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November 30, 06
Review: FlexiMusic Wave Editor
A few weeks ago, i received an email from FlexiMusic
, an Indian software company, inviting me to review some of their products. As i work a lot with digital recording programs like Audacity
, and Acoustica's Mixcraft
, i thought i'd start taking a look at their audio editing program FlexiMusic Wave Editor
It's amazing to see how affordable digital audio editors are becoming - i paid about $250 for an early version of Sonic Forge several years ago, yet programs like FlexiMusic Wave Editor present even more features now at a fraction of the cost. In fact, if you want to go with something completely free, Audacity, the open-source audio editor, is a top consideration for the musician on a tight (or even non-existant) budget. So - even given the cheap $20 price tag - why go with FMWE, when you could use a program like Audicity for free?
I'll jump to the chase and point out these benefits that FMWE has over Audacity that make it worth a purchase consideration:
FMWE handles MP3 encoding better than Audacity - this becomes a major issue if you want to have your MP3 files played with Flash-based web players, like the ones provided on MySpace.com
If you're sticking with single track audio editing, FMWE offers a far wider palette of effects and processing capabilities than Audacity does
FMWE's bookmarking system is actually simpler to use and much more sophisticated than Audacity's label markers
Now for the details from a non-engineering layman's point of view:
At first glance, FMWE's main program's interface looks really, really confusing. Even though the startup offers you a variety of color schemes to choose from, none of them look particularly attractive and it gave me a headache trying to make out what each icon was supposed to represent. Definitely needs the touch of a graphic designer's makeover! Interestingly, there are actually two versions of the program provided - the full program, and a stripped-down simplified version that is much easier on the eyes.
The simple version should be fine for basic recording and simple editing - this is a very thoughtful inclusion for folks who are new to digital recording/editing, and a definite plus given the price of the package!
Back to the full version - another notable feature is the auto-help text box that pops up when you move your mouse over virtually any aspect of the interface. You are given the option to remove these help boxes at any time, or to select different 'levels' of help (from "new" to "normal" and "experienced").
Once you spend a little time with the interface, it actually starts to make a lot of sense. One of the nicest features of the interface design is the center timeline bar which enables instant playback from any point clicked within the bar. This is great for spot checks and quick references.
FMWE is packed with impressive editing features - everything from fading cuts, EQ and Variable speed playbacks, to reverb effects, some simple noise reduction, reverse playback, modulation effects, direct sound wave drawing capabilities, and many others. A complete list of features for all you uber-audio techies can be found here
FMWE can record sound at 8 or 16 bit resolution, up to 48 KHz. This is fine if you're working with a USB condenser microphone like Samson's C01U (which is limited to a maximum resolution of 16 bits mono), and to be honest it's good enough for most audio needs - certainly if you're thinking of using this program to create podcasts and other web-based streaming material. If you want to play with the big boys though, 24 bit resolution is probably what you're looking for at a minimum - the folks at FlexiMusic assure me that the next version will feature that capability (Audacity can record at 24-bit and 32-bit floating point resolutions, 96 KHz, btw).
FMWE can work with several popular sound file formats - Wav, MP3, Au, Raw, and Snd files. Working with MP3 files requires a separate download for the encoder (due to copyright issues, i think) - the link is automatically provided (WMA, Microsoft's own audio compression format, will also require access to a separate downloaded file). Interestingly, FMWE does a better job than Audacity 1.2.6 of encoding MP3 files using the LAME MP3 encoder - Audacity uses a variable bitrate format for MP3 encoding, which becomes a serious problem when you want to play your MP3 files via Flash-based players (like the ones provided on sites like MySpace or Podcast provider sites like Podcast Alley). Variable bitrate mp3's sound like chipmunks on caffeine when played through those flash players. Fortunately, this isn't the case with MP3's processed by FMWE, so this is a strong reason to buy FMWE if you plan to make a lot of MP3 audio files for web based players.
As good as FMWE's editing and effects features are, i'm really most impressed with - get this - its bookmarking capabilities.
Audacity has a bookmark capability, but you have to press two sets of double keystrokes to add the marker on a label track (and i always forget which keystroke combination to use - one combination for marking during playback, a separate combination for marking when idle. Very cumbersome and annoying!) FMWE has the capability to add single-point bookmarks while recording by pressing a single key ("B"). The bookmarks are automatically labeled sequentially, but you can edit them and add whatever commentary you choose. During playback, you can either add single-point bookmarks or ranged bookmarks with a separate keystroke ("\").
Ranged bookmarks can also be selected manually with the mouse if you choose, and the selected ranges can be saved as individual sound files. The bookmarks can also be saved as a separate file set and reloaded onto a sound file selectively.
Why am i so excited about bookmarks? Imagine this: you're using FMWE to record a student's lesson. Whenever you hear a mistake or a part that needs to be reviewed, you press the bookmark button during the recording: voila, instant lesson review system! You could jump to bookmark number 3 and play back the mistake for the student to hear. No more fishing around the score, trying to remember where that spot was that needed fixing! The digital audio would provide an objective reference to show exactly what kind of mistake was made (This would be particularly helpful if you're coaching a chamber ensemble and trying to determine exactly who was coming in late at bookmark 15!) At the end of the lesson, you could send the recorded sound file as an MP3, along with the bookmark set if the student has their own copy of FMWE, and they could go back and review all the spots you marked for them. If you're receiving an audio file to critique from a long-distance student, you could even write down specific text commentary at each bookmark. These are just a few examples of the powerful possibilities of bookmarking and labeling audio files!
