Inside

Sound Design

Sound Design (SD) is an exciting new MA pathway at the RCA combining sound and design practice in applied and experimental ways. Not restricted to film or sound art, SD is for sound engineers, musicians, journalists, artists and other practitioners who want to expand into new modes and media; and for designers, scientists and anyone else who wants to explore sound as a fundamental force for communication and experience – through data sonification and notification, sonic narratives, interventions and installations, delivered in digital and physical contexts and grounded in research and theory. 

Sound is an area of growing social, cultural and environmental importance, yet often overlooked and under-appreciated in our overwhelmingly visual, screen-based society. It has great emotional power for communication through storytelling, music, and more subtle and evocative forms. The SD pathway departs from other Sound Design or Sound Art courses with our focus on the whole spectrum of sound as a social phenomenon in theory and practice, from listening, generating and recording to its potential for transforming our experiences, environments, lives and cultures. SD is unique in de-coupling and re-imagining sound and design – contextualising sound within a broad practice of experimental design, aimed at working across modes and disciplines to effect individual, social and political transformation. 

For a taste of previous and ongoing work in sound undertaken in the programme, visit the Sound Design microsite.

Our specific areas of focus include:

  • sound as social mediation, and as a material and ephemeral means of communication
  • sonification, notification and narrative, online and in the real world
  • applied areas of practical importance including identity, film, games, environments, urban sonic design, sonic activism
  • practical skills in synthesis, sampling, mixing & remixing, coding and programming, analog and digital electronics, field recording, multichannel installations, public interventions
  • a theoretical grounding in concepts of immersion, emotion and cognition, multimodally, resonance, reverberation, temporality, spatiality, feedback, acoustic ecology.

Overall, the pathway delivers:

  • Technical skills – students explore and experiment with the tools of sound design, recording, manipulation and playback. No specific sound-related technical skills are required: rather than expecting students to be experts with commercial sound software, students should have the intellectual and creative capacity, as well as the commitment, to design and create independent sound projects. Technical workshops in specific software and hardware provide training from basic to advanced levels. 
  • A conceptual framework – students develop a sophisticated understanding of how sound can be employed in diverse contexts, creating intelligent design solutions that critically reflect upon the histories and politics of sound design.
  • Applied context – students create and situate their work within communication, collaborating within College and with external partners, enabling students to advocate the significance and nuance of sound and its relationship to other senses.

Context

The SD pathway is situated within Information Experience Design (IED), a radically innovative two-year MA programme engaging with data, experience and transformation through experimental communication design. As such, SD is naturally collaborative and post-disciplinary, sitting alongside IED pathways in Moving Image Design and Experimental Design. All IED students are expected to work across these pathways, which act as home bases for expanded practice, engaging with science, critical theory, philosophy, digital and physical making. Students share mixed studios with other School of Communication students in Visual Communication and Animation. 

Sound already plays an important role as part of the multimodal approach within IED – for example recent work in sonification of data, narrative and storytelling, social sound objects, scientific and material experiments, and critical design. IED students successfully launched a guerrilla Sound Lab in 2014/15, which continues and complements the college's high-end Sound Studio and other resources. 

Structure

The pathway is delivered through projects with external partners, seminars, peer reviews, tutorials, study visits and technical workshops. In the first year, students choose from the School of Communication elective programme provided by all School subjects, including an elective offered by the Sound Design pathway. Additional projects, activity, events and talks are provided by IED.

Year 1

Practical workshops and experiments help students interrogate sound within a range of communicative contexts, utilising these as a springboard to challenge and also deepen their independent practice. Sound Design pathway students are expected to move across pathway boundaries in the first year. Critical discourse is provided through seminars throughout the two years exploring theories of listening and hearing, psycho-acoustic phenomena, auditory perception and dialogue, forming the theoretical and practical grounding for the pathway. 

Year 1 students assist Year 2 students with the Work-in-progress and Degree Shows, and students in each student has a Personal Tutor for the year, who is a subject specialist and organises regular tutorials. Weekly seminars and workshops are held across all three terms, with core curriculum and skills being front-loaded in Term 1.

Year 2

In the second year, students focus on developing projects around their core practice in sound. Students may also design, curate, organise and host a series of events and debates featuring invited external speakers that relate issues in contemporary culture to their professional practice. Students’ final projects focus on sound as a communicative force, whether through sonification, speculative practice, performance, or in an applied context.