Written By: Chaya Gurkov
What is music? Does the ticking of a clock or the revving of an engine warrant a musical acknowledgement of sorts, or are they just byproducts of man-made machines? Andres Leon, a student in the Sonic Arts program, has found a rather unusual instrument to use as a channel for making music: a modular synthesizer. Sonic art is the creation of art using sound waves and vibrations.
“I like allowing the machine to make things that I don’t have control over. It’s a conversation between the machine and what I do,” Leon said. The sounds that he creates through the synthesizer are unconventional and yet unquestionably musical, a composition of melodies arising from the symbiotic relationship he has acquired from years of working with it.
Coming to the states as a young boy from Ecuador, Leon’s love for sound carried him through the Berkeley College of Music to where he currently studies at Brooklyn College’s Sonic Arts MFA program, a place that holds students who create music in a variety of genres.
As the brainchild of Music Professor Douglas Geers, the Sonic Arts Program was intended to be a place for students to not only explore their creative voices, but to develop their historical and theoretical knowledge of sound, a fundamental part of the program that Leon takes particular enjoyment from.
“We really try to question and conceptualize and have conversations that push the boundaries of what is music from a more conceptual and artistic perspective than just making music to fill the music industries desires,” Leon commented.
Leon is also the co-president, along with Zach Weinstein, of the Sonic Arts Student Union. The two guys, along with Treasurer Melissa Carter and Secretary Francois Deville, dedicate their time to bridging the gap between the Sonic Arts students and the greater artistic community, acting as a liaison to the schools faculties.
They have facilitated events that have brought people like Taja Cheek, an Assistant Curator at MoMA PS, as a guest in a series of discussions about careers paths in the arts. The next event they have planned features a demo and lecture from NYU Professor of Physical Computing at Interactive Telecommunications, Tom Igoe, this coming Thursday.
This year, Zach expounded on plans the Union has for expanding its reach to include more of what the students want. “We want everyone’s opinions on the decisions that we’re making to make sure that it’s within the interest of the whole student body of the program,” he said.
That isn’t the only thing the Union plans to focus on. While the program grows every year, Leon explained that the club has been using their voices and position to change the status quo at the Sonic Arts Program- and it began with asking the question of how to become more inclusive.
“How do we put an emphasis on getting to understand art studies and Sonic studies and music studies from a more diverse world perspective?” Leon asked.
For the members of the Sonic Arts Union, that means helping to secure teaching positions for people of different ethnic origins and reaching out to various undergraduate programs with minority populations to get the word out about the Sonic Arts Program. Leon explained that the effort’s made with the hope that they are able to acquire more scholarships for those students who are intrigued by this master’s degree program.
While COVID-19 festers and continues to impede on our lives, Leon remained optimistic for what the Union has in store.
“At least we feel that these conversations are happening now, more than ever,” he said.