Overall, given FlexiMusic Wave Editor's low price point, i'm pretty impressed with it's capabilities. That said, i have a few suggestions for improvements:
1. The bookmarking features would be even better if the single-point bookmarks could act as split points for the audio file. Acoustica's Mixcraft has this capability, but it doesn't have the keystroke bookmark feature (you have to place the bookmarks manually by mouse in Mixcraft). What's so special about this? Well, imagine that you've set your bookmarks in the audio file for a student's recorded lesson, and that you've annotated the digital music score (in digital ink with your Tablet PC, of course! LOL) with the corresponding bookmark numbers. Each split point would match the bookmark number (ie, bookmark number 5 could be heard as audio-5.mp3, bookmark number 12 could be heard as audio-12.mp3, etc.). The student could then download all of the split files and place them in a playlist within an MP3 player (like an iPod). Played sequentially, the student could hear the entire recorded session seamlessly - but if the student wanted to review a specific bookmarked spot in the score, he/she could easily and quickly jump to the corresponding split audio segment! No more blind fast-forward/reverse to find that trouble segment! Instant navigation!
2. When FMWE is set to record, the main audio editing window closes. It would be nice if the main audio editing window remained open so that you could see the wave file's recording progress (the programmers tell me they will add an option "Show/Hide Main Window While Recording" in the next version). Also, there are no audio level clipping meters to show if the sound level is too high. A visual bookmark indicator during recording would also be nice...
3. FMWE really needs to have 24-bit recording capability. I've been assured that this will be added in the next version of the program. 96 KHz resolution would also be nice...
Conclusion? This is a pretty good audio editor program at a budget price, with the potential to be a powerful semi-pro audio and pedagogy tool if they can follow through with some of my suggestions (along with a graphic overhaul...some of the icons that look similar, like the various playback icons, could be embedded in a nested tree that automatically springs open when the mouse hovers on top of the main visible icon - that would simplify the interface tremendously by reducing a LOT of clutter!)
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November 29, 06
An iTablet in the Wind?
Rumors have been floating gently around for quite some time on the possibility of an Apple version of the Tablet PC. Patents by Apple for some intriguing touchscreen interfaces have been tracked down by tech watchers, so it seems to be just a matter of time before something finally comes out of development. While readers of this blog know how passionate i am about Microsoft's ground-breaking Tablet PC OS and resulting hardware devices, it's hard to ignore the fact that Tablet PC's in general haven't made the earth-shattering impact in the computer world that their avid proponents had been hoping for.
A few days ago I received this email from composer David Toub
, a die-hard Mac user:
Hugh, sounds like one really is on the way. I'm still skeptical, since there have been rumors of one for ages, and as you know better than me, the PC tablet market has never taken off except in select vertical markets (like health care and among visionary musicians like yourself!)
Here's the link
It will be interesting to see how this progresses.
If Apple can do for the Tablet PC what it did for the MP3 music player with its iPod line, we could finally start to see more wholesale acceptance of digital music reader/annotator technologies for classical musicians at large!
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November 28, 06
Daniel Barenboim on Open Source Radio
I received a lovely email from a radio producer who stumbled across my blog while doing research for an interview with Maestro Daniel Barenboim on Open Source Radio
, an interesting experiment in what looks like radio emulating the interactivity of blogs and podcasts. Fascinating how far reaching 6-degrees of separation can encompass, especially when the Internet is taken into account in the calculus!
I am a producer for Open Source, a daily radio and web conversation hosted by Christopher Lydon, out of Boston. While doing some research for our Thanksgiving show about (and with!) Daniel Barenboim, I came across your blog, which I found to be very entertaining and well written. I thought that you might like to hear the show, which can be found here (simply click on the link that says "Click to listen to the show", and I invite you to get involved in the conversation taking place right now on our website about it.
I hope you do enjoy the show, and if you have any suggestions for improvements or future show ideas, I would love to hear back from you. Until then, take care!
Producer, Open Source
The interview with Maestro Barenboim is fascinating - i don't really agree with the perspective of music as an activistic means of shaping political landscapes or even of its so-called modeling of humanistic ideals (for example "equality" within an orchestra is hogwash - sit in on any orchestral audition and that romantic view gets thrown right out the window. And then there are viola jokes
...) i suppose i take a much lower brow'd view of my craft and just live day to day thankful that i can actually make a living (more or less) in this field, much less mindful that i would ever be able to exert any meaningful socio-political influence from my musical activities...but i suppose that's what great audio journalism does, sparking deliberation and insightful examination. Kudos to Mr. Lydon and his production team for an innovative dialogue format that actively seeks input, feedback, and even content from their listeners and blog participants!
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More Highlights from ASU
Aw, yesterday's post about my ASU wasn't nearly long enough to share all the wonderful experiences from my time out there! (although my wife complains that my posts are too
long! LOL) For starters, i really should leave y'all a longer playlist including selections from the other major works we presented by Holst and Brahms - so, here's the revamped flash playlist:
And now for some visual goodies!
Here i am, just arriving at the ASU music building - gorgeous November weather here in Tempe, Arizona!
in his teaching studio with two lovely Steinways. Shame on me for forgetting my camera for more pictures of him and us together!
Now here's a little poster that the esteemed collaborative pianist Gerald Moore would've enjoyed!
Speaking of collaborative pianists, i have to say i was really, really impressed with the high caliber of the Collaborative Studies program! Looks like they have a top notch program in the works at ASU!
