Monthly Archives: September 2010

Recording Basics

Introduction

For several reasons, hearing a performer in a concert hall and hearing them on a CD are two very different experiences. The perception differs because on stage, people are influenced by a performers movements, colors, and facial expressions. On a CD, a performer must rely on technical precision, tone color, and phrasing. But technique, perfect intonation, and perfection in phrasing will not guarantee a fine recording. Factors such as the distance from the microphone, the type of microphone being used, and acoustics of the room, will greatly effect a recording. The first in establishing recording knowledge and skill is to have a concise overview of the physical properties of sound.

Sound

The most important concept for a recorder to understand with respect to sound, is pitch. A pitch is a series of compressions and rarefactions, which produce a sound wave. This 'frequency' must complete a certain number of cycles within a certain period of time (second). This creates a certain pitch.

A=440h is the standard in the modern era of tuning. This 440 refers to the number of cycles per second. Scales are based on the ratios of cycles, and indeed one octave above 440, is 880. Likewise, one octave below 440 is 220. This concept is important to know, because string players are not bound by the limits of equal temperament tuning (where everything is in exact ratios). We are able to make leading tones slightly higher to resolve into the tonic, and enharmonic equivalents need not be synonymous.

In science class people may have learned that sound is very similar to the wrinkles in water. While this bears truth, it creates the impression that sound is 2-D. The fact is that sound is 3-D, and must be treated as such. When we hear a pitch, such as an 'A', it is the ''fundamental tone''. This is actually a composite of several other tones commonly known as the overtone series.

Microphones

The production of sound on a stringed instrument, is affected by tuning, wood, the bow, humidity, rosin, and strings. Microphones have been produced in accordance to these factors. There are three kinds of basic microphones:

1). Omnidirectional

2). Bi-directional

3). uni-directional

Uni-directional microphones are unique in that they only record sound if it hits the front of it. Bi-directional microphones record sound from the front and the back. The third type of microphone, the omnidirectional, records sounds from all locations.

One important thing to keep in mind is how high or low, in terms of hertz, your instrument can go. It is important to pick a microphone that is within your range.

The best microphone to use is a professional stereo microphone, which is characterized by two omnidirectional microphones. One omnidirectional and one bidirectional microphone can also be a great blessing.

Some tips

1). Vibrato – When recording, vibrato is often too dull or narrow. For it to be successful, it must be on the wide end.

2). Volume – It is not suggested that a wide dynamic range disrupts the actual quality of sound by moving the microphone.

3). Distance – One mistake often made by earlier recording artists, especially Jascha Heifetz, was that they were too close to the microphone. When this happens, 'extra' sounds are heard, and can come across as mistakes. About 3-4 feet away from the microphone allows the tonal pallet of your instrument to be fully explored.

Good luck on the endeavors of recording!

Michael Measures Prize

A new $15,000 prize is available to promising young performers of classical music in Canada. The first award will be given in summer 2011 to a musician aged 16-22 who has completed the summer training program with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYOC).

The award follows a $1 million bequest to the Canada Council from the late Michael Measures, who sought to create an award to help “young Canadian citizens of emerging ability and of future promise.” The prize will be awarded annually to a single recipient from income generated by the endowment. The NYOC will select the winner.


National Youth Orchestra of Canada

Canada Council for the Arts

NYOC

Classical Musicians & the Web

bach-in-shades

If you're a classical musician seeking to get your name and music on the internet, this article provides some pointers on how to do it.

There are two ways to construct an internet profile: use existing structure or build your own. The best strategy does both.

If you're a…

  • soloist
  • composer
  • teacher
  • string quartet
  • amateur choir
  • new recording label
  • small music publisher
  • instrument maker
  • academic
  • music writer

… the web's there for you to use. It's your concert hall, advertising slot and shop window.

Existing structure includes: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and forums such as Brightcecilia. Self-build means buying a domain name and server space, and then constructing, or having someone construct for you, a website.

The site must then be driven up Google. It's no good owning the most beautiful website in the world, or running a red hot Myspace, if no one visits it.

This article considers those areas and gives advice on how to proceed.

Top Down versus Bottom Up

Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are social media or 'web 2.0 user generated content.' The term 'Web 2.0' was coined by Darcy DiNucci in 1999, who wrote:

The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens. Source

The traditional web was a top-down structure. Webmasters served up material for users to consume. Web 2.0 inverted that. 

