Music

The SCA's BFA Music Major program is renowned for its innovative and experimental approach to music and sound through its focus on contemporary composition and creative music making. Given the program’s unique position within an interdisciplinary contemporary art school, our students have rare and valuable opportunities to collaborate on film, dance, theatre, and visual art projects as part of their core training.  

The BFA Music program integrates a rich curriculum including electronic studio composition and performance, composition for acoustic instruments, sound art, performance in Javanese gamelan, and collaborative trans-disciplinary art making. Working beyond fixed genres, our students build a rigorously eclectic toolkit aimed at developing their own highly original projects. Sound installations, custom-built instruments, musical robots, traditional instruments, and DIY electronics are often integrated into hybrid performances that blend these elements in new and innovative ways.

Program Information

All music professors are internationally-active professional composers who contribute extensively to the School’s interdisciplinary mission. Courses in Collaboration, Interdisciplinary Composition, Sound, Digital Art, and co-taught courses with other disciplines (such as a Black Box course where music students create original projects collaboratively with theatre students) are among the regular offerings by members of the music faculty. (Check out faculty members’ pages and links for more info).

Other features of the program include regular opportunities to compose for guest professional musicians and a rotating Ensemble in Residence, chances to study abroad through field schools including the Contemporary Arts Berlin Field School, and internship programs that offer opportunities with local arts groups and institutions in Greater Vancouver.  

The Music program offers students a range of artistic and critical thinking skills, and an expertise in working rigorously in innovative ways with readily available technologies and resources. As a result, our graduates are flexible artists who are able to work in a wide variety of areas involving music and sound, as well as to continue with their education in leading masters and doctoral programs.

For examples of our students' work, scroll down for a list of recent alumni.

For information about applying to the program, please follow the links at the Future Students section of our site.

Program Options

Major in Music (BFA)

Students must complete 76 credit hours for the major itself, plus other requirements for the total of 120 credits required for the degree.

Extended Minor in Music

A minimum of 44 credit hours in music and related areas in Contemporary Arts.

Please see the Academic Calendar for more information.
 

Curriculum

The music curriculum includes:

  • Music composition and theory

  • Electroacoustic composition

  • Electroacoustic performance

  • Composer-Performer Ensemble

  • Composition for Instrument(s) + Electronics

  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration (working with film, dance, theatre, visual art, production and design)

  • 20th/21st century music

  • World music

  • Javanese Gamelan

  • Contemporary music analysis

  • Conducting
     

Music Program FAQs

Q: How is SFU’s music program different from a typical music program?

A: SFU’s music program is a creation-based program. Rather than rooted in instrumental performance, our foundation is in creative composition. This can mean composing for instruments, electronics, instruments combined with electronics, making pieces for other musicians to perform, creating your own unique performances, building original instruments, making sound installations, creating music with theatre, dance, or film, etc.

Q: My high-school doesn’t teach composition, should I bother? Or I’ve never composed, but I want to. Do I have a chance?

A: Absolutely! Creative composers come from a wide range of backgrounds in music, and most don’t start out composing early on. Even if you’ve never written music, if you have a genuine creative curiosity and a desire to explore new approaches to working with music and sound, you can thrive in our program. Please tell us as much as possible about your musical interests, and the ways you’ve been involved in music so far (whether it’s been learning an instrument, playing in a band, or making tracks in your bedroom).  

Q: Is this a pop / classical / folk / jazz music program? Is this the right program for me if I want to specialize in one of these genres? What kind of music do people make at SFU?

A: We strongly encourage prospective students to spend time checking out our student alumni (on the music area webpage) for an impression of the range of music our students create. While many of our students have backgrounds in genre-based music (like jazz, folk, classical, techno, etc) our program does not cater to specialising in fixed-genre work. Rather, our students are encouraged to question many of these boundaries and develop their own rigorously unique approach to creative music-making. Students who are certain they want to work in a defined genre (Ie. to be a jazz musician or techno musician, specifically) are encouraged to consider schools who focus on that particular style of training.  

Q: What does being part of an interdisciplinary program actually mean?

A: As an interdisciplinary program, we foster collaborative work with artists in other areas (visual arts, dance, film, theatre, production and design). All our undergraduates take an interdisciplinary studio class that is mixed between students from all of these art forms. Students are supported in this class to create original, collaborative projects that reflect a unique exchange between all artists involved (one form does not simply function as accompaniment in service to another). This is an active part of our faculty’s own artistic practices, and we encourage our students to develop an awareness of the work and conversations in different art forms and to engage in deeply fruitful exchanges of these ideas across disciplines. Students are invited in most studio (creative project-based) classes to work either independently, or in such collaborative models as they desire. Additionally, while all undergraduate students study the histories and cultural contexts of their own discipline, they also take courses that focus on the practices and traditions of other disciplines.

