Sound Art

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 forefront of sound innovation for over 70 years with faculty specializing in composition, improvisation, music theory, musicology, installation, sculpture, instrument building, acoustics, music cognition, and computer programming. 

A joint initiative between the Visual Arts Program in the School of the Arts and the Computer Music Center in the Department of Music, the Sound Art MFA is a two-year program that is highly selective, offering admission to only three or four students each year. Prospective students with a deep engagement with sound as a creative medium and a desire to join a diverse community of artists and musicians are encouraged to apply.

Sound Art students pursue creative work in a variety of genres and focus on the integration of sound with other media. The Sounds Art MFA is a studio-based degree awarded by the Visual Arts Program and students have the freedom to explore work in sculpture, video, and ceramics as well as new media, performance, and conceptual strategies. 

The Sound Art program is the only graduate sound art degree in New York City. Situated in a vibrant international art scene, students have access to world-class art institutions such as MoMA, the Whitney, the New Museum, the Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Guggenheim, as well as independent gallery spaces and outdoor public sites in close proximity to Columbia. Conversations about local exhibitions and performances enrich the discussion of the contemporary practice of sound in artistic practice. Individual studio visits with the Director, 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 that encourages them to conceive and discuss their own work, articulate their artistic ideas, and develop an 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

First-year Sound Art students are assigned small, private studios, 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, electronic music studio, a spatial audio lab, an electronics lab, and a digital imaging and video editing lab. There are professional wood- and metal-working shops, printmaking and ceramics facilities, digital and analog photography labs, and access to the visual arts and film production center equipment check-out. 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 resources available through the Department of Music.

An important part of the curriculum is the Artist-Mentor experience, where for one week a semester, students have the opportunity to explore the city with an artist of another generation or in another place in their career. Students go to the artist's studio, 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 the development of formal MFA programs.

Each semester, students take a seminar in Critical Issues in Sound. This course explores theories of sound and listening, the history of sound art, and current sound practices. Students explore their own practice in the context of these topics.

In the first year there is a first year exhibition and in the second year a thesis exhibition held at the Wallach Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts. The Thesis Project begins with a written proposal that delineates the student's artistic practice and outlines how they aim to fulfill the thesis requirement, and culminates with a dialog about the work between the student, faculty, as well as committee members drawn from outside the program.

The program is augmented by electives that can be both practical and theoretical courses. In discussion with the Director, and with the permission of the instructor, students may take full advantage of the diverse intellectual and scholarly resources available at Columbia (see the Columbia University Directory of Classes for potential course offerings). 

Sound Art students are invited to attend the Visiting Artists Lecture Series (VALS) organized by the Visual Arts Program that exposes students to an vast array of artists from around the world on a weekly basis.

Plant art