Monday, 28 June 2010

Embedded Windows Media Player Plugin for Firefox/Chrome

Up to my VPO website only supported streaming for MS Internet Explorer. Users of Firefox and Google Chrome had to either right-click-and-save, or might be able to just click and hope that the audio plays. A few weeks ago this playing seemed actually to work fine for WMA files: there was no GUI, just a black screen with the words "waiting for video", and the music played. In case of an MP3 file there was even a volume control that appeared. When I tried this today, however, I noticed that the screen just remained black, and no audio did show. It might have been that I installed in recent weeks another plugin, or newer versions of existing plugins, which then disabled this functionality of simply playing the music through the web browser. Windows MS Internet Explorer did not have this problem, as the standard Media player plugin embedded as an object into the HTML page worked just fine and allowed streaming of the music. However, this same object did not show up when the page was shown in Google Chrome or Firefox, so these two browsers only had the option to download the music files and play them offline.

This means that the result of clicking on a simple link to an audio file is strongly depending on the installation history and the way the user's browser is configured - quite dissatisfying. After a bit of research I found a plugin which plays audio (WMA and MP3 files) straight through both Firefox and Google browsers. It looks very similar to the plugin in MS Internet Explorer, just the dimensions are slightly different. This plugin for Chrome and Firefox is actually better: it also shows the file info, and therefore has to be a bit larger.

The plugin is at

I rewrote the Javascript/PHP for embedding this plugin into the HTML code, now working on all three browsers fine. Since Chrome and Firefox do not by default come with this plugin, I had to make provisions for automatically check if the plugin is installed. This was achieved in Javascript by checking the variable array navigator.plugins[].name and comparing if the "Windows Media Player Firefox Plugin" was among those found. A slight complication was that in the name is the symbol
®. Since there appear to be different code pages to be used for encoding this non-standard symbol, I was not able to do a direct comparison and instead had to compare the string piecewise. It works, and now the site is able to see if the user has the plugin installed. If not, then a link is given from where this plugin can be downloaded.

During edits there was a site outage today, as some wrong temporary site configuration had mistakenly been uploaded. Apologies to those who tried to access the site today and got only a garbled text...!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The "Blumine" Sheet Music Arrived Today!

A few weeks ago I had learned from Pat O'Keefe on the Garritan Forum about the "Blumine" movement. This movement was a part of the first few performances of Mahler's Symphony No.1 in 1889 until 1894, when it had five movements. These performances were not very well received, and Mahler decided afterwards to drop the formerly 2nd movement which had the title "Blumine".

I had not been aware of this movement, but I soon learned that there is a lot of information out on the web about it. Apparently it was lost for many decades, until it was rediscovered in 1966. Since then it has been occasionally performed, usually not as part of the symphony, but as a separate piece. The performers and conductors respected Mahler's decision to abandon this movement. Pat had "put a request" for this movement, and so I decided to get the score. I first tried to order it through the Sheet Music Exchange here in the UK. However, after 4 weeks I was told that the score is out of print, and it would take a while until it was available again. I found another supplier, Music 44 in the US. After a week I got the note that the item had been shipped, and today, just a few days later, I received the sheet music in my mail.

Now I am still very busy with the 4th movement of the Symphony 1, which I hope to get ready in time for Mahler's 15th birthday on 7.July. But the score of the "Blumine" movement does look very easy, nothing compared to the complex 4th movement. So I think that I could also prepare the "Blumine", to complete the recording.

After doing some more research on this movement I found the following background: this movement, as the other 4 movements of this symphony, do have titles which correspond to titles from the poet Jean Paul's novel "Titan - From the Life of a Lonely One". "Bluminenkapitel" is one of this titles. Mahler appeared to have linked the internal program of this symphony to this novel - but somehow decided later that showing this explicit link was not appropriate. There is also a very personal aspect: when Mahler was in love with soprano Johanna Richter, he appeared to have a nick name for her: "Blumine". This word actually does not exist in German language. There is the word "Blume" = flower. I would translate "Blumine" with "flowerine", to show the meaning and the equivalence. After reading a few very interesting articles I think that I do have an explanation why Mahler decided to remove this movement: it may be that he was embarrassed of this very close connection of this movement to that living person Johanna, and he wanted to remove this connection and memory of that failed relationship.

Well, one of the authors of a paper actually points out how this movement in fact contributes (with its trumpet motif) to the musical narration in the symphony, because this motif appears in later movements. Therefore, it actually makes sense to include the "Blumine" in the symphony as it was originally intended. So I have decided to include in my final release of Mahler's Symphony No.1 to reconstruct the original 5 movement structure, and to put "Blumine" as the 2nd movement. I will call it "Flowerine", to convey some of the meaning and slight weirdness of this title.

