Month: March 2007

Physical modeling synthesis

I freely admit that I’m so far behind the curve on electronic music that the road looks straight to me. Logic? Max/MSP? I don’t know what you people are talking about.

My experience with the wires and dials was forever tainted by my first experience, in a closet at my high school that happened to have an old ARP 2600. That thing was fun—hands on, unpredictable, and everything that came out was worthy of Forbidden Planet. Once I got to college, though, everything had gone digital; I found that I missed the patch cords and the touchy sliders, and I lost interest.

These days, of course, analog synthesizers are retro cool, or whatever the current term for “retro cool” is. (In honor of Phil, maybe it should be “cop pension show.”) I once looked into configuring my computer to run emulators of all the old machines, but it involved a lot more software than I was interested in buying, and again—no patch cords. And I certainly don’t have the money to pick up the real thing (EBay has an ARP 2600 for auction at the moment that’s already way out of my price range, and the reserve hasn’t even been met).

So until those commissions start rolling in faster than I can turn them down, I’ll just have to resign myself to building my dream studio on paper. Literally.


Astro Boy there has himself a fine “Moog Modular V” (no such beast actually ever existed, but it looks pretty cool) courtesy of this PDF download. (He’s joined by special guest DJ Monkey on turntables.) In the meantime, I’m debating whether to plunk down a few euros for some more elaborate paper synth kits from this place. I may have to: one of the models is, you guessed it, a cardboard ARP 2600.

(Luddite? Build yourself an ocarina.)

Sky and Sea

Some Thurday afternoon fun: the great Brazilian accordionist Sivuca performing “Céu e Mar” on Swedish television in 1969.



Sivuca, who passed away last December, actually lived in New York for a dozen years or so (mainly working with Miriam Makeba), which makes his comparative anonymity in the States even more baffling. He had quite a following in Scandanavia, though. Great stuff.

Cattle Call

Time to limber up your rhymes for “Alamagordo”: the New Mexico House of Representatives passed a nonbinding memorial a couple of weeks ago asking the New Mexico Music Commission to sponsor a competition to compose a “State Cowboy Song.”

Now, New Mexico already has one of the better state songs, “O Fair New Mexico,” written by Elizabeth Garrett, the blind daughter of the guy who killed Billy the Kid. They also have a Spanish state song, Amadeo Lucero’s “Así a Nuevo Méjico” (which was adopted after the then-Lieutenant Governor sang it to the legislature in 1971). Then there’s the bilingual state song, “Mi Lindo Nuevo Mexico,” by Pablo Mores. Oh yeah, there’s also the state ballad, “Land of Enchantment,”, co-written by Michael Martin Murphey. But apparently, there’s a need for a cowboy song as well.

The language of the bill, introduced by Gloria Vaughn, is actually quite pragmatic:

WHEREAS, the members may be able to agree on declaring an official state cowboy song so long as the process for selecting such a song is less arbitrary than by a vote of a majority of the members of the legislature, whose tastes and musical abilities may vary….

Entries, though, will be limited to composers who either were born in the state or have lived there consecutively for twenty years. I’d consider that a prohibitively high entrance fee. Plus, it means I can’t nominate Doctor Atomic, about New Mexico’s wildest cowboy ever.

(Peruse the rest of “The Cowboy Rag.”)

Really Idiotic And Asinine

The Copyright Royalty Board, promulgators of the recent we’re-just-the-lapdogs-of-the-RIAA decision to drastically up licensing fees for Internet radio, have agreed to reconsider. Well, kind of. They’re accepting additional written comments on the decision until April 2, but whether they’ll actually hold additional hearings or change their minds on the rates they already set is still in a bureaucratic haze. (See this story from the useful clearinghouse blog Save Our Internet Radio.) There’s a petition online, and a call or e-mail to the most muckraking of your local congresspeople might be in order.

If you’re wondering what this is all about, Kyle Gann and Doc Searls can get you up to speed on the whole eye-rolling fiasco. (And get in your listening to PostClassic and Counterstream while you can.) Message from an actual working musician to the industry organizations allegedly working on my behalf: cut it out, will ya? I’m trying to make a living here.

Inconspicuous consumption

My lovely wife and I had occasion to drop in to our local Barnes and Noble printed matter monstro-mart over the weekend, and, out of habit, I checked the Classical Music book section, which seemed to be, how shall I put it, somewhat less buxom than I remembered. Out of curiosity, I counted, and found that this particular store was offering eighty-three different titles related to classical music—and I’m charitably including books concerning Il Divo, Andrea Bocelli, and Joe Volpe in that total.

Eighty-three is not a lot of books. To put it in perspective, I could have, two shelves over, picked from twenty-nine different tomes on the Beatles alone. (This too is wrong, especially considering that there were only six books about Elvis. But I digress.) Ten years ago, this would have been a cue for much hand-wringing over the red-headed-stepchild status of classical music in American culture. Now, though, I think it says more about the Internet’s inexorable pressure on bricks-and-mortar corporate balance sheets than anything. It’s a fair guess that a large portion of classical music practitioners and aficionados have shifted their discretionary spending to the Web; it only follows that big chains will be less inclined to devote valuable real estate to books and CDs that the target audience is probably browsing via computer.

