New Sounds on OCW

Photo of two students conducting a group of student instrumentalists.

In 21M.355 Musical Improvisation, students demonstrate their design assignments on “Flexology,” an approach to conducted improvisation.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Here’s one way to break through the wintertime blues: listen to some new and different sounds and revisit some familiar sounds toward a deeper understanding.

OCW has recently published three more courses from MIT’s department of Music and Theater Arts. Each course features rich arrays of learning and listening resources, including This Course at MIT pages in which the instructors share insights about their teaching.

21M.250 Beethoven to Mahler

This course, taught by Teresa Neff, includes a full discography, readings, lecture notes, plus some listening guides, musical scores, and links to music videos. It features a concert/demonstration video of Beethoven sonatas for fortepiano and violin, performed on period instruments.

This treatment of the Romantic genre rounds out OCW’s complete music history sequence on Western classical music: 21M.220 Early Music, 21M.235 Monteverdi to Mozart: 1600-1800, 21M.250 Beethoven to Mahler, 21M.262 Modern Music: 1900-1960 and 21M.263 Music Since 1960.

21M.355 Musical Improvisation

This course was taught by Mark Harvey and Tom Hall, along with several guest artists. The OCW site highlights the experiential and participatory nature of learning to improvise. Videos of selected classroom sessions cover Miles Davis’s “In A Silent Way,” Indian classical music, electronics, Mark Harvey’s signature method of conducted improvisation called “Flexology,” and more. Together, they show how lectures, labs, guest artist workshops, and student demonstrations weave together to help students learn.

The classroom videos are complemented by concert videos by the guest artists FiLmprov (improvising to accompany a film), Natraj (channeling traditions of world music), Neil Leonard and Robin Eubanks (incorporating live electronics), and Tre Corda (blending classical and jazz).

21M.065 Introduction to Musical Composition

This course aims to give students of all backgrounds, including those with no prior musical training, “access to musical creativity.” Taught by Professor Keeril Makan, the course takes a novel approach to composition: in keeping with the hands-on spirit of MIT, students create and compose throughout the course. Professor Makan discusses how he deals with the challenge of this approach in his Instructor Insights section of his This Course at MIT page.

Supported by a wonderfully varied listening program, students progress through a series of written, recorded and live performance projects. Using models such as Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 5 and Ligeti’s Artikulation, written assignments “develop musical ideas and notation methods that effectively transmit them to performers,” as the syllabus says. Students produce recordings, sometimes employing ambient sounds and free audio software, or perform their pieces live in class. You can listen to some of these student projects, including one whose sounds originate from radioactive gamma particle decay, in the Composition Assignments section.

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