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July 31, 07

A Busy, Busy Month

Many apologies, Folks - just got back from Oneonta, NY where i gave a masterclass and a Visual Recital tech demo/lecture at the New York Summer Music Festival, showing off some of the latest visualizations (a huge improvement since last year's show!) and featuring the Pianoteq piano simulation program, fully replacing the acoustic instrument in concert. Funny enough, i had the same difficulties keeping up with blog posts last July - just a seasonal thing, i suppose. While the actual posts have been spotty, there's a lot brewing in the kettle. As soon as i finish up my 2 piano recital with Walter Cosand this coming Thursday, 7:30 pm at The Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove (part of the OG Summer Stars series), i'll be able to ladle out some of the goodies as follows:

  • Video podcast from my Visual Recital Workshop at the 2007 Mad Cow Festival in Boulder, Colorado


  • Video and audio clips from my Summer Stars recital with Lidia Kaminska, Accordion and Brian Sacawa, Saxophone - an amazing acoustic combination that sounds terrific!


  • A video podcast interview with Brian Sacawa, shot right after our show together. Be sure to check out his fantastic blog, "Sounds Like Now"


  • Conclusion to the South Africa trip video podcast series - you can sense the running theme here, eh? Videos, videos, videos -


  • A "How to record digitally" instructional series of videos for the classical musician wanting an affordable, basic, DIY approach, made possible by some generous recording equipment donations - this series is way overdue, but hopefully as my schedule clears i'll be able to follow through quickly on my commitment to get this out. Should be lots of fun, and hopefully an encouragement for the tech-averse!


  • My summer reading list - yes, yes, i know, the summer is just about over, but i've been getting lost in so many wonderful books that i really want to share my late list. We'll rename it the "early autumn" reading list...and i'm sure i'll get chided for being so slow to catch on to several titles that have already enjoyed tremendous popularity!



  • Sounds like a plan...now i'm off to rehearse for Thursday's concert! See you soon!

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    July 23, 07

    Linux, the Un-Lyrical OS

    After installing Ubuntu, the "friendly" version of Linux onto Jayne, my newly donated RAID-capable pc, i found myself in a strange situation - something akin to having a custom-built Maserati with no wheels, or a Hamburg Steinway D with no keys - a beautiful operating system with tons of potential, but about as useless as eye candy for the working musician. The main problem simply is that i couldn't find drivers for the audio equipment i needed to interface with Linux, specifically my M-Audio Firewire 410 Mobile Recording Interface. M-Audio has a strange way of teasing folks with links to Linux drivers that spit out "n/a" - what's the deal with that?? Creative Labs doesn't even bother for their E-MU digital audio interfaces (another strikeout for my recently donated E-MU 0404 USB digital audio/MIDI interface), and all of the Linux/Ubuntu forums on the topic are filled with pleading net-urchins begging for developers to dole out respective drivers. I'm sure there's a way to get my basic MIDIMAN 1x1 USB interface cable to get recognized by Ubuntu, but installing drivers in the Linux universe is a major pain - the EZ-USB MIDI project is anything but "EZ".

    There are lists of compatible sound cards and digital audio interfaces, but frankly i'm not in a position to spend even more money on an OS that is frightfully immature with regard to audio and MIDI manipulation, even if the software is mostly open-source. Maybe if an older soundcard like the M-Audio Delta 1010LT gets donated my way, i'll be inclined to give the Linux thing another whirl, but for now i think it's better left as an Office alternative (and a good one at that). The current ratio of Linux geeking to productive output just isn't in the musician's favor yet, save for those who really enjoy splitting headaches.

    Lest i leave the impression that the Linux audio/MIDI world is completely bereft of helpful resources, here is my list of Linux Links for the Musician:

  • Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA) - a grass-roots attempt to develop audio and MIDI drivers for existing sound cards. Their newest sound card/driver matrix is available here.


  • Linux-Sound.org - a directory of Linux-compatible music hardware and software


  • Music Education with Linux Sound Tools - this is a terrific article with links to lots of neat programs (some are cross-compatible with Windows) for the active music teacher/student. Almost makes me wish i could really get Linux to talk to my microphones and Roland RD-700SX...GNU Solfege in particular looks like a terrific program!