Webmasters still control Web 2.0 content, but users have grown more influencial. They contribute to it, manipulate it, interact with it, change it. Webmasters are relegated to providers of structure within which users operate. He's still a powerful figure but must now treat users as semi-partners.

IMSLP is a good example of Web 2.0 in action.

Stealth Marketing

Such is the power of user generated content that new laws have been made to protect consumers, with 'stealth marketing' now criminalised in Europe. 

Research shows that people trust their peers on the internet over and above an advertiser. So if someone seeking to sell a product engages with social media and pretends to be an ordinary consumer, the effect on sales can be marked. It's deceitful and manipulative behaviour, now illegal in many nations.

When you build your Myspace page or engage on Twitter keep the following in mind:

Be honest

If you're trying to sell something don't say 'Hey, I've found this amazing string quartet. Check it out!' when you're the viola player! It's dishonest and if you're caught people will laugh at you. Social media organisations may ban and blacklist you and may even report you to the authorities.

Add content

When you engage with social media look at the objectives of the site you're on. Then try to hit them. 

So on Twitter, say what you've been doing. If you've just returned from an orchestra rehearsal, say so. If you've been up all night writing a symphony, talk about it. 

The same applies to forums. People want to engage with real people doing interesting, ethical and (ideally) witty things – just like real life. Be yourself.

Be original and respectful

Look at a few Myspace pages. Some are dreadful, others are works of art. Some scream 'SPAM!' Others say: 'This site is a labour of love.'

When people read a web page they respond best if treated with respect. It's not respectful to deluge them with spam or bad design. If you're trying to sell something or make a good impression, it's fatal.

Don't spam

Apart from it now being illegal in many places, spam is commercial suicide, especially when dealing with classical musicians who are often savvy and spam-aware. An experienced social media user will spot spam at a hundred paces.

Building a website

Some of the best classical music websites are tiny: less than ten pages, half a dozen images, a couple of music files, a few links to interesting sites, and an email address. So if you decide to build a site it doesn't have to be huge.

Dead or in jail?

Blogs are more difficult. They must be updated regularly or make the author look bad. If the last entry's six months old it's reasonable for a reader to ask: 'Is this person ill, dead or in jail…?' 

A blog represents a commitment, unlike a well-designed static site which, if properly structured, just sits there and gains value. 

Other factors to consider when building a site:

Domain name

These cost c. $10 a year. Choose with care. When seeking a high search engine placement your domain name is key. Decide how you expect people to reach your site – the search engine terms they're likely to enter into Google – then pick a name which includes those terms. So if you're a theorbo maker choose something like 'www.theorbomaker.com' (it's available!).

Hosting

A small site should cost c. $120 a year to host. Pay less and you risk the site being unreliable. Google robots don't like unreachable domains and may demote you on the listings if your server is frequently down. Users like them even less and may not return, link to you, or say nice things about you.

So it pays to use a respectable ISP. Search '[name of ISP] sucks' to see how they treat their customers.

Construction

If you're building your own site you'll need web editing and uploading software. Free, open-source options are available, so you don't need to spend a fortune. Ask on Brightcecilia for detailed advice.

If you're selling something online your internet presence must be secure and professional. People won't get out their credit cards and buy online from a shoddy site. Internet fraud is rife so they're right to be cautious.

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

SEO experts typically charge megabucks to drive a website up Google. Some SEOs are charlatans, some are not. So unless you're wealthy you'll need to do it yourself. Some key points:

  • domain name choice – mentioned earlier
  • content is king. If you upload quality content and obey Google's rules your site should get listed by the search engines and command a good ranking. People will naturally want to link to it, talk about it, say nice things about it
  • use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools
  • upload a sitemap and a robots.txt file
  • deal with duplicate content and other HTML issues as they arise. Google may mark you down if you don't
  • build links in reputable neighbourhoods, following the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Don't buy or sell links or engage in 'black hat' SEO. Unless you're a super-nerd you'll get caught and possibly banned from Google
  • use keyword-rich signature links on forums (if their rules allow it)
  • be patient

Worrying about your robots.txt file…

Using existing web structure to establish an internet presence is easier and cheaper than building your own site. Many people choose the former and it does the job fine.

