Wednesday, 23 November 2016

New Album Online: "Digital Expressions" - Music of the Early 20th Century

I always wanted to publish my recordings of 20th century music, but there had been the big obstacle of copyright law: in order to be able to publish my recordings of this music, I would have to acquire individual mechanical licenses, if the composer is not yet dead for more than 70 years.

Now with LOUDR.fm it is possible to publish this music without upfront fee - the copyright royalties are taken from the proceeds after someone purchases the tracks.

So I have gone back to the music keyboard and have reworked a recording which I had already made back in 1999, when MP3.COM was active: "Symphonie Classique" by Serge Prokofieff. At that time in 1999 I actually did purchase a set of mechanical licenses. But it was difficult to keep track of the number of downloads, and so I removed my recording from online access.

But now with the simplified management of copyrighted music I wanted to put this work again online, and so I have re-worked and updated it with the Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 sample library. All four movements of the Symphonie Classique are now included in this new album.

Since there is quite a rigid pricing scheme by major online music distributors (iTunes seems to charge listeners £7.99 for music that is longer than 15 minutes) I decided that I need a full album, to give the listeners and prospective buyers more value for their spent money, if they would decide to purchase these recordings. So I added Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta" and Poulenc's "Organ Concerto" which I had already published earlier as singles. There are some very minor slight changes of these two recordings, compared to the earlier versions (which I kept available online for now). I also added two compositions by composers which are already in the public domain: Bartok's "Rhapsody for Violin #1" and Ravel's "Pavane for a dead princess", to provide even more value for the same price.

I called this new album "Digital Expressions", to reflect the expressive early 20th century musicality which is common in all these compositions.

I hope that listeners will like these recordings.

This is the album URL on LOUDR: https://loudr.fm/release/digital-expressions-music-of-the-early-20th-century/DUWTf  . More online stores will follow soon.



Saturday, 13 August 2016

LOUDR.fm for Classical Music "Cover Songs"

Since several years I have published some of my music renditions on CD Baby, which has allowed me to bring this music to sites like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and others, either as myself (e.g. iTunes, Amazon) or as Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (e.g. iTunes, Amazon). I do like CD Baby because of the one flat fee that is to be paid when submitting music recordings for publication. No annual fee occurs, only a small fraction of the royalties is kept by CD Baby to cover expenses. This seemed to me more reasonable than paying an annual fee for the low number of listeners which my renditions attract. All these recording are either in public domain (composer dead for more than 70 years), or I hold the copyright on my own compositions.

A few weeks ago I found on the CD Baby a link to the LOUDR.fm service, and I was wondering what that was - so I checked it out. Turns out this is another music publishing site. It was recently acquired by CD Baby, hence the link to this competitor on their site. But LOUDR has one additional feature: it provides licensing for cover songs. This is a big deal: Finally I would be able to tap into the rich oevre of more recent composers such as Kodaly, Prokofiev and others. Licencing their music for my own "performance renditions" had been cumbersome: I would have to purchase a number of mechanical licenses ahead of the publication time and then would have to continuously track the downloads. I am also not sure if streaming would need a mechanical license. So all of this prevented me from publishing compositions by these copyrighted composers - really a pity. But LOUDR offers the capability of including a "cover" license for publishing such music. A "cover song" is any music which was written by a composer and is now performed by someone other than the composer. This terminology is of course more targeted towards popular music with its songs, but the principles also apply to classical music. Any music by a composer whose death occurred not more than 70 years ago is copyrighted, and any recording of this music requires a mechanical license. So I gave this music publication at LOUDR a try, and here are my experiences.

Excellent: Low Cost

LOUDR does not charge any up-front fee, which for an album at CD Baby is $49 (sometimes with a special offer reduced to $29). LOUDR also does not charge for the UPC code, which at other sites (e.g. CD Baby) costs $20. So this is a great upfront-savings. LOUDR charges a 15% fee of the purchase price for each sold track. If this is a cover song, the fee goes up: $0.091 for songs shorter than 5 minutes, and $0.0175 per minute for longer songs. This is then included in the fee that is subtracted from the revenue of each purchase. Details are given on their website. There are some additional fees for payment and for external sites, but in the examples given for a $10 album, the earnings paid out to the music creator are between $4.26 and $8.00 for each sold album. Since there is no up-front fee, there is also no pressure to create albums with many songs to make the best out of this fee. Instead one can opt to submit singles and therefore have more frequent releases.

Excellent: Attribution to Contributors

When entering the data for each track, LOUDR allows to specify a variety of contributors: arranger, composer, conductor, performer, remixer, soloist, vocal percussionist, and "featuring". This allows really to give appropriate credit to all contributors. For classical music it is especially relevant to distinguish between composer, conductor and performer. It is then also straightforward to indicate the original copyright holder (for classical music that is usually the composer).

Not so good: Classical Music Titles

Classical music faced always difficulties in the online music culture where in most cases the "artist" is the band/singer and the composer together. This is all ok when labelling for example the song "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles: the title is clear, and the artist is "The Beatles". But indicating a classical music artist is more complex: there is the composer, then the performing orchestra and the conductor. Who should then be named as "the artist", as the meta data fields for online music require? There seems to be no real consensus - I have seen versions where "Smetana" is given as the artist for "The Moldau", but I have also seen this title as "Smetana: The Moldau" and then the artist would be the conductor - or the orchestra. To fight this chaos regarding the naming of classical music titles, the online music distributors such as Amazon, Spotify and Apple have apparently defined some standards on how such classical music track titles are to be named. One requirement is that the name of the composer should NOT be in the title.
This is all fine, but LOUDR has applied even more stringent requirements of the title. This is specified in their Style Guide which can be downloaded on their web site. This guide specifies for the track titles:

"Song titles must be formatted as
[Name of Work] in [Key], [Catalog Number]: [Movement Number]. [Movement Title]
For example:
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67: I. Allegro con brio"

This is fine for most classical music before 1900. Newer music, however, often is not given with a key or a catalog number. If a title does not correspond to this strict scheme, LOUDR rejects it. I tried it with Zoltan Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta": I gave the correct original Hungarian title with translation: "Galántai táncok (Dances of Galánta)", without key and catalog number, as this is not shown in the score nor in any reference to this composition, but it was refused several times by the strict LOUDR upload system which seems to either operate automatically or is done just by someone screening for this specific required format. Only when finally someone from the support team responded to my request, then they did go ahead with the finalisation of the submission.
I would recommend that someone with a knowledge of the classical music repertoire would screen those titles and could then decide if the title is properly formatted. The current approach only adds unnecessary delays.

Customer Support, well...

LOUDR claims that their customer support would respond within 48 hours. But they appear to be overwhelmed, and I had to wait for responses to my emails a few days longer. They are very friendly and helpful, so I have no complaints there. But the long delay just adds to the whole publication process time. It may be also because the response is simply through email. CD Baby does have a similar approach via email, and I believe this adds to the delay time because email needs to be filtered for spam. I can imagine that their public email address gets a lot of spam mail, and therefore the processing of regular mails takes longer. I would suggest that they replace their email support system with a kind of forum with registration and login, to avoid the spam filter issues. Also they should have some support on weekends, to avoid that long backlog on Mondays coming from weekend-artists such as myself.

Overall this is a great and very promising site, and after the "Dances of Galanta" I have already another 20th century classical music treasure in the pipeline - hopefully the title issue will have been sorted out soon, because again this composition has no catalog number and therefore has already been rejected once ...


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The emotional "meaning" of music intervals

When searching for some existing work which relates to the perception of musical intervals in the ears (and the brains) of listeners, I came across this publication:

Marco Costa, Pio Enrico Ricci Bitti and Luisa Bonfiglioli (2000), Psychological Connotations of Harmonic Music Intervals, in Psychology of Music, 28, pp. 4-22, April 2000.

The article is available online here at ResearchGate. In this article the authors (from the University of Bologna) are showing their investigations into the perception of musical intervals by listeners. While their own results are indeed very interesting, their paper shows also some other treasure of knowledge which I would like to share here. Apparently there have been earlier investigations into this matter on how to perceive musical intervals, a here are some of those results in a summary table.

