Monday, October 31, 2005

The art and craft of program note writing

On Sunday I attended a performance of the one-act operas Il Tabarro (Giacomo Puccini) and Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni) performed by the Washington Concert Opera, conducted by Antony Walker. Concert opera is an odd duck, because you get half of the action (luckily for half the price). You get the orchestra, the chorus, the soloists, even the supertitles; but you don't get the costumes, staging, backdrops, or any substantial non-vocal dramatization. That said, the performance was spectacular. The soloists, the orchestra, and the chorus all sounded great.

Il Tabarro is a wonderfully blood-curdling story--perfect for Halloween! The story moves along at a clip and it's easy to get a sense of what's happening. Cavalleria Rusticana is set in an Italian piazza. It relies more on the tension of the scene, which was difficult to convey with just the music. There were some wonderful performances by the soloists--my favorites were the mezzo-soprano(Frugola/Tabarro and Mamma Lucia/Cavalleria), the tenor Stephen O'Mara who played Turiddu (in Cavalleria) and Luigi (in Tabarro and got offed twice) and Elizabeth Bishop (Santuzza/Cavalleria) who has such a sumptous voice. Baritone Annooshah Golesorkhi performed his paternal roles in a stentorial fashion; singing with a solid and inspiring voice. O'Mara had more material though, and listening to him sing was a delight.

My favorite moment of the night? The Easter hymn "Regina Coeli...Innegiamo Signor" from Cavalleria Rusticana. It's got to be one of the grandest moments in all of Italian grand opera.

I'll post a link to the Washingotn Post review of the production tomorrow.

I wrote the program notes for the show. Throughout the performance I was constantly asking myself if the synopsis I had provided was giving the audience enough background. Tabarro especially was such a hard story to summarize. Some people go to operas without any preparation or knowledge of the book, while others (like myself) think it's helpful to at least know the story. As a program annotator, I think of it as my duty to give audience members a sense of what they can expect (in the synopsis), and to give a brief background about the history of the piece and its prior reception. I think program notes are always a snapshot of any research that's been done on the operas, and should be easily digestable by an audience. Moreover, program notes should prepare an audience for the show, ask meaningful questions, and inspire a greater curiosity about the artform. Now...onto writing notes for a Christmas choral concert.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hip-Hop for Dummies (Part 1)

Every day more and more of my ignorance is revealed.

In Chapter Six "The Turntable as Weapon: Understanding the DJ Battle" of Katz's book Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, he talks about hip-hop culture of which I am fundamentally ignorant about. (Ok, not that uninformed, but what I know comes from watching a little bit of MTV, gleaning somethings from NPR (even Terry Gross's Fresh Air), and from some of my black friends.

He talks about various phenomena such as turntablism, DJing, MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti writing. "This is art?!," would have been a reaction I might have had ten years ago. Well, strictly speaking it's examples of culture; just like back in the 19th century when folks went to the opera (which was more like going to the movies then), read the trashiest literature (which later became part of the literary canon), and enjoyed the arts & crafts (think flea market). It's what the "experts" think of as "great art" (and often what sells really well) that endures and is exploited for commercial gain over and over.

Sorry to make this sound so academic, but I am one of the whitest dudes around. My experience has been studying Western classical music, enjoying folk music and show tunes, and pondering the similarities between musical traditions. So my interest right now is sociomusical. At least I'm not dismissing it out of hand as I once did. Perhaps it's being in my fourth decade. Back when I worked at a classical music station, I was talking to a folk music DJ on my last day at the station. Now, I hadn't always liked folk music (or any world music), but my experience in listening and going to concerts and dances had changed my attitudes. I still saw the musical world through the eyes of a classical musician, but I knew that not everyone perceived music that way anymore. She appreciated the fact that I was so open-minded and willing to ask questions when I didn't know something. I think I said something like: "You know, I might not always get something about your world, but at least I'm trying to get there."

