Carnegie Mellon University
Expanded Music Performance
Spring 2018

Instructor: Jesse Stiles (
TA: Ethan Ludwick (
Time: Mon/Wed 12:30PM – 3:20PM Location: Hunt Library Media Lab, HLA10A
Class website:
Jesse’s office hours: Mondays, 3:30PM to 5:30PM – Hunt Library Media Lab, HLA10A.


In this course we will create new technological systems to expand the possibilities of live music performance. In the realm of sound, we will explore ways to transform the sound of live acoustic instruments through software, will learn systems for the performance of live electronic music, and will design immersive sound systems for spatial audio. We will also seek out ways to expand music performance visually by designing audio-reactive video projections systems and computer-controlled lighting systems. We will also design sensor-based systems that extend traditional music instruments and can communicate musical gesture information to the software that we design. Our projects will culminate in two public evening-length concerts of electro-acoustic music performed by the Exploded Ensemble. We will work closely with the Exploded Ensemble to develop systems that will transform their performances into expansive audio-visual experiences. To execute the projects for this course we will develop the basic skills of sound engineering for live music: the usage of microphones for live sound, the operation of digital sound mixing consoles, setting up wireless audio systems, and installing sound reinforcement systems.


  1. Students will learn the principles of sound engineering for live music. These skills will be put to the test during weekly rehearsals with the Exploded Ensemble, and in two concerts at the mid-point and end of the semester.
  2. Students will learn software for live processing of music instruments. This will include Ableton Live, the graphical programming environment Max (a.k.a. Max/MSP/Jitter), and Max for Live.
  3. Students will learn software for creating audio-reactive video systems in Max.
  4. Gain historical knowledge on important compositions, performances, and technologies in the history of electronic and electro-acoustic music. To this end we will examine major work of boundary-pushing composers, designers, choreographers, and artists ranging from the 19th century through the present day.


The course calendar is here.


We will use a Facebook group for course-related discussions, announcements, file-sharing, & cetera. Please be sure to join the Facebook group and monitor discussions in realtime so you don’t miss anything.


There will be 9 short-term projects to be completed over the course of the semester, one of which will be independently defined. Due dates for the projects are indicated on the course calendar. All work will be delivered via Canvas. Detailed descriptions of each project will be released on the course website throughout the semester.


There will be 5 short quizzes taken in class to test information presented in lectures and demos. Quizzes occur every third Monday starting on the third week of class.


There will be two public concerts throughout the semester. You are expected to play a supportive role in every aspect of these concerts and should consider yourself to be a team-member for every piece that we present. You are also expected to be a major contributor to at least one piece in each of the concerts. This could mean composing or arranging music, designing software, acting as the lead sound engineer, designing visuals, performing as a soloist, or some other significant role. You will be assessed based on the quality and quantity of work that you invest in these roles.


We will make use of two software platforms throughout the semester: Ableton Live and Max for Live. Ableton Live is a popular music production platform that, unlike most DAWs, is designed to be used as a performance instrument. Max for Live is a graphical programming environment that allows to add extend and modify the Ableton platform by creating devices to synthesize and process sound, and also to interact with the Live API. Ableton Live and is a commercial software platform. Max for Live is an add-on included in the “Suite” version of Ableton, or available as a separate purchase for the other versions of Ableton.

For access to the software you have three options: You may work on the Mac Pro that is permanently installed in the Media Lab. Select the “Media Lab User” user account. When you are using this account create a folder with your Andrew ID and store all your files in this folder. It is very important that you back up your work every time you work on the computer. It is entirely possible that files on a communally used machine can be unexpectedly moved, erased, or modified. Get an external drive (physical or in the cloud) and back up your work constantly. You may also work the MacBook Pro laptops that are available to you in the IDeATe storage room. Similarly, you must be diligent in backing up your work when using these machines. The laptops and the Mac Pro all have Max 7, Logic Pro, Audacity, Arduino, Final Cut, Photoshop, Illustrator, and many other useful pieces of software. Laptops number 1 through 5 have Ableton Live Suite. Thirdly, you may work on your own computer. If you work on your own computer you will be responsible for acquiring and maintaining any of the software you choose to use. Your instructors cannot provide technical support on your computer for you. Ableton and Max for Live is available at: Make sure you take advantage of the student discounts.


