The better the organization and preparation, the fewer unexpected problems will delay the production. Things to know about include:

Does property exist? Can it be owned? Give an alphabetical list of some of the personal, philosophical, æsthetic and legal (national and international) topics.

Copyright / Intellectual Property:

In this class, were examples played from a legal or illegal source?

This class listened to piece “by” John Oswald. It is a 2-CD set of his plunderphonics, but contains no copyright notice.

In preparing the reports of the classes, what kinds of things does the writer need to include. Provide the list from most to least important.

Since all of the points are essential in Writing a report, the list is hierarchical in a circular fashion.

Was philosophy an important part of the class? Was it a general or specific philosophy? Was it really open for discussion or was this a sham as well?

Philosophy etc:

Some philosophical ideas have practical realization. Name some of those that came up in the class.

Frequently, some students were not aware that philosophy could exist in practice, and therefore dealt with “ideas” only in concrete and practical ways. Some of these included:

Some philosophical ideas have no immediate practical realization. Name some of these that came up in discussion or research.

This was indeed the case, and frequently the idea was thought as being in a different category. Because of this, some of these terms appear two or three times in this document.

Were there other items that came up but found no easy classification? For example…

Were you sometimes able to surprise the class with something that appeared on the surface as simple or mundane, but proved to be difficult or complex? Give two examples.

How were they difficult?

Many students reported “old sounds” they knew as being “new” sounds. In the second case, ten basic terms had to be defined in a clear and concise way. Many students discovered that while they knew what the term meant, they were unable to write a clear, concise definition.

II. Miscellaneous Terms & Ideas

Every classroom discourse has ideas and topics that apparently appear and disappear, only to suddenly find relevance in another context. List in somewhat random collections, some of these, with a brief thematic title:

Nature and object


Was individual opinion valued? Give examples and counter-examples:

Individual opinion was valued and questioned. Opinion had to have clarity and be well thought out. Some of the discussions included:

Sometimes ideas came from unexpected and unrelated matters. Give some examples.

While most “questions” were dealt with in class, or on the email lists, some required that the student do some independent research.

III. Description / Analysis / Composition

Being at base, an analysis course, there were no doubt many layers of potential analysis and analytic modes-models. Were you able to find ways to have meta-categries of idea, followed by lower and lower, more detailed and more specific terms?

To both parts of this question, the answer is “Yes”, but the answer belies the difficulty of excuting the task of sorting in a meangful and useful way, given the range and complexity of the area. But I have tried to do a basic organization.

The first major “division” is of the ideas into the three categories of description, analysis and composition. Often these were tied up in personal philosophies.

Was the representation of sound a difficulty?

Yes, both as visual and in the mind

Give examples of topics considered.

What was a major consideration in representation? Give examples.

The process of determining the “boundaries” of a sound:

photo YG

Philosophy / perception / creativity:

Questions of composition:

The previous examples are sorted into larger categories, but the listings seem to be un-ordered and at times repetitious. What is the meaning of this?

This has been done to provide the reader with the simultaneous sense of order and chaos that many students felt in the earlier parts of the course before the “larger picture” came into view.

What is this larger picture?

This will become clear by the time we get to the end of the document.

What do you wish to deal with now?

One of the more important specifics from the course.

Which is?

Description & Analysis.

A quick look reveals some 100 ideas. Is there a logical way to break these into subcategories for ease of digestion?

This was one of the challenges of the course where so many things seemed to run together. In this case the divisions will be between “ideas”, and “descriptive limiters”, or something like that. Each will be somewhat alphabetical to avoid implying a hierarchy.


Descriptive limiters:

Much of this appears to be rather dry and academic. Is there a point?

Patience perhaps. All of these studies are aimed at the process of, and the development of, modes of composition. The following lists some of them.


This list appears less ordered than previous ones. Is this simply my getting tired?

This list was, like eggs, scrambled to improve and vary the texture of the object. Varia is next — kind of left-overs


IV. Metrics / Physics

Did the class deal with matters more concrete?

