Commission Music

Commission Music
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Thursday, 9 January 2003

Really, the very last revison of the Personal Statement

When I was in high school, I had to decide between pursuing a career in computer programming or in professional tuba playing. Tuba playing is a low-paid profession, so, on the economic advice of my tuba teacher, I chose computer science. This was a logical choice for me. I started programming in BASIC when I was 8 years old and had been programming ever since. I grew up in the middle of Silicon Valley. My great grandfather, grandfather, uncle and father were all engineers. When I was a child, I spent Saturdays with my dad while he worked at his startup.

I went to Mills College to study Computer Science, and I very quickly found myself gravitating toward the Center for Contemporary Music. I had some limited exposure to New Music before I went to 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 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.

After I graduated, I got a job at a startup company that made products related to �Cooperative Commerce.� I did web programming and worked on their server. The product I was working on helped people buy things. A user could say that they wanted to buy a size 16 men�s blue shirt and our server software would give the user information about every size 16 men�s blue shirt that it could find on the web. All of the results were generated in real-time, using Artificial Intelligence. 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 mean time, 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 knew from a previous interview called me and asked if I wanted to go work at Netscape and have more free time and make more money, I accepted. I started out writing scripts in Perl for the Open Directory Project, the largest human-edited directory on the web. I was also the release engineer and made the directory data publicly available every week. I also informally wrote the Product Requirements Document for ChefMoz, a restaurant database.

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 Another artist had a small record label and released two songs of mine on a compilation disk. 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 an avocation, so I started looking for another job, closer to home. At the same time, management decided to move my team over to online music.

My boss suspected that I was going to quit and asked me to stay on to write the Product Requirements Document for AOL�s online music service, a marketing job. I accepted and soon learned that I am not at all suited to marketing. My job was to write hundreds of pages of documents that nobody read and to go to meetings. At the same time, AOL had at least one other team on the East Coast working on the same project and Time Warner, whom AOL was purchasing, had several redundant teams. In 2001, I was laid off.

I instead of looking for a job right away, I decided to travel. I spent the summer in Europe. This was an important trip for me, because it allowed me to escape the culture of Silicon Valley and to look at a lot of art. I didn�t write any music while I was gone, but I visited several modern art museums, including the Venice Biennale. I also visited an online friend at ZKM, in Germany where she was writing 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 I wanted to write more music for live performance, so I organized a percussion group and wrote some music for them. The group performed some of my work at an art opening. I also did computer consulting. I wasn�t 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 worked 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 master's degree and the presenters all assumed they were speaking to a master's-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.

Unfortunately, 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 instillation 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 [� talk about faculty.]

At [school] I hope to learn more about electronic music and also about composition for live performance. I would like to branch out into writing for live electronic performance, something that�s difficult to do with a modular synthesizer. I hope to learn more mediums for composition. I would also like to explore more writing for traditional instruments. [school] 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 [school] could give me the skills and education necessary to achieve this goal. Your excellent reputation would also help my professional aspirations. I hope you consider me for your program.

Much more honest, but also darn darn long. I don't have much time to change it anymore. If CalArts only wants half a paragraph, too bad. Suggestions, especially for cuts, welcome.

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