Q: Is this a film music program? How about video game music?

A: No, this is not a film music program. Film music programs typically provide technical training specific to the workflow of the mainstream film industry. We do support artistic collaboration that can involve composers and film-makers in an artistic context in which artists work together in co-creative roles. Many of our students end up creating music with filmmakers in this context. However, our focus is on cultivating independent musicians and artists, versus industry-based practitioners. The same applies to video game music. While students are welcome to explore collaborative projects along these avenues, we do not provide technical training specific to the video game industry.

Q: Will electroacoustic music teach me to be a sound engineer or producer? 

A: Like all of our project-based studio courses, the electroacoustic courses are designed to support developing a creative practice as an independent musician. While students are given the foundations to develop their own eclectic toolkit, none of our courses focus primarily on technical training for a particular trade (like sound production or engineering). While some of our students do this work on the side as complementary to their original work, our electroacoustic courses will not train you to become a sound engineer or producer.

Q: Can I excel in this program if I don’t read notated music?

A: Yes! There are many rigorous ways of creating music that don’t require working with notation, and we support a full array of these practices. Likewise, many students who begin with no experience reading music end up developing fluency with notation as part of their work. There is room for many different avenues within our program.

Q: Can I excel in this program if I don’t have any background in electronic music?

A: Absolutely! We welcome students of all musical backgrounds with a desire to explore new approaches to working with music and sound. You don’t have to use electronics at all if you don’t want to, and if you want to learn how to use them, you can start here regardless of experience!

Q: I notice a lot of talk about collaboration, do I only get to compose for Film or Dance?

A: No. While all of our students are exposed to collaboration through the interdisciplinary studio class, you are fully welcome to cultivate an independent practice if that’s what you prefer.  

Q: What instrument do I need to come with? I don’t play piano but I have a guitar? Voice?

A: While many of our students will find their former instrumental or vocal training useful, there are no requirements to be trained  on a particular instrument. Some of our students have never studied an instrument.  

Q: Do I have to audition?

A: You don’t have to audition, but you do have to supply a full application and students who are shortlisted for the program must attend an interview (this can be done over the phone or by teleconferencing for students who cannot attend in person). As our program is designed to support a particular model of creative musician, the interview determines if you and the program are a good fit.

Q: Can I take instrument lessons at SFU?

A: No, we do not provide any instrument lessons at SFU. Some of our students choose to continue instrument lessons privately, arranged on their own outside of school.

Q: What level of RCM do I need? Or I have RCM level 10 — do I go into 3rd year?

A: RCM is not required for our program, nor does it enable you to skip ahead. While many different backgrounds in musical training can be useful for our incoming students, the skills and knowledge we cover in our introductory courses are in no way similar to RCM training.  

Q: How big is the ensemble we compose for?

A: The yearly Ensemble in Residence and visiting ensembles brought in for student projects vary in size, but are generally chamber-sized groups (4-6 players at a time). Many of our students succeed in pursuing opportunities to write for larger ensembles through outside workshops, readings, and calls for scores. Many of our faculty compose for larger ensembles and can provide support for such projects where desired. However, contact with large-scale ensembles or orchestras is not facilitated directly through our program.

Q: Do I get to make musebots?

A: A number of our students end up building their own instruments, electronics, or other unique performance tools. There is no limit to what you can dream up as a project, and the faculty offer a range of skills and experience to support this.

Q: Do you have a recording studio where I can record my band?

A: We do not have a commercial recording studio. Although we do have spaces in which individuals or 2-3 musicians can be recorded, these are not sound proofed. Nor do we have the standard recording studio equipment to record ensembles.  

Q: What kind of gear will I have access to?

A: We attempt to provide an environment which may be similar to when a student graduates; in other words, we provide affordable equipment that is readily available. For example, you would have access to standard microphones, ZOOM recorders, small mixers, a variety of USB controllers, Arduino kits, a lab of iMac computers with Ableton Live, Logic, MaxMSP. Most of our students end up using their own laptops.  

Q: How much time do I spend with profs?

A: Our program features generally small class sizes and all studio classes are taught by faculty who are professionally active on an international scale. Many studio classes feature tutorials taught by these same faculty, in which original work is discussed on a weekly basis in small groups (no more than 4 students per session). This offers many opportunities for close contact with professors. Students may also request private directed studies with professors in the case of highly original projects that fall outside the focus of a regular class.

Q: Will my work be performed?

A: Each term (fall + spring) a Music + Sound Festival features original student works. Not all students will have work included every term, but most students will find regular opportunities for involvement in these performances. A number of other student-initiated projects and shows (both on and off campus) add to these opportunities. Motivated students will find no shortage of opportunities to share their work publicly or with their peers.

