Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Continuing Cult of Glenn Gould, Deserved or Not

In the New York Times
November 24, 2007
The Continuing Cult of Glenn Gould, Deserved or Not

When Glenn Gould died unexpectedly in 1982, a victim of a stroke at the unseemly age of 50, his red-hot reputation had calmed to a simmer. Gould, a sufferer from extreme stage fright but a winner in the stock market, had quit performing in public 18 years earlier, using the proceeds of his financial ventures to soften the burdens of early retirement. Much of his time later was spent with television projects in his native Toronto, not all of which had to do with the piano.

In death, Gould came to life. Music business operatives appeared suddenly and in hordes, claiming hitherto unnoticed intimacy with the great man and eager to share their experiences in articles, interviews and books. It was amazing how many had known Gould so well, spent so many hours exchanging deep thoughts during marathon middle-of-the-night phone calls to area code 416.

Maybe they also belonged to the tens of thousands who were present at the infamous premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” or the opening night of “My Fair Lady.” The less privileged had to fall back on the newly spruced-up Gould recordings rushed into rerelease. Record companies that had not been paying much attention introduced great piles of discs into the marketplace, from big-ticket items of Bach and Beethoven down to the sweepings that Gould had left behind in the studio.

Brisk business was done over his body, and it hasn’t stopped yet. A cleaned-up version of his career-making 1955 recording of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations appeared this year and is now prominently on sale. Just recently I received a published photo album filled with childhood memorabilia. What’s next: the Glenn Gould coloring book?

It might sell. In a business hungry for the larger than life, this extraordinary pianist, space-cadet musicologist, fluent philosopher, prized eccentric and subtle self-promoter remains catnip of considerable potency.

No one before or since has had the dexterity to make such transparent child’s play of Bach’s severest contrapuntal puzzles. That he played these pieces at such blinding speeds was not necessarily because he should have; I think he just wanted us to know that he could. To his great credit, Gould’s playing never complicated the simple. It is easy to decorate naked melody, extraordinarily difficult to keep its simplicity intact.

To anyone who thinks that Gould was for a moment unaware of his public image, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. In the “serious” music usually associated with him — Bach, Beethoven and (a reluctant pursuit) Mozart — Gould was happy to visit outrage on received wisdom. Yet he played Grieg and Brahms with docile acceptance of tradition. Assiduous in keeping his admirers off balance, he had probably decided that Gould playing Grieg was outrage enough.

Tales of his personal oddities were a thriving spinoff industry. There was Gould bundled up for blizzard conditions in tropical summer heat — indeed, he was apparently once arrested in Florida as a park bench vagrant. His inhibitions about touching or being touched in later years limited human contact, which was conducted largely by telephone. When he did attend functions, it was usually with his custom-made folding chair held under the arm like a baby blanket. The chair was adjustable and placed his body chest-high to the keyboard.

A West Coast friend tells of picking up Gould at an airport with his concert tailcoat rolled up in a carry-on bag like an army blanket. He cooed like Perry Como at recording sessions, and studio engineers usually left his vocalizing in.

The Gould legacy is of great value if we put it in the right place. He is the most interesting Bach player in memory, but when taken as a model of how Bach should sound, he is a catastrophe. People who blow up buildings get our attention, and sometimes their messages clean out our heads, but we don’t let them be architects.

Many years ago, interviewing Ivo Pogorelich, an eccentric bomb thrower of another sort, I asked about his favorite pianists. Himself, of course, and maybe Horowitz. What about Glenn Gould? Very interesting, but he has no education. Typical Pogorelich grandiosity, I thought at the time, but it is a response I often revisit. I prefer to think that Gould knew more about accumulated Baroque tradition than his playing let on. But with the courage and immense ego of all cultural Bolsheviks, he seemed to have decided that a 300-year-old trail of gathered wisdom would end with him. Outer space awaited.

With Angela Hewitt’s recent presentation of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” at Zankel Hall still in the ears, I have been going back to the Gould recordings of these preludes and fugues on Sony Classical. At a number of moments, Bach is brilliantly served. Gould’s intelligent use of astonishing muscular control in the C sharp and E flat fugues of Book 1 gives separate personalities to two and three voices in simultaneous conversation, this on a modern piano constructed to make individual notes sound uniform rather than distinctive.