I had the opportunity to teach two masterclasses during my stay - a solo piano class, and a collaborative piano class. I should've thought ahead a bit more - i would've loved to have presented some of the pedagogical tools that incorporate my use of the Tablet PC - ah well, for now i had to make do with gesticulating arm strokes!
Ugh - me gesticulating more, not even giving the poor student a chance to play before we had some words about stage presence and projecting gratitude and joy to the audience for sharing in the musical experience!
i have no idea what i was talking about in this shot - i do remember that i spent a lot of time talking about the concept of "scooping the sound" with the damper pedal (controlled, tapered sonic releases with pedal techniques) and recognizing the tail end of articulations, either via the ends of notes or with the presence of dynamic 'empty spaces'. We pianists tend to push the key down and think our job is done - when we try to emulate the sustains and active releases that other instrumentalists (wind players in particular!) have to be constantly conscious about, it adds some really exciting articulation colors to our palette!
Well, between talking about crunchy McDonald's french fries and the inevitable Star Wars allusions, i tried my best to keep the master classes engaging for participants and spectators alike...when in doubt, pose and try to look like you're having fun! LOL
Can't leave a locale without the obligatory Tablet PC on a piano picture, so here you go!
Many thanks to Walter for inviting me to a wonderful time of pedagogy and music-making at Arizona State University! Hopefully we'll be able to collaborate again sometime soon!
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November 27, 06
Highlights from ASU Recital
Thought you might like hearing some highlights from my recent 2 piano recital with Walter Cosand at Arizona State University in Tempe. Charles Griffin was kind enough to send over a freshly inked score of his new 2-piano work, "From the Faraway Nearby: Homage to Georgia O'Keeffe", which received a wonderful reception from the audience - gorgeous, haunting, exciting work! I really love his writing! Two of the 6 movements are featured in the embedded player, "The Lawrence Tree" and "Sky Above Clouds I."
Other works included selections from Holst's "The Planets" and the Brahms F minor Sonata Op. 34 bis, the work which the famous Piano Quintet was based on (or was it the other way around? eep) We concluded with Witold Lutoslawski's "Variations on a Theme by Paganini", a nasty little piece that's a dazzling showstopper when it works! I'm including that as well in the player - enjoy!
Pictures from my ASU trip to come soon!
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November 25, 06
Crashing a 20-year High School Reunion
Upon finishing middle school at the tender age of 13, i was accepted for studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. It was a difficult transition - all my friends from "BC" (short for Bala Cynwyd Middle School) went on to "real" high school at "LM" (short for Lower Merion High School), while i was a midget running amidst college students who were at least 4 or 5+ years older than me. Fortunately, i had a core group of close friends that still managed to get together through those high school years - Dan Steinberg, Alan Wiener, Jeff Shaman, Paul Young, and Michael Bloom - mainly thanks to a fantasy role-playing game called "ITL" (short for "In The Labyrinth", a Dungeons and Dragons-type game made by Steve Jackson Games
- i think the company still exists quite vibrantly!) that we played every week at each others' houses.
Enter the college years, and while my friends started to disperse to higher learning institutions around the country, i was still stuck at Curtis (festering a serious Anne-of-Green-Gables yearning to get out and explore the world at large - but that's another future blog post!). I suppose it was inevitable that we all started losing touch with each other, but one friend - Dan - managed to maintain lines of communication year after year, and even occasional visits whenever he came back to the east coast to spend the holidays with his family. Because i never attended LM, i had no high school alumni infrastructure to keep in touch with the news from my old middle school classmates. Dan became the pipeline to tidbits of news from this friend or that, but even that began to become more and more sporatic for the both of us.
Hats off to Dan who got word of a 20-year reunion for the class of 1986! Keep in mind, though, that since i didn't attend the same high school, for me this was going to be a 24
year reunion! Never having attended any reunions before, i wasn't sure that i would remember many - if any - of my old 12 and 13 year old friends.
Right before heading off to the reunion at the Manayunk Brewing Company, we had a lovely dinner with Dan's parents at their lovely new home:
L to R: Dan, his girlfriend Julie, Kyungmi, and me
L to R: Mrs. Steinberg, Kyungmi, and Julie
Boy, it really did feel like we were getting ready to go out for prom night! (i have to imagine this theoretically, since i never actually attended my own prom...yes, yes, another blog story for a future post! LOL)
Just driving through the old neighborhoods to get to the Manayunk Brewing Company brought back waves of memories - the bike paths i rode, the route i walked to school - and - oops, Dan suddenly seemed to make a wrong turn. It would've been so much faster to turn left there - hey! did he forget the old neighborhood? Ah, silly me - turns out he was driving out of the way on purpose to give us an excuse to swing by our old middle school - BC - which i hadn't seen since moving off to Curtis! Amazing to see how much smaller the school looked (even though i think i was virtually the same exact height back then...sigh) How thoughtful of Dan! We even backtracked our walking route (Kyungmi exclaimed, "Did you really walk this far to school?" Hahahaha - yes indeed!) and drove in front of my old house.
Amazingly, we were able to find street parking (in Manayunk, that crowded hip one-road hotspot, of all places!) relatively easily. Upon approaching the restaurant, i immediately recognized a woman standing in front - Eden Pontz! I kid you not, she looked exactly the same as her middle school years! What was even more amazing was the fact that her name immediately came to mind, given how bad i tend to be with memory recall these days!
