Mastering Tools: Sculpture

Students create a 1:00 to 1:30 minute sound composition using only the synthesizer Sculpture. This forces them to develop at least some expertise with a synthesizer and the assignment is designed to require them to delve fairly deeply into its operation. The assignment is also designed to require them to create movement using non-tonal, or at least non-note methods.

Activity Objectives

Artistic Expression: Artistic Expression: Graduates will apply a diverse set of artistic techniques in creating sound designs. They will:

  • apply foundational elements and principles of design and structure in creating sound in varied media
  • demonstrate foundational applied skills and techniques in sound and audio
  • present the body of their design and technical work in an organized and artistic manner
  • demonstrate the ability to modify their work after external and self-evaluation.

Activity Goals

These are ideals that you feel are important to keep in mind for the success of the project, or are elements that you hope the students learn but that you do not measure in this activity. For example if this fits in a large unit of skill development and those skills are assessed elsewhere.


Students have a week to explore the software instrument and use it in specific ways to create an engaging sound composition.

Instructions to Students:

Using only Sculpture and as few notes as possible create a 1:00 to 1:30 sound composition. Pay attention to having an engaging aural idea that grabs our interest and holds it through the entire length of time. Instead of using notes to create the flow of your piece automate parameters of the synthesizer, use the LFOs to create movement, dive into the morph and envelope sections. In order to complete this assignment you will need to refer to the manual. To access it go to the help menu in Logic and choose “Logic Pro Instruments”. Sculpture will be available on the left and you should find the reading exceptionally helpful and interesting.

During the presentation of your composition to the class please address the following questions:

  1. What was your inspiration?
  2. What was your artistic goal?
  3. How many notes did you end up having to use?
  4. How did you use different strings and objects to achieve tension/release/interest in your composition?
  5. How did you use different materials to increase tension/release/interest in your composition?
  6. How did you use the LFOs and morph controls to increase tension/release/interest in your composition?
  7. Were their other elements that were useful in creating tension/release/interest in your composition?

Notes on Success:

The professor should not demo the software. This would undermine the students ‘need to know’ that will encourage them to use the manual. Part of the goal of this assignment is for students to have a good experience with a manual.

The professor should not play any examples of compositions. Students need to come up with their own creative impulse and craft that. It is very likely that if the professor plays examples that the student’s work will sound like those examples, which is likely limiting the student’s exploration and development of an individual artistic voice. It would be better to make them revise weak work than to make their initial work of higher quality but more derivative of someone else’s work. This, of course, may change depending on how you use the assignment.

Students need to be reminded and encouraged to use the manual. They will resist but they will do noticeably better work if they use the manual for this.

This synthesizer was chosen for a few reasons:

  • It comes with Logic which we use in most of our sound classes all ready
  • Students are unlikely to use it if not made to. This isn’t a popular synthesizer for electronic music so even students who are exploring synthesizers tend to ignore it
  • It creates useful sounds for designers

Time Length

This assignment should take students several hours to complete well. As well as around 5 minutes to present. I encourage discussion in class to fully engage other students critical listening skills and often this discussion turns to questions of “how did you get sound x?”

Required Materials

This specific assignment requires Logic. However, any suitably complicated synthesizer can be used. Ideally it will be complicated enough to require students to refer to the manual and the manual will be written in such away that this reference work is empowering to their works as artists. This unfortunately isn’t always the case and requiring them refer to a manual that is not useful is worse than not using the manual at all.


This can be adapted for many other synthesizers although they need to be complex enough that the manual makes a big difference and the manual needs to actually be helpful.


Students present their compositions to the class and get feedback along the lines of a critique in a visual art class. This generates informed responses from their peers which helps the student see their work from a different perspective and engages the class in truly critical and supportive listening. Students will also receive feed back from the professor both verbally in class during the public critique. And privately in a written format. Unless there are significant artistic issues the written evaluation usually focuses on procedural issues: did they follow the instructions, did they use the required techniques, did they rely too much on notes (tone) instead of automation and timbre.

This is one of several similar short creative assignments and students are then encouraged to revise one for further practice or for portfolio inclusion. Revision based on critical input as well as taking step back from your own work is an essential process for students to experience. This also allows the students to make use of and explore the evaluations they receive instead of it being a grade they get and then ignore.

Christopher Plummer, Michigan Technological University