Peter Lucas Hulen

Teaching Electronic Music

Peter Hulen with HeadphonesAt the college where I teach, some kind of electronic music course has been offered on and off since the Music Department was founded in 1969 (the college was founded in 1832). It has been a one-course introduction taught by a succession of my predecessors, starting with recording a sine wave generator and splicing up concrète, through the advent of MIDI and digital audio, and down to the present where I include MIDI, audio editing, basic synthesis, sequencing, and composition. That has been great, but I wanted to expand beyond offering just a basic course over and over. A few interested students have taken Independent Study courses in the form of guided projects, but I wanted to offer something more systematic.

I decided the first thing needed was Electronic Music History and Literature. I selected, read and reviewed Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music by Joel Chadabe, Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music and Culture by Thom Holmes, and Electronic and Computer Music by Peter Manning. For my money, the Holmes won hands down, so I developed and began offering a new course around it. Out of that grew a Freshman Tutorial (basic academic skills) course entitled The Evolution of Electronic Music.

Then I decided the college needed Music Computer Programing cross-listed as a Computer Science course. The first time around I offered a homegrown course on the object-oriented programming environment Max/MSP. It was okay, but I wasn't satisfied and didn't pursue cross listing it. Then I found Electronic Music and Sound Design: Theory and Practice with Max and MSP by Alessandro Cipriani and Maurizio Giri. It's a two-volume set, the first of which is more than enough for a course introducing Max/MSP. Subsequent offerings of the course will use that text and will be cross-listed.

My notion of an academic program in Electronic Music is project-based and includes 1) a practical introduction, 2) history and literature, 3) programing, 4) music theory, and 5) some kind of performance focus. My college now has all but the fifth. I envision some kind of electronic device ensemble (I attended a symposium on laptop orchestras at LSU), but at the very least students can continue to study electronic composition on an individual basis with the requirement that their work be performed publicly. Once I can put together a course with some kind of systematic approach to performance, I will seek to put an Electronic Music Minor on the books. I think an electronic device ensemble (Wabash Ensemble of Electronic Devices aka WEED) is going to require some custom programing. The college has a Programing for Mobile Devices course that I will audit next time it is offered. I think I can do this, but it's going to take some work.

In the meantime students are aware that I have been putting these pieces into place. I got the idea from being asked again and again in the intro course, "Is there a way to major or minor in this?" One student took the first four courses listed above and then petitioned the Academic Policy Committee for approval of a self-created Minor in Electronic Music if I agreed to teach an Independent study that included public performance. The committee agreed and the college produced its first Electronic Music Minor. Now a second student wants to do the same thing and is taking all the same courses.

No one is getting more out of all this than me. In seeking to expand the college's offerings in electronic music I have had to study and learn a great deal myself. I guess the maxim that no one learns more than the teacher is true.