Sonic Structures – course description

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Semester 1, 20 credits.
Course organiser : Dr. Martin Parker
Taken in year one if studying part-time
Course website –

Essential Prerequisites

Experience of using sound recording technologies (microphones, recording equipment etc.)
Experience of using sound editing tools such as DAWs and wave editors, mixing tools, digital or analogue

Desirable Prerequisites

Interest in computer programming and its application to sound and music
Interest in industrial audio and context aware sound design.


This course explores sonic structure and encourages its students to develop sound design that changes according to context.

Sound designers are often commissioned to produce fixed audio that is custom-fit to picture or play but there is a growing need to expand on this technique and provide audio that can be quickly configured for dynamic contexts. Control over the form and structure of the sound is therefore required. This course allows students to explore  sound-based interaction methods in the context of digital media, live performance and to a lesser degree, product and prototype design. Lectures cover a range of areas based on the development of interactive software systems for manipulating, sampling and synthesising sound in real-time. Students will investigate processes and contexts for the use of sound in areas such as real-time Foley, sound synchronization, performing sound design and to a lesser extent, sonic branding, industrial sound design, sonification, sound therapy, audio-visual performance, network-based multi-user applications and immersive simulation environments.

Your projects will be developed using the software programming language MaxMSP. In this course you’ll study how to shape sound over time, and learn methods of controlling the shape of sound in real-time and changing contexts.

Learning outcomes

• skills in programming interactive sound environments, i.e. A detailed knowledge of the MaxMSP programming language (
• understanding of issues of interaction raised in complex multimedia environments
• ability to articulate the usefulness of multiple audio components in a media or object-based environment (e.g. music, sound effects, soundscape…)
• ability to translate adventurous design ideas into a plausible end product.
• ability to communicate a complex project idea to a varied audience

Lecture and tutorial schedule:


Submission 1 – research and software prototype/demo 30%
Submission 2 – live performance software and documentation 70%

Work will be assessed on the basis of

• Demonstrated competence with sound design and programming tools
• Skills in creatively deploying allocated resources, whatever their quality
• Precision and competence in presentation, including well formatted documentation of the work
• Ability to meet the requirements of the project brief and deal creatively with its open-ended aspects
• Design quality of the work in terms of meeting functional requirements, legibility, usability, interactivity, and appropriate use of media
• High quality sound design whilst being faced with other creative challenges
• Account will be taken of the risks taken and degree to which the design deviates from standard solutions

Please note that assessment will take account of tradeoffs between the above criteria, particularly taking account of the diverse backgrounds of students in the class. You are encouraged to seek feedback during the development of your work, but please note that adhering to feedback does not guarantee a high assessment of the completed work. Note also that the assessment of the work is not necessarily commensurate with the amount of time spent on the project work.

Teaching Method

Work in this course is project-based. So the project and its tasks provide the focus, with skills being taught in targeted lecture/seminars as needed to progress the work.  You will be expected to work in proximity to other students in the class and benefit from each other’s developing expertise.