Meet KPU: Gordon Cobb
Gordon Cobb uses music to connect with students and himself
Gordon Cobb is the chair of the music department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and his courses focus on music technology. Before becoming an instructor at KPU, Cobb was an East Vancouver artist who completed his PhD at Simon Fraser University.
Cobb created a remix video of O’Canada at the 2020 convocation, which is a modern take on the national anthem featuring six languages, tabla beats, and graphic novel style animation representing Instagram and TikTok culture. The remix video has been used at every convocation since.
He also organized and took part in the Wake Up! social justice music festival in February held at the KPU Surrey campus.
When did you join the KPU community, and why?
I joined in 2016 because our provost at the time was Dr. Salvador Ferreras and he was definitely one of my mentors and heroes. I was an East Vancouver artist and a SFU fine arts student. I had met Sal years ago, so when I found out that he had migrated to KPU, I got in contact with him because I just finished my PhD. I was having a hard time finding a place where I could teach music because my musical background is somewhat unique. I contacted Sal, he loved my research, he brought me in, he connected me with the department, and then I got in the qualified faculty list to teach the music tech courses. I came in, I rewrote the curricula for other music tech courses, and I’ve been here ever since.
The world of music tech is pretty much dominated by cisgender, straight white men. I wanted to bring in a different perspective because I have been a queer activist for 30 years. It was great to be able to look at the curriculum that was created in the 1980s and apply things like the Internet, cell phones, and digital media and teach them from my perspective.
What is your favourite story of your time at KPU?
I have a lot of them. I have gotten to do a lot of great things at KPU. In 2020, when COVID-19 happened, our convocation went remote. Our president, Dr. Alan Davis, approached me to be the creative director and producer for the online convocation. So, aside from filming all the speeches, I got to do some interesting things with digital media like a remix music video of “O’Canada” in six languages with my students. I got to film our amazing Elder Lekeyten on traditional Kwantlen First Nation territory in a sacred forest doing a land acknowledgment and singing the Kwantlen song. I got to film an opening segment with Alan Davis, where he pretended to be a wizard and use a magic wand to send the KPU grad boxes to people’s houses. So, I got to do a dream version of what an online convocation would be.
I talked to a lot of students afterwards who said that it was not what they expected. It was more than they expected. Our convocation was canceled, but at least we got this cool online show. They were really happy to know that at least the convocation was not too awful for them because these students worked and sacrificed so much to graduate. That was my favourite moment at KPU. I think it represents our community in a multicultural way.
What is something that you’d like to say to people new to the community?
Your university experience is what you make out of it. If you just show up to your classes and go home that is what your university experience will be. But, if you get involved socially, if you check out the different clubs, spend more time on campus, make friends, and get to know your instructors, you are going to have a deeper and richer experience.
Because so many of our students are international, it is really important to ground yourself in the social scene at KPU. It is good to keep track of what is going on and come out to festivals when they happen and try to get involved in different things. We offer courses that other universities do not offer. A core of us instructors are trying to create more interesting things to do at KPU. In February, I had a social justice music festival, shortly after there was a South Asian Arts Festival. There are things happening at KPU, you just have to look up at the posters that are on the walls.
What are you working on right now?
I am working with some students on a series of videos about academic integrity. I also am making a documentary style film with queer and trans KPU students that is about what students want KPU instructors to know about young queer people. Queer people have changed a lot in the last 30 years and society has changed a lot. We have so many different ways to express ourselves as far as gender and sexual orientation, so we made a series of interviews with KPU students, saying, ‘Here’s what you should know about us. Do not rely on assumptions.’
I am a teacher, but I am also a mentor. At the end of the day, I am ultimately an artist and an activist who happens to create through the classroom. To keep the work meaningful to me, I have to make it about other people. It is time for other people to tell stories.
What is something you would like people to know about you?
I have misophonia, which is a neurological condition where certain sounds will trigger fight or flight mode for me. It is a hassle and ironic for a music instructor to have. I also have mild Tourette’s. A lot of people know me as being noisy and making a lot of sounds in my classes. These are my superpowers and they make me probably one of the more interesting instructors to work with. I live in a world of sound, and see the world with my ears.
When you take a class with me, it is going to be very different from other courses because I have these vocal tics that make my classes interesting. I am a neurodivergent instructor. I have a deep understanding for neurodivergent students who have issues with sound or can be triggered by certain things. I am all about the students and I make the class fun because I am just like them. I am not afraid to be vulnerable or weird in my classes. I am not afraid to make mistakes and laugh at myself. I think that is what makes a good professor, somebody who does not take themselves too seriously.