We all entered and found our way to the second floor area, which was reserved for the reunion. Not having attended LM, there was no picture name tag for me (featuring the senior portraits - great idea!), so i had to fill out my name in marker as a bona fide party crasher! Almost immediately, i found one of my best friends - Alan Wiener - whom i had lost touch with (totally my own fault)! Check out his website at alanwiener.org
Alan is currently an artist in NYC, now married with a beautiful 5 month old daughter, Sylvia. We spent our childhood playing ITL, reading the Dragonriders of Pern, making games, creating artwork (he made the neatest things, from laminated bookmarks to bound blank books), even collaborating on a little animation project involving magazine cutouts (wish i could find that super-8 milimeter film!)
More from the artsy crowd: E.J.!
E.J. is part of a wildly popular Folk/Rock trio - Maggi, Pierce and E.J.
, currently with 7 CD's to their discography and a heavy touring schedule here in the U.S. and Europe. Check them out at the Tin Angel
on Friday, December 15th at 10 pm!!
It was nice to find other folks who are still living in the area - old friends like Doron Philips, whose parents still live in the same house i used to pass every day on the way to school, and Maria Wolf, who is working at U. Penn and used to play a mean trumpet! (she told me that she recently spent 3 hours digging her old trumpet out of the closet!)
One of my all-time favorite people growing up was Jenny Goldsborough (that's my roundabout way of saying, i had a major crush on her!) Her parents were the most wonderful folks - i had the privilege of being in her father's English class for 8th grade! I had lost touch with Jenny after leaving BC, but managed to meet her parents once after a performance at a retirement community. Jenny, it turns out, married a Japanese teacher and lived in Japan for several years, recently moving back to settle in the States. What a thrill to see her again after all these years!!
We must've been happy kids growing up, judging from the huge smile on Rachel Weiss' face when we saw each other - amazing how some people never seem to age a single day!
Speaking of ageless: Reed Slogoff definitely wins the award in my book for ageless male alumni! He's now a successful retail real estate agent in the Philadelphia area, happily fulfilling his childhood prospects of being one of the most brilliant people i've ever known!
I wish my memory was perfect - Amy Brill came up to me with a huge smile of recognition, and i had to drop my eyes to read her nametag - shame on me! Nice to see that Amy has better cognitive faculties than i do!
My voice is completely hoarse this morning from shouting all night over the crowd and the din of the DJ - but having a froggy voice has never felt better! What an amazing time, finding friends from a quarter century ago, seeing how powerfully the bonds of childhood memories tie us all together! And hey - we look pretty darn good after all these years, don't you think? LOL
May the next 24 years find us all aging just as gracefully!
Getting an online law degree
from home is a choice that some people make because an online degree
can be cheaper for many people, due to taking University of Phoenix
courses means you don't have to move or commute to school. If you aren't interested in law then you can go to UOP
to start your want on an elementary education degree online
to at least get some credits under your belt
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November 24, 06
A Friend-ly Plug: Daniel Beliavsky in Concert
It's neat to see how far the repercussions of an event like last Monday's Sequenza 21 recital will carry! I met Daniel Beliavsky working on David Toub's "objects" for piano (David's part), marimba, and electronic organ (my part). David is an exceptional pianist, coming from an exceptional family of musicians. I just received this email invitation to an upcoming performance this Sunday - wish i could go, so if any of you do please drop me a line and i'll post a third person review!
Here is Daniel's email invitation:
I will perform a recital with my father, violinist Yuri Beliavsky, this
coming Sunday, November 26, at 2:30 PM, at the Donnell Public Library
(located at 20 West 53rd Street, right across from the MOMA, between
5th and 6th Avenues).
The program will include the Brahms d-minor violin-piano sonata, as
well as solo piano works by Bach (the Italian Concerto and Preludes and
Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier), Shostakovich (Preludes and
Fugues, Op. 87), and Chopin (a Nocturne and the Fantasy-Impromptu, Op.
The concert is free.
I hope to see you there!
Many thanks and best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend,
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November 22, 06
November 21, 06
Sequenza 21: The Concert (Aftermath)
It's fascinating to witness parcels of history that work as convergence points of art, community, and technology. Last night's Sequenza 21 Concert at Elebash Recital Hall in the CUNY Graduate Center (New York City) seemed to be as vivid a convergence point as one could hope to find in the contemporary art music landscape.
is one of the most widely-read contemporary classical music websites on the Net today, consisting of a blog collective (ooh, tempted to say "Borg collective" - gotta watch my Star Trek obsessives! lol) from composers and performers. If you want a good overview of the modern art music scene, it's hard to find a more encompassing internet resource than this site. Over the summer, a simple idea germinated: why not put all the energies of Sequenza 21's contributing bloggers, composers and performers into presenting a concert? The call went out for composers to contribute scores and for performers to raise their virtual hands to lend their efforts into bringing those scores to life. Yes, yours truly jumped at the opportunity to participate in this exciting project, particularly after a MySpace meeting with David Toub
, one of the site's main contributing editors, and a composer who "moonlights" as a gynecologist in the Philadelphia area. I have a really nice interview with David that i have to get around to editing as a podcast (just goes to show how backed up i am with my blog projects! sigh...)