The online world is still not terribly friendly to browsing, but I imagine that will change, and soon. What’s more, an encyclopedic selection won’t be a loss-leader, like it was in the pre-Internet dark ages. I can remember spending lunch hours at the Barnes and Noble in Evanston, Illinois, while I temped at Northwestern for a summer. I liked to hang out in the Literary Theory aisle. Once, a saleslady asked if I needed help, and I said no, I was just browsing. Her disbelief was indignant. “Nobody just browses in Literary Theory,” she said. I was polite enough not to scold her for mistrusting a customer that was on the verge of buying a book that had probably sat on the shelf since the store was built. But that was the attraction of those stores when they opened: they were liable to have everything, a tempting thought even if it meant pockets of product that were rarely, if ever, picked over. With the Web, though, every niche and category is equally served, and maintaining such a large retail selection is a fool’s errand.

So I wasn’t particularly put out at the paltry classical offerings. One way to read Alex Ross’s summing up of the current state of classical recording—nobody knows anything, basically—is that small but viable revenue streams have sprung up too fast and too numerous to be tracked with traditional metrics. Marketers won’t be able to try and shoehorn all music into one particular distribution model—a recipe for classical disaster in the 90s—because no one model will be demonstrably more successful than any other. Ignorance is bliss.

Still, though: c’mon, guys. Eighty-three? I’ve come out of yard sales with more books than that.

Hope, blood, Turandot


Quiz time! This idea is a total rip-off from the excellent movie blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Then Handel was quite the narcissicist.

Anyway, here’s ten questions to kill your Friday afternoon. You can leave your answers in the comments, or else leave a link to wherever you’re posting. Do please include the questions when submitting your answers.

1. Name an opera you love for the libretto, even though you don’t particularly like the music.

2. Name a piece you wish Glenn Gould had played.

3. If you had to choose: Charles Ives or Carl Ruggles?

4. Name a piece you’re glad Glenn Gould never played.

5. What’s your favorite unlikely solo passage in the repertoire?

6. What’s a Euro-trash high-concept opera production you’d love to see? (No Mortier-haters get to duck this one, either—be creative.)

7. Name an instance of non-standard concert dress you wish you hadn’t seen.

8. What aging rock-and-roll star do you wish had tried composing large-scale chorus and orchestra works instead of Paul McCartney?

9. If you had to choose: Carl Nielsen or Jean Sibelius?

10. If it was scientifically proven that Beethoven’s 9th Symphony caused irreversible brain damage, would you still listen to it?

The trouble is he’s growing; the trouble is he’s grown


West Side Story turns 50 this year, which, when you think about it, is pretty old for a juvenile delinquent. If you’re in Boston, you can celebrate by taking in a production of the show by On Broadway, the student musical theatre group at Boston University. Shows are tonight and tomorrow; tonight, there’s also a pre-concert talk by Jamie Bernstein, the composer’s daughter.

Music director is our good friend Brett Abigaña, who somehow managed to get his snazzy website up before I did (warning: auto-loading percussion music).

Guile of the Dead

Alexander Temple Wolkonsky Rachmaninoff Wanamaker is the great-great-grandson of Sergei Rachmaninoff. And the 21-year-old University of Arizona student is about to take over Rachmaninoff’s legacy—and that includes rearranging Sergei’s works so they can be re-copyrighted.

“It’s as little rearrangement as possible, preferably,” he explained.

Wanamaker said the family already has approached a few composers about doing the rearrangement. “We’re in the process now of having the music rearranged so that we can re-establish the rights and generations can enjoy it for futures to come,” he said.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I would think that generations would be able to enjoy the music for futures to come regardless of whether anybody’s making any money off of it. Sergei died in 1943—that means his post-1923 works (including the Symphonic Dances, the Paganini Rhapsody, and the Fourth Piano Concerto) already won’t start going into the public domain in the U.S. until 2019. And now, four generations removed, they’re trying to make sure that the royalties on those—and everything else—keep coming for another 95 years? (Actually, based on the fact that any “rearrangements” would probably be “works for hire,” they might fall under the 120-year corporate copyright term.) That’s pushing copyright’s “temporary monopoly” to possibly over two centuries, in some cases. From the article:

Wanamaker is quick to dispel concerns that the family will increase the fees for orchestras to rent and play Rachmaninoff. Actually, he says, the cost will be less because there will be fewer hands in the pot.

“What we would like to do is actually lower the prices,” he said, noting that over the past 30 years, royalties have generated at least $50 million in income that’s divided between the family and the publishing firms. Without the publishing firms, the family would get a bigger cut and could afford to drop the price, he reasoned.

Even a two-percent cut of that is more money then I’ll ever have, ever. Can’t he just invest what he’s got, and use the interest to pay for scotch and Jay-Z albums? The ridiculousness of the copyright regime in this country never ceases to amaze me.

There’s a hole in the bucket

I have an article over at NewMusicBox today on Baumol’s cost-disease and what it means for the economics of live performance and recording. My lovely wife pointed out something to ponder while you read: if you’re one of those who thinks that the steady wane of school arts programs is big trouble for the future of jazz and classical music, keep in mind that the education sector is also unusually affected by the cost-disease.

(How to play with your money.)