Sunday, November 22, 2009

The nights get longer

Torrential rains and winter gloom seem to be the order of business for the UK as I write. Sunset is now around 4:00 pm and sunrise is around 7:30 am. Cold winds blow down the dark streets. Thirty one more days, each one with less light than the next.

In order to stave off some of the darkness, I turned to an old friend, Stan Getz, and his classic work with Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, The Girl From Ipanema. I was listening to the full length version on The Very Best of Stan Getz-Sax Moods. There is an edited version that leaves off Jobim's Portugese verse. The track originally appeared on Getz/Gilberto.

It started to play and as the warmth of the sun began to fill the room, I was struck by the simplicity. In our modern era the instrumentation no doubt would be augmented to make "a statement." Acoustic guitar, hi-hat, ride cymbal, acoustic bass, tenor sax, piano and two vocalists. If the drummer had more kit than that, it was just to get paid porterage as I didn't hear it - no side stick or kick-in of a section or fill. Just time on the cymbals.

And it's not just the instrumentation, it's the taste and restraint. Accents on the closed straight eighth hi-hat and the syncopated guitar carry the rhythm. The bass sticks largely to repeated tonics and dominants on one and three. This sets the stage for the vocalists and soloists to have maximum room for their generally lyrical interpretations. The piano fills and dances around the guitar. The ride cymbal makes its appearance during the solos and disappears as the head returns. An aural interpretation of less is more.

Intro - Portuguese vocal - English vocal - Tenor - Piano/vocal from the bridge and out. Five minutes and twenty six seconds of style and atmosphere.

Apparently, it almost didn't happen. Getz's label didn't want him to issue anything to compete with Jazz Samba. The singer, Astrud Gilberto had never sung on a recording before. What was even worse, and everyone who has ever been in a group will understand this, she was the guitarist's wife. How fortuitous for us all that João Gilberto had a wife who could really sing!

Dust off your copy, have a listen and hear the waves lapping on the shore as the sun warms you up in this season of increasing darkness.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

License To...?

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”
Atlantic Monthly, July 1945

As we begin this year’s journey through the uncharted waters of academe, it is good to look back into the history of technology at a visionary thinker. Dr. Vannevar Bush was Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. He supervised the progress of scientific research during the Second World War and was on the cutting edge of technological developments. In this article for the Atlantic Monthly, he looks to the future of technology and its wider application to more ordinary uses. He discusses the innovations of microfilm, dry printing, dry photography and their application to the invention of a desk system, “the memex” as described above.

As knowledge workers, we daily manipulate vast amounts of books, records and communications. We can look back sixty-five years and see the concepts behind our modern computing system appearing hazily in the distance. He does not predict the intercommunication of the desks and libraries into one enormous virtual desk. He still talks about buying information.

In our world, the “books, records, and communications” have expanded exponentially to include films and music. Not only do we now purchase films and music for our entertainment we also create and publish them for the use of others. Our creations are also managed from our memexes; we license the performance through third-party brokers like YouTube or Vimeo.

One of the major issues in the world of the performing arts today is the debate about compensating artists for their work. If you want a picture of the music market of today, ask your fourteen ear old students how they buy their music. You may be in for a surprise, as many don’t actually buy music. At least one mobile phone operator licenses its users to temporarily download as much music as they wish from the firm’s online library. That downloaded music will disappear when the contract ends. Others use services such as Spotify where licensed music is available for you to listen to online. You can organize and share playlists, but you don’t own the music and are restricted from storing any on your personal devices.

Those are some of the legal ways of obtaining music without purchasing it. The world of illegal file sharing, sometimes called ‘torrenting’ after the BitTorrent networking client, rears its head. You may recall the birth of file sharing with the service named Napster. Sean Fanning transformed the system where people on a network designate share points for posting files for visiting users into a centrally searchable database of the contents of al the subscribers to the service shared content. His network was not the local area network or wide area network of an office or university campus, it was the network of networks – the Internet. The music industry took action, and along with major film and television organizations still continues to take action against its successors. Distribution of copyright content is strictly controlled by the industry, sometimes through physical means such as region codes for DVDs, but always through contracts and licenses. What is available on eMusic in the UK differs from what is available on eMusic in the United States. Pandora, the online music service, had to curtail its operations outside of the United States because agreements on licensing could not be reached with the record industry. One of the newest forms of distributing music is through performance videos on YouTube. This has become a ‘hot button’ issue because of the potential for redistribution of copyrighted material.