To my delight, my offer was kindly received and i was given the opportunity to present two works: "Systems of Preference or Restraint"
by Galen H. Brown
for two pianos (i pulled a virtual Charlemagne Palestine
with this performance, a la Golden Mean
...more on this in a sec...), and "objects"
for Piano, Marimba, and Electronic Organ (me on the organ this time!) by David Toub. Both Galen and David's works could be considered post-minimalist in nature: music that works with small repetitious elements to construct enormous landscapes of temporal and sonic shifts.
I nearly made a fatal mistake here: upon first glance, the music itself doesn't seem all that hard. Lots of repeating, simplistic figures - no problem, i thought, as i eyeballed the scores and mentally shelved them, thinking that it would be virtually sight-readable. Ah, but the devil it turns out is in the collaborative details! Galen's piece, as i mentioned, is for two keyboard instruments, but the idea was for me to play this by myself, given the fact that there would only be one piano on stage (a slight physical limitation!) In this instance, he proposed sending me a CD of a virtual piano rendition of one of the parts for me to play with. i think i gave a snooty response, requesting instead that he just send me the raw MP3 files instead - CD/tape is SO dead! hahahaha! Rather than trust an engineer to hit the "play" button at just the right moment, i wanted to opt for playing the sound file myself, using an audio editing program like Audacity
to visualize the sound file for a more precise synchronization.
Given the start of Galen's piece, i opted to play the Piano 2 part (Piano 1 starts with running 16th notes, while Piano 2 starts with a sustained set of tied whole notes - easier for lining up the tempo) But when i started working on it, i was struck with how incredibly difficult it was to remain synchronized with the recording! Who knew that three note figures could be arranged in such maddeningly diverse patterns? I never imagined that the simplest elements could have such dastardly difficulties deeply embedded within them! The slowly dispersing pulse shifts, the out-of-phase harmonic drifts - i began to realize that Charlemagne Palestine's re-definition of so-called minimalist music as "MAX-imalist" is wonderfully accurate, as you are working with massive spectrums of time, rhythm, and slowly evolving harmonic blends that create a timeless sense of scale and aura. This was hard stuff!!
I used Audacity not only for the audio playback for the Piano 1 part, but also for visual track annotation: i was able to add placemarker letters on a label track that corresponded to key points in the score.
One concern i had was getting clear enough audio feedback so that i could accurately hear the recorded part. One little slip and realignment would be virtually impossible, given the speed and the lack of discernible musical contour! I originally planned to use noise-cancelling headphones, but silly me - i accidentally left them at home! Turns out the Audio Visual department at CUNY is amazing
- they had some really nifty equipment, one being this device that could pull a clean signal from the headphone-out jack of my Compaq TC1100 Tablet PC:
Instead of using an eyesore pair of headphones, they also had a monitor speaker that did a surprisingly good job of feeding the audio back to the performer:
Tablet PC's to the rescue! I simply cannot imagine going back to using human page turners or even human CD/tape operators, given the complexity of this kind of music and the tight synchronization that needs to occur nonstrop throughout the piece! You may notice in the picture above that instead of using two Fujitsu Stylistic tablet pc's that i'm starting to use the smaller (10 inch screen) Compaq TC1100 for ancillary functions, like audio playback and visual elements (more on this in a sec!)
Kudos to Galen for a terrific composition! I hope to get a copy of the recording from him - maybe he'll be kind enough to let me post it here? It's really full of terrific energy and sonic textures - and i think the performance went pretty well too! :)
Moving on to David's trio for Piano, Marimba and Electronic Organ, which closed the recital (Galen's piece closed the first half of the program). It's interesting to note that - correct me if i'm wrong, David - this is the first time his work has been performed live by live musicians! Hopefully this will the first of many, many performances of his work which really deserves some serious exposure! As i mentioned above, i was the organist for this setup - the fiendish pianistic duties were taken up by Daniel Beliavsky, and the rock-solid rhythmic backbone was provided by marimbist-extraordinare Bill Solomon.
Minimalist music is tricky at best when played alone; in collaboration with others, it can be absolutely nightmarish, as the slightest miscount can quickly lead to disastrous results, given how difficult it is to re-orient yourself when the musical contours are as featureless as a Texan highway! That's not to say the music is boring - nothing could be further from that! The blending textures and rhythmic collisions create an aural canvas that is both immediately accessible to the ear and hypnotic in its epic scale of motion, drift, suspension and bloom. During our rehearsal the Friday before the concert, Daniel came up with the question: was there any way to have the score projected and automatically tracked so that we could follow along in case we got lost? The complex answer to that is "yes", there are programs like Home Concert Xtreme
that do a really impressive job of 'tracking' piano performances with a scrolling score - the main problem in this situation lay in the fact that we were using an acoustic piano, not a MIDI keyboard. I believe AMuseTek makes an acoustic score tracking program, but it only works with solo piano (and i would be very dubious about its accuracy if the acoustic signature of the performance space was anything less than sterile - which it NEVER is, given echo, candy wrappers, and invasive cell phone chirps...) Rather than try something complex, i suggested we do something really really simple: create a slide presentation (using Liquid Media
, my de facto presentation program heads and tails over PowerPoint) that would simply display the rehearsal letters corresponding to key spots in the score and sequentially triggered by a second Tablet PC and footswitch (exactly as i set up for Visual Recital performances). I initially thought about using my projector to throw the image up on my homemade screen, but then ditched that idea when i thought of the hassle of carrying all that extra equipment to NYC and back. Why not just use the TC1100 screen itself hoisted on a music stand? Turns out, we did one better: the AV guys had an extra 15 inch LCD monitor! The puppy was a little on the heavy side seated on the music stand, but fortunately it didn't tip over - voila, our 'virtual conductor', never yelling, never demeaning - if only real conductors could be as nice! LOL
David makes nice mention of my "tablet guru" geek outs on his blog
One big drawback of closing the halves of the program was the fact that i really couldn't sit out in the audience to experience the other pieces. The snippets i heard from rehearsals really sounded terrific - i hope Sequenza 21 will post audio clips from the recital on their site asap! One noteworthy piece was a live electronics work by Anthony Cornicello entitled "The Gloved One"
and featuring a P5 virtual reality
The resulting sound sculpture, blending elements of Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and other random sonic goodness was fascinating to hear and watch in rehearsal. Unfortunately, the Mac
Anthony was using kept crashing, resulting in a protracted intermission and a re-ordering of the program while he nursed the setup to life (sorry, i have to harp on this a bit as a PC user: this is the THIRD mention of a Mac crash that i heard this week!)
