(This part was begun November 2006, and continues through the present. Newest additions are near bottom. )
Here is Part Seven of the Open Letter, containing collected feedback from y'all site surfers. All the comments prior to August 1996 will be found in Part One. And those added up through November 1997 will be in Part Two, and through January 1999 in Part Three. Those from 1999 through 2000 are in Part Four. Part Five, began in mid-2002. Part Six began in October 2004, and continued through November 2006. This seventh part picks up in March 2007, and is the current document. The Gold Leaf Awards (for those who located the SOB 2000 album's single Moog sound) starts off the newest page, as usual. Other added-on new material follows the original date-based convention, so goes to the end (with the exceptions noted in place), so read from the top down for the original written order.
Let's begin this page with a big nod towards the curious, sharper eared folks who have gone looking for -- AND FOUND -- the single Moog synth note in S-OB 2000! We've been regularly mentioning them here with Gold Leaf Awards of acknowledgment (originally Green Leafs, for those keeping track). I'll add the most recent winners to this new section, to keep it clearer than the messy way it's been thus far. ALL of the winner announcements (and some misses, too) are copied right here. Most recent names are added at the bottom, as most recent replies are in general. Thank you all for searching, and for just caring enough to make an effort.
C. Petersen of Loch
Ness Productions for being the fourth person I know of to
have correctly identified that single Moog note! Bingo!
The first three sharpies were two musician friends, and a
radio interviewer at CBC, not sent via our website, as the
rest of you below have done.)
More to follow, from your newest pages of mail... But as mentioned above, there's no cheating, and we won't reveal the answer ahead of time (let's have a sense of decorum -- no sweet words, purrs and wagging of tails, please). That quite a few of you have now hit it, while two of the submitted attempts have been in error, suggests it's a valid challenge, not absurdly hard, yet hard enough to provide a genuine listening challenge. Thanks to you all for taking the time to try our little aural/musical Sherlocking.
2007-2009 Open Letter Additions:
a few times in the past year I've received messages about the quality
of recordings in general, and a comparison of analog and digital
sound in particular. Yikes, I'd thought that was rather old history
by now. Yes, when the CD first came out somewhere around 1983, there
were a shameful number of them which really DID sound pretty awful.
To make matters worse, much worse, the advertising campaigns of the
time were rife with a kind of arrogant swagger which pissed off a lot
of people. You remember the epithets: "Perfect Sound -- Forever!"
That kind of hype.
It lead to the inevitable, predictable "backlash" of former audio pundits, mostly, complaining loudly not to "throw any babies out with their bath water", that some very decent stereo LP were still available, which turned out to sound shabbier on their newer CD re-masterings. And a lot of print was spent on taking care that we didn't end up worse than before. It soon reached much worse standards of hype and urban legend, unfortunately. CDs were branded as being "the work of the devil" (alas, I kid thee not!), and of "causing migraines, nervous breakdowns, insomnia, loss of appetite, and even diseases, like cancer." Did we mention hype? But those were so over the top, it ended up ruining the desired effect, and convincing many of us that these comments all came from reactionary crazies, worshipping at a doomed, undeserving shrine. How could you not recall the tales of the Luddites of times past? It's a pretty common reaction to most new ideas, particularly those which spell the end of one familiar comfy paradigm, and the replacement by another strange one, even for replacements which hit far below actual "revolutions." Modern commerce, society, even politics seem to be fueled by omnipresent, unrelenting hype, don't they? What's an honest, open-minded audiophile to do?
True confession, when digital technology first was unveiled, I was also in the skeptical corner. The initial demonstrations of the 3-M tape-based recorders were even worse than the Soundstream machines that were shown a couple of years earlier, usually at AES (audio engineering society) shows and exhibitions. I think I've mentioned these disappointments in several other essays and liner notes before. In short, the sound quality was "edgy", and not transparent at all. Soft passages had a disagreeable harshness to them, and much of the lowest level portions of recordings seemed to be somehow attenuated, so that the room ambience and reverb were not as audible as they had been in the original microphone pick-up.
