The Music Composition and Technology program at Northeastern University is a concentration in Music Composition. Rooted in the Western art music tradition, students study composition for both acoustic and electronic instruments and explore ways in which electronic and computer-based technologies continue to challenge and enhance our notion of music composition and performance. Creative works that focus on sound synthesis, processed recordings and/or the interaction between live instruments and electronic sounds are just some of the exciting interests that students pursue.
Students in the program learn to compose using the newest technologies and techniques, including sound design, real-time processing, synthesis, MIDI sequencing, digital audio mixing and mastering. Students also take courses in music theory, notation, history and analysis. In addition, students receive private composition lessons, in which they work one-on-one with an instructor to complete short-form compositions (private lessons require an additional fee). Students regularly have the opportunity to participate in public concerts, where they can hear their music performed by musicians and/or presented using the program’s multi-speaker sound diffusion system.
Music Composition and Technology is a selective program that combines rigorous coursework with a large number of exciting creative projects. Classes are small and students are given a significant amount of personal attention and receive considerable feedback on their artistic activities. Upon completion of the program, students should be able to compose music for a wide range of genres and settings and will be well prepared for further studies in graduate school.
Music Composition and Technology students may opt to pursue a combined major with Computer Science or Physics, where they are given the opportunity to combine their interest in music with other disciplines.
Ronald Bruce Smith
Admission to the Music Technology concentration is very competitive. Continuation in the program also requires extended effort, both in terms of creative projects and in the acquisition of concepts and skills.
All applicants to the Music Technology program must submit a portfolio containing representative examples of their original creative work in order to be considered for admission. At least three musical compositions on which the applicant has worked should be included with their application and submitted to the Admissions Office via SlideRoom, along with their application to the University. Applicants completing the online Common App should still submit portfolios to the Admissions Office. Portfolios will be reviewed by a faculty committee and should be in a form that best represents the music. For example, the candidate can submit audio files (highly recommended) or scores (if available) of their original compositions, lead sheets of original songs, or video files of projects for which they have composed the music. A video of a live performance of the applicant’s music is also acceptable. Compositions that involve computer-processed or -generated sounds are strongly encouraged, as composition with a computer is a primary focus of the program.
For every submission, a short and concise statement explaining the applicant’s involvement in the creation of the work must be included. For example, it should tell whether the applicant is the sole creator or a collaborator; the composer, arranger or remixer; and whether the applicant is performing the work on the recording(s). In addition, a separate, typed, one-page essay discussing the applicant’s musical background, influences and future goals must be included. This essay should also describe why the applicant feels the Music Technology program at Northeastern University best suits his or her goals. Please do not send original or one-of-a-kind materials (materials are not typically returned).
Applicants to the program should be familiar with the required courses described at this site under Curriculum and should listen to the student works in the JukeBox to be sure they understand the wide range of the curriculum. They are also strongly encouraged to speak with a Music Technology faculty member to determine if the program is suited to his or her goals and to visit the campus.
Once an application is completed, a Northeastern faculty member may contact the applicant to arrange a live or phone interview. Applicants should be aware that the program requires private composition lessons of all students. These lessons require a fee above the base tuition costs.
Applying to a combined major with Music Composition and Technology
Students wishing to pursue any of the combined majors with Music Composition and Technology have until the start of the fall semester of their sophomore year to formally declare the combined major. Declaring the combined major after this point could negatively affect the number of co-op opportunities or an extension to their education. For students who enter the university knowing that they want to pursue the combined major, it is advantageous to declare the combined major before or at the freshman orientation so that they can be placed in the appropriate courses in their first year. This will ultimately provide more flexibility in the curriculum. Students choosing to pursue the combined major must notify both departments of their decision.
Students must apply and be accepted into the Music Composition and Technology program. The application process involves submission of a portfolio and an interview with a Music Composition and Technology faculty member. Acceptance into the program is not guaranteed. Students who enter the University as Music Composition and Technology majors will have already submitted a portfolio, and therefore no additional portfolio is required. Students entering the University in a program other than Music Composition and Technology and wishing to pursue a combined major with Music Composition and Technology should contact an Music Composition and Technology faculty member as early as possible to declare their intent to apply to the program and to learn more about the program and portfolio requirements. Portfolios must be submitted to Prof. Mike Frengel by March 15 of the student’s freshman spring semester. Note that students must be accepted into the program before they can take any courses specific to music technology. However, it is possible for students to begin taking core music courses in their first year as they prepare their portfolio.
