The Christchurch Massacre – questions

The accused perpetrator of this horrendous act in Christchurch, New Zealand (Friday, March 15, 2019) is a 28 year old Australian. Why did it take place in New Zealand and not Australia? This is conjecture on my part, but I think the answer to the question may be fairly simple – the gun laws in Australia are more stringent than in New Zealand. He may have had easier access to his weapons of choice in a country that has an entrenched gun culture. For many years New Zealand has had an eradication policy for all non-indigenous animals that have proven to be detrimental to the ecology of the islands. These include pigs, possums, deer and other species. The result is that recreational hunting is a way of life for a significant number of members in the community. There are huge recreational and commercial interests at stake in any discussion of gun control and these interests resist any restriction on the ownership and use of guns. To get some idea of the commercial interest at stake, in the early 1970s there was a newspaper article on the commercial hunting of deer in the South Island. Commercial venison providers would drop freezer units and staff into select locations to dress slaughtered animals for export as frozen venison. To achieve maximum use of resources hunters would go into remote valleys in military style gunship helicopters and with automatic weapons  shoot animals from the air. The article went on to state that as many as three thousand animals a week were being taken out of some of these valleys. This was (is) big business. So with the potential push back by recreational hunters and commercial operations it is easy to see why there has been some difficulty in reforming gun laws.

Prior to 1996 Australia did have, and possibly still has a significant gun culture, who opposed gun law reform. But that all changed in 1996. Around April 28-29 of that year a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle went on a rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania, killing 35 and wounding 23 people. It was the deadliest mass shooting in Australian history. Over night it precipitated fundamental changes in the gun control laws of that country. Within 12 days of the incident the John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia,  co-ordinated an agreement that created the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), also sometimes called the National Agreement on Firearms, the National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program, or the Nationwide Agreement on Firearms. The laws to give effect to the Agreement were passed by Australian State governments only 12 days after the Port Arthur massacre. Despite lobbying against the NFA by The Christian Coalition supported by the US National Rifle Association the changes to the gun laws went ahead with broad support from all across the political spectrum and the community at large. The NFA placed tight control on semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons, but permitted their use by licensed individuals who required them for a purpose other than ‘personal protection’. The act included a gun buy-back provision. Some 643,000 firearms were handed in at a cost of $350 million. Numerous studies of the impact of the NFA have been either inconclusive or contradictory and yet, one study found that there were no mass shootings in Australia from 1997 through 2006.

Gun laws in New Zealand focus mainly on vetting firearm owners, rather than registering firearms or banning certain types of firearms. Over recent years there have been efforts to reform gun laws but these do not seem to have brought about significant change.  The day after more than 40 (now updated to 50) were killed in mass shootings at two mosques in the worst terror attack in the nation’s history, The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden in a press conference said “I can tell you one thing right now: Our gun laws will change”. She went onto to say “the suspected primary shooter used five guns, including semiautomatic weapons and shotguns, adding that he obtained a gun license in November 2017 and acquired the guns legally thereafter. That will give you an indication of why we need to change our gun laws.”

So, as Yogi Berra once said is this “Déjà Vu all over again”? In terms of political response one can hope so.

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Introducing Pauline Kotlarz – Luthier

“My name is Pauline Kotlarz and I am a Luthier. I was trained through the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City (2011-2014). Since then I have worked in a full repair and restoration shop in Wisconsin for the past three years while making new violins on the side. I have experience doing quality work on making, maintaining and repairing violins, violas and cellos.  I’m originally from Cranbrook, and although it’s been a long and circuitous route to come home, I’m happy to be back and to offer my skills and services to any musicians in the area.  Some common repair and maintenance services I offer include cutting new posts/bridges, fingerboard dressings, nut adjustments, peg fittings, clean&polish, new strings, varnish touch-ups, crack and seam gluing. There is no one-size fits all; everything is custom work according to the instrument and player.  Verbal repair estimates are free and best done in person. I also sell my handmade violins and commercial violins with professional set-ups on a customer demand-basis.  I am a small shop with limited inventory but will work with customers to procure stock items they desire at reasonable prices.  My shop is based out of my home and by appointment only.  I unfortunately do not work on fretted instruments (ie guitars, mandolins, etc) and I don’t do bow re-hairs; however, I’m happy to refer customers to luthiers experienced in those skills. I am passionate about what I do, and if I can be the catalyst for someone else’s improvement and enjoyment of playing music through application of my luthiery skills then I will have done my job.”