Such initial speculations turned out to be largely true. And the gremlins were eventually discovered and gradually fixed. A major one was the lack of something called "dithering", or an inferior version of dithering had been used. I won't go into that here (google it), but to say that it's a key ingredient to fine quality digital recording and playback. Astute people heard and reported on these realities and their solution. Inasmuch as the subject was quite technical, many/most audio writers and fans didn't actually understand what was going on, but still insisted on "reporting" the issue in garbled forms, and in so doing made a lot of dopey, false speculations and allegations. It's the usual way urban legends are generated. Provide a motive for some group to desire to disbelieve something they don't fully grasp, then give them a lot of pseudo-tech/dogma "reasons" to "prove" that what they want to believe instead is factually true, and off you go -- an unstoppable freight train of baloney. Whoo -- WOO! (Sorry, got carried away there, and I'm old enough to well remember the chugs and whistles of steam engines, or as we onomatopoetically called them as kids: "choo-choo trains"...! ;^)
Here I had thought until last year that most of the steam in this train had been chilled out, and that by now most undogmatic folks had heard some of the best sound in their lives from those small metallic disks, seen some fabulous video on the newer DVD versions (including some excellent surround sound audio on some of them, too), and that the issue was resolved by now. But I was wrong, it keeps coming up. It's a good way to start this newest open letter section off. So in the next part, below, let me copy some comments in reply to a few of your messages on this topic.
One correspondent described his excellent audio system in detail. Okay, I looked it over. I'm no audiophile per se, but can appreciate a nice list of equipment, and can see that it ought sound very decent, indeed. But then the message turned into a kind of oblique demeaning of digital audio disks, saying that this audiophile finds the old LPs to sound MUCH superior. And so on. So I asked Matthew Davidson to send my comments to him, and saved them to post here:
Gosh, thanx for your unusually thoughtful message, and the much-too generous comments, too. Will make a big exception and reply. You have a good sound system, vintage style. Agree about a lot of this, and it sounds like you've been around the block a lot, too, and have a decent parallax of audio in the home.
But please please don't worship too much at the shrine of the plastic roller-coaster friction ride of sound reproduction. I cut master stereo disks for several years on very good equipment, and learned fast what a compromise it was. Still is. A Dolby 15 ips or 7.5 ips tape dub will stand out against any LP, in close AB comparison, in my experience. Early digital was horrible, it's true, especially with no/bad dithering. And special tape masters, preconditioned, limited, EQ's, etc., to master into acceptable LPs, sound quite awful if transferred to a clean CD, without the analog post-conditioning alterations to sorta cancel out the tweaks. Yet it was done a lot. Hope by now the early lessons have been learned.
On our ESD CDs all the sound comes from earlier generation 1st-mix master tapes, and were transferred with great care and accuracy. They "mop the floor" of ANY of the prior versions, including CBS/Sony's Gold CDs. A careful AB ought prove that. Note the missing veil of tape artifacts, disk cutting artifacts. Much more honest. Thus glitches never heard before became audible, alas, requiring weeks on each album to spot fix/minimize. Still, we do get so used to what we've heard repeatedly, that when something better comes along, it can be damn hard to be objective, and hear what's actually there, not what we expect to hear. To each his own, though.
To demonstrate that this wasn't an isolated case, another writer begged me to have some of my new remasterings pressed on vinyl. He ended with a familiar comment, that while he knows CDs have become the norm, he much prefers "the warmth of vinyl over digital -- which enhances the sound experience", and that vinyl is actually making a comeback currently. I've also saved my reply to post here below the last one:
Please let me beg you to keep an open mind on this topic. Some original CDs WERE hard and nasty, for many extracurricular reasons. Eventually they became a lot more transparent than any LP (which I used to cut for a living, and know the old roller coaster medium too well). After decades of gradual improvements and refinements to digital recording, the old arguments have become "beliefs without proof", like the folks who claim we never went to the moon, or that Roswell is the site of an alien landing.
Since you do like the warmth factor of older gear, why not buy a good used tube amp/preamp on eBay, play your CDs through that? (It's called class-A harmonic distortion, containing BOTH odd and even harmonics, and can sound lovely and warm, although it's not actually "pure.") I've A/B tested my masters against all the media, and LP and Cassette now are simply inferior, dated, although not without a very honest nostalgia factor (let's hear it for nostalgia!). Until I made the series of double-blind, carefully calibrated tests (several times), I had no grasp of the reality of audio reproduction (personal confession: for several years I hated all the early digital sound I'd heard). Memory and pure subjectivity play tricks on us all the time, and NOT just in audio. We have to guard against reinforcing our current beliefs and biases. That's why the scientific method was invented -- to guard against the natural human ability to see/hear only what we expect to. Would I lie to you about something this important?
