RICH LAUVER

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Feel free to respond with your comments on anything I write here, keeping in mind that I may post those comments here as well along with my response, if any, unless you specifically ask me not to.

       
     

December 13, 2014

ATÁKUWEH: NEW ALBUM RELEASED AS FREE DOWNLOAD

Atákuweh cover artAtákuweh is my newest musical project which I began recording in early 2012. A limited edition maxi-single CD containing four of the songs from the complete album was released to a number of friends, family, and colleagues later that year. Now, after nearly three years since I began, the entire album is complete and has been released on this web site as a free download in both the original CD-quality wave files, as well as iTunes compatible M4A file format. Atákuweh is the first project I have released under its own name, as opposed to my own personal name, because I believe it deserves its own identity. In short, Atákuweh is an imaginary South Pacific boy band from some imaginary island, and I just happen to write all the songs, sing all the words, and play all the instruments, in addition to doing all the recording, mixing, and mastering. Atákuweh sings in a language called Atáku which I invented specifically for this project – a sort of Polynesian-influenced language whose alphabet contains only 16 letters, but which lends itself to a cheerful rhyming cadence that helps to support the generally happy, upbeat vibe of the music. Atákuweh means "friend" in this invented language.

Although I'm proud of what I've released previously as recordings, with Atákuweh I feel as though I've found a concept with more clearly defined parameters that has the potential to grow and evolve with future releases. It's now been quite a while since I've been a member of an actual band, and I feel as though Atákuweh is my new band – even though I'm the only one in it (at the moment, anyway). I'm not at all certain how this new project will evolve over time, but I'm confident that the next release from Atákuweh will be even better and more inventive than this debut album.

Why is it free? you might be asking. Well, unfortunately nowadays, there's little to no money to be made in attempting to sell musical recordings unless the recording artist has both the marketing support of a major record label and is regularly touring to support those recordings. As an individual recording artist who creates music exclusively in the studio environment I have neither of those luxuries. Many independent recording artists such as myself rely on social networking to help get the word out about their work, but I find that I have neither the time nor inclination to devote to those efforts. Quite frankly, I would rather be working in my studio on the next recording. There's no actual band that could conceivably perform these songs, at least in the absence of the money needed to recruit real, live musicians interested and available in performing this music. I don't even have access to nor the funds that would be required to provide a suitable rehearsal space even if I did have the actual band assembled.

I'm not unhappy about that, necessarily. There are a lot of advantages to doing something like this by yourself, although you have to be able to live with the consequences of obscurity as a result. I feel very fortunate that I have a full-time job as a music educator, a job which brings me a lot of satisfaction, if not much money. The internet has in general done a lot of great things for society world-wide, but it has also done quite a job in terms of making it much harder to make money from creating music. It's gotten to the point where most people think music is a commodity that should be free, since it's become so easy to listen to anything one wants at no expense, and with little or no compensation filtering down to those musicians who create that music. At the same time it's allowed a lot of music to become available that in all likelihood would never have been heard before – for better or worse. I'd like to think that my music is on the "better" end of that spectrum.

So please download this new album by Atákuweh and let me know if you enjoy it. I have already started recording the follow-up which should be available here within just a few more years. And remember that even though I'm giving away the recording it doesn't mean I'm releasing it to the public domain. I still retain the copyright to all the songs and the recordings on this new album. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

Rich

 

September 16, 2013

GRAND PRIX OF BALTIMORE NO MORE?

I learned on Friday the 13th, appropriately enough, with an email from Michael Andretti that the Grand Prix of Baltimore would not be included in the 2014 IndyCar season schedule, confirmed by statements from IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, financier J. P. Grant of Race On Baltimore LLC, and the Mayor of Baltimore Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Needless to say, given my lifelong passion for IndyCar racing and my particular affinity to this race which took place only a mile from my front door, a race which I attended and vocally supported from the beginning despite its rocky and financially unstable start, I am personally devastated by the news. With the 2013 race just concluded on September 1 with Simon Pagenaud winning the headline IndyCar event, it seems a little too soon for bad news such as this, but it was not completely unexpected. For some time now it has been known that there were calendar conflicts with other "major" downtown events for the years 2014 (an Ohio State vs Navy football game at M&T Bank Stadium), and 2015 (an American Legion convention in the Baltimore Convention Center which is used as the paddock area for IndyCar). Those two events were booked into those venues before the first IndyCar event in Baltimore took place in 2011, and due to the large footprint of the Grand Prix of Baltimore in the downtown area, they cannot mutually coexist. So the Grand Prix of Baltimore lost out, as does IndyCar and Baltimore for that matter.

While it's not unheard of in the IndyCar schedule for events to have a year or more hiatus for various reasons and then return, the talk from everyone involved in this case seems to indicate a very uphill battle, if not an impossibility, for this event to continue in 2016 and beyond. Despite the financial debacle that resulted after the otherwise spectacular inaugural event in 2011, a last-minute rescue by Andretti Sports Marketing and J. P Grant in 2012, and the continuation of their efforts in 2013 resulting in a dramatic increase in attendance and TV viewership, no date could be found that satisfied IndyCar, supporting series ALMS, and the City of Baltimore. At least no date that fell before Labor Day weekend, that is, which for some bizarre reason is when IndyCar has decided that the season must conclude in 2014. I have heard that desire emanates from a desire to conclude the IndyCar season before the start of the NFL season. I honestly don't know how many IndyCar fans would rather tune into a football game than an IndyCar race, but I certainly don't count myself among them.

IndyCar has gotten itself into the annoying habit of shooting itself in the foot in recent years. An ill-advised season finale in 2011 on the high banked oval at Las Vegas resulted in speeds which were unsafe and a tragic multi-car accident that took the life of that year's Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. The new IndyCar chassis which Wheldon had been instrumental in testing was greeted with derision by many fans for its perceived ugly-duckling looks – although I can attest that the cars look absolutely gorgeous in person. The reintroduction of engine manufacturer competition with Chevrolet and Lotus coming on board against the proven reliability of Honda turned into embarrassment when the Lotus powered cars had to be black-flagged at the 2012 Indy 500 for going too slowly. The new aero packages which were intended to bring another level of competition to what are essentially spec cars now, has been delayed several times and is not expected before 2015. Price-gouging by chassis manufacturer Dallara for spare parts led to a revolt among IndyCar teams.

Ticket prices for the series most prestigious race, the Indy 500, were raised resulting in a significant and visible number of empty seats for an event which once laid claim to being the world's biggest single day sports event. When the sport's main event was already faced with diminishing attendance, IndyCar's answer was to try and stick it to their remaining die-hard fans with higher ticket prices. Barely enough cars are presented as entries for that race now to fill the traditional 33 car field. A revolving door of top IndyCar executives and series of dubious decisions on their parts have led drivers and fans alike to doubt their competency. Scott Dixon, for instance, was fined $30,000 after disparaging remarks he made following this year's Grand Prix of Baltimore. Many drivers are forced to bring their own sponsorship dollars just to be able to get a ride in a series which has been trying to reduce the expenses of IndyCar racing in the hopes of getting more teams involved.

In the 2013 season IndyCar introduced several double-header events which have proven to be less than popular with drivers and their teams due to the sheer exhaustion from trying to put on two back-to-back events in a single weekend. Maybe I'm mistaken but it doesn't seem to me as though you're going to sell more tickets to two events on a weekend when you can't even sell enough tickets to sell-out one. Plus, those double-headers don't do anything to broaden the regional access to fans who would like to see more races in different venues, possibly one they can actually make it to. They seem more like a cost-saving gimmick for IndyCar rather than anything that adds to the appeal of the racing. An experiment to introduce Formula 1 style standing starts, which I wholeheartedly support for all IndyCar events, was waved off at it's first inception before they managed to make it work the following day.

It's an ugly situation for my favorite spectator sport, to say the least. I have been reading for years now the whining and griping of IndyCar fans in various newspapers and blogs, and have been aghast at some of the venomous comments I have seen. Throughout, I have tried to maintain a positive attitude because I truly love IndyCar racing, and while constructive criticism has it's place there have been years of fed-up fans expressing their dismay, disgust and frustration. I was never more proud to be a resident of Baltimore than I was when I learned that my adopted home town would be the host to an annual IndyCar street race, but the level of vocal opposition from the local community based upon mostly misinformed reasons was cited by one IndyCar executive as perhaps one of the reasons why the efforts to save this event were not enough to make a difference.