Here is a table which summarizes some of the generally known "properties" of intervals:

Table 1: Musical intervals and their expressiveness

Interval nameSample notesTheoretical statusExpressive function (Cooke, 1959)Expressive function (others)
minor second C-C# dissonance Semitonal tension down to the tonic, in a minor context; spiritless anguish, context of finality Dissonant, painful, uptight, afflicted, discouraged, humiliated
major secondC-D dissonance As a passing note, emotionally neutral. As a whole-tone tension down to the tonic in a major context, pleasurable longing, context of finality.Dissonant, in suspense, tormented, sad, uptight, eager, pleasant
minor thirdC-E♭ imperfect consonance Concord, but a "depression" of natural third: stoic, acceptance, tragedy.Painful, severe, languid, sweet, melancholy, frank, still, submitted
major third C-E imperfect consonance Concord, natural third: joy.Sonorous, Joyous, furious, strong, cheerful, pleasant, happy, right, pure, quiet, stable, shining
perfect fourth C-F perfect consonance As a passing note emotionally neutral. As a semitonal tension down to the minor third pathos. Lugubrious, active, tense
augmented fourth (tritonus) C-F# dissonance As a modulating note to the dominant key active aspiration. As "augmented fourth" pure and simple devilish and inimical forces.Hostile, averse, destructive, misterious
perfect fifth C-G perfect consonance Emotionally neutral, contrxt of flux, intermediacy.Consonant, pleasurable, stimulating, gentle, acrimonious, healthy, agreeable
minor sixth C-G# imperfect consonance Semitonal tension down to the dominant, in a minor context: active anguish in a context of flux.Pleasant, consonant, painful, discontended, strained, distressing, active, unstable
major sixth C-A imperfect consonance As a passing note: emotionally neutral. As a whole tone tension down to the dominant, in a major context: pleasurable longing in a context of flux.Pleasant, consonant, unstable, sweet, desirous, bright, tense
minor seventh C-B♭ dissonance Semitonal tension down to major sixth, or whole-tone tension down to minor sixth, both unsatisfactory, resolvign again down to the dominant: "lost" note, mournfulnessDissonant, sad, painful, empty, melancholy, severe, strained, bewildered, lugubrious, unsatistied
major seventh C-B dissonance As a passing note emotionally neutral. As a semitonal tension up to the tonic, violent longing, aspiration in a context of finalityDissonant, tense, bitter, disagreeable, gloomy, optimistic
octave C-c perfect consonance
Consonant, easy, solemn, majestic, strong, severe, full, stable, energetic

Here are the relevant literature references, as given by Costa et al.:
D. Cooke (1959). The language of music. New York: Oxford University Press.

Others:
N. Castiglioni (1959). Il linguaggio musicale dal Rinascimento ad oggi. Milano: Ricordi
G. Galilei (1638). Dialoghi intorno a due nuove scienze. In G. Galilei Opera Omnia (vol VIII), 1966, Firenze: Biblioteca Nazionale
C. Gervasoni (1800). La scuola della musica in tre parti divisa. Piacenza: Niccolo Orcessi.
P. Gianelli (1801). Grammatica ragionata della musica, ossia nuovo metodo facile di apprendere a ben suonare e cantare. Venezia: A.Santini
J.J. Rousseau (1782). Dictionnaire de musique. Aux Deux-Ponts: Chez Sanson et Compagnie.
R. Steiner (1975). Wesen des Musikalischen und das Tonerlebnis im Menschen. Dornoch: Rudolf Steiner Verlag
G. Tartini (1754). Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienzia dell' armonia. Padova: Giovanni Manfre Editore.


In 1940 Edgar Willems has investigated this perception a bit more - here are his results:

Table 2: Expressive values of musical intervals according to Willems (1940)

Interval Sensorial Affective Intellective
unisonous fusion, smoothness will, peace insistence, serenity
minor second derangement, roughness fear, anger shyness, illness
major second movement, friction wish, vulgarity request, displeasure
minor third heaviness, shadow sadness, pain lament, discouragement
major third clearness, limpid joy, happiness hope, balance
perfect fourth hardness, cold firmness, indifference achievement, simplicity
augmented fourth (tritonus, 45:32) fracture, heat disdain, excitement pretension, surprise
diminished Fifth (tritonus, 64:45)excitement, instability restlessness, anxiety doubt, uncertainty
perfect fifth balance, emptiness love, calm certainty, mastery
minor sixth upsetting, penumbra suffer, melancholy worry, pity
major sixth radiant, light effusiveness, kindness satisfaction, gratification
minor seventh dynamic, warmth exaltation, love lyricism, romanticism
major seventh limitation, wound wickedness, hate pride, rebellion
octave solid, stable courage, exaltation heroism, liberation

Edgar Willems (1940). L'Oreille musicale. T. I. La préparation auditive de l'enfant. Avant-propos de E. Jaques Dalcroze. II. La culture auditive. Les intervalles et les accords. Avant-propos de H. Gagnebin Reliure inconnue – 1940 available at Amazon France


These are very interesting attributes, which seem to correlate with my own perception of musical intervals. It would now be interesting if these attributes are dependent on the absolute pitch. I have not found any investigation which looked at this aspect.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Béla Bartók: Rhapsody No.1 (1928). "Lassu" and "Friss"

Today, on 25 March 2015, is Bela Bartok's 134th birthday. Not a "round" number, but still reason to celebrate him with his music.

I have completed now the recording of Bartok's "Rhapsody No.1", with both movements "Lassu" and "Friss". This is the version for violin and orchestra. Originally this composition was written by Bartok for piano and violin, but he transcribed it for orchestra and violin in 1929.

Already in 2001 I had created a rendition of "Lassu", at that time with my Yamaha MU-80 synthesizer and a viola soundfont. In 2014 I did revise this recording of "Lassu", using the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 (GPO4) sample library for a more realistically sounding rendition. And now, in March 2015 I have tackled the 2nd movement, "Friss".

Both movements rely heavily on solo violin, which is a bit problematic to "play" on a regular piano keyboard. For this recording I have played this solo violin voice in live play, so that I could convey the varying tempi and attacks. I did use the "solo violin 1" (Stradivari) sample for this voice. In "Friss" there are also parts where the string sections are to be played by a few solo instruments, so I did use all of the other solo instruments from the GPO4 library.

The cimbalom used here is a standard Cakewalk TTS softsynth from Sonar.


Here is now the completed recording of Rhapsody No.1. After the first movement, the 2nd one will play automatically.



The recording was created in Sonar Producer X1. It uses 3 instances of the ARIA player, with a total of 32 individual MIDI tracks and instruments.

There are two different possible endings in "Friss". I chose the one which is supposed to be used when both movements are played. Since "Friss" can also be played as a stand-alone movement without "Lassu", there is a different ending of "Friss" which does not refer in the end back to "Lassu".



Here is an encore: Béla Bartók on the piano, and violinist Josef Szigeti, for whom this composition was written, in a historic recording from 13 April 1940:



In this recording, apparently the second version of the "Friss" ending was used, even though both movements are played in sequence together.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

"Im Märzen der Bauer..."

The beginning of spring in the month or March is a good opportunity to play the old folk song (Volkslied) from Moravia "Im Märzen der Bauer" ("In March the Farmer...").



This song describes the activities of farmers at the beginning of spring and then (in the final verse) throughout the year. It is most often played/sung with 3 verses, but there is also a version with an additional inserted after the first verse, as shown on the Lieder-website Ingeb.org.

1. Im Märzen der Bauer die Rößlein einspannt;
Er bringt seine Felder und Wiesen instand, 
Er ackert, er egget, er pflüget und sät
Und regt seine Hände gar früh und noch spät.

a. Den Rechen, den Spaten, den nimmt er zur Hand
und setzet die Wiesen in ebenen Stand. 
Auch pfropft er die Bäume mit edlerem Reis
Und spart weder Arbeit noch Mühe und Fleiß.

2. Die Knechte und Mägde und all sein Gesind,
Das regt und bewegt sich wie er so geschwind.
Sie singen manch munteres, fröhliches Lied
Und freu'n sich von Herzen, wenn alles schön blüht.

