Sunday, February 27

2nd Recording: reeds are not enough!

Here it is: my second You-Tube recording! And just in time because during the week, 6 more countries have been added to the list! Welcome to: Belgium, Japan, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Venezuela and Vietnam !

2nd recording: my real sound, but more work on room acoustics needed!
This time, the focus was on trying to capture my real oboe sound with the recording equipment. And this time I used Music Minus One as accompaniment (Played from a CD) instead of a MIDI file. I also used multi-track recording: the CD was piped directly into the the recording device (no microphone) and then the oboe was recorded with the stereo microphones while I listened to the piano (in head-phones) being played by the same recording device. More on that later, but this required that I use mixing software to ensure volume and left/right balance between the piano and oboe.

In a few other posts, I had complained about my sound being adversely affected by where I put the microphone and where I stand. That is, the house itself can add buzz and make my sound more shrill. This time, I found a good layout that preserves my real sound BUT:

  1. I did the recording on 2 different days (same reed, same position of microphone and myself).
  2. There are settings for volume and recording level on the microphone (recording device) AND on the mixing software.
  3. I forgot to write down these settings: the 2nd day sounds different than the 1st day!

So, in both dances, you do have what I really sound like, but the sound is still different: it’s like if you were sitting and/or if the instruments were located different places in the concert hall on the different days.

I have to admit, I don’t like multi-track recording because of the required mixing: its not like taking a live performance…. but it is a WHOLE lot easier!

Impressionist Music

I had never heard of Laurischkus before this Music Minus One production. I cannot find much about him on the internet either. But there is definitely a Satie-esque impressionistic aura about these 2 dances.

I am mostly a lover of the Baroque, but I really like impressionist music, just as I really like impressionist painting though Rembrandt remains an incontestable master. Despite the simple melodies, it explores harmonic colouring and sound-scaping that delves more deeply than the very clear and precise imagery of the classical period or the technical supremacy (for composition, in my opinion) of the baroque. I’m sorry to use such fluffy and meaningless language, but its very hard to explain.

Impressionistic music, like the painting, has its difficulties: because it is not as clear and well defined as the classical, interpretation and soul must lead the way more than the notes and dynamic markings. Luckily, Max Laurischkus, like Eric Satie, wrote catchy tunes that help both the listener and the performer. Luckily, these tunes do not require a lot of facial endurance to play (unlike Bach)! Perhaps next time I’ll be able to do the Debussy and Glière I’ve been wanting to do from the start.

Sunday, February 20

Haendel – difficult joy! (IMS #3, good)

32 countries have visited my blog! C'est la fête Wow, the Internet age is really impressive: and the love for the oboe is evidently universal! Arc-en-cielSoleilPaix

To celebrate, I did a little You-Tube of an oboist who is really worth getting to know: Louise Pellerin studied in Montréal with my teacher (Bernard Jean) and also in Europe with Heinz Holliger! They have even recorded double concertos and double sonatas together.

Before Albrecht Mayer, I had always found her sound to be the best. The discovery of so many extraordinary oboists in the world thanks to You-Tube (see Learning from the Masters Electronically) might make her interpretation seem a little old-fashioned, but there is a lot to be learned from her. You can find Heinz Holliger’s influence… and also Bernard Jean’s style, if you know what to look for!

32 countries love the oboe!

This excerpt comes from a recording she made at the monastery Abbaye St-Benoit-du-lac (close to my home town) with a really important organist (and monk in the monastery) Dom Andre Laberge. For the video, and to thank all of you, I put the flags of all the countries that visit here! To avoid any political or moral insensitivity, I put the countries in alphabetical order as the names are spelled in English (the language of this blog!). Notice that this way, my own country is 5th in the progression! Also, I may have missed your country, because Blogger Statistics don’t show them all, only the most frequent 10 in a specified time frame. If I missed yours please let me know and I’ll fix it!

So far, thank you to:
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Chile, Columbia, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Netherlands (Holland), Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, ,Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, U.K., Ukraine, U.S.A.

Handel: beautiful but …..