For consults and inquiries Pauline can be contacted by phone at (250)-464-0918 or by emailing her at kotlarzviolins@gmail.com

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YouTube Pick (#31) – Christian McBride Trio

The Piano Trio as a genre is a long established tradition in jazz. The first Trio of note was probably The Nat King Cole Trio in the late 1930s through the 1940s. Most audience think of Nat King Cole as the smooth voice, with perfect diction, pop crooner and TV star of the 1950s and 1960s. Most music patrons don’t realize that he was a major jazz pianist way before he became famous as a pop singer. For a time the format of his trio (piano / vocals , bass and guitar)  pretty well defined the genre. Over the years many pianists including, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, have adopted that format. For whatever reason, the original iconic trio format has morphed into the Piano/Bass/Drums format of the modern era. Most jazz pianists at some time in their career front a standard Jazz Piano Trio. The Christian Mcbride Trio is one of many on the current jazz scene and, as if to break with tradition, the leader of this trio is not a pianist. Christian McBride is a bass player.  This is a trio of young, highly trained and very skilled musicians.

Christian McBride (born May 31, 1972) is an American jazz bassist, composer and arranger. He is the “go to” bass player of the past decade and has appeared on more than 300 recordings as a leader and sideman. He is a six-time Grammy award winner. The pianist Christian Sands was born on May 22, 1989 and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and later moved to nearby Orange. He started playing the piano at a very young age, and took lessons from the age of four; he commented that “I grew up with it in the house, in the classroom and on stage so it has always been a huge part of my life”. The drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (born December 6, 1982 in  Jacksonville, Florida) also is an American multi Grammy Award winner.  Owens began playing the drums at the age of 2. He has played many types of music in his younger years, centering on his experience in the church. By the time he was in his early teens, he realized that he would become a jazz musician, and received a full scholarship to study at the Juilliard School. He is active on both the New York and international jazz scene as a sideman and band leader

There are many examples on YouTube of the trio performing in a variety of settings but here are three for your enjoyment.

A Footenote for pianists –

  • In the early 1990s Mosiac Records produced an 18 CD box set entitled The Complete Capital Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio (Mosiac 138).
  • For anyone who may be interested Mosiac has also produced a 5 CD box set of Teddy Wilson Trios entitled The Complete Verve Recordings of the Teddy Wilson Trio (Mosiac MD5 -173). This is a  collection of the music from the master of elegance, Teddy Wilson, with some of the finest drummers of the day. If a drummer needs to study how to play with brushes this is the “go to” source.
  • Another Mosiac set of note is the 9 CD collection The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions 1956-1962 (MD9-246).

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Vinyl – The Medium is the Message

“The Medium is the message” …….. This catch phrase is from the writings of Marshall McLuhan. He coined it way back in the 1960s. I never really got “it” then and I am not even sure I get it now. However, the following is a reprint of an article that I came across recently and it goes a long way to explain the recent resurgence of interest in Vinyl Recordings.

WHY VINYL RECORDINGS SURVIVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE –  Don’t underestimate ritual and tactility.   …. Steven Brykman

Ask a record-collecting audiophile why vinyl is back and you may hear a common refrain: “Of course vinyl’s back! It’s a more accurate reproduction of the original! It just sounds better than digital!”

To this I reply, “Does it really, though? Or is it just EQ’d better? And since when did we start caring so much about the perfect fidelity of our recordings? I grew up—as did many of you—listening to cassette tapes on a boom box. They sounded horrible, and we loved them.”

I think the real reason for vinyl’s return goes much deeper than questions of sound quality. As media analyst Marshall McLuhan famously wrote, “The medium is the message.” In other words, “the form of a medium embeds itself in any message it would transmit or convey, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” Nowhere does this hold truer than in the world of recorded sound.

Multi-sensory

The entire experience of vinyl helps to create its appeal. Vinyl appeals to multiple senses—sight, sound, and touch—versus digital/streaming services, which appeal to just one sense (while offering the delight of instant gratification). Records are a tactile and a visual and an auditory experience. You feel a record. You hold it in your hands. It’s not just about the size of the cover art or the inclusion of accompanying booklets (not to mention the unique beauty of picture disks and colored vinyl). A record, by virtue of its size and weight, has gravitas, has heft, and the size communicates that it matters.

