February 05, 08
Visual Recital Workshop at the Hamilton School
i can't think of many teachers better than good ol' experience, and certainly this past week's Visual Recital workshop at the Hamilton School proved to be a gold mine of learning on all fronts!
The session began with an initial visit with a group of the school's 4th - 6th graders. Cellist Susan Babini and pianist Michael Mizrahi had been introducing the group to the first movement of the Sonata in F major, Op. 99 by Johannes Brahms. Realizing that we were going to have limited class time with the kids, i chose to "pre-empt" the design of the visualizations by selecting a general theme and creating the visual backgrounds ahead of time. I wanted to present ideas that would be as contextually familiar to the West Philadelphia students as possible, so Bonnie Slobodien and i brainstormed the idea of "Two Views of the Schuylkill River" (wow, you know you're from Philadelphia if you can not only pronounce that word correctly - "Skoo-Kill" - but also spell it from memory!!) The basic idea was to show contrasting elements in the music, such as:
The Schuylkill River is the main body of water that runs through Philadelphia, featuring a major highway on one end and a lovely park on the other. Initially i was going to stick with just a riverside highway scene and a blank riverside park trail background, with the idea that the students would be encouraged to draw things that move fast on the highway (cars, trucks, motorcycles and whatnot), and contrasting things that you would find in a peaceful riverside park (trees, flowers, clouds, ducks, boats, etc.) Analyzing the Brahms made me realize that almost 8 minutes of music comprised the first movement, and that there was plenty of opportunity to feature other contrasting sections. I eventually came up with the following added backgrounds:
the Fast scene, featuring the Schuylkill Expressway
the Slow scene, featuring Kelly Drive (the scenic route next to the river)
a busy street scene, representing a part of town that lies next to the river and under some big highway overpasses - this was going to be the "busy" theme
Boathouse row, a picturesque series of crew houses used by local universities and crew clubs right along the river - this would be the "peaceful" theme
The Art Museum - this would represent the "majestic: grand" theme
The Ben Franklin Bridge at night - this would represent the "majestic: exciting" theme, with the students primarily drawing fireworks for this scene
We had two back to back classes to work with, for a total of about 60 students. Given the time restraints, we kept the art medium simple: crayon pencils on white paper, to be cut out and pasted with glue sticks onto black construction paper backgrounds.
What an amazing output of creativity! Giving the students empty scenes to work with, they all vied to produce several items for EVERY one of them!
Note to self: i thought that pasting the cut out pictures on black paper would make it easier to isolate the images for transparent backgrounds, but it turns out to be actually more tedious. Time can be saved by eliminating the cutout/gluestick actions, and the scanned images can be "lassoed" manually, copied and pasted onto transparent backgrounds, and saved as PNG image file formats.
Unlike the Mad Cow visual recital workshop in Colorado, i at least had about a week to scan in the images and place them into the scenery. Well, a jam-packed week so it turned out, what with the Greenfield Competition finals, all the rehearsals in preparation for that, and Karate graduations for the kids and me...it was a challenge to find the time to get this all done (which led to late, late night programming sessions...which then led to - kaff kaff - this yucky cold i came down with...)
Primary programs used for creating the visual backgrounds:
ArtRage 2, a fantastic program that can realistically simulate paint, markers, crayons, pencil, and a host of other physical media - works exceptionally well with Tablet PC's
Inkscape, the open source vector drawing program. I really fell in love with the simplicity of use with this one - i had been a longtime CorelDraw user back in the old days, so this was like working in old familiar territory. The "technical drawings", such as the Ben Franklin bridge, the highway and the yellow dividers, and anything else that required symmetry or precision was best crafted with Inkscape.
Primary programs used for cropping, cleaning, and in some cases making animations with the students' pictures:
Macromedia Fireworks - i'm sure i could use GIMP to extract the scanned images and paste them onto transparent backgrounds, but i just work faster in Fireworks...