I absolutely LOVE the music of Haendel and Telemann. I also think they are the most difficult to play of all composers of all time! Looking at the sheets and the notes and rhythms makes them appear simple, perhaps enough for and advanced 1st year student to master. But the soul in there is so strong that the technical simplicity makes it hard to reach!

Heinz Holliger has to be the master at ornamenting Haendel, but it is too easy to overdo ornaments and drown the musical soul in technical dazzle.

3rd IMS treatment – worthwhile!

When I get to the treatments, the fear of the pain is getting hard to bear. Some needles do not hurt at all and some are really painful. But when the needle is out, that’s it. So the mental apprehension is worse than the treatment.

This week was bad because the weather changed a lot (from –15 to +15 Celcius, from rain to snow to gusting winds) and that usually causes pain to flare-up the entire body. But my neck is usually a lot worse, and my right hand has begun to really relax and stay relaxed. I can compare with my left (not yet treated): it is “normal”, so always tensed, always clutching and always a little sore. My right used to be like that, now it is becoming truly normal: relaxed, open and no pain.

Yep, definitely worthwhile!

Thursday, February 17

Old Cane and Rubato MIDI

It seems the full moon is having its effects: work gulping my practice time and great reeds going bad just because the cane is too youngGirard Oboe Reed.

Free advice for new reed makers:

In my posting wimpy [ weather cane mouth | reeds ], I mentioned how the weather is public enemy #1 for reeds… well, freshness doesn’t help either! Ever since my own student days in Montréal, we always said that you just can’t make a good reed out of green cane: good cane is ripe cane! Today just confirmed that for the ump-teenth time! For the past few years, I had been experimenting with shapes made on request by Roseau Chantant. I was always impressed with the quality of his cane and workmanship, but tonight, I fell upon one piece that just won’t play. When cane is not ripe, you can make a reed that will play wonderfully just after you scraped it, but the next day it goes dead (no more crow). Scrape it again: it plays great for 15 minutes and goes dead again. Scrape it again, and the same thing over and over again…

I have tube cane from 1994, and this never happens. Using almost any shaper, this cane will make from good reeds to fantastic reeds, rarely bad (except, of course, where the grains were always wrong to begin with). You’ll know “green” cane by a kind of very-hard soapy wax-like feeling when you scrape: it doesn’t feel like cane, it doesn’t scrape like cane. There is also a yellowish-greenish shine to the grains under the bark.

I know this will not provide comfort to new oboists on a budget, but there is really only one thing you can do to prevent this: buy lots of cane, and let it age at least 5 years!

MIDI accompanimentmidi_music_editing_software

Leading up to my 1st video (Gammal fabodpsalm), I mentioned preparing the accompaniment as a MIDI file (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) to be played by my computer. Well, luckily I have some very powerful software, but the neat thing is that there are tons of free music editing programs out there; you can also get almost any piece of music in MIDI format for free off the internet. You can see how this becomes interesting to students and amateurs!

I’ll write more on that later after trying out a few things, but this is what I consider important in an editing program:

  1. Easy computer keyboard note entry: mouse entry looks easy, but it is actually very tedious, hard on the wrists and prone to mistakes.
  2. A way to change tempo in chunks of music: in other words, select a few bars and say “do a rallentando” or “do an accelerando”.
  3. A way to change the dynamics (in MIDI, this is called velocity) in chunks of music: in other words, select a few bars on one instrument or several instruments and say “do a crescendo” or “do a diminuendo”.

Those seem obvious and natural enough, no? Points 2 and 3 are surprisingly hard to find! I have only found 1 freeware program that does tempo changes, and this is not even rall./accell.! Finale, one of the most popular programs (and one of the most expensive) does it all, but not easily. But looking for freeware is hard because doing a Google search for “MIDI editor” will bring thousands of results, most of which for ring tones and drum beats!

At any rate, for my next few recordings, I want to concentrate on sound quality (of the oboe) during the recording process, so I’ll use Music Minus One and other recorded accompaniment I have instead of . Also, there is a Linux distribution (Ubuntu Studio) designed especially for multimedia artists, so I’ll try it and hope it will allow my lap-top to communicate with my digital piano. Installing Ubuntu Linux (and its variants) has always been flawless for me, so I have hope!

