Saturday, September 1, 2007

July 30-Aug. 2: Anne's Arrival and the Beginning of Our Car Trip

Anne arrived on Tuesday morning, July 31st. So Monday the 30th was an important day to get things to a point where I could take a break and know where I was when I resumed work on the project. I had log books to catch up with, and was trying to make progress with the charts, to get to a certain point with how I functioned with the program. Then Tuesday morning early I took the bus and train to the airport to meet Anne. It’s a long travel day from New York! We went to my apt. in Coogee, dropped off her luggage, and then went out to breakfast. After a walk and a short nap, we went up to the University, where she got a full tour of the acoustics lab; then there was a little send-off party for Fabien, a French student, at the end of his 3-month project.

On Wednesday, we spent most of the day making plans for our car trip: booking rental cars and the ferry to Tasmania, and confirming plans for meeting people along the way. In the afternoon we took a cab to the car rental agency in downtown Sydney (in the CBD) with my contra hard case, to make sure that the car we rented would hold my contra. Then we drove home to Coogee very carefully, on the left-hand side of the road.

There were so many little things to take care of that we didn’t get underway the next day until about 11:00 am, and even then, we had to make a stop at UNSW to pick up a fax that came in for Anne from Japan. But finally we were headed west, out of the city and towards Adelaide. We decided on a whim to go straight west over the Blue Mountains instead of driving the freeway past Canberra. The road up into the Blues was narrow and twisted, but finally we were in the hills and genuinely out of the city. Our first little side trip was to drive the little panorama road between Leura and Katoomba. We pulled into a turnoff at an overlook, and when we turned the car off we heard all kinds of birds in the forest that were fascinating. I don’t consider myself a birder, but the calls you hear from the birds in Australia are exotic and captivating.

We had a picnic lunch at the overlook of the famous “Three Sisters” and then continued on through the mountains. After a steep descent we were into the cattle and sheep grazing country of rolling hills, which was really picturesque countryside. We took Hwy 24, the Great Western Highway, from Bathurst all the way to Hay, and it was a marvelous drive. The road is not cut through the landscape. It twists, climbs and dives through the rolling hills, and each new hilltop reveals a new valley with its own flavor.

We stayed the first night in the historic town of Carcoar, which is the third-oldest town west of Sydney. White settlement there dates back to 1829, and the town is nestled in a compact valley. We stayed at a lovely B&B, and the proprieters told us it was “Roast Night” at the hotel restaurant. We walked over there and when we sat down we felt like we had stepped about 75 years back in time. What a contrast to bustling Sydney. It was a great meal, by the way.

At this B&B we learned that breakfast is usually provided in a basket the night before, so that you can have it whenever you like in the morning, in your room, and then be underway. We liked that system—it was always nice opening the basket to see what was in it.

Contra Project, Week 4

Now it is already September, and I have a bit of catching up to do! A very intense five weeks have gone by, and I will catch them up in segments. This one will be about the last week of July.

In the fourth week of the research project at UNSW (July 23rd to 29) we did two sets of tests on a standard-system contrabassoon: a set of impedance tests and a set of live recorded samples. This made for a very intense week! Noriko Shimada, who plays contrabassoon in the Sydney Symphony was very kind to loan her instrument to us to do these tests. (Thank you Noriko!) I did two days of recording samples, but then discovered after the fact that one day’s recordings had a persistent hum in it, due to a microphone wire being positioned too close to a wall socket and the electrical grid behind the wall. I really wanted a clean set of data on the standard system contra so I spent another day re-recording an entire day’s worth of samples. Fortunately the impedance tests went very smoothly, thanks to Chen Jer Ming and his lightning speed with the computer.

At the end of the day of the impedance tests on the standard contra, we set up my instrument again and ran another set of tests documenting what happens when you reduce the size of a register hole. The machine shop had made a couple of tiny inserts for one of my register holes, which reduced the size of the hole. We ended up with a dozen impedance spectra charts which showed very distinctive results. These inserts will make for an interesting study, all on its own.

In the meantime I had been working up some charts of analysis using John Smith’s special program in Mathematica. With his help, I was getting more adept at using the program, and he offered that he could make it reveal even more things!

During this time there were four different projects going on at the same time in the lab, and it was a busy place. The computer work stations were always occupied. Sometimes it was even a bit chaotic, but there was a tremendous amount of work getting done. Joe Wolfe always kept a well-stocked bowl of fruit in the central hallway, which was very welcome whenever my energy level sagged, and a fresh cup of coffee was never more than two minutes away. Thanks for that, Joe!

