Obsolete Media pt. 3, in which Christmas comes early

Yes indeed! The mystery DATs were the master recordings from the 7pm and 9:30pm performances of the Virginia Glee Club 57th Annual Christmas Concert! Notable as the Glee Club’s first Christmas performances with conductor Bruce Tammen, the unedited tapes include the full range of a Glee Club Christmas, including audience carols, the eternal struggle between the Four Calling Birds and Three French Hens during the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” solo performances by Jayson Throckmorton, Craig Fennell, Eric Buechner and Bill Bennett, and some seriously moving renditions of favorites like the Gretchaninoff “Nunc Dimittis” and the Biebl Ave Maria. To say nothing of riveting announcements by Glee Club president Drew Cogswell.

I’m going to try to make the whole concert available somehow, but for now here’s a teaser: Club’s performance of the Marvin V. Curtis arrangement of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” from the 7pm show. Enjoy!

Adventures in obsolete audio, pt. 2: not there yet

I had hoped to do a “big reveal” post on the contents of the DAT tapes I wrote about a few days ago. Instead, I have a few learnings about DAT players.

First, DAT players are more like VCRs than cassette tape players. Instead of moving the tape past a playback head, DATs (and VCRs) wind the tape around the playback head. This happens even when you are rewinding the tape.

Second, rewind is a little more complicated on a DAT and sometimes the player can stop the rewind. If you just press rewind again, sometimes the player gets confused. Then if you go to eject the tape, you’ll end up with the tape partly pulled out of its case.

Third, you can re-spool DAT tape with a pencil, but it’s slightly more complicated. You first have to push the tabs down on the bottom of the tape and slide the bottom back so that you can get to the sprockets, then use the tip of a pencil to do the rewinding. (You can’t push the pencil all the way through thanks to the clear plastic on the other side of the tape, meaning it’s a slower process.)

All of this is to say I’ll be able to hear everything on these DATs, once I figure out how to safely rewind them.

UPDATE: It turns out to be a pretty simple proposition. The player was stopping the rewind because the spools weren’t operating smoothly after more than 20 years of inactivity. The fix, as suggested by this paper on DAT preservation by an intern at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, is simply to fast-forward the tape to the end, and then to rewind it to the beginning. We’ll have audio soon!

Adventures in Obsolete Audio, part 1

Sometimes life moves faster than even the makers of cutting edge technology can predict. This is certainly true for computer technology. It can be hard to realize, but the same is true for audio technology —the vinyl revival notwithstanding.

Case in point: Digital Audio Tape.

Remember DAT? If you were a consumer of music in the 1990s, probably not. But if you were a performer, especially in a small ensemble, you probably remember that one guy who had the DAT recorder. They seemed, for that small market, ubiquitous. All the small form factor of a cassette—but digital! Boy, you can almost smell the early ’90s, can’t you?

So what happened? In retrospect, the window between the advent of digital recording technology and convenient, low cost, high-capacity hard disk and solid state storage was pretty short. And DAT disappeared. As far as I can tell, no one is manufacturing the player/recorders any more. You can still find them on eBay, commanding a small premium.

Which is why I was grateful that my friend in the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Lauren, had saved one in her attic. And it works! Now I can listen to what’s on those four mysterious DAT tapes that I’ve had for six years.

What tapes? Well, that’s a story for another day.

New mix: The Low End Theory

(No, it’s not a Tribe Called Quest mix.)

Last Hackathon I made an hour long mix of Hammond organ centered jazz. In retrospect, while the listening was great, it felt like it didn’t go far enough into the different types of performance techniques on the organ, or different styles. So this time, I decided to do something a little more subtle, and focus on the bass.

It can be hard to appreciate what a bass player brings to your typical small group performance. But you can start to dig in just by considering the different choices available to the bassist: acoustic or electric? Pizzicato (plucked) or arco (bowed)? Holding down the root of the chord, or playing a counter-melody? There are a bunch of different bass players on this mix, and each of them approaches their role very differently. Enjoy!

  1. Re: Person I KnewBill Evans Trio (Chuck Israels, bass) (Moon Beams [Original Jazz Classics Remasters])
  2. Tale of the FingersPaul Chambers (Whims Of Chambers)
  3. CaravanDuke Ellington With Charles Mingus (bass) & Max Roach (Money Jungle)
  4. Moment’s NoticeJohn Coltrane (Paul Chambers, bass) (Blue Train)
  5. EurydiceWeather Report (Miroslav Vitouš, bass) (Weather Report)
  6. Jimmy´s ModeJohn Coltrane (Jimmy Garrison, bass) (Stellar Regions)
  7. Red ClayFreddie Hubbard (Ron Carter, bass) (Red Clay)
  8. EpilogueMiroslav Vitouš (Infinite Search)
  9. Little SunflowerChristian McBride (Number Two Express)

New Mix: How I feel on the inside

It’s that time again… time for a new Hackathon radio mix. The latest entry in the Exfiltration Radio series deals in spookiness and mystery, and lots and lots of black. It’s a gothic and goth-adjacent postpunk sort of set, and it’s a lot of fun even if you don’t wear black on the outside. Another one is coming soon, so stay tuned!

