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Graduate Student Peter Traver Shares What Led Him to Music Technology

Grad student Peter Traver working in the Music Technology studio

Your background is a mix of music and technology - how did you develop these interests?

I studied applied math and music in undergrad. The music degree was more composition and music theory focused, but I wanted to be an opera singer, so I took voice lessons all four years and focused on performance. A few years after graduating I shifted more towards composition.

In the meantime, I was doing quantum mechanics, probability, and statistics. After graduating, I worked a few odd jobs, and then was hired by Harvard University as a multimedia technician. I was assisting classes and events, as an audio engineer doing post production, audio and video. That's where my love for multimedia composition came from. NYU’s Music Technology Program is interdisciplinary, while focusing on making musicians better by using various technologies. That is how I ended up here.

You run your own music festival? Please talk about that.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I started the zFestival. It was originally going to be a classical music festival where we brought in a group of instrumentalists, paired them with composers and they’d write new pieces for small ensembles. Because of the pandemic, we did this over Zoom. It was all digital so I made sure that each group also had an audio engineer and produced a video whether it was a score video or something else. It turned into a classical music and art festival, where we had 60 to 90 people involved during the three times we ran it. Everyone was jamming on new ideas and we premiered a total of 60 to 70 new works over two years. It grew astronomically because people were looking for digital help during the pandemic. 

What are you currently working on? 

My main project is my thesis for the Music Technology Program. It was originally an immersive installation where people walked around a space and were navigated by sounds using directional speakers. It's now shifting towards a sculpture piece that uses speakers and bounces sounds off of walls. Even though you see the speakers in front of you, it sounds like it's coming from behind you, thanks to little audio tricks. I'm also working on a few compositions for piano and voice as well as compositions in Python, which are strict algorithmic compositions.

What is it like to transition into the industry from an academic background?

I think it's interesting coming from an academic background, because a lot of times academia is on the fringe of growth in the arts. Academic institutions are really good at filling people's heads with ideas, but at the end of the day, you have to build and make things.

That's what I appreciate about NYU. NYU is industry focused and MPAP in general is “get in the weeds and do the work.” I've been told by professors that if I really want to compose, then go ahead and compose. 

What were some deciding factors that made you come to NYU? 

I was deciding between a couple of art schools and composition degrees. They do a lot of art here at NYU, but it's not an art school. I chose this program because I’ve been feeling a trend in the arts, that technology is rapidly becoming more important for individual artists. There are artists who use other pieces of technology and collaborate with creators, but the ones that have impressed me most are the ones who are able to build their own technology and then use it in an artistic way.

Any advice for those considering the Music Technology Graduate Program?

If you like music and getting into the weeds of nitty gritty math stuff, this is the right program for you. The first semester is hard – you're thrown a lot of technical things, but it gets easier. It's been nice getting closer to my cohorts and seeing how everyone's artistic side is coming out of this sort of rigorous technical experience that we master at the beginning,