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February 28, 09
February 20, 09
February 13, 09
The Magic of Filter Keys
I was just cleaning up my piano room and had my Acer Aspire 1 Netbook set to play my "Coldplay" station on Pandora. I accidentally put a small XLR cable on top of a portion of the netbook's keyboard, and it happened to be depressing the right "shift" key - a few moments later, i heard a strange chirp from the netbook and took a look. A dialogue box had popped up, asking if i wanted to turn on "Filter Keys".
Having no idea what that was all about, i clicked around some of the settings options - lo and behold, this is a nifty little applet!! One of the problems i've had with various page turning pedals is that they sometimes "double-bounce", turning 2 or more pages at a time. MusicReader
mitigates that beautifully by introducing a programmable keystroke delay, but this can still be a problem with other programs like PDF Annotator. Now, it looks like Filter Keys will do just the same thing - the ideal setting seems to be to set Filter Keys to ignore repeated keystrokes, with programmable delays that can be set from 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds.
I'm going to play around with Filter Keys a bit more and share my findings - by the way, to activate Filter Keys within Windows XP or Vista, hold the "Shift" key down for 8 seconds until the dialogue popup appears.
Macs apparently have this option also - you can read about setting up filter keys for Macs here:
For more details on the Windows version of Filter Keys, visit the link below:
In Windows Vista, you can set up filter keys and other advanced keyboard settings by going to the Control Panel, then clicking the "Ease of Access Center", then clicking on the "Make the keyboard easier to use" link option.
Happy accidents! I guess that means i really ought to clean up my rooms more often...
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February 12, 09
February 10, 09
New Facebook Group for AirTurn!
I've just created a new group on Facebook for AirTurn fans! You can click on the following link to jump right to the group page:
If you're not currently a member of Facebook, you'll be given an opportunity to sign up for the free social networking service.
The AirTurn/Facebook group page will be a great way to announce upcoming workshops and events, as well as a place to discuss the AirTurn, MusicReader, and other music technology issues.
To get things started on the discussion wall, i posted my "Top 10 Reasons why i love being a "Paperless Pianist":
10. No more desperate last-minute searches for a human page turner!
9. 6000 scores come with me EVERYWHERE I GO!!
8. No more "i left my music at home" excuses!
7. No more muscle aches from carrying boxes and boxes of paper music at audition time!
6. I can mark up my music in pretty colors
5. I can erase all the pretty colors from my music effortlessly and non-destructively
4. I get to mess with audiences when they ask, "how in the world do the pages turn by themselves?" (top responses: "The computer reads my mind"; "Facial recognition technology - when i glare at the screen, the pages turn")
3. I get to pretend I'm a mentat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentat) when folks think i've memorized the whole chamber music program, due to the AirTurn being such a discreet page turner!
2. $20 for the entire works of Chopin on a single CD from CD Sheet Music!!
...and the #1 reason:
1. The Ents love me! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ent)
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February 09, 09
My Netbook to the Musical Rescue
As much as i've been enjoying my experience substituting my "regular" HP laptop in place of my Fujitsu Tablet PC as a music reader, there is one distinct disadvantage in the traditional laptop form factor for pianists: it just doesn't work with upright pianos. Upright pianos have a very narrow music rack, and most clamshell laptops just don't open flat enough to be placed comfortably on such a tight lip, despite the fact that MusicReader has a screen rotate application to enable portrait views.
This past Saturday, i had to accompany my piano student for a concerto competition and was confronted with this very dilemma. Normally, piano competitions provide two grand pianos for the solo and orchestra reduction parts, but for some inexplicable reason this particular school had an upright sitting next to their grand. I should've brought my Fujitsu as a backup just in case, but i had been so accustomed to packing the HP that it just didn't occur to me that i would run across the upright problem.
One thought was to try just placing the HP on top of the upright, angling the screen down and bringing it as close to the edge as possible. That actually wasn't as bad as i thought; it was just a little disorienting having to look up so high to see the music. Then another thought occurred to me: what about my little Acer Aspire One Netbook?