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    July 20, 07

    Digital Brinkmanship: Fiddling with OS's (and crashing drives!)

    You think i'd learn to leave well enough alone...
    A new computer with spiffy specs, and i just had to take it apart to see if i could 'improve' things a bit...i thought the machine had RAID capabilities, but for some reason the driver was missing (RAID is a means of using multiple hard drives to work in parallel, increasing computing speed and/or providing an automatic mirror backup). Even after re-jiggering the hard drive cables to their "correct" order, i still wasn't getting the RAID capabilities to work. So, after some Google researching, i tried the software-RAID approach, which required me to change my hard drives to dynamic drives within Windows XP.

    Uh-oh. Bad move.

    Upon rebooting, the Grub booter (a Linux program that installs itself in the master boot record, allowing users to select between multiple operating systems) hiccuped and spat out a mysterious "Error 5". Don't you just hate gobbledy-gook computer messages? Why couldn't it be, i dunno, INFORMATIVE?? Saying something like, "By the way, Linux doesn't operate within dynamic drives - sorry!" So there i was left, in boot-limbo - nothing going forward after "error 5".

    In a panic, i scoured the web for solutions - i tried booting up from the Ubuntu boot CD (i don't have the original XP disks - hey, the computer was a gift! can't have everything!), but even running the Ubuntu OS from the CD wouldn't allow me to reinstall onto dynamic drives. There didn't seem to be any way to directly edit or remove Grub from the master boot record (the MBR is the very first partition a computer reads for booting/loading instructions). This wasn't looking good.

    Luckily, i came across the MBR Tool, a freeware app that seemed to be designed specifically for danger-geeks like me who just have to play boot-roulette for CPU thrills! This magic tool has an option to burn itself onto a bootable CD-R - pop that baby into the moribund machine and you're whisked into a no-nonsense DOS-era menu where you're given several Master Boot manipulating options.

  • From the main menu, i selected option 4: work with a MBR (backup, restore, display etc.)


  • In the next menu, i selected option 9: write/refresh bootcode (/RBC)


  • Thereupon removing the MBR Tool CD, i rebooted the machine - held my breath - panicked at the black screen of...er...nothingness...

    ...then felt my heart leap as the ol' familiar Windows XP load screen bloomed like summer grass onto my happy monitor!

    That was scary!! Almost thought i'd have to go to the store to plunk down way too much money for a full version of Vista...anyway, now i'm happily repartitioning my drives and preparing them for a software-based RAID setup. That of course means that Ubuntu is no longer on my system...reasons for that will be in my next blog post.

    In case another lost soul is scouring the web because of a lost windows password situation, i came across a neat linux-based password-recovery program that can be burned onto a bootable CD-R. Not that this particular program was needed in my instance, but between the MBR Tool and this Password recovery app i hope this post helps some crazy geek out there wringing their hands over their own dual-boot Windows/Linux nightmare. My heart bleeds for you...boot in peace.

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    July 19, 07

    MMT #36 - Interview with Gary Schocker

    Last week i had the opportunity to work with Gary Schocker at his Flute Seminar in Poughskeepie, NY. Gary Schocker is one of those fascinating artists that seem to live several lives concurrently. A world-renowned flutist, a remarkable pianist, and a prolific composer, Gary's artistic career is as unique as his mirepoix of talents. Gary is the most published living composer of literature for the flute.

    The interview runs about 31:25 in length and is presented as an MP3 file.

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    July 14, 07

    The Dazzling Desktop

    Oh, silly silly Linux newbie me! Naively thinking that Ubuntu's simplistic default desktop defined the linux experience!


    Video of Linux's Beryl 3D Desktop Capabilities


    Took a little bit of figuring out, but now i have a 3D rotating cube desktop with gorgeous glass-plated windows! This is just too much fun!!!