There are similar if occasional satisfactions. The rest is a series of assaults. They behave like satires, discreet lampoons of how everybody but Glenn Gould plays Bach. You hear a brilliant adolescent insulting his elders. The message of brashness is quietly put but no less potent.

Gould’s concepts can be horrifying — like ice water thrown in the face — but they are always fascinating. The famous C major Prelude of Book 1 makes a simple request for flowing arpeggios; Gould chops the phrases into half-legato, half-staccato. The C sharp Prelude and E minor Fugue from Book 1 are made ridiculously fast, and these are just two examples of show-off acceleration.

The E flat Prelude, again from Book 1, begs to flow over bar lines in long, melodic breaths; Gould turns to a machine-gun delivery of separated notes. Here, as in most of the preludes and fugues à la Gould, Bach’s meter shrinks to dainty little marches. Bar lines fence off phrases that want to sing but end up as maypole dances. This is not a matter of education; Gould played Brahms with as much far-reaching songfulness as any Romantic pianist. He just liked to be different.

Gould did not think much of the Mozart piano sonatas: another provocation, to be sure, but I agree that only a handful of Mozart’s piano sonatas enjoyed the composer’s full attention. Gould’s late Beethoven is filled with equally provoking weirdness. Oddly, he seems to have had little contact with Haydn, a fellow subversive. More oddly, he disliked Chopin, the godfather of all piano music. Had Chopin been less beloved, Gould might have liked him more.

Revolutionaries get our attention, and often for the better, but whom would you want running New York City, Mayor Bloomberg or Che Guevara? Clanking Pleyel harpsichord and all, Wanda Landowska is still my favorite Bach player. Ms. Hewitt is not bad either.

But keep the Gould recordings close by; they keep us stirred up. No matter how you do it, he said, I’ll do it differently. Gould blessed us all, even as he made us mad. He was the antagonized and antagonizing commentator, a shadow government for Bach style, his brilliant little bombshells handwritten in the margins of legitimate texts.

Hard to Be an Audiophile in an iPod World

New York Times
November 25, 2007
Hard to Be an Audiophile in an iPod World

IN the heyday of the stereophonic recording boom, during the 1960s and later, there were several magazines for serious classical music buffs with reviews of almost every new recording. But what truly defined these publications, like High Fidelity and Stereo Review, were critical reports on stereo equipment. The big advertising bucks came from the makers of hi-fi equipment, and well more than half the pages of such magazines were devoted to coverage of the latest stereo system products.

There were reviews of new speakers and amplifiers, reports on the latest developments in woofers and tweeters, jargon-filled analyses of new styluses, even feisty columns on the relative merits of locating one’s home stereo system in a room with carpet as opposed to hardwood floors.

Such articles were aimed at classical recording collectors for whom the holy grail of musical life was to have the best home sound system they could afford, a system that would bring the concert hall into their living rooms. Those fanatical consumers came to be known as audiophiles.

But over the last decade the ranks of true audiophiles have been thinning, in large part because of the growing popularity of MP3 players and iPods. These nifty devices enable you to store thousands of hours of your favorite music and take it with you as you bop through your day. You can listen while shopping, while jogging or even, depending on your job, while at work. No one, not even devoted users of MP3s or iPods, claims that the sound reproduction on these technological marvels is equal to that of the best home CD systems. After all, they work by eliminating some of the digitized sound bits to open up storage space for multiple compressed files of music, rendering the sound a little thinner. Still, for consumers, easy access has trumped high fidelity.

This is certainly the view of Mark Katz, an assistant professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of “Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music,” published by the University of California Press in 2004.

“An important shift in the rhetoric of recordings has occurred,” Mr. Katz said in a recent telephone interview. Historically “the stock rhetoric concerned fidelity.” Looking back through his research files, Mr. Katz found fascinating advertisements from as early as the 1890s touting the Berlin Grammophon. “It does not imitate,” a typical ad states. “It reproduces sound with lifelike purity and tone.” That mystique lasted a good hundred years, Mr. Katz said.

“But recorded sound as a re-creation of reality has almost been dropped,” he added, pointing out that ads today for MP3s and iPods seldom make claims for the beauty of the sound. Instead typical ads depict stylish people with iPods as accessories to clothing, clipped on jeans, belts and shirts. Music has become portable, wearable. The reproduced sound, if not rich and deep, is clear and lively. That’s good enough.

For decades the pursuit of high-quality sound on high-end sound systems drove the recording industry, especially its classical music branch. “Good enough had never been good enough,” Mr. Katz said. But now, he added, for listeners and even the industry, “good enough is good enough.”