Open wheel racing has become a difficult sell to the American public, and the missteps and miscalculations on IndyCar's part over the years have done nothing to further its popularity. NASCAR continues to thrive although even that series has seen its popularity on the wane recently, and the general public still seems to be under the impression that NASCAR cars have something to do with the cars they drive aside from their sheet metal skins. Formula 1 remains the world's most popular automobile racing series, but the expense of F1 racing with its team budgets approaching half-a-billion dollars a year make IndyCar's expenses seem like a go-kart series. Now IndyCar is thinking about a new overseas exhibition series in the off-season to attempt to capitalize on F1's popularity. Good luck with that considering that most IndyCar teams are already on shoestring budgets. How are they supposed to come up with the sponsorship dollars necessary to airlift their equipment and personnel to a series of overseas events? IndyCar cannot compete with Formula 1's multi-national series of hugely expensive purpose-built racing venues and team budgets until they get their act together here at home, and I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Rich

May 26, 2013

TONY KANAAN WINS THE 2013 INDY 500

After 12 years of trying, Brazilian race car driver Tony Kanaan, easily one of IndyCar's most popular drivers, finally won the Indianapolis 500 today in one of the most exciting races ever held at the famed Brickyard. Under cloudy skies and in cool temperatures, the lead of the race changed hands an incredible 68 times, doubling the record number of lead changes set just a year ago. Not only that, but the average race speed was also a new track record of 187.433 mph, eclipsing the previous record set by Arie Lyuendyk that had been in existence since the CART days in 1990. A total of 27 cars were still running at the finish, beating a record that had held since the first race in 1911.

Anyone who can still claim, after witnessing today's Indy 500, that IndyCar racing has become boring, needs to have their head examined. I have been following the Indy 500 since the mid-1960s, and this was perhaps the most competitive and thrilling race I have ever seen. Granted, it did finish under the caution flag following Dario Franchitti's excursion into the wall with too little time left to go back to green, but it was pulse-pounding excitement from start to finish.

I keep reading a lot of comments from so-called IndyCar fans who are still unhappy with not only the now ancient split with the CART series, with the new Dallara DW12 chassis that made its debut last year, and the new, smaller V6 turbocharged engines. To those of you who are still naysayers about the future of IndyCar, if today's Indy 500 didn't convert you, then go watch NASCAR or Formula 1, because there is no hope for you. The level of competition in the IndyCar series is higher now than it has been in the last 20 years. There is a whole new generation of IndyCar drivers who are coming into their own promising to keep the sport relevant and exciting for many years to come.

And it's interesting to note that Tony Kanaan doesn't drive for one of the dynastic IndyCar teams like Penske, Ganassi, or Andretti, whose cars made up nearly a third of the total field in today's race, and that the single car entry of Indianapolis born and raised owner and driver Ed Carpenter won the pole position in qualifying and led a good number of laps. The new cars and engines made for a spectacularly exciting race, one that in the end came down to driver skill and team strategy. Isn't that what racing is all about?

Rich

February 25, 2012

BALTIMORE GRAND PRIX TO CONTINUE THROUGH 2016

It's no longer breaking news to anyone who follows the sport of IndyCar racing, but the Baltimore Grand Prix (BGP) will continue under new management following the approval of a new five-year contract with the City of Baltimore, at least through the year 2016, and hopefully long beyond that. As a life-long fan of open-wheel racing, especially the IndyCars, and a resident of downtown Baltimore where the Baltimore Grand Prix debuted in 2011, I could not be happier. In the months following the end of last year's inaugural event it became increasingly apparent that Baltimore Racing Development, the organizers of the 2011 BGP, had done a horrible job managing the event from a financial standpoint, owing about $12 million in total in taxes, fees, and contracts to vendors and suppliers – despite having put on a great show considered a huge success by fans and all the racing series who had been involved in a spectacular weekend, including IndyCar, Indy Lights, the American Le Mans, Star Mazda, and Firestone F2000 series.

The City of Baltimore put last year's organizers on notice to restructure and refinance, but they failed to do so, and on the last business day of 2011 the city cancelled the remaining four years on their contract with Baltimore Racing Development, putting the future of the BGP in jeopardy. Baltimore's mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, recognized the financial benefit in continuing the event; after all it had brought an estimated $47 million in economic impact to the area. A new operator was sought from a very short list of experienced race promoters, and a new group formed by Dale Dillon, who had been brought in as general manager of last year's event just weeks before race weekend, was chosen to take over the BGP. Dillon has successfully managed IndyCar races in
St. Petersburg, Florida, and Toronto, Canada, for years, and is highly respected by IndyCar officials. Downforce Racing, LLC, as the new company is known, brings financial backing from Felix Dawson and Daniel Reck of Wilkes Lane Capital, a Baltimore based energy investment company.

By the time the new deal had been announced in mid-February, all five of the racing series involved in last year's event already had Baltimore on their schedules for 2012's Labor Day weekend, assuming that the situation would eventually be resolved. IndyCar, in particular, was especially keen on the event's continuation, not only because it was one of the series' most popular races in 2011, but without it they would have been scrambling to maintain the minimum number of events in their schedule required by the series sponsor IZOD.

IndyCar had already been planning major changes with the 2012 season. The development of a new chassis had been underway for some time before the tragic end of last year's season in Las Vegas, when a horrific multiple car wreck took the life of Dan Wheldon. Ironically, Wheldon had been instrumental in testing the design of the new IndyCar chassis, designed in part to dramatically increase driver safety, and IndyCar decided to honor Wheldon's memory by officially naming the new chassis after him.

The new DW12 chassis, as it is now known, is being manufactured by
Dallara Automobili in a brand new facility located nearby the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Dale Dillon's Indianapolis-based construction company, incidentally, was the chief contractor for that facility.

In addition to the new chassis, which replaces the Dallara-built IR05 chassis in exclusive use since 2007, a new engine formula limits the displacement to 2.4 liters and the number of cylinders to six, but brings back the turbocharger and increases the upper rev-limit of the engines. The smaller turbocharged engines will have a tunable power output of between 550 and 750 HP – less for oval tracks and more for road and street courses. And competition is being brought back into engine construction, with Honda, Chevrolet, and Lotus all involved in the constructor's championship chase.

New aero packages will debut in 2013, but for 2012 all the teams will use either the speedway or road course aero packages manufactured by Dallara. The design of the new chassis and aero package was driven by a desire to eliminate the possibility of cars interlocking wheels during a race, which often resulted in cars being launched airborne. New fairings behind the rear wheels serve to minimize the possibility of a following car's front wheels making contact with the rear wheels of the car in front, which almost always launched the following car into the air, likely the type of event which caused Dan Wheldon's fatal crash at Las Vegas.

The new look of the IndyCars has garnered a lot of commentary from fans, somewhat equally split between detractors and enthusiasts thus far, but IndyCar spent a lot of time and resources in thinking through the problems, and the drivers and teams have almost universally given the new design a thumbs-up as they have been going through exhaustive pre-season testing.

Put the Baltimore Grand Prix on your calendars if you're an IndyCar or ALMS fan – August 31 to September 2, 2012 – and join us for all the fun and excitement of world-class racing on the Streets of Baltimore.

Rich

November 22, 2011

OUT OF THE MOONLIGHT RELEASED ON iTUNES

I'm very pleased to announce the release of my latest album "Out of the Moonlight" which is now available on iTunes in the US, Canada, Mexico, the UK and EU, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and on Amazon MP3 worldwide. Recorded between March 2010 and August 2011, "Out of the Moonlight" is my first full-length studio release in four years, and contains ten songs that required nearly every instrument in my studio to produce, both real and virtual, including vocals provided by some truly astonishing sampling and synthesis technology.

You can read more about it on my Music pages here on this web site and listen to some samples for free both here and on the iTunes store; and by then hopefully you'll feel compelled enough to download the entire album for your enjoyment. If you do, be sure and let me know what you think of it, and if you like it, please submit a review to the iTunes store and tell your friends about it.

 

October 18, 2011

ON THE PASSING OF DAN WHELDON

Dan Wheldon - U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim GreenhillSunday, October 16, 2011 was an extremely sad day for IndyCar racing and motorsports in general, with the fiery and horrifying 15-car crash in the early laps of the 2011 season finale at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway that took the life of Dan Wheldon, the 33 year old winner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 race. Dan had previously won the Indy 500 in 2005, the same year in which he also won the Indy Racing League series championship. His death is a devastating emotional blow not only to his family, including his wife and two young sons, one born just this past March, but to the many drivers, crew members, team owners, and many thousands of IndyCar fans around the world.