In the off-hours, I was working on making arrangements for a car trip around Southeastern Australia with Anne my wife, who was due to arrive on Tuesday of the next week. In addition, the final week of the Tour de France was going on, and the Pyrenees mountain stages and the dramatic Time Trial on the penultimate day were very exciting to watch live on late night TV. The weather also warmed up during this week, classes started at UNSW, and it felt like spring!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


I've been in Sydney for three weeks now, and the time has absolutely flown by. In the first week, we worked on getting software uploaded onto my computer, getting recording hardware set up and functioning correctly, and the interface between software and hardware all running smoothly. The fact that we wanted really accurate and faithful sound recording down past 30Hz really posed some challenges, and we used up a couple of days getting a system set up that we were happy with. I had to learn how to run the recording system, including the computer with the recording program, and do the checks needed to maintain consistency from session to session.

In the second week I did the series of recording sessions to record the samples I wanted to be able to analyze. Along with that came the process of creating the filing system for the sound files, so that I could always find any sample I wanted, and that each sample extracted had its unique reference to the entire session built into its file name. In between recording sessions and maintaining the log book, I got started using the special program that John Smith, a Professor in the Physics department at UNSW, wrote for the specific analysis I wanted to do on the note transients.

The recording room is a specially sound-deadened room that is designed to not reflect any sound waves. Needless to say, it is a dead room to play in. I call it "The Room of Truth". While I was doing my recording sessions, I was trading off time in the Room of Truth with Jer Ming, a grad student and teaching assistant, who is doing a big project on the saxophone. The first picture shows Joe Wolfe playing the sax during one of those sessions. My contra is taking a rest, waiting for the next run of tests.

By last weekend I had finished the recordings and had started working with the samples. John Smith came back from his semester break last Monday and I met with him to show him the progress I had made with his program. I also asked if he could make it do a couple of other things I had in mind, and he came back with a version 2 of it. Then this past week, we got set up to do the impedance tests on my instrument. There was a lot that actually went into being able to do the impedance tests, and it all came together fairly smothly. There were only two problems to deal with along the way, once we got set up, and the solutions to each one came within a couple of hours.

This picture shows the contra all set up in its special bracket, with the impedance head attached. It is specially calibrated, and is attached to a prepared bocal. Since the impedance head had a limited number of sizes of openings available, we sawed off the end of a bocal at the point where its diameter would mate with the impedance head, so there would not be a discontinuity of bore between the two. The missing part of the bocal will be added back in to the impedance curves mathematically. Then the compliance of the reed will be added in. Don't ask me how that is done! The explanation of that goes right over my head.
Towards the end of this past week, John Smith came back to me with the fourth version of the Mathematica program he has developed for this project, and now it has been developed about as far as it can go. So now we already have a lot of data collected, and have tools in place to do the analysis I (and we) want to do. Next we do another round of tests on a standard contrabassoon, to have another set of data to compare to.

The first weekend I was here, Joe Wolfe took me out sailing on Sydney harbor, and it was a special treat to have my first glimpse of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House from a small sailboat out in the harbor.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Getting to know Sydney

The trip from New York to Sydney took longer than the travel itinerary promised. Because of stormy weather the day I left, I missed my connection in San Francisco, and had to wait for the next flight out, which was a full day later. So I arrived in Sydney on Sunday July 1st. Joe Wolfe was very kind and picked me up at the airport, and then treated me to breakfast on the rooftop of his apartment.

This week has been a time to get acquainted with Coogee Beach, the neighborhood where I am staying, and also with the acoustics group at UNSW. I have been getting a big tutorial in acoustics 101, as well as learning a lot about the computer.

Here are a couple of pictures from Coogee beach, and the local neighborhood.

The third, fourth, and fifth pictures below are from today's morning walk along the coastline just south of Coogee Beach. Sunrise over the Pacific is a thing to behold because the horizon is so clear and well defined. Along this cliffside walk there is a marsh with a wooden walkway, and there are lots of frogs in the marsh all singing at once. Some sections of the cliffside have a really wild look, and then in other parts you can walk down a series of stone ledges to the water's edge.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Anyone who travels regularly knows that before you leave, there are a multitude of things to do, arrange, or otherwise take care of before getting on the airplane or driving away. There is no escaping the To-Do list, and the goal is always the same: Get all the important things done, and as many of the not-quite-as-important ones done as possible. New York Philharmonic players are well acquainted with the routine because of the amount of touring we do, and it always involves some amount of stress.