  1. 10:15 Saturday NightThe Cure (Three Imaginary Boys)
  2. Bela Lugosi’s Dead (Official Version)Bauhaus (The Bela Session)
  3. Pink Flag (2006 Digital Remaster)Wire (Pink Flag)
  4. Not Great MenGang Of Four (Entertainment!)
  5. ShadowplayJoy Division (Unknown Pleasures)
  6. Gathering DustModern English (Mesh & Lace)
  7. In the Flat FieldBauhaus (Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions)
  8. HalloweenSiouxsie & The Banshees (Ju Ju (Remastered))
  9. SomewhereThe Danse Society (The Indie Years : 1983)
  10. Love Like BloodKilling Joke (Night Time)
  11. Lucretia My ReflectionThe Sisters of Mercy (Floodland (Deluxe Version))
  12. A Short Term EffectThe Cure (Pornography)
  13. Song to the SirenThis Mortal Coil (It’ll End in Tears)

New Coltrane

VinylFactory.com: Previously unheard 1964 John Coltrane album released for the first time.

This is an even bigger deal, arguably, than last year’s Both Directions at Once, which I liked but which was ultimately a little … unmemorable? The title track of Blue World is a burner that reminds me of “Equinox” and other great John Coltrane Quartet classics. Listen now:

Unmentioned in the coverage I’ve seen is that you can pre-order the vinyl version of the album in the uDiscover Music store, ahead of its September 27th release.

“Fill Up Your (Old) Silver Goblet”

I’ve written before about University of Virginia student songs, including (infamously) “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill” (once or twice) and “Glory to Virginia,” the student song often performed with “Rugby Road.” As I noted in the latter case, many of these student songs follow the traditional pattern of oral transmission of ballads and other songs, in which old melodies gain new lyrics and vice versa.

This morning I found another example, in a most unlikely place. I’m working through a project to rip all the vinyl in my possession, which includes records that I’ve bought on purpose and that have been lent or outright given to me by friends and family members. One was an awful “Sing Along with Mitch” record. I rip the things so I can share them back to the donors if requested, and in the odd case I find some tracks that are meaningful or really good. In this case, it was a medley on the B side of “A Bicycle Built for Two” and “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet.” And the latter song is the melody of “Fill Up Your Old Silver Goblet,” which is titled with and without the “old,” but is always sung with “Rugby Road.”

So I started writing the Glee Club Wiki article on the song, and as I went I found more and more examples of alternate versions of this song. “Red Sweater,” from University of Montreal and University of British Columbia, is almost identical in its first verse to “Silver Goblet.” Then there’s a lame Brown University version from an alumni magazine — so lame that one wonders if a more foul version was in play among the students. (Speaking of foul, don’t click that University of Montreal link — the song is cited among other student drinking songs, many of which are completely and astonishingly obscene.)

It just goes to show you: don’t look down your nose at old records, even “Sing Along With Mitch.” You never know what you’ll learn.

New mix: Exfiltration Radio: The Mighty Hammond

It’s another Hackathon at Veracode, and time for another playlist. This time around we get an hour of jazz and jazz-adjacent Hammond organ, for your ass. This is not your ballpark organ music, he said, glaring sternly at the interrogator; it’s something that should be deep in your soul.

There’s lots of Jimmy Smith on this, as God intended, but there’s also Groove Holmes and Ronnie Foster and Jimmy McGriff and Dr. Lonnie Smith and James Brown and the latter-day Delvon Lamarr and… just listen already!

  1. Iron LegMickey & The Soul Generation (Iron Leg)
  2. The CatJimmy Smith (Talkin’ Verve)
  3. Finger Lickin’ GoodJimmy McGriff & Groove Holmes (Dueling Organs)
  4. I Want To Hold Your HandGrant Green (I Want To Hold Your Hand)
  5. Top Going Down, Bottom Going Up (Live)Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio (Live at KEXP!)
  6. Mystic BrewRonnie Foster (Two Headed Freap)
  7. The BirdJimmy McGriff (Groove Grease)
  8. Sagg Shootin’ His ArrowJimmy Smith (Root Down)
  9. Devil’s HaircutDr. Lonnie Smith (Boogaloo To Beck)
  10. Grits (Extended Version)James Brown (Grits & Soul (Instrumentals) [Expanded Edition])

Estévez, Cantata Criolla

Rehearsal of the Cantata Criolla, April 8, 2019, James Burton conducting

It seems like only a year or two ago that John Oliver was tapped on short notice to conduct the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, taking over for an ailing Kurt Masur (it was seven years ago last month). This week history (sort of) repeated itself.

