Commission Music

Commission Music
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Wednesday, 15 January 2003

Artist Statement - Calarts

When I was in high school, my two loves were computer programming and tuba playing. I chose to pursue a career in programming for economic reasons, but I've often wondered about the tuba-playing road not taken.

I went to Mills College to study Computer Science, but I quickly found myself gravitating toward the Center for Contemporary Music. I had some limited exposure to New Music before college, thanks to an excellent community radio station, but was not aware of it other than casually listening to noise bands. What I learned at Mills changed everything I thought about sound and music creation. I studied electronic music with Maggi Payne. She taught synthesis techniques on a large Moog Modular Synthesizer. The sound and the possibilities for music making were incredible. I thought that the Moog was fantastic. I loved making music with it and the approach to sound creation that went with it. I decided to double-major in Computer Science and Electronic Music.

I learned to compose music for tape by recording source sounds, such as field recordings or interesting synthesizer patches and mixing them together, so that mixing is as much composing as finding or creating the source sounds. It shaped how I think about composing. This is still the method I use for creating almost all of my pieces. Often, there is a metaphor or idea that ties all of the source sounds together, but sometimes I just record interesting patches until I have "enough" of them. Then I look for interesting ways to mix them together. I love doing this because of the focus on pure sound, rather than algorithms or theory and also because of its tactility.

In addition to studying synthesis, I played tuba in the Contemporary Performance Ensemble and also took classes in recording techniques and computer music. I learned to program in MAX and experimented with unusual input devices, like the Nintendo Power Glove. I took all of the required classes in music history and theory and also classes in Computer Science, my other major. Those classes covered programming concepts relevant to computer music including networking and programming languages. I also took an independent study class in analog electronics, to better understand the internal workings of analog synthesizers.

My senior concert was a collaboration between another composition student and myself. We decided to have multiple pieces playing at the same time, like one of John Cage�s music circuses. I wrote three pieces of tape music and one MAX patch that ran on a laptop throughout. I also wrote five or 10 small pieces for wandering trios that played throughout the program and I assembled one small installation. My partner and I collaborated on a piece for electric guitars and vibrators. She wrote most of the trios and a percussion trio with three movements. We created a web page about this concert, with information for performers and attendees. It is still on-line at

After graduation, I worked at a startup company that made products related to e-commerce. I did web programming and worked on their server. The company was a bit chaotic. Periodically, the management would come by and tell everyone that we were just about to have an IPO, or get more funding, or be bought by someone, in the meantime, we just had to give up a few more evenings and weekends. I did not write any music at all while I worked there, because the schedule took over all of my time.

When someone I had met at an earlier interview called to ask if I would like to go work at Netscape and have more free time and make more money, I accepted. The job was interesting and I had enough time to make music and the means to obtain equipment. I purchased a MOTM Modular synthesizer and started recording tape music and posting it to I also submitted a tape to Woodstockhausen 2000, which they played. My goal was to have two careers simultaneously. I would be an engineer and a composer. It might have worked except that I was commuting 50 miles each way to work and it was starting to burn me out. I realized that music had become a hobby rather than a vocation, so I started looking for work closer to home. In 2001, I was laid off.

While I was searching for another job, I continued recording tape music and posting it to I joined a group of noise music composers on the service. We thought that by working together, we could raise the profile of noise music in general while also advancing our music careers. One of these artists had a small record label and released two songs of mine on a compilation disk.

Around the same time, the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum in San Francisco, issued a call for proposals for temporary installations that focused on sonic characteristics of the museum. I collaborated with two other people on two proposals, both of which were accepted. The first installation used piezo contact microphones attached to exhibits with moving parts. The sounds were amplified, unprocessed so that passers-by could hear the quiet sounds they would not otherwise notice. For the second piece, I wrote a MAX/MSP patch to demonstrate the resonant frequencies of a part of the building. It used the type of feedback loop that Alvin Lucier used in his piece I am Sitting in a Room.

Shortly thereafter, my domestic partner was also laid off, so I postponed my job search and we spent the summer traveling in Europe. I wrote no music while I was there, but I visited several modern art museums, and went to the Venice Biennale. I also visited an online in Germany at ZKM, a research center that her commissioned to write a paper on MP3s. I was very impressed with the facilities there and the idea of music research.

When I came home, I had hundreds of musical ideas. The first was to switch career tracks to focus on composition. I wrote several pieces of tape music, and then I decided that I wanted to write more music for live performance, so I organized a five person percussion group and wrote a couple of pieces music for them. The group performed them at an art a local artist�s gallery opening. I also did computer consulting. I was not sure how to pull my work and aspirations together into a career.

At the same time, I started volunteering for Other Minds, a New Music nonprofit in San Francisco. I started as the driver for their festival. Shortly after that, they got possession of the KPFA music archives, featuring interviews with every important composer between 1969 and 1992. They are planning to use their library for a web radio project. I am helping them catalog their tape archive and pick out interesting tapes to submit for grant applications. I also work for them as a volunteer sound engineer and produced or helped produce several CDs used for grant applications and I gave them technical advice regarding the web radio server hardware and software.

Last spring I attended the Composing a Career Conference sponsored by the Women's Philharmonic. Almost everyone else there had a masters degree and the presenters all assumed they were speaking to a masters-level audience. Realizing that I needed more education, I started looking into graduate programs. I also started submitting tapes to festivals and calls for scores. One of my tapes was accepted at Woodstockhausen 2002.

Tragically, shortly after the conference, while I was on my way to visit Jack Straw Productions in Seattle, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had surgery and started radiation treatment. All of my music work and consulting jobs were put on hold so I could spend time helping to take care of my mom. The treatment was not helpful and she died in the middle of October.

I spent several weeks after her death re-thinking my life plans. A few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to continue with my chosen track. I submitted a score to Jack Straw Productions for inclusion in a Trimpin installation and they accepted it. I also started pulling together applications to the graduate schools that I picked out in the spring. Your program caught my interest because of your faculty, especially Subotnic, with whom I hope to study.

At Calarts, I hope to learn more about electronic music and also about composition for live performance. I would like to learn new techniques for creating music, including computer sound generation and digital synthesis. I would also like to learn about building installations and other electronic musical tools. I hope to learn more mediums for composition. I would also like to explore more writing for traditional instruments. Calarts has a reputation for performance as well as composition and I hope to be able to work with some of the performers studying there.

After I graduate with a masters degree, I hope to find success as a freelance composer. I am also interested in doing music research at a center like STEIM, IRCAM or ZKM, or a comparable center in the United States. I know that Calarts could give me the skills and education necessary to achieve this goal. Your excellent reputation would also help my professional aspirations. I hope you will consider me for your program.

Oh yeah, that's not exactly the same as my wesleyan one or anything...

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