Music Theory Requirement
Students who have had formal training in music theory while in high school will have an advantage for admission to the program. All entering students must have achieved a level of competence in Music Theory beyond that of a fundamental level so that they can begin their theory studies at Northeastern with Music Theory I or higher. (Students receiving a 4 or 5 in an advanced placement exam in Theory will automatically be placed into Theory I. All others must take a placement test to show their competence.) Northeastern will provide an online theory refresher course for all entering students in the summer before the first year. Successful completion of this course should allow students to begin with Music Theory I when they arrive at Northeastern. Students who must begin with Fundamentals of Music, the course that precedes Music Theory I, will not have the option to coop in their third or fourth year. It is also highly desirable, though not mandatory, that students have some experience performing on an instrument.
Hardware/Software Requirements for Incoming Freshman
Students entering the Music Technology concentration are required to purchase a laptop computer and software fundamental to the curriculum. While the program does provide students with access to various studios equipped with computer technology, these spaces are in high demand and students will not get enough time in them to complete daily homework assignments for their courses.
The following hardware and software is strongly recommended:
- Apple Macbook Pro Computer (any new model compatible with the items below)
- Avid Pro Tools
- Cycling 74 Max/MSP
All of these items can be purchased at an academic discount from most vendors.
Courses will be taught utilizing the hardware and software listed above. Equivalent software can be used, but if used, the student will likely get less support and feedback from instructors. If other software is used, it must have the same capabilities as the software listed above. Failure to complete assignments due to insufficient software capabilities will not be excused.
The Music Technology program offers a varied curriculum that includes courses focused on the acquisition of skills and techniques related to music composition balanced with courses that involve original creative projects. In addition, students take private composition lessons each semester they are in school, except when they are in a Music Composition seminar. Mixed with that are the courses required of all Music majors, which include several semesters of music theory and musicianship, courses in music history and general education courses required by the University. Students also have the opportunity to take free electives from outside their major.
Students graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Music with concentration in Music Composition and Technology are expected to have acquired the following competencies:
Music Theory Skills
1. The ability to recognize, analyze and compose music rooted in functional tonality, including proper
voice leading, key modulations, common progressions and harmonization and an idiomatic facility with
harmony, melody, rhythm, form and orchestration.
2. The ability to recognize, analyze and compose music in the style of 20th- and 21st-century repertoire
that utilizes and/or integrates established techniques including polytonality, free atonality, serialism,
spectralism, minimalism, algorithmic and generative processes, aleatory/ indeterminacy, jazz harmony
and rhythm, and influences from global folk and popular sources.
3. The ability to recognize, articulate and explore compositionally the advantages and disadvantages of
common alternatives to the twelve-tone equal temperament system.
1. The ability to hear, identify, and work conceptually with the elements of music, including intervals,
scales, chords, meters, rhythm, melody, harmony, modulations and structure.
2. The ability to read music fluently in four clefs (treble, bass, alto and tenor).
3. Basic piano proficiency.
History and Literature Skills
1. Engage in-depth discussion of the important historical periods in music history from the Baroque Era
to the present day.
2. Engage in detailed discussion of established aesthetics and movements in contemporary Western
classical music in general and electroacoustic music in particular.
3. Demonstrate familiarity with compositional processes, aesthetic properties of style, and the ways
these shape and are shaped by artistic, cultural, societal and political forces.
4. Demonstrate an acquaintance with the musical practices from reflecting genres, cultures and
ethnicities beyond the European/North American "classical" canon.
1. The ability to compose original music in both small forms and larger forms employing solo
instruments or small ensembles.
2. An ability to notate music effectively, employing both standard and extended notational strategies
and performance techniques.
3. The ability to compose in the electronic domain, including works that integrate electronics with live
4. The ability to compose works that utilize and demonstrate facility with interactive computer
5. A thorough understanding of all of the instruments in the traditional Western orchestra and jazz
band, with a demonstrated ability to orchestrate music using those instruments.
Sound Production Skills
1. The ability to sample and modify sounds using established signal processing routines while
demonstrating a solid working knowledge of their associated parameters.
2. The ability to generate and deliberately design sounds using established synthesis techniques.
3. The ability to record, produce, mix and master high-quality works effectively in the electronic domain.
1. The ability to conduct and present high-quality academic research in the field of music, both in
written form and orally.
1. The ability to organize music events, including programming, scheduling rehearsals and sound checks,
hiring performers, working with musician’s unions, and managing technical requirements.
String Sickle Bennett Jenisch, ’14 String Sickle is an acousmatic piece that was composed over the summer of 2012. Using field recordings exclusively taken of a deconstructed piano, the piece uses an ample amount of processing and spatialization to highlight the piano’s capability of intensity.