We were due to sing with the great Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel in a concert of music by Venezuelan composers. Our piece was to be the Cantata Criolla of Antonio Estévez, a fantastical piece that combines Venezuelan folk music and stories, a singing duel with the Devil, high modernism and Gregorian chant into one spectacular cazuela gaucho.

And then, after a weekend in Boston conducting Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, among other works, Dudamel aggravated a wrist injury and was unable to conduct. Two of the works, never performed in Boston and little known, had to be removed from the program as there was no way to adequately prepare them in time. But James Burton, the TFC’s current conductor, had been working closely with us on Cantata Criolla for about six weeks, and was tapped to conduct the piece so that we would preserve at least some of the original plan for the concert run.

The first concert was last night and was incredible. James got incredible colors out of the orchestra and chorus. The attack of the cicadas was actually frightening. And I’ve never heard an orchestra produce a sound like steel drums before, but Estévez’s orchestration and the precision of James’s conducting brought out a distinctly festive flavor to parts of the singing duel between our complero protagonist Florentíno and El Diablo. It’s a fun work and I’m looking forward to a few more performances.

Kickoff 2019

One of the things I missed most about Veracode while we were part of CA Technologies was the company kickoff meeting. Starting around 2010 we brought all our employees together at the beginning of each fiscal year to check in on the state of the business, get excited about what was to come, and reconnect with our colleagues. There wasn’t really a budget for us to do that last year as a CA business unit. But this year, as a newly independent standalone company, we brought everyone together, all 700+ of us.

And it was pretty amazing. It was great to see all my coworkers from London, San Francisco, Singapore and Prague, to spend time with old friends, and blow off a little steam. But it was especially good to be reminded that what we do as a company matters deeply for our customers and their customers and that we are making a difference.

Spreading culture

I’m struggling a little with how to expose my kids to a broader range of interesting movies. I’ve given up on most TV; though I can usually get the younger one to watch Scooby-Doo, I don’t think I’ll ever get either one to sit through the original Star Trek. But movies seem like they’re so much a part of our cultural lexicon that I feel like I’m doing my kids a disservice if I don’t broaden their horizons at least a little beyond Disney and superhero movies.

But where to start? I haven’t watched films in the theatre for years, and I’m a little afraid to go too far back in time because most of the films I can think of will likely lead smack into a discussion about American racism.

Take the 1956 movie Around the World in 80 Days. I wouldn’t normally have thought of it, as I haven’t seen the movie, but the Victor Young soundtrack was in a pile of records given to me by a family member and it seems to fit the bill—big, epic adventure movie, no adult themes, iconic moments (the balloon scene!). But then, it’s a film that goes around the world, and I shudder to think how the different cultures visited are depicted. I guess there’s no substitute for seeing the film myself and making my own conclusions…

In clover

If you had told me five years ago that almost every lunch out I ate while at the office would be vegetarian, I would have asked you where you left your marbles.

It’s no secret that I love food. For many years at the office that translated to food runs for lunch that ended at delicious but fattening destinations. Among the stops in the rotation: chicken parm subs from the local pizzeria, loaded Bravo Italian sandwiches (prosciutto, sopressata, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil and basil) from La Cascia’s, Indian takeaway from the surprisingly good stand in the mall, and lots of H-Mart Spicy Pork.

Then I stumbled on Clover. I wasn’t thrilled by the concept of a totally vegetarian menu, but some of the other aspects—no freezers ever, 100% fresh locally sourced produce, seasonal fast-service menu—had me intrigued. And then I tried their falafel (aka the famous chickpea fritter sandwich), with a side of rosemary fries. And I was completely hooked.

At this point I’ve had every sandwich on the ever changing menu, even the BBQ Seitan (not a favorite), the Pushpir (spectacular), the secret-menu Mayor Menino BLT (with soy “bacon” and garlic mayo, which became an obsession for months), etc. Now I look in advance of my week to figure out which days I don’t have noontime meetings so I can go get my Clover fix.

I’ve gotten slightly more adventurous about cooking vegetables at home as a result of all this Clover. Not crazy, because most of the family are reluctant vegetable explorers, but I’m now trying things I never dared before—cauliflower, broccoli variations, random beans, ramps—and finding real winners. Useful when one lives across from a farm.

Reharmonizing

After many years of service, our trusty Harmony One remote bit the dust a few weeks ago. It turns out that the remote, while rugged, does not like being dropped on a hardwood floor—the touchscreen, while still intact and functional, no longer illuminated correctly. Sigh.

