Week 6. Timbre. Synthesis Lab

1) Using our simple OSC ––> ENV synthesizer, try to re-create the following envelopes:
<img class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-188″ src=”http://s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/ima-wp/wp-content/uploads/sites/34/2016/10/12114117/Envelope-examples-1024×722-300×212.png” alt=”envelope-examples-1024×722″ width=”300″ height=”212″ />

2) Go to the Tone.js docs site, and look into Tone’s built-in synthesizers.

Design 3 sounds, using:

– DuoSynth

– AmSynth or FMSynth

– Noise synth or Membrane synth

Note: keep in mind they can be polyphonic if you use Polysynth

3) Create an interface for playing with the timbres of two synths of your choice.

Consider what the inputs are (mouse, keyboard, sliders, etc), what synth parameters they control, and add some visual feedback as well.

Your interface can either:

– be like an instrument, where the user plays notes/sounds

– play a pre-set or randomized melody or rhythm

But your controls should focus on playing with timbre.


Week 6. Timbre: Synthesis


  • Sound elements: pitch, timbre, volume
  • Waveforms: square, saw, triangle, pulse, sine
  • Synth components:
    • Oscillator
    • Amplifier
    • Filter
    • Volume envelope
    • Filter envelope
    • Pitch envelope
    • LFO


Sound: vibration. Synth: creating electrical vibrations (through amp to speaker to ears).

Pitch. Cycle and frequency. Audible range.

Timbre. Pitched instruments: harmonic series. Color analogy. Fundamental frequency + harmonics/overtones/partials. Bright and dark sounds. Percussive instruments. Synthesize a bell sound.

Volume. Sound shape: envelope.


Square wave: instantly on/off

Saw tooth wave: instantly on, gradually off

Triangle wave: gradually on, gradually off.

Sinewave: single pure frequency. Fundamental + harmonics are sinewaves. Other waves can be created by combining sinewaves.

Modulation: applying one waveform to another to affect the sound. For example, to pitch to create vibratto; to volume to create tremolo; to filter/pulse width to affect timbre.

Synth Components

Amplifier. Controls volume (louder/softer)

Oscillator. Controls frequency (pitch)

Filter. Controls harmonic content (timbre: bright/dark)

Volume envelope. Controls the amplifier. Determines overall shape of the sound. ADSR.

Filter envelope. Controls the filter. Gives shape to brighness.

Pitch envelope. Controls oscillator

LFO. Oscillator vibrating below hearable frequency range. Routed to pitch: vibratto. Routed to volume: tremolo. Routed to filter and Pulse width affects timbre.

Example: create a string sound from scratch.

These apply to all synths,for example this Moog synth:


Types of Synthesis




Examples in Max:

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-11-57-01-am screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-00-38-pm



Week 5. Harmony. Sequencing in code.

Examples on NAS Server.


– Post the progressions you created last Wednesday (at least 20 seconds long)

– Create your own progression

– During the break, go outside and record samples from your environment:

  • rhythmic sounds (a train, construction)
  • melodic sounds (anything with a changing pitch)
  • different timbres (screechy breaks, voices, wind, anything)

Week 5. Harmony in practice

Review of harmony concepts by identifying them on students’ chosen songs (play back on keyboard + different harmony interfaces online)

  • major/minor triads, passing notes, suspended notes
  • scale degrees
  • chords and arpeggios


  • Mary Kate’s Song (Em C G D)

  • ZZ’s song (F C, notice passing notes in bass)

  • Maria’s song (Intro: Dm Am C G. Verse: Dm C Esus4 Am, and variations; notice suspended notes)

Discussion of harmony in interactive songs and tools we have experienced in previous classes (Arpeggio + others, Flora Drift, ñ)

In class exercise: create two chord progressions using one of the online tools we saw last class.

Week 5. Harmony

Melody: a sequence of pitches. Harmony: several melodies played simultaneously . In Western music, this practice evolved over time:



Interfaces for creating / manipulating chord progressions:


Week 4. Rhythm Code Lab

Sequencing in Tone.js

Pick two drum patterns from here (a diverse collection), here (electronic music patterns), or here (funk drum breaks). Sequence them using the Tone.Part object. If you are missing samples, find a set you like at freesound.org or any other source ––you might also record your own.

Week 4 Assignments

  1. Post a reading response to This is Your Brain on Music, Chapter 2: Foot Tapping
  2. Post your new drum machine design prototype. See the Ideation and Interface Design post for details.
  3. Finish the two drum patterns you picked in class (mention which one you chose), and create a new one. Post your sketches to your IMA NAS account and include the link in the post.

Week 4. Rhythm. Ideation and Interface Design

Design Exercise: Drum Machine Design

In pairs:

1) Discuss your experience with Groove Pizza and the 808 simulator: what were the best features? features missing? too many features?

2) Design a new interface. Will it be easy to learn? Will it have a steep learning curve but be very expressive? Which features will you focus on? Draw a preliminary sketch of the interface.

3) Create a paper prototype of your drum machine, demonstrating the interaction with the user:

– the user does this

– the system responds doing that

A couple of examples:

[image source]

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Demonstrate your interface to the class

Assignment (due next Tuesday)

  1. Write a paragraph explaining your approach and goals for your drum machine (Is it easier to learn? Is it more expressive than the ones you experienced? Does it focus on a certain rhytmic element? Is it playful / funny? What are you focusing on?).
  2. Finish your paper prototype and document it. Your prototype + supporting text should be thorough and clear enough for someone who was not in the class today to understand the main features of your drum machine. This probably means including a series of captioned photos of your interface in different states.

3. Rhythm. Elements and Interfaces

Class Notes

Create two grooves using Groove Pizza, from the NYU Music Experience Design Lab. Between them, cover :

  • different tempos (fast/slow)
  • subdivisions (multiples of 2, of 3, or combined —12 slices: play every 4, play every 3)
  • swing / no swing

Create a drum pattern using this TR-808 simulator (here is an article about songs that have used the original one)

Other interfaces to check out:

Watch video: how rhythm works



1) Revisit the interfaces you played with in class, compare in terms of:

  • the elements they give you control over ( tempo/pulse, subdivisions, accents, syncopation, cross-rhythms?)
  • what the interface make easy / hard to do
  • how the interface design affects the musical outcome

In your post, include the drum patterns you created during class, with a short note about its bpm, subdivisions, and any other relevant parameters you played with.

2) Listen to the song you picked for the score exercise, paying attention to its rhythm. Describe it in terms of tempo, subdivisions, accents, syncopation (related to the ‘swing’ variable in the interfaces). It might help to try to re-create some rhythmic parts using one of the drum machines.

3) [optional, extra credit]: Visit Carsten Nicolai‘s installation at Chronus and write a review about it.  Assignment aside, I recommend listening to his music, which he publishes as Alva Noto .