[Dixielandjazz] Virtual Music Sinfonia & The Joys of Sex

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 14 12:29:35 PDT 2004

If a Sinfonia can recreate the Hot 5, Hot 7, Benny Goodman, and all that
other music, is it jazz? ;-)

If you can program it to correctly play polyphonic counterpoint, and why
shouldn't that be possible along with random improvisation, is it jazz?

John Farrell, see the last paragraph.

Steve Barbone

April 14, 2004 - NY Times

Union and Theater Agree on Use of Virtual Orchestra


       Hours before a planned protest outside one of the largest Off
Broadway theaters, the musicians' union reached an agreement yesterday
with the theater's owner to allow the use of a so-called virtual
orchestra machine, a controversial new synthesizer that was at the heart
of last year's Broadway strike.

David Lennon, the president of Local 802 of the American Federation of
Musicians, announced the deal in an impromptu news conference in front
of the Variety Arts Theater, on Third Avenue in the East Village, where
a crowd of about 100 musicians had gathered for a planned protest. The
theater is currently home to a new musical, "The Joys of Sex," which had
its first performance - using a virtual orchestra machine - last night.

The deal will allow shows at the theater to use the machine, which can
closely replicate the sound of musicians, but only with union consent.
No other Off Broadway theater currently has such an agreement with the
union; Broadway producers are banned from using the machine.

"Local 802 and the Variety Arts have reached a precedent-setting
agreement whereby the virtual orchestra machine will not be used without
the consent of the union," Mr. Lennon said. "We are allowing this
production to go forward, and we are hopeful that this agreement can be
used to apply to all other Off
Broadway theaters."

Ben Sprecher, the owner of the Variety Arts and one of the producers of
"The Joys of Sex," said: "This was the same deal I offered them four
months ago. I always wanted to work out a deal. It was never my
intention to replace live musicians."

Indeed, the agreement followed several months of often contentious
negotiations between Mr. Sprecher, who contended that he simply wanted
to use the machine to enhance the musical's score, and the union, which
sees the machine as a pernicious threat to its members' livelihood.

This is not the first time the virtual orchestra has been at the center
of a dispute. In March 2003, Broadway musicians walked off the job for
four days to protest a plan by producers to reduce the number of
musicians in every orchestra pit. During the strike, producers
threatened to use the virtual orchestra to replace live music, but they
never did.

This time around, the battle was fought Off Broadway, where producers
are not bound by any agreement but often do hire union musicians. It
marked the latest attempt by the union to prevent the use of the machine
anywhere; in February, for example, the union announced a deal with the
Opera Company of
Brooklyn banning the use of the virtual orchestra in any future

That deal raised the ire of Realtime Music Solutions, a Manhattan
company that makes a virtual orchestra machine called Sinfonia. In
March, the company filed an unfair labor practice charge with the
National Labor Relations Board, against the union, claiming that Local
802 was preventing performing arts
companies from using its product. The claim was dismissed, though
Realtime has said it will appeal.

For his part, Mr. Sprecher had repeatedly stressed that the machine was
not costing any workers their jobs; the show had three musicians when it
played at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival and still has
three at the Variety Arts.

Both sides can also walk away from the agreement, which lasts through
March 2013, with some satisfaction. The union got a deal at a theater
where - unlike those on Broadway, where all musicians are union members
- its ability to protest the Sinfonia is limited. And for Mr. Sprecher,
the deal means the show will go on without disruption.

Perhaps the most relieved players in the dispute were the players
themselves. One, Steven Watkins, who controls the Sinfonia for "The Joys
of Sex," said he thought the machine was a useful tool, but not
something that would ever replace musicians.

"It's the same way you wouldn't want a player piano to replace a piano
player," Mr. Watkins said. "If people were happy with player pianos, my
job would have been eliminated years ago."

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