3. Und ist dann der Frühling und Sommer vorbei,
So füllet die Scheuer der Herbst wieder neu.
Und ist voll die Scheuer, voll Keller und Haus,
Dann gibt's auch im Winter manch fröhlichen Schmaus.


Here is a translation into English (which can be sung to this melody and which also rhymes) by my friend David Solomons, who has sung the German version of this song to am earlier version of my recording (from 2003), which is available on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxbYSzxd8GM.

1. In March comes the farmer to harness his team. 
He makes his fields ready as well he may deem.
He ploughs and he harrows and sows all his seeds.
From dawn up to dusk then to labour he needs.

a. He takes up the rake and the spade in his hand
And levels the meadows he has on his land.
He also grafts new twigs onto his fine trees. 
It takes all his effort, his work doesn't cease.

2. The farmhands and maids and his workers all there.
Keep busy as he does his work for to share.
They sing lots of songs that are merry and bright
And when all is blooming it gives them delight.

3. Now when the spring season and summer are past.
The autumn will fill his great barn then at last.
And once barn and cellar and house are well filled.
There is jolly feasting when winter has chilled.

© David Solomons 2012.


This web site also provides the following interesting information about this song:

"Bauernlied" im "Liederbuch für die Deutschen in Österreich", 1. u. unveränderte 2. Aufl., Wien 1884. Der Herausgeber Josef Pommer fügte hinzu: "Ein von der deutschen Landbevölkerung der mährischen Sudeten häufig gesungenes und beliebtes Volkslied. Eingesandt (zwischen 1882 u. 1884)."

Looking at this time frame and the location, this is a song which very likely composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) heard in his youth, when he grew up in Iglau (Jihlava) at the border between Bohemia and Moravia. In my arrangement and the composition of the interludes between the verses I hinted at this connection by adding some "Mahlerian"-type harmonies and progressions.

I have created the first version of this arrangement in 2002/2001. Now I have reworked it and re-recorded it in Februaryh 2015. This new recording uses Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 (strings and a solo flute).

Sunday, 15 February 2015

"A fairly ordinary working day" - composition for string quartet

In summer 2012 the Crossover Composition Award was organised, asking for a composition for two violins. So I sat down and wrote a 5 minute composition for two violins. There were great other contributions to this competition, and my composition was not awarded anything.

After the composition was sitting for a while on the metaphorical shelves, I decided to extend it into a string quartet. So in February 2015 I added a viola and a cello voice, changed a few notes in the violin parts, and recorded the quartet again with the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 sample library.

The result is here on SoundCloud:
http://soundcloud.com/reinhold-behringer/a-fairly-ordinary-working-day-for-string-quartet.




About the composition:

The music follows a program: a typical ordinary working day at the office. It starts out with night, sunrise, awakening, then some morning hectic. Rush hour traffic, fast cars, people running upstairs and downstairs. Then at work. Boring routine job. Daydreaming. Trouble with the boss. The day does not seem to end. Finally the work is over. Rush hour on the way home. Partying. Night.

The exact correspondences of these notions to the music are shown in my synchronous comments that appear when the music is played. I did try to put these notions directly into music, quite literally translating the mood and motion into musical elements.

I hope that you enjoy this music!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Delian Suite #8 - a collaborative music composition project

The "Delian Society" is currently working on a composition which involves several composers: The "Delian Suite #8" has several movements, each of which is one minute long and is composed by a different composer, as a letter to a person of the past. This is currently work in progress, but the preliminary site is already up. This suite will be performed in 2015 by the Octava Chamber Orchestra.
I am very glad that I have the opportunity to take part in this project with my own little composition "Letter to Ada Lovelace".

Friday, 15 November 2013

"Romantic Suite"

In 2001 I wrote this three-part suite for orchestra. It has the movements "Mirage", "Cheeky", and "Never Ending". "Mirage" is for full orchestra and piano, "Cheeky" is for piano with strings and a few woodwinds, and "Never Ending" is for string orchestra, harp, and two solo violas.

The first rendition was created in 2001, using a Yamaha MU-80 synthesizer and a few soundfonts. This new recording from November 2013 is based on the Garritan Personal Orchestra sounds. The music is available at BandCamp.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Visualisation Video of Debussy's Nuages - by Stephen Malinowski

Stephen Malinowski has visualised my recording of Claude Debussy's "Nuages":



This is in principle a piano roll plot, but with much more sophisticated iconography, giving a deep insight into the musical structure over time, showing instrumentation, harmonies, and tonality.

On his website "The Music Animation Machine" he explains the process of creating these visualisations. He has many more music recordings visualised in similar ways, and his videos are on several YouTube channels:

smalin
musanim
musanim3D
stephenmalinowski
Stephen Malinowski









Monday, 17 June 2013

Website Maintenance - all music tracks now streamed for free

After a longer period of inactivity I had a look at my main website www.virtualphilharmonic.co.uk, only to notice that many of my music streams did not work anymore. Some settings on the Indaba website where I am currently hosting most of my music, had changed, and as a consequence, several of my music recordings were not playing anymore.

I fixed this now: each of the tracks which are listed here have now a full length streaming widget from the Indaba site. I got rid of the "partial play" which only played a random 30 sec clip, even though many of these tracks can also be purchased on iTunes / Amazon.

I think that it is more valuable that people have the opportunity to listen to what I am creating (or trying to create), than "enforcing" the purchase of my music on commercial sites. Therefore, all my music is from now on available for free on my site.

These Indaba streaming widgets appear to use Flash. Unfortunately they do not seem to run on any mobile phone... There is the "additional MP3 player" which uses HTML5, but that appears to work somewhat unreliable, as the files are on my very slow server.

In the future I may not use Indaba anymore and instead use my site on BandCamp. They offer widgets which work greatly on any mobile platform, and I like their model of voluntary payment. On this site I already have placed the complete "Ma Mere L'Oye" by Ravel, and my very latest rendition: From Mahler's Symphony #6 the "Andante Moderato". I have just posted that one also on my main site, as the first one that only links to the player on BandCamp.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Tchaikovsky: February - Carnival

A few days ago I completed the orchestra transcription of the second piece from Tchaikovsky's Suite "The Seasons", "February - Carnival". My method for transcribing is as follows: First I record the piano version with sequencer software. Then in the piano roll view I select notes to be copied into appropriate instrument tracks. I did use all the notes in the piano score and let it be played by at least one instrument group. Also, I did not add any notes, except some octave-doubling in the bass and a triangle in the middle part.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Tchaikovsky: January - At the Fireside


Tchaikovsky wrote the 12 pieces "The Seasons" for piano solo. However, they lend themselves very well for orchestration, and several composers and musicians transcribed these pieces for orchestra (read more on Wikipedia).

In 2001 I began my own transcription of these pieces, but I only managed to complete "January". Now, in 2013, I again have resumed working on transcribing these nice little music pieces, and I have revised my transcription of the first one, "January", with the use of Garritan Personal Orchestra samples.

The result is here:


For non-flash systems this link may work: www.indabamusic.com/asset/show/1995252

Thursday, 22 November 2012

"5. Forum Medientechnik" at FH St.Poelten (Austria) - Keynote

On Thursday, 22.November 2012 I will give a keynote presentation at the "Forum Medientechnik", organised by the FH St.Poelten (Austria) about my work on orchestral renditions using sequencers, instrument sample libraries, and synthesizers. The talk (given in German) titled "The Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra - Produktion klassischer Orchestermusik am Computer" will cover the fundamental techniques applied in creating such renditions with simple and affordable technology means at home. It will feature the Prelude (1st movement) of Maurice Ravel's orchestral version of "Le Tombeau de Couperin", which will be used to illustrate the application of various techniques for making such renditions "musical".

The website of this conference is at http://fmt2012.fhstp.ac.at/

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mahler: "Resurrection", 1st Movement

Today, 18.May 2012, is the 101st anniversary of Gustav Mahler's death. Just in time for this commemoration I was able to complete my rendition of the first movement of Symphony #2. This has been my most ambitious project so far: it requires 66 independent instrument tracks in the sequencer, and it almost brings my audio system to its knees, with an occasional glitch in the audio engine. But the recording could be created ok.

The image to the left is a painting by artist Paula Arciniega. She has created a whole series of paintings, inspired by Mahler's symphonies, and I find that these express his music very well. The one shown here is the painting which relates to Symphony #2.