It's become rather special to me to learn that there are so many others out here who share in a lot of common interests, talents, and points of view. When I was growing up I thought I was the only one like me. To have interests in both the scientific world, and the artistic, creative side, was considered heresy, like you must suppress one or the other -- good grief! A love and talent for music was also supposed to be a signal that you didn't have much interest in graphic or visual arts. You like astronomy? Then skip literature, electronics, physics. You'd like to write poetry? Then jettison those chemistry books...!
Yas, yas, I'm being silly here, but honestly, that's what it was like, or at least what I encountered: egg-compartment minds. Which is fine -- if you're an egg! (But then the yoke's in you...) So when I received a letter last year which was very touching, describing someone who had experienced great difficulties coming to terms with a similar wide-ranging set of interests and abilities, I had Matthew send this reply, knowing I'd like to add it here as well eventually
Refreshing thoughts. By now I know there are more than a few people out there like us, all of us with multi talents and interests. Many seem to run in parallel, too. So try not to feel too alone. It's what the net and web are especially good at, connecting curious, bright nerds.
Lot we share. Of course. And don't let the "cognoscenti" intimidate you about the bits of baloney in microtonal world. Trust your own ears. Much too much dogma with Just, IMHO, a near reelidjin at times. Some of it elsewhere, too. You're able to see much better at times than they are. If it takes absurdly slow playing of specific timbres of exactingly created music examples with dead-on careful attention in listening, the improvement/effort ratio isn't worth it, is it?
Must affect us as intelligent, feeling humans, or "It don't mean a thing" (yes, "swing" helps, too!). You're right, the dissonance to be discovered is more interesting than the consonance. But a good composition needs to balance those together, like great Thai food, hot, sour, sweet, salt, and so on. Sadly, alt tunings are still neglected, even with new technology that can achieve it easily. So a defensive attitude among many microtuning mavens remains -- it's sad, if understandable.
The real meat of the topic is hard to find. If you've read my article in CMJ (also on the Enhanced-CD files of Beauty in the Beast), you have a list at the end, of the sources I could find. Not many good books, sorry to say. In the end you're best off trying it all yourself, taking care and lots of time. What works remains, the rest is equivocal at best, toss it.
Wish I also had another lifetime for graphic creations, art and painting. Gershwin and Schoenberg were decent amateur artists, after all, and many such overlaps exist in history of both subjects, literature and poetry, too. And math, for some reason, and physics, for more obvious reasons. Love it, a big, messy stew, with lots of good parts!
Good luck on your travels and adventures. And thank you for sharing some deep, even personal thoughts. Hands across the country!
Here's an important, frequently needed reply I had Matthew send off, and then saved, like above, to post here. It concerns the many offers I receive from musicians and composers who wish to send me copies of their albums. My replies in such cases are short, honest and to the point:
Thank you for the generous comments.
Alas, I get far too many people who wish to send me or have me listen to their music (to say nothing of comment on) to be able to respond to any of them any longer. But I do understand your sincerity, and thank you for the offer. As one grows older you find yourself budgeting your time differently, more selectively, avoiding the "been there -- done that" parts. Just how it seems to be, older friends admit to the same thing...
On the other hand, please let me wish you good luck, and perseverance to find your own "personal best." (Meanwhile, don't forget to enjoy the journey!)
Occasionally I'm asked for my personal list of favorite music and artists. Say someone enjoys several of my albums, and wishes to find something like it, and they ask me what I might listen to that's similar. It may come as a "come-downance" to learn that most of my private listening is to classical music, a lot of it for orchestra, late 19th and early 20th century often, although my collection is pretty dern eclectic. (You know, it might make a nice new addition to the website someday, a bit of a list -- I'll save that as a "note to self".) But the point is, I don't often listen to electro-acoustic music, my own or by other artists. So how to answer that question? Well, here's a copy I saved of one sincere attempt at answering such a question:
Thanx for kind message and
Good people in any field are always one of a kind. When you can no longer expand your listening vertically with more albums by the same artist (look how few works a master like Ravel left, for ex.), you move horizontally -- to other related people and styles. If you share an interest in rock-based synthesis, a longtime friend, Larry Fast, does excellent work. Looking back, there's Dick Hyman's Moog albums from decades ago. And Gyl Trythall's Country Moog, also circa 1970. All different, all worth a listen.
