Friday, July 27, 2007

What's In A Name?

A funny thing happened to me on the way to Bejing in 2008...

This last week I was caught in one of those funny cross-cultural things that can occur which if not caught can lead to later consequences.

Let me explain.

Those of you who have done business with Japanese or been to Japan know that for American ears Japanese names can be difficult to pronounce and remember (they seem so similar). For this reason, Japanese businessmen usually pick an American moniker which they print on their business cards so that Americans may use this moniker to address them without embarrassment. For example, a businessman named Yoshi Nakamuro might print his name on his business card as: Yoshi "Ted" Nakamuro so he may be addressed as "Ted" (but chances are our Yoshi doesn't know that "Ted" is short for Theodore).

My wife and I are preparing to go to a music conference in Bejing, China in 2008. The English orchestral score, program notes, etc. have been translated into Simplified Chinese characters for submission to the conference committee. I am mentioned in several places wherein people who assisted in the score preparation are acknowledged. This means: I need a "Chinese" name for translation.

Our expert translation team thought long and hard to come up with my new Chinese name. Finally they settled on two characters that signify: "Mighty Song" and I was pleased that they thought so much of me to give me this moniker. My wife got her new Chinese name and our music editor also got his new name in the acknowledgments. Everything was done. We were ready to print hardcopy and send softcopy to China via the Internet when...

The sister of our chief translator, who has recently been to mainland China, called in a panic. "Had we printed the score yet? Whatever you do don't send it!" The two characters of my new name bothered her. She seemed to recall seeing them used in China, but couldn't recall the context. Finally early in the morning, waking she recalled, "Mighty Song" were the two characters used to market VIAGRA in China!

Needless to say, I now have a new new Chinese name. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be introduced in Bejing as "Mr. Viagra" This was all fixed up and everyone's now happy.

All I can say is... OY!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Jury is Out

This past week I was called for Jury Duty. And while I can't say anything about any case I might be involved in, I can say something about the overall experience and I must say I've been pleasantly surprised!

I have been placed in a "standby" position for Jury Duty many times, but never have had to actually report until now. A few years ago being asked to report in California meant one had to be at the court in a jury pool everyday for two weeks. You could wait your two weeks and on your last day, 10 minutes before being dismissed, be called by a court and impaneled for an entire trial case (and maybe a second case), oy! There were also many reasons by which one could be excused from duty.

The California legislature in it's wisdom passed a law changing the jury duty system, loosely called: "1 Week, 1 Day or 1 Trial." Basically, it means you need to be "on call" for a week, if not asked to report within that week; you are finished with your duty. If you are told to report and are not chosen to serve on the day you are required to report; you are finished with your duty. If you are impaneled, you are only required to serve for one court case. There are few excuses for not serving. The new system uses a lot of people. The clerks told us that in all of LA County 10,000 potential jurors are called to report each weekday. Wow!

I have been very impressed with the efficiency of the new system and how well the court personnel administer their system. First, they've made it possible to register for Jury Duty via the Internet, further you can query the court via the Internet each evening before you may have to report to determine whether your service will be required the next day.

On our 1st day to report, I estimate there were 225 people in the pool for the courts to utilize all within one of the downtown LA court buildings. The judges in the various departments tell the clerks when they need jurors and any special instructions. The clerk's computer selects jurors from the pool randomly. Everybody is called by number. The entire system was well explained by the clerks and all questions answered. Also, one of the department judges welcomed us and thanked us for serving. One thing we learned was that no two days at the court were alike. On my day I was selected as the last panel of the day (darn!) and there were less than 50 people left to be dismissed and finish their duty.

About 65 of us in the panel went to the department for our court. This gets narrowed down to 12 actually seated to try the case plus 2 alternates. The court clerk was very clear in her instructions. The judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys were all pleasant, courteous and the judge clearly explained all procedures and pertinent data to us. This is about all I can say at this time, but as one who has practically nothing to do with courts and litigation, I have been made to feel welcome and an important part of the system that protects and preserves our freedoms here in the US.