Some may argue that one should respect Mahler's decision to take this movement out of the symphony. I would respond: why only follow the older Mahler, and why not follow the younger Mahler? Is one really getting wiser when getting older? Maybe removing this movement was not done for musical reasons, but for personal ones... and since so much time has passed, and everybody is dead, these personal reasons are no longer valid.

One other aspect which is interesting: All other movements I have heard in various interpretations, and I do have a mental acoustic image of them in my mind, which naturally influences my own interpretation. But I never heard the "Flowerine" before. There are recordings on YouTube, but I deliberately avoid listening to them at this stage - I would like to do an experiment and only use the printed score as guidance, trying to extract a performance and interpretation from just the score, the same way as a conductor would do who gets handed score notes from a composer whose work has never been performed. I am curious how my result will sound, without any guidance from a pre-conceived tempo, volume, balance, sound image.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

New version of First Mvmnt from Mahler's Symphony No.1

I have slightly revised the first release of the first movement from Mahler's Symphony No.1: taken a few too edgy string attacks out, corrected two wrong notes, and changed the tempo, to make it more consistent. This tempo interpretation is of course very much only based on my personal opinion - I do not claim that this is how this movement is supposed to be played. But I think that this second release is an improvement over the first initial one. As always, I keep the previous files for comparison, if anyone is interested. All recordings, in WMA and MP3, are here on my site.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Mahler: First Movement of Symph1 now Online!

After a few slight revisions regarding tempo and instrumental balance I have now released the first movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1. The overall site of the First Symphony shows some background information about the symphony and has access to the newest audio files. All recorded versions of the first movement are available on a dedicated page to the first movement. I chose to refer to this movement as "Spring and No End", according to the original program notes of the first performances, which were later discarded.

It took me now a bit more than 2 weeks to create this rendition of the movement - this is a new personal record. A few years ago, a comparable music recording would take me about three months to create. One accelerating factor is the use of the mod wheel as input for expression changes: I now am doing this as a live recording instead of manually drawing the expression curves.

The Symphony No.1 is now to 3/4 completed - but the 4th movement is the most difficult one. Not sure if I can complete it in time for Mahler's 150th birthday on 7.July...

One editing note: I realised that I had made a mistake on the Symphony description: Marion von Weber was the wife of the grandson of Carl Maria von Weber, not the wife of the composer himself.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Mahler: Symph.1, 1st movement - all instruments completed

The rendition of the first movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1 has reached its first stage: all instrument notes have been recorded. This was a major effort: the overall music is around 13 minutes long (depending on the tempo), many instruments are played in duplicates (woodwinds, brass). What is to do next before the public release is to work on the tempo and the volume balance. It appears that the woodwinds sound too loud in some parts - I will have to revise the balance between the instruments. Also there is some slight volume clipping at the very loud segment towards the end - needs to be adjusted. Still a bit work to do ... but the Symphony No. 1 is now 3/4 completed!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Problem with Clarinets

The rendition of the first movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 is almost completed: missing are only the flutes, oboe, and clarinet voices from bar 263 till the end. But now I hit a slight obstacle: the Es-Clarinet requires a high A and high B to be played - however, the Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO4) samples only go up to the high G... I have hit these limitations of the GPO4 already in other instruments earlier, when I recorded other movements, for example when some very low notes of brass instruments were not there. Mahler just uses the full range of the instruments. For some reason, GPO4 did not record those extreme notes... it would be nice if in such a case the missing notes would just be automatically extended, based on the last available sample. It would not matter if this would not sound perfect - since it is an extreme note, it is anyway not supposed to sound perfect, even with a real instrument - these extreme notes are often only used to create an effect.

I had solved this problem in other renditions by using a standard software synthesizer in SONAR: Cakewalk TTS-1. However, as soon as I loaded that synth and played the first note on it, SONAR froze, the audio engine crashed, and I had to reboot the system. This happened several times... I suspect this has to do with the fact that I have loaded many (more than 30) GPO4 samples into memory, using 4 different ARIA VST instances. Should theoretically not matter, as the 12 GB memory of MAESTRO-2 are not fully used yet, but it appears that the memory management has some difficulties handling both the GPO4 and the TTS1 simultaneously.

