The Sound Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the few sound programs in the nation situated within the context of a fine arts school. The department was founded in 1972 as an area of study at SAIC, making it the world’s first department dedicated to the study of sound in an art school, and positioning it as a pioneer in the fields of sound art, experimental music, and sound studies.

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From its inception, the department established a unique place where one could investigate sound in its material detail as well as its relationship to other disciplines such as video, performance, and installation. During its evolution, the department has continued to diversify and deepen the scope of influences, ideas, histories and technologies that inform its thoroughgoing approach to sonic experimentation and critical interrogation. In 2001, the Sound Department initiated an MFA in Sound, the first degree of its kind offered in the US. The MFA in Sound offers a rigorous environment of study guided by a faculty of internationally recognized artists representing a broad range of approaches to the sonic arts, amplified by a robust visiting artist and scholar program, direct connections to Chicago’s thriving sound art and experimental music scenes, and a range of interdepartmental initiatives within SAIC.

The Sound Department’s integration within an interdisciplinary art school gives you the freedom to explore hybrid practices such as hardware hacking, software development, installation, and instrument building in addition to conceptual projects that consider sound outside of a musical context. The program's studio offerings are complemented by courses in the history and theory of sonic arts, physics, acoustics, electronics, and traditional musics. And the department’s interdisciplinary focus allows you to study in other departments such as Film, Video, New Media, and Animation and Art and Technology Studies.

Within the Sound Department, you will have access to the following:

  • Studios containing a rich array of well-maintained modern and vintage technology, including rare analog synthesizers and multi-channel sound playback systems.

  • Purpose-built facilities for constructional projects and hardware design.

  • Faculty with diverse backgrounds and international reputations in their field.

  • The cutting-edge facilities and resources throughout the school.

  • An extensive visiting artist and scholar program.


Sound in Chicago

The city of Chicago is an internationally recognized epicenter of sound and music experimentation, of which the SAIC Sound community forms an integral and vital part. The following venues bring sound artists, musicians, composers, and performers of international repute to Chicago as well as supporting local artists and collaborative initiatives, often providing students with the opportunity to perform, exhibit, and self-organize.

Situated in the diverse cosmopolis of Chicago, the Sound Department often collaborates with international cultural partners to bring visiting artists and scholars and to organize projects and symposia that broaden the discourse around sound, such as the 2011 "Sound Art Theories Symposium" that brought together 13 scholars in the field for two days; and "Sexing Sound: Gender Sound Music," a three-day program of performances, installations, and panels. International partners have included the Goethe-Institut, the Italian Cultural Institute, and the Swiss Consulate, among others.

Interested in learning more?

Continue to explore the Sound Department’s website to learn more about our curricular offerings, faculty, students, alumni, and more or schedule a tour.

Interested in learning how you can apply?

Visit the undergraduate or graduate admissions websites or contact the admissions office at 800.232.7242 or

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