Archive for December, 2011

p is for pops

December 15, 2011

It’s been a long time since I saw the Boston Pops. In fact to say I saw them at all the first time is a …slight… overstatement. It was a hot July evening, mid-80s. This is about how big the Esplanade looked from my grassy vantage point along the Charles:

With somewhere around a million people between me and the shell, more or less. So it was a moderately memorable experience at best, at least musically speaking.

Fast forward to this afternoon, 4pm at magnificent Symphony Hall:

Symphony Hall, Boston

The holiday pops programs are in full swing (yes, ‘swing’) now, with awesome musical arrangements, soloists, a few props, nifty lighting and the full Tanglewood Festival Chorus. I won’t give the other surprises away except to say “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a real show-stopper (good thing it comes after intermission), and the Pops does a version of the 12 Days of Christmas that’s unequaled. Their 12 Days is so popular that they’re offering it now as a download at the website – recommended.

I’m glad I had better seats this time around. And I’m glad it’s not going to be another 20+ years until I hear/see them again.

It’s good to be in Boston.

sing we now

December 14, 2011

A friend shared this with me today. I mentioned that the Traditional French “Noël Nouvelet” is one of my favorite carols. This is a great version.

in the corner

December 13, 2011

“I expected a heap of pads to fall out of it. I haven’t touched it in years!”

Working with Keith Lockhart has been an unanticipated pleasure of the new job. I’ve been producing “Keith’s Classical Corner” for a little over a month now with the program’s host, Laura Carlo, and the sessions are such rewarding experiences. Whether he’s cutting up between production sessions with that story about rescuing his clarinet from languishing in a closet, spinning an engaging history of English concert music, or relating anecdotes about the Pops…he’s just one of those people whose presence commands full attention.

This Thursday evening I’ll be at the Pops for the holiday concert. We’re recording it for broadcast this weekend.

I’ll enjoy the music, the superb acoustics of the Hall, the feeling in the audience. And I’ll be thinking about Maestro Lockhart and all of the other funny, thoughtful, talented real people who get up on the stage and make that music happen every day.

Laura Carlo with Keith Lockhart in the Classical New England studios

DeCordova followup

December 12, 2011

Yesterday I mentioned the afternoon’s happy coincidental encounter with composer Spencer Topel at the DeCordova sculpture park and museum in Lincoln, MA. He was there filming Capturing Resonance, his new collaborative installation with Soo Sunny Park. We connected again today and I invited Spencer to share some insight on the piece, specifically about his role in creating its audio:

“My personal inspiration for ‘Capturing Resonance’ was the tangible, physical material of the early models for the project. It amazes me how my collaborator, Soo Sunny Park, transforms rough hewn materials: chain-link fence, wire, into flowing, rounded forms. I want the sounds to echo or evoke a similar synesthetic experience for the visitor–to create a multi-modal experience—where sound and light amplify one another. This intuition led to the addition of low-frequency “bass-exciters.” These devices, normally used for rumbles in a small commercial or home movie theater, were perfect for turing the sculptural sections into a kinetic sculpture by transmitting vibrations through interconnected sections of the structure.

 Having the sound control the physical behavior of the installation solved an additional problem I have with many kinetic works, where there is a motor running in the background, or a compressor, and it make a connection between the sounds of the work and the visual forms.

Another motivation for the sound-design came from the thousands of small Radiant plexi that “fill-in” the spaces of the fencing. This physically-intensive process yielded an altogether transcendental effect, whereby the viewer’s experience changes constantly with respect to their physical presence within the space. The sound elements too reflect this phenomenon in two ways: Use of an advanced speaker technology called “Audio Spotlight”, and the integration of sensors into the environment, allowing the installation to “react” to the physical presence of moving forms within the space.

 In the case of the former, employment of exotic speakers was required to make the sound seem as though it emanates from the sculptures itself, since the Audio Spotlights “project” sound onto surfaces in focused “beam-like” patterns. What people end up hearing then are the reflections, scattered in different directions from the source. While, I think this is a subtle effect, it is useful in de-emphasizing the physical location of the speakers. In the latter case, the sensors use motion activation to alter the musical space. At first this was too subtle because the sensors altered large-scale musical structure, and depending on how long someone would visit, the effect either work or not. Instead, we employed the sensors to incrementally activate the bass-exciters, creating a much more tangible and satisfying response.

 On a more particular-to-composition level, I wanted the musical structure to be continually adapting, evolving, and “infinite”. So many sound installations use a “loop” process, where after so many minutes or hours, everything starts over again. This bothers in a few ways, but most importantly because it means that the piece has an “end”, even with re-occurrences of the material. In contrast, my favorite exhibitions evoke a deep sense of timelessness. To accomplish this, I used a statistical-feedback approach preventing the five sonic “states” from repeating in exactly the same pattern. The sensors contribute to this process by weighting the lower states in low-activity conditions, (i.e. few visitors), or high states in high-activity situations. Between these two processes, I can confidently say that the material evokes a sense of re-occurrence without direct repetition, and while there are admittedly easier ways to do this, the result seems satisfying.

