Tuesday, May 31

Piano with computer AT LAST! … and melting reeds!

I finally got my laptop to communicate with my Yamaha Clavinova (CLP-150) NoteParty smile. I did so by installing a 2nd operating system on my computer (Ubuntu Studio) Hot smile. For those who don’t know about dual-booting: I can use either Windows 7 or Linux (Ubuntu) on the same machine Computer. studio_setupWith a powerful computer, you can even use both operating systems at the same time (I do that at work)…

The great advantage of Ubuntu Studio over other Linux distributions is that the most important “behind the curtains” packages are already included. For instance, because MIDI is an international standard (decades old), it has a module that detects MIDI connections and allows you to connect them to your performance/recording/printing software. mscoreThis is how I only needed to plug-in my Piano and “ta-da!it works: no drivers no nothing! If you have ever tried to install hardware drivers on Windows, you’ll appreciate the value of this. But more still (for frustrated Windows users), booting up and shutting down are lightning fast and the updates hardly ever require restarting the computer…. they certainly don’t shut down the computer when you’re turning it on for a presentation! Smile with tongue out And for those who really know how to use the operating system, program crashes don’t break anything else!… really not as easy on Windows.Linux is what I use at my job: it’s built solid, dependable and fast. Any task (any at all) you do on Windows or on a Mac can be done on Linux.

Unfortunately, the really powerful (and expensive) software is for Mac or Windows. Ubuntu studio comes with a selection of programs for recording, composing and so on and you can easily get some much better ones (all for free – legally! Open-mouthed smile). However, almost all programs can export/import in MIDI format, which means the heavy work can be done on the big programs in Windows and the performance and recording work can be done in Linux using the same files!

I still have a bit of trouble getting these files to make the piano play and record what I play on the piano directly to a musical score writer. But that should not be too hard to figure out: the really aggravating part is getting the computer and the piano to communicate: blueReed_meltedas I said, completely automatic in Ubuntu Studio.

Dog days for oboe reeds…. a bit early this year.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how cool dry weather can ruin reeds. Well, hot muggy weather is not any better! Reeds that were playing well enough have now “melted”: they don’t respond until I blow hard, but if I blow harder, they also want to stop playing!

Some reeds do play well, those that were made with hard cane. They are hard to play, but they are responsive and they do allow for a good dynamic range… they are just murder on endurance. The fantastic reeds from a few weeks ago are still playing very well… but you know what? I think I’ll save those and protect them from potential aggravation!

Tuesday, May 24

Binding Reeds and Blade Offset

Results from tying reeds.

A few weeks ago, someone at the BBoard had asked me to show high-definition pictures of my reeds tied using the Cane Guide (le Guide Roseau) and pre-binding. Look at the very large size of the picture by clicking on them: this will bring you to my wife’s photo stream where you can choose “original size”.  The binding colors are reeds with the following characteristics (from left to right):

  1. IMG_0795Yellow (neon green): Shaped with a Weber Wide (0.60mm gouge) and tied using the Cane Guide on a Stevens #3 thin wall staple. This reed has not yet been chopped (only scraped for blank storage).
  2. Blue: Kunibert Michel 7.25 shaper with my own 0.57mm gouge tied on a Chiarugi #3 staple using the Guide Roseau. This reed has been scraped a 1st time and is playing remarkably well. A very slight slipping can be noticed. Evidently, it is not slipped at all near the thread and the blades are rather loose. I probably tied it too long and not tightly enough. At 73.5mm total length, it plays at A=440 to A=442 without any problem.
  3. Gold: Kunibert Michel 7.25 shaper with my own 0.59mm gouge tied on a Chiarugi #3 staple without any binding aid. This reed was finish scraped several months ago. There is a good sized offset on this one (it often slips even more while playing) that flares from binding to end. IMG_0790This means I did not hold the blades well aligned when binding. The reed still plays very freely, though the dynamic range is limited. I think the limited range is due to the offset, but the free playing is from a good selection of nicely flat cane.
  4. Purple with 2 white bands: RDG –2 shaper (0.61mm gouge) tied on a Chiarugi #3 staple without any pre-binding aid. There is a moderate offset on this one which inhibits both free playing and dynamic range, otherwise, the reed is stable and responsive. The binding looks higher on this one than the others: most of my reeds finish the winding 1-2 winds before the end of the staple, so this one might be tied all the way to the end. It could also have half or one wind past the end, which would explain the inhibition. But usually, reeds that wind past the staple  behave much worse.
  5. Blue with 1 yellow band: Kunibert Michel 7.50 shaper with my own 0.58mm gouge on a Chiarugi #7 staple. Not yet chopped (only  scraped for blank storage).

