Faculty Feature: Caroline Miller—Sonic Arts and Music Production

Caroline Miller wants you to know that anyone can learn the skills it takes to create electronic music. Miller is an Assistant Professor in the Sonic Arts and Music Production (SAMP) Program at PSU. This unique program is oriented towards the creative side of the field, meaning that students collaborate, compose, and create electronic music – all while learning the technical skills needed to work in and run a studio. She teaches a variety of classes in the SAMP program, including History of Electronic Music, Songwriting, and Live Set experimental coding.

Miller first discovered electronic music when she was an undergraduate in college. At that time, she was writing music for orchestral instrumentation, but when some of her professors introduced her to electronic music, she describes her world opening up. “Whoa, I can use almost any sound in the universe?” she remembers marveling.

Miller is passionate about collaborations. She often works with instrumentalists, most recently with the jazz pianist George Colligan (who also teaches at PSU). Miller wrote an acousmatic piece – music that paints a landscape of everyday sounds designed to be listened to in a live environment, or as she explains, “Like a film, but just sound” – that Colligan improvises within.

She is also working with the filmmaker Stefani Byrd on a project exploring the hidden history of railroad infrastructure. This project took her to the Donner Tunnels in the Sierra Mountains, where she took field recordings that will be incorporated into the final multimedia art installation.

In 2021, Miller took her SAMP students to Horning Seed Orchard, a reforestation nursery which was partially burned during the devastating 2020 wildfire season, to take field recordings. These recordings formed the basis for a SAMP Laptop Ensemble performance of Pauline Oliveros’s “The Witness” at Davinia Farm in Eagle Creek, Oregon. Lee Dunn, another PSU student, filmed the experience to create an experimental documentary, all part of the Zurich-based music festival Sonic Matter.

Collaborations such as these form the backbone of Miller’s practice, and she encourages her students to create similar connections during their time in the SAMP program. Professors are there to help support students in their collaborations, she says .In addition to facilitating creative projects and academic connections between students, SAMP also provides equipment for students to use in their practice – and the skills required to use it. Students start with lab classes and studio training in their first year, in which students familiarize themselves with audio software and equipment. The SAMP lab itself is equipped with 25 iMacs, midi controllers, field recording kits, microphones, interfaces, and other audio gear that can be checked out. Students can also book the recording studio to use to work on their projects.

There are also plenty of live performance opportunities in the SAMP program, which give students real-world experience in the field and the chance to build their skills. PSPS (Portland State Production Services), a student-led resource that provides live sound reinforcement, light services, and production assistance, often hire SAMP students to help run their shows. There are also various job opportunities running sound for recitals on campus. All of these opportunities and more through the SAMP program help students prepare for careers after graduation – for example, working in a studio, mixing and production, recording, live sound, DJ-ing, writing music for film or video games or music libraries, and doing sound installation in museums.

Miller urges students to check out PSU’s laptop ensemble. This unique group performs electronic music that was written for many performers, all on their laptops, and, Miller says, is a rare ensemble to find at a university. 

Miller leaves with a recommendation for students interested in electronic music, coming to Portland. “The Holocene – they do electronic music sets and DJs. But they often do stuff that’s a bit more experimental too. They host a lot of different kinds of events. So it’s a good space to go for students to get in touch with the electronic music scene.” Miller and Colligan are performing a free show at PSU on January 12th for our Noon Concert Series. If you are interested in electronic music, or just want a nice break from studying, be sure to stop by Lincoln Recital Hall and check it out! 



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