Assignment 3

Assignment 3: Short Piece

Compose a short piece, building on the skills developed during the first two assignments.


  • Put together a 2-3 minute piece using the sounds you recorded in Assignment 1, along with any additional sounds you want to record.
  • Edit and mix in the DAW of your choice, using volume pan, and (possibly) effects automation.
  • Experiment with pitch-shifting and time-scaling your audio.
  • Apply EQ (equalization), reverberation, and other real-time effects.
  • Try freezing your sound using granulation.
  • Try coloring your sound with pitches imposed by resonators or bandpass filters.
  • Bounce your mix to disk as a 24-bit WAV or AIFF file.

Musical Considerations

In Assignment 2 you practiced making phrases using the sounds you recorded. For this assignment, imagine ways of expanding on these phrases to build a complete composition. (It’s also okay if you want to abandon your Assignment 2 phrases and try a new approach.)

Continue working with the idea of using, in a musical way, sounds that are not explicitly musical. Often such sounds do not have clear pitch. You can work with them as they are, or impose pitch on them using a variety of tools, some of which you may download from this page below. Consider an approach to pitch that is not about functional progression of pitches, but rather about transforming the timbre of recorded sounds, casting new light upon them.

Make use of the spatial resources available to you: left-right panning and distance simulation (via reverberation, volume reduction, and high-frequency roll-off). Also consider using as a compositional resource the continuum between clearly pitched and unpitched, possibly noisy sounds.

Please DO NOT use any of the following for this assignment:

  • sounds from synthesizer or sampler presets,
  • sounds copied from sound effect CDs or audio CDs,
  • sounds copied from Internet sites,
  • finished passages of music played on instruments (isolated sounds are okay), or
  • passages from recordings of your own acoustic pieces.

This may seem overly restrictive, but you can do a lot with just a small collection of sounds, if you take advantage of the time-scaling, pitch-shifting, filtering, and other effects in the DAW.

Some Sound Modification Tools

The following applications let you perform some sound transformations that are not readily available in many DAWs. Using them is not as convenient as using a plug-in inside of a DAW, but they are still valuable, especially for sounds that do not need to be synchronized precisely with other sounds.

The applications are yours to keep and use without restriction (except: don’t sell them). Please let me know if you run into problems with them.

After downloading an application, un-zip it (if necessary), and move it wherever you want. It does not need to be installed in an admin-controlled folder. On Windows, un-zip the file by right-clicking on it, and choosing Extract All.

To use an application...

  1. import an audio file using the Open button (or drag a sound file onto the Open button),
  2. press Play while exploring the settings until you get something interesting, and
  3. use the Record button to dump whatever you’re hearing to disk as a 24-bit WAV or AIFF file. You can use this file in your DAW project.

For all of the apps, be sure not to let the output meter clip. Use the output fader to control this.

Here are short descriptions of the apps.

  • Resonatorbank

    Color your sound with pitches created by six tunable resonators. Vary the amount of feedback to change how much the resonators ring. Use the low-pass filter to tame the buzz. Try using a MIDI keyboard to tune the resonators. The resonator works well with an input sound containing a broad range of frequencies and articulated, impulsive sound, such as speech or struck objects. It does not work well with single sine waves as input.

  • Filterbank

    Color your sound with a bank of 8 tunable band-pass filters. Tune them using the sliders or by playing a MIDI keyboard. Adjust the selectivity of each band using its Q control. This is another way of imposing pitch on any sound with the characteristics suggested above for input to the Resonatorbank.

    WARNING: the volume of sound can change dramatically when reducing the value of Q sliders (dragging to the left). In other words, the output of a filter with high Q is much quieter than one with low Q.

  • Granulator

    Drag a sound into the empty waveform window. Then experiment with the controls. This device decomposes the sound into individual “grains” — short bursts of sound ranging from a few milliseconds to a second — then recombines the grains into a stream of sound. If you know video software, the output side of this device is similar to a particle generator.

    Note that the input sound file should be at the same sampling rate that is shown in the Granulator Audio Status window. (Access this by pressing the Audio button.) A sampling rate mismatch will cause the vertical playback line to be inaccurate, and the original pitch of the sample will be off.

    The Granulator parameters are...

    Playback speed and direction of input sound. 1 means normal forward speed; -1 means backward; 2 means double speed; 0.5 means half speed, etc.
    grain rate
    How quickly to play grains. This is independent of traversal.
    grain duration
    Duration of a single grain.
    input jitter
    Amount of random variation applied to the input time of a grain.
    output jitter
    Amount of random variation applied to the output time of a grain.
    grain amp jitter
    Amount of random variation applied to grain amplitude.
    stereo width
    Width of stereo image created by random panning of grains.
    Transposition of grains.
    transpose jitter
    Amount of random variation applied to grain transposition.
    chord transposition
    Play notes on the keyboard to set transposition levels for grains, applied in addition to the transpose control. Middle C means no additional transposition. Use the clear button to release any sounding transpositions.


  • Please complete one digital audio workstation (DAW) project that satisfies the criteria above. Do not submit your project in Canvas, but be ready to show it during tutorial.
  • Make a 24-bit WAV or AIFF version of your final mix.

    Name this file with the title of your piece.

  • Write a short description of your piece (as a plain text, Word, or RTF file). Include the title of the piece and a few sentences about how you made it, what it’s about, and so forth. Say what you like best about the piece, and what you want a listener to notice.
  • Submit the mix file and description in Canvas by midnight on the due date.

Grading Criteria

This assignment will receive a letter grade based on the following criteria. The highest grade is A. Grades will be based on overall conception and execution, the quality of the source recordings, your sonic imagination, attention to detail, sensitivity to spatial (panning, reverberation) and spectral (EQ) qualities, following the instructions (including submission requirements), and completion of the project description.