Making good reeds is easy!

Testing the blue reed.
I have irked many people by saying this before, but I stick to that statement! It’s all about selecting the proper cane and shaper and binding properly. Here are some sound clips of the blue and gold reeds for a sound comparison. Note the blue one took my less than 5 minutes to scrape to get to this point! Also note that I am not making huge efforts for dynamic expression: I just wanted to get an idea of how they sound. Be careful: the 1st time a reed is scraped, it often plays very well quickly. Do not try to get it perfect on the 1st “sitting”: reeds tend to harden-up after a day and its best to do a 2nd scraping the next day and a 3rd scraping a week later.
Testing the gold reed.
On the 2nd and 3rd scraping, the reed should become as good as it gets, tough some adjustments can be made after that still.

Most important, never try to make a decent reed “perfect” when you’re tired and/or frustrated: you will ruin it irreparably!

Theory of Reed Slipping (offset in the binding)

The following  is explained at length in Jay Light’s book and the question has been asked on the BBoard. Many prolific oboists of the American reed technique do on purpose to offset the blades of their reeds while binding. I don’t like this mis-alignment, but it works for a whole lot of people and I did get a few really good reeds that way.

The question asked if it is OK for the cane to slip such that both sides of one blade are inside the other blade. Well, if a cane is correctly shaped and folded, this is impossible! For good slipping, when tying a good piece of cane, the symmetry will make one edge of each blade overlap the other. In other words, if only one side of the reed is slipped, something is wrong; if one blade is fully “inside” the other, it was not folded in the middle of the shape! So in other words, my preference is for the last diagram in this slide-show; the 2 middle diagrams are OK by American standards and the 1st is just plain wrong.

One thing I should note is that many people believe it is necessary to offset the blades to prevent air leaks: this is completely false as most of my reeds that leak also have offsets whereas those that are tied in perfect alignment never do.

Saturday, May 14

Overdoing it & Recording Practice Sessions

Stuff going on this weekend, so pictures of the sides of my reeds comparing “manual” alignment with the Cane Guide will have to wait ‘till next week.

It’s been about a year now since I started lunch-time practicing with my fixed-up (almost) 1921 Pan-American beginner model and sent my Lorée to get revoiced in NY. I suppose my next You-Tube video should commemorate that milestone. I got the Lorée back at the end of June or beginning of July, so I still have time to get in better shape.

Update on physical progress.

No treatment this week. The weather was pretty sunny all last week, this week is turning to rain again. When the weather gets sunny, I get sore, when it gets cloudy/rainy, I get tired. But I’m doing much better than expected: yesterday the software development team spent the afternoon merging source-code all gathered around someone else’s computer. The twists and contortions I had to do to read his very small fonts should have given me a monster headache, but no, I’m doing fine! In fact, not even any Saturday morning headache. So the IMS treatments are evidently working.

(Not) Waving for the Camera

Musical, not physical expression.
In a previous post, I discussed how swinging the body while playing might help or hinder the expressive qualities of playing. My conclusion was that too much is distracting and completely stiff is boring. I also opened the question that perhaps body motion aids in phrasing.