For nearly two agonizing hours following the crash, broadcast live on ABC-TV, there was no word on Dan Wheldon's condition. The Holmatro Safety Team that travels with the IndyCar Series had quickly extricated him from the mangled wreckage of his racing machine and taken him to the infield care center, and from there he was transported by helicopter to a trauma hospital in Las Vegas. But his injuries proved to be fatal, and after IndyCar officials had called the remaining drivers in the race to a meeting, it was announced that Dan Wheldon was no longer with us. The race, supposed to be a spectacular end to the IndyCar season, was canceled, and the drivers voted to participate in a five-lap tribute parade in formation around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

There will certainly be a full investigation into the causes of this tragic and disastrous incident, and the results and recommendations of that investigation will no doubt play into the planning and scheduling of the 2012 IndyCar season. But the simple fact of the matter is that this was a racing accident, and no single person, decision, or specific on-track occurrence will likely ever be blamed directly for Dan Wheldon's unfortunate demise. Blunt trauma to the head has been disclosed as the ultimate cause of his death, likely suffered when his car went airborne, spinning out of control into the catch fence at an unlucky and totally unpredictable angle, and his helmet likely collided directly with one of the metal poles supporting the fence.

The IndyCar Series has always been at the forefront of automotive safety innovations resulting from sometimes tragic experiences. The seat belt, ubiquitous and mandatory for decades now in consumer cars, was first used in the Indianapolis 500 race, for example. The important innovation known as the SAFER barrier (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction), taking the place of a simple concrete retaining wall, was originally developed in sponsorship with the Indy Racing League in 1998, first installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002, and at numerous race tracks since. Helmet designs and their energy-absorbing materials and construction owe a great deal to motorsports, and those innovations have gone on to protect everyone from bicyclists to skateboarders, motorcycle riders, and numerous athletes who participate in various other sporting activities.

These safety innovations and improved engineering solutions will continue to evolve in IndyCar and other racing series. A new IndyCar formula had already been in development for some time before October 16, 2011, when Dan Wheldon had his fatal accident. In fact, Dan was one of the IndyCar drivers most closely working with IndyCar officials in the testing of the new 2012 IndyCar chassis, having just recently test driven the new chassis design at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was directly involved in making the next generation of IndyCar racing machines safer for all the competitors, which makes the horror of his death even more tragic and ironic. Today, Dallara Automobili, the manufacturer of the new chassis, announced its intention to name the new IndyCar chassis under development in Dan's honor.

Death is nothing new in the history of auto racing or sports in general, after all, and it will certainly occur again in the future, regardless of how many safety innovations are developed. And there is no reason to make a rush to judgement in the wake of this tragedy. Let a thorough and thoughtful investigation run its course; let recommendations be made, analyzed, and if warranted and potentially helpful be adopted. Drastic and understandably reactionary comments made in the immediate shock of the moment will not do anything to bring back Dan Wheldon or honor his memory.

Auto racing is an inherently dangerous sport, so why do so many people participate as a driver, crew member, mechanic, team owner, engineer, spotter, strategist, fabricator, or any of the many other jobs directly involved in the sport? And why has auto racing been such a successful spectator sport, attracting many millions of fans for the past hundred years, spawning countless spin-off industries ranging from memorabilia to video games?

I believe the answer is that racing has been imprinted inextricably onto our DNA over the course of millennia. It began in the primordial pools of our evolutionary ancestry with little microorganisms who could go faster than their peers to avoid being eaten. It's present in millions of tiny little sperm cells swimming madly to be the first to arrive and penetrate an egg cell to propagate a species. As humans we have had foot races, swimming races, horse races, skiing races and boat races for centuries. We have bicycle races, go-cart races, motorcycle races, speedboat races, and automobile races now, too. We raced to be the first to land a human on the moon. Racing is part of life, whether you're a fish in the ocean trying to escape from a predator, or a plant trying to spread your leaves to the sunlight before a competitor leaves you in the shade to wither.

Since attending the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix over the course of three days this year – the first IndyCar event I have had the opportunity to attend in person, despite being a lifelong fan – I have felt in watching the remainder of the season on the small screen that I was watching my friends. So many of the drivers, crew members, and team owners I spent a wonderful weekend with felt so much closer to me after that experience. And although Dan Wheldon didn't participate in Baltimore, he was a member of that extended family, too. I feel as though I have lost a friend, and he will be missed.

Rich     

April 23, 2011

So it's been quite a while since I've had a chance to make any updates to the web site, but I've finally made some. No excuses other than the fact that it's been an extremely busy year for me at Peabody. Most obviously, there's a more recent photo of me in the top left corner of your screen now, taken in March 2011, and you can see I'm wearing my hair a little shorter these days. I've withdrawn my invitation for a vocal collaborator on the rock album, which I've put on indefinite hold for the time being. I still want to finish it one day, but I guess I'll have to do the vocals myself, or find myself a vocalist at Peabody who's interested. That seems unlikely since they tend to be more into singing opera around there, but we'll see.

Around the end of last year I released for friends and family a CD maxi-single with four songs from the new project I've been working on for most of the past year and a half, entitled "Chasing a Dream" which is also the first cut on the CD. I'm working towards making these four songs part of a full album length release at some point in the future, and the music is more in the pop vein than what I was attempting with the now delayed rock album. Vocals on this project are being handled mainly with the East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs which I reviewed here last year, with a little help from Vocaloid Miriam, a voice synthesizer from Zero G. I'm very excited to see the future of vocal sampling and synthesis develop, and the EWQL Symphonic Choirs with WordBuilder is such an amazing product I couldn't resist using it for a full-length album project. Hurry and get the free download now while it's available, because when the full album comes out I will withdraw the free download.

The EWQL Symphonic Choirs will also be featured on the recording that the Peabody Wind Ensemble recently completed the basic tracks for, Johan de Meij's "Symphony No. 3 – Planet Earth". I will be adding the choir in the first movement, as well as the organ in the third movement finale using Miroslav Philharmonik. We recently did a performance of this work in Peabody's Friedberg Concert Hall that also featured the Peabody Children's Chorus, who are scheduled to overdub their voices in the third movement soon. The completed recording is tentatively scheduled for release in February 2012. The performance was incredible – easily the most impressive work that I have been involved with in my 12 years of managing the Peabody Wind Ensemble. It's an extremely dramatic and highly appealing work of nearly an hour in length, and I can't wait to hear the finished recording.

As part of that project I ended up acquiring some new gear, both hardware and software, which is reviewed here, including a new HP ProBook laptop computer, Focusrite Saffire audio/MIDI interfaces, and an upgrade to my DAW software, Cakewalk Sonar X1 Producer Edition.

Coming up in September of this year is an event I am extremely excited about – the inaugural running of the IZOD IndyCar Baltimore Grand Prix, which will take place in downtown Baltimore over Labor Day weekend along a 2.4 mile temporary street course that will wind its way along the Inner Harbor, around the Baltimore Oriole's ballpark at Camden Yards, and a front straightaway down Baltimore's Pratt Street where the IndyCars are expected to hit speeds of about 180 mph. In addition to the main event – the IndyCar race on Sunday, September 4 – there will also be an IndyLights race, and an American Le Mans Series race during the weekend. I've been following the planning for this event since first public mention of it, having been an Indy racing fan as far back as I can remember, and I think it's going to put Baltimore on the map to a worldwide audience and showcase our city to tremendous advantage. There is a five-year initial commitment to the event, and hopefully it will continue beyond that to rival the Long Beach Grand Prix in stature.

I purchased my tickets last December during the two-hour pre-sale for registered fans, and got myself a three-day VIP weekend pass for the Light Street Terrace area, including a paddock pass for the garage area to be set up in the Baltimore Convention Center, as well as an additional upper row grandstand ticket for the actual IndyCar race on Sunday. Then I started upgrading some of my photo equipment in anticipation, purchasing a battery grip for my Canon 50D, a new holster case, and a new lens, reviewed on the photo equipment page here. Upper row grandstand tickets are already sold out for the IndyCar race on September 4, so if you're planning to go and don't have your tickets yet, you had better put the pedal to the metal. I hope to see you there!

Rich 

September 17, 2010

I have now uploaded three new tunes to the New Recordings page which I hope you will enjoy. They represent the latest things I have been working on and are examples of what I have been able to accomplish so far with the East West Symphonic Choirs with WordBuilder, as well as one sample track which also includes the Vocaloid "Miriam" which I have not yet reviewed on these pages. As always, I invite you to email me with your comments.

Rich

September 8, 2010

A few new updates have been made to the music equipment page on the web site, including reviews of the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro and RS 180 headphones, which I hope that you will find interesting, and finally a decent photograph of the JBL 4410 Studio Monitor speakers, which have been JBL legacy for many years now, but which still function admirably well. I also want to call your attention to my review of the East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs PLAY Edition with their remarkable WordBuilder MIDI plugin, which I am still experimenting with and having some interesting results that I hope to share with you in the near future.