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    July 13, 07

    Jumping into Linux-Land with Ubuntu

    I've always had an envious eye on the Linux community, dreaming of one day having a machine that could 'dual boot' Windows and Linux (i believe "Linux" is pronounced "Lee-nicks" - please correct me if my geek-speak is wrong!). For those of you not familiar with this, Linux is the "other" operating system that is the flagship of the whole Open Source movement (Microsoft has Windows, Apple has - well - an apple, and Linux has that cute penguin mascot). Although free for downloading, Linux has always been a daunting OS for computer newbies - various flavors of the code made it difficult to know which one to download, and more often than not i would hear horror stories of installation difficulties and missing drivers for critical components that would cripple the OS...definitely not for the faint of heart, until now.


    Ubuntu is a new flavor of Linux that tries to offer a simple installation experience and a graphical user interface (GUI) that mimics elements of both Windows and Apple's OS X (or 9 - not being a mac guy, Ubuntu's elegant desktop doesn't have quite the polish or eye candy of the other commercial OS's). Dell Computers apparently thinks highly enough of this build to include it in an entirely new batch of laptops as the primary OS, breaking out of the Microsoft Windows/Vista mold.


    Thanks to a generous gift from Jake and Larry Fritkis (a super speedy computer with dual RAID drives! woo hoo!!), i finally had a machine clean enough (read: not filled to the brim with programs and multimedia audio/video files) to try installing Ubuntu.


    An earlier attempt at an Ubuntu installation on an older machine quickly revealed that the drivers for my Linksys wireless network cards were not included. You'll need to check with Ubuntu's support forums to find the lists of compatible network cards. Since my new machine (we'll call him Jayne) didn't have one, this gave me a chance to pick up a new Netgear WG311T Wireless PCI adapter.


    i wish i could say that my Ubuntu installation was smooth and painless, but it wasn't. That being said, it was much easier than i had actually expected. i actually had to reinstall the OS twice, as the first installation kept freezing up Jayne, but now i think i have it finally running on all pistons. This blog article, in fact, is being written via a neat little Linux applet that allows me to post directly from my desktop, bypassing the normal "open browser/navigate to administrative panel/login/open edit windows" procedure. I'm also using "Thoggen", a DVD video ripper to extract the video from my latest trip to Boulder, Colorado where i ran a Visual Recital workshop with a group of amateur and professional visual artists (video coming soon!) Lots of neat looking programs to start exploring, all of them open source and free free free!


    More on my adventures in Linux-Land in coming posts as i explore the boundaries of Ubuntu...



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    July 05, 07

    Losing your piano and other travel hazards

    In all my jet-setting years, I've never had a piece of luggage lost from airline travel - until now. My return trip from South Africa has seen an unprecedented level of frustration with British Airways for SOMEHOW managing to lose my digital piano. Not only the ATA slimline travel case and the Casio Privia PX-110, but also my beloved Justice Visions Portable Camera Scanner (looks like this isn't being made anymore - a newer JV-300 digital camera with gooseneck lens might be the replacement for this type of portable document scanner, but i'll have to look into it further...) as well as one of my page turning pedals...i'm estimating the total loss at around $2000.

    For crying out loud, it's not like i lost a backpack or a suitcase - this is a freaking huge PIANO!! It's like saying an elephant is suddenly missing from the zoo - how in the world do you "lose" something that big?? Then again, we are talking about airlines...

    Thankfully, Gary had the foresight to purchase travel insurance for everyone through AIG Travel Guard - it seems that they can cover up to $3000 of baggage loss, but i'll need to confirm that. Compensation doesn't kick in until British Airways 'fesses up to losing my piano - that can take up to 45 days according to BA - and then we'd have to see how much BA is willing to fork over.

    In preparation for my Colorado trip tomorrow, i went ahead and purchased additional travel insurance through Access America, which services many of the online trip reservation websites (like Hotwire and CheapTickets.com). Unfortunately, they can only cover baggage loss up to $1000 - but that's certainly better than the standard $300 loss coverage, i suppose. The additional policy was only $15 and can be purchased up to the day before you fly.

    I should look into what travel insurance (if any) is offered by credit card companies when you purchase tickets on your Visa or Mastercard. If anyone knows of any other third party insurance companies that can specifically cover baggage loss i'd love to hear about them.

    Lesson for the flying digital musician: get travel insurance. You never know when an elephant gets lost in Terminal E...

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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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