TMCnet Feature Free eNews Subscription
March 30, 2012

How Digital Technology is Impacting Classical Music

By Amanda Ciccatelli, TMCnet Web Editor

Digital technology has begun to leave its mark on the world of classical music. In opera, theaters across the nation are filled with live-streamed performances from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In the world of orchestras, music directors are Skyping with out-of-town soloists, preparing for performances, and on stages everywhere performers are reading scores from iPads and laptops. recently sat down with two professional musicians and a production specialist to discuss this digital evolution of classical music.

Concert pianist Kirill Gerstein, who often performs chamber music and modern pieces from the iPad score, said, “In December, I played the Schoenberg Piano Concerto using the iPad, and what was especially nice for me was that I could play it from the full score. You're not limited by the awkwardness and difficulty of having a page turner there, turning 140 pages in the space of 19 minutes.”

Kirill uses a small cordless pedal that works with the iPad. He puts it next to the left pedal at a slight angle, and taps it with his left foot.  He finds another convenience with the iPad to be creating jump-points for repeats.

Still, he finds a few negative aspects to writing music using the iPad. Adding markings to the score is difficult, so Kirill practices the piece from the printed score and as he gets closer to the performance, he scans it as a PDF and uploads it to the iPad.

Cellist Matt Haimovitz said he would enjoy performing more often from scores on his laptop and his new iPad, but he prefers to notate his scores.

 “I'm so used to working with pencil and paper, putting my bow markings and other notes in my printed scores; I need that speed. I know people say you can do this with the laptop, using the Adobe (News - Alert) Acrobat programs. But for me, it would slow down the creative process. I make changes all the time. I would need weekly updates or daily updates on what I'm doing,” he said.

In some ways, Haimovitz admits he is “old school.” He was on a solo tour a few years ago doing work with amplification, distortion, and reverb and resonance, but his software kept crashing.

“I played Le Poisson Rouge in New York. I was on stage with a laptop, had a couple of mixing boards for doing the reverb and it just kept crashing. I can't rely on it the way I can rely on my cello, where a string breaks, and that's about it,” he said.

Larry Neff, production designer for the Kronos (News - Alert) Quartet, speaks about that technology-savvy group which doesn't use laptops on stage. Kronos never actually has read its scores off laptops, but he looked several years ago at a proprietary LCD screen, but the developers hadn't made any considerations for the musicians to make their bow markings or notations in the score.

“Today, because the group has thousands of scores that are marked up by their personal pencils, if they were to shift at this late point in their career to screens, and if they wanted to go back to earlier pieces, they'd have to do a huge amount of scanning to keep things all digital. It isn't practical. It's easier for a young start-up group to say, ‘We're going to be digital,’” Neff said.

Neff recently composed a piece of music with the K-Bow system, invented by Keith McMillen, of Berkeley. The K-Bow system is a bow that's wired with Bluetooth to a receiver that can generate data to the audio engineer at the front of the house about the angle of the bow, the speed of the bow, various factors to shape the sound.

The bow is loaded with sensors and it has an accelerometer to know how fast the bow is moving. It also has a mercury switch to discern the angle of the bow, sensory attachments to measure the pressure applied. From there, the data is fed to the audio engineer/sound designer, who's got a laptop loaded with samples.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
» More TMCnet Feature Articles
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. [Free eNews Subscription]


» More TMCnet Feature Articles