This is the course FAQ—we’ll update it as the semester goes along and more questions get asked.

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.

More concretely, LENS is a course in computer music making and laptop performance open to ANU students in music, art, computer science, and anywhere on campus you can take a COMP2xxx or MUSI2xxx elective.

Laptop Ensemble links:

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

Who’s in charge of all this?

The current LENS artistic directors are Dr. Ben Swift, Dr. Alec Hunter and Dr. Charles Martin.

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.

I’m a musician (or programmer) and I’m worried that I don’t have the required programming (or music) skills—will I be ok?

Even after reading the previous two answers you still might be worried. And everyone’s different, so it’s hard to give a definitive answer to this question. Still, one key question to ask yourself is do you like the thing you’re worried about not having the required skills in, and do you want to learn more about it?

If you’re a muso, do you like thinking about patterns, structure & “compositional rules”? Do you want to learn more about programming and computers and use them in your creative practice?

If you’re a programmer, do you like music? Do you like thinking about patterns in art & music and always wondered if that structure could be expressed in a computer program? Do you want to learn how to use your computing & logic skills to create music?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then I think you’ll be fine. You’ll be motivated to learn the things you don’t know already, and you might surprise yourself about how much you enjoy learning about how to put computers to work in making your own music. Imagine actually enjoying & being motivated to learn something—who’d have thought that uni could be like that 😜?

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 creative response (through your AV diary entry) 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 😉

What music software will we be using in the course?

In this course you’ll learn to use both Pure Data (Pd) and Extempore for music-making. Which one you use for your final performance is up to you; you’ll get to decide what fits your creative purposes best as the semester progresses.

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

You’ll need a permission code to enrol, so check out the info on this course website (including this FAQ) to understand what you’re getting yourself in for, then get in touch with Ben Swift (if you want a COMP permission code) or Alec Hunter (if you want a MUSI permission code) to join up.

What’s with the Wattle site for this course?

All the course content will be on this website (</courses/comp2710-lens/deliverables/>), however we’ve created a special LENS Wattle site which you’ll use to submit your weekly AV Diary entries. Since this is a cross-campus course (with COMP and MUSI students) we have to enrol you in that Wattle site manually, and we’ll do that asap, but you’re not missing out on any content while you wait.

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

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:    21 Jul 2020 / Responsible Officer:    Head of School / Page Contact:    Ben Swift / License:    CC BY-NC-SA 4.0