Records, in all their fragility and physicality, pay proper respect to the music, proper respect to the past. They must be handled carefully, for the past deserves our preservation. They are easily scratched, and their quality is diminished as a result of those scratches. They are subject to the elements—left in the sun, they warp. Like living things, they are ephemeral.

While the process of launching Spotify and searching for a track (Any track! You have 30 million choices!) is clearly the most efficient means of listening to music, sometimes efficiency isn’t what the experience is about. Record albums are analog, the closest thing we have to the sound waves. These waves are coaxed out of a flattened, spinning disk of vinyl by a diamond. The diamond is literally taking a ride on the record. The bumps in the grooves push the diamond up and down. Everything about the process has a tactile physicality to it that differs in feel from digital services.

Steven Beeber, the vinyl aficionado and author of The Heebie-Jeebies at GBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk summed up the appeal of records this way: “As with so many things, the Luddites were right. The old ways were better. Vinyl has a richness and depth that digital media lacks, a warmth, if you will. And hell, even if it didn’t, it sure looks cool spinning on the table, and you’ve got to treat it with kindness to make it play right, so it’s more human too. As in our love lives, if you want to feel the warmth, you’ve got to show you care.”

The ritual

Beeber’s last point hits at the crux of vinyl. The cumbersome process of putting on a record is akin to a ritual, an experience that mirrors the care that artists took in creating the work. First you have to find the record—a treasure hunt which might take five or 10 minutes depending on the size and organization of your collection. When you find the record, you pull it out. You remove the album from its cover. (Or, if you’re a real stickler, you remove the album from the cover, still inside the inner sleeve. Because at some point you rotated the inner sleeve 90 degrees to prevent the album from accidentally slipping out. So you pull out the album in its sleeve.) Then you place the record gently on the turntable spindle: the hole so accurately punched that you need to push the album firmly down to get it to sit right.

The album and the turntable needle are both objects that demand your respect. The record must be freed of dust, so you get out your Discwasher D4+ System. You remove the wood-handled brush from the cardboard box. You remove the small red bottle of Hi-Technology Record Cleaning Fluid, along with the tiny red-handled needle brush, both of which are cleverly nestled inside the wooden handle. You gently sweep the needle with the brush, which produces a satisfying whooshing from the speakers.

Then you apply 3-6 drops of D4 fluid to the cloth-covered face of the wood-handled brush and rub it in with the base of the bottle. Then you place the wood-handled brush on the record, careful to orient the nap in the right direction. Then you lick a finger of the other hand, place it in the center of the record, and gently rotate the platter beneath the brush. When these tasks are complete, then—and only then—do you set the platter in motion and lower the needle—slowly, ever so slowly—onto the spinning vinyl disk.

And the music begins to play.

The lesson

The record experience suggests a few possible lessons for user-interface designers:

1) Designing for multiple senses can be more powerful than designing for just one. This is why mobile apps that incorporate sound (button clicks, etc.) and tactile sensations (haptic feedback) in addition to visual cues create greater user delight than those that are purely visual.

2) Always design in a manner appropriate for the medium.

3) Always consider the user’s state of mind. Consider every aspect of their psychology and how it might relate to the experience at hand. For instance, a person might find one experience preferable to another, because it reminds them of their childhood, or because that’s how they’ve always done it. (Case in point: my mother always preferred grinding her coffee beans with a hand-cranked grinder, because that’s how she always did it—not because she thought that the beans tasted better.) There might also be a touch of rebellion in the act of rejecting today’s technology for a simpler tool that worked just fine, thank you very much.

Not everything in life is about ease and speed. Believe it or not, sometimes people want to take longer, particularly if an experience evokes a past memory, satisfies a deep-rooted need, or fills a behavioral gap. Make anything too easy and its perceived value declines.

Some people, some of the time want the process of listening to music to demand respect from them, to offer an embodied ritual that removes us for a time from the daily humdrum of our digital existence. Speed has its place, but time spent can signal value and create a pleasant weight of meaning. There’s a reason our religious services aren’t five minutes long, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that as digital technologies continue to dominate our lives.

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