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Media Lab alumni: Juan Carlos Vasquez

Juan Carlos Vasquez is a Colombian composer, sound artist and researcher who was awarded as the Primus Master in the Aalto ARTS conferment ceremony this summer. He has been an active member of the Media Lab as a student, researcher and lecturer and has accomplished during his years in Aalto more than many of us could even dream of.
arts conferment ceremony
Juan Carlos Vasquez (left) with Antti Ikonen (the head of Sound in New Media -programme) in the Aalto ARTS conferment ceremony this June.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your career path?

I’m a music composer, sound artist, and researcher. My research line falls at the intersection between music technology and classical music. Lately, I’ve also become interested in investigating ways to face technological obsolescence when creating new media art. 

How did you end up studying in Aalto Media Lab?

I found the programme online when looking for degrees that could provide an interdisciplinary approach to making art with technology. I didn’t know much about the education system in Finland back then, so it was a surprise to learn how tailored you can make your degree there at the Master’s level. Close collaboration with other Finnish universities was an enormous plus for me as well. At the end, it was an easy choice deciding to join the Media Lab. 

What are the best things you experienced while studying in Aalto?

I would be hard-pressed to define in a few lines just how significant my time at Aalto and in Finland was for me in general. In Aalto I was a student first, then a researcher and lastly a lecturer. I also met the person who would become my wife on the very first day of class of my Master’s. So in a nutshell, Aalto gave me a degree, a job, and a wife. What else could I have asked for?

How have your studies helped you in your career?

Enormously. Aalto is a university with a high-quality research output, so learning the process of conducting and disseminating research was of critical importance for my future steps. Even outside the educational offer, the Media Lab is a fantastic platform of resources for artistic creation, and a one-of-a-kind environment to find potential collaborators and like-minded people. 

What are you working on now and what kind of plans do you have for the future?

After graduating from Aalto, I was able to land in a fully-funded Ph.D. position at the University of Virginia in the United States, in which I conduct practice-based research in music and also teach in the Department as part of my duties. After that, I will have to decide if remaining in the US, or going back to Europe.  

What kind of advice would you give for the current or future Media Lab students?

Any degree imparted at the Media Lab gives a high degree of autonomy to the student, so it is very important to work independently towards building a portfolio from the day they join Aalto. I would strongly encourage students to be as active as possible presenting their work not only within Finland but also abroad through the call for works, festivals, conferences, etc. The latter has the added value of receiving feedback from the international community, including updates of the current state of the field. 

In addition, I would encourage them to engage in any capacity they can with the research groups in order to learn techniques and skills that could prove immensely helpful when raising funds for projects, for example, or obtain further university support for their creative works in the form of a doctoral degree, in case they would like to explore that path.

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