On a more philosophical-subversive level, I think too much of the “fantastic” or “magical” is relegated to fixed-media, where any image or sound in the right hands can be manipulated to appear as though it happened in reality. I love these kinds of experiences, but they are limiting because of the barrier between the experience and the production of that experience. With ‘Capturing Resonance ‘ I hope viewers may experience a sense etherial wonder emancipated from the lens of a camera or computer rendering.”

Spencer Topel with 'Capturing Resonance'

at the DeCordova

December 11, 2011

DeCordova museum (Lincoln, MA)

Now that the dust is finally settling a little on the homefront (or, more accurately, the passing of time is making the continuing chaos easier to  ignore) it’s time to get out and start exploring the new turf. Destination: the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

During this past October and November when I was living at a boarding house in MA weekdays and going back home to VT on the weekends, my curiosity was piqued by the DeCordova Museum signs I kept passing going both ways on I-95.  And then I discovered my new employer was an underwriter of exhibits at the museum, and I knew I’d have to get there sooner or later. Today was the day.

After a winding drive through the beautifully wooded hills around Lincoln, the DeCordova entrance appeared with large metal sculptures punctuating the surrounding golden woods. A short walk up the hill to the Museum building revealed more sculptures accentuating the walkway and nearby grounds. It was tempting to start the journey right there but the inside space seemed like the best way to get familiarized with the collection on the first visit.

One of the first pieces encountered was Capturing Resonance, by Soo Sunny Park and Spencer Topel. The gracefully undulated chain link framework was hung with hundreds of small, iridescent Plexi panels that shone in this winter afternoon’s incoming low light. At intervals activated by visitor movement, the whole structure rumbled and shook occasionally with a  low metallic hum. Another sound effect that emanated from it periodically was eerily reminiscent of the music of a glass armonica. Enchanting.

A man was filming the exhibit and I was just trying to figure out how to dodge his camera when he asked, “so what do you think of it?” He was pleased to hear the positive response, and said, “thank you“. What luck, to encounter Spencer Topel himself on a Sunday afternoon at the DeCordova! I found out he’s also a composer, on the faculty at Dartmouth College and currently completing doctoral studies at Cornell. We have a common acquaintance in the composer Rob Paterson. And, we’re both from Denver. Lots to talk about but little time for it today. Another time. We’ll be in touch again soon.

The rest of the afternoon was spent touring the other several exhibit areas (“platforms”) in the Museum, and strolling the expansive walking path through the outdoor sculpture garden. A few of the highlights are below.

The DeCordova website lists a snow shoeing tour of the grounds next Saturday. I doubt that will happen, with the exceedingly warm fall and early winter we’ve had so far. If you’re in the area, take advantage of that now and enjoy the last of autumn with a walk through the museum’s lovely sculpture garden. From colossal silver pipe constructions to much smaller, more subtle installations, pleasant surprises await at every turn on the granite stone path.


Capturing Resonance, as viewed from above…you can see one of the two artists, Spencer Topel, walking through below. He was on his own video mission today to record the exhibit for his portfolio.

Erwin Wurm’s Am I A House? (excerpt):

Paul Matisse’s The Musical Fence:

Nam June Paik’s Requiem for the 20th Century:

getting settled

December 5, 2011

Hard to believe two months have passed already since the last time we met here.

A little over 60 days ago I mentioned I was leaving my job in Vermont and taking on a new position in Boston. Since that time I started the new job and moved to Boston (in that order) and I’ve already had a tantalizing taste of the musical life that awaits here.

I think this is going to work out just fine.

The amazing musical experiences began four days into the new job, on October 6th. That was a Thursday. It’s important to know that, because WGBH does not usually do live Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts on Thursday nights. It happened that we did that week, though, because Rosh Hashanah occurred on Saturday night the 8th (that’s the usual live broadcast night), and in order to sidestep the holiday the live show was moved up two days to the 6th. Coincidentally that very date was also the 60th anniversary of of the radio station’s first broadcast – which, on October 6th, 1951, had been a live concert broadcast with the BSO.

Happy 60th b-day WGBH!

So, quite by good fortune, four days into my new gig at WGBH, I found myself in the station’s broadcast booth at Symphony Hall with our engineer Jim Donohue, producer Brian Bell, and host Ron Della Chiesa, all celebrating the station’s 60th anniversary in the very same way it first began in 1951. It was an indescribably special experience. Here’s a little video I took that night, going inside the booth:

Since then the station’s Fraser Performance studio has hosted violinists Bella Hristova and Sarah Chang (in individual recitals), the Boston Camerata, cellist Matt Haimovitz & pianist Christopher O’Riley (together), Apollo’s Fire, and harpist Ina Zdorovetchi in the ongoing weekly “Drive Time Live” series. Not a bad run, for two month’s time! And this is just the beginning. I couldn’t be happier to be part of it all.

Thanks for stopping in to share this great adventure as it continues to unfold, in Boston and beyond. I’ll do my part, relating experiences and talking about various aspects of the remarkable art happening in our world. I hope you’ll do the same – leave a comment, tell a story, throw some of your own perspective on culture into the conversation. I’d love to hear from you. And stay tuned, we’re back on track again here after the big move and you can look for regular updates once again. As we like to say here in South B-town,…CHIZ. (It’s kind of like “cheers”, without the “r”s. As you know there ARE no “r”s in B-A-H-S-T-O-N.)

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