I had already tried it out as a mini music reader for backstage practice at a previous concert. Thanks to MusicReader's magnificent half-page view option, the music was surprisingly comfortable to read even on that tiny 8 in. screen. Here's a view of it on my home piano -
While the Acer clamshell doesn't open completely flat, the smaller form factor of the netbook was just the right size to fit on the narrow lip of the upright piano. The AirTurn USB wireless page turner receiver dongle can be inserted on either side of the computer (not pictured here):
Here are some views with the HP on top compared to the Acer on the music rack - you can see my AirTurn pager turner with the 2 FS-5U pedal setup on the floor below:
The camera really doesn't do justice to how well the music appears on the screen (due to backlight glare) - the netbook's portrait mode works surprisingly well to view an entire page of music! Even though i didn't bring my Acer's power cord, it fortunately still held an 80% charge which was more than enough to get through the 2nd movement of the Saint-Saens G minor Piano Concerto.
Not a bad application for a low-cost $300 netbook, eh? Methinks a real digital music reading revolution could take place with these types of low-cost computers!
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February 07, 09
My PianoDisc Adventure
Oh my - has it been a week already since my trip to Sacramento? I've been meaning to write about my PianoDisc recording session with Maurice ever since we got back...first on the plane ride back, then on the train rides to and from work...somehow, i think the trip fried my brain more than i realized and i just couldn't muster the mental focus to pen the account that i had swirling around in my head. Ah well - thanks to my Samsung Omnia's 5 MP camera and the lovely pictures and videos that Maurice's wife Devorah took, i can at least give a pictorial account of that amazing project!
Here i am in front of the entrance to the main headquarters of PianoDisc, an amazing company that manufactures reproducing piano actions. Unlike the old, noisy, pneumatic-action/vacuum-operated turn-of-the century reproducing actions that Hoffman and Debussy raved about, these modern miracles of musical technology are completely silent and are capable of capturing and replaying performances with the full range of MIDI expression. PianoDisc actions can be installed on virtually any acoustic piano, and if i recall correctly can already be found on one out of every 4 Steinway pianos on the market today.
Maurice and i get our first look at a Mason & Hamlin with the PianoDisc action inside the PianoDisc lobby. PianoDisc, by the way, is a subsidiary of the Mason & Hamlin piano manufacturing company, which also makes the Sync-A-Vision music rack monitor and computer interface for PianoDisc, which you'll see in just a bit.
Here i am inside one of the main "recording" studios at PianoDisc, putting my autograph one of their pianos. "Recording" is actually done by capturing the physical actions of the key and pedal strokes on a specially equipped acoustic piano and rendering them as MIDI signals, rather than capturing the audio sounds themselves. The advantage to this system is that you can fix every note to a far greater degree than you can with raw audio.
Another photo op in the PianoDisc recording room, this time with Executive VP Tom Lagomarsino on the far left. What a wonderful guy! Turns out that we both are members of churches with Reformed distinctions, so i had the great honor of attending Sunday worship services with him and his lovely family right before flying back home!
Here's another view of the two pianos in that recording room - a concert grand Mason & Hamlin on the left, and a similar sized Steinway on the right, with comfy couches along the back wall ;)
Originally, i was planning to use my HP laptop to read the music, but when i realized the PianoDisc folks had an extra Sync-A-Vision monitor available in a matching color to the piano we were going to use for the video session, i proposed using that instead. Here is a shot of the Sync-A-Vision being set up for an initial test, connected to my laptop which in turn has the AirTurn wireless page turning system plugged in (you can see the pedals and transmitter on the floor in front of the piano)
The actual video was shot at a separate video facility called The Studio Center, a few miles away from the PianoDisc headquarters. Here is a shot of the nondescript outside of the video studio building:
Studio owner Frank Casanova gives a welcoming smile in the midst of a very busy day of shooting!