Other good friends who are not so well known: Matthew Davidson (the same person often mentioned here), has created some haunting, skillful electroacoustic albums on his <stretta "dot-com"> site. And Laurie Spiegel at <retiary "dot-org">, has composed fine, subtle, varied EAM over many years. I sure wish those two artist-friends had the time and opportunity to create even more frequent albums, not unlike what many of you have said to me. Who knows for sure what may tickle your ears and mind, you have to try for yourself, and play fair -- give each new artist some repeated listenings. Or ask several good friends whose taste you trust and who share some of your bkgd, age, other interests... but even so...
Now here's my reply to one particularly fine message which asked how it might be possible to obtain scores to some of my music, particularly film music. The writer in this case requested the sheet music for the pipe organ version of my TRON theme, called "Keyboard Anthem" (it was played by Martin Neary on the huge organ in Royal Albert Hall in London for the final title music to the film). The reply is self-explanatory, a candid comment on a sad reality, and applies to any of you out there with similar requests.
Yes, as with most film score music, there never is a published sheet music version. I share that frustration, have a LONG list of similar requests over the years. Simple answer is that it represents an investment of time and effort which is unjustified in a marketplace in which fewer and fewer "musicians" even read music. We only have some faded original hand drawn scores, and have read that this is the same thing for most other soundtrack scores, alas. Sorry.
Best idea I can suggest is to put up a note in a music dept. for a decent local school to find a student with sharp ears who'd welcome the gig to transcribe the music from the recording. Or try this yourself. It's what I do very often, and is a wonderful musical exercise for one's ears. Half-speed playback can help for faster parts (may have to dub to a tape or computer for that). Even if inexact, you can get more than you might imagine if you go back and improve each first attempt several times. Well, it's an idea, one that I do myself, and can recommend firsthand.
Since the construction of the Wurly II setup, and posting a fairly extensive description on our website, It's been an unexpected pleasure to hear from many of you in the pipe organ community. Not so surprisingly, many of you share a love of many of the same things I do, including sound quality, polyphony and rich counterpoint, harmony, and timbres, a curiosity in how sounds are made, synthesizers, and how the newest digital implementations might benefit the preservation of both classical and theatre organ traditions.
So I'd like to thank those of you who have written in this connection, to share some often astonishing stories with me, of instruments played or worked on in the least likely spots for housing a big pipe organ, and the many musical adventures involved. I have said on the Wurly II pages that it was only as I assembled this elaborate Kurzweil rig that it dawned on me what was right beneath my nose: that I owed a good deal of my own path through music and timbral innovation to the pioneers within the pipe organ world. Perhaps it was a kind of misplaced snobbery, as I've always been aware of the debt I have to the rich culture of western orchestral music. But really, even though I'd have liked to work within the orchestral world more than I've been able to (prejudices exist all over the place -- turn over a rock, and there's another... ;^), the field of electroacoustic music has grown out of other paradigms, too. And a natural precursor is the organ, which may explain why so many of the roots of EAM can be found in various novel electronic organ-like instruments, right from the very beginning.
We're sort of "joined at the hip", as I've better come to understand more recently. Nice, that, don't you agree? Come to think of it, there's another bit of simpatico. For various reasons, the initial reception to my earliest Switched-On albums was sometimes very hostile -- mainly from the orchestral sphere. But seldom from the pipe organ world. It was almost as if we all understood that there was a fundamental shared connection there. So now, if I may be permitted a question back at all of you in the organ world -- when are we going to see some new developments with the newest technology to add some real touch-sensitivity on the King of Instruments? At least in the digital domain, with many incredible electronic replicas of many kinds of pipe organs (Allen and Walker instruments come to mind), when can we expect this other shoe to drop? I've now been playing real pipe organ sounds and registrations on the Wurly II for nearly five years, and can attest to the benefits of touch sensitivity in expression and musical balances. (Note: tracker instruments already do allow some limited touch variation, if only on the attacks.) I suggest it's an idea who's time has come. So permit me to throw down a challenge. Or look at it this way: "Come on in, the water's fine!"
A message from awhile ago asked us how the audio on the disks within the "Switched-On Boxed Set" relate to those identical tracks on the unbundled versions of the same albums. Sorry it's taken me so long to answer this, and I'll share it with all of you. Actually I thought it was clear from the word, "unbundled." The audio tracks ARE indeed identical. Check out the ISRC code numbers, or the embedded watermarks -- yes, they match, exactly the same. I'd never penalize those of you who own only one version or the other. Like many remastered classic films, there often appear two DVD versions of the same titles, but one is with added bonus features, perhaps narration tracks, too. And the other is the film itself without the frills. That gives you a choice about what's important to you. For my Switched-On collection I realized that some of you wanted the whole schmear, the complete story, and everything in one unified, deluxe presentation.