Macromedia Flash - several kids came up with pictures that were almost identical (sunshine, flags, etc.), so i took advantage of some simple Flash layering and alpha fades to make animated blends between the pictures and exporting them as animated GIF's
Initially, i was only going to have static backgrounds with all of the image "actors" moving in automated loops within each scene. The only trigger points would be to advance to the next scene. Fortunately, i was able to get some great help from the developer of Liquid Media to create an "unlimited ammo" trigger system. Using the X-Keys USB 12-port switch interface
, i was able to incorporate 3 pedals - one to advance the scene, and two others to be used by the musicians to trigger events within specific scenes. For example, in the Fast highway scene, there was an active background of the highway zipping along and cars traveling over it. If the cellist stepped on her pedal, a series of special cars would drive by at a faster speed. If the pianist stepped on his pedal, helicopters would fly by the sky overhead.
Here are some pictures from Monday's VR workshop:
Mr. Guy Cannon's music classroom setup at the Hamilton School:
Susie giving a cello lesson to a curious student:
Michael surrounded by eager pianists:
Our indefatigable director of Education and Outreach from Astral, Bonnie Slobodien, encouraging the students to "respect our friends by listening quietly" - well, that lasted for a few seconds at least...
The main man himself, Mr. Guy Cannon - a cooler music teacher i have yet to meet!
Michael and Susie prep the students for the world premiere of "Brahms on the Schuylkill River":
Michael demonstrates how the cars can be triggered to zip by on the highway scene:
Student balloons float over the Art museum and Susie's head:
Susie and Michael performing during the Boathouse Row scene:
One concern that Bonnie and the musicians had was having the visuals overwhelm the students' reception of the music. I think we came up with some great activities to balance the excitement of having one's own artwork animated to live music and the need to encourage stronger listening skills:
I came up with the "Ta-DA" game on the spot, where the students were challenged to recognize and count the number of times the "Ta-DA" theme was played - ie, the 16th note to tied quarter notes motif that runs throughout the theme (highlighted in yellow):
When the theme fragment returns at the beginning of the development section, the "Ta-DA's" turn into "Oh-NO's!", highlighting the change to minor and its resulting shift in mood:
The Ta-DA's come back at the end as "Hoo-Ray" (or something to that effect), reflecting the heroic final statement of the motif in the last few measures - we thought of the association with something proud, noble, and majestic - like fireworks!
Interesting to point out how a rhythmic fragment can change somewhat, turning from 16ths -> half notes into 8ths and quarters.
Another listening game involved everyone closing their eyes and the musicians playing a random section of the movement. The students would have to guess which scene the music was associated with, then open their eyes to see if their guesses matched what was on the screen. It was quite remarkable to see how quickly they matched the musical associations we established with their artwork!
The most fun was having two students at a time come up and press the pedals to trigger the action themselves in synchronization with the musical motifs. This worked so well that i'm going to try to design future Visual Workshops with more pedals so that larger groups of students can get involved in activating the visual triggers in conjunction with the elements they hear in the music.
(Another note to self: kids remember everything they draw. I mean, EVERYTHING - i fit in almost all the pictures, but had to contend with a handful of disappointed faces when i didn't have time to scan in this turtle or that car or that balloon...next time, put EVERYTHING into the Visual Recital!!)
I had several video cameras running, but no hands to actually push the "record" button - what with all the activity and excitement, i just didn't get a chance to lay down a lot of video or audio. What i need in the future is a team of interns to help me set up the documentary equipment...well, i'll go through the few minutes that i did manage to record and see if i can pull together a short clip. If not, i'll make sure that i plan the videotaping at the next Visual Recital workshop in Greenport, NY more carefully.
whew...quite a long-winded blog post today! Lots of exciting ideas, lots of stuff learned - i'm already excited about the next project!