My recording if the first movement is on my website, but for direct access it can be also played through the player below. I plan to continue working on this symphony, but it will take a while until I have it completed.



Saturday, 7 April 2012

2D Fourier Transform on Music

For a long time, I have thought about what to do to visualize music. The need for this comes when posting music recordings onto YouTube, which is a very nice platform for distributing music. Just showing a black screen does not really do justice to the visual medium, and so one has to think on what to put there to the music. Many music pieces have there a still image, or a collection of images which are relevant to the music. This is fine, but does not use fully the possibilities which video is offering. Ideally, one would have a video that is tightly synchronized to the music and complements the acoustic impression with a visual one - as it is done in popular music videos, since the time MTV has pushed this forward ("video killed the radio star" comes to mind). But for classical music there is really not very much in terms of appropriate music visualizations: there are videos of the performers, there are those series of smartly arranged still images, but rarely is there a video which truly complements the audio and the music in terms of visualizing directly the music and its elements.

In the past there has been some work on this, and I am especially fascinated by the work that Oskar Fischinger has done in the 1920-40s. Sometimes a few of his films have been shown on Turner Classic Movies in between regular movies. He really tried to take music and visualize it with abstract shapes which represent the music.

On most mediaplayers, there are automatic visualization tools which show some automatically generated animations, based on the music audio. However, I have never found a satisfying visualizer, because most of the visualizations appear to be some random motions, on top of a bit of wave analysis.

That kept me thinking, and then in December 2011 I had the idea to use the Fourier Transform to detect periodicities in music. The Fourier Transform (FT) is a well known approach for analyzing audio: it is generally used to create spectrograms and show the frequency content in music. FT detects periodicities in signals, and this is usually used to detect the frequencies which are present in an acoustic signal. Music is based on such frequencies, which relate to musical notes. But music has also "slower" periodicities", not related to the high frequency of sound (>20 Hz), but related to the measures and the beat in music. So I decided to apply the FT on music with a larger window: for a sound spectrum, the FT is usually applied for a time window of 100 ms. But for revealing longer-period periodicities in music, I would apply the FT for a time window of several seconds.

To make the computations easier, I decided to not use the sound wave itself, but the abstract notation of music as input. This is a series of discrete note events, which have pitch and volume. In music sequencers, the notes are usually shown on a piano plot roll, which has as horizontal axis the time, and as vertical axis the pitch resp. the note frequency. A FT can be applied on this piano plot roll, using the 2-dimensional approach for FT that is used in image processing (noise reduction, feature detection).

The figure to the left here shows the 2D Fourier Transform of the piano roll plot of Gustav Mahler's "Urlicht" (4th movement of Symphony No.2). In this plot, the horizontal axis shows spatial frequencies of the rhythm and the beat distribution. The vertical axis indicates the distribution of intervals and chords. There are clearly some peaks to be seen, which indicate predominant intervals in this music. Most of the relevant data are around the central axis (x=0) in the FT plot, which is the axis with small rhythm elements, indicating long notes (or pauses). Along this central vertical axis, the musical chord and interval elements can be seen as distinct points or regions.

This 2D FT can be re-transformed back into a piano roll plot, by again applying the Fourier Transform algorithm. I have tried this, and indeed it comes out correctly. However, this back-transformation also needs the phase of the FT (something that is also numerically computed as part of the transformation, using complex numbers). If this phase is not present, then the resulting piano plot roll is overlaid with its mirror image, due to symmetry. It would be quite beneficial to find a way to remove this mirror image, without using the phase of the FT. Then, the inverse transformation could be used to edit the music in its Fourier space. This would provide completely new ways of creating music.

Overall I think that this 2D FT has quite a significance for music: it is invariant to pitch and tempo (at least if the music time is used as reference, instead of real time), and this can lead to unique fingerprinting of music or musical phrases, which can be used for identifying music. Also, it can provide new ways of creating music by editing its Fourier Transform. And last but not least, I have found a new way of visualizing music. At least, the FT algorithm provides a new dataset (2D array) as a basis for an interesting visualization that directly represents the musical content.

I have published this approach recently at the Music, Mind, Invention workshop in Ewing, NJ. The officially published paper for this is here, and the presentation which I gave is here, although that presentation does not have me speaking, so it may be a bit hard to understand the context and background.

I plan to develop this further, make a few videos with this approach as visual accompaniment of my music, and I will work towards releasing the software as a toolkit so that it can be used by others. Lots of work to do then.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Opening of Workshop "Music, Mind, Invention"

At the evening before the workshop "Music, Mind, Invention" began (held at The College of New Jersey in Ewing), a concert was given in the Center for the Arts, where pianist Joanna Chao performed music by mostly contemporary composers. Here is the program she played:

Joshua Fineberg: "Tremors" (1997)
J.S.Bach: Aria to Goldberg Variations
Fred Lerdahl (2004, 2009): "Three Diatonic Studies", with the movements "Chasing Goldberg", "Cyclic Descent", and "Scalar Rhythms"
Robert Young McMahan: From the "Six Miniatures for Piano" (2011-12) the first two: "Andante" and "Crisp, Strident". This was a world premiere.
Joshua Fineberg: "Veils" (2001)

A very appropriate opening of the workshop, followed by a reception with the opportunity to chat with the participants.



Saturday, 24 March 2012

Ravel's "Ma mère l'oye" (Mother Goose) recorded by VPO

Maurice Ravel's orchestral suite "Ma mère l'oye" (Mother Goose) is based on children's stories. It was first written as a piece for piano, but Ravel later created an orchestral version. There is a long orchestral version which was intended as a ballet music, and there is a shorter suite in 5 movements. I have dedicated the past month to work on the latter 5-movement suite and have created a rendition with the Garritan Personal Orchestra samples. Work on this suite was not easy: although the instrumentation is set much lighter than for example a Gustav Mahler symphony, there are several technical difficulties in it: the strings have many parts with fast notes, 1/32 and 1/64. Overall, the instruments need to be played very light-hearted, to keep that airy feel of the music. There are several wind solo instruments which need to be played "with emotion". There is lots of flagolet in the strings, and some of the instruments appear to exceed their natural range (or is this just sloppiness of the editors at Durand, who did not properly assign the right instruments?).

The recordings of all five movements of this suite are now complete, and I have bundled this suite with another suite by Maurice Ravel: "Le Tombeau de Couperin" into the album "Maurice Ravel - Vol.One". My recording of the Le Tombeau suite had already been completed in November 2011, but its 20 minutes duration was too short for a full album.

Since a few days this album has become available on the commercial music outlets. This time Spotify was first, followed by iTunes a few days later. I am now waiting for the album to appear on Amazon.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Happy 137th birthday, Monsieur Joseph-Maurice Ravel!

It is not really a big anniversary - 137 years is kind of an odd number. But there is always a good reason to take the opportunity to celebrate the music of Maurice Ravel. Many people know his "Bolero", which has become a kind of musical icon even in popular culture. Also his orchestration of Modest Mussorgksy's "Pictures at an Exhibition" is well known. But he wrote many other works, which are popular among classic music enthusiasts, but are not so well known in the general public.

I have liked his music since the late 1970s and have learned about many of his other compositions. His special style of instrumentation and orchestration is very recognizable. So it was for me a special challenge to recreate this "sound color" with my synthesizer/sampler instruments. In 1998-1999 I was able to create a rendition of all four movements from his orchestral suite "Le Tombeau de Couperin". Using the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 samples I then re-recorded this suite a few months ago - the four movements are accessible here on my website. Also in 1998 I recorded the "Pavane for a Dead Princess", and I recently revised that rendition with the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 as well.

Since quite a while I wanted to record the suite "Ma mère l'oye" (Mother Goose), which is about children's stories. It has a peculiar fine and delicate quality, and one has to be careful not to overpower it. The instrumentation appears quite sparse, but with an array of unusual instruments. The technical abilities required from the instrumentalists in the orchestra appear quite high: several instruments have solo lines which require very precise and expressive playing. The strings have fast 1/32 and several flagolet notes. These challenges are also hard to master with my computer/sampler setup, as the sound must have this special "light and airy" quality. I had planned to complete the whole suite by this birthday on 7.March, but this proved to be too ambitious: so far I only have the first three movements of this suite recorded. I hope to complete this suite in the next few weeks.

