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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
Clicking the link will take you to a page with links to the iOS and Android app stores so, if you’re reading this on your mobile (and you’re in the UK) you can download the app right now.