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January 06, 08
Visual Recital Workshop Jan. 12, 2008 2:00 pm in Willow Grove, PA
Presented by the Northern Delaware Valley Chapter of PMTA, the Visual Recital Workshop comes to the Jacobs Music Store in Willow Grove, PA on Jan. 12, 2008 at 2:00 p.m.! Join pianist Hugh Sung
as he demonstrates artistic and pedagogical techniques for combining synchronized visuals with live performance.
Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for students (free admission for members of the Northern Delaware Valley Chapter of PMTA)
for a Mapquest map of the Jacobs Music Store in Willow Grove, PA
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November 08, 07
August 14, 07
April 17, 07
Visual Recital 3 by 3
Yesterday, we had a run-through of my new visualizations designed for 3 piano trio works: the first movement of Beethoven's Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3; the slow movement from Brahm's Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8; and the first movement of "Cafe Music" by Paul Schoenfield. During my initial Visual Recital planning meeting
with Astral Artists
Jennifer Curtis (violin), Susan Babini (cello) and Michael Mizrahi (piano), Jennifer expressed a desire to participate in the 'pedal pushing' activities (she apparently has a lot of experience with a drumset!) My initial idea had been for the pianist to do all the video triggers himself, but getting the other players involved made so much sense!
The initial problem was finding a hardware solution to allow for multiple pedal and keystroke assignments into a single computer. Fortunately, i found a great product from P.I. Engineering: a USB Switch Interface
that allows for up to 12 push button or foot tredle inputs. A friend of mine suggested using standard MIDI Damper pedals with 1/4" - 1/8" mono adapters, and it turns out that they work beautifully as input triggers!
Each pedal was assigned a letter keystroke ("A" for the piano, "B" for the violin, and "C" for the cello).
Splitting the pedal trigger tasks among 3 players makes for a much easier job, particularly in situations with tricky page turns. It also opens up the possibility for much greater complexity and interactive visualizations!
Michael was a brave soul, not only using the pedal trigger for the visual triggers, but also tackling the use of my Tablet PC as a digital music reader with a second footswitch for turning pages!
We're aiming for our first Astral/Visual Recital show at one of the Philadelphia public schools sometime next month. In the meantime, Michael will be borrowing both my Toshiba Tablet PC (which will run the visualizations via Liquid Media
) and my backup Fujitsu ST5022D tablet pc as a digital music reader ("Kaylee"), along with the USB Switch Interface and the pedals for the group to practice on. Generous soul methinks i yam, eh? Well, the excitement really comes from seeing other musicians having an opportunity to try out some cutting-edge technology and seeing the true benefits that come from these tools. That can only happen with hands-on experience.
BTW, special thanks go to David Michie
for taking time to show the wares of his beautiful Violin shop (right next to my office!), and to Rich Galassini for the fantastic tour of Cunningham Piano Factory
. I'm using pictures taken from both locations for the Beethoven Trio movement, giving a visual "story" of how trees become musical instruments. I can't wait to show you clips from the 'finished product' once we play this show in public!
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March 29, 07
March 27, 07
Momentum for the Visual Recital Concept
Things are really beginning to move forward for the Visual Recital
concept! Last week i had the opportunity to have lunch with Elizabeth Serkin, daughter of legendary pianist Rudolph Serkin
, and Thomas DeWolfe , director of a wonderful classical music outreach program to public schools in Greenport, NY to discuss ideas for how the Visual Recital could be used to connect with young audiences that have had absolutely no exposure to classical music. Much enthusiasm ensued over a delicious lunch at Branzino's! Looks like we'll be aiming to put together a combination workshop/performance project for sometime in the fall, possibly in November, and maybe even some other collaborations with local art institutions in the near future...
The following day, in a small classroom at Juilliard i had the opportunity to get together with three Astral Artists
- violinist Jennifer Curtis, cellist Susan Babini, and pianist Michael Mizrahi - to demonstrate the Visual Recital and brainstorm about creating a new show in collaboration with them.
Being able to expose classical musicians to cutting edge technologies like the Tablet PC and multimedia enhancements to live performances is a tremendous credit to both the visionary outlook of Astral Artistic Services and the creative open-mindedness of the artists in their roster!
