About the MFA Sound Art Program
An Interdepartmental Program Offered in Association with The Visual Arts MFA Program, the Department of Music and the Computer Music Center
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 Art 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.
It is expected that Sound Art students will pursue creative work in a variety of genres and focus on the integration of sound with other media. Sounds Arts is a studio-based program in conjunction with the Visual Arts Program. As such, it gives the students the freedom to explore work in sculpture, video, wood as well as computer programming, performance and conceptual strategies. First-year students are assigned a small studio, and second-year students receive a large studio.
The Sound Art program is the only graduate sound art program in New York City. The rich New York gallery scene, including long-established art institutions such as MoMA, the Guggenheim and others, as well as independent and outdoor public sites are in close proximity to Columbia. Discussions of these exhibitions are folded into the discussions of the contemporary practice of sound art. Individual studio visits with the Director and other faculty, visiting artists, sound theorists and curators facilitate dialogue and reveal multiple readings of students’ work. Students develop their practice in a multi- perspectival, interactive and supportive environment and learn to conceive and discuss their own work, articulate their artistic ideas and develop a self awareness of how their work is situated within the context of various histories, disciplines and practices.
Sound Arts has transformed the way I think and expanded and solidified my ideas at the same time. I needed this safe space, and to explore new ideas in this space. The program is so intimate, but at the same time it gave me so many exploratory tools, I could take it anywhere I wanted. It was artistic freedom. . . Being in the program expanded my art so much, I was transformed and my art was transformed, and I will never be the same. The faculty was a dream team. It's a great privilege to be part of the program and I learned so much from the students—the high quality of the students challenged me. It was a once in a lifetime chance to explore academia and practice, with the best tools possible.
Gerónimo Mercado '17
An important part of the curriculum is Artist-Mentor week, where for one week students have the opportunity to be excused from all their electives and explore the city with an artist of another generation or in another place in their career. They go to their studio, visit meaningful places, meet their colleagues and their community and foster a deeper and more personal engagement with the Artist-mentor than the classroom can offer. The Artist-Mentor week offers a time of bonding and a taste of the Master/apprentice relationship that existed before MFA programs developed.
Critical Issues is a core curriculum class whereby sound theory, the history of sound art and current sound practices are studied and discussed, and students’ own practices are considered in this context.
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. Works that are site-specific, performative, distributed, ephemeral, or in any other form may be potential thesis projects.
The program is augmented by electives that are both practical and theoretical courses, including (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 Art students are invited to 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.
Students, with the permission of the instructor and the Director, may take 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 Art faculty.
First-year Sound Art students are assigned a small, private studio, and Second-year Sound Art students are assigned large private studios. Sound Art 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; books, scores, sound recordings, and videos from the Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library; and other musical resources available through the Music Department.