A playlist with all my 8 current recording "tracks" of Ravel's music is here on my new site at Indaba.

Another music by Ravel is still waiting for me: the technically very challenging homage to Vienna waltzes: "La Valse".

Let us celebrate the composer of such wonderful music, and let us ignore the scandalous situation related to the royalties of his music.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Redesigned Website

Currently I am working on redesigning the Website of the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra. Most of the work has now been done, but there are a few more things to complete.

The main change is that the streaming of the audio (MP3 files) which I host on my site, is now done through HTML5 and its <audio> tag, as explained here on my other blog. This allows playing the files on any current browser, without the user having to install a plugin. Also, this method gives me a better control of the access: I can implement access counters which keep track of how often an MP3 file is played, and I can provide authorized access to files which are otherwise protected. One general problem is that the web server where the site is hosted, is not really suitable for large volume streaming; therefore I did have to limit the access of many files, so as not to cause too much bandwidth allocation.

I also cleaned up the layout to make it easier to navigate. The main feature of this layout is that it is also mobile-friendly: all the content adapts to a smaller size (try this out by re-sizing the browser window, and you see what I mean), as it is based on flexible and floating <DIV>s (blocks of HTML parts which have a variable size and can arrange themselves to fit on the screen). The site now includes links to Wikipedia for composers and music pieces on the site. Social networking links are now provided, allowing a more active user feedback and engagement. Music recordings are now called "tracks", in accordance with the usual lingo in the music publishing industry. When available on commercial online music distributors, the direct links to those sites are provided. On Spotify, streaming is for free. iTunes, Amazon, and CDBaby allow download of the tracks and albums for a fee. My music is also on many more online distributors, which would be too many to list.

Still missing in the site re-organisation are pages with the albums, the videos, and my own compositions. These will be done as soon as I find more time. Furthermore, not all of the individual music tracks do yet have their full own page - but this will also be completed soon.

I hope that you enjoy this new site layout with all the new features!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Slow Mahler - Out of Context

The last two years, 2010 and 2011, have seen many performances and new recordings of the Symphonies by Gustav Mahler, due to the fact, that in 2010 his 150th birthday was celebrated, and in 2011 the 100th anniversary of his death was commemorated. Since these symphonies are among the music that I cherish most, I felt compelled to contribute with my own recordings, which, as always, are renditions of the complete orchestral scores by using computer-controlled sampled instruments. My first album release of a complete Mahler Symphony happened on 7.July 2010: his Symphony #1 which I subtitled as "From the Life of a Lonely One" ("Aus dem Leben eines Einsamen"), the original subtitle of Jean Paul's novel "Titan" which was Mahler's inspiration for this Symphony #1. Most often, the Symphony #1 is titled "Titan", but I think that the longer subtitle much better reflects the mood and musical content. The complete symphony is available on iTunes.

But since that release of this symphony in 2010 I had not been able to commit time to complete the rendition of another symphony. These works are just too gigantic. But I did have time to work on a few new individual movements from his symphonies, and I reworked some of the previous recordings which I had created. All of these were slow movements, because of a simple and trivial reason: I can get them done faster, because they contain not so many notes. Even the last movement of Symphony #9 was quite quickly recorded. What took longer was to shape the expression until it sounded acceptable to me. And then in September 2011 I decided to combine these into a new "temporary" album: "SLOW MAHLER - OUT OF CONTEXT". I am fully aware that these movements normally need the context of a whole symphony, and taking them out of this context may not be the most sensible thing to do. But I put them together under the common theme of slowness: they show the development of musical expressiveness, from the "Blumine" in Symphony #1 through the emotional rollercoaster of the 4th movement of Symphony #4, to the final resting in the Finale of Symphony #9. And therefore, this album does show a certain cohesiveness.

I plan of course to complete all symphonies eventually, and work is currently done on creating a rendition of Symphonies #2 and #4 - but this may take a while. In the meantime I invite you to enjoy the album that I have created for you. It is here on iTunes at the address: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/slow-mahler-out-of-context/id476151493
or on Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Slow-Mahler-Out-of-Context/dp/B00608G1B8/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328484020&sr=301-1

Monday, 30 January 2012

Plans for 2012

Almost 1/12 of the new year 2012 has already passed... The Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) has big projects for this year: all pre-2005 renditions will be re-recorded, using Garritan Personal Orchestra 4, and all these new recordings will have completely new expression and timing mapping. Also, some of the music excerpts from suites/symphonies which are currently only available in a subset of movements, will be completed, so that these work are no longer there in isolation.

But there are also plans for new renditions, and this weekend I started working on one: although the Mahler year is over, I have begun to record the first movement of Symphony #2. Got already the first minute or so. Now this is a big one, and I am already dreading how to work on the huge final movement (which requires a choir and two orchestras...). Also the first movement requires quite an orchestral setup. In Sonar, I did create 4 sets of ARIA players, with a total of 64 different orchestra instrument samples. This appears to reach the limit of my PC: the audio play is a bit choppy, although only few instruments are playing during this first minute. However, the off-line "bounce-to-track" seemed to work without glitches, so I will carry on. In the 2nd minute there is a large "unisono" which will use most of the instruments simultaneously - if I get this working ok, then the rest should be fine.

You may wonder what this image to the top left is: this is a glimpse into results of my recent work on automatic music visualization. The algorithm takes into account periodicities in music and is based on a 2D Fourier Transform. More will be in a paper which I am currently preparing. This snapshot is a visualization of a moment in Smetana's Moldau.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mahler 9, final movement: "Adagio"

In recent weeks during August, I have worked on a new rendition: the final movement of Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, "Adagio". I got inspired to do this after listening to the BBC Proms concert this summer, where Roger Norrington and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart performed this work (a quite positive review is here. This particular performance created a split response from the audience: some loved the "no-nonsense" approach, based on the mantra of Norrington that in Mahler's time there was "no vibrato", others did not like the dry sound. Initially I was also a bit underwhelmed when listening to it on the radio, but when watching the TV performance and seeing the player and the orchestra, it made more sense, and I enjoyed it.

I also know the legendary recording by Bruno Walter in Vienna, January 1938, which to my ears also is a bit in the "no-nonsense" category, with the tempi not too slow but moderately stringent.

These are the only two recordings I knew, and with these in mind I began working on the iconic slow final movement, which has the connotation of "farewell", "good-bye", "Leb wohl", although none of that is written anywhere in the score or in any notes my Mahler.

Since this is a slow movement, it has not so many notes - just 17 pages of score. There are some technical difficulties, those 1/5 notes need to be properly done. I could have attempted playing them live, but since in these segments there are several layers of different note duration fractions overlaid, I decided to do a brute quantization there. I must say that I admire the real orchestra musicians who are able to play these difficult passages.

The overall mood of this music is to be "light", airy, with a chamber-music-like quality to it, despite all the brass and woodwinds (4 flutes!).

My first attempt is here:


Apologies for a few issues with clipping - it is actually not audible, but I see it in the wave analysis. Has to do with simultaneous instrumental attacks which I need to spread slightly to avoid that initial peak.

I hope you like this recording, and I hope that it does not spoil for anyone the enjoyment of this wonderful music - if you do not like my version in particular, there are plenty of excellent "real" orchestra recordings out there!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Concert Review: Elisabeth Kulman and Amarcord Wien


Friday afternoon, I walk through the streets of Graz. Then I see a poster with an announcement of a concert for this evening: Songs by Mahler. I HAVE to go. The ticket office is already closed, so I will have to try at the evening box office.

After quickly eating one of those gigantic Wiener Schnitzel (which are usually at least two or three slices of meat) with fried potatoes, I rush to the Congress. And yes, they still have tickets. I take my seat. Then the performance begins.

I have never heard about Amarcord Wien before. Well, this just proves that I am a moron. Now I know what I have missed, and their performance will never leave my mind. The violin plays the melody. The bass gives the low pitch foundation. The cello plays the counterpoint melody. And the accordion provides the harmonic texture. And then Elisabeth Kulman begins to sing. And heaven opens its gate.

