Archive for the “Recordings” Category

Nico Muhly is set to appear at the Santa Monica Apple Store on the Third Street Promenade Wednesday, September 8th to mark two new releases from Decca. “A Good Understanding” will be released exclusively on iTunes on September 7, with physical copies available on September 21 alongside “I Drink the Air Before Me”.

Composer Nico Muhly

Muhly along with Los Angeles Master Chorale conductor Grant Gershon will take part in a Q&A session – where Muhly will demonstrate how he creates his compositions with GarageBand on his MacBook Pro. The talk will end with a performance by members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale featuring two works from “A Good Understanding” and two related works, “Like as the Hart” and “Wayfaring Stranger”.
John Clare spoke with Muhly about the works and event: mp3 file
Nico Muhly and Los Angeles Master Chorale conductor Grant Gershon appear at the Santa Monica Apple Store on Wednesday, September 8, 7:00 p.m.
Bonus – listen to the rest of the conversation as Muhly interviews Clare: mp3 file

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Composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame) happened to be one of the earliest voices captured, in 1888, by Thomas Edison’s then-new wax-cylinder recording machine. Invited to dinner at Edison’s London outpost, Little Menlo, Sullivan recorded this small but prescient speech (which you can hear thanks to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park):

. . . For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the results of this evening’s experiment — astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.

[Thanks to wonderful pianist Seda Röder for the tip. The complete Edison archive can be found here.]

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(Thanks to Kevin Austin, who runs the Canadian Electroacoustic Community e-mail list, for pointing this one out):

Every serious classical listener/collector has spent time probing through the hiss, pop and crackle of early monophonic 78 and 33 rpm recordings; though the sound is tinny and boxed in, they love the magical feeling of somehow being brought closer to some vital moment, performer or composer.  Until 1958 people could only buy monophonic records; some might have heard stereo sound previously in a few push-the-envelope films like Fantasia, but for at least a couple generations mono was all they had. Yet there had been a number of experimental tries at stereo sound, going back as early as the 1920s (the BBC’s first attempt at a stereo radio broadcast was in December 1925). One of these pioneering experiments has been wonderfully documented on the website.

Leopold Stokowski might have had a bit of the showman in him, often shrewdly picking music, concerts and events with a little more than average glitz and spectacle. But especially early on, we can’t forget that he was very friendly with a lot of the avant-garde of the day, and had a keen interest in new ideas.  His Philadelphia Orchestra began broadcasting concerts in 1929, but he was disappointed with the poor fidelity. Stokowski approached Bell Labs looking for some way to improve the sound; there he hooked up with Bell’s legendary research director Dr. Harvey Fletcher. Fletcher was doing groundbreaking work on electrical recording, new microphones and recording equipment, constantly searching for ways to expand the frequency, dynamic range and spatial presence of recordings.

They worked out a deal where in 1931 Fletcher would install the latest equipment in the basement of the hall (the Academy of Music) that the Philly orchestra used for broadcasts, making the orchestra a test subject for their recording experiments. By the end of the year they were able to push the recorded spectrum all the way to an unheard-of 13,000 Hz (though still in mono) in a recording of Berlioz‘s Roman Carnival Overture.

But most amazing of all was the work of another of Fletcher’s researchers, Arthur C. Keller. He’d devised a system that could use two microphones at once, each cutting their own sound to a separate groove on the master disk. With this new stereophonic setup, in 1932 Keller recorded Stokowski and the orchestra performing Scriabin‘s Prometheus: Poem of Fire (part 1; part 2). As far as we know, this is the oldest stereophonic music recording in existence, and for all those lovers of the 78 rpm records from this period the quality is just stunning. It would still be more than a quarter-century before the technology could advance enough to where everyone could finally listen at home in stereo.

Arthur Keller came out of retirement in 1979, and assisted by Ward Marston made the modern transcriptions you hear here, from the original master disks stored at Bell Labs. All thanks to them, and to the folks at for sharing the story (there’s plenty more to learn there too, so don’t forget to go check out the site).

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While online culture increasingly favors a posture of transparent, even mundane personhood, Igor Ballereau and Jody Pou buck this trend with the enigmatic netlabel SHSK’H.

