Interview with MaryClare Brzytwa, Chair of Technology and Applied Composition at SFCM

We had a chance to talk to MaryClare Brzytwa, Chair of Technology and Applied Composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) about their new program in  Technology and Applied Composition (TAC). TAC offers a unique curriculum integrating compositional craft with music technology and will launch a new generation of composers adept in the fields of concert music, sound design and film and game scoring.

They are now accepting applications for the inaugural class of 2015, the application deadline is February 1.

More information here: http://www.sfcm.edu/tac 

RS: How was the TAC program started?  Did you have any guiding principles behind its creation?

MB: As an electronic musician with roots in modern classical music, I saw many of the more esoteric computer music concepts I cherished as a grad student being put into practice in a really goal-oriented, constructive way when I started to research video game music as an artistic medium and heard the perspective of professionals working in the field at Game Soundcon and GDC in preparation for planning the TAC program.  The guiding principle behind the new TAC program is that we are approaching the curriculum with the highest possible standards of musical training, technological facilities, and real world professional preparation of our students. Our number one objective is to give students the highest quality experience possible and use every possible moment of their education to maximize their chances for success in their future endeavors. Our core principle for developing the TAC program was excellence.

RS: The curriculum for TAC covers a diverse array of topics including recording, musicianship and improvisation.  How did you choose what to include in the curriculum? 

MB: Choosing what to include in the TAC curriculum was a big challenge as there are so many important skills to develop for a well rounded 21st century composer. It was important to us that we remain true to a conservatory standard of musicianship and theory, polish all of the production skills, and structure the training into a creative climate where artistic voices and fresh perspectives can bloom. We wanted to challenge the students in a way that develops the whole artist. One of the important things about undergraduate education is the chance to create a transformative experience for a young person that allows them to leave the school and contribute something to the world and the progression of their field.  We hope that this program will create the kind of student who has the confidence to tackle different musical,creative, technical, and professional challenges from a multiplicity of angles with style.  We consulted with heads of other similar programs, our own excellent composition faculty, members of our artistic advisory committee and created a visiting faculty advisory roster which includes working musicians and audio directors directly involved in game and film music such as Leslie Ann Jones and Dren McDonald.

RS: You have an impressive line of visiting faculty, how did you go about deciding who to have visit and do you expect to have a different visiting faculty each year?

MB: We DO have an impressive line up of visiting faculty. I curated the group of visiting faculty myself based on 3 years of scouting at game sound con and GDC, recommendations from our advisory roster, areas of focus I felt were lacking in the other music technology programs offered at the undergraduate level, and people whose creative output when combined, will offer a diverse array of perspectives in regards to the craft, artistry, and technical skill of working as a modern professional composer. We expect to change it up every year a little bit but continue to seek counsel and advice from this inaugural group of advisors as we move forward.  We will also begin a new module course system (sort of a winter term of short intensive areas of focus) next year.  The complete list of visiting faculty includes Jeaf Beal, Austin Wintory, Leslie Anne Jones, Jessica Curry, Jaron Lanier, Karen Collins, Laura Karpman, and Dren McDonald. There will be a combined 20 visits from this group over the next academic year of the program, each including one on one visits for every TAC student.

RS: Can you tell me a bit about the sort of studios and recording equipment that will be available to students?

MB: The studios we have area quite interesting. We have a classroom to teach mixing, which houses a 32 channel analogue Neve Console, patched through to a live room for student projects, and all 3 of our beautiful concert halls.  Additionally, the console is configured via MADI which allows us to patch audio through to all of the 14 production computer workstations in the digital audio lab.  The computer workstations are fully loaded with all of the software and DAWS you could wish for, arturia step sequencers and yamaha 88 key digital pianos.  There is also a synth lab which has 2 Modern Moog Synthesizers, Roger Linn's Tempest drum machine, our own vintage Buchla, an Oberheim Xpander, JV-1000 Yamaha EX-5 Tone Generator and some other vintage outboard processors. Two of the rooms have 5.1 Meyer Surround systems, two fire breathing computers patched through to the Neve, and various high end sample libraries.  There is also an impressive collection of microphones available for student use. For more info on the TAC studios visit: http://www.sfcm.edu/tac/studios

RS: How will the program be integrated with other SFCM programs?  Will there be much collaboration between students in other programs?

MB: For the first two years of the program, the concert music comp students and the TAC students are essentially in all of their classes together putting the musical foundation into place with our in house faculty plus regular visits from visiting industry faculty for lecture/demos and portfolio reviews. In years 3 and 4, the students break apart towards separate focuses. We will assign each TAC student with an industry mentor who will continue to evaluate and guide the development of their individual portfolios. We anticipate student composers taking advantage of the high level of music performers studying at the conservatory. One large advantage our program offers when compared with some of the other programs out there is the level talent in terms of live musicians available. This resource combined with our new recording facilities allows students the chance to compose and produce for live musicians, as well as offers live musicians the chance to have the experience working as session musicians.

RS: Once a student graduates from the program what sort of position do you think they would be in?  Do you imagine students following a certain career path once they’ve finished?

MB: We imagine graduates in this program equally at home creating music for the concert hall as well working in the commercial and business sector.  Students will have the skills necessary to chart their own path forward and be competitive applicants for graduate school or enter the work force on their own terms.  We are still accepting applications through Feb. 1 and more information on the program can be found at www.sfcm.edu/tac

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