Opera is the source of all innovation in media and three other interesting classical music technology links

This is actually issue 2 of my new newsletter, which you can subscribe to over here. A weekly digest of links to stories about technology, media and digital content in classical music.

Seriously, opera is the source of all innovation in media

Don’t be surprised if this becomes a theme in this newsletter. It’s a rich seam. The sheer scale and the insane economics of opera production drive technical innovation like nothing else. I challenge you to name an innovation in media technology that didn’t originate in an opera house — from stereo audio to subscriber services to cable TV to the trans-oceanic relay. This piece — from my blog — is about one of my favourites: live opera performance distributed to subscribing homes in stereo, thirty years before radio even existed (and Proust was a subscriber). Boom.

Get in the van

Reaching young and disadvantaged audiences is hard. For LA Phil Musical Director Gustavo Dudamel this is a big deal, everywhere he works. In LA he’s fitted out a yellow van like a mini Walt Disney Concert Hall and he’s taking it to communities around the city with a short Virtual Reality movie of a Beethoven performance for Samsung consumer VR kit. That’s cool but it turns out under-18s need a note from their parents and under-13s can’t participate at all (the Oculus kit hasn’t been tested on developing eyes).

Is it me, or has open source classical music flopped?

Kimiko Ishizaka ran one of the first classical Kickstarters to fund a recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, for release under a Creative Commons Zero license back in 2012. People liked it (although the classical mainstream ignored it) and she went on to record the composer’s ‘Well-Tempered Klavier’ (under a different CC license) earlier this year. There are other sources of openly-licensed classical music — the biggest must be Musopen — but they’re thin on the ground. With so much of the repertoire out of copyright and so many excellent amateur and semi-pro musicians out there (not to mention all those music schools and youth orchestras) it seems odd to me that there isn’t a ton of open classical. What gives?

Classical downloads from the BBC — again

It’s almost exactly ten years since Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright put his head in the lion’s mouth and offered performances of all the Beethoven symphonies for no-strings download as part of a week-long celebration of the composer. It was a huge hit — over a million were downloaded — but the music industry’s hysterical reaction triggered a freeze on music downloads that lasted until July of this year, when they became possible again as an effect of the release of version 2 of the iPlayer Radio mobile app.

The app, which was launched just in time for the BBC’s annual Proms music festival, permits DRM-protected downloads of all BBC radio programmes for thirty days (and there’s an industry agreement behind it). And the downloads are gorgeous. If you download a programme from Radio 3’s output, for instance, you’ll be getting a pristine file of the same quality as the classical station’s already-legendary HD Sound online output.

I don’t think it’s quite dawned on the music world that the BBC now permits hi-fi quality downloads of around 600 full-length classical concerts per year, 400 of which are broadcast live (and there are 90 operas and huge amounts of other ‘live and specially-recorded’ music in the mix too).

For classical nuts in the UK this is going to be life-changing.

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