After nearly two years of composing, recording, and mastering the basic tracks for what I had hoped to release as a new rock album - the "final" instrumental tracks which have been available for your listening pleasure and comments since the beginning of this year, I have reached an impasse. It has become apparent to me that I am in need of a collaborator in order to finish and release the final product, and that collaborator should be a lyricist and vocalist with his (yes, it must be a male) own digital studio. I apologize for being sexist if that how it sounds, but I've never been attracted to female vocals in the rock genre, and since this is my music I can make that determination. Go ahead and let me have it, ladies, if that's what I have coming, but I just can't imagine something like "Won't Get Fooled Again" being sung by a female, for example. I would really rather make it a completely solo project, but after so many years of not singing, it just takes me too long to get any results that I'm satisfied with. On top of that, I've recently moved into a fabulous new apartment which, unfortunately, does not have a convenient room for me to use as a vocal booth for recording purposes.

So here's the deal. If you're a male singer and lyricist, preferably a tenor range or at least a high baritone, and have the interest and capability to collaborate with me on this project, let me hear from you. From a technical standpoint you would at least have to have your own digital studio and be capable of recording vocals yourself with a high-quality microphone in at least 44,100 kHz resolution, in sync with the instrumental tracks that I can provide. For vocal style think Yes, Boston, or Def Leppard as a benchmark for what I'm after. I can provide the instrumental tracks on CD, DVD, or by secure download directly from my web site through FTP, and we can exchange files in the same manner - however it works out most conveniently. In exchange you will receive 50% of any royalties from the download of finished product from iTunes or wherever else the album is marketed for download, or from actual physical sales of CDs.

So give it some thought, guys, and let me know if you think you might be interested.

Rich

December 29, 2009

It's been a while since I did an update to the web site, but there's no better time than a forced vacation from work at Peabody over the holidays. Saves them money to lock us out of work, turn off the lights and turn down the heat, don't you know? I feel sorry for all those pianos going out of tune as I write this! I've been busy continuing to work on the new album, with a release date still undetermined, but it looks as though it could be sometime in the new year of 2010, which would make it a 2-1/2 year project from concept to completion if I hold myself to that timeframe. I've finished seven instrumental tracks which I feel very strongly about, all of which will eventually include vocals as well, which is what I see myself concentrating on in the months ahead. Several of the previously featured tracks on the preview page have been withdrawn as I felt they no longer fit with the overall concept and sound that I have been trying to develop for this album. It's not that I thought they were bad tunes, but one of the things I want to accomplish with this project is a consistent and cohesive band sound, which I think that the core tunes in the new preview accomplish much more successfully.

I also just finished remastering all the current tunes to try and make them sound more like a unit of work, as opposed to a bunch of songs recorded over a period of time. It's not easy doing that, especially considering that some of these tunes have over 50-60 tracks to deal with including both the MIDI and digital audio. I have always had a great deal of respect for audio engineers, and especially mastering engineers, who do this sort of thing for a living, but my level of respect for them has grown immensely as I've gone back and remixed and remastered these tracks. It's enough to drive a sane person completely over the edge! But I'm pretty happy with the result of the new mixes, and hope you'll enjoy them. Let me know if you do!

In other web site news, I renamed the "Images" pages and am now calling them "Photo" pages to avoid any possible confusion, and have updated and condensed my official bio on the "About" page.

I hope everyone has a very happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

Rich

August 2, 2009

In July I took a solo trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, staying on the island of St. Thomas for a week and spending a good portion of my trip visiting the neighboring island of St. John. I took over 1,000 photos during my stay, and have condensed those down to around 150 or so of the best images, accompanied by my commentary, which is now posted for your amusement.

Rich

May 8, 2009

I've got some new gear to report on. Despite the economic downturn I've been doing my best to try and stimulate the economy, within my means, of course. Have a look at my reviews of the EOS Canon 50D camera body that I recently acquired, as well as yet another new guitar, the Schecter Corsair Bigsby.

Rich

March 20, 2009

So much for calling this section of the web site a blog. As you can see I've renamed it NEWS, which is more apt and accurate, since as I admitted from the beginning I'm not much into being a blogger. You might be wondering what else is news, besides the momentous renaming of this web page. Well, around the middle of last year I decided to embark upon a new music project, with the eventual aim to release my first new recording since the soundtrack to QUESTION. I felt the need to get back to my roots in rock, since it's been about 15 years since the demise of my last rock band, and I miss rock music. There just doesn't seem to be any more rock music, at least not like there used to be, and I think that's a shame. I miss it. I'm sitting here writing this, and I'm listening to my iTunes collection of Def Leppard from the mid-1980s, and it's so cool! I loved those guys back then - the sheer pop-craft artistry of their songs, the state-of-the-art production for the time, which still holds up 20 years later. Don't believe me? Check out some of their tunes from the Hysteria and Pyromania era, and tell me those guys didn't know how to rock, and do it with astonishing artistry.

Don't worry, I'm not going to try and do a modern-day take on Def Leppard through my own musical filters. I've got plenty of other influences that I've been affected or afflicted by over the years - Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, the Who, Gentle Giant and others from the 1970s; Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, U2, the Police, Killing Joke, and countless other bands from the 1980s. But then around 1990, things seemed to start drying up for rock music. Smaller bands began to take hold in smaller ways, and I liked a good many of them, too - but there just weren't any more really big new rock bands, and the whole genre seems to be dying away, and it's nothing less than a freaking shame. The whole rise to prominence of rap and hip-hop to mainstream acceptance strikes me in the same way that disco did back in the 1970s - I keep waiting for it to go away, but it keeps sticking like stinking dog shit that you accidentally stepped in walking down the sidewalk. I fucking hate it - I hate the hate-filled lyrics and the talentless and tasteless lack of musicianship of it all. I hate the drug dealing pimps driving around in their pimped-out cars with their monster stereos blasting hip-hop through the city streets rattling the foundations of the buildings.

But that's just me. I miss rock and roll. I miss the feeling that I had the first time I heard the Who's "Wont Get Fooled Again." I miss hearing free-form FM radio back in the 1970s when I heard Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Toccata" for the first time in my bedroom late one night. I miss the feeling I got when I heard Rod Stewart singing "Maggie Mae" over the PA system in my high school hallways during lunchtime. I miss seeing bands like U2 on their first-ever US tour at Club Foot in Austin and standing 20 feet from the same stage where I also used to perform regularly with my band. Those are just a few little vignettes, but I think you get the idea.

I'm not out to remake rock and roll - I just want it back in some form or another.

So I've decided to make a rock album. I don't know when it's going to be finished, but I'll release it on iTunes when it's done, maybe late this year or even longer if it takes it to make it right. I haven't played or composed rock music since the mid-1990s when my last band broke up, but back then I didn't play guitar either, and now I own five of the damned things and can't play any of them properly, but that's not stopping me. I've got good guitars, I've got musicianship, I've got compositional skills and pop sensibility, and I've got the will and the means to make it happen, so I'm going to do it.

I decided going in to this new project that I would approach it from the standpoint that, if I had an actual band now, what would it comprise - in other words, who and what would make it up, and most importantly what would it sound like. I don't really want to have an actual band any more - I've been there and done that many times, and it's a freaking hassle in more ways than those of you who haven't done it can even imagine. The sheer logistical hassles are enough to steer me away from that, not to mention the personality and artistic conflicts that naturally come from playing with other musicians. My studio is a 15x15 foot room, so it's a little beyond reality to set up an actual band in here, but I've got all the instruments I need to make this happen, and I can play them all, and I've got the recording equipment, so why not do it all myself?

Stripped-down 21st century rock and roll.

But what's the band like? Okay, there's bass and drums, and guitars - both acoustic and electric. That's pretty rock and roll. Then there are keyboards and other instruments - after all, I'm a keyboard player by training. And of course there have to be vocals, and I used to sing lead vocals in my last band, though it's been a while now. Pretty standard lineup, except I'm doing everything. No live gigs - I'm over that at this point in my life.

I've been making friends with my Rickenbacker 650 Sierra lately, and I think that's going to be my main axe for this recording project. It's just so ideally suited for rock. I don't know why anyone would want to have a Stratocaster if they could have one of these instead. Of course I'll be using the other guitars in my arsenal as the need arises.