Any discussion of recording technology has to note one intriguing quirk in the story: Few musicians have been audiophiles. More than the average music-

loving amateur, working musicians understand the big gap between recorded music and the real thing. They can listen through the inadequacies of any recording and focus on what they want to hear.

That has certainly been my experience. Since college days I have owned the 13-LP Angel Records set of Artur Schnabel’s 1930s recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas. By now these vinyl discs are well worn. My turntable (remember turntables?), though nearly 20 years old, still works fine. Listening to these LPs is hardly a luxurious sonic experience. Still, for me, the freshness, immediacy and probing insight of Schnabel’s performances cut right through the crackling surface noise and the slightly tinny tone.

In another twist to the story, though musicians tend not to be audiophiles, they do like their MP3s and iPods. The sound is acceptable, but convenience is the selling point. They typically spend lots of time listening to recordings for professional purposes. To get this listening accomplished while exercising on a treadmill or walking to a rehearsal is an efficient use of time.

Naturally, the contention that audiophiles are an endangered species is strongly contested by those in the sound reproduction industry. Go to Stereo Exchange on Broadway in the East Village, generally regarded as a dependable outlet for top-quality sound systems, and talk to Alan C, as he calls himself. He’s nicknamed the Audio Elf by audiophiles who have been turning to him for decades.

“The demand for the best audio equipment has never stopped,” he said when I spoke with him on a recent visit to the store. “Even the death of vinyl is simply not true.” He noted that turntables, with sales of five million a year in the United States, are making a comeback.

Maybe. But at Stereo Exchange I was struck by the rows of huge high-definition flat-screen televisions hooked up to inconspicuous CD and DVD players. The sight did not suggest that fanatical devotion to audio quality was driving sales. But Alan C insisted that HDTV has increased interest in home audio because people want “excellent sound with their TV.”

He demonstrated some of the latest items in sound-system equipment. He sells most of the familiar brands. Lately he has been very keen on amplifiers and CD players made by Cayin, a Chinese company, and on Totem Acoustic speakers, specifically the Rainmaker model, from Canada.

I listened to some of “Heroes and Villains,” the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s new aria recording on the Delos label, on the modestly priced system ($1,295) that Alan C had selected. It sounded very good, not clinical and souped-up like some systems I have heard. He showed me what happens when you add an extra woofer to the mix: It enhances the resonance of the bass. But in deference to the musician in me, I must say that I enjoyed this recording every bit as much during a recent flight, when I listened on my new noise-

filtering headphones and inexpensive portable CD player.

As for CDs themselves, when digital technology and compact disc recordings galvanized the classical music market in the mid-1980s (and innovations in the industry were historically driven by classical music audiophiles), they were touted as space-saving conveniences, much as MP3s are touted today. Still, the real selling point was the sound quality: free of surface noise and crackle, crystal clear, not subject to deterioration. But as CDs gained popularity, a backlash came from traditional audiophiles, who castigated the sampling of sound involved in the new technology.

Digital recording does indeed sample sound: little slices, called bits, are recorded at the stunning rate of 44,100 times per second. Defenders of the old analog technology used in stereo recordings said that the infinitesimal missing slices of music on CDs undermined the sound quality. Yes, the sound was clear and flawless, but it lacked warmth and richness, they said; it was cold in comparison with the best vinyl recordings played on top-quality stereo systems.

That debate has never been settled, though even holdouts for analog technology have to concede that the quality of digital recording has vastly improved over the years.

The MP3 samples sound as well, but at a significantly reduced rate. The technology is complicated, and I don’t pretend to understand it. The term MP3, as Mr. Katz explains in his book, was taken from Motion Picture Experts Group 1, Level 3, “a name that reveals little about its current use.” The technology was developed to make it possible to compress huge amounts of video and audio data into manageable files that could be zipped through e-mail messages around the world.

Engineers argue that a sound recording has large amounts of irrelevant data; a cymbal crash in a symphonic work, for example, will temporarily obscure the sound of other instruments. So why not remove some of the covered sounds, which could not be heard anyway, to compress the file into a transferable format?

Not until peer-to-peer, or P2P, networking was developed in the 1990s, championed by Napster, did the potential of file sharing and the applicability of the MP3 as a portable sound system for music become apparent. Mr. Katz invokes a charming metaphor to explain the concept of peer-to-peer transferring, as opposed to the traditional method of client-server downloading, in which information flows from a central source to individual users.

