Columbia University has been at the helm of sound-technology innovation for over fifty years with faculty specializing in composition, improvisation, sound installation, computer music, digital sound synthesis, acoustics, music cognition and software development. Columbia’s Computer Music Center in the Department of Music has a long history of creative excellence; its primary mission is to operate at the intersection of musical expression and technological development. The Center has state-of-the-art facilities for working in electro-acoustic music. Faculty of the Center for Computer Music led the development of the new interdisciplinary area in Sound Arts that leads to the Master of Fine Arts degree awarded by the School of the Arts.
The program is highly selective. Each year only three to four students will be offered admission to the two-year program. Prospective students with a deep engagement with sound as medium, a familiarity with contemporary audio tools and techniques, and a demonstrated use of those tools in different contexts (sculptural or video installations, creation of performance interfaces, circuit-bending productions, innovative fusion of digital audio with digital graphics, imaginative use of network technologies) are encouraged to apply. While the Visual Arts Program in the School of the Arts currently accommodates students working in digital media, sculpture, installation, performance, film and video art, applicants who wish to base their research and studio practice primarily in the area of sonic or sound arts are to apply to the area of Sound Arts.
The core of the Sound Arts curriculum is comprised of individually centered studio research projects. It is expected that Sound Arts students will pursue composition in a variety of genres and focus on the integration of sound with other media. The project-based research structure offers students the opportunity to expand the depth and complexity of their studio practice as well as their ability to think critically. Students have access to the expertise of the Sound Arts and Music faculty as well as to a variety of internationally known adjunct faculty and visiting artists appointed to work with Sound Arts students each year.
To this end, Music and Sound Arts faculty meet regularly with Sound Arts students to offer critical insight into the form and underlying ideas behind students’ work to assist them in building a solid and provocative studio practice. A Thesis Project begins in the student’s second year with a written proposal that delineates the student's artistic practice and outlines how he or she aims to fulfill the thesis requirement. A thesis committee composed of full-time and adjunct faculty of the Music Department and Sound Arts area is developed in consultation with each student. A large part of the Thesis Project will also be consideration of how the work will be situated and presented in the world. Sound Arts is a relatively new creative practice, thus site-specific, possible virtual/web-based components, and performative aspects will be necessarily included in planning the final Project.
The studio core of the program is augmented by the course “Critical Issues," which exposes students to a variety of artistic forms and perspectives and assists them to develop a strong base of history and theory related to their area of practice. Sound Arts students may also attend the Visiting Artists Lecture Series organized by the Visual Arts Program that exposes students to an array of artists from around the world on a weekly basis.
Through the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the Department of Music also offers degrees in Musicology (M.A., leading to M.Phil., and Ph.D.) and Composition (M.A., leading to D.M.A.). Sound Arts students may fulfill their electives by taking courses offered by the Department of Music. The Musicology program incorporates three areas: historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory. Within these areas, research and teaching focus on a wide range of topics, including music history in the West, non-Western musics and cultures, popular and urban musics, jazz, analytical methods, music cognition, music aesthetics, and the philosophy of music. The program in Composition offers instruction in a variety of contemporary styles and media.
Sound Arts students may also fulfill elective requirements by taking classes across the University, taking full advantage of the intellectual and scholarly resources available at Columbia (see the Columbia University Directory of Classes for potential course offerings [link to: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/bulletin/uwb/]). This will allow Sound Arts students to benefit from the critical, theoretical and scholarly perspectives offered by faculty throughout the University. Sound Arts students are encouraged to enroll in electives offered by a variety of other Columbia departments, programs and institutes. Selection of appropriate electives will be done in consultation with Sound Arts faculty working with individual students.
A shared laboratory studio adjacent to The Center for Computer Music (CMC), and near the shops and studios of the School of the Arts Visual Arts Program, serves as the students’ home base. Second-year Sound Arts students will also be assigned individual spaces to complete work on final projects. Students will have access to all of the resources of the CMC and to the Shop facilities of the Visual Arts Program, as well as to the Gabe Wiener Music & Arts Library. Students also have access to the extensive sound archives of the Center for Ethnomusicology and other musical resources available through the Music Department.