But others of you only wanted a particular title or two, or were not that interesting in the background story, details about the Moog synth and the studio. And of course we all have to budget for our music purchases, so having the two options just makes sense to me, as I expect it from the world of DVDs of films, giving us a choice. And that's all there is to it: you will get the best audio versions of my albums either way, in full 20-bit Hi-D sound, the best any of the tracks have ever sounded until now!
Thanks to those of you who share the passion for astronomy and eclipses with me. I've enjoyed reading some of your exploits, particularly about several recent eclipses I was unable to attend. I'm glad to see the interest has caught on, which often brings about many more options for totality observations and shadow-chasing options than existed when I first began this pursuit. OTOH, it is sometimes frustrating to discover all the available facilities have been filled up for over a year, so that it becomes much harder for certain places to make your own private travel plans as we once did. I assume that it's now become a part of the travel industry, with both the up and downsides of that.
But the important thing is that many more people now have gotten to see, or will get to see, one of the greatest experiences in nature. I believe it's the most spectacular event available on the planet (few planets probably have that similar coincidence of moon and sun size/distance to permit it). We're very lucky to have these available. Even if by now most of the science from studying eclipses and the corona can be done in other less frenzied manners (like orbiting satellites), there are many more human and personal reasons to attend at least one of these in your life. And you can bet that the real reason so many serious astronomers make the great efforts often involved to mount an expedition, is for the intense kick or thrill just to see yet another one. I consider myself blessed to have seen so many in my years, and recommend the experience to all of you!
Every now and then I receive a kind message about my album, "Beauty in the Beast." It cheers me up to hear that many of you "get it", understand this often ill-grasped collection of unusual musical explorations. It was my first experience with alternative tunings, although I'd messed with them for decades, but never done much seriously about it before. And the confluence of the triple-interactions of: Tuning - Timbre - and Timing, just seemed to fall into place. Still feels more like magic to me today, nearly twenty years later (goodness, I've been at this stuff for WAY too long, people...!). Anyway, I just wanted to thank those of you who took what must have seemed a risky step to buy a copy of what must first seem a pretty strange musical adventure. Like eating your first plate of sushi, or stuffed dolmas, or spicy Thai shrimp... you might end up not liking it. But then, as with most acquired tastes, when you see that many others DID take the first step, and came back for more, you know it can't be all that risky-weird, but more risky-different. So thank you for your curiosity (and courage?), and thank you for writing me to tell me about the experience!
For the many of you who've written to express your sadness at losing my longtime collaborator, Bob Moog, I'm grateful for your empathy and thoughts. I've told his family members about some of your comments, shared the often personal and heartfelt reactions upon learning of his premature death. Yet he did so much with his years, he won't be forgotten. I still recall how sweetly he comforted me when in 1989 we had just lost Vladimir Ussachevsky. I suggested that he still had so much he wanted to do, and had never really achieved much public awareness for his long career. Bob took another POV. He thought Vladimir was really very happy in his life. That he had achieved all that he wanted, that he loved playing farmer out on his property in southern RI (the state where I was born, coincidentally). Bob said in his conversations with Ussachevsky he had never felt any hint of bitterness or real disappointments, that he'd had a very good life, and was loved by many people. He certainly blazed a trail for many others to follow, including me, for which I'll always be grateful.
It was just what I needed to hear so soon after losing our mutual friend. And I find myself thinking about Bob's savvy perceptions time and again. With generation gaps being as they are, Bob was probably closer to Vladimir than I ever could be. And he'd dealt with him in several different ways, as a collaborator and tool designer. He'd even been out on the Ussachevsky farm once, too (I'd not). And seen that side of Vlad's personality savoring the outdoor rugged elements. It's a happy picture, Bob's description of Vladimir in jeans and flannel jacket on a beat-up tractor, hoeing some new space for seedlings and crops. I'm lucky to have known and worked with both of them, truly. They each helped me in ways I don't think either of them ever knew (although I'd like to believe they suspected it...).
