An unexpected path to music
Exploration for exploration’s sake is a recurring theme of his career. After graduating from Portsmouth High School in New Hampshire, Pluta made his way to the opposite coast. He wanted to study computer science, and picked Santa Clara University because it was in the middle of Silicon Valley. In doing so, Pluta paved himself an unexpected path.
Given that he had no prior training, Pluta doesn’t think he would have become a composer or performer had he landed on a campus with a music conservatory. At Santa Clara, however, he could try new things—free from the pressure of comparing himself to students who had spent their whole lives with their instruments.
One day, an instructor purchased a Pro Tools music system and essentially handed Pluta the keys. Pluta had already been writing acoustic music, but toying around with the software showed him a way to meld music with his love of computers. During his senior year, he took another step forward in his musical growth, combining instruments and electronics to score a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Pluta spent a year working as a software programmer after college, but the musical itch wouldn’t fade. Eventually, he went back to school, obtaining graduate degrees in music from the University of Texas, the University of Birmingham and Columbia University. Along the way, he began collaborating and touring with other performers.
“I love music because it takes me to this other mental space,” Pluta said. “It’s the thing that gives me access to my totally focused, non-conscious mind. A lot of people do that through mindfulness meditation, or through painting or through exercise. Music is pretty good for me that way.”
In 2016, Pluta joined the UChicago faculty. Since then, he’s drawn students with an informal teaching style that makes complicated information accessible. He also gives them a chance to create their own music, starting with anything from conventional instruments to electronic sounds to ambient noises. The classes have sparked so much demand that, last year, the University of Chicago’s Women’s Board provided funds to double the size of the electronic music studio space in Goodspeed Hall, which houses the Department of Music.