Here's a first look at the studio setup. The background color was created with colored gels on overhead spotlights. The cardboard on the floor was to keep our shoes from tracking dirt on the white concrete floor while the lighting and camera setup was finalized. The room was designed so that the floor and walls curve seamlessly together, resulting in a space that doesn't have any corners or angle shadows.
We arrived at the set around 10 am and spent a good 3 hours with prep work - adjusting the lighting to get uniform color and white balance; moving spots to minimize shadows from the piano lid (turns out that the lid on full stick cast too much shadow over me seated at the piano, so we tried to revert to half-stick, only to discover that for some inexplicable reason the half-stick had been removed! Our ever-resourceful crew managed to come up with a stick of wood which they proceeded to cover in black gaffe tape for a pretty good facsimile!)
Here are some setup shots showing some of the steps involved in getting all the lights, cameras and monitors into position:
The Mac computer on the table was used to capture the MIDI signals from the PianoDisc action. We had to somehow isolate the sounds of the acoustic piano from blending into the overhead boom mic for the violin so that the final MIDI edits for the piano wouldn't clash with the audio signals.
3 Canon XH-A1 HD cameras were used for the shoot - two set on stationary tripods, and this one on a really cool boom jig that allowed the operator to swing the camera around for some beautiful overhead shots and smooth pans! Yes, i want all these lovely toys for my next birthday!!
A little dim, but here's the view of the camera setup from my position at the piano:
Boom mic being adjusted to isolate Maurice's sound. A lot of "hurry up and wait" with all this setup!
Our producer/director Rich Glazier giving some instructions before shooting begins. Rich is an amazing pianist specializing in Gershwin and other masters of American Song - he's featured in his own video performance for PianoDisc and concertizes around the world on a regular basis.
Another shot of Rich in the "director's chair". A dry marker slate for marking shots sits on the table in front of him. Every take began with Rich's wife Jan standing in front of all cameras, announcing the name of the scene, the take count, holding the slate in front of all 3 cameras, all 3 cameramen indicating their rediness by saying "rolling", and the shot beginning with Rich's command of "Action".
Here's a great shot of me at the piano using the Sync-A-Vision piano rack monitor. No, that's not paper music!! That's actually MusicReader displaying double-page mode, running on my HP laptop hidden behind the piano on a laptop tripod and connected to the Sync-A-Vision via a standard VGA cable! Looks pretty amazing, doesn't it? Paired with my AirTurn page turner, you get an elegant high-tech presentation that just can't be matched!!
From this angle, you can see how my HP laptop sits on its own tripod. This tripod features a stable, flat top for a secure computing surface.
Final run-throughs before filming begins...
Thanks to Devorah surreptitiously filming us with her own handheld camcorder, we have some previews of the shoot before it gets edited to HD Blue-Ray DVD. Here's a take of me playing an impromptu performance of Debussy's "Clair de lune" (somehow, Maurice lost his music for the violin/piano arrangement right before shooting, so i volunteered to play the original solo version on the spot...)
Seeing how well AirTurn and MusicReader worked with Sync-A-Vision, Rich agreed to let me take a few moments to shoot a brief "infomercial" about all the musical technologies used to produce our video - here's a clip of me starting with a blooper, then somehow collecting my thoughts to get through this take:
Here are some post shoot pictures - you can see the original color of the floor and wall without the gel lighting:
Notice the "fake" half-stick for the piano lid? Kinda hard to tell with such a small picture, i suppose...we'll see how obvious it turns out in Hi-Definition video...
Kudos to John, our tireless camera jig operator!
Of course, the best part of any performance are the meals that follow! Here are some shots of two very tired and hungry musicians! This one at Malobar:
...and this one at the P.F.Chang's restaurant in downtown Sacramento:
Maurice's ever-encouraging wife Devorah:
The intrepid video/musician team of Rich and Jan Glazier!
Can't wait to see how this video production turns out! Stay tuned, dear readers!
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