A wide variety of electronic prototyping materials and tools is available in the Media Lab as well as the Physical Computing Lab, next door to the Media Lab.


Please read and become familiar with the IDeATe lending and purchasing policies, which can be accessed at The IDeATe facilities are shared student resources and spaces. As such, all members of the IDeATe community are expected to be respectful of the equipment, the spaces, and fellow students and their projects. Always clean up after completing your work, put things back in their correct place, and leave the lab in better condition than you found it. Students may be required to purchase materials to complete class projects. For convenience, some materials are available for borrowing and for purchase at IDeATe Lending (Hunt A29). If you experience any issues with IDeATe facilities such as swipe card access, access to the room reservations system, non-functioning or damaged equipment, etc., send an email describing your issue to:


You will have access to the Media Lab outside of class hours – it is an excellent environment for you to rehearse and develop work. To use the Media Lab outside of class time you must make a reservation using the online reservation system. When using the Media Lab outside of class you must comply with the policies indicated on the IDeATe website.


When we are designing new software it is perfectly acceptable to use sections of code from examples found on the web, in help files, in tutorials, etc. Indeed, this is not only acceptable but is totally necessary if one wants to work efficiently. Furthermore, when we are creating new works of electronic art is perfectly acceptable to make use of found materials (video files, sound files, images, etc.) to use as raw material in creating new works of art/music/design. When using found code/images/sounds in your own work there are two requirements:

  1. Attribution. You must clearly identify where the code/images/sound came from.
  2. Transformation. You must significantly transform the materials you are using. You should extend the material, modify it into something new, offer new insight into the concepts underlying the material, etc. Work that uses borrowed code or other materials without significantly transforming those materials will result in a low grade.

More information on CMU’s Academic Integrity policy can be found at:


Attendance: Unexcused absences are disruptive and disrespectful. And in the case of a music ensemble, an unexcused absence may make a potential rehearsal impossible. If you are unable to attend class for any reason you must email the instructors in advance. Failure to contact the instructors before the start of our meeting times will result in an unexcused absence. Unexcused absences will result in the drop of one letter grade per absence. This means that if you have one unexcused absence and would otherwise receive an A in the class, you will receive a B. If you have two unexcused absences and would otherwise receive an A, you will receive a B, etc. Arriving more than 5 minutes late to class twice will result in an additional unexcused absence. Participation: You are invited, encouraged, and expected to engage actively in discussion, reflection and activities. Our class time is precious and limited. Please refrain from distracting electronic behavior such as texting during class time.


Grading for the course is based on the projects, quizzes, concerts, and class participation. Projects 1 through 8 shall count for 6 points each towards your final grade. Of these 6 points, 3 shall be awarded to the quality and originality of the concept in the work. Another 3 points shall be awarded to the quality of the technical execution of the work. For both criteria, concept and execution, the determination shall be made accordingly: 0: Undelivered or does not address to the goal of the assignment. 1: Incomplete. For example: not all specified files were delivered, the media does not play back correctly, recordings are cut off. 2: Satisfactory. The work was delivered on time and addresses the goal of the assignment in its entirety. 3: Excellent. The work demonstrates an outstanding concept or execution. The work demonstrates great insight. Project 9 counts for 9 points. It is assessed the same as above, but then multiplied by 1.5. Work that is delivered late will have the score reduced by 10% for each day of lateness. Quizzes count for 2 points each. Your work in Concert 1 counts for 9 points, and your work in Concert 2 counts for 18 points. Overall course participation counts for 6 points. To summarize: P1 through P8: 6pts * 8 = 48 pts, P9: 9 pts, Quizzes: 2pts * 5 = 10pts, Concert 1: 9 pts, Concert 2: 18 pts, Participation: 6 pts. 48 + 9 + 10 + 9 + 18 + 6 = 100