During January I finally was able to take care of a two month-old promise I'd made to Frank Oteri at New Music Box (an excellent music web magazine), to work with him on a major interview, including some video of the proceedings (haven't done video Q&As in a long time). And it all went very smoothly. I'll post a "behind the scenes" story of it here shortly. (Update: it's now on our site right HERE, as promised.) Anyway, the interview sailed along over several tapes, so the transcript Frank worked on over many hours and two months, took up 40 pages (at a medium font size). Yikes!
We covered a lot of territory, though (and I'm a chronic chatterbox, and Frank is no slouch, either). But he was very well organized, and had brought a printed list containing some excellent questions, most of which no one had asked me about before, or not so interestingly in point of view. For the past two weeks I've been trying to polish and edit his raw transcript into a more readable shape (answering knotty questions ad lib makes for very clumsy reading, however glib you may attempt to be), to meet their rapidly upcoming deadline. We'll post some interesting selections from the interview on this website, too, with links to the complete version with its several video clips. We hope you enjoy it.
And don't forget the unusual two new pages I posted to end 2006, containing my surprise applause (don't do this very often) for two excellent companies who make tools I use regularly, and am honestly excited about. There's the current definitive version of a mature audio editing, tweaking, maniupulating, and mastering program by BIAS, called Peak, and then there's the recent suite of acoustical instrumental libraries by Gary Garritan, especially his new solo instruments starting with a performable Stradavarius violin. (And don't forget MotU's Digital Performer and Make Music's Finale, both of which I've depended on for many years.) I've been often asked what musical software I work with regularly, what I would recommend to others to try. Well, this will answer a few of those questions you've asked, anyway (and you know who you are!).
Right on the heels of that short note just above, my speculations on the Garritan solo instrument replicas are coming true. There's a new solo 'cello just released, which is even more responsively programmed than the Strad solo violin, this time based on a wonderful Gofriller violoncello Gary meticulously sampled. I've just been trying it out -- many smiles!
Is this a good time to mention beloved pets again? I'm just noticing a recent increase in mails from over the years about the creatures we invite into our homes and lives, who quickly become "members of the family in good standing", not to get silly about it. Thank you all who share this interest (shux, it's more than an "interest" ... "hobby"? HA! "Obsession"...? Um..., yeah, that's more like it) for taking the time to write. And thank you for sending your stories about canines and felines and other breeds who are so cherished in your own lives. Some lovely pix, too. There's one message of a few months ago from a writer who has a responsive, alert cat who is now over 20 years old... such a fragile, bittersweet, time of life. I'm touched, very. And I keep thinking of a not well known observation which goes something like this: "As we grow older, our remaining lives may become worth less -- but are also more precious." Thanx to all of you for the stories, empathy, and affection!
A recent message was from someone who used to live not that far from here in NYC, while a student at Julliard in the early 90s. He tried to help them with a small, thoughtful lobby exhibit on electronic sound, which at the time they were quite slow about adopting in any of their classes. But, alas, the reply was negative. It "would jeopardize their funding", was the reason offered. Quite a sad commentary, is it not? But as is evident throughout this site, and in my interviews, articles, liner notes, and so on, I've been chronically quite disappointed by nearly all my associations with those "hallowed halls of academia." I was never anything but supportive of them, as I value the role education plays in the lives of individuals and in our society. We need MORE educated citizens, especially right now, to guard against the bogus wails of regressive gullible fervor currently threatening this country, as it is the Middle East.
But even as institutions of knowledge, large and small, remain our main hope against backsliding back into a new Dark Ages (no kidding), they also seem to attract a kind of "stuck in the mud" reluctance to embrace the new. Despite the frequent epithets by manipulative agendaists insisting "colleges and universities are nests of dangerous leftists" (okay, among intellectuals one does often find that side expressed, sure), you can't help but discover a great many arch reactionaries in them, too. I'd always expected I might eventually become involved slightly, a toe in the water, to teach a few classes in some local music department. It came as a bitter disappointment to discover that this kind of reactionary fear, or whatever the hell it is, was never going to allow "the likes of me" to participate. I bring it up because often you send me messages asking why I never thought to teach a class in electro acoustic music, or sound design, electronic orchestration -- or even microtonality.