Absolutely unusual instruments for a performance of Gustav's music, but absolutely fitting. A wonderful play with the music, full of emotion and inspiration. Makes you forget that there is no full orchestra here. Elisabeth's voice is like a dream come true.

From "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen":
"Ging heut' morgen über's Feld"
"Die zwei blauen Augen"

Then from "Kindertotenlieder":
"In diesem Wetter"

Then the "Scherzo" from Symphony No.1. This performance by Amarcord convinces me that my version of this movement is indeed too slow: they play it like a typical Austrian country folk song in a quite lively tempo, and now I know that this is how it should be played.

Then from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn":
"Ablösung im Sommer"
"Lob des hohen Verstandes"
"Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald"
"Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?"

After the break the program continues with the "Adagietto". The clear instrumentation with these four instruments begs for a more rapid tempo than many of the current lush orchestral recordings, and Amarcord delivers a very appropriately paced performance, lyrical, but keeping up the momentum instead of bathing endlessly in long passages. Well done1

Then from the "Rückert Lieder":
"Ich atmet' einen linden Duft"
"Liebst du um Schönheit"
"Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder"
"Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen"
"Um Mitternacht"


They gave an encore: "Urlicht"
The applause did not stop, Elisabeth said "Wir sind etwas überwältigt", and since they did not have another piece, they played again "Ging heut' morgen über's Feld".

A wonderful evening - I am so glad that I saw that poster and did not miss this concert!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Maazel and Philharmonia: Mahler #5 and Mozart in Hull


On Saturday, 29.May 2011, I once again had the pleasure of attending a concert conducted by Maestro Lorin Maazel. He conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Victorian City Hall of Hull. The first part of the concert was Mozart's Piano concerto No.9, KV271. Pianist Lise de la Salle gave a superb performance of this work, with crystal-clear intonation. The acoustics of the concert hall appeared to support the piano sound very well, allowing to hear every nuance of the piano play in bright clarity. The orchestra performed flawlessly well in its complement to the piano.

But of course, the main "attraction" of this evening was Mahler's Symphony No.5, and the Mozart was merely an appetizer. After the break the orchestra took seat in its full configuration, the elevated seats in the back now occupied by an extended brass section. Mahler's original score calls for 6 horns, 4 trumpets, and 3 trombones. Here, however, were 7 horns, 5 trumpets, and 4 trombones! Maazel had chosen to place the strings in the contemporary string setup, which is from left to right: Violins 1, Violins 2, Violas, Celli. Basses were in the right back behind the Celli. It appears that in the past (example: 2001/02 season) the Philharmonia Orchestra had used different possible setups, and it is interesting to note that Lorin Maazel at that time (as seen in the sketches on that web site) appeared to have chosen the traditional string setup with opposing 1st and 2nd violins in the front of the orchestra (which is the seating layout which I would opt for).

The solo trumpet fanfare began with great impact, and then the Mahlerian sound universe unfolded under the conduction of Lorin Maazel. He took the tempi of the first two movements a bit slower than Bernstein in the 1973 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (which in my view is THE reference recording), similar to the slower tempo of Valerie Gergiev at the 2010 Proms. The overall duration of the whole symphony was 80 minutes, and they were filled with the emotional roller coaster of Mahler's expressive music. The orchestra performed exceptionally well, following Maazel's precise conducting, the instruments were played with excellent intonation, and all the nuances of this music came across in all their glory. There was, however, a slight problem with the overall instrumental balance: maybe it was a flaw of the acoustics of the concert hall, maybe it was the elevated position of the brass players in that amphitheatre-like setting in which they were placed, maybe it was the fact that the number of brass players had been increased from Mahler's already generous setting - but the brass appeared too loud in several instances. I do not mean here the expressive outbursts and glorious triumphant sections - these were just right and had the appropriate impact. But in parts when the brass really did not have much meaningfull to say (yes, such segments do exist, even in Mahler's symphonies), it was too prominent and covered sometimes the main melody by the strings. It might have been a good idea also to strengthen the first and second violin section. Violas, celli and basses appeared to stand up against the brass well, and also the woodwinds were well audible, but the violins seemed sometimes to drown within the sound of the rest of the orchestra.

But overall a grandious and enjoyable performance by a world-class orchestra and one of the best conductors in the world.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

18.May: 100th Anniversary of Mahler's Death

On 18.May 1911 one of the greatest composers ever died in Vienna: Gustav Mahler. So much has been written about him and his music, I really have nothing to add. Except maybe a note about why I enjoy his music so much: it is the most "rollercoaster-like" music, expressing emotions ranging from utmost happiness to deepest desperation. I do not know any other composer who was able to capture human emotions to such an extend in music.

Here is my contribution to the commemoration of his death: "Urlicht", the 4th movement of his 2nd Symphony.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

CD: Walter conducts Mahler's 9th Symphony

On one of my recent long motorway drives (on the M62) I had the opportunity to listen to another treasure from my CD collection: a recording of Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (the other VPO), conducted by Bruno Walter live in the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna - on 16.January 1938. This is a remarkable recording for several reasons: despite its age the recording sounds quite fresh. Sure, it is in mono, and the frequency spectrum is quite limited, but one can hear the immense musicality. This recording received the "Classic CD" Historical Award in 1997. Walter was the conductor who had led the premiere performance of this work in 1912. And this recording is significant for another reason: it can be seen as the "swan song" of the pre-war Vienna. Not exactly anymore Stefan Zweig's "Welt von gestern" (world of yesterday), but not yet the 1000-year-long future that would begin for Austria two months later... Many of the people in the audience of this concert would be leaving Vienna a few weeks after this concert, and Vienna would never be the same as it was.

A marvellous recording, from many viewpoints. It is available at Amazon.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Event: "The River Aire" in Castleford, Fr.,15.April, 18:30

On Friday, 15.April 2011 at 18:30 a preview event will be held for an exhibition at the Bridge Arts Gallery in Castleford (at the Sagar Street). I will be there to present my music "The River Aire" in the context of other art work which is related to this river. This event will be the opening of 8 weeks filled with various events related to the "Free Uni****** of Castleford on Aire".

New Composition: "The River Aire"


Something different in this post, no Gustav Mahler music; instead this time it is my own. I have just uploaded my composition "The River Aire - A Symphonic Poem in 50 Nouns".

The composition was inspired by the poem by David Wilders "The River Aire - From Source to Castleford". This poem basically consists of a series of nouns, each preceded by "the" and grouped into a few segments. I took the "musification" quite literally and attempted to translate each word into a short musical phrase / theme / motif / segment. In October I had musified the first part ("birth of the river Aire"), by December I had added a further segment, and on 5.January 2011 I had come to the end of the poem - by skipping 11 nouns. That version was then played live to an audience on 10.January in India, as part of the Rivers Movement educational program.

A few days ago I sat down in the evenings and completed the missing part, and now the complete poem with all its 50 nouns has been musified. The rendition and the composition are tightly connected, as I was composing it through live improvisation of each instrumental voice on the keyboard while imagining each of the nouns and trying to capture their musical essence. Therefore, I do not yet have a score, because the recording is not available yet in a metric.

The musical language of this composition has been inspired by many composers. Naturally Smetana's "Moldau" ("Vltava") comes to mind, also Debussy's "La Mer". There are a few hints of Ravel and Frederic Delius as well, and Beethoven's "Pastorale" is apparent in the "Fauna" segment. The "Flora" segment appears actually to be inspired by one of Alexander Courage's side themes in some episodes of the StarTrek series - so a whole bunch of musical influences can be detected. All this is not deliberate, it just turns out that the music that came to my mind while I was trying to find associating themes for each word, originated from my sub-conscience, in which all these influences seem to have been stored. Overall there is of course again our friend Gustav Mahler apparent - I was not able to shake off the occupation with his music in the past months.

Hope that this music still can be classified as original and not as pastiche!

