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Coda

What's in a Name?

 

On January 1, 2010, the Music Synthesis Department took on a new name: the Electronic Production and Design (EP/D) Department. While change in departmental names happens infrequently at Berklee, this musical field particularly embraces change. We believe that this more descriptive title will help demystify a successful but mysterious field of study at the college. Our core goals are (1) the appropriate updating and renewal of a highly innovative area among Berklee's educational offerings and (2) a better understanding among students and professionals alike of the outcome of the teaching and learning of this field.

Launched in 1986, the department has always attracted a diverse and unique student group, defined by its individualistic and sometimes even solitary pursuit of musical arts. This musical field has always been experimental and forward-looking in its goals and curriculum and the musical output is quite rich-though it is sometimes challenging and even unsettling.

The old department name was beloved by many, and the change came only after thoughtful consideration. The goal was to find a name that was simultaneously descriptive and intriguing. Since 2002 we have worked with faculty to provide context and purpose for this change. Both formally and informally, we held many discussions and respected the resistance we encountered. For a few years, we even tabled the topic, but we always held onto a vision of a more decisive and descriptive name for the department.

We finally settled on a few potent keywords and organized them in various ways. Eventually the phrase electronic production and design provided the concise and descriptive wording that reflects our curriculum while also clarifying the differences between the major and others at Berklee that encompass a technology component. The word electronic reinforces the core of our mission: to use electronic sound sources in the creation of music and sound with software and definitive hardware instruments and processors. The word production is a reminder that the creative, musical use of these technologies-and not just the technologies themselves-is always the objective. In our world, production is the entire process of building a palette of fresh sounds, then capturing, creating, and sharing evocative music, sound, and even visuals. The word design is the gem of the department's new title, encompassing the branches of sound design, software design and programming, hardware design, and interactive audio-visual experiences.

In addition to the richness of its musical output, the department has quietly and authoritatively produced graduates that have entered every sector of the music industry and succeeded at a high rate. Indeed, for some time the department has had the highest percentage of graduates of the college working full time in the music industry. These students swiftly find their way into the record, film, television, advertising, and performance areas.

We've also had great success within the video-game industry, with students achieving progress for far longer than is reflected by the media's current fixation on the sector. Our students create their senior recital pieces demonstrating electronic composition, sound design, and sometimes software design, all within the context of the game world. They brought this interest with them to Berklee and found their way to our area. Combined with the diverse expertise of the faculty, our curriculum has effectively prepared students for this and other segments of the music industry.

Unfortunately, given facility limitations, the department has been forced to cap enrollment, and over the years participation has become quite competitive. Like its companion department Music Production & Engineering, EP/D finds itself under siege each semester with an increasing number of hopefuls filing applications for the major. In the future, we hope to expand our facilities and welcome more who want to train in this demanding area. Meanwhile, we make the most for our small but highly qualified population by providing both a bristling curriculum that updates topical flow every year and a rigorous level of faculty-student engagement.

The facilities are under perpetual development, implementing the most current hardware and software. Added in 2006, a new studio complex elevated the practical aspects of the deep technology training in the major and provided students with a professional critical listening, and production/mixing environment. Students responded with distinctive capstone projects, incorporating increasingly authoritative and innovative approaches to surround-sound mixing, sound design, songwriting, and live-performance concepts. New courseware in interactive media and software design added dimension to the degree programs and projects began to include manipulated images. A student community group was established, producing a sort of "skunkworks" approach to shared learning. Recently, an analog suite was established. It's a room where restored and new analog and modular synthesizers, alternate controllers, and processors have resurrected a world of sound design to which few students-many of whom have been brought up in the software era-had prior exposure.

The name change to EP/D also reflects a response to the creative ideas and ambitions of the department's faculty members. They have been the barometer for emerging trends in electronic production, performance, interactivity, and design; transforming curiosity, enthusiasm, and research into new courses and updates into existing coursework. EP/D has an unusually large number of elective credits incorporated into its grid: a necessity given the breadth and depth of specialization within the major. This allows proactive student flexibility in the pursuit of personal, artistic, and professional goals.

The department's graduates have spread throughout the world making their marks on all areas of the music profession. Remixing divas, sound designing for blockbuster games and films, electronic scoring for top-rated television shows, software design for the Guitar Hero game engine, and onstage performing with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Paul McCartney are just a few of the accomplishments to which our alumni can lay claim.

Visiting artists from different musical arenas have shared their expertise and enthusiasm with students and faculty. Major electronic artists such as BT and Richard Devine have made numerous visits to campus, leaving a motivational imprint that lasts for years. Alessandro Cortini shared his love of modular synthesis in his work as the keyboardist for Nine Inch Nails and his own projects. Mash-up artist Moldover brought his "Octamasher" to jam with our students. Alternate controller visionaries, such as Brian Crabtree of Monome fame, have shared their need to expand outward from traditional instrument interfaces. Visits by legendary engineer and designer George Massenburg light up faculty and students on topics ranging from surround mixing to coding plug-ins. Game-audio experts Dan Lehrich and Ellen Lurie have offered their professional insight. At the other end of the electronic spectrum, Max Mathews, commonly referred to as the father of computer music, has brought a lifetime of innovation and achievement into our students' worlds.

Now in its third decade, the department is progressing, and considering the intensity and complexity of a curriculum that evolves more rapidly than any other at the college, it's easy to see why one succinct and descriptive title was difficult to develop. Electronic Production and Design got us there, however, and its elegance and functionality should carry us for another two decades.

Stephen Croes is the dean of the Music Technology Department. Kurt Biederwolf is the chair of the EP/D Department. Visit http://epd.berklee.edu.