Well, i have to admit that my Tablet PC did
crash - LITERALLY! After playing Galen's piece and getting ready for the intermission reset, one of the stage workers inadvertently closed the piano music rack while my Fujitsu Tablet PC was still on it!!!
Yes, folks, that's right: the tablet pc tumbled to the floor with a heart-sickening crash! A horrified gasp sucked the air out of the hall and stage for a few heart-stopping moments. I bent down, fully expecting a spider-web of LCD screen cracks - well, well, well, wouldn't you know? Aside from a few faint barely discernible scratches, the Fujitsu powered up with almost a twinkle in its eye and a beefy smile through its Microsoft-inspired glowing display! Not that i ever
want to test that capability again, but it was amazing to see how durable and well-built this puppy turned out to be! What a relief!! (FYI, i had the scores to the recital copied onto the TC1100 just in case of disaster, enabling me to use that unit for the performance if necessary - backup, backup, backup!)
I'll post some more pictures from the concert as soon as i'm able to - i also want to scan and post a PDF of the program, as the other composers and their works really need to be mentioned in this blog.
A few suggestions for improving the next Sequenza 21 concert:
Please leave room in the program for posting the performers' bios. While the focus is indeed on the composers and their works, it would seem to be more consistent within the collaborative spirit of this kind of project to share the credit with everyone involved
The CUNY security detail rushed everyone out of the hall at the conclusion of the concert, which ran way, way overtime (almost 3 hours by my count...), leaving no time for the yummy reception that sadly went untasted and the interpersonal mingling that had to be relegated to the post-concert restaurant for a small handful of us. The program needs to be scaled back in length - my suggestion would be no more than 2 hours max for the entire show, keeping in mind the time necessary for setup/takedown between works and the intermission.
this would be the perfect venue for a Visual Recital performance! LOL - sorry for the plug, but part of the presentation should not only be the exposure of contemporary composers and their works, but also new and innovative ways to bring the everyday audience into the experience. Visual accompaniments might be a powerful enhancement to these types of concerts.
Streaming audio and Video cameras. It would be great - someday - if we could have the concert streamed over the internet live. It would also be wonderful if we had an array of video cameras to capture the event, even if only in post-production. Next time i'll have to remember to bring my fleet of camcorders just in case...
Kudos to the Sequenza 21 team for a ground-breaking event and for the new friendships that have sprung from this fantastic collaboration!
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November 17, 06
WGBH Highlights from the 2006 International Keyboard Institute and Festival
Here's a kind email from WGBH in Boston that i'd like to share with my readers - mark your Tuesday calendars for the rest of the year!
I thought this might be something of interest to both you and your readers.......
WGBH Radio presents...
Highlights from the 2006 International Keyboard Institute & Festival
Every Tuesday Morning in November and December at 10am
Streaming worldwide at www.wgbh.org/listen
Broadcasting in New England on 89.7 FM
This July, award winning pianist and WGBH's Classics in the Morning host Cathy Fuller traveled to Mannes College in New York City with a recording crew for the 2006 International Keyboard Institute & Festival. Each Tuesday in November and December, she presents highlights from the festival on WGBH Radio. Here's the rundown:
Pianist Jeffrey Swann’s An Evening chez Mme. Verdurin—Music in the World of Marcel Proust
Pianist Leslie Howard's The Russian Romantic Piano Sonata–1848-1907
Beijing-born pianist Yuan Sheng
Venezuelan-American pianist Vanessa Perez
Japanese pianist Akiko Ebi
Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin
Hope you get a chance to enjoy!
Edgar B. Herwick III
Senior Marketing Coordinator
(617) 300 - 2664
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November 16, 06
Running through my PJ's
Being an incredibly busy musician is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you're busy as a working musician - the curse is, well, that you're busy
, making it a challenge to find enough time to really learn and maintain your repertoire...
Patrick Merrill made reference to a technique that Garrick Ohlsson uses
, taking tricky passages of music and turning them into finger exercises. I've been doing something very similar, but in a much more beefed up mode thanks to my Tablet PC and a free applet called Snipping Tool (bundled in Microsoft's free Experience Pack for Tablet PC's
). Basically, the Snipping Tool allows me to take digital 'clippings' of whatever is on the screen, enabling me to paste them into other documents like a virtual scrapbook - or in my case, a Practice Journal (PJ).
I've been using PJ's extensively to keep on top of repertoire that needs maintenance, extra attention, and efficient workouts. For my most recent 2-piano recital in Arizona with Walter Cosand, my PJ's were invaluable to distill the most difficult passages into 'cliff note' versions, so that if i only had 15 minutes or so i could still hit those 'danger spots' without wasting time looking through the music for them.