“If a public library is analogous to a client-server model,” he writes, “P2P is more like the arrangement my wife, her mother and her aunt have to circulate their collection of mystery novels among one another.”

In any event, these breakthroughs gave us the MP3 and, later, Apple’s iPod. But neither manufacturers nor ardent users of these devices made exaggerated claims for the high quality of their sound. Convenience was the appeal, and the sound was, well, good enough.

One thing is certain: The users who are delighted by these handy new devices are not audiophiles in the old sense. Mr. Katz acknowledges that he is no audiophile. His stereo system is hardly fancy; the headphones he bought in 1988 still serve him well.

On the other hand, he explained, he could not imagine teaching without an MP3. This semester he is offering an introductory course in rock and a seminar titled “The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop D.J.” It would be impossible to assemble all the CDs he would need for those classes. But with his MP3 and his laptop, he has every recording he needs right at his fingertips. If a student asks about the Rolling Stones, he can immediately call up any of 60 songs. And students never complain about sound quality.

Meanwhile, in the November issue of the British magazine Gramophone, a widely read journal devoted to reviews of classical recordings and DVDs, only a few back pages out of 138 are given to short reports on sound equipment. One article, “Choosing Desktop Speakers,” offers advice on how to “dock your iPod on a speaker system.”

The target consumers are not audiophiles.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reminiscing on the SP-1200, the machine that defined New York hip-hop

Village Voice
The Dirty Heartbeat of the Golden Age
Reminiscing on the SP-1200, the machine that defined New York hip-hop
by Ben Detrick
November 13th, 2007 4:44 PM

In the summer of 1987, E-mu Systems released the SP-1200, a drum machine and sampler designed for dance-music producers. An update of a previous model known as the SP-12, the souped-up edition allowed for the recording and manipulation of a 10.07-second sample with gritty 12-bit sound quality—now you could craft a complete instrumental on one portable machine.

Just as the Stradivarius or the Fender Stratocaster were standard-bearers by which other instruments were judged, the SP-1200 quickly became the tool of choice for East Coast beat-makers during rap's so-called "Golden Age," a period during the late '80s and early '90s, when sampling laws were still being meted out in courtrooms. Such artists as Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Gang Starr, Main Source, and the Notorious B.I.G. created classic joints over beats concocted on the SP-1200. The machine rose to such prominence that its strengths and weaknesses sculpted an entire era of music: The crunchy digitized drums, choppy segmented samples, and murky filtered basslines that characterize the vintage New York sound are all mechanisms of the machine.

Long ago toppled by more powerful equipment and computer-based production programs, the sampler continues to inspire enough cultish devotion that any prospective knob-twister still must shell out around $1,000 to go retro. We spoke with several of hip-hop's must celebrated veteran producers about their experiences with the SP-1200 over the last 20 years.

The Cast

Hank Shocklee Part of the Bomb Squad and producer for Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and Slick Rick.

Lord Finesse Producer for the Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, and Big L.

Pete Rock Recording artist with CL Smooth and producer for Heavy D, Nas, Das EFX, and House of Pain.

Ski Producer for Jay-Z, Camp Lo, and Sporty Thievz.
The Learning Curve

Pete Rock When I first got the SP-1200—I think that was back in '87—I was going to sessions with my cousin Heavy D, and he was working with Marley Marl. I would just be looking around and looking at the stuff they had and looking at what he was doing. Eddie F had the drum machine, and he showed me how to work it. I basically studied the manual—read it beginning to end and learned it like that. I used it all day, every day. I never came outside—just woke up happy to have a piece of machinery that made music. I didn't give a damn about anything else once I got that drum machine.

Ski The strength of the SP was definitely the way the 12-bit sounded when you threw the sample or the snare or the kick in there—it just sounded so dirty. It was a definite, definite fucking plus with the machine. The limited sampling time made you become more creative. That's how a lot of producers learned how to chop the samples: We didn't have no time, so we had to figure out ways to stretch the sounds and make it all mesh together. We basically made musical collages just by chopping little bits and notes.

