Keep an eye out for a fresh issue of The Blue and White, which is lurking around campus after a Sandy-delay. In Campus Characters, the Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians whose interesting and extraordinary experiences result in captivating stories. Here, staff contributor Torsten Odland introduces you to Carl Majeau, CC ’13.
I’m willing to bet that more than half of Columbia undergraduates know Carl Majeau, CC ’13, when they see him: shoulder-length, strawberry blond hair pulled back under a baseball cap, matching chinstrap, rectangular frames, big sneakers, beaded necklace, often something sleeveless. I did.
It’s also hard to avoid Carl’s distinctive figure if you follow campus music: he is one of the most visible presences in Columbia’s music scene. He plays tenor sax in Ace of Cake, a jazz-infused jam band and arguably the most active campus music group. This semester, Ace of Cake closed Lowlapolooza, a music festival that was the brainchild of Carl and a few friends. When asked what people should know about Carl, bandmate Ilan Marans, CC ’13, demurs, “I feel like he’s the kind of guy that everybody already knows.”
Since being “a character” is often synonymous with being “a caricature,” Carl initially comes across as some kind of stoned and zany neo-hippy. “I’m definitely conscious of my appearance,” he allows. But Carl is majoring in computer science and his interest, it turns out, is as big a part of Carl’s life as his musical projects. The summer after his sophomore year, he worked for Amazon on the Kindle Cloud reader—an application that allows you to view e-books in a web browser. He currently works part-time at Jotalog, a Brooklyn start-up for users to exchange tutoring sessions.
Reconciling Carl’s musical passions with his technical ones can be difficult, particularly because Carl’s music is so focused on improvisation and spontaneity—two variables necessarily minimized in the development of a computer program. “I’m sort of bipolar,” he jokes. Yet, in Carl’s mind, this juxtaposition makes complete sense.
“I’ve always thought of them as being two sides of the same thing,” he explains. Both involve “building up from small, core ideas into these larger and larger levels of abstraction. You start a song with just a little riff; you start a computer program with just a little object.” For Carl, they are complementary. Songs and programs have the potential to be anything, but they both have to be constructed from the ground up. They work toward a self-contained product governed by its own rules. “In both,” he muses, “you’re trying to create a world within the world, I guess.” Due to this structural similarity, Carl’s experience with improvised music actually augments his coding: “Experimentation is cool; you come up with serendipities.” When coding, he clarifies, “I like to just throw a lot of things out there, and then cull down and take the analytic approach.”
During our interview, Carl’s only reserved moments came when I asked him about the future of his musical half. Professionally, he sees himself heading into computer science. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot just recently: do I want to throw it all in and try to become a ‘rock star,’ or do I want to tread this middle ground?” he asks. He pauses for a few seconds. “I don’t know. Music is the thing that I get the most satisfaction out of.”
Carl approaches the moment where he will be ejected into a professional life. He wonders if his path so far—plunging wholeheartedly into two extremely different fields, finding structural commonalities, and achieving in both—is maybe a balancing act that he can only pull off in college, another sort of world within a world.