More on the subject of hip-hop later, with some definitions for these terms. An intriguing and fast read. Other chapters I've read so far include:

1) Capturing Jazz (about how jazz music and musicians relied on technology for distribution and education)
2) Aesthetics out of Exigency: Viiolin Vibrato and the Phonograph (how that quivering sound called vibrato you hear wasn't always there, as much)
3) The Rise and Fall of Grammophonmusik (about how grammophones were used as instruments in musical compositions, and later electronic music developments)

Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

When the noises that you hear aren't in your head

From today's Wired:

Attention, Electronic Gadgets: Shut Up! The modern world is too damn noisy. Car alarms, beeping microwaves, chirping beepers, cell phones that play that hideous 50 Cent hook... it's all just a bit much, isn't it? "The people who make all these things obviously think we're idiots. That without their constant, irritating reminders, we'd go wandering off, our minds blank, to drool down our shirts or spend 30 minutes tying our shoes. The world is noisy enough without adding completely useless aural pollution to the mix." Wired 10/27/05

Feeling particularly curmudgeonly today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

First thoughts on Katz

Just one little post tonight.

Here's a quote from Mark Katz's book Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004):

Performances and works are no longer clearly distinct, for recordings can take on the function and meaning of both. Just as recordings can be heard as spontaneous interpretive acts, their repetition can transform them into compositions, works that can be analyzed, historicized, canonized, politicized, and problematized. Nor are production and reproduction so easily separated when preexisting sounds can be manipulated in real time. With recording, listeners need not simply receive music, for they have an unprecedented control over the sounds they hear. While there have always been composer-performers--artists who interpret their own works--with recording we can conceive of listener-performers and listener-composers. Recording thus not only affects the practice of music, it shapes the very way in which we think about music: what it is, can, and should be (47).

Somehow I don't think traditional cataloging practices can keep up with this new thinking. You can also read broadcasts and shows in place of performances and works; and radio or media in place of recordings. Boggles the mind, huh? This may be a new era, but as Katz points out, the change has been in the works for over a century now.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Books, music, videogames, and other media to consume

I have a LONG commute on workdays--I take the Alexandria DASH bus and two Metro lines (Blue and Yellow) to and from work.

The upshot of this is that I've gotten to read a lot more books than before--esp. since I'm not reading for class anymore. Today my subscription of Wired started to get forwarded to the new address, so I'll have to read also. (I'm a slow reader and it takes at least 3-4 days to really go through Wired).

Since moving back here in September, I've read two books so far:

1) Hawkins, Jeff with Sandra Blakeslee. On intelligence : how a new understanding of the brain will lead to the creation of truly intelligent machines. 1st Owl Books ed. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005, c2004.

2) Basbanes, Nicholas. The splendor of letters : The permanence of books in an impermanent world. 1st Perennial ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2004, c2003.

Now on my reading list:

1) Katz, Mark. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. University of California Press, 2004. [Whose talk I saw at the Atlantic Chapter meeting of MLA, but Amazon still hasn't shipped it to me yet. Grrrr.]

2) Sedaris, David. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Little & Brown, 2004. I just heard him on This American Life on WAMU this afternoon.

3) Nicholas Basbanes: Well, all of his books that I haven't read yet. These include: Patience and Fortitude: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy ; A Gentle Madness : Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books ; and his new book Every Book Its Reader : The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World. Thanks for telling me about this last one Hannah--it's coming out in December. I'll be reserving my copy soon. I also hope to attend a class at Rare Book School some year.

4) Beck, John. Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2004. ISBN: 1578519497

I picked this last one because I was fascinated by the talk I attended given by the author earlier this month on the subject of gaming and how people who have played video games their whole life perceive and interact with the world around them.

Here's a description of the book from a Publisher's Weekly review:
While many parents fret about their children's minds turning to goo as they squander hour after hour absorbed in electronic diversion, the authors argue that gamers glean valuable knowledge from their pastime and that they're poised to use that knowledge to transform the workplace.
Also to read:

ACRL Guidelines for Media Resources in Academic Libraries Review Task Force. Guidelines for Media Resources in Academic Libraries (DRAFT). Revised draft. Available at ALA-ACRL website.

And with the coming of my first paycheck, I've taken the plunge into videogame land again, and bought a copy of The Sims: Deluxe Edition. (Because I have so much time). My eyes were also getting very buggy playing an old copy of Lode Runner. (Lode Runner being like the Red Bull of Fortran).

My choral singing is still going strong. We're getting our November concert repertoire in good shape. And in an educational use of iTunes, I've even bought a copy of Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, which we're singing. 3 tracks * $0.99 each = a lot better than buying a $16.00 CD just to learn a new piece. The Hebrew's been coming along. I'm definitely not used to singing in that language. Definitely a fun piece, though. Not as spectacular as Belshazzar's Feast, but close.