Well, consider this video, one of my favourite pop songs of all time. I have never seen a band with fewer stage stunts … but close your eyes and just listen: there’s no denying the power and depth of their musical presence!

Can “expressiveness” be overdone?

I consider two kinds of dynamic expression: short expressions and long phrasing. The long phrasing is what we spend most of our years perfecting, the short expressions are anywhere from one to maybe 6 notes long, but describe our personal style and our understanding of how the particular style (baroque, classical, tango etc.) speaks.

Swelling notes, but not too much.

I’ve been recording my practice sessions lately, and I wonder if I’m not going to far in my dynamics. The long phrasing is fine, but the short expressions will go from a true pp to a true ff in a matter of one beat. When I just write/say that, it might sound like a dream come true for the oboe, but when I record myself and play it back, I’m not so sure anymore. Then again, I need to play with the microphone and computer “gain” (sensitivity) settings and their positioning: this changes the way the recording ends-up sounding quite a lot!

When I listen to my hero Albrecht Mayer playing what could go berzerk with dynamics, I find his playing much more tame than I would expect, but full of energy and vigour nonetheless!

Computer Aided Practice Recording.

More and more, I’ve been using the computer to record my practice sessions. I’m finding it downright revealing!  Using the free and powerful software Audacity, I recorded the piano accompaniment on one track. Every time I press the record button, a new track is added while playing all the tracks already there so I can hear the piano while recording. Previous tracks of my own performances can be muted one at a time or all together. This way I can compare the different performances and verify the progress.

One REAL test for tuning is to play along with one of my previous tracks or have 2 of my tracks play together… OUCH! When playing this way, I am forced to adjust to the “other oboe”: nothing says that the “other oboe” is in tune Smile with tongue out, but there is an old saying in musical performance: “If the other guy is out of tune, it’s my fault!” [for not compensating]. This is much more difficult than playing with other instruments.

Getting the piano part is not too difficult, it requires a CD or any kind of computer file where the piano was recorded. A CD can be “ripped” with free programs such as WinLame and each tune or movement becomes a separate MP3 file. In all formats of recorded performance (actual sound file), just drag-and-drop the file onto Audacity and a new track is made for it. If you have a MIDI file, it can be converted into an actual sound file with other free software such as SUPER.

Sunday, May 8

Tying Reeds & Significant IMS Results

I’m now getting IMS every 2 weeks instead of weekly. I can’t tell if IMS is supposed to treat/heal fibromyalgia directly, but it does work on big pains that probably contribute to the condition of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). For example, “Saturday Headaches” are virtually gone and I can walk without knee braces much more than in the past few years. I can play oboe until my mouth stops without excess pain in the arms. I haven’t systematically verified if regularity of notes has improved or not, but not having noticed any problems is a good sign.

Stretching still seems best for the general FMS conditions of constant tension (especially in the legs) causing fatigue. My sleep really improves when I stretch at night. I still get headaches, but it seems due to the season (tree pollen) and bad habits at the computer workstation. Slouching forward and back is really hard to quit.

My therapist started working on slender muscles that cause the worst pains when practicing or working around the house. These are long slender muscles in the forearm and shoulder, apparently under other muscles. The first treatment on these muscles caused a huge grasping reaction: the needle was therefore considerably painful. The reaction (including hot and cold sweats and my whole body shaking) lasted for several minutes after the needle was removed and the soreness in the arm was so bad, I had to leave work early because I couldn't concentrate. The next day, everything was fine and those muscles were fully relaxed... that is, even more than "normal"; in other words, a very welcome relief! Over the week, the arm remained rather well. When strain returns, it returns much less than before. The second treatment on those muscles was MUCH easier: no huge reaction and only moderate soreness for the rest of the day.

Treatment on the lower back is funny: relief is felt immediately and lasts for the remainder of the day. The next day, I get twinges again, but the 2nd day after, the back is much more relaxed and remains so for about a week.