Incidents for fixed electronics Nate Belasco, ’11 Incidents is a piece made of fragments of sound containing within in them multiple layers. Each fragment was created or captured in an incidental fashion and manipulated or re-organized haphazardly. Analog and digital sound sources are interwoven into fleeting configurations and chaotic sequences. Fractal-like editing methods were employed throughout the stages of processing, with each fragment retaining only a shadow of its original context. Musical moments are displaced by entropic interruptions, mercilessly abandoning preceding spectrums and behaviors.
state/status/standing for fixed electronics James Staub, ’11 Composed from home-recorded sounds of various metals. Ideas are developed on macro and micro levels in patterns of three, although no strict process is employed. The piece aims to preserve, yet redirect the natural energies of the sounds to create new cause and effect relationships.
Tel’ ooma en’ i’ shae for fixed electronics Edward Young, ’11 This piece, made entirely from vocal sounds (including but not limited to: screaming, burping, speaking, and grunting) explores the connection between voice and noise, creating an undulating and fluctuating piece wherein Elvish is the language and [what could be considered] the ocean is the mediator.
Spirals for fixed electronics Dean Russel, ’11 Spirals is a choir of recorded voice sounds, taken from the range of one performer. Harmonically, all tones were shifted to accurately match the strongest harmonics present in two Balinese Gamelan bells (pitch shifted down several octaves). These bells are designed to be played together, and because of their slight “out-of-tune” nature, produce a shimmering effect. This beating is precisely why they were chosen, with hopes that all subsequently tuned material would be more interesting than basing all tones on a source of less harmonic complexity. The pitches of the voice begin to extend past these harmonics using the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…) as a method of deriving new pitches, resulting in modulation through new and contrasting tones. As the tones grow higher the unfamiliar tuning becomes more obvious. Eventually all sets of Fibonacci derived pitches are played in combination, coloring the sonorities in a new and interesting manner.
That Can Be Dematerialized for fixed electronics Zachary Zukowski, ’11 There are real things. They are everywhere, and at some point, they may become computerized. If this happens, they will disappear from reality and reappear from the static world of read-only memory! This is where digital entities begin their transition from being the fragmented representations of real things to the replacements for real things. That Can Be Dematerialized examines these stages of their metamorphosis.
Variations on a Lonely Theme for bass guitar and electronics Brandon Green, ’10 Variations on a Lonely Theme was composed during the winter of 2010 and represents an interest in the use of live and prepared electronics in a performance setting. The piece evolved from a short melodic theme for electric bass, and takes the listener through a gradual destruction of that theme. Each section explores a few small elements of the theme and incorporates live delay, pitch-shifting and other processing techniques. Included in the mix are several prepared electronic cues, which amplify a certain emotional quality within each destructive section. The piece ends with a modified recapitulation of the main theme, signifying a musical jamais vu, caused by the musical events in between the two.
Le Mirliton for flute and electronics Christopher Catone, ’10 Le Mirliton is based on the idea of “a musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane.” The mirliton was also used as a toy flute instrument in France during 16th and 17th centuries. It produced music akin to the comb music of the nursery.
Density Riot for fixed electronics Brian Dixon, ’09 Density Riot is a piece that was written in Composition for Electronic Instruments, for which the assignment was to create a work using the human voice as its only source. I took a short sample of someone (a member of the Music Dept. faculty) laughing and tried to work from its natural rhythms as well as develop some of the smaller, more subtle noises in the recording. The title is an anagram of the name of the person laughing in the source material.
culture shock for fixed electronics Robert Seaback, ’09 culture shock uses sounds from everyday media including television, radio, computers, etc. and reflects the bombardment of this material that we are often subject to. Reactions include tension, frustration, apathy, boredom, daydream…
Untitled Adam Straus ’14 This track was inspired by the Playstation One video game LSD: Dream Emulator, a video game based upon the dream journal of its creator. In the game, the player walks around in an extremely surreal world where touching just about anything will cause unexpected results, such as the sudden appearance of a pterodactyl or instant teleportation to an unrelated location. In the game, the player is the only character present, with the exception of a few mysteriously morbid characters, such as a man in a robe who tries to kill you, or a faceless woman who hangs herself. I tried to reflect the desolation in my project by having a lot of aural space and a fair amount of silence. Also, I tried to replicate the nervous, on-edge feeling that the complete unpredictability of the game creates by having the music be rather disjointed and atonal. In the game, it is not uncommon for even the strangest of dream sequences to just end abruptly, and I reflected that in the music by having the piece end similarly, leaving the listener with no ability to anticipate when or how the piece will end.