Sunday, February 13

Recoding Tricks

During the fall, I would use my lunch breaks to practice in my truck… that was actually one of the reasons I chose a Ford Edge! One day the bright idea came to me to use my my cell phone’s sound recorder on while I practice: the benefit was immediate and crystal clear. I heard things about my playing that were really not like I thought they were. This included tuning, but mostly about attacks, sustaining the notes and general phrasing.2009-NAMM-Zoom-H4n

Now, I can no longer imagine productive practicing without recording. For example, the benefit of the metronome is multiplied by recording when the playback clarifies if I really was playing with it or not.

Naturally, my cellphone (best free keyboard phone I could get without a data plan…) does not provide very good fidelity for sound quality!!! So my wife agreed I should get a really good portable recording device with emphasis on the quality of the microphones. Well, naturally, I looked at Sony, Korg, Yamaha, but it turns out that the reviews are unanimous that the best of the best for my purposes is the Zoom H4n built especially for photographers who do ad hoc videos.

The price was about the same for all of them in the same category, but this one had far superior specifications. It allows you to do multi-track recording itself (no computer needed) by playback dubbing and plugging-in many different inputs (guitar, other mic, CD player, H4N-5D-back_wires_screen-webcomputer, etc.). It can also serve as a microphone plugged into a computer: even on my Windows-7 computer, all I had to do was plug-in in with a USB cable, do simple Windows device configuration and POOF, it works perfectly with simple or excellent multi-track recording software like Audacity (free and powerful). It even has a chromatic tuner and metronome!

Sound tips for oboe

The Zoom H4n and others in its class are professional tools. This means that you need to know how to use them and use them well or else the result can be worse than with cheap tools! In my 1st You-Tube recording (Gammal fabodsalm fran Dalarne), I was a bit disappointed with my sound which seemed to have more buzz desktopSetupthan in real life. Well, I know that I have to experiment more with room selection and the layout of instruments and microphone, but today I discovered a few things about the microphone itself that greatly affect the final quality:

  1. The H4n has recording sensitivity: if the level is set too high (very sensitive) it will add buzz. Being in a small room and playing just one yard (1m) away from the microphone, there is no need to have the recording level over 25%
  2. The microphone adds buzz when it is lower than the bell. The best level, at very close range, is about half way up the instrument.
  3. Playing towards the microphone gives a“more alive” sound. Playing away from the microphone sounds a little artificial.
  4. Playing with the bell below a table and the microphone on the table also seems to darken the sound.

So are all these tricks cheating? What is the real sound coming out of my Lorée with my reeds? Well, I think its not cheating and the real sound coming out of the instrument depends greatly on where the listener is standing (sitting) and where the oboe is playing! My wife’s photography proves that cameras are not a faithful witnesses to what we see, and it should be known that even the best microphone recorder is not a faithful witness of how we perceive sound… I REALLY like the way I sound when my laptop does the recording (el-cheapo mics)!!!

I’ll be working on this for my next recording, hopefully in a week or two!

Thursday, February 10

2nd IMS treatment–OUCH!

O.K. the physiotherapist said I had responded well to the first treatment,trigger_point_trapezius2 so instead of doing half the right shoulder, he did the full right shoulder, right ribs, the full left shoulder and the lower back…..


But it might be well worth it: last Saturday, all of a sudden, out of the blue, my right shoulder just relaxed and felt easy and comfortable like I haven’t felt in years… in fact, I don’t remember the last time I felt such…. what is the word… absence of tension, absence of pain! In fact, right now as I type, my right shoulder feels easy again like I can’t remember ever felling this “normal” It’s weird because after 20-30 years of tension and pain, you start thinking that its all in your mind and the pain is just normal that dry.needlingyour mind is misunderstanding.

But, apparently I wasn’t crazy: a whole lot of people suffer from shortened muscles, giving chronic pain. The therapist assures me that these episodes of release will repeat and become permanent. The treatment actually triggers the body’s own healing processes. But how they do that is to actually injure the muscle! So inserting a needle is not enough, they find the worst knot in your muscle, insert the needle there, push it in until the muscle grasps the needle and then bob it up and down and left and right until the muscle twitches…. by that time I’m literally yelling bloody murdeIntramuscularr!