The MP3 and WMA files of this recording are available on the VPO website. I plan to release shortly a video with the music and the nouns of the poem in its current version. In the meantime, you can try to envision the words without aid while listening, or get the list of words directly from the poem by David Wilders.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mahler plays Mahler


This week I have been on the road a bit: Monday to Hull, Tuesday and Wednesday to Manchester. The hour-long ride on the M62 provides a great opportunity to listen once again to some of the CDs to which I nowadays rarely listen. On Monday I chose the rarity "Mahler plays Mahler" from 1993, which contains recordings of Gustav playing the famous Welte-Mignon Piano, which is a kind of analogue predecessor MIDI file recording. The piano recorded attack and sustain onto a kind of piano roll, and the replay of that role with a special device reproduces exactly (more or less) what the player did play. Fascinating! When listening to Gustav playing piano versions of some of his Symphony movements (recorded in 1905), it becomes evident how he must have conducted his works. Surprisingly the tempo he chose is quite agitated, even though these are some of the slower movements. Not smooth long sweeps as most conductors take it today, but short, somewhat hectic playing, somewhat imprecise, some wrong notes rushed in a hurry, and a kind of unsteady tempo. Quite unexpected. This surely gives an insight into how the music would have to be performed "authentically".

But I think that the other interpretations which disregard this authenticity and chose a more soft, long sweeping tempo do have their justification as well. This is the beauty of "good classical music": it is subject to individual interpretation, and playing it in ways which the composer has not anticipated can also produce excellent results.

Very interesting on this CD is also a 26 minute long recording of interviews with people who knew Mahler. Quite fascinating insights there! One is that Mahler often changed his mind regarding tempo, from one day to another, and he justified that with being in a different mood. Excellent - gives now much more tolerance for a wide range of "authenticity".

The CD can be obtained from Amazon as used versions, or possibly from other venues.

Here is a review of this CD.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Version Numbering of Recordings

As I am creating new versions of my renditions regularly, I have to find a way of distinguishing them. Since in the past 20 years, people have gotten used to updates of software and numbering them, I am adopting this method here to.

So from now on, all my renditions and compositions will have a version number. This will also be applied to actual releases / publications, so that the tracks can be uniquely identified through that number. On my site, the track name actually includes the date in the form YYMMDD, which already provides a unique identifier. But the version number tells more: a number of 0 indicates that this is not yet completed; number 1 is the first complete release; subversions such as 1.1 indicate updates, whereas full increments indicate a complete re-recording, using for example new samples or synthesizers.

In some of the latest renditions I have already embedded the version number in the comments.

So now you will be able to see that a music is not really in its final state before the version 3 is out, in analogy to software products.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

New Renditions: Mahler, Symphony No.1, 1st and 2nd movement

In my effort to improve the string sounds of my rendition of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1, I have now added additional string layers to the 1st and 2nd movement. The first movement only has one new additional layer per string group, providing a more punchy attack, whereas for the 2nd movement I have added two layers per string group: one with more attack, the other with more smooth sustain. The results are now online on the VPO website on the pages for the first movement and the second movement.

There is a slight inaudible (at least I think so) clipping in these renditions, due to the increased overall loudness, which I need to fix in an upcoming version.

Next will be the 3rd movement, then all parts of Symphony No.1 will have improved string sound. I will then go through a final round of checks and edits, to release the album "From the Life of a Lonely One" in time for the 100th anniversary commemoration of Gustav Mahler's death on 18.May 1911.

And for that date I also plan a special rendition of a single movement from his symphonies, which I am not yet revealing - will be a surprise.

Monday, 4 April 2011

New Rendition: Mahler, Symphony #1, 4th movement

In my pursuit of creating good renditions of the orchestral music by Gustav Mahler, I have completed another step: A new rendition of the 4th movement of Symphony No.1 is now online. A few days ago I did release an intermittent version, in which I put more emphasis on the strings, similar to what I had done with the "Blumine" movement, but more consequent: I added two additional layers for each of the string tracks, not only for the violins. This now creates a fuller sound and adds more "punch" to those staccato fp string attacks that are prevalent throughout this movement.

After I had put that intermittent version online, I addressed once again the tempo. Editing the tempo through the currently available methods in sequencer software is quite simple: I can simply edit tempo values at any instance, or can draw tempo curves over the time axis. While this editing is very easy, it is very difficult to achieve a consistent tempo flow which could be considered to be "musical". Because what would be the rule for it? What does it mean "allegro"? 120bpm? or maybe 125 bpm? This is currently all a matter of try and error... I put tempi in the tempo map, then listen to the result until it sounds pleasing enough. There are, however, more problems: leaving the tempo at a constant pace and having quantised music notes makes the rendition sound like a machine gun. Would be ok for Techno music, but is unsuitable for anything else. There are two ways of avoiding this: shifting the notes out of their strict quantisation, or drawing additional tempo values into the tempo map. Neither of these methods allows a natural intuitive musical play, because the process of doing this requires offline try-and-error. There is one "middle" ground which allows a direct entering of such tempo subtleties: during the recording process, play live. This allows a direct tempo interpretation as is done in a real live play of the orchestra resp. the instruments. I did try this method in the 2nd movement, but then I encountered errors when trying to homogenise the overall recording: because the notes were due to tempo fluctiations not exactly on the metronomic beat, it was very difficult to match properly the various tracks or deliberately place consistent tempo chances. Therefore in this 4th movement I have resorted to the method of drawing tempo values into the tempo graphics. This leaves the music notes within each bar quantised to their metric position, but then allows me to introduce tempo changes within bars, e.g. subtle accelerations and slight ritardandi at the end note wherever appropriate. The problem with this: I did it on one day, then a few days later listened, and found all those tempo changes inappropriate. So I had to go again through everything and change the tempo at all the locations where I thought it was not right. It seems that the judgement of how the tempo should be is quite subjective even by the same person, depending on the mood, on the time of the day, etc. So there is no absolute correct tempo map. But it would be nice if there would be some more overarching way of changing those tempo subtleties instead of having to change more than 700 bars of music individually each time the tempo does not seem to be right...

It would be great if there was a tool with which one could add/modify the tempo directly as the music is playing, and then record the result right away. A slider might work, but it does not truly reflect the concept of "energy" in the musical motion... I am working on a software that would enable a different concept, but that software is work in progress only.

In any case, this is my "interpretation" of how I thought this movement should sound on 3.April 2011. Maybe in a few days I would post another version...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Online Music Distribution - "Classical" is still problematic

When I recently released my album "My Music in 2010", I used CD Baby as the distributor. They take care of submitting the music files do the various online sites such as iTunes, Amazon, Zune, Spotify etc. Is in principle a good idea, but there are still problems with Classical Music.

When I entered all the information about the tracks, I naturally indicated the composer of each piece. The instructions stated that the track name should not contain any artist name, so I did not put the composers' names into that field. Since each track had a separate field for the composer, I thought that the composer would appear in an additional information field. However, it turns out that the composer's name is nowhere present: neither on the track list of the album at CD Baby nor at any of the online music sites that I checked (Amazon, iTunes, Zune). This is quite annoying: now these tracks are without the composer information... And once published, this info cannot be added anymore.

This means that from now on I will have to place the composer's name into the track title. This is what is also done with most other classical music tracks that are online.

Another annoying thing: on Microsoft's Zune my music appears under the category "Pop", although I had explicitly given the "Classical" label.

It seems that the digital online music distribution is still not suitable for classical music...

New Version of "Blumine"

A new version of Mahler's "Blumine" (version 1.4) is now online on the VPO website (MP3 and WMA file). This version is based on the most recent rendition with trumpeter Julius Eiweck. The changes only concern the string part. Mahler-expert Jim Zychowicz had commented that the strings would benefit from "more depth", and so I decided to add a few layers. In particular the beginning sounded a bit "tinny", and so I added a total of four layers for the violins: for violin 1 a separate additional tremolo track (the GPO4 violin tremolo is different from the tremolo of the keyswitch violins) and a muted sordino, and the same for violin 2.

These changes give the bright strings a bit more substance and bite, and I find that this has improved the sound, away from the thin chambermusic-like texture to a more Mahlerian orchestra. I am working now on the same effect for all the other movements of Mahler's Symphony No.1.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Amazon is fast - "My Music 2010" online there

In February 2011 I had uploaded my album "My Music 2010" to CD Baby, and it was immediately available there. After that, CD Baby was supposed to distribute it to all major online music distributors (OMDs) such as Amazon, iTunes, Zune, Spotify and others. But I had forgotten co click one last button there... and so the distribution did not happen. I noticed this only last week - and then rectified this immediately.

