ANU Laptop Ensemble (LENS)

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LENS is running in Semester 1, 2020 as a course in computer music making and laptop performance. It is open to students in music, art, computer science, and elsewhere around the ANU. Check out the info below (including the FAQ) and get in touch with with Ben Swift, Alec Hunter, or Charles Martin to join up!

LENS Semester 1, 2020

Do you want to make music with your computer? Do you want create new kinds of musical instruments? Do you want to be a part of a laptop band? This is the course for you!

In this course you’ll learn fundamental skills of music computing, including digital synthesis, algorithmic composition, and musical interface design through a series of workshops. You’ll put these skills to use creating a computer musical instrument, composition, or interactive media work to present in concert at the end of the course.

This course is open to students in computer science, music, art, and elsewhere at ANU. You should have a strong interest in making music using computers, willingness to learn new approaches to music and computer programming, and be able to commit to weekly classes and music-making deliverables and a concert at the end of the semester.

If you think this is the course for you, get in touch with Ben Swift to register your interest, and check out the course structure.

Note: these links still point to the 2019 course materials—they’ll be updated as the 2020 semester approaches. There will be a couple of small changes this year (esp. with regard to the schedule of deliverables), but the main concepts covered will be very similar this year, so feel free to look around and get a head start 😁


What’s LENS?

The laptop is a legit musical/visual instrument, and the ANU Laptop Ensemble (LENS; est. 2018) exists to explore different ways to use this instrument in a group performance.

Laptop Ensemble links:

You can see more vids of the ensemble at work on their YouTube channel.

To keep up-to-date about upcoming gigs, check the news page.

Do I have to be a livecoder to take part?

No! If you’re in any way interested in code/technology & music and want to use this opportunity to build your skills in a supportive creative community, there’s never been a better time to do it.

Which ANU course code does this course run under?

This course can be taken as either COMP2710 or COMP2205.

What’s the deal with the dual course codes (COMP2710 and MUSI2205)?

The course content & assessment is the same for both. We run it like this to make it easier for students from both the CS & the music side of things to fit it into their degree programs.

What music background is required?

There are no specific music pre-requisites, and we will teach things from the ground up. Obviously, if you’ve never done anything with music/sound before then there’ll be some extra reading (and noise-making!) to do to stay on top of things, but if you’re willing to put in the work it shouldn’t be an un-manageable workload.

What computing background is required?

There are no specific computing/CS pre-requisites either. Again, we will teach things from the ground up (and since we’re doing computer music, even if you’ve done a bunch of computing/programming you’ll still be using tools & languages you’ve never seen before).

Obviously, if you’ve never done anything with computing/programming before then there’ll be some extra reading (and noise-making!) to do to stay on top of things, but if you’re willing to put in the work it shouldn’t be an un-manageable workload.

What does this course look like, week-to-week?

Each week, you’ll:

  • learn about a particular computer music concept (in your own time)
  • make & submit a musical response (via a short video) which explores that concept (in your own time)
  • listen to, play with & discuss the things that you and your classmates have made (during the class workshop timeslot)

In addition, over the course of the semester you’ll:

  • create a software/hardware tool for making music in a laptop ensemble context
  • write a report explaining the design of your work
  • perform (live!) with your tool and ensemble classmates at the end-of-semeseter LENS concert

What are the time commitments for the LENS course?

The primary weekly contact hours are the Tuesday 3pm-5pm workshop (in Marie Reay 3.02)—if you’re enrolled in the class, you need to be there every week.

Outside of that workshop, the class will be delivered in “flipped” mode; we’ll give you some stuff to read & videos to watch whenever you like, then you’ll make something in response (as described above). This is a standard 6-unit course, so the ANU expectation is around 130 hours of work per week. I’m sure you can do the maths as to how much work you’ll need to put in each week to stay on top of things 😉

I wanna be a part of this—what’s the next step?

Just send Ben an email (as described above) and he can begin the process of giving you a permission code.

I want to be part of the laptop ensemble in S1 2020, how can I start practicing?

Apart from having a look at the material on this course website, the best way is to install some computer music software and start messing around. Many of the software tools we use in this course are free, open-source and have decent tutorials and friendly communities, so there should be plenty of support for getting started. If you’re really stuck, you can get in touch with Ben and he can probably give you some more suggestions based on your skills & interests.

I’ve got friends who are keen as well, what should I do?

Tell them about it! Post it on Schmidtposting, hire a skywriting plane, I don’t care—it’s an open call. Be creative :)

Updated:  17 Jan 2020/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School/ Page Contact:  Ben Swift /Licence:  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0