We're hoping to put together a program of three piano trio movements from Beethoven, Brahms and Paul Schoenfield's "Cafe Music" for a trial outreach at a North Philadelphia public school in May. After having been the only one designing, assembling and operating the whole system single-handedly, it's going to be a lot of fun 'handing this off' to other performers!
Equally exciting will be the opportunity for the Astral Artists to borrow some of my computer equipment to get some real 'hands on' time with all the technologies i've been so passionate about.
Michael's even open to the idea of trying out my digital piano setup! I can't wait to get his reaction to a program like Pianoteq
A warm "Thank You" to Bonnie Slobodien, director of Astral's outreach and education programs, for sharing the wonderful pictures! I'll be sure to keep you all posted on the young wings of the Visual Recital concept!
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March 03, 07
Astral Artists and the Visual Recital Concept
I've been given the green light to let the cat out of the bag: i'm going to be collaborating with Astral Artistic Services' Outreach and Educational Programs
to train their artists to integrate Visual Recital technologies into their presentations! We're still working through the initial planning stages, but apparently several Astral Artists have expressed strong interest in combining visual elements into their performances. In case you haven't heard, Astral Artistic Services
, run by the incredible Vera Wilson, is an amazing classical music organization based in the Philadelphia area, serving both as a career bridge between conservatory training and professional management, as well as a major presenter of classical music events for the community at large. Our first project will be for a piano trio doing outreach events at one or two public schools. I can't wait to get started!
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March 02, 07
Making Art Music Mobile: Visual Recital at a Public School
I just finished putting the video together for my performance of Poulenc's "The Story of Babar" for my sons' elementary school. I'd love to get feedback on the quality of the digital piano setup, using Pianoteq's Piano Simulator
(running off of my old Toshiba M205 Tablet PC, my very first tablet pc!) Since i needed the M-Audio Fast Track Pro to interface the MIDI cables and JBL speakers, i was stuck using my Samson C-01U USB microphone for a mono recording of the show, but i'm still rather pleased at the overall quality of the digital piano performance.
The picture above links to a Quicktime version of the video. To see it as a Windows WMV file, click here.
As i've stated before, i'm hoping that with this digital setup that i'll be able to offer performance options in non-traditional venues. With piano simulator technologies like the one Pianoteq offers, digital music setups can feel so much more artistically satisfying!
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March 01, 07
Some exciting developments that i need to mention briefly in passing - i'll try to write up more detailed blogs as soon as i have time:
I've been in touch with the developer of Pianoteq, the piano simulation software that has me really impressed - we've been going back and forth developing a version that's more compatible with the Muse Receptor, and it looks like we're already close to something workable (in such short notice too!) Amazing how quick and responsive the developer has been!
I'm hoping to get a chance to test out the new beta version of Pianoteq - the developer tells me that their new C2 model incorporates the best elements of some of the finest concert grands in the market today, so i'm really eager to put it through its paces...
I'm putting together the video from my latest show at my sons' elementary school - the clip features my new digital piano setup with the Pianoteq piano modeling simulator, and i have to say, it sounds quite impressive! Hope to have it up really really soon...(tonight, maybe?)
A local arts group is moving forward with a possible collaboration between my Visual Recital technologies and their roster of artists! I'll check with them to see if it's ok to mention them by name now - should be very exciting training other musicians to incorporate synchronized visuals into their own performances!
Flutist Jan Vinci tells me our CD is done and being shipped to Albany Records! How exciting! Um...Jan, when can i have my copy of the CD? I'd LOVE to hear it...hahahahaha!
Sorry for the abbreviated post today...much to do, so little time (more stuff and less time than usual) - hope to get back to meatier posts soon!
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February 27, 07
A Public School Outreach for the Visual Recital
Some time ago one of the parents in our local PTA heard that i was a musician and invited me to play two back-to-back shows at my kids' elementary school. We're one of the fortunate school districts around that still has a music program of sorts, but i still thought it would be a good idea to invest in a digital piano setup rather than rely on the old upright at the school.