Here's an example of my Brahms F minor sonata (2-piano version) PJ:
Another cool thing about making digital PJ's is that i can clip page turn spots so that i can work on the transition without interruptions (yes, even a footswitch page turner can be somewhat disruptive, especially when you have to go over something again and again):
All the clipping images are pasted right into Windows Journal, the Tablet PC's version of Notepad that's included in the OS. Sure beats photocopying and breaking out the scissors, glue sticks and spiral binders...
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November 15, 06
Liquid Luggage Limits
Ugh...so much for avoiding checked luggage in airports...
I totally forgot about the new restrictions on carrying liquids in carry-on luggage. The Transportation Security Administration
has their guidelines
posted as follows:
Liquids, gels and aerosols must be in three-ounce or smaller containers and in a one-quart, zip-top bag.
There are exceptions for certain medical liquids, like baby formula and other over-the-counter medications, but they must be declared for further inspections - see the above guideline link
for more details. If you need to carry more than the 3 ounce limit of a particular shampoo (or in my case, my favorite hair sculpting wax...), you'll need to stow the toilettries and sundry liquids in checked luggage instead.
Fortunately, no bags lost on this trip...next time i'll remember to bring my zip-lock baggies...
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November 06, 06
The Pack List (quick trip version)
Travel season is upon me now - concerts in Arizona, and next month in Brazil. What with the crazy rush to get music and Visual Recital materials prepared, i thought it might be a good idea to run through a quick "pack list" for a glimpse into how i try to keep my bags as light as possible, avoiding check-in baggage as much as possible (one of the benefits of being a pianist as opposed to, say, a cellist...) - keep in mind, this is primarily for trips up to about a week or so in length. Extended tours would definitely require at least one additional large check-in suitcase...
In my Tech Bag:
Primary Computer: Fujitsu Stylistic ST5022D Tablet PC
ST5022D charger cord
ST5022D extended batteries (2)
battery charger pack
extra Tablet PC pen
sheet of rubber anti-slip grip material (2 sheets - one for each computer)
Secondary Computer: Compaq TC1100 Tablet PC (i'll be using this for internet access and office work, since the TC1100's attached keyboard is so much more compact and convenient than taking my wireless keyboard for the ST5022D
TC1100 charger cord
Toshiba ultra thin 60 gig portable hard drive - my Visual Recital files will be stored on this drive, comprising of Liquid Media presentation files, image libraries, and video clip collections
USB interface cable for Toshiba drive
Samsung i730 Pocket PC PDA Phone (never leave home without it these days
charger pack for Samsung i730 Pocket PC PDA Phone (leaving the USB cradle at home, since i can sync the i730 to my ST5022D wirelessly via infrared port
Sony Cybershot DSC-T7 digital camera (for my blog pictures, of course!)
charger pack for DSC-T7
USB cable for DSC-T7
Video iPod (loaded up with the latest episodes of "Heroes", "Battlestar Galactica", NPR stuff and new novels to read)
charger cable for Video iPod
Samson C01U USB Condensor Microphone - this has turned into such a valuable practice tool for recording rehearsals that i dare not leave home without it nowadays, even given its relative bulk and weight
C01U portable mike stand (a nifty, compact stand, meant for tabletop support)
USB cable for C01U
Keep in mind, this is seasonal - winter travel to cold climates may necessitate carry-on luggage due to clothing bulk...
- in my handy Skyroll luggage bag, which rolls my clothes up in an innovative, space saving and wrinkle-preventing design:
Suit and pants
concert dress shirt
extra dress shirt
2 ties, contrasting colors
extra belt (i usually wear one - this extra would be a contrasting color)
short sleeve "nice" shirt
for each day of travel (within a week - 10 days), 1 pair socks, 1 undershirt, 1 boxer brief
sandals (climate permitting - helps cut down on necessity of bringing socks)
- in my toilettrie bag, which is usually already prepped and ready to take along in a moment's notice - more detail than you really want to know, huh? I read somewhere that Wolf Blitzer keeps a toilettrie/travel bag ready-packed at all times...
battery-operated toothbrush (used to carry around rechargeable units, but too often kept forgetting to plug them in - much easier and convenient to use batteries instead)
toothpaste (travel size, of course)
body wash cloth (neat japanese design - very compact, great as a "pouffy", especially for washing backs)
hair sculpting wax - i really have to do a blog on this product, the best thing for working with hair that i've found to date - hope airport security doesn't force me to throw this away...
compact lint brush (reeeeaaaalllllyy thin little puppy)
moisturizing cream from mini hotel-provided bottles
body wash squeezed into travel bottle
accessory box filled with french cuff links, tuxedo shirt studs, and button covers
If i'm forgetting something, it's because it's late at night and my brain has long since shut down...feel free to send me your travel pack lists for comparison! Note how digital tools help me to avoid taking things like paper music, pens/pencils, blank paper, etc...
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November 02, 06
Visual Recital 1.4 - debugging mode part 2
i was in such a rush to get this morning's blog off that i didn't actually get around to talk about the debugging process for my visuals.
What is debugging?
"Debugging" is a term used in computer programming circles to describe the process of testing out programs that are almost finished to find problems - otherwise known as "bugs". Running the program from start to finish, testing for flaws, tweaking the code to improve performance and work out problems - all the things that should be done to ensure that the program runs as it should before releasing it to the public.
