Columbia University has been at the helm of sound innovation for over fifty years with faculty specializing in composition, improvisation, music theory, musicology, installation, sculpture, instrument building, acoustics, music cognition, and software development. Faculty from the Computer Music Center, along with colleagues from Composition, Visual Arts, and Engineering, 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 two-year program is highly selective, offering admission to only three or four students each year. Prospective students with a deep engagement with sound as medium and a desire to join a diverse community of artists and musicians are encouraged to apply.
The core of the Sound Arts curriculum is comprised of individual or collaborative research projects. It is expected that Sound Arts students will pursue creative work 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 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 our colleagues in Visual Arts, Engineering, and across the university.
A Thesis Project begins in the student’s second year with a written proposal that delineates the student's artistic practice and outlines how she aims to fulfill the thesis requirement. An interdepartmental thesis committee is developed in consultation with each student. A crucial aspect of the Thesis Project is the consideration of how the work will be presented. Works that are site-specific, virtual or web-based, performative, distributed, ephemeral, or in any other form may be potential thesis projects.
The creative core of the program is augmented by practical and theoretical courses, including Critical Issues (in both Music and Visual Arts), Sound: Physics and Perception, and Programming and Electronics for Art and Music, which expose students to a variety of historical and contemporary forms and perspectives. Sound Arts students also attend the Visiting Artists Lecture Series (VALS) organized by the Visual Arts Program that exposes students to an array of artists from around the world on a weekly basis.
In addition to the required curriculum, Sound Arts students take two electives each semester. These classes may be selected from the Music Department, Visual Arts, or 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.) Selection of appropriate electives is done in consultation with Sound Arts faculty.
A shared studio/workshop at the Computer Music Center (CMC), near the shops and studios of Visual Arts Program, serves as the students’ home base. Second-year Sound Arts students are assigned small private studios inside the shared space. Sound Arts students have access to production facilities and equipment including a recording studio, rehearsal room, electronics lab and wood, metal and ceramics shops, the Digital Media Center computer lab, and the Visual Arts equipment cage. Students also have access to the extensive sound archives of the Center for Ethnomusicology and other musical resources available through the Music Department.