Not many people are caught up with the up-and-coming Digital and Computational Studies program here at Bates, yet several academic departments have been integrating this field of study for years. “Computers, Music, and the Arts” is a Music class that has been taught here in some iteration since the 1980s – a hidden gem if you will. Taught by professor William Matthews, this class transforms the preconceived notion of music and revolutionizes the relationship between technology and art making.
Matthews has taught the course almost 30 times. As an undergraduate from Oberlin College in 1968, he has experienced the vast expansion and development of musical software and reliance on computers and technology. Shortly after his time as an undergraduate, he studied electronic music in Holland with Gottfried Michael Koenig, one of the early pioneers in the field. Needless to say, he “feel[s] closely connected with the entire history of electro-acoustic and computer music.”
When Matthews first started teaching the course, the resources were severely limited. “The sophistication of today’s hardware and software was unimaginable back then; now it’s a real joy to be able to focus on creating music and not struggling with temperamental devices,” he said. “The computer music studio in Olin is a fantastic curricular resource.”
Given Bates’ rising focus on digital studies and through Matthews’ valuable knowledge of the art form, this course continuously feeds students’ education and interest in music and video technologies. Matthews said, “The Music 237 course presumes no prior experience with composing and is a great way for students who might never have the opportunity to create their own music to do so.” One of the best and most unique things about this class is that Matthews teaches his students how to continue making music with their personal laptops after the course is over. This embodies the essence of the Purposeful Work initiative and allows his students to get real life experience and practice beyond the classroom, the true beauty of the arts.
As a Music major, Abbey Bierman ’17 is currently taking this class as a requirement. She finds it to be “extremely helpful to learn the programs” they are using in class, as they learn programs that help them to write and edit music.
As for the progression of the course and the skills the students have learned so far in this semester, Bierman commented, “We’ve been focusing on learning the history of electronic music, and then learning different elements of various programs such as MAX and Logic. We typically have about one piece due a week, which gives us a chance to practice various aspects of the programs.”
One of their most recent projects was a presentation of their midterm compositions in Olin Arts Center on March 1. Students introduced their compositions, sharing the titles, how they created their pieces, or where they got some inspiration. Bierman, who presented a piece herself, said, “The performance was a chance for us to show off our pieces to the public and to each other. Plus, it was exciting to be able to hear our music in a larger setting with larger speakers. The different acoustics in the room actually made our music sound a little different, which is cool.”
Bierman’s piece was created by picking various tracks that she liked and that she thought would blend well together. She started mixing the tracks together, adding layers and effects and changing the pan, volume and other effects on the layers. The result was a full-blown piece of music ready to be produced at the concert.
This course offers skills and techniques that are useful and essential in the music industry. Go see the class’ final concert on Monday, April 1, at 7:30 in Olin Arts Center.