[Dixielandjazz] Scary Story - Will Musicians become extinct?

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 25 08:58:50 PST 2004

List mates:

It is beginning to appear as if the "Sinfonia" will replace orchestra
musicians. That computer geeks, who are already the musicians of the
present on synthesizers, will become the orchestras of the future on
Sinfonias. Thus arguments about who is/was the best musician will be
relegated to those of us who still remember when jazz was performed by
people with instruments, instead of computers. Unless we argue Apple vs.

The below article is not OKOM in the usual narrow sense. So if you are
pressed for time, or have more important things to do, or just plain
don't care,  DELETE NOW. It is however, about MUSIC WARS. And the battle
lines are here again in NYC, as well as in LONDON.

No doubt they are coming soon, to a venue near you.

Steve Barbone

PS. To Wiggins. Hey Tom, there is a promotional upside to this. We could
stage cutting contests between a jazz Sinfonia and a live jazz band,
similar to those like the chess masters vs. the computer. A way to go
out in a blaze of glory with our retirement money secured. Or perhaps
send a traveling Sinfonia around the USA playing virtual OKOM at Jazz
Society and/or OKOM Festival gigs. We could dramatically cut the cost to
them and replicate any type music or band sound that floats their boat.
No need to have multiple bands at a festival, the Sinfonia will do it
all as well as play any high notes you want. ;-) VBG.

March 25, 2004 - N.Y. TIMES

Now Playing Off Broadway, Virtual-Music War


    Just a year after the battle over virtual orchestras helped shut
down most of Broadway for four days, a new skirmish has broken out Off
Broadway, this time touching on questions of artistic freedom, the
generation gap and the difference between a machine and a musical

At issue is a plan to use a Sinfonia, one of several virtual-orchestra
machines, in the new Off Broadway musical "The Joys of Sex," a decision
that has the musicians' union threatening to picket and the show's
producer showing no sign of backing down. The show, which is in
rehearsal, is to open in May.

David Weinstein, the 28-year-old composer who is making his Off Broadway
debut with the show, notes that he was reared in a period steeped in
techno, electronica and other electronic music. He says he simply wants
to use the Sinfonia to enhance his show's band with what he calls a new
electronic instrument.

"We live in 2004, and the shows themselves are becoming — the music
itself is becoming — more synthetic," Mr. Weinstein said. "And our show,
the one I wrote in 2001, is more synthetic. And the Sinfonia is an
instrument that can work with these synthetic sounds and create the
sound of the show as I want it."

Union officials don't see it that way.

"We think this machine is designed for the sole purpose of eliminating
live music for the purpose of reaping profits," said David Lennon, the
president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, the
Broadway musicians' union. "Their attempt to turn this machine, and I
tell you that this is a machine,
into an instrument is just another ploy. The synthesizer is a musical
instrument played by a musician. A virtual orchestra machine is just
that. I would not equate those two, ever."

Last March the union shut down almost all of Broadway's musicals for
four days — at a cost of $5 million to the industry — over an effort to
reduce the minimum number of players required in each Broadway theater.
Producers threatened to introduce the Sinfonia to orchestra pits instead
of live musicians, but that never happened. Seventeen shows were
affected, as well as several others that were in rehearsal.

The new fight has been joined in a place few expected: Off Broadway, at
the Variety Arts on Third Avenue, which has no general contract with the
musicians' union and thus is not in breach of any deal. (That said, many
Off Broadway producers strike agreements with the union to ensure the
use of union musicians.) Only one of the show's three musicians is a
union member, but all three have been called in for meetings with union

Despite having less clout off Broadway than on — the union hasn't yet
even confirmed that it will picket "Sex" — Mr. Lennon says his group
plans to press the argument wherever the Sinfonia is used.

Both the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the New York Central Labor Council have also
pledged to support the union in its fight against the virtual orchestra,
he said.

"This is not a mystery here," Mr. Lennon said. "The virtual-orchestra
machine makers want to help it gain acceptance in the live performance
arena, and they weren't able to do it on Broadway, so they figured they
would try to do it off Broadway."

Ben Sprecher, the show's producer, and Mr. Weinstein say they are not
part of any plot and have no intention of eliminating any jobs, union or

"Sex" had three musicians when it played the 2002 New York International
Fringe Festival, they note, and it will have three musicians at the
Variety Arts, including one playing a virtual orchestra machine.

Mr. Sprecher said he mentioned that "Sex" planned to use the Sinfonia
only as a courtesy during initial conversations about working out a
union-approved deal. The union was not pleased. "It was as if I put a
four-day-old dead tuna in the room," Mr. Sprecher said.

Shortly after, Mr. Sprecher said, the union offered him a contract that
included a clause stating that the show could not use a virtual
orchestra machine, which the producer rejected.

Its creators say the Sinfonia, which was introduced about three years
ago, can access tens of thousands of digital samples of instruments and
recreate nuanced sounds, complete with tempo changes and articulations
of different instruments and instrument sections.

Jeff Lazarus, the chief executive of Realtime Music Solutions, the
Manhattan company that makes the Sinfonia, said the device simply
elaborated on what Broadway synthesizers had been doing for years.

"What we're trying to accomplish is something that is happening
already," Mr. Lazarus said from London, where he was preparing to
introduce a Sinfonia to a slimmed-down version of "Les Misérables," a
development that raised the ire of the British musicians' union.

"We're just doing it better," he said.

The Realtime Web site (www.rms.biz) lists several dozen productions —
including national tours of Broadway shows — that have used the

Realtime filed an unfair-labor-practices complaint with the National
Labor Relations Board in early March contending that Local 802 unfairly
prevented performing arts companies from using Realtime's product. The
union denies the accusation.

The complaint stemmed from a deal Local 802 reached with the Opera
Company of Brooklyn to ban the use of the virtual orchestra machine in
future productions.

The machine is costing the production $25,000 for the length of the run.
Mr. Sprecher said he had no intention of pulling the Sinfonia from "The
Joys of Sex," pickets or no pickets.

He had a giant sign made this week stating that the show was being
played by live musicians; he plans to post it in front of the Variety

Mr. Weinstein, himself a member of the Los Angeles local of the American
Federation of Musicians, said his decision to use the Sinfonia was an
artistic one.

He is particularly intrigued, he said, by the way the Sinfonia creates
sounds that might be difficult to make with acoustic and even current
electronic instruments.

"I'll start with the sound of a Rhodes piano, and I'll take it and play
with it," he said, referring to a popular variety of electric piano.
"I'll take that sample or that sound and start manipulating it to get it
where I think it does the same job as a Rhodes, but it gives you a
slightly altered feel. And that's the sound I wanted for the show."

Mr. Lennon does not think much of Mr. Weinstein's argument.

"Claiming to have composed for the virtual orchestra is about as valid
as claiming to have composed for a tape recorder," he said.

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