There's a talk about maps I want to go to next week at the LC about an exhibition being held in the Jefferson Building. I love maps.

October 26, 2005, 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Southwest Gallery Second floor Thomas Jefferson building
Ed Redmond of the Geography and Maps Division discusses the Revolutionary War-era and British Atlantic Neptune Map Collection in the "American Treasures" exhibition.
And I have been getting quite a few lessons about some of the more advanced features of Excel in the last few weeks. One thing I should learn for work is regular expressions. Hmmm...maybe getting an MIS would have been helpful after all. I've mentioned to people that the class which I have used the most in the last month and a half was my 1.5 credit networking class in June. (Which was only 3 days!!!)

I haven't seen a movie in over a month. I really want to see the Wallace and Grommit feature: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Current listening of late:
1) Forbidden Broadway- Special Victims Unit (iTunes)
2) Bernstein, Chichester Psalms. Bournemouth Sym./Marin Alsop (iTunes, Naxos)
3) Bach, J.S. Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner (CD, Erato)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Preservation of the audio artifact

Today I've been mulling the objects we consume, aural, physical and digital.

In the digital world, we often settle for a copy or representation of an analog original. With physical objects, we mostly know that a copy is a copy, but not always in the digital world. The trouble is that often the digital copy is inferior to the analog, because of compression or encoding. While we might not always want to read from a manuscript of a Charles Dickens novel, someone should preserve it and make it available for researchers. I'm not so certain we shouldn't be doing the same thing with sound recordings. (Of course archives have been, but that's changing).

Yes, we can get the story from a Penguin edition of Oliver Twist, but we'll lose the marginalia, the history of the drafts as they were sent back and forth from Dickens to his publisher, or a coffee stain that could indicate where Dickens got really excited about a new plot he just thought up. [NOTE: This is just an imagined example, and doesn't reflect any personal knowledge about Dickens' working stule or relationship with his publisher].

The fight here: Intellectual content vs. artifactual value. (Read Nicholson Baker's Double Fold for extreme arguments in the second camp). It was also one of the recurring themes in preservation class, as well as doing what you can with the time, money, and staff you have.

Of course another layer to add to all this is that a sound recording is only an instantiation of a live event or a studio session. It is impossible to literally capture what happened there, from the smell of the cigarettes in the sound booth to the tensions between performer and producer on a given day. It's all just representation really. We can record slices of reality, but not the gestalt. But thank goodness we have lots of what we have.

At the ARSC meeting in March was a Maryland native named Charles Richardson. He was developing a "New Magnetic Tape Restoration Process to Eliminate the Sticky Shed Problem from Magnetic Tapes" (U.S. Patent 6,797,072). His presentation was met by much skepticism amongst the audio engineers in the room--and rightfully so. He wasn't very forthright with the evidence he gave on why the process would work.

The sad fact is that our physical sound recordings will deteriorate eventually. They will not last as long as paper, and there will not be the equipment to play them back. I can see why the audio archives community is dedicated to digital preservation of the intellectual content. (As am I). But I think the conservation of the original artifacts is also important for our society and our history. If Mr. Richardson or someone else can find a way to reverse deterioration in the physical media of this material, I would definitely celebrate.

It's late, and I'm also procrastinating some program notes I'm supposed to write for this local musical organization. I'm including a link to my paper on Sticky Shed Syndrome that I did for preservation class last fall.

It was called Problems in Audio Preservation: Binder Hydrolysis (“Sticky Shed Syndrome”) in Open Reel Magnetic Tape." (Word document, 11 pages).

Sunday, October 09, 2005

New URL for Audio Artifacts

Hello Audio Artifacts readers,

This blog has been live for almost ten months now. I wanted to thank
those of you who read it through the site, an aggregator (like SLIS
), or a blog reader.

It is a webspace where audio is celebrated, in all forms analog and
digital. It combines my interests in promoting and preserving sound
recordings, both music and spoken word, with meditations on the live
musical performance and the art of recorded sound. If it can be
perceived by the ear, it's fair game.

This is a note to tell you that I'm changing the URL for the blog to . It's been called "Audio
Artifacts," for a little over a month now, and I'm finally changing
the last remnant of my old blog "Interning with Sound Recordings" to
reflect the nature of this blog.