For keyboards I think I'd like to stick mainly with either piano or Hammond B3 organ, in the form of the awesome B4 II Hammond emulator from Native Instruments that I acquired last year. I always wanted a Hammond B3, ever since the late 1960s, but one was always out of reach financially, and even if I could have afforded one, I wouldn't have been able to move it around, and who would want to help? I remember back towards the end of the 1970s when I traded in my Fender Rhodes stage piano on a Crumar T2B double-manual organ, which was the next-best-thing at the time to an actual Hammond B3. I even had an old Leslie 122 cabinet that my band's sound engineer managed to get back into working condition. The combination of the hundred-pound organ - which is a lot less than a real B3 that would tip the scales at several hundred pounds - and the bulky and heavy Leslie speaker cabinet, plus my lack of wheels, I think got me fired from one band. "You need to get a synthesizer," they said. "That organ sound is so old-school - nobody wants to hear that any more."

Hah! I know a classic sound when I hear one, and I knew then that, despite the prevalence of gimmicky synth sounds in 1980s music, the classic sound of the Hammond B3 would eventually return, and I have been proved right. That's not to discount the sonic possibilities of synthesizers, of which I have been a fan since the late 1960s, and especially the groundbreaking work that Wendy Carlos and Keith Emerson did with the modular Moog, and many others of the time did with the Mini-Moog, like Rick Wakeman, Chick Corea, and Jan Hammer to name a few. But the B3 sound is one that, like an acoustic piano, transcends time and fashion.

I'm going to let you hear this new album in its making, too, by posting MP3 files of songs I'm considering including on it as I work on them, and I'd also like to invite you to send me your comments. Let me know if you like it – let me know if you think it sucks. Be nice. Go to the Preview page now.

Rich  

August 24, 2008

As promised, I managed to complete my latest web page featuring photographs and commentary on my most recent trip to the southwest, without waiting around for two years to get it done. This was a fabulous trip, despite being so short, and I had an opportunity to see even more of my favorite state, New Mexico, in particular this time the area around Santa Fe. There's not so much of Santa Fe proper, as we didn't spend a whole lot of time in the city, but spent most of our time exploring some of the incredible natural beauty that makes New Mexico and the southwest so special. Bandelier National Monument, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, the Jemez Mountains and Valles Caldera, and a funky little town called Madrid are all featured. I hope you enjoy the travelogue, and I hope you have a chance sometime to experience some of these places firsthand. Let me know what you think.

Also, be sure and see the new reviews on my music equipment page of some of the new virtual instruments I have added to my studio over the last few months, including the long-awaited "Play" edition of the EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra, the Quantum Leap Colossus virtual instrument collection, and the Native Instruments B4-II tonewheel organ.

Rich

July 15, 2008

I received an email yesterday from Ambrose Clifton, the manager of the fan club for Declan, commenting on the blog entry I posted a year ago here lamenting the poor management of Declan's career:

Hi Rich,

I am Declan's Fan Club Manager and have just been given a link to your site and the blog entry mentioning Declan, by one of our members. On Declan's behalf I would like to thank you for taking the trouble to write so comprehensively about Declan and can identify with much of what you say. Although a further album has been released in Germany and there has been a tour to China just a few weeks ago, much of what you say is, unfortunately, still very relevant. But we live in hope for a change in the near future.

Once again thank you for your comments about Declan and he joins with me in wishing you every success.

Ambrose Clifton

I had to go back and re-read what I had said last year, and it got me thinking some more about Declan's career and the state of the music business in general, so I've written back to Ambrose and Declan:

Dear Declan and Ambrose,

Thanks ever so much for writing, Ambrose, and I'm glad that my comments from last July in regards to Declan's career, his management, and his marketing, have finally made it to yours and Declan's attention through another of his fans. I had to go back and review what I had written before responding to you, and after having reread my comments, I still agree with what I said.

You will both be interested to know that I did "bite the bullet" and order Declan's "Thank You" CD from the US Amazon store as an import for $40.49, and although it is the most I have ever paid for a single-disc music CD, I enjoyed it tremendously. The current price of the import CD is now up to $57.99 on Amazon US, although it was finally released domestically a year later in the US at a more reasonable $16.95, and has also since become available on the US iTunes store for download at $9.99. My favorite track from "Thank You" is still "An Angel" - the first track I discovered last year - but "Bright Eyes" and "David's Song (Who'll Come With Me)" as well as several others are certainly standouts and have become favorites as well.

I also brought another new fan to Declan's music - my good friend Eric, with whom I most recently worked with composing and recording the soundtrack score for his anime "Question," the recording for which is available for download on iTunes worldwide. Eric quickly became as big a fan of Declan's music as I am, and when we learned of the new album "You and Me" having been released, we found the same obstacles to obtaining a copy as before. However, it worked out for us a little better this time because Eric happens to have a sister who lives in Germany, and he asked her to procure two copies of it and send them to us here in the US, which she did. For me, "Ego You" is such a perfect pop song and vehicle for Declan's developing voice that I often find it playing back in my mind when I haven't actually listened to the recording itself in days.

"You and Me" is currently only available in the US as an import, priced at $51.98 on Amazon. Needless to say, even including the cost of Eric's sister shipping two copies from Germany, we got our copies for substantially less, and "You and Me" is still not available for purchase and download in iTunes in the US, although I expect that it will be next year, but why wait if there is another option?

All this information is certainly not to point any personal blame at you, Declan.

I'm sure you want your career to be as successful as possible, but you also should have every expectation that those who are in charge of managing that career are truly looking out for your best interests, which includes marketing your music to the widest possible audience. I am obviously not privy to whatever contractual agreements might have been made on your behalf, as a minor, which might be inhibiting the growth of your career, but there must be some explanation as to why your music is not more widely available to the worldwide audience that would appreciate it and garner you far more fans and financial gain.

Being a recording artist and music professional myself, though nowhere near the level of popular appeal and potential marketability that you possess, I have managed to make my own music worldwide in iTunes for just a few dollars more than it would have taken me to market myself in iTunes within the US alone. Seriously, it cost me an additional 99 cents per album per iTunes store to add the Canadian, EU, UK, and Japanese iTunes stores to my iTunes catalog. So for $3.96 additional per album, my music is available in any of those iTunes stores, as opposed to my having decided to make it available in the US iTunes store alone.

Now, granted, I own outright all of my music. I compose it, play it, record it, mix it, and master it myself. I design my own cover art, and I upload everything to my label
TuneCore myself. I have abandoned physical CD marketing altogether in favor of digital distribution. This is the direction that the distribution of recorded music is aiming towards, quickly and surely. The days of the CD are numbered.

Perhaps I'm missing something. Most recording artists want their music heard by the widest possible audience. It could be that because most of your music is, as yet, composed by others - although in "Moody Blues" you show great promise as a songwriter, and I look forward to hearing that talent develop - there may be licensing issues preventing the broader distribution of your recordings. If that is the case then it's unfortunate and is only holding your career back. Maybe it's something else, but it seems like a legal issue whatever it is, and I hope you can address it soon.

My friend Eric, whom I mentioned earlier, turned me on to another group with many of the same sorts of apparent problems. Eric discovered for us the wonderful music of
Libera, the crossover boy choir from London, which he immediately shared with me, and we both became instant fans of them as well. They are also not well known in the US, although they did appear in last December's Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in a tribute to Brian Wilson, one of the honorees. Since I work at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and our own beloved Leon Fleisher was also one of the honorees, with the Peabody Symphony involved in his tribute, I heard of Libera's involvement in the program.

By that point, Eric and I had acquired nearly all of Libera's CD catalog, most of which is available in the US now as reasonably priced domestic CDs. Libera has just released a new recording entitled "New Dawn" and as a fan I just had to have it. The domestic release date here in the US is September 2, 2008, according to Amazon, at a pre-order price of $22.99. However, Amazon also includes a link where you can purchase "used & new" copies available from $7.99, so I clicked on that link.

I was given the opportunity to order, through Amazon, a brand new, factory-sealed copy for $7.99 from a US distributor, so I ordered that and it arrived today, factory-sealed, with a little sticker on the front that said "Licensed for sale only in South America, except Brazil." It even arrived faster than Amazon's standard shipping would have gotten it to me, had it been available from them directly. It's a great CD, by the way, especially their version of Enya's "Orinoco Flow."

Obviously this isn't quite legal, but I'm not going to complain about the price I paid, am I? No, I don't think so. Maybe this makes me an accomplice to a crime, but I bought it through Amazon, so what does that make them?

Do you see how ridiculous all this is? The world - our beloved planet Earth - has developed into a global economy, and we seem to be having some growing pains with that concept. Americans are frustrated by gasoline exceeding $4.00 per gallon, even though Europeans and others have been paying far more than that for many years. The global economy is here, and while it may seems as though music should be one of our least concerns in terms of it, it's certainly near and dear to me and to you, Declan.

Neither of us is individually responsible for solving the global economy equation - at least I hope not, as we're just musicians, after all. But at the same time, it doesn't mean that either one of us has to exclude our product from any one of the global economic markets from which we might benefit.