Download the Music Program FAQs (PDF)


Recent Alumni

Adam Basanta (BFA 2011)

Website / Press

Now living in Montreal, Adam Basanta’s work explores technological practices as active, participatory, multi-sensory performances which are distributed throughout a variety of human, cultural, material and computational agencies. Through various media and techniques, he interrogates points of intersection between sensorial and conceptual manifestations of technology in everyday life, revealing surprising facets of our daily intertwinement.  His experimental concert music has been presented worldwide, including appearances in the MATA Festival (NYC), Gaudeamus Musicweek (NL), CTM Festival (GER), Akousma Festival (CAN), and Mutek Festival (CAN), and have been awarded multiple national and international prizes. His music has been released on Kohlenstoff Records (Montreal), Farmacia901 (Italy), Important Records/Cassauna (USA), and Tsuko-Boshi (FR).  His work has been awarded several international prizes, including the Japan Media Arts Prize (2016) and the Aesthetica Art Prize (2017). In 2018 he was longlisted for the Sobey Art Award. He is currently represented by Ellephant Gallery (Montreal, CAN).

Remy Siu (BFA 2012)

Website / Press

Remy Siu 蕭逸南 (b.1990) is a composer and new media artist based in Vancouver, BC (located on the unceded, ancestral, and occupied, traditional lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nations of the Coast Salish peoples). Recently, his work has involved the construction of automated and variable performance apparatuses that employ light, sound, software, and the body. He is interested in creating friction and stakes between the performer, the interface, and the system through the use of game mechanics and failure. His output spans chamber music, dance, theatre, installations, and audio-visual work. He actively creates with Hong Kong Exile, Mahaila Patterson-O’Brien, Vicky Chow, Howie Tsui, Theatre Replacement, and others. 

His work has been presented at PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (Vancouver), Contemporary Musiking Hong Kong, The Music Gallery (Toronto), Centre for New Music (San Francisco), Power Station of Art (Shanghai), Vancouver Art Gallery, MUTEK Montreal, artsdepot (London, UK), The International Symposium On Electronic Art, and more.

Remy studied at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts with David MacIntyre, Owen Underhill, and Barry Truax. He has also studied with Rodney Sharman. He is currently the Co-Artistic Director of Hong Kong Exile, and the Director and Manager at the Gold Saucer Studio. During 2017-201X, he will be one of two Composers-in-Residence with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Canada). He is currently the Curator-in-Residence at Contemporary Musiking Hong Kong. In 2019, he was nominated for the international Gaudeamus Award.

Alexandra Spence (MFA 2016)

Website / Press

Alexandra Spence is an artist and musician from Sydney, Australia. She makes installations, compositions and performances based on (everyday) sound and listening.

Alex's art and music explores the idea of listening as active practice, examining the ways in which our individual notions of place and identity are shaped and mediated through sound. Through her practice she attempts to reimagine the intricate relationships between the listener, the object, and the surrounding environment as a kind of communion or conversation. With an interest in resonance, vibration and everyday sound, her aesthetic favours small sounds, object interventions, and unusual sound sources. (she holds the pseudo-scientific belief that electricity might actually be magic)  

Alex has performed and presented work in concerts, festivals, symposiums, galleries and on radio in Australia, Canada, Europe, and Asia including the Vancouver Art Gallery; Destroy Vancouver; Late Junction, BBC Radio3; Engineroom International Sound Art Competition, London; SoundCamp Festival, London; Ausland, Berlin; Le Cube, Paris; Musée Guimet, Paris; Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow; Museum of Contemporary Art ARTBAR, Sydney; Contemporary Musiking Hong Kong's Sound Forms Festival, HK; Ftarri, Tokyo; the NOW Now Festival, Sydney; Firstdraft Gallery, and Casula Powerhouse, Sydney; Metro Arts gallery, Brisbane; and Siteworks Festival, Bundanon (w. the Splinter Orchestra).  

In 2016 Alex graduated from the Master of Fine Arts interdisciplinary arts program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, and participated on a field recording residency with Francisco Lopez in South Africa. In 2017 she was awarded the Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship for Emerging Artists, which led her to Europe and the UK to perform, and to study with David Toop and Chris Watson & Jez riley French in 2018. In 2018, she was selected as one the emerging artists for the SITUATE Art in Festivals Lab. In 2019, she resided at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, as one of the Asialink Arts Creative Exchange recipients. And her debut album Waking, She Heard The Fluttering, recently released on Room40, has received favourable reviews in The Wire Magazine and The Quietus.

Lief Hall (MFA 2019)

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Lief Hall is a multi-media performance artist and musician based in Vancouver BC and holds an MFA from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. Hall graduated from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2005 with a Bachelors Degree in Animation, exploring the integration of animation with audio, performance sculpture and installation. Hall has exhibited her video and performance works in such places as The Chan Centre, VIVO, Access Artist Run Centre, The Western Front, Helen Pitt and Truck Gallery and recently won Best Canadian Work for her animation 25/27 at the WNDX Film Festival.  Hall’s work in performance had recently broadened into larger theatrical productions including Paper House and The Golden Dawn, MYTHS Electronic Opera. Hall was the lead vocalist in Mutators, Glaciers and currently has a self titled solo project and is one half of the electronic musical duo MYTHS.