Enjoy the archives which are still intact.

Changes to look for in the coming months:
1) An associated Live365 radio channel
2) More reviews of recordings and shows and concerts around D.C.
3) More postings on the "musical process"

Have a great Columbus Day weekend!


Current listening: Boogaloo / dtownpaolo / Remote Access L.P.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Good Morning Baltimore!

Yesterday I attended the Music Library Association, Atlantic Chapter meeting (ATMLA) at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. I'm very glad my employer allowed me to go during my first week of work. I was a member of this chapter when I worked at WETA, and went to their meetings in Charlottesville and College Park. The weather wasn't great--it rained most of the time. But there were some very interesting sessions (which I'll talk about), a detailed tour, and a big dinner afterwards at a great upscale place called The Brewer's Art.

I think it's important that I keep going to MLA conferences, even though the job I'm in right now isn't directly related to the field. I have been trained as a music librarian, and it's important to keep up the contacts and my knowledge. One of the things I like about regional chapter meetings is that the sessions are often extremely music-focused, and intensely personal to their presenters. There were three presentations yesterday.

First off was a talk by Peabody archivist Elizabeth Schaff and graduate assistant Brad Saylor on the great jazz/Latin guitarist Charlie Byrd (1925-1999). Byrd's collection is located at the Peabody Archives. Byrd gave it to Peabody because they had "a guitar program that he wished would have been there for him when he was looking for a [graduate] program," according to Saylor. During this presentation a short performance was given by Peabody guitar student Jorge Amareo. He played two pieces by Agustin Barrios-Mangore, and a "Joropo," which mixes double and triple meter to create some nice spicy rhythms. One of Byrd's most famous accomplishments was in bringing bossa nova back to the United States and popularizing it in the early 1960s. He also enjoyed playing classical style and studied with Segovia in several masterclasses. Kudos to Schaff and Saylor for an excellent presentation of this excellent collection.

The second presenter was Peabody musicologist and faculty member Mark Katz who talked about "file sharing as a tool for living." He mentioned driving listening to the radio and hearing a Violent Femmes song. He used his cell phone to leave myself a voice message with a couple of lyrics. Later, he "Googled" the lyrics and confirmed what the song was. He used file sharing tools to listen to the song, and in doing so, came to appreciate and experience the song on a new level. He did all this without the mediation of calling a radio station, asking a librarian or a record store employee, or a printed catalog. And he listened to it without buying any other song from the album he didn't want.

Katz skillfully skirted all talk about DMCA, copyright, or the legality of file sharing. He talked about how the dissemination and cognition of music was changing. I've been wanted to read his Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, and now I think will do that sooner than later. He gave a list of references, which if anyone wants I could send them. He also talked about the profileration of MP3 blogs, which I'm embarrased to say that I don't know a lot about. He referred to four ones in particular:

1) Music for Robots (Alternative pop music)
2) Sabadabada (Brazilian bossa-nova)
3) Soul Sides: Music for Rhythm Addicts (Little-known urban, rhythm & blues, soul)
4) Wakingear (Eclectic)

Katz made an interesting point that the shuffle function and indeterminancy allowed by iPods to pick music from various genres could radically change the way users appreciate music. By freeing themselves from the physical artifact, listeners are able to experiment with genres they normally wouldn't experience. It could even affect genre formation and create new roles for tastemaking and music criticism much as political blogs have restructured political communications between candidates, media, and the public. Of course these things are already happening, and I'm probably just slow to acknowledging them.

The final presenter of the day was Lisa Woznicki (Library Liaison for Art, Music and Theatre Arts, Towson University), whose presentation was titled "Overcoming Performance Anxiety: A Bibliotherapeutic Approach." Woznicki, who has suffered herself from performance anxiety, gave the ATMLA librarians in session a background into this social phobia, and suggested that the music library in particular was a comfort zone in which performers could seek answers on overcoming these problems. She handed out an extensive 2-page bibliography, in four areas (clinical/scientific description of the problem ; psychological self help/self-esteem assessments and action plans ; New Age/holistic self examination and goal setting ; and introspective/meditative explorations on performing (often from mature musicians) in which patrons might be seeking answers. Performance anxiety is one of those topics that performers wouldn't feel comfortable about talking with their teachers. The librarian can be a neutral, non-threatening, even sympathetic ear who could help the student find their away around their performance anxiety by recommending relevant and helpful books and articles. Woznicki was very thorough and convincing in her presentation, as well as being an inspiration. Bibliotherapy, I like that.