I'll go into more detail as i have time, but here are some of the "bugs" i've had to work with in assembling my Visual Recital (version 1.4 for next Thursday's performance at Cabrini College - details on my MySpace
The program runs fine on my primary Fujitsu Stylistic ST5022D Tablet PC - that's the machine i assembled the visuals on with Liquid Media - but i'd really love to run it off of my Compaq TC 1100 (the second one, originally intended as a backup unit for my son's Tablet PC - subsequently "taken back" by Dad because he loves it so much!). The TC1100 offers a smaller footprint, making it more comfortable on the piano music rack, and it has the potential to run faster than my secondary Fujitsu which only has a 1.0 Ghz clock speed (the TC1100 is rated at 1.2 Ghz) - i want to keep my ST5022D as my music reader, since the screen is so much brighter with a wider viewing angle than my other Fujitsu. I just ordered a 1 Gig RAM upgrade for the TC1100, so hopefully that will do the trick...
Video codec issues abound, since the TC1100 is a 'naked' system (another reason why i want to run the visuals off of that machine, as there's less 'clutter') - several of the sequences use MP4, a newer video file format that compresses video files to a much smaller size with a nice speed performance. Even with Quicktime Pro and the latest Windows Media Player 11 installed (both are video players from Apple and Microsoft respctively), i somehow couldn't get Liquid Media within the TC1100 to access the MP4's properly. Finally found the solution by downloading an MP4 codec from www.3ivx.com. That seems to have solved that problem...
While the ability to export Liquid Media presentations as single files is terrific, it also creates these MONSTER size files. With PowerPoint, all video files are accessed within the program from the files' original directory locations. That means, if you move your PowerPoint file to another computer, you need to copy over the video files and their directories in an identically named location on the new computer. That can be a real pain when your files are scattered all over the place, from different directories, to different drives...ugh! LM solves that with its single file export option, but the resulting file size can take forever to load up. No problem if it's preloaded at the beginning of the recital, but what about between works? I originally had individual LM presentation files for each piece (3 files for the 3 Vernacular Dances by Charles Griffin, 3 files for John Carollo's Preludes), but the resulting delay between the pieces was unacceptable. Fortunately, there's a way to combine multiple presentation files within LM. The next option i tried was to create 2 files - one containing Charlie's pieces, the other containing John's. Still too much lag between them (i mean, applause can only last so long...) Final solution seems to be to combine EVERYTHING into one massive file...i'm just worried that it might be slowing the whole presentation down overall. I'll see if that's still an issue after installing the RAM tonight...
Footwork! Wow, i really need to practice my pedal changes! With the speed advantages of Liquid Media, i programmed some complex visual triggers - that means my left foot is getting a real workout! Makes me wish i practiced my organ pedal technique more as a kid...
I have the Powerpoint versions of Poulenc's "Story of Babar" and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" as a default backup, but if i have time i'd love to "upgrade" them to Liquid Media format...no rest for the weary...
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Visual Recital version 1.4 - debugging mode
The new visual materials have been 90% assembled at this point within Skunklab's Liquid Media
multimedia presentation program. The more i work within Liquid Media's software platform, the more i'm struck with the startling similarities between programming and practicing music. Time spent with any piece of music, beyond just learning notes and hammering out technical difficulties, reveals character nuances, shades of coloring, aspects of dramatic - or comic - timing... i imagine so much of the archaeologist's joy in peeling off layers of soil and debris to reveal fossils or ancient artifacts must share a lot in common with the musician's labors. What kind of voice would best capture the energy of this line? Perhaps waiting a shade longer before re-entering after those rests would make for better dramatic effect...here's a neat chord! i really want to inflect that for a pungent flavor!
When i take these musical contemplations into the software environment, the creative and reflective aspects are virtually indistinguishable (maybe becausei've always tried to 'visualize' my music in one form or another, whether by creating a pseudo story, or by painting a mental scene to reflect the music's ambiance ) Here's a spot that needs lots of energy! Need to find a powerful contrast of colors to reflect that... that image needs to blend in slower to reflect the taper of that chord...that fugal line really could use an interesting juxtaposition of layered image textures here...the climax point of that line needs a more powerful visual build up and peak moment...
i'm looking back on my first visual presentations and finding myself aghast at how primitive they seem already. Even with my learning curve being at the bottom when i made my early presentations, i quickly discovered PowerPoint's graphical limitations. Worse, the more complex the scene, the more subject PowerPoint was to stutter performance hiccups - a terrible thing to experience when you're in the middle of a piece and need to have the next image pop up at the precise time! My largest PowerPoint presentation file comes in at around 25 MB - in contrast, my current Liquid Media file is weighing in at around 700 MB. The amazing thing is that the 700 pound LM gorilla dances like Baryshnikov around the PowerPoint elephant, with incredible speed and - most important - performance reliability.
Here are two snapshots that contrast the graphic capabilities of PowerPoint and Liquid Media:
In PowerPoint, i used multiple images to fade in sequentially - nice, simple effect:
In Liquid Media, i can not only fade in multiple images, i can also have several video clips running behind them as backdrop, and set transparency levels for each individual element, making for an incredibly dynamic scene:
i'm hoping to put together a couple of screencast tutorials on working with Liquid Media. Once i got my head around a few key concepts, i was able to appreciate just how powerful and flexible the program really is. Liquid Media is to a nicely regulated Steinway, as PowerPoint is to...well, a Pearl River
upright, i suppose...
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