The name, the presentation, and the music all project a common esthetic: hushed, cryptic, reverential and sensual.  This singularity of vision makes the experience compelling.  Both the performances and recording quality are awesomely good.

There are currently three releases, presenting works by Ballereau, Kenneth Kirschner, Aaron Siegel, Giuliano D’Angiolini, and Etsuko Chida performing traditional Japanese koto kumiuta.  Recordings of Webern by Jody Pou and Emily Manzo are planned for this summer, and something for Garth Knox will go up this winter.

The recordings are made available free under a Creative Commons license, but donations are invited.

I’m inspired by both the music and the model; SHSK’H makes a persuasive case for the website as performance space.

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Given the rarity of records and performances of the music of Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964) through the 1970s, my first encounters with him were like everyone else: references in the “populist music of the 30s and 40s” section of 20th-century history books, and as arranger of the American version of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera that we all knew from the old (& wonderful) original-cast recording. Works such as his iconic The Cradle will Rock and Airborne Symphony were still talked about, but quite hard to track down and hear. It wasn’t until the mid-80s that revivals and reassesments began, with good biographies coming even later.

Though his trajectory parallels Weill’s or Copland’s in some way, moving from serious, cutting-edge classical to more readily accessible forms derived from popular music and musical theater, Blitzstein stuck with the agitator’s role to the end: works with a strong social message, whether against dictators of fascism or capitalism, and solidarity with the dispossesed and outsider. His reward as a political outsider was to be blacklisted in the red-scare 50s; and as a sexual outsider (though married, Blitzstein was rather openly gay) to be beaten to death in Martinique.

But before all that, there was the 20-something student from a well-to-do Jewish family, studying in Europe with both Arnold Schoenberg and Nadia Boulanger. This younger self, as John Jannson’s Blitzstein website writes, was “a self-proclaimed and unrepentant artistic snob who firmly believed that true art was only for the intellectual elite. He was vociferous in denouncing composers – in particular Kurt Weill – whom he felt debased their standards to reach a wider public.”

That young, arty-elitist composer is the one that our good friends at Other Minds have set out to document, with a new CD hitting the shelves May 12th. Titled First Life, it contains a number of unpublished and barely-heard works from the late 20s and early 30s, given passionate performances by pianist Sarah Cahill and the Del Sol String Quartet. This is smart and energetic music, filled with then-experimental flourishes, and well worth putting on your shelf or in your playlist.

WNYC’s Sara Fishko recently profiled the CD, as well as the rest of the great Other Minds CD catalog, on her The Fishko Files program; it’s still up for listening here.

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April 18, 2009 is National Record Store Day. Despite the embattled state of the “brick and mortar” retail record business, dozens of shops are planning a host of events, including in-store performances, giveaways, and the sale special products (including limited edition 7” vinyl singles) to celebrate the day. A website has been set up, listing participating stores and events occurring on the 18th.

Last year, Kay and I had a grand time on Record Store Day in New Jersey, visiting Vintage Vinyl, Princeton Record Exchange, and Jack’s. This year, we’re planning to check out the aforementioned, plus Sound Station in Westfield or another contender in NJ/NYC.

Check out File Under ? throughout the week for updates on instores and promotions.

Making an appearance on Record Store Day? Let us know in the comments below.

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Various Artists – the language of


the language of is a compilation CD of ten pieces by eight emerging composers in NYC, many of whom are associated with the Wet Ink Ensemble.  Released by Quiet Design Records in Austin, TX, this compilation is a forward-thinking treatise on a constantly evolving new music scene.  The production, recording, and design chores were undertaken by the composers and their colleagues, thus comprising a very personalized aesthetic. the language of is an essential purchase, not only for its DIY approach, but because it contains a variety of exciting, well executed compositions.  And due to the wobbly legs of the music industry, resourceful composers could do well by using this CD as a business model.