When content is posted to YouTube, according to the YouTube terms, posters are to ensure:
9.2 You agree that you will not post or upload any User Submissions which contain content which it is unlawful for you to possess in the country in which you are resident, or which it would be unlawful for YouTube to use or possess in connection with the provision of the Services.

9.3 You agree that you will not upload or post any User Submissions that are subject to any third party proprietary rights (including rights of privacy or rights of publicity), unless you have a formal licence or permission from the rightful owner to post the material in question and to grant YouTube the licence referred to in paragraph 10.1 below.

Your students may not know that the video and audio rights for performances that they attend are licensed and that they do not implicitly have the permission of the copyright owners to transmit or rebroadcast personal recordings of copyright performances. When students are adding music to a film or media project, they must be explicitly be warned of copyright issues and further distribution outside of the classroom if they use any material copyrighted by others from their music libraries.

In that light, it is worth reminding your students that when they are posting their own original work on YouTube that, according to the Terms posted on YouTube, they are entering a contract with YouTube and granting a license to YouTube as follows:
10. Rights you licence

10.1 When you upload or post a User Submission to YouTube, you grant:

1. to YouTube, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable licence (with right to sub-licence) to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform that User Submission in connection with the provision of the Services and otherwise in connection with the provision of the Website and YouTube's business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels;
2. to each user of the Website, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, licence to access your User Submissions through the Website, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions to the extent permitted by the functionality of the Website and under these Terms.

10.2 The above licenses granted by you in User Videos terminate when you remove or delete your User Videos from the Website. The above licenses granted by you in User Comments are perpetual and irrevocable, but are otherwise without prejudice to your ownerships rights, which are retained by you as set out in paragraph 8.2 above.

Every nation has its own copyright clearance body and procedures. The world of copyright has not yet found a global understanding. Rights are licensed and applied differently all around the world. What is “fair use” in the United States is “Prohibited Activity” elsewhere. Some countries have only a notional form of copyright protection and licensing that is largely ignored. All we can do as educators is make students and our colleagues aware of both their rights and their responsibilities and do our best to ensure that our practices are in line with the local laws.

Our personal memexes grow smaller and more powerful with every passing year. The material that we have access to grows every year. The association we can make between performer and composer and consumer of creative acts grows deeper and richer. We need to make sure that an attitude of respect for the works of creative artists is being established.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


"Where's the wacky quote, you know – the one that doesn't make sense until the end?"
A picture is worth a thousand words, friend.
"Well, guess that's better than reading three pages."
Ah, gentle reader. That is a good starting point.

Recently, whilst looking sideways at our topsy-turvy world of curricula, standards and rubrics, I found myself wandering in a HMV shop in sunny Staines. It could have been anywhere in the UK or possibly in the world. "How long will all of this last?", I thought to myself. I wandered the aisles through bins and racks labelled R & B, Urban, Metal, Classical, Feature Films, Televison Series, Box Sets and looking aimlessly at the row upon row of shiny and colourful compact discs and DVDs when my eye was caught by the bin labelled "Specialist Music".

I was struck by the irony. Each of the genres listed above could easily be thought of as specialist music. As soon as we divide music we create a speciality category don't we? Think of some of the the grand divisions; vocal-instrumental, orchestra-band, brass-woodwind. Each has its own sets of standards, techniques and qualities that are create the unique sound and appeal of that music. Compositional techniques differ. Ranges and articulations differ. As a composer and arranger I always try to look for tips from the music I perform - how did that composer or arranger solve their problems? I also get some great chuckles from editors (I hope) who persist in putting a crescendo over a whole note chord in a piano staff. I dutifully press harder as I hold the keys down, but it never gets any louder.