Oh, I did, did try. I suddenly noticed the subjective passage of years speeding up (this was 15 years ago), and wanted to do my share of passing the torch, sharing some bits and pieces I'd collected in my dustbin of a mind all these years. It's a wonderful tradition, like watching Uta Hagen teaching a young actors workshop in 2001, or older performers and singers conducting "master classes" in their field. But once you discover that the same individuals in academia, who "just want to shake your hand" or tell you "what a big fan they are", remain too threatened in some weird way to allow your presence in their department, no matter how friendly and unthreatening you actually are ... Um, well, you just stop bashing your head against that brick wall and move on in life. As I've done. But as you can tell from this brief true confession, it's not without some bewildered frustration, over the false hopes, in such a sad waste of time, cheerful affection, and concern. I guess it does take all kinds... Perhaps someday I'll tell you more of the story.
It's probably mentioned in some earlier Open Letter replies, but bears repeating here again. There were several other versions of albums put out at one time which superficially bear a resemblance to my own albums. Heck, many of them WERE actually copycat albums riding the wave of attention some of my work happened to receive. Then again, I've recently been asked about a purported "original" version of "Sonic Seasonings", which instead of Rachel's vocalise at the end had a synthesizer imitation. Sorry, you're being sold a bill of goods, or perhaps it's just an honest instance of misremembering something from a long time ago (happens to me ALL the time...). Also, we live in a time when: Urban Legend. Is. All. Thus dopey, perpetually heated and conceited, desparate opinions trump "the mere facts." It's a deplorable downturn in the quality of information available, despite (or actually, BECAUSE of) the "Information Superhighway" of the web. Time to speak up, I guess, another step in an unwinnable battle?
I've encountered the damnedest baloney online, stuff that causes my eyebrows to attempt to dive for cover, up into my hairline! "Wiki-esque" sites are particularly offensive this way (some decent, accurate info mixed up with SO much fiction and propaganda -- YOU decide! ...[LOL]...). One quickly discovers the futility of trying to correct all of it (but we still ought try). Attempts to counter the BS with any reality remain as effective as, well, plugging a leaking levy (the horrific, waiting to happen Katrina disaster in NOLA), with your little finger. Anyway, here's some sober factuality of a not especially important kind, for those who remain reality-based. I mentioned "Sonic Seasonings," above. The version I in fact created is available in our definitive ESD edition, which you can read about HERE. It includes the one main last-minute change, at the end of Winter, as a special bonus track. There were no other versions, sorry.
Obviously there were soundtrack albums of selected music used on "Clockwork Orange" and "The Shining" released by Warner Brothers, and on other labels in "cover versions" as well. Aside from their inclusion of dubs of some of the music tracks I'd sent to Kubrick, I had nothing to do with these releases. For my score to the films I've worked on, you'd be much more advised to get the ultra-clean, definitive CD editions I've put together from the original first-generation masters. For "A Clockwork Orange", there's my full filmscore HERE. And for a newly discovered few bonus tracks from "CO", plus a great deal of the various music I composed for Kubrick's "The Shining", you ought check out the two volumes of Lost Scores, HERE for volume one, and HERE for volume two.
The second volume also includes selections from my score to "TRON" (the official TRON soundtrack album was unexpectedly dropped by Disney not long ago, alas), and the one for a late 90s British independent SF film, "Woundings" (also oddly renamed: "Brave New World" on some USA DVD editions). And there are other smaller filmscore tracks on both disks. As for titles like: "Everything You Ever Wanted to Hear on the Moog", and many similar vintage Moog albums: sorry, not mine. Even this century you'll find new albums inspired by my earlier classical music synth realizations. If they're not mentioned on this website, they're simply not mine. I'm not trying to be pedantic here, and honestly, some of these albums do look a lot like mine, but it never happened. We've got to remember this is a burgeoning, popular field, electroacoustic music. It may by now even represent the most common form of music, at least in western countries. That's healthy, and as it should be (yeay -- we succeeded!). But it does leave room for such confusions, in deliberate instances or the accidental variety.
Finally, for those brief appearances of broadcast music you may spot which bear a more than superficial resemblance to some of my music, please be skeptical, okay? (Not to underplay the less frequent instances of actual pirated or "sampled" steals.) I've heard several tracks which were meticulously copied (audio rotoscoping?) from my work, and indeed, those can sound a lot like the originals. TV commercial tracks often find people to "duplicate" the timbres or feel of many artist's well known tracks, including some by me. The opening title music to "Clockwork Orange" has been mimicked in several background tracks recently. Imitation and forms of flattery notwithstanding, if you compare carefully with the originals, the differences are clear, at least on decent equipment. Small speakers, ear buds or phones, generic TV sound, mp3s, and so on can mask the quality, make it difficult to tell exactly what's on the tracks you're hearing. Like tiny jpeg images on the web, you get a rough idea of an original illustration or photo, but that's about it.