Okay, this has been a rather long rant, but I think I've raised some valid points, and I hope you will think about them. Ambrose, thank you again for writing, and Declan, thank you for your wonderful talent and charm that brings so much pleasure to those fortunate enough to know about and enjoy it. If you ever make it to Baltimore be sure and let me know.

All the best to you both,

Rich

July 13, 2008

It only took me two years to get around to it, but today I finally posted my photo gallery from the trip I took in 2006 to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The photos I posted are only a small portion of what I was able to photograph on that expedition, but are among the better results, and I hope you enjoy them. Keep in mind that even the larger versions of each photo that you can download by clicking on the thumbnails are considerably smaller than the full-resolution versions, and that all the images are copyrighted by me, so please do not repost them on other web sites. Instead, refer links to this web page. I'm off to the Southwest again in a couple of weeks, and this time will be visiting Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. That should be fun, and if I get an assortment of great photos I promise to try and post them before two more years elapse.

Rich

January 20, 2008

Since launching the new e-commerce feature on this web site at the end of last year, my approach has quickly changed due to the ever expanding possibilities of music download distribution now available to independent musicians. I believe I have come up with a much better plan to enable interested listeners the opportunity to purchase my music, through a highly trusted and ubiquitous presence. I have decided to scrap my affiliation with E-junkie in favor of marketing my music on a worldwide basis directly through iTunes

I hereby take back everything negative that I said previously about iTunes and the iPod. As I've also said before, I'm a PC guy, not a Mac guy, and that's still the case. I admit to always having had an inherent misunderstanding of the whole Apple philosophy, both from a software and hardware standpoint, and I guess that stems at least partially from being raised on mainframe computers. I have always been more comfortable with the old IBM model of how computers are supposed to work, where the user is more in control than the machine itself. But I have to admit that, given the astonishing rate at which technology has advanced since my early programming days, things are no longer the same, and haven't been for quite some time.

I have been aware of this, and have continued being a vocal advocate of PC over Mac as the lines of difference between them have continued to blur to the point that now there is really very little difference between them from a production standpoint. Most creative software packages now on the market are available in either flavor, and have been for years now. It doesn't matter which platform you use, as long as you can get the job done and feel comfortable doing it.

What really turned me around in my philosophy, though, was working some more with the first-ever Apple application that I installed on the new PC that I built last year, that being iTunes. I was frustrated with it at first because I couldn't download an album by Declan that I really wanted, which was only then available on the German iTunes web store. And I couldn't download it from the German iTunes web store because you have to have a credit card with a billing address in the iTunes web store host country in order to do that. It's not iTunes fault, though - it's Declan's management's fault. I just didn't understand that at the time fully enough.

My curiosity was sparked, though, and I looked further into the whole iTunes experience. I found that I could import my entire CD collection into my iTunes software, which then sounded great played back even on my high-end studio monitors, and freed me from the hassle of swapping out CDs from my player every hour or so when I wanted to listen to music. Sonic quality has always been a major point for me, but once I started importing CDs into iTunes, I determined that I really couldn't tell the difference between listening to them that way as opposed to listening to the actual CD. I tried to find a flaw, I actually wanted to find a flaw with it, but I could not tell the difference. Maybe it's all those years of playing in rock bands that destroyed my hearing, but maybe not. I like to think that I still have pretty good, critical listening skills despite that.

I think Apple came up with something golden in their proprietary compression scheme, though. File compression is something that musicians don't particularly like to hear in terms of being applied to their creative output. We want the full bandwidth, and we don't like it when some piece of software makes arbitrary decisions about what to leave out and what to leave in. But my hats off to their software engineers for whatever they did to preserve the sonic quality of music while squashing its size down to a fraction of the original. It sounds great, and I can archive my collection, create playlists, and find what I want to listen to with a few mouse clicks. Now they have come out with an even newer compression scheme called iTunesPlus which is their new de facto standard for music downloaded through their online web store, without digital rights management, and in an even higher "lossless" standard.

What really put me over the edge, though, was - oddly enough - my teeth. I need some dental work which is likely going to involve numerous visits to the dentist over the course of this year. I hate going to the dentist, so I haven't for years - probably at least as much due to my fear of the dentist as my lack of dental insurance for many years. Finally I broke a tooth, so I had to go, and since I now have dental insurance, there were no longer any excuses. Knowing that I would be sitting in that chair while horrific things were being done inside of my mouth, I decided that I would be needing some sort of music player to distract me from the terror, hopefully in combination with nitrous oxide.

Thus, over the recent holidays I decided, based upon my newfound infatuation with iTunes, to acquire an iPod, the first-ever piece of Apple hardware that I have let myself buy into, not that I've been chomping at the bit to do so. I made the decision to get an iPod after investigating every other option currently available. I even looked at the Zune players, which is the Microsoft equivalent, though I would hardly put them in the same class. There were too many reasons to go with the tried and true, the market leader. I went with an iPod 8Gb Nano for $200. I was and continue to be astonished with the technology. There's a reason so many people have these things in whatever model they do - they're awesome. I know 8Gb of memory doesn't sound like very much these days, but I wanted one with flash memory as opposed to a hard drive for durability, and let's face it, an 8Gb iPod gives you over 2 days worth of continuous music available on it.

I will say this, however - the ear buds that Apple supplies with iPods absolutely suck! I'm talking about the standard model that you see everyone walking down the sidewalk with hanging from their ears. I have to wonder how many users of iPods are even aware of how badly those stock ear buds totally suck, because you see so many people wearing them. The iPod is capable of so much more than that crappy sound, though, even though Apple themselves don't seem to make anything that sounds better. There are quite a few third-party vendors who do, however. Do a web search for "in ear monitors" if you're curious. I determined just how badly those stock ear buds suck by plugging my Sennheiser HD280 Pro studio headphones directly into my new iPod, and I was stunned by the difference. Granted, those are big, clunky, closed-ear headphones that no one in their right mind would be caught dead walking around with on the street, but they're very good headphones that I use for mixing in my studio along with my JBL studio monitor speakers, and hearing my iPod through them convinced me that I needed something more capable of reproducing the sonic quality that the iPod is capable of putting out.

After reading an exhaustive number of reviews online for alternatives, I settled on the V-MODA Vibe ear buds. Ear buds are not something that you can generally go into a store and check out first hand, for obvious reasons, since they are inserted directly into your ear canals, so you have to depend upon others who have tried them out and reviewed them. In the price range that I wanted to pay, i.e. under $100, these seemed to be among the best. Shure makes some in ear monitors that cost up to about $500, and I'm sure they must sound better, but they're mainly designed for on-stage use by performing artists and not really for the casual iPod user. These V-MODA Vibe ear buds sound many magnitudes better than the standard crappy Apple standard model, and rather than just hanging from the cartilage of your ear, they actually insert into your ear canals. This has the advantage of better delivery of the sound, and greater isolation from external sound sources, with the disadvantage that if you're walking around wearing them, you had better be extremely vigilant of your surroundings. They don't have total sound isolation properties due to a ported design, but they're a lot more isolating than the standard iPod ear buds. I wouldn't call them audiophile-quality by any stretch, though - the sound has a definite coloration - but it's so far and away better than what Apple supplies with their iPods that it makes you wonder.

All this leads me to why I decided to go with iTunes to distribute my music for sale. I first investigated the possibility of partnering directly with Apple as an independent content provider. You have to apply directly to Apple in order to do that, and from what I was able to determine, it can take months to receive a reply if at all after applying. Then I discovered a service called TuneCore,  who basically act as facilitators for placing independent labels and musicians onto the top music download services, with the ability to select which stores into which music is placed. Not only do they allow me to have a presence on iTunes worldwide (I selected all available iTunes stores, which include the US and Canada, the European Union and UK, and Japan), but this method of distribution will cost me far less than my earlier E-junkie/PayPal solution. Far less! I uploaded everything in my catalog except the earliest release (I'll get to that soon, too), and TuneCore told me everything would be available on my selected stores by mid-February.

I got the idea to check on that on January 17 by doing a search in the iTunes store on my name, and discovered that they had already gotten my albums placed, a month ahead of schedule. If you have iTunes installed on your computer, check it out:

Rich Lauver

That's my iTunes catalog at present, including my latest release, the soundtrack for the anime QUESTION, which was just released in December. And all these tunes are in the new iTunesPlus format. So here we go with Apple technology, despite the fact that I won't be giving up my PCs anytime soon. And if you don't yet have iTunes installed on your computer, I highly recommend that you do so at once. It's a free download and is available for both PC and Mac computers. Even if you never buy anything from the iTunes store, you can use the software for free to archive your music collection, create your own custom playlists, and sync it all to your iPod if you've got one of them.

