This is the course FAQ—we’ll update it as the semester goes along.

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 COMP 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.

Which ANU course code does this course run under? #

You can take this course under the following (computing) course codes:

The course content & assessment is the same for the undergraduate (COMP3710) and masters (COMP6740) versions of the course.

What music background is required? #

There are no specific music pre-requisites, and we will teach things from the ground up. Although some music experience is useful, we use musical concepts that are not taught in a standard music curriculum.

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, we will teach things from the ground up. Although some computing experience is useful, we use programming concepts and languages that are not taught in a standard CS curriculum.

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.

Are there any prerequisites? #

This course is pitched at a third year (3000) level and so in order to enrol we ask that you have completed at least one (6 unit) second year course in your discipline. If you don’t meet this reuqirement but believe that you should be allowed to join in anyway, please get in touch to discuss it.

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

After reading the previous 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 😜?

Who shouldn’t take this course? #

In LENS believe that computing (including creative computing) is for everyone, and so no-one should rule themselves out because they think they’re not “technical” or “musical” enough to make music with computers.

Having said that, this isn’t a standard CS course, so if you’re expecting:

  • nice, “one right answer” assignments where you just write code to pass a bunch of unit tests
  • a “closed” syllabus where everything you’ll need to get a good grade is a fact you can memorise from the lecture slides
  • to work as a “lone wolf” without having to interact with your classmates (this is an ensemble after all)

then this probably isn’t the course for you. No hard feelings, but if you sign up for LENS then you’ve been warned!

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 reflecting on your design process
  • perform (live!) with your tool and ensemble classmates at the end-of-semeseter LENS concert

Do I have to do a live performance if I take this course? #

Yes, the main course assessment (worth 50% of the course mark) is to use the computer music instrument/system that you’ve built in a group performance alongside some of your LENS classmates. The “present it in concert” part of that is one of the course learning outcomes.

What are the time commitments for LENS? #

The primary weekly contact hours are the 2hr workshop session from 3pm–5pm in the Marie Reay 4.04. If you’re enrolled in the class, you must be there every week.

Outside of that workshop, the class will be delivered in “flipped” mode; we’ll give you some reading material & videos to look at, then you’ll create something in response (as described above).

This is a standard 6-unit course, so the ANU expectation is around 130 hours of work over the semester (around 11 hours/week, on average). This means that you need to make the time every week to read the workshop material in advance, think about which bits make sense and where you have questions, and make some noise.

Can I take this course if I’m a remote student? #

Many of our courses are now offered to remote students or support dual delivery. Unfortunately, the nature of the LENS course means that it cannot be offered in remote mode—to participate you must be able to attend the workshop sessions in person.

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.

How do I enrol in Laptop Ensemble? #

First, check out the info on this course website (including this FAQ) to understand how the course works and what we expect of you.

If you’d like to enrol under a COMP course code (note: open to all ANU students—check with your program convenor to see how to fit it into your program) get in touch with Charles Martin to enrol.

Will I need a permission code? #

No, you don’t need to get a permission code for the course ahead of time. If you’re enrolling in COMP3710 or 6740 then all you have to do is turn up to the week 1 workshop session, sign the study contract and then we’ll enrol you in ISIS directly. This does mean that you won’t be enrolled in the course on ISIS until week 1, but that’s ok—all the course info you’ll need is on this website.

Do we use Wattle in this course? #

We won’t use Wattle in this course—all the course content will be on this website.

I want to start practising right now, what should I do? #

Feel free to install some computer music software and start playing around with it, you can also browse our workshop material.

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

Tell them about it! Post the laptop ensemble website on Schmidtposting, hire a skywriting plane, get a tattoo; I don’t care. Be creative :)

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