Not many months age I was lucky to hear from two thoughtful, chatty fans in England, who knew some further information about the nearly forgotten pioneering microtonal instrument (a multidigital harmonium) constructed by R.H.M. Bosanquet more than 125 years ago. This fascinating 53-note ET instrument appears to have been moved about a few times in the last couple of decades. It had been most recently in the collection of London's justly famous Science Museum (which is where I've listed it), but then it was sent out for repairs and refurbishment, and is currently (perhaps) in the shop of the restorer. It was also supposed to be in the Victoria and Albert Museum's musical instrument collection, but seems not to be there at the moment, either. Sheesh, can it truly be lost? Misplaced? Something that large and heavy, sitting forgotten in some corner of a workshop? No doubt it will turn up.
Anyway, it's just one instance of the often delightful serendipitous nature of the Internet and Web, that people sharing interests and passions about many rather arcane topics can trade stories. In a similar way, one exhibit at the Science Museum which I happily did see is the impressive reconstruction of one of Charles Babbage's amazing brass and steel mechanical digital computers! And sunuvvagun, I've been told (thanx again especially to Ian Kemmisch) that the artisans who machined this wonder have been commissioned to construct yet another, perhaps to be located in the USA, for those interested. So there we are, one somewhat ambiguous bit of news (that they're not quite sure WHO has the Bosanquet harmonium at the moment) and one worth anticipating (another real working Babbage Engine is under way)!
This Spring (2008) included the loss of two greats in their respective creative fields, whom I'd like to acknowledge in this comment, while it's still timely. First, on March 19th, the venerable Sir Arthur C. Clarke passed away. His fiction and nonfiction dominated most of my readings from high school through the present. Most of us, knowingly or not, were greatly affected by his ideas (for example: geosynchronous communications satellites), innumerable books, tireless inspiration and support of the arts and sciences. That includes the once highly suspect (now mainstream) hybrid literary form, "science fiction" (most of us nowadays prefer the simpler term, SF). Sir Arthur and I maintained a twenty year long frequent pen-pal correspondence, and there are a few interesting stories about it I'd like to share with you. Let me try to collect some material together, see how best it might become part of a new page on our site.
Meanwhile, for the second artist (who died nearly exactly one month later, April 20th), I've just finished assembling a brand new page about composer Bebe Barron. Bebe's one of the often forgotten pioneers of electro-acoustic music who, for my generation, "showed us the way" to high quality, original, memorable electronic music. She and her husband, Louis, created the unforgettable score to the 1956 MGM SF hit: "Forbidden Planet", and the music world never again was quite the same. By preposterous coincidence, they put together their early work, including that score, just a few blocks away from my loft and studio. There are photos and a detailed description of how she inspired and greatly influenced my early career. Read the story about Bebe and her music HERE.
Bebe Barron -- RIP
During a phone interview I had several months ago with Dave Tompkins, a bright, curious NYC writer who's working on a definitive book about the varied history of Homer Dudley's invention, the Vocoder (yeay!), I began to dwell on the complex interconnections of technologies for music and speech synthesis and processing. We traded several messages afterwards. Dave's trying to stay in touch with most of the people with experience with vocoders who also agreed to be interviewed by him for the book. That's smart, you may forget something important, may misspeak, be misunderstood, or follow-up questions may come to mind later. You want to be sure all the important stuff is covered and accurately described.
So it was that the topic of other speech processing effects came up, and THAT triggered for me a cluster of memories about other devices I've seen or worked with that have used for speech transformation. One of these was a little known processor called the Eltro Mark II (an "information rate changer", no less). I'd been an engineer at a NYC recording studio for a few years, just as it became one of the first in the country to own and use an Eltro. Soon I was processing many of the tapes in need of time compression, expansion, or pitch shifting, for their clients. And then I remembered: THAT was also the same device that Stanley Kubrick employed to process the voice of HAL in his film, "2001 -- A Space Odyssey." I'm not speculating here, I got confirmation on it from Stanley's own lips, the week we first met in Elstree, England, on the Clockwork Orange post production. You may enjoy the background story I've just posted on its own new webpage HERE.
The Eltro (click to read about it)
Thanks for reading this continuing (slowly) growing stream of (loosely) connected thoughts triggered by you. I'll get back with more feedback and comments, and certainly more questions from you as time permits.
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Carlos Open Letter 7