After a very thorough tour of Peabody (including a look at their humongous Holtkamp organ), there was a smashing-good wine and cheese party where I smooshed, ate and drank good wine and hors d'ouevres, enjoyed a brief performance by four Peabody vocal students (doing a motet in which the bass "bzzzzed" like a bee for a lot of it), and talked shop and brought many of my colleagues up to speed on what I've been doing since I left the Chapter in 2003. (I've been in the Midwest Chapter of MLA for the last two years--both are great).

We walked up Charles St. to The Brewer's Art, a swanky up-scale brewpub, which serves great food and even better beer. I enjoyed two glasses of a honey ale--which made my night. It's so nice to be able to sit at a table of librarians now and feel like a professional. I might not know or have experienced everything they have in their long careers, but at least there's a basis of common experience from which we can talk. And these people enjoy good music, good food, and good drink. My trip to Baltimore was a very rewarding experience.

Current audio: The whir of my computer and the pitter-patter of rain drops outside.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Nice warm autumn weekend

It's been awhile...

I guess I haven't really posted lately because of the uncertainty of when I was starting my new job. It was kind of depressing being in limbo. But luckily this week, they called and I report to my new job bright and early TOMORROW morning.

I've been busy these last four weeks working at Washington Concert Opera, getting their high-speed internet access, e-mail, and other technology in order, and installing a new workstation (along with a host of other jobs that came up). It was about 20 hours of work a week, but I kept myself quite busy while I was there. Three days of auditions too--signing in singers for their times. These aren't your average choral singers, they're professional and unionized (AGMA). (Read the story in this week's Washington City Paper on what it's like to eek out a living as a choral singer in DC).

I'm back singing with the Cathedral Choral Society as a baritone. [I sang with them for 3 years before I moved to Indiana.] It feels very good to be performing again. I enjoyed being a DJ, but there's nothing like actually making music. Our first concert is pretty exciting. It's an all-Jewish program called "A Haven in America." And Leonard Slatkin's going to guest-conduct the Bernstein and the Barber.

Our repertoire includes the following:

Leonard Bernstein..............Chichester Psalms
Samuel Barber...................Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra
Arnold Schoenberg.............Kol Nidre for Chorus, Narrator, and Orchestra
Erich Zeisl..........................Requiem Ebraico

Ok, so the Barber isn't particularly related to the theme, but it's a great opportunity to hear our director, J. Reilly Lewis play organ. I'm really glad I'm getting a chance to sing the Chichester, it's such a fun piece. I never really "got it" when I've listened to it on recordings. I find that the best way for me to enjoy music (esp. classical) is to actually perform it. When I was a low brass player, this was true also. It definitely helps me appreciate 20th century music.

The Schoenberg is a surprisingly tonal work, with lots of sensible cues for the chorus to follow when making their entrances. I'm not totally sold on the Zeisl yet. It's a lot of muddling around for notes so far, and I fear that a lot of the harmonic complexity doesn't serve the text very well. Of course, I feel the same way about Brahms' minor choral music (mostly motets). Both the Zeisl and Bernstein will be sung in Hebrew, which is a real challenge for me (since I've never sung in that language). Anyways...if you're in the area on Sunday, November 13, come to the Washington National Cathedral at 4:00 pm, to hear the sounds of a 150+ symphonic choir in a highly reverberant setting.

The Cathedral Choral Society

Yesterday I visited with a friend in Takoma Park over lunch, walked around and shopped, and came home. The day couldn't have been more beautiful. We lingered at House of Musical Traditions, which is one of my favorite music stores in the area. I found out they sell practice bagpipe chanters--hmmm. They also have a very good concert series.

I have been playing around on iTunes a bit. Downloaded some NPR music podcasts, and purchased my first music download: Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit (the show I saw in NYC a couple of weeks ago). I'm going over some of my internship notes (along with some of my earlier blog postings) today before I start tomorrow.

Current listening this afternoon: WAMU-FM (Dick Spottswood's Obsolete Music Show, The Eddie Stubbs Show, and Thistle and Shamrock). Favorite song of the afternoon: "If you want his love PDQ, divorce me C.O.D."