James O’Callaghan (BFA 2011)

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James O’Callaghan (b. 1988) is a composer and sound artist based in Montréal. His work intersects acoustic and electroacoustic media, employing field recordings, amplified found objects, computer-assisted transcription of environmental sounds, and unique performance conditions. His artistic output, spanning chamber, orchestral, live electronic and acousmatic idioms, audio installations, and site-specific performances, has been variously commissioned by the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Quasar quatuor de saxophones, among others. His music has been the recipient of over 30 national and international prizes and nominations, including the ISCM Young Composer Award (2017), the Salvatore Martirano Award (2016), the Robert Fleming Prize (2015), the SOCAN Foundation John Weinzweig Grand Prize (2014), and the audience and jury prize from the ECM+ Génération 2018 tour.  

Nancy Tam (MFA 2014)

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Currently, I am developing an auto-ethnographic project that explores attachment associations and responses in children to parent and adult romantic relationships. This project, inspired by John Bolby’s attachment theory and Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation experiments, presents circumstances for the audience—participants—to question and re-evaluate ideas of attachment, transition, and departure. This ongoing project will take place throughout the summer of 2011 in Kitchener, Ontario in series of musical and theatrical experiences, performances, installations, and gatherings. I started my MFA at Simon Fraser University in September 2011, exploring and studying new areas of art making, particularly in the areas of performance study, the aural element of scenography, and physical theatre. My work is situated primarily in and around Toronto and the Kitchener-Waterloo area in Ontario. My undergraduate degree is in music composition and improvisation at Wilfrid Laurier University. Since 2008, I have been composing and performing with the Toronto based composer collective, the Toy Piano Composers. My compositions have been performed by Arraymusic (Toronto), TorQ (Toronto), Soundstreams Canada (Toronto, Montreal), Nextfest (Edmonton) and the K-W Symphony Orchestra (Kitchener-Waterloo).  Since July 2010, I have been collaborating closely with director Dr. Andrew Houston at the University of Waterloo on the multi-disciplinary production: DISSOCIA (February 2011, remounted at the Open Ears Sound and Music Festival in April 2011). For this production, I composed, improvised and performed music and movement.

Rebecca Bruton (MFA 2016)

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Rebecca Bruton is a composer, vocalist and violinist based in Calgary, AB. Her work occurs in the interstices between avant-pop, experimental chamber music, and noise. As one half of the vocal performance duo Moss Moss Not Moss (with Canadian-Icelandic poet Angela Rawlings), Rebecca has presented original work at Tectonics Festival Glasgow. Their composition and performance work has also been featured on BBC's Hear and Now radio program. In 2016 Rebecca was selected (along with five other emerging Canadian composers) to participate in PIVOT, a prestigious six-month professional mentorship program hosted by the Canadian League of Composers in partnership with Continuum Contemporary Music and the Canadian Music Centre.  During this mentorship she had the opportunity to study privately with composer Chiyoko Szlavnics, as well as write a 10 min. work for Continuum Ensemble, which was premiered in Toronto in March 2017. Rebecca was also selected to participate in Composer’s Kitchen 2017, an Internationally juried masterclass co-presented by Quatuor Bozzini (Montréal, QC) and Embedded (UK). Rebecca has released two full-length studio albums, under the pseudonym 'Rebecca Flood'. She is co-creative producer (with Alexandra Spence) of Tidal ~ Signal, a Vancouver-based festival dedicated to increasing representation of women and transgendered artists within the fields of sound art and experimental music.   

Matthew Ariaratnam (MFA 2017)

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Matthew Ariaratnam is a composer, improviser and guitarist. His music and research explores sonic textures, graphic/alternative scoring, field recordings, prepared instruments, electroacoustic music, performative listening, and songwriting. Matthew is currently interested and exploring the writings of Bertrand Russell, Brandon LaBelle, Georg Simmel, Michael Bull, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nicolas Bourriaud, Edgard Varèse, Bernie Krause, and Steve Roden. Matthew’s music has been heard nationally on CBC radio and also internationally. Involved in the musical projects Mice Bards, Organic Strategies, Waylaid, Sweet Pieces, and Code of Silence, Matthew is currently exploring interdisciplinary work in Vancouver working with performance artists, physical theatre makers, dancers, visual artists, laptop gurus, and other musicians. Matthew has a Bachelor Degree in Music Composition from Wilfrid Laurier University where he studied with Peter Hatch, Linda Catlin Smith, Glenn Buhr, and Terry McKenna.
 

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