But I’ll tell you something, that feeling of relaxation and release of tension makes it aaallllll worthwhile.

More info later!

Saturday, February 5

First Recording, NOW!

Holy Cow, more than 2 thousand visits to this blog deserves a celebration! C'est la fête

People from countries on every continent (as per Blogger Statistics) – it’s really amazing to get all your visits! So I gave myself a kick in the back-side to do the recording I hade announced several times since the holidays…. I hope this is a present and not a punishment!Tire la langue

I feel like apologizing for this performance, but I think I’ll ask you instead to post your comments, both good and critical. I hope I already have a justification for the criticisms and, well I can always hope for some good ones…. but I really want everyone to be honest and straight-forward.
So here it is:…. yes the A-natural 2 minutes in is intentional!

My rebirth on the oboe! Not my best, but my best for this weekend!
The piece is entitled Gammal Fabodpsalm från Dalarne (Simple folk-tune from Dalarna, Sweeden) written by Oskar Lindberg – I did the MIDI orchestration myself (more on that later… really not as easy as I had expected). I was given the honour of performing its North-American premiere (or so I was told) as the solo oboe (it could have been clarinet or trumpet, but I was chosen) with the McGill Wind Symphony in 1992 (or 1993?) --- back then, I was a decent player!. The experience was simply amazing: things had been going so bad for me all week (my keys holes filled with water all day) that I actually phoned my parents to stay home. They came anyway and God saw it fit that I should perform to my best that night. When the conductor made me stand for the applause… I was in another world and I consider it easily the greatest moment in my performing life.

I chose this one for my rebirth because the tune just started playing in my head, one day I was very discouraged at the notion of playing ever again because of chronic pain. Looking up pictures of Dalarna (Sweeden), it becomes obvious why the music speaks to my soul so much! Anyone who loves the living world will understand what the music is saying.

My last public appearance was in 1998, except for a brief and intimate tune for family at the anniversary mass for my late brother’s funeral in 1999. I have been trying to practice as diligently as I can and make as many reeds as I can for the past 8 odd months, but this blog gave a glimpse at how this is not so easy. I have to admit, This release means a whole lot to me to play again and I really, really appreciate the correspondence I have enjoyed through the Oboe BBoard, Facebook, Twitter and others. To feel like a musician again is simply indescribable.

Wednesday, February 2

Winter Driving and First IMS Treatment: survived!

My first encounter with Intra-Muscular Stimulation had to happen in the first real blizzard of this winter… joke is, we Canadians SHOULD know how to drive in the snow, but so strange how so few people remember how…

  1. SLOW DOWN… but not to a grinding halt!
  2. You can drive at decent speeds but speed up gradually and brake softly and in advance!
  3. Most important of all: keep away from my bumper!!! Leave room (4 car lengths and much more!) because the tires will slide! Keep away from my side doors and fenders too!
  4. AWD, 4WD, winter tires and traction control help, they don’t bring summer back! You still have to drive with winter skills!
  5. NEVER FIGHT IT: when the turn doesn’t happen, straighten up a bit. When it wont brake, let up on the pedal!

At any rate, I did get to the clinic on time and safely. I was mostly afraid that my apprehension would needlessly amplify the pain from the needles. You see, with acupuncture, they tap the needle into your skin, but with IMS, they tap it in, then they push it into the muscle until it reaches the knot! THEN, they jog it up and down and left and right!!!!

Well, with the first needle, I actually didn’t feel anything at all. So the therapist massaged my shoulder muscle until he found a real knot and put a needle in there… OK, that one was felt!

It’s not the end of the world. I did end up grunting and growling like my dogs when people walk in the field behind the house, but as soon as its over, its over. If this helps prevent my Saturday morning headaches and back aches and so on, I’ll gladly take it!

But the test is tomorrow and up to the week-end. That’s when the body is supposed to react to the treatments….. see you then!