Miscellaeneous Musings: the NY Phil, Howard Theatre, WYPR, No Depression, Pete Seeger…

Any resemblance to Mike “I Was Just Thinking….” Barnicle is purely coincidental….

  • Kind of amazing to hear the wall-to-wall media coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea….startling and gratifying to hear snippets of the New World Symphony in the middle of network newscasts. Worth reading:  Anne Midgette’s column in the WaPo on this not being a case of bringing Great. Western. Art. to poor benighted souls behind the Bamboo Curtain….

But in Vienna, Austria, there is another image of them: as conducting students. The elite conducting class at the University of Music and Performing Arts there has trained no fewer than 17 North Korean students in the past decade.

  • Which reminds me of a similar history-making venture I helped to orchestra for NPR in 1999: The Milwaukee Symphony’s trip to Cuba, which was the first time a US orchestra had performed on the island since the Philadelphia Orchestra had been there in 1959.  ‘Course, it was a little easier for our NPR crew to move around the country than it was for the delegation traveling to North Korea this week…I remember that producer Laura Bertran even managed to lend some technical and logistical help to the struggling public radio station in Havana to broadcast the concert live on the island. (Oh yeah, they played Gershwin, too….the Cuban Overture, natch)  Click here to hear some of the music from similar symphonic excursions in the past,  and here for a similar Washington Post story on other “Diplomacy Concerts” of that past half-century.
  • On the other hand, for the same station to air during afternoon drive a six-month-old repeat of a Mario Armstrong “Digital Cafe”  feature?  About an Internet startup being Beta tested?   With a casual disclaimer that “some information may be out of date?”  Incredibly. Lame.
  • Pete SeegerIt’s nice to see Pete Seeger getting his props from PBS this week, with an American Masters portrait airing tonight on most PBS stations around the country. Except, that is, in DC, where despite Pete being on the cover of the Post’s TV Week,  the local pubtv powerhouse WETA inexplicably is running a show a three-year old show on Judy Garland.    Huh?   I’ll have more to say on Pete in a later post.

Life imitates….Video Games? The Guitar Zeroes

The Guitar ZeroesI am perhaps the only person in the blogoverse to look at this and think immediately of the shape-note singing tradition that was developed in America in the 19th century. Back then, they used differently-shaped notes to teach people who couldn’t read music to sing; today, thanks to Guitar Hero, all you need are five color-coded buttons….

Okay, it’s not like I’m obsessed with this game or anything, but isn’t this yet more proof of the the game’s game-changing impact? Watch this entire video from the Plasticky Goodness blog on Current.tv and see if you don’t agree….

More on Guitar Hero – the new Digital Music Driver

Yesterday I noted that the incredible popularity of Guitar Hero (and its new cousin, Rock Band) has helped to spur sales of the “real” instruments in music stores. While the evidence isn’t yet conclusive on that front, there’s no questioning what the games are doing for the digital-download business. Here’s a grab from a recent Reuters news item:

In the two months since MTV Networks and Harmonix released the music-based video game Rock Band, players have purchased and downloaded more than 2.5 million additional songs made available after the game’s initial distribution. Activision, meanwhile, said it has sold more than 5 million new songs via download for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock since it began adding downloadable content in early November. By comparison, it took wireless operator Sprint four months to sell 1 million songs on its over-the-air full-song download service. While new digital music services competing with iTunes and free peer-to-peer services have struggled to convince music fans to pay $1 for a single, downloadable tracks for games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are flying off the digital shelves. “With such a low installation base, we didn’t think that there’d be 2 million songs sold in eight weeks,” MTVN Music Group/Logo/Films division President Van Toffler said. “We live in a rough time around music where our audience struggles to pay $20 for a CD but don’t hesitate to pay $50 for a game. The notion to pay 99 cents or $1.99 to have a song and repeatedly play with it apparently isn’t a big hurdle.”

It turns out that’s an understatement. Consider these 2007 sales figures from NPD and Nielsen SoundScan:

Digital Music Sales $835 million on 840m units

Guitar Hero/Rock Band Sales $935 million on 10.5m units

Whoa. That’s right – Guitar Hero is a more efficient way to sell your music than iTunes. But put the two streams together is a powerful combination…and we’re talking about Legal downloads. Who knows what the effect is in the P2P world?This has become such a phenomenon that last week USA Today even coined it the “Guitar Hero Effect” in a news article, with salutory effects for bands both old and new:

DragonForce guitarist Herman Li and his speed metal bandmates used to play the video game Guitar Hero. Now, fans are flocking to the band after finding their song Through the Fire and Flames in the latest installment of the game, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

“Our CD sales have gone up, and we are high up the charts on digital downloads,” Li says. “It’s great. We don’t play commercial music. It took everyone by surprise.”

 

Rich Williams, guitarist for the classic rock band Kansas, says that after the release of Guitar Hero II, which included the band’s song Carry On Wayward Son, “the front row of almost every show we did was filled with young teenagers. It’s all due to that. It’s brought us a whole new fan base.”

Digital sales of the song rose from 119,000 in 2006 to 297,000 in 2007. “It’s been a positive influence for us,” he says. “It brought a younger crowd to us that otherwise might not have come in.”

All I can is that Niccolo Paganini’s got nothing on Hong Kong-born DragonForce guitarist Herman Li, who claims to be a self-taught musician. Take a look at this video trailer for “Through the Fire and Flames” Stupidly hard.

picture-2.png

Or, as Christian Soriano would say, “Fierce.”

 

 

 

 

Not so Far Fetched….

I tells ya, It’s a gen-yooo-ine Kultural Phenomenon….two more references to Guitar Hero in the Sunday funnies today, both in Berkeley Breathed’s Opus (“Guitar Hero Claims Another Victim”) and Bill Amend’s Foxtrot:

chamber music hero

Now, I don’t know Bill Amend from Adam, but he seems to be a pretty culturally-engaged guy – his strip seems to be a little more “tuned in” in a way that isn’t embarrassingly, entertainingly, or tragically unhip (see “Circus, Family,” “Menace, Dennis the,” or the all-time champion “Trail, Mark”). Amend has shown up in this space before, and by reading his interesting and refreshingly transaprent blog you discover that he’s a bit of a Mac-loving techno-geek…even appearing on Tech TV. More on THAT in a later post, but for now, Amend’s Sunday strip makes me more determined than ever to get the Guitar Hero controller in front of my academic colleagues at UT-Austin. Seeing the spike in guitar sales that’s happened since the electronic game was introduced, I don’t think the concept of a “Chamber Music Hero” – type teaching game is all that far-fetched.