Well, a digital piano with all the computers, racks, speakers and whatnot certainly adds to the bulk of stuff i now have to carry around for the Visual Recital show!
Here are some shots of the stage setup - i must say, it makes a big difference having a stage with curtains - i think the rear projection screen looks much nicer this way. Another benefit to a curtained setup is the fact that i can keep the lights behind the curtain turned off - that in turn means i don't have to put the additional tarp frame together to focus the projector beam.
And here's a picture of my digital piano setup:
I wanted to use the Pianoteq simulator
running on my old Toshiba Tablet PC, but i couldn't figure out how to get the MIDI cables set up properly to port the sound to the speakers. For the first morning show, i had to resort to using the Ivory
samples with the Muse Receptor
What a joy to see my two youngest boys, Eric and Timmy, beaming as they came into the assembly room with their classmates! I couldn't resist coming down from the stage to give them both hugs! Unfortunately, the school is very restrictive on publishing unauthorized pictures of the students' faces, so i can't post them here...
The Ivory samples worked reasonably well, albeit they felt a bit muddy and limited in their expressive range. The kids really had a good time with my presentation of Poulenc's "The Story of Babar", and were kind enough to clap after EVERY little musical segment!
After the first show, a throng of students came up to the stage to pepper me with questions. The older students wanted to know how i put the visuals together. The younger kids had questions about Babar's mother, the old lady, what happened next to Babar and his friends...fascinating how they focused so much on the story elements and wanted to learn more about the characters themselves!
I had a little time after the first show to fiddle around with the Pianoteq setup. I was using an open source VST host program called Cantabile
. Basically this program enables you to load and play virtual instrument plugins, such as Pianoteq. I was using my M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB audio interface
to route the MIDI signal out of the Roland RD700SX keyboard into the computer, then out to the quarter inch audio ports to the self-powered JBL Eon G2 speakers.
The MIDI indicator lights were blinking on both the Fast Track Pro and the Cantabile software interface, but still no sound. Turns out i needed to assign the ASIO
(Audio Stream Input/Output) to the Fast Track Pro's drivers. Here's how to do that step by step within Cantabile:
1. Go to 'Tools' in the menu bar
2. Select 'Options'
3. Click on the 'Audio Driver' tab
4. Within the 'Driver' frame, click the drop down menu and select 'ASIO - M-Audio USB ASIO' (or whatever other ASIO your particular USB MIDI interface uses)
I used the Pianoteq simulator for the afternoon show. I kept the polyphony count lower to be on the safe side with the Toshiba's slower CPU (1.5 Ghz) and meager RAM capacity (only 256 MB) - i have to say, it held up remarkably well! There were a few crackles here and there when the polyphony got dense and loud, but i don't know if it was on account of the JBL speakers or Pianoteq choking on the CPU (i suspect the speakers...i don't like the way they sound). The Pianoteq simulator definitely gave me more colors to play with over the Ivory samples, and somehow came out clearer over the muddy JBL speakers than my sampled Bosendorfer...
My back is still pretty sore from all the heavy lifting and assembly/take down of all the equipment. (Funny how the janitor asked me if i needed help AFTER i put everything together myself...sigh)
Well, at least i've demonstrated that the Visual Recital is now fully portable, musically and visually speaking, which was the whole goal of my "Frankensteining the Perfect Digital Piano" blog series. I'll be looking to partner with schools and outreach organizations to bring this show to other venues that have little or no exposure to Art Music in hopes of exciting a new, young audience. As soon as i'm able, i'll post a video clip from the second show (featuring the Pianoteq simulator).
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February 07, 07
Lights...Camera...the Big Screen!
After much finger-crossing and extra help from Paul, Kyungmi and the folks at Darlington Arts Center
, the big 9' x 7' pvc/muslin rear-projection screen came up - and turned out pretty well, considering no heavy objects came crashing down on anyone's head!