The large pool of 1st day jurors really, really truly represented a cross-section of the diversity of Los Angeles which I love so much about living here. We had Chinese, Caucasians, African-Americans, Latinos, Armenians, Vietnamese, Koreans, Israelis, Persians and ethnicities I didn't recognize. We had youngsters barely voting age, housewives, middle-age men, janitors, car mechanics, doctors, insurance adjusters, realtors, technicians, managers and pretty much any profession you'd find here. I was heartened by their willingness to serve.

Perhaps the gloomy, vested-interest nay-sayers who trash the country in the daily rags are just that: gloomy, vested-interest nay-sayers. They have no power except that which we grant to them by believing them.

Looks like the basics of Freedom are still here, all we need to do is revitalize our true purposes as a nation. Will this occur? The jury is out.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Farmdale Symphony

For the past two weeks, I have had the pleasure of working with brilliant Hollywood music editor and musician Steve McCroskey on a project I have wanted to see completed for a decade.

What do you do if you are an orchestral composer--and you have no orchestra? This can be a really difficult proposition. It's the proposition that my wife, composer Carol Worthey has wrestled with since I've known her. The answer is (of course): get an orchestra. Not a problem if you have Bill Gate's budget, simply hire a symphony. Most orchestral composers are usually associated with a university or music school or other academic connections where they have at least a testing ground for new works. Getting works performed can become an occupation in itself.

Years ago, as a computer expert, I knew there should be a way to duplicate a real orchestra utilizing computing power--and there was. The early attempts utilized synthesizers with limited numbers of channels and tape looping to re-create an orchestra (rather badly I might add). Later, in order to improve the quality of the speaking instrumental voices, "sampling" was invented. In this mode an actual instrument, say a violin, was recorded or "sampled" with an expert player playing single notes throughout the range of the that instrument. Each of these notes were then turned into individual pitched segments that could be "played" by the computer, thus permitting the computer to sound like a violin. Sampling now improved the way it sounded, but not by too much. There are nuances in each instrument, effects and performance conventions learned by human musicians but not particularly available to a computer musician. For example, the violin has pizzicato (plucking the strings with the fingertips), vibrato (a wavering of the tone produced by shaking the hand while holding a string), tremolando (a vibrating tone produced using the bow). If you want the sound of a real performer, then each of these effects have to be sampled as well for every note (pitch) in the instrument's range. This takes a lot of bandwidth.

Several other factors need consideration. Typically there are 25-30 different instruments that comprise an orchestra. Also, there are groupings within an instrument, e.g. Cello I, Cello II, Cello II. This means more channels and a need for more technical capability.

Technically, the ability to create an orchestra on a computer has paralleled the increase in computing speed, available disk space, available memory and available digital to analog (i.e. computer to audio) hardware interfaces. Early on, this not only was unsatisfactory sounding but very expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars). Fortunately at the same time the capability has increased, the cost has reduced.

There was a time, not long ago, when a number of low-budget Hollywood films used entirely computer generated film scores to save money. They saved money, but generated such awful public response and musician response that this soon stopped. Clearly the technology was not good enough to hack it. Today, not only has the technology improved, but live musicians are routinely mixed in with sampled tracks not only saving production bucks but producing a pretty good overall product.

Carol has a new symphonic work headed to China in 2008 recently completed. We really, really wanted to preview it--saving the world premiere for 2008. Carol, I might add, composes and hears her works in her head then notates the music directly to computer. She has done this since 1984 being a very early adopter of computer technology. Thanks to the help and support of concert pianist, Mary Au we connected to Steve McCroskey and the Farmdale Symphony.

Who are the Farmdale Symphony?

The more appropriate question is: "What is the Farmdale Symphony?" It is a computer piloted by a master editor running at the edge of affordable capability. Conducted by Steve, we transformed Carol's full orchestral score to an audio performance using sampled sounds. It sounds pretty darned good too! Not the LA Philharmonic as yet, but an acceptable performance not easily discernible as a computer performance.

I've wanted this capability for decades and at last it is real, do-able and within reach. I'm really pleased.