There is an immediacy and yearning to the music featured on this CD.  The emotional content (which, of course, varies from piece to piece) is enhanced by the recording techniques used to create the myriad sound-worlds, an approach that is both startling and engaging.  There is not one ounce of sonic sterility that one might find on pristinely recorded chamber music CDs.  Many of the recording techniques used are in-your-face, close mic’d, compressed, and manipulated to each pieces’ ambient requirements.  Some of the pieces that most represent traditional chamber music are ambient mic’d, a representation that provides a bird’s-ear-view (sorry about that one) for the listener, or an aural realism, if you will.   The variety of production from piece to piece is therefore more akin to the world of rock, jazz, and experimental music.  The packaging, designed by composer Clara Latham, is an attractive and environmentally friendly cardboard cover that features nothing in the form of liner notes (this may be one of my only complaints, but it definitely adds a veil of mystery to the release).

A brief overview of each piece follows after the break: Read the rest of this entry »

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Veda Hille – Indie pop plus Hindemith!


Vancouver’s Veda Hille is an indie singer/songwriter who fashions classical instrumentation and catchy tunes into an erudite pop style. This Riot Life, her latest CD, draws on a wide assortment of influences. Its frequent eschatological references and cryptically, messianic-tinged lyrics (“Ace of the Nazarene,” “Book of Saints, ““Rose of Sharon”) represent a recent find: an old hymnal belonging to her grandmother.

The harmonic sophistication and extended formal designs of her songs reflect Hille’s classical training, as does an unorthodox rendition of “The Moon,” a Shelley setting by Paul Hindemith. Prog-rock inflections are present too; “Book of Saints’” hook cribs the chord progression from the final section of Yes’ “Starship Trooper.” And “Lucklucky” combines minimal ostinati and a chamber orchestration with an abundantly appealing chorus. Who would’ve thought that Hindemith could rock?!?  


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Sunday Music: CD Samplers in the Era of Pandora
Sunday Music Volume 4

Big Helium Records BHRSM004 /

Unlike the album driven days of yore, today it’s all about the mix. From purchasing single tracks digitally at online stores such as Itunes and Amazon to the internet radio sensation Pandora, which tailors ‘stations’ to a listener’s preferences, music is presented as eminently accessible; instant gratification, inevitable. While all aforementioned methods of mix are exciting in their potential for discovery, surfing the impossibly commercial Itunes or using Pandora’s efficient but sometimes ham-fisted engine is unlikely to provide the enlightening swerves and hidden treasures found on the best mixtapes and compilation CDs.
Sunday Music, promoted by Barnes and Noble and released by Big Helium, has to cast a wide net; but despite this, the fourth volume of the series is an intriguing mix of classical and crossover-classical fare. There are chestnuts such as Magdelena Rozena’s fluid rendition of Lascia chi’io Piange from Handel’s Rinaldo and Bernstein’s Somewhere from West Side Story: Symphonic Dances. Also included are current favorites: Hilary Hahn playing Bach beautifully and Sting singing a lute song: Robert Johnson’s Have you Seen the Bright Lilly Grow. While no one will mistake the latter for Rogers Covey-Crump or Andreas Scholl anytime soon, his crooning take on the Elizabethan repertory has introduced a number of listeners to its charms.
True, some of the pop-oriented moments – Lisa Gerrard’s evocative but somewhat out-of-place instrumental The Unfolding and Craig Armstrong’s regrettably New Age take on Be Still My Soul – dilute the classical bent of the CD and may raise the eyebrows of purists. Rather, what makes Sunday Music 4 better than your average comp disc are its adventurous classical choices. The inclusion of up and comer Eric Whitacre’s Lux Autumque, with its lush cluster chords and ambient atmosphere, is a master stroke, as is Anna Netrebko’s glorious rendition of O Silver Moon from Dvorak’s Rusalka. Pepe Romero playing Rodrigo and a Schubert Impromptu performed by Wilhelm Kempf round out the disc in handsome fashion. While designed for the Sunday brunch set, this CD promises to keep things interesting and may well spur on many a conversation about classical music discoveries; something that keeps the spirit of the mixtape/comp CD very much alive.

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Steve Reich’s seminal 1967 Piano Phase has always been a fantastic challenge for any two pianists. But here is the Russian Peter Aidu (b. 1976) going them all one better, by performing both parts solo, on two pianos at once.

Released on the netlabel Top-40, the complete recording is available to freely download at (There’s also a link there to further information on the pianist and release, and the MP3 download at is fine, but I would recommend NOT visiting directly the Top-40 homepage. There may be some malware lurking there!)

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