Although my digital camera wasn't able to compensate for all the back lighting, you can see in this picture that the rear projection screen design allows me to stand right in front of the image without casting any distorting shadows. Next time, if space allows, i may have the piano situated more directly in front of the image for a more "encompassing" effect.
I'm going to post a gallery of pictures
of the pvc pipe frame assembly - although it was designed for one-man assembly, having extra help DEFINITELY makes it MUCH easier to put together.
Paul's really grown, hasn't he? Almost as tall as his dad now - and such a great helper!!
In the end, i went with a large piece of muslin cloth instead of the 6 mil opaque white painter's tarp for the screen material. The painter's tarp just had too many creases and folds that didn't look like they were going away anytime soon. At least with the muslin, you could stretch out some of the wrinkles somewhat for a smoother projection surface. Get this - a 10' by 8' piece of muslin cost only about $20!
The black painter's tarp was the most difficult piece to put up - i should note, the pvc frame actually consisted of 3 components: the main frame, a second tarp support frame, and a small projector frame to drape the black tarp over so that there was no material to get in the way of the light path. I'll sketch out the components when i have a chance so that you can see how it all comes together.
Next post will be a video clip from the performance demonstrating the larger screen and the extra horsepower that my new Gateway M285-E Tablet PC "Zoe" cranks out for lots of great graphic speed!
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February 03, 07
Visual Recital at the Darlington Arts Center Tonight
Hope to see lots of you at tonight's concert! Wish me luck on putting that PVC screen together...
Featuring works by
Charles B. Griffin
Location: The Darlington Arts Center
977 Shavertown Road
Boothwyn, PA 19061
Click the above picture for a 10' x 14' TIFF poster file.
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January 30, 07
PVC Pipes and the Pianist Part 2: The Giveaway
John Carollo definitely wins points for his creative speculation regarding my sudden fetish for PVC pipes! Well, truth be told, that picture really didn't paint the whole situation - i actually had to make several more trips since, so the actual tally of pipes and sundry equipment is much higher than initially indicated...
In any case, here's what the prototypes are starting to shape up as:
My goal is to have a 9 foot by 7 foot rear projection screen for my visual recital shows (well, at least for the venues that have the space to accommodate such a screen). Here's another view from the rear:
Oh, i should explain some of the items in these pictures:
Following the advice of another website that showcased a home made screen, i used a metal plumbing bar to serve as a straight edge for the top of the screen projection material.
Given the size of this frame, putting it all together single-handedly is turning out to be quite a bear! The most difficult part is attaching the heavy metal bar that straddles the top of the frame to ensure a straight top edge for the screen. To that end, i created a "jig", a special extra 'tool' that helps to hold up the metal bar while i'm attaching it to each end of the frame sides.
Here's a front view of the projection frame:
...and here's another side view:
(yes, yes, i know - the Christmas lights are still
These pictures are actually a few days old - earlier today i tried testing some white opaque 6 mil plastic tarp as rear projection screen material. Even though the tarp itself doesn't look like much, the projected image really comes through nice and clear! To obtain the full screen size, the projector will need to be situated about 19 feet back from the screen area. The idea is to use clamps to secure the screen material to the metal bar, then other clamps to secure a set of black 6 mil plastic tarps to serve as a projection hood, cutting down on light bleed from behind.
All pvc pipes have now been labeled and disassembled, ready for delivery. When i get a chance, i'll try to draw up some more detailed diagrams with measurements and details of the pipe connectors. Here's hoping this crazy new setup works!
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January 23, 07
Creating a Flash Banner for the Visual Recital
Check this out - i'm playing around with Flash to create a new animated banner for the Visual Recital site. Let me know what you think -
I'll try to design a variety of these banners in different sizes, but i think this is a pretty good first run! BTW, it took me a while to figure out, but i managed to make the entire movie hyperlinked - click on the flash movie to jump to VisualRecital.com!
A great little tutorial on this technique can be found at Kirupa.com
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