Musicians have majored in trumpets and voice, conducting and reeds. Now, they can choose the “electronic digital instrument” at Berklee College of Music, as music education works to redefine itself in the post-digital age.

The underlying idea here itself isn’t new – turntables and computers have been singled out before as instrumental or educational categories – but making a complete program in this way is still relatively novel. And maybe the most interesting thing about Berklee’s approach is bringing a range of different subcategories into one theme, the “electronic digital instrument,” or EDI. (Uh… okay, the search for a great name here continues. Maybe we can give away an Ableton Push as a naming contest?)

In Berklee’s formulation, this is computing device + software + controller. They’ve built that program around technique on the computer-powered instrument itself, with a heaping dose of ensemble playing around it. (As commenters point out, schools have built programs like this before – maybe it’s time for a complete history – but generally speaking, it’s still an evolving idea.)

I wonder if the “controller” formulation will stand the test of time, as computation and sound modeling is brought increasingly into the same box as whatever has controls on it. (You don’t think of the knobs on a synthesizer as a distinct “controller,” even though the functional relationship is the same.)

But most encouraging is the cast of characters and the program Berklee is assembling here. I’m very interested to hear more about their curriculum and how it’s taught – plus apparently know quite a few people involved – so let’s definitely follow up soon with an interview. Here’s their launch video:

The curricular objectives:

Upon completion of the performance core program with an electronic digital instrument, you will be able to:

design and configure a versatile, responsive, and musically expressive electronic performance system;
synthesize and integrate knowledge of musical styles to develop effective electronic performance strategies;
play in a variety of electronic performance modes using a variety of controllers;
use common types of synthesizers;
produce audio assets from a variety of sources, and use them in a live performance;
demonstrate proficiency in effect processing in a live performance; and
perform in solo and ensemble settings, taking on melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and textural roles as well as arranging, mixing, remixing, and real-time compositional musical roles using all parts of one’s performance system.

And the required coursework is interesting, as well. The program includes improvisation, and a bunch of ensemble work – with turntables, techno/rave and “DJ sampling,” hip-hop, and synth technique for live ensembles. That builds in turn on the development of laptop ensembles and more experimental improvisational work in programs in some other schools. Berklee students in the program will work with turntables (which some schools have offered in the past, if sporadically), but also studies in “performance” and “grid” controllers. (Dear Brian Crabtree, Toshio Iwai, and Roger Linn – did you imagine you would all help turn “grids” into an instrumental study?)

This is all over a four semester study.

The program announcement:

Principal Instruments: Electronic Digital Instrument