Music and Technology: Performing with Computers


21M.380: Performing with Computers is developed and taught by Ian Hattwick starting in Fall 2018


Whether in the form of laptops, phones, embedded systems, or even robots and autonomous instruments, computers have become an essential part of contemporary musical performance. In this course, we will take a look at a variety of ways in which musicians integrate computers into their musical practice. 

We will study computer performance systems from a variety of perspectives, with the goal not only of learning how to perform with these systems, but also learning why performers find these systems compelling, and how the systems support different performance techniques. Given the tremendous diversity of styles which depend upon computers, we will focus on a few systems with large communities of users:

  • Eurorack modular synthesis  (Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Richard Devine)
  • The Monome grid-based sequencer  (Daedelus, Deadmau5)
  • Live Coding  (Andrew Sorenson, Joanne Armitage, Charlie Roberts)
  • Digital musical instruments  (Imogen Heap, Moldover, Onyx Ashanti)

We will take an interdisciplinary approach to our research, in which students will:

  1. Learn the fundamentals of performing with these systems
  2. Participate in three in-class performances
  3. Analyze interviews and performances by a variety of musicians
  4. Read and discuss current literature on computer music performance
  5. Participate in in-class discussions and interviews with prominent performers who use these systems.

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Evaluate and configure a variety of computer music performance systems
  2. Create and execute strategies for  performing with computer systems
  3. Analyze primary materials from computer music performers in order to identify the techniques and performance strategies they use
  4. Articulate how the design of computer music systems impacts their adoption and use by musical communities