How Milo Poniewozik (’23) Spends a Tuesday on Campus

Name: Milo Poniewozik

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Class Year: 2023Musical Groups: Princeton Pianists Ensemble (member), Princeton Undergraduate Composers Collective (member)


Early(ish) to rise. I like the daylight, so I wake up every day somewhere between 9 and 10, both to make sure that I get enough hours of seeing the sun and also to give me time to shower and get my hair in check before class. Tuesdays start with an 11 a.m., Manga: Visual Culture in Modern Japan. I’m a music major, but I’m also getting my certificate in Japanese Language and Culture. This semester, my final one at Princeton, is actually sort of unusual because I’m not taking any music classes. My day still involves a bunch of music — it’s my job and I still have my thesis to think about — but all my classwork is totally unrelated, which is a new experience for me. It’s a kind of nice way to close out my Princeton experience.

Visual learning. By 11, I’m at Lewis Library for my manga class. There are about fifty students total, which isn’t a tiny number, but, hey, everyone likes manga, so I guess it’s not really that surprising. There are people from the Anime-Manga Club but also a lot of other students who are engineers or computer science majors with no real academic affiliation to manga or Japanese. A lot of students are actually taking the class in order to connect more with friends or family members who are really into manga, which is strangely touching. I have no such lofty ideals; I’m just taking it because I like manga. Today, we’re looking at Astro Boy, an early-ish manga from the ’50s, and talking about its impact on the industry and about general principles that went into the creation of the manga itself. We’re looking at the use of contouring and shading and the contrast between the incredibly detailed machines and the relatively simple human designs. I didn’t really know all that much about visual art before this, so it’s all new and interesting. 

Time to scavenge. After class, I go back to my dorm for lunch. I’m independent, so I have to scavenge for my meals. I fix myself a sandwich and prepare for my 3 p.m. class, Integrative Advanced Japanese II. We have a quiz every week and there’s also homework on stuff that we’ve watched and texts that we’ve read. So I spend the next couple of hours working on that and also studying kanji. 

Jargon — in Japanese. Today in my Japanese language class we’re talking about Death Note, an anime about a high schooler who by chance stumbles upon a notebook belonging to the Grim Reaper. We’re looking at a live-action adaptation of the first episode and exploring how the main character was portrayed differently between the two versions. A lot of the vocabulary we learn in this class is not super useful for daily life. I can now say cardiac arrest in Japanese, but I’m probably not going to use that in conversation. But it is sort of fun to learn these obscure terms. I’ve been taking Japanese since I was a freshman. It was actually something I sort of fell into because of my freelance work at the time. I was writing music for a virtual idol group, which is basically a bunch of online singers who form a virtual band where they sing original music inspired by Japanese pop music. At the time, I had no knowledge whatsoever of the genre, but I was listening to a bunch of Japanese pop music to research for the commission and I thought wouldn’t it be nice if I could understand the lyrics to the music I was listening to? So I started taking Japanese, even though I’d already fulfilled my language requirement and didn’t need to continue taking language classes. It was pure fun. Plus, all the professors are really great. 

A new challenge. My language class is in Frist, so after class ends at 4:20 I go right next door to Woolworth and spend a half hour or so at the piano. I think about my thesis, an orchestral work that I’m writing that actually came from a commission that was scrapped: it was about a girl who was from the moon and she falls down to earth and is lost and trying to get back to her family. Between my freelance work, which is largely in pop music, and my JP, which was on rock music, it’s been a strangely long time since I’ve done anything truly classical, composition-wise — maybe since high school, even! Plus, these days, my area of expertise is honestly more song-length work, so like three to five minutes. My thesis is going to be an eight- to twelve-minute piece. I feel like the purpose of the thesis is to tread this line between doing something that challenges you while also playing to your strengths. Juri Seo, my advisor, has been incredibly helpful in guiding me along with the planning stages. She’s just great. So I’m at the piano till about 5 working through some ideas but also just blowing off steam.

Bass-ic things. Then I head back to my dorm, where today I actually sit down to practice bass for a couple of hours. This doesn’t always happen, but today it does. I started playing for the first time in January, so I’ve been playing for around four weeks now. I’m not especially good, but it’s really fun. I was visiting family over winter break and I had some holiday money from relatives, so I ended up going to a used instrument shop in Michigan and getting a used jazz bass from Fender for myself. Since then, I’ve been playing along to songs that I like, finding videos of bassists who have covered them, and figuring out what fingerings they’ve been using. 

Dinner time. By now, it’s about 7, so I fix myself dinner. I’m in Spelman in a suite with three other people who are also all independent, so sometimes one of us will make dinner and we’ll eat together. But tonight it’s just me. After dinner, I typically spend the rest of the evening either doing class preparation, like studying Japanese vocabulary or doing readings for my religion class or doing freelance work. 

It all works and is no fun. Tonight is all freelance. Lately, I’ve been doing three main types of work. Working with that virtual idol group introduced me to this community of singers online who post covers of their favorite songs on YouTube. Once they’ve reached a certain level of visibility they’ll hire a composer like me to make a recreation of the instrumental of the song that they’re interested in doing so that they don’t get into any legal trouble for using the original. It sounds like incredibly boring work, but I actually quite enjoy it. It’s almost like solving a Sudoku — gradually chipping away at the instrumental until finally it comes into existence in your DAW. It’s satisfying. And it pays the bills. I’ve also been composing original songs and sometimes background music for some of the people in that community — YouTubers or Twitch streamers or whoever is interested in creating their own music. And this is more sporadic, but I also really enjoy doing video game soundtrack stuff. Recently, I worked on music for a rhythm game, sort of like Guitar Hero, in which the gameplay itself is to play along to a song. That music is always really challenging to write because it needs to be sufficiently complicated and have interesting rhythmic stuff going on, but it’s really fun. I grew up playing a million rhythm games. So when this company reached out to me I lost my mind. Legally, I can’t talk about the project I’m working on tonight, sorry! I do think there’s a common misconception about music though, in that we don’t necessarily apply to jobs like in any other career; at least in the fields that I’ve worked in, by the time a project is announced, they already have a composer. So it’s this really complicated system where work begets more work, and there’s an opaque machine of mystery masking what’s going on behind the scenes. This is why I really love talking about this… because there’s no literature on it and I had to figure it all out myself when I was just starting out at sixteen or seventeen.

Winding down. Once or twice a week I’ve been winding down after a long day of working by watching anime with a friend of mine. We’ve been watching this anime called Hinamatsuri. People often assume that I’m a big anime fan because I take Japanese language classes and because it’s related to my work, but I’m really not. I watch the stuff that my friends recommend to me and I typically enjoy it, but I won’t usually go out of my way to seek it out on my own. Before Hinamatsuri I was watching Chainsaw Man, which was really popular last season, and SPYxFAMILY, which my friends also recommended to me.

Guilty pleasures. By about 1, I’m in bed. I did just say that I’m not a big anime fan, but my guilty pleasure is actually reading a bunch of romantic comedy manga. This was actually something that I got into for my JP last year, which was looking at the arrangement and composition techniques that went into Japanese rock music, especially indie or semi-electronic music from the past decade, and also writing some of my own work, including lyrics. I wanted to get a sense of natural expressions that people use in normal speech, not just the textbook stuff that you might learn in class. So I got into reading, and now that is often what I will do until I fall asleep sometime around 2.

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