Now do me a favor and buy some of my music, okay?

Rich  

December 8, 2007

I am pleased to announce today that my web site is now e-commerce enabled to provide for the secure purchase and downloading of my entire catalog of CDs as high-quality, 256kbps MP3 files for your listening pleasure. This is a step which I have been planning to do since launching my web site in January of this year, but it has taken me a while to try and determine the best approach. The combination of a couple of terrific companies, E-junkie and PayPal, have allowed me to incorporate e-commerce within my web site with a minimum of hassle and cost.

PayPal is well known to most experienced web users by now. They were founded in 1998 and acquired by eBay in 2002, and have become, as they put it, "...a global leader in online payment solutions with more than 153 million accounts worldwide. Available in 190 markets and 17 currencies around the world, PayPal enables global e-commerce by making payments possible across different locations, currencies, and languages."

E-junkie was formed in 2004 by a group of web developers with a keen interest in e-commerce, and they have devised a simple set of tools which enable users to sell their products online in a secure and transparent manner. For the purposes of digital delivery, they maintain a robust server farm on which my MP3 files reside, to be delivered by secure download after completion of purchase. They have been deemed "a world-class solution" by PayPal.

I am very excited and proud to partner with these respected leaders in e-commerce, and I hope that you will feel confident in purchasing and enjoying the full-length versions of my musical works.

In other recent news, if you are a frequent visitor to these pages you may have noticed that the composition and recording project that I embarked upon back in February – the soundtrack score for the anime pilot QUESTION – is now finished, and the entire compilation of music tracks is now available for purchase and download. A total of 35 tracks are included, with a total playing time of over 74 minutes, all for $8.99 USD. This is not only my first experience with composing for a film score, but also my first extensive experience with composing for more typical orchestral forces, and I am rather pleased with the overall result.

There are four complete tracks available as free samples on the Music: CDs, MP3s, and Free Samples page, where you can also purchase the entire work, along with the rest of my catalog. Eric Cummings, the creator of the QUESTION story and its animator, and I, are very proud of what we have accomplished with the pilot for what could eventually become an open-ended anime series. Now the equally tough job of attempting to have it picked up by a major anime studio begins. The pilot itself is as long as a feature-length film, and takes the story to a point where the premise of the series is revealed. I hope to have a special section of this web site devoted to QUESTION available in the near future; one which will hopefully include some streaming samples from the pilot available for you to see.

Rich

October 7, 2007

Maybe I should change the title of this page from "Blog" to "Occasional News" or something, since I seem to be completely unable to update it with any regularity, which is what you're supposed to do with a blog. The truth of the matter is that I have been so busy since the beginning of March this year between working at Peabody, and composing and recording music when I'm not working at Peabody, that I just can't seem to find the time to keep this page, or the rest of this web site for that matter, sufficiently current.

Last night was the first of two Peabody Camerata concerts for our current season, and it was a spectacular success. The program was a re-creation of the very first Peabody Camerata concert of 20 years ago almost to the day, and the highlight of the show was a performance of Igor Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale." We had the privilege of being joined by the legendary John Shirley-Quirk as the narrator, whose distinctively expressive and powerful voice, together with his coaching of our two student voice actors in the roles of the soldier and the devil, made for an incredible performance. Martin Shultz was our violinist in the unusual instrumental ensemble of violin, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, contrabass, and percussion, and Martin did an absolutely astounding job performing the technically demanding part, which is really more of a "fiddle" part than a "violin" part. The nearly full house applauded the performance for longer than any Camerata performance in the nine years that I have been managing the ensemble.

But back to what I have been doing since the beginning of March. I was approached earlier this year by my dear friend Eric to compose and produce the music for an anime pilot that he conceived, entitled "Question." I readily agreed, since it would give me the opportunity to do something which I had long thought I might be pretty good at - namely film scoring - but I had no idea going in just what kind of time commitment it was ultimately going to require. Eric wrote the story and produces the CG animation, we both supply the voice acting, and I provide the music score and mix the soundtrack.

It is a science fiction tale set far in the future, in which the Earth is facing the imminent danger of being destroyed by being sucked into a black hole created from our sun's collapse. The political and military powers of the Earth decide to create a massive spaceship which will be able to sustain the Earth's remaining inhabitants in a "biosphere" which recreates the illusion of normal Earth life, and which derives its power from the very same black hole that is about to destroy the entire solar system. However, there is a darker force of galactic invaders who wish to upset that plan for their own evil purposes. Sounds like an anime plot to me.

There are going to be six episodes in the pilot, and the answer to the "question" is not really answered until near the end, which is not an ending at all so much as the end of the beginning, the explanation of the premise as it were. The series, if there is one, could go on from there for an indeterminate time.

From a compositional standpoint, I am having a great deal of fun with my first ever foray into film scoring, although it has been a lot more work than I originally envisioned. Also, I have been working almost exclusively within an orchestral realm for the very first time. There is almost no use of the synthesizers and guitars which had become the mainstay of my compositional instrumentations prior to this project. I have found that writing for orchestral strings, for instance, while very rewarding, is a lot more difficult than I ever thought it was going to be, and I have new found respect for those composers past and present who seem to be able to do it so easily.

On our completion of the first six episodes of "Question" - which will combined amount to a feature-length video - we plan to pitch the project to major studios who might wish to produce it in a more state of the art manner than we have been able to accomplish between just the two of us. I will in the near future be posting excerpts of some of the music I have composed for this project, and perhaps some excerpts of some of the completed episodes.

In the meantime, you will just have to ask yourself, "What is the 'question'?"  

Rich

July 22, 2007

Downloading music from the internet seems to increasingly be the way in which a lot of technologically savvy folks obtain their favorite tunes, and I have to admit that I have been lagging behind the masses on this subject. It's something which I need to become more familiar and comfortable with as a musician - to not do so would be to limit myself catastrophically not only professionally, but culturally as well. I don't own an iPod, nor do I want one. I'd be too afraid of being run down on the streets of Baltimore because I didn't hear approaching traffic, for one thing. And when I'm in my apartment, I'd much rather hear things coming out of my JBL studio monitor speakers backed up by 150 watts per channel. An iPod can't do that, and it doesn't allow you to move around within the audio space of a recording - it's always right there in your brain, delivered by those annoying little earbuds that just further contribute to the hearing loss that I sustained through years of playing in rock bands.

I'm still planning to make my music available for downloading on this web site, but the more I learn about the process and various aspects of the music industry pertaining to music downloads, and music distribution in general, the more questions I seem to have. For example, this past weekend I discovered for myself an artist with whom I was previously completely unaware, and one that moved me. He's a British singer named Declan Galbraith, and his voice is stunning. He should, and may eventually be, an international superstar. But he is only a superstar in Germany for some reason. I ran across a video of him on YouTube singing  a song called "Angel" from his latest CD release "Thank You" on Starwatch Music, a German holding of the Warner Music Group. 

The video for "Angel" is quite compelling, and it made me look for his CD. Unfortunately it has not been released in the US, but Amazon has it available as an import, for $40.49!  We're talking about a standard-issue CD here, folks. Do they ship them over individually on a 747 cargo plane? It's a CD, for crying out loud! That made me look into the possibility of purchasing just the MP3 download of this particular song. Declan's official web site is located in Germany, and it contains links to download the album or its individual songs from either musicload.de or Apple's iTunes site in Germany.

I thought that perhaps it wouldn't be too much of a hassle to download the song I wanted from the iTunes web site, but I didn't have iTunes installed on either of my computers, so I downloaded the software and installed it. After installing iTunes I did a search for Declan, only to be told that my search revealed no matches in the US, and would I like to broaden my searches to other iTunes stores internationally. Well, of course! That took me to the German iTunes web site, which clearly offered (in German) to sell me the entire album or its individual songs. Of course, you have to create an account to be able to buy music downloads from the iTunes web site, so I clicked on the link to create an account, but everything was in German, even though I had specified English when I installed iTunes on my computer.

No matter what I did it seemed as though I couldn't get back to English, though I eventually found a way to do that. But the bottom line was that I couldn't purchase a download from this German web site unless I had a credit card with a German shipping address, so despite how much I wanted to download this song, I couldn't.

Now I'm not a stupid person. I just built my own computer for crying out loud. I'm a music professional. I work for a major institution of higher learning and I manage orchestras for a living. But this experience is unbelievable in its stupidity. I ordered the CD from Amazon, and while I'm sure I will enjoy it, it's the most I've ever paid for a 3-1/2 minute song in my life.