So it looks as if I will for now not be able to play those high notes in the Es clarinet... fortunately this is in places towards the end where the music is very loud, most instruments of the orchestra are playing ff, and that single clarinet would not have been audible anyway, would only have contributed to the overall sound colour. But still, is a pity! I will have to find a solution for this eventually.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Progress on Mahler Symphony 1

On 29.May I began to work on the first movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1. My very first attempt to "midify" this work was actually done on 11.May 2001, more than 9 years ago. However, I got stopped in my tracks right at the beginning, when trying to render those very long sustained notes in the strings, until measure 47 or so: my samples and my synth just stopped looping these notes after about half the time that they were supposed to be played. I would have to record those notes in segments, and then cross-fade between them. Seemed like a bad workaround, with lots of time to be invested, and I never pursued this any further.

When I resumed the rendition two weeks ago, I started a fresh file, with the Garritan Personal Orchestra samples in Sonar 8.5. The long notes were sustained ok this time, and I progressed rapidly.

In Sonar 8.5 the drawing of the controller values is a bit awkward: there is no longer a simple line drawing tool, but instead one has to keep Ctrl and Shift pressed, then left-click the mouse and draw the line. Also one has to catch a gap between existing controllers; if these controllers are too dense, one easily catches one of the existing controllers, and instead of a line being drawn, this controller value is then modified and shifted. So the drawing of controllers has become a bit of a pain, and I have therefore changed my approach for entering controller values and have used the wheel in life play, as suggested by the GPO manual. I first record the track notes in live play, then do some adjustments of note quantisation, length, and attack, then I replay the recorded track and move the wheel. This allows actually a much more intuitive and musical conveyance of the expression as the line drawing method. Interestingly the GPO maps both controller #11 and and controller #1 (wheel) to the same expression (this leads to caution: there can be contradictory simultaneous controller values in control #1 and control #11). Maybe that change of allowing both controllers to map onto expression resulted from a talk I had back at the NAMM 2004 with Tom Hopkins from Garritan? This is actually really great: I could use the foot pedal or the wheel. My first tries with the foot pedal had not been very satisfying - I could excert a better and finer control using the wheel. This method also works much faster than the drawing method - I have used this wheel-recording method now since January 2010, with all recordings done on the new MAESTRO-2 system.

I progressed quite fast, although this first movement is quite a challenge: 550 bars, on 45 pages! measures! On 31.5. I already had completed the first part, up to marker 12, where the repetition is indicated. I had completed all the instrument parts up to then, which allowed an easy copy-and-past of the part to be repeated.

On 3.June I reached the end of the movement with the bass line, on 5.June I had completed cello and viola, the day after I completed the whole string section, then the harp, and yesterday evening I completed percussion, trombone and tuba.

The sound is just incredible: the wonderful melodies and themes in this symphony go around my head all the time, and I can admire the exquisite instrumentation which created that sound colour, as I am building up the orchestral score.

I cannot wait to add the proper tempo, so that I can hear all the progressions in their intended way... but if I would do that now, I would be a bit in trouble when adding the remaining instruments, because I would then have to play them in "real-time", which would undoubtedly lead to inaccuracies and mistakes... so I keep recording it at a slower tempo than indicated.

I hope to be able to complete this movement at the upcoming weekend. This means that by then I have officially 3/4 of the symphony completed: The 2nd and 3rd movements are already online. And then the real challenge will come: the enormous 4th movement, 76 pages - I have not counted the bars yet.

Also I have ordered a score of the Blumine. I never heard this movement before, and I would like to do an experiment: creating the rendition without ever listening to a real recording. All of my past and current recordings are from music which I had heard before - so I do have an acoustic image of that music in my mind, which of course influences how I interpret the printed music score. I would be very curious how the result would be, if I had not heard the music before - just looking at the music score and getting the music out from there. Once I have created the rendition of Blumine, I will then try to compare it with other recordings, to hear the difference in interpretation.

There is this discussion, if Blumine should be part of the symphony or not. Mahler has eliminated it from the score, and most conductors respect this. However, there are also good reasons to put Blumine into the score: the rejection of this movement by Mahler may have nad not necessarily musical reasons, but also personal ones: after all, his love story with "Blumine" Johanna Richter was already over, and maybe he was embarrassed of that personal display of affection... I would not trust the sentiments of an older guy about his youth "errors", as these sentiments are biased too. From what I read, critics at the time did in particular not like this Second movement Blumine, when the symphony was performed. This in turn would be for me a reason to put it in - those critics have been morons anyway, not understanding Mahler's music for a long time.

And from structural point, that 5-movement structure in two parts makes to me more sense than the standard run-of-the-mill symphonic 4-part structure: the Scherzo would be the center part, then would come the turning point with the "Funeral March". So once I get the hands on the Blumine score, I plan to put the symphony in the order as it was intended in the beginning. This will, however, depend on how the Blumine music sounds: I will judge if it makes sense, musically, of if it is indeed too sentimental, as Mahler once remarked.