It was the Ps that got to me. The juxtaposition of Charlie Parker and Dolly Parton piqued my notoriously quirky sense of humour. It comes from the same place as the chuckle over the crescendo. In a world that categorises and subdivides music into ever smaller niches, who would have ever thought to look for Dolly and Bird in the same grouping? I didn't take the photo, but the sight in the Ds was also amusing - Miles Davis Kind of Blue next to John Denver's Greatest Hits - if only it had been his Christmas With The Muppets it would have been the perfect picture.

But as I sit writing, something troubles me about this. It could be argued that there was a more subtle grouping going on that would be worthy of a Dan Brown book. In the words of the immortal Rolf Harris, "Can you tell what it is yet?"

Of course you can. Our specialists were all masters of their art who found a way to express through vibrating air, feelings and emotions that were otherwise inexpressible. The common thread that they as well as every other artist in the shop possess is that whatever the style or genre, their music connects to peoples lives and touches them in some ineffable way. The sounds that they make accompany the lives of the listeners and make moments special. We celebrate life at every stage with music. Whether it is a baptism hymn, the music playing during that first kiss or the hymn sung at graveside, music shapes and colours our lives.

As we edge closer to the end of this school year, relish the special moments that will be marking mileposts in the lives of you, your students and their families.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


"We used to fool ourselves. We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find, and as a result of course, consumers won."

Edgar Bronfman, Warner Music
speaking at the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress

Happy New Year! Here’s wishing you all the best and the happiest in the next twelve months. Many of you will have received or given holiday presents of portable music devices. A colleague who is a great jazz afficianado commented upon his return to the chalkface after the holidays that he only received one CD for Christmas this year - a record low. He was not sad, however, as in the stead of physical media he received over $100 in iTunes Gift Cards.

As mentioned previously, this is the age of the cloud. More and more services are available online and the push is on for a greater availability of the ubiquitous connection - 24/7 fast wireless access. The connection styles are multiplying as well: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are being joined by Wi-Max and other emerging standards. Operating systems are becoming redundant.

One of the hottest selling items in the UK this autumn has been the netbook - a small (7” - 18cm) screen, Linux or Windows XP with Ethernet, Wireless and a small by today’s standards hard drive. They appeared on the market and sales of standard laptops dropped like stones. A few broadband providers saw a market and offered the netbooks free to anyone who took out a contract on the 3G mobile broadband network. Mobile broadband and a netbook for as low as £15 a month, 24 month minimum contract. Fits easily in a briefcase, a complete basic computer for managing E-mail, contacts, the Internet, office applications, photos and more.

Another hot seller has been the Apple iPhone. More expensive than the netbook, but fills a different niche. Unlimited data in the home country, access to Wi-Fi Hotspots, links to iTunes and a new Exchange like system for mail, contacts and calendars. Easy syncing of contacts and mail between computers using the service. Plus it is an iPod - plays back music and video - and has digital camera.. Small enough to fit in a pocket, manages E-mail, contacts, music, video, photos and the Internet.

In these changing economic times, the consumer is still king. If someone sees a market, they move in to fulfil the need. If they judge correctly, they win. The music industry is adapting to the times as well. Amazon now has a download store in most of its markets. They looked at the competition and found that there is a need for a one-click easy ordering system providing non-DRM music at a relatively high quality. Being wise, they decided not to set up their own system of interface to the wide variety of music players available. Instead, they offer a free application that links your computer to the store, then gives you the choice of automatically adding the tracks to your iTunes or Windows Media Player library.

As the year moves forward, you may think more and more about the music industry's journey and think of the journey music education has taken. Have we moved on with the times and are we offering the skills needed in the twenty first century? Already the industry is looking at netbooks as portable twenty four track recording studios and the iPhone as a portable four track recording studio. Our students expect technology to become smaller, have more features and cost less. As they experiment and play with the technology they find ways to use it to make as well as listen to music.

Don’t be afraid to practise using the technology you have as an everyday part of your classroom. Record rehearsals, video your singers, encourage student composition and perhaps have a technology recital that includes a laptop orchestra.

The future’s not ours to see, que será, será...

Rick Hein