What is more important is what this whole experience says about the way in which music is made available now. First of all, why has Declan's management totally ignored his potential in the US? He's a charismatic and talented young man - a lot more talented than a lot of the rubbish you'll hear on American Idol. The usually pessimistic Simon Cowell was even reported to have said, during his time as a judge on Pop Idol UK, that Declan "has what it takes to become a megastar." What happened?

Bad management, if you ask me. Bad management from the top down, and there is no excuse for it. I could have personally done a better job of managing Declan's career than any of the clueless dweebs who have been in charge of it thus far, apparently. I hate to say that, but I can't think of any other reason why Declan should remain virtually unknown in the greatest consuming country of music in the world, why he is not on TV here, why he is not touring here, and why his CDs are not in music stores across America and his music downloads are not available on iTunes in the United States.

It's heartbreaking. Now Declan is in his mid-teens and his voice will be changing soon if it hasn't already. If he can musically survive that - it's been done before - then he has an opportunity for a world-wide career if someone has the sense to manage his career properly. But the opportunity has been lost, apparently, for him to become a world-wide teen superstar, and that's just a shame. And none of it is his fault. He just hasn't been properly marketed. And while I'm at it, his video producer ought to be taken out back and flogged with a viola from one of those dour-faced models who appear in the background. Declan looks just fine by himself, thank you.

Rich   

June 16, 2007

Success is good thing! ASUS, as I'm calling my new computer, came alive on June 5, 2007 at approximately 10:00 pm EDT. I held my breath as I powered him on for the first time, watched to make sure all the fans came on, and waited about 15 seconds until the motherboard's splash screen appeared on my monitor. Then I whooped and hollered for a few minutes, and gulped down some more beer. Everything in the assembly phase went pretty well, with the exception that I wasn't able to install the little custom sheet metal I/O bezel on the back of the case - I couldn't get the motherboard installed with it in the way - and I used the stock Intel thermal solution (i.e. CPU cooler) instead of the Asus V-Nardo unit that I had bought. I had inadvertently touched the V-Nardo's thermal interface material with my finger while inspecting it, unaware that it didn't have any protective layer on it, so I opted on the side of caution and decided not to use it for now.

It wasn't that easy installing the stock Intel thermal solution, either. It didn't want to go on easily, and I got it lopsided and stuck, then had to remove it, at which point I noticed the thermal interface material was already starting to melt over the top of the CPU, but I finally got it installed properly. The first thing I did on entering the BIOS menus was to look for the screen on which you can monitor the various system temperatures, and I sat there watching that for a long while just to make sure everything was within safe ranges. It all stabilized very quickly, so I went ahead and installed MS Windows XP Professional, which went very quickly.

The next day I installed the drivers for the network interface and connected to the Internet, and downloaded and installed all the critical updates to Windows XP that had been issued since my OEM version had been produced. There were 77 critical updates, but it gave me my first inkling as to how fast the new machine actually was. It was downloading updates and installing them once every few seconds. Once all that was done, I installed the rest of the internal connectors for the front-panel I/O, then installed my new M-Audio Audiophile 192 sound card, attached the case cover, and relocated ASUS to its new home in my keyboard rig.

From that point on it's been a matter of installing software and configuring everything, which I'm still doing a week or so later. But I'm really amazed with ASUS. He's performing well and he's fast as greased lightning. And I especially like the Asus company slogan: "Rock Solid. Heart Touching." It kind of makes you wonder if something didn't go quite right in the translation, but I like it anyway. After about a week, I've got all my music software installed, I've got ASUS networked with my older Compaq machine, and I now have the capability to run Sonar 6 on ASUS while running various virtual instruments on the Compaq, receiving digital audio via S/PDIF from the Compaq, and controlling everything via MIDI from ASUS.

This is awesome!

Rich 

May 30, 2007

Now I've really done it. After working with computers for the past 35 years, since back in the days when there were only mainframes, and having worked with personal computers since the mid-1980s when I got my first PC (dual 5-1/4" floppy drives - no hard drive), I finally decided to build my first computer from scratch. I think I can do this. The physical aspect of it doesn't really much bother me - it's all just a bunch of components and modularized plugs, after all. It's what comes after that part that scares me a little, like when I plug it in and power it up for the first time, before I've even installed an operating system. That part has me just a little nervous.

I did a lot of research, and I think I've ordered components which are going to make for a pretty blazing system that won't buckle under the strain of all the high-end music software I keep throwing at my current system, which it seems is beginning to show its age after about three or four years in its inability to keep up. Here's what I ordered for my new system:

  • Case: Silver Lian-Li Aluminum PC-C30A
    Power supply:
    Ultra ULT31851 X2 X-Connect 550W Power Supply
    Motherboard:
     ASUS P5W DH Deluxe
    CPU:
    Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 2.4 GHz 1066MHz FSB 4Mb cache
    CPU Cooler: ASUS V-Nardo
    Memory: Kingston KVR800D2N5/1G 1Gb DDR2-800 PC2-6400 ECC (2X)
    Sound card: M-Audio Audiophile 192
    Graphics: ASUS EAX1550
    Primary hard drive: Western Digital Caviar SE WD2500JS 250Gb Serial ATA II 7200rpm 8Mb Buffer
    Optical drive: Samsung SH-S182M/BEBN 18X Dual Layer DVD±RW Drive with Lightscribe
    Operating system: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2

Parts are starting to arrive - I'll let you know how this goes.

Rich

May 14, 2007

So much for frequent updates to my blog. Time is too precious and I'd really rather be composing in whatever time I have to myself, and I've been doing a lot of that lately. I mentioned elsewhere that a good friend of mine asked me to compose the score for an anime that he's developing, and that's what I've been mainly devoting my efforts towards for the past several months. It's the first time that I've had the opportunity to compose primarily in the orchestral realm. Well, I should qualify that - it's the first opportunity I've had to compose in the orchestral realm with a specific project in mind. You can compose all you want for an orchestra, but unless you have an actual opportunity for your music to be heard somehow, either through a public performance by a live orchestra (pretty rare for most composers), or through recordings (again, with a live orchestra, pretty rare, unless you're wealthy or famous, and I'm neither), there's not a lot of point to the exercise.

However, if you have an outlet, regardless how small it may seem at the time, it's worth pursuing, and this project is definitely an outlet that I feel strongly about, in part because of my friendship with the guy who's doing the story and animation, and in part because I feel it's a good thing for me to do to further develop my skills. To that end, my favor has now cost me several hundred dollars in new software - not that I'm complaining or anything. I had to upgrade my DAW from Cakewalk Home Studio 2004 XL to Cakewalk Sonar 6 Studio Edition, if for no other reason than Sonar 6 allows me to import video tracks - making it possible to sync audio to video - though it has some very nice additional features which I will go into in more detail elsewhere. Also, I made a rather astounding new orchestral sample purchase - the Miroslav Philharmonik, the actual samples for which were created in the early 1990's by Miroslav Vitous working with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The samples were originally sold as a set of CDs that cost around $4000, but they're now available as a plug-in with over 7Gb of samples.

In other news, over the summer I'm definitely planning to get some commerce going with this site, in terms of selling my music, in the remote chance that someone in the world might actually want some of it. Independent CD distribution is now a reality and relatively easy to set up, so that's a no-brainer, but I also want to make MP3s available for those who want them. A big question is how to make that work with the longer pieces. Do people want a 47-minute-long MP3? Let me know.

Rich

January 31, 2007

At approximately 9:30 pm EST this evening, richlauver.com was officially launched. It's been a while since I designed a web site from the ground up, so please bear with me as I try to regain skills that I haven't had to use in several years. I logged in to my FTP server earlier this evening and didn't have a clue where things were supposed to go at the outset, but it's all starting to come back to me. My initial site design might seem a little austere based upon today's standards, but that's intentional for the most part. You won't be seeing a lot of bells and whistles on this web site, no flash, none of that sort of thing. Why? Mainly because I don't like it. I'm tired of web sites that make you have to guess about how to navigate them, launch content that requires you to download a special plugin to see it, play music in the background that you really don't want to hear, and on and on. I really want to keep things simple with this site, giving you information about me and what I'm up to and about, and let you decide what aspects of that you want to delve deeper into.

As time progresses, and depending on the feedback and the level of interest, I might decide to add a few bells and whistles, but for now this is going to be a stripped down to the basics web site. I hope and intend to commerce-enable it in the near future so that if you want to order one of my CDs, or a copy of one of my photographs, you can do it with a minimum of hassle. And for those of you who do want to order such things from me, I promise that I will give you the best customer service that anyone could hope for. This is, after all, a web site designed to promote me and what I do.

But please be patient with me as I begin to get things rolling here, and be sure and let me know what you think of the information, music, images, and whatever else you want to let me know about. And thanks for visiting!

Rich

       

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