Binding (Tying) Oboe Reeds

I’ve seen clarinet and saxophone players buy not only a dozen different mouthpieces, but also a dozen different ligatures to get their reeds to play the way they like. Now consider that once you’ve tied the reed and started scraping, that’s it: no going back! I really consider the choice of shapes, staples and the binding more important than most characteristics of the cane itself.

A Google search should give you a good number of video demonstrations, textual explanation with images (click the pictures for their source), books and DVDs that are worth buying. So I will just add my observations on what is important. Tying reeds is a simple concept, but it requires a  whole lot of care and attention. The following factors must be considered:

  1. length of cane on the staple to ensure proper seal without constraining the vibration,
  2. proper alignment of the cane (with or) without sideways slippage,
  3. winding the thread so it won’t pass the end of the staple.

There are many schools of practice, most notably Philadelphia (American) scrape and various European scrapes. Number 3 is the only thing that all schools agree on (to my knowledge): the thread must stop one or two twists before the end of the staple. Winding thread must never go past the staple. To this day, I still find reeds that refuse to vibrate well have been tied 1/2 to 1 wind of thread past the end of the staple.

Concerning the length at which the reed is tied, many oboists from every school of practice tie at a specified length, regardless of the shaper and/or staple they use whereas others tie at specific lengths that vary with the choice of staple and/or shaper. My own experience considers that the important issue is where the cane closes with respect to the end of the staple. I have found that what my main teacher (Bernard Jean) taught me remains the best way to ensure free vibration of the reed for fuller dynamics and ease of responsiveness: the blades should close one or two twists of the thread before the end of the staple. Because different characteristics in the cane and variations in staple dimensions (even within the same model from the same manufacturer) means that the cane will not always close at the same length: so binding includes pushing up or pulling down the cane before finishing the thread winding.

Le Guide Roseau (Cane Guide) and Pre-Binding for proper blade alignment

For number 2, the proper alignment of cane blades, there are again disagreements. Many who follow variations on the Philadelphia scrape like to offset the overlap of the blades whereas pretty much all who use European techniques expend considerable efforts in eliminating any offset at all. My observations suggest that some offset might be good for some people who have less lung strength and I have been surprised with excellent reeds that had slippage. But in principle and for my own use, I fully agree with the European idea of perfect overlap (no offset at all). This is a very difficult thing to accomplish because the winding thread produces torque that naturally wants to twist the cane with it. Luckily, there are 2 ways to virtually ensure complete absence of offsetting.

The video above is made from still images and shows what I call pre-binding. This consists of using some delicate thread (like the cheap stuff that comes with sewing kits in corner-stores) to wrap the top part of the cane before binding. This prevents slippage due to torque during binding and holds the cane reasonably well on the staple which relieves some of the difficulty of finger-holding during the bind. Delicate thread ensures the cane does not get damaged and it is easily removed when the binding is finished.

Pre-binding is not perfect and if done improperly will allow slippage. Le Guide Roseau (the Cane Guide) is an invention by Fabrice Rousson which eliminates the failings of pre-binding. He provides his own video demonstration (French only, but visually self-explanatory) and the slide-show to the right gives the highlights. Although it might not look like much, after having tried it, it really does do wonders. I tied over a dozen reeds with it and it is superb: by far easier and more dependable than pre-binding. I will scrape some of these reeds next week (that will be the real test) but looking closely at the side of the blades near the thread is the most promising I have ever seen.

Mr. Rousson makes one for oboe and one for English Horn. The one for oboe does not fit the widest shapes so well (RDG #2, Roseau Chantant RC3, Kunibert Michel 7.5 – they tend to split), but these shapes are really for oboe d'amore anyway. For those shapes, pre-binding remains a very useful option, but for real oboe shapes (RDG -1, Kunibert Michel 7.25, Weber wide), the brass cane guide works fantastically.

You can get instructions and more pictures on tying with the Cane Guide here.

Vous pouvez obtenir des instructions avec plus d’images sur le ligatturage avec le guide roseau ici.