For this trip, some days I have been able to make the list shrink, and other days, as I cross things off, it still grows. And as the departure date nears, suitcases have to get packed while still trying to make the list shrink. In the process of pulling things together for the trip, big messes are created and have to get cleaned up. Sometimes at the end of the day I feel like I got a lot done, and other days I can't really remember what it was that made me so busy.

Yesterday I got the Bike Friday overhauled, and today I took it out for a test ride before packing it up for Australia. It's always satisfying to ride a bike that I've just had apart on a worktable and then rebuilt, so it was a good ride. I'm hoping to use the bike for the commute to UNSW (n addition to some real rides). The ruler feature on Google Earth tells me it's a 2-mile commute to the university, but Joe Wolfe says to think San Francisco hills for that 2 miles. Well, this bike has the gears! I'm looking forward to putting them to good use.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The IDRS Convention

The last 10 days have been a whirlwind. During the weekend before the IDRS conference, there were a lot of things going on at our place and I had to carve out the time to finish the powerpoint presentation about reed machine alignments. Then Monday the bees got re-located and I packed a car-full of equipment to go to Ithaca for the conference.

The IDRS conference is an amazing event: There are nonstop recitals, presentations, master classes, concerts, and vendors galore selling everything you can imagine for double reeds. I met many people there, including some I have known by name and reputation for years or even decades, but never had a chance to meet personally. There were a number of recitals and presentations I wanted to attend but couldn't because the schedule is so packed together.

Friday afternoon we had a 20-minute sound check on stage, where we determined, with Anne's help, that we had to be farther forward on the stage than the standard placement. 20 minutes goes by very fast when you are trying to decide final balances, cover critical transitions and spots of 6 pieces, and then find a better position on stage to play!

On the concert, Lorelei Dowling played the Berio Sequenza for bassoon (!!!) right after Barbara and I played the Bruns, and in the course of talking backstage, Lorelei said that she knows Joe Wolfe, the physicist I am going to work with in Sydney. Small world. Then on the second half, Terry Ewell played on the Strauss Duo Concertante for Clarinet and Bassoon. It was 29 years ago that he and I were studying bassoon together with Norman Herzberg at the Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. So it felt like my life was circling around and expanding outward all at once. That is a very nice thing.

Saturday morning, Terry Ewell gave a masterclass just before I gave my reed machine presentation. I arrived early to get equipment set up in advance, so we were both setting up at the same time. It felt like we were given a little chance to work together, even though our presentations were totally different from each other.

I really had my fingers crossed that I could pull off the presentation on reed machine alignments. It was my first powerpoint presentation, and I had visions that my mind might just go blank when I needed to talk. But then it got rolling, and it went fairly naturally. I did think of some things later which I wish I could have (or would have) included, but I imagine that's pretty normal. There were good questions from the audience, even some I had never considered before.

On Saturday afternoon we went to several conference events, which was really enjoyable for me since I had my own presentation out of the way! I had a deeper appreciation for other people's performances and presentations, knowing firsthand what it takes to put one together.

On Sunday we spent a little time seeing some of the waterfalls and gorges around Ithaca before driving back to the city. The falls I was really impressed with was Ithaca Falls, right in town. It was fantastic to walk through a clearing and suddenly see such a cascade of water, dancing down the rock steps.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bradka Contrabassoon

In response to a request for more pictures of the Bradka contrabassoon I showed in a previous post, here are close-ups of the finger keys. This image is of the left-hand keys. I found these keys particularly interesting, as the touchpieces that represent finger holes are rings. There are no finger holes under the rings, but I presume that the idea was to provide something that felt like finger holes.

This picture is of the Right Hand keys.

Rehearsals for the Victor Bruns Six Pieces for contrabassoon and piano have progressed to a studio at Juilliard that has a Steinway grand piano. Before we had time with the Steinway though, we did quite a bit of work with the Yamaha keyboard I have, which I use to help prepare my orchestra parts. We were actually able to get a lot of work done with the electronic keyboard, but there were certain things which just couldn't be fine-tuned until Barbara had her hands on a real instrument.

A beekeeper came today and extracted our bee colony from the walls of our house. It was a fairly new hive, and the access was relatively easy through an outside soffit, so I think we got off relatively easy. We only have two holes to patch: the one the bees used as access, and the one the beekeeper made to access the bees.