This is an advanced production course exploring the physical design and performance possibilities of new musical instruments. We will learn to create new stand-alone instruments and audiovisual systems using sensors, actuators, micro-controllers, and visual programming environments. The focus will be on designing, developing, and rehearsing interaction paradigms that reconsider live musical performance in light of recent advances in embedded digital technology. An additional emphasis will be placed on rehearsing and performing with these new systems, and by the end of the semester you will have created both a solo performance and an ensemble piece.

We will be using Pure Data (software) and the Bela / Beaglebone Black (hardware) and it is expected that you start the semester with a basic working knowledge of both of these platforms. This with allow us to focus on the physical design and performance aspects of your projects – prototyping, basic wood-working, digital fabrication, and human-computer interaction. This course is project based and experience with sound and technology is expected.


  • gain hands-on, practical experience working with electricity and micro-computers
  • become familiar with a variety of digital fabrication practices
  • build and perform a new digital instrument of your own design
  • develop critical and generative perspectives for thinking about performance and live music within today’s rapidly changing technoculture

Materials & Costs

Students have keycard access to the Wilson Maker Studio, home to a variety of tools for working with physical materials and electronics. Some general components and materials will be freely available, and each student will get a Bela Kit to use for the duration of the course, but consumable materials – things like wood, metal, and specialized electronic components — must be purchased by students. In general, projects won’t be very expensive, especially if you give old stuff new life. Expect to spend between $100-200 over the course of the semester.


Attendance and participation are important in building a research community. You are expected to be present and prepared for every session, however, two unexcused absences are permitted without penalty. Each unexcused absence over two will result in a lower grade (-5 points).

You must create and maintain an online archive documenting your experiments and post weekly on your progress. The format of your archive is up to you. Most posting/ blogging platforms are acceptable, including wordpress, a simple html page, tumblr, even a well curated and annotated YouTube channel. Part of this documentation should be about the process. Take photos, short videos, notes, and recordings while you work. This is not busy work, documentation and notes are an important part of working on complex technical projects. (3 points x 14 weeks = 42 points)

There are 6 projects, described in detail here:

  • Idea Generator (3 points)
  • Digital Fabrication Project: Enclosure (5 points)
  • Prototype Project (5 points)
  • Solo performance project (10 points)
  • Group performance project (10 points)
  • Final Show (15 points)

The final write-up (10 points) is a comprehensive process write-up on your blog (around 1000 words + media).

Note: Graduate students should treat this write-up as a first draft of a NIME-style paper.

Responsibilities / Policies

Honor Code: I expect you to follow the Honor Code. Production courses often call into question traditional notions of fair use, copyright, and plagiarism. If you have questions about a specific project, talk with me during office hours.

Communication: I will make every effort to reply to emails within 24 hours. If I don’t reply within 24 hours, please email me again.

Violence Prevention: I am committed to reducing incidents of violence, harassment, bias, and hazing at UVA and in the broader community. I also believe that every person can play a part in reducing these incidents. If you are interested in becoming a more active bystander, ask me about the Green Dot program and other organized prevention efforts underway at UVA.

Just Report It: If you would like to make a report of bias, hazing, or sexual/gender-based harassment or violence, either anonymously or in your own name, you can do so through the university’s Just Report It website: https://advocate.admin.virginia.edu/public_report/index.php/pid606829?
Circumstances: Let me know if you have a disability or another condition that might require modification to these course procedures and exercises. For information visit http://www.virginia.edu/studenthealth/sdac/sdac.html

Resources: If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual/gender­based violence or harassment, information on reporting options and resources can be found here: www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence. Resources for people who have experienced bias related to age, color, disability, marital status, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, or family medical information can be found here: http://www.virginia.edu/justreportit/bias/student­support/. Resources for people who have experienced hazing can be found here: http://www.virginia.edu/justreportit/hazing/

Schedule: This is a new course, expect that the syllabus and schedule will change as we move through the year.