But if you opt for the latter the golden rule is: keep it simple and legal. You're a musician who should be practising, composing, or building instruments, not crunching code or worrying about your robots.txt file. Make the web serve you, not the reverse.

This article first appeared in a revised form on Brightcecilia.com

 

The Death of Hugo Wolf

hugo-wolf

Hugo Wolf, a German eccentric, was most well known for his art songs. Hugo Wolf’s life was one of melancholy and despair. Although a musical prodigy in various instruments, including piano and violin, his severe depression, mood swings, and contumacious nature prevented him from completing any enrollment in music schools. As a composer, he was influenced by Richard Wagner’s music; and although Wolf did not complete any large scale works, his musical style is still reminiscent of Wagner. With a great passion for poetry, he decided to set the words to music, often times using poems already set to music by other composers, as he felt the music did not do the poem justice. At the height of his song writing career, he suffered from mental deterioration, which was a byproduct of syphilis. This eventually caused him to stop composing all together. At the height of his instability, he attempted to drown himself, before seeking refuge in an insane asylum. He died there, with his mind decayed.

Musical instrument collection closure – Victoria & Albert Museum

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Photos taken, in bad light through dusty display cabinets, at Gallery 40a of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London on 21st February 2010. The collection of musical instruments closed the following day, to be replaced by a fashion display. The instruments were placed in storage or distributed to other galleries.

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Victoria & Albert Museum: musical instrument collection closure

Interview with Perlnerd666

 

One of a series of interviews with IMSLP contributors…


How did you first discover IMSLP?

I first discovered IMSLP while I was looking for the second movement of the Kreutzer Sonata. I did find it eventually, and it thus led me to this wonderful site.

What were your immediate goals?

I was very interested in the (16,000 at that time) vast number of scores. I wanted to contribute as many scores as I could, from places such as Mutopia.

What instruments do you play?

I am a professional Keyboardist (especially organ). I also play cello.

What are your other musical interests?

Much of what I look at might be described as 'musicological'. I am also a composer, and an intermediate conductor. My other main musical interests are analyzing song cycles (esp. Schwanengesang, and Les Nuits d'été). I enjoy song cycles and variations, too. I also study musicological aspects of music—especially the history of music printing (and as an ancillary, non-musical typography, including ligatures etc.) As a keyboard player mostly, especially organ, I've been looking at people like Cabezón (one of my favorites), Buxtehude (should be one of everybody's), and Fitzwilliam.

Who are some of your favorite composers?

Corelli, Schumann, Bach, Carter, Dufay, Varèse, Josquin, Haydn, Schubert, and Brahms in that order. It may seem eclectic, but I sincerely believe that all genres and time periods are equal. In terms of non-"classical" composers: Bob Dylan would displace Schubert (i.e. move him back), and Thelonious Monk would displace Josquin.

What are some other interests other than music?

Literature, Chemistry, Phonology, Etymology, and Programming (especially perl).

Prinet: Kreutzer Sonata

What is IMSLP?

Copyright_symbol

When a composer writes a piece of music, he owns that music unless he gives ownership away. That means if someone wants the musical score, they must abide by his requirements. Equally, if they wish to perform the work they must give him royalties.

But copyright falls away after a number of years. The composer, his heirs and descendants, don't own it forever. The precise point when copyright vanishes depends on national law. When a work falls out of copyright, it is in the public domain.

Classical music copyright law is fiddly and complex, but the basic rule is that copyright persists for the composer or other author (if any) for 50 years after his death (Canada) or life plus 70 years (EU).

It's in that space where a work enters the public domain that IMSLP operates. Thousands of classical music scores and recordings emerge from copyright every year. IMSLP, run by volunteers using Wiki collaborative software, upload these scores and recordings to a server so they are available for anyone to download.

Like many good ideas, IMSLP is simple and elegant. In 2009, IMSLP won the MERLOT Classics award for Music and was named one of the Top 100 Web Sites by PC Magazine. It gets millions of hits per day.

At the time of writing, IMSLP holds over 71,000 scores by over 4,000 composers. These works would otherwise be sitting in libraries gathering dust, but now can see the light of day. It's a fabulous project. Anyone can get involved.

copyright