Since then I have once in a while checking, and today I saw that this album is now available on Amazon. Quite fast!

It is not yet available on iTunes.

The pricing is beyond my control - it is determined by the individual OMDs; I only was able to set the price at CD Baby.

This album in this constellation of tracks is NOT available as such compilation on my web site - only the individual files can be obtained from my site and have to be collected manually to be assembled into this collection. So there is some benefit for the buyers of this album!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

New Rendition: Gustav Mahler "Blumine". With Live Trumpet (Julius Eiweck)

I just completed a new version of Gustav Mahler's Blumine, the formerly 2nd movement of his Symphony No.1 which he discarded after three performances and which had been lost since then, until it was rediscovered in 1966.

Last year in July 2010 I was able to create the first version of this rendition in one evening, just in time for the celebration of Gustav's 150th birthday on 7.July 2010. I did one revision a few weeks later, but now I created a substantial revision: my friend and colleague Dr Julius Eiweck plays a live trumpet (in Vienna), being accompanied by my Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (in Leeds). Julius plays also in the Haydn Orchestra Eisenstadt and since recently in the Orchesterverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien - they give a concert tomorrow, 17.March 2011 at the Musikverein, so if you have a chance to be in Vienna, you can listen to a great concert with Mendelssohn, Elgar and Bruckner - and you can meet Julius Eiweck in person!

This latest rendition of Blumine was created the following way: I prepared a version without trumpet and sent the rendition to Julius. He then listened to this music through headphones and played life his trumpet part with it. He then sent me the recording of this trumpet solo, and I mixed it together with the rest of the orchestration.

The file is available as MP3 and WMA on my website.

Enjoy!

I am also grateful for feedback about this rendition.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

New Renditions of Mahler: 2nd and 3rd Movement from Symphony No.1

These past few days (evenings) I have been busy revising my recordings of Mahler's Symphony No.1. I want to finalise that recording and create a separate album for it, as a special edition for the Mahler Year. I have started with the 3rd movement, "Hunter's Funeral". There had been some technical problems with my PC MAESTRO-2: this particular file of the 3rd movement caused some stutter, due to some memory problems. I had to copy track by track into a new Sonar file in order to get rid of the problem. Then I still encountered problems: Sonar would suddenly crash at particular locations in the file - when a lot of instruments were simultaneously playing. I did then upgrade to the latest version of Asio4All, and after a while of tinkering I finally got everything working again properly.

The new version of the 3rd movement has only slight changes: some instrument attacks have been adjusted, to properly differentiate between marcato/staccato/legato, a few tempo changes to correct tiny imbalances within measures, and some new expression curves for selected instruments in a few locations.

The same overhaul was done with the 2nd movement. This movement has the inherent problem that I had recorded in in free-style and only later added the tempo quantisation. This has still the effect that not all instrument tracks appear properly synchronised: some quantisation that I did in some tracks in order to properly adhere to tempo and metric had the effect of slightly disrupting the consistent structure, and I will still have to fix that. I corrected a few errors and added some instruments which I had missed in the earlier rendition.

When I compared now the final audio recordings of the new with the previous versions, I hardly can note the difference - it is very subtle.

Here are the new versions, together with all the previous renditions of these movements:

2nd movement

3rd movement

Maybe you can hear the differences to the previous versions?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

My Music now Commercially Available


On 10.February my new artist page on CD Baby went online. I had signed on with them, and have created my first album: My Music in 2010. This album contains 8 tracks with the most recent renditions of music which I had created in 2010.

These music tracks are now for sale, on CD Baby, but soon also on all their online music distributors which they have partnership agreements with. This includes iTunes, Amazon, Zune, Spotify and many others.

Does this mean I will no longer make my music available for free on my website? No, it does not. All the tracks which are available for purchase, are also available on my website. The agreement with CD Baby is not exclusive, I still can do with my music recordings whatever I want. And I have decided to offer them here still for free. Does this make sense? Not from a purely business point of view: In order to ensure that everybody pays for my music, I should remove it from my web page and have it only available through online pay sites. But I want to pursue another business model: I want that as many people as possible have the opportunity to listen to my music, for free, before they would pay; and if they like the music, they can then move to a site where they can then express their appreciation through a purchase of one or more tracks.

This may be a slightly optimistic assumption, that anyone would want to pay for something that they can get for free. But I do have a believe in the good of mankind, and I am sure that there will be a few people who will be clicking the purchase button on some of those online sites. If using iTunes or Zune, then this will also make it easier and straightforward to manage the music on the mobile device, so there is actually some additional value in the purchase rather than only getting the free MP3 files.

So for the time being, there will be the free versions on my site, and there will be the commercial versions of the same renditions online for purchase at various Online Music Distributors. I plan, however, to release a few special recordings only for purchase. One such album is already in the making.

What am I going to do with the little revenue that I might get from the music sales? I plan to use it for keeping my music equipment up to date. Software needs updates, I also need to purchase some more tools, and there are cost related to web hosting. All my music activities are currently running at a loss, and it would be great if I could stop this and at least break even.

The album that I am releasing now is My Music in 2010. I plan to do this now at the end of every year, to document my musical work for each year. I have no physical CD, these albums are all only available online.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Edvard Grieg: "The Death of Ase"

Here is now the post with the proper heading for this announcement of my new music recording: Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op.46, II. The Death of Ase".

The MP3 file and the WMA file are available on my website.

A Quickie During Lunchtime

This heading is actually incorrect: it happened not during lunchtime but in the late evening hours, between 22:40 and 00:05, to be precise. I had just finished a meeting with my collaborators on the latest music project, a bit outside of my own comfort zone, something new and exciting - in the coming months I will post more details, but for now I have to keep quiet about this project. We had met in my little studio in Leeds, and Maestro-2 was at its best producing nice sounds, for the accompaniment of the singer. Oops, here I said it - but no more details for now! After everybody had left, I was still in the mood to produce some music, and I thought again of Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. That second movement of the Suite No.1, "Ase's Death", looked like it could be done within two hours. First I watched the BBC 10 o'clock news, then I began to work. Yes that music is just strings with sordino, very slow, just two pages. And indeed, I had completed the recording within 1 hour 25 minutes. Good - a new quickie rendition completed!

And here it is, your moment of Zen: The MP3 file and the WMA file of Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op.46, II. The Death of Ase".

Next will be "Solveig's Song", and then I just have to rework my old rendition of "In the Hall of the Mountain King", and the whole Suite No.1 is completed.

And now it would be the right time to change the heading of this post...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Edvard Grieg: "Morning Mood" (Morgenstimmung)

When I woke up this Saturday morning, I suddenly had the idea to create a completely new rendition of a music I had not really planned for: Edvard Grieg's "Morning Mood", which is the first movement of the Peer Gynt Suite No.1. This is a very popular piece, one of the standard "war horses" of classical concert music. Back in 2000 I had already created a version of the 4th movement of that suite: "In the Hall of the Mountain King". At that time it took me one month to complete the rendition of that 4th movement, and now I was curious to see how long it would take me with improved techniques and technology to create the rendition of the first movement. They have almost an identical number of bars (1st movement: 87, 4th movement: 88), but the score of the 4th movement goes over 16 pages, while the 1st movement only covers 14 pages. Still relatively close.

I began at 10am in the morning, using the standard orchestra template I had created with the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 samples. Initially I worked only in small segments, creating renditions of complete pages, and I was able to work at a rate of 2 pages per hour. Then I changed the strategy and completed individual instrument tracks to the very end: bassoon and strings were the first to be completed. Since the were several laborious 16th note segments, I could not uphold the original work speed, but the complete movement was finished at 7pm - and that includes lunch and dinner break. One more hour to fix some tempo and volume balance issues, and the movement was ready.

This was a new speed record: I am now able to create a rendition of one complete movement of moderate difficulty within one single day.

The tempo in the Eulenburg No. 1318 score is given as 3/8 = 60 bpm. I personally feel that is is a bit fast and rushed, and I think that most conductors take it slower than this. But the movement is titled "Allegretto", so it is not really intended to be too slow.

The recording is available on my page as MP3 file and as WMA file.

I hope you enjoy this rendition!