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The Composition Program is committed to nourishing the individual gifts and capacities of student composers in a diverse and active environment, with an emphasis on intensive personal interaction between faculty and student. The faculty mentor considers a student’s particular goals and then attempts to strengthen their technical capacity to meet them. The diversity and liveliness of our program itself often challenges students to reevaluate their goals.

An incoming student begins with a yearlong seminar (taught by a different faculty composer each quarter) and continues with individual studies thereafter. At the close of the first year fall quarter and again after the following spring quarter, the entire composition community gathers for a daylong “jury.” Each seminar member is allotted a block of time during which the composition that has just been completed is performed and recorded in a carefully rehearsed presentation. There is a detailed discussion of each work by the faculty composers, and the student has the opportunity to comment, explain, and pose questions. Following the performance and discussions of this day, the composition faculty meets to assess the students’ work collectively and to offer any guidance deemed necessary. This process is at the root of the uniqueness of the UC San Diego program, and manifests the range, seriousness, and vitality with which compositional issues are explored here.

After completing three quarters of seminar and two juries, students come to know something about the ideas and perspectives of each faculty composer; the faculty, in turn, is aware of each student’s objectives and needs. At this point, an individual mentor is agreed upon and this relationship becomes the center of the student’s continuing work as the degree is completed. A Third Year Forum presents, under departmental auspices, a work composed by each third-year composer in the four quarters since their second jury. As a part of preparation for this forum, each student composer is expected to have a faculty performer on their PhD committee (as a regular member, or as an additional sixth member). The faculty performer is the student’s performance mentor and guide in interfacing with the performance community. There is also a biweekly Focus on Composition Seminar at which faculty, students, and selected visitors present work of interest (compositional, analytical, technological, and even whimsical).

The seminars serve to foster mutual awareness within the student composer group. Collegial relationships develop and lead not only to friendships, but also to further creative outlets in cooperative projects, including the student-run Composers’ Forums, performance collectives, and recital projects. UC San Diego performers—faculty and student—are all committed to the playing of new music, and frequent composer/performer collaborations are a vital aspect of life in the Department of Music.

Computer Music

The Computer Music Program emphasizes research in new techniques for electronic music composition and performance, catalyzed through an active concert program of new works by students, faculty, and visitors. Areas of research may include

  • new audio synthesis techniques
  • audio signal processing
  • music cognition
  • live improvisation with and by computers
  • integrating audio and video
  • electronic spatialization of sounds
  • techniques for live electronic music performance
  • computer music software and HCI design
  • audio analysis and feature detection

The Computer Music Program encourages work that overlaps with the other programs of study: Composition, Performance, and Integrative Studies. Analyzing and performing electronic music repertoire as well as writing new music involving electronics are encouraged.

The first-year computer music curriculum is centered on a yearlong “backbone” course covering the essentials of the computer music field. This material divides naturally into three portions (audio signal processing, compositional algorithms, and musical cognition).

In their second year, students work individually with faculty members to deepen their mastery of their subject areas of concentration. For example, a student wishing to focus on signal processing aspects might study techniques for digital audio analysis and resynthesis, drawing on the current research literature.

After having taken a critical mass of such subjects, students enter a qualifying examination preparation period, and, once successful, they start their dissertation research.

Integrative Studies

(formerly Critical Studies/Experimental Practices)

Drawing on a wide range of academic fields, including critical and cultural theory, ethnomusicology, music cognition, new media studies, sound studies, and ecocriticism, among others, the IS program combines an exploration of contemporary music making with an examination of ideas and concepts that are relevant to its nature, creation, production, and reception. Exposure to a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary methods prepares students to pursue innovative scholarship and creative work.

IS graduate students initially enroll in introductory courses taught by core faculty members designed to present intersecting ways of researching sound, music, and culture, and which are designed to generate possibilities for future independent and collaborative research. In subsequent quarters students choose between a variety of focused and revolving topic seminars. Recent seminars have included Sounding Sex, Race, and Gender; Post-Colonial Hermeneutics; Music, Sound, and Biopolitics; Reading Ethnomusicology; Theorizing Radio and Musical Identities; Critical Historiography; Music and Affect; Proseminar in Creative Practice; Scholarly Writing for Publication; and Arts of the Archive. Seminars offered in other departments—for instance, in visual arts, literature, theatre and dance, anthropology, communication, ethnic studies, cognitive science, psychology, or computer science—are encouraged and may fulfill degree requirements, if approved by a student’s faculty adviser.

The integrative studies program embraces multiple ways of knowing and encourages cross-fertilization and hybridity between diverse disciplines and musical forms. Faculty and students in integrative studies produce work that moves fluidly between scholarship, performance, improvisation, sound installation, composition, instrument building, and more. The program teaches students to situate knowledge and practices from local to global communities, and to produce compelling scholarly writing and creative work that recognizes the responsibilities and opportunities associated with living in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.


Fostering the creative, intelligent, and passionate performance of contemporary music is the mission of the Performance Program of the Department of Music. As once stated by founding faculty composer Robert Erickson, we at UC San Diego are a “community of musicians.”

Performers act and interact in a communal environment by means of collaboration with faculty and student composers, research in the areas of new performance modalities, music technology, and improvisation, among many other pursuits. The performance of contemporary music is viewed as a creative act that balances expertise and exploration.

Graduate performance students pursue either a master of arts or a doctor of musical arts degree in contemporary music performance. The course of study for both programs involves the completion of required graduate seminars and intensive study with a mentoring faculty member. Students are encouraged to adopt a vigorous, exploratory orientation in their private study. Final degree requirements include two recitals and the presentation of personal performance research.

The work of graduate performance students forms an integral component of a rich musical environment, which produces an astonishing quantity and variety of performances. Students may perform in collaborative performances with fellow students and faculty. Ensembles include red fish blue fish, Palimpsest, kallisti, Bass Ensemble and  groups specializing in improvisation and the interpretation of unconventionally notated scores. Student-initiated concerts provide an opportunity for the presentation of a wide variety of work spanning many practices. A strong, collaborative spirit among the curricular areas of the department (Performance, Composition, Computer Music , and Integrative Studies) yields many new projects each year. Works by graduate student composers are performed in the annual Spring Festival and other concert series. The sense of musical community engendered by diverse interactions permeates the atmosphere and makes the Department of Music at UC San Diego a uniquely rewarding place to create the newest of music.