The class dealt regularly with matters concrete (metrics / physics).

What range of topics was covered, and what were some of the boundaries for determining this classification?

The main limit was that of vibration, and the nature of vibration. Areas covered included acoustics, the physiology of hearing, phonetics and information theory, and a number of very practical applications.

The list is long.

Yes. This is the physical basis of the art.

photo YG

This list touches upon areas that are theoretical and sometimes philosophical. Why is this?

Physical constructs and conceits are built upon theories built upon philosophical prejudices. The lines are not always so easily drawn. The other side of this boundary is covered in more detail by the next list.

V. Psychoacoustics & Perception

Psychoacoustics and perception. What of them?

The evaluation of anything is a statistical study. There are no real absolutes when it comes to perception, which is largely culturally defined, and psychoacoustics, which is strongly influenced by birth, environment and education.

This seems to be a complex and nebulous area to examine.

It has proven to be, as it deals directly with individual values and perspectives, which are seldom wrong. Many ideas on the list could be in the description / analysis / composition lists but have been left here, to be understood as cohabiting two spaces on these lists.

At first reading this list is somewhat overwhelming. Explain the main themes.

The main themes remain the same: perception and the organization of perception. A continuous stream of sound enters the ear, how does the mind break this up into manageable units (segmentation). Once this has been achieved, the mind either groups the sounds together and hears a “tone color” (integration), or separates them out into layers (segregation). If there are layers, the mind follows the different layers (streaming).

Integral to this is the concept of identity. The establishment of a core identity will allow for the development of the idea of variation and transformation, creating sonic families. Aspects of this process are examined in varying degrees of detail.

By extension of these core concepts, more than three-quarters of the terms on this list can be accounted for.

This represents thousands of words.

More than 225,000 written words.

What did you learn from doing this?

That very often people simply need the match to light the torch they have inside themselves.

Were there complaints?

At the start, yes, many.

And at the end?

Yes, some, but mostly about the student leaving things too long.

VI. Repertoire

Istvan Anhalt — Electronic Composition #3, Birds and Bells

Beach Boys! Then I Kissed Her

Beatles: various

Yves Beaupré — Peroraison, from Humeur de facteur, (1998–1999) the underlying pulse of the piece to an ostinato (6m40s) Track 6

Martin Bédard — Checkpoint describe in three words CEC’s Cache 2003 CD

Christian Calon — Minuit

Lelio Camilieri — Apostrophe

Karen Carpenter

Tan Dun — The Map

Paul Dolden — Dancing on the Walls of Jericho (1990)

Paul Dolden — Dancing on the Walls of Jericho (2004)

Luc Ferrari — Presque rien I

East Flatbush Project called Tried By 12 [Squarepusher Mix] (2’57”) from the Xen

Kid Koala — Drunk Trumpet (3’53”) from the Xen Volume 3 CD

Coldcut — Give it Up (5’05”) from the Xen CD 1 Track 13.

Gilles Gobeil — Le Vertige Inconnu

Glenn Gould — Gould Trilogy

Sintaro Imai — La lute blue — Volume 28, 2004 Sound and Video Anthology

Honda Civic car commercial

Miniatures Concretes

Jon Christopher Nelson — l’Horloge imaginaire (2002, SEAMUS Volume 14 EAM 2005)

John Oswald — A Case of Death

John Palmer — Epitaph

Ake Parmerud — Renaissance

Russell Pinkston — Dervish Dances

Jocelyn Robert — Prelude a (3:00) from Miniatures Concretes

Jocelyn Robert — Des Yeux en Conserves

The Singers Unlimited

Phil Spector — Then He Kissed Me

Stockhausen — Gesang

Stockhausen — Kontakte

Mort Subotnick — Silver Apples of the Moon / Wild Bull

Barry Truax

Hans Tutschku — Les Invisibles

Vande Gorne — Eau & Feu from Tao

Hildegard Westerkamp

Iannis Xenakis — Nuits

Andrew Yencken — Balanco (1996)

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