We had owned the Harmony One for quite a few years. I never blogged about it, meaning we acquired it sometime in 2008-2009 when my first blog slowdown hit. It replaced a Sony RM-AV3000 Universal Remote which was powerful but in every way impractical and unwieldy. The Harmony One was, by comparison, luxuriously easy to use. Harmony remotes differentiate between devices – directly driving components of your system by emulating their remote commands – and activities, like “watch TV” or “play games.” With activities, the remote sends a sequence of commands to the components required to do an activity, like “turn on TV,” “turn on Marantz receiver,” “turn on FIOS box,” “set TV to HDMI-1,” “set Marantz receiver to Cable,” and then the hard buttons on the remote are set to handle the most common tasks for the activity—for instance, the volume controls might go to your AV receiver while the channel commands go to your cable box.

The Harmony One was light years ahead of the Sony in usability, but it still had problems. One was programming it—you connected the remote to a Mac (or PC) with a USB A to B cable and then ran a Java application (!) on the device to assign devices and change settings on the remote or activity. Another issue, a daily challenge, was the remote technology. It’s an infrared (IR) remote, like most of the ones you’ve used, meaning it requires a “line of sight” to the device being controlled for the commands to work. Often that meant that one of the kids (or other family members) would inadvertently wave the remote away from the TV or receiver, resulting in cries that the TV wasn’t working and requiring my intervention.

I did some research and learned that the state of the art has moved along pretty far from the Harmony One. After comparing options, we bought a Harmony Companion. It’s light years ahead, though not without its challenges.

The Companion is really two devices, a universal remote without a display screen and a remote hub that sits near your devices. The universal remote communicates with the hub over radio frequency (RF) rather than IR, so you no longer have to have line of sight—you can pretty much aim the remote anywhere you like. The hub sends IR signals to your components, and it even comes with an attachable “IR Blaster” that you can position near components that are outside your cabinet (like your TV) to repeat the signal.

But that’s not the cool part. The best part of the setup is that the remote is fully programmable via an iOS (or Android…) app—and the app also serves as a remote that’s in some ways even more powerful than the physical remote, since it also allows direct access to the device remote commands in addition to the activities you set up. The app is pretty cool; when you set it up, it scans your local network for a hub, and if it finds it and the hub is already configured, it downloads the configuration to your device and you’re ready to go. Lisa getting full access to the remote 30 seconds after I told her which app to download was pretty magical.

So far the only pain point has been setup. I created an activity for watching Apple TV but, probably due to the way I used the wizard, it set the physical remote buttons to control our 55″ TV instead. I had to go through and reassign every button on the activity this morning, but it’s working now.

I’m also slightly irked that the Harmony Hub isn’t a HomeKit device. I suspect this is because Logitech views itself as a HomeKit competitor for controlling the entire home. There’s a workaround using an open source kit called Homebridge that I might check out.

Home theater technology has come a long way. But it’s noteworthy that most of the advances in controlling physical devices are due to investments in mobile computing rather than physical devices.

Music roundup

It’s a measure of how busy I’ve been over the past few months with work that I didn’t post at all in December. So much for New Years resolutions!

Here’s a few things that came across my radar while I wasn’t posting, starting with music:

Funky16Corners: The Return of the Mothership. Looks like I’ve been sitting on this one for a long time, almost a year! Great hour long mix of afrofuturistic funk, rock and related grooves (listen directly).

Stereogum: Ugly Beauty: The Month in Jazz – September 2018. Always a good read, I’m pointing back to this column from a few months ago thanks to its review of Randy Weston’s life and career. I got to see Weston play over 25 years ago at UVa and the fierceness of his playing stuck in my memory, along with pointers to the Alice Coltrane Warner Brothers recordings and Temporary Kings, both of which I need to actually go back and listen to…

Aquarium Drunkard: Spiritual Jazz Sunday. This came out as I was working on my “Holy Ghost” mix. It was worth looking over to see what I should include and where I should diversify (for instance, avoiding leaning too heavily on the John Coltrane/Alice Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders axis).

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Duke Ellington and His Original Cotton Club Orchestra – Publix Allyn Theatre, Hartford, Connecticut, April 11, 1932. Eight minutes of history from the earliest known existing Duke Ellington radio broadcast.

Stereogum: Watch Paul Simon’s Record-Breaking 9th SNL Performance. Because “Can’t Run But” is one of my favorite of Simon’s songs and I love that he decided it needed more attention.

Mark Guiliana: Thank You (featuring Brad Mehldau). A really lovely Thanksgiving present from Guiliana-as-songwriter, featuring Mehldau’s poignant performance of his tribute to his mother before she passed away.

Bach Collegium Japan Chorus: Verbum Caro Factum Est – a Christmas Greeting. I had the great pleasure to sing with Masaaki Suzuki a few years ago (Bach’s St. John Passion), and am looking forward to hearing this Christmas recording even after the holiday has been put away for another year.

Spain: Blue Moods of Spain: a History, Vol. 1. Archival recordings from before the band’s official birth.