Hank Shocklee There's little tricks that were developed on it. For example, you got 12 seconds [10.07, according to the manufacturer] of sample time to divide amongst eight pads. So depending on how much you use on each pad, you decrease the amount of sample time that you have. You take a 33 1/3 record and play it on 45, and you cheat the system. [Another] aspect that we created is out of a mistake—one day I was playing "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" and it came out real muffled. I couldn't hear any of the high-end part of it. I found out that if you put the phono or quarter-inch jack halfway in, it filters the high frequency. Now I just got the bass part of the sample. I was like, "Oh, shit, this is the craziest thing on the planet!"
The Machine and the Masters

Lord Finesse They had me as a special guest on Stretch and Bobbito, one of the popular radio shows of the '90s. I thought it would be slick if I brought my 1200 down. A lot of producers did total beats with their 1200, and I think I did two or three, and one specifically was when I chopped up Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." I chopped all around his voice using the 1200 and put an instrumental in the back. I played it over the air, and me and KRS-One freestyled over it. It was real slick.

Ski People said they never saw anyone work the SP as fast as me and Large Professor— not that it means anything. It's crazy. I can't explain it—it's like the shit is programmed in my brain. I worked with Jay-Z and did all of Reasonable Doubt on the SP-1200. For "Dead Presidents," everything was made on the SP, man: the whole sequence, the drum sounds, the Nas sample. The only thing that wasn't done on the SP was the sample, [but] I ran it through it to give it that sound.

Pete Rock Everything that you ever heard from me back in the day was the SP-1200. That machine made "Reminisce" ["They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)"], "Straighten It Out," "Shut 'Em Down," "Jump Around." When I made "Reminisce"—I had friend of mine that passed away, and it was a shock to the community. I was kind of depressed when I made it. And to this day, I can't believe I made it through, the way I was feeling. I guess it was for my boy. When I found the record by Tom Scott, basically I just heard something incredible that touched me and made me cry. It had such a beautiful bassline, and I started with that first. I found some other sounds and then heard some sax in there and used that. Next thing you know, I have a beautiful beat made. When I mixed the song down, I had Charlie Brown from Leaders of the New School in the session with me, and we all just started crying.
An End of an Era

Pete Rock I used the MPC [a technologically superior sampler line first introduced in 1988] on Soul Survivor II. That was kind of the beginning of using it. I thought it had a thinner sound than the SP, but it had way more sample time—like three minutes. So, can't beat that. I got hundreds of beats on the SP-1200, but I like the MPC. I'm really starting to get in the midst of it now.

Hank Shocklee They've mastered the computer to the point it does things the SP-1200 can't do. [But] we would have better records today if people said, "Look, you've got five hours to make a record." The problem is that people got all day. They got all week. They got all month. They got all year. So thus, you in there second-guessing yourself. With the 1200, you can't second-guess yourself, man. You got 2.5 seconds a pad, man. . . . Till this day, nobody has understood and created a machine that can best it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Zimbabwe, dissent wears the mask of theater

In Zimbabwe, dissent wears the mask of theater

In Zimbabwe, dissent wears the mask of theater
A rich culture of protest theater flourishes in the country, despite the constant risk of censorship or arrest from President Mugabe's regime.
By Robyn Dixon
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

9:08 PM PST, November 18, 2007

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — The stage was a small room in the Harare Central Police Station. The audience, about 20 bored policemen and plainclothes intelligence officers.

The two actors were shaking, not with stage fright but the real thing. Anthony Tongani stammered and forgot his lines. Silvanos Mudzvova was so afraid that he didn't dare make a mistake.

They stumbled to the end. Then they were ordered to start again.

And again.

They performed their political satire, "The Final Push," 12 times in two days at the station, while police and officers from the feared Central Intelligence Organization argued over what charges to press against the actors and fired questions about who had funded the show.

"The first time, the officer in charge was not there. When he came, he demanded his own performance. Then the superintendent came, and he demanded his own performance," Mudzvova said. "It got worse when the CIO came in. One of them was actually sleeping during the performance. Then he'd wake up and say, 'Are you through?' "

A rich culture of protest theater has sprung up in Zimbabwe, but artists are under increasing pressure from President Robert Mugabe's security forces as he crushes dissent. In recent years, most independent newspapers have been shut down, opposition parties have been infiltrated by CIO spies, and activists have been arrested, beaten and sometimes killed. The 2002 Public Order and Security Act bans political meetings of more than two people without police permission, outlaws statements that incite "public disorder" and makes it an offense to insult the president.

Mudzvova and Tongani were arrested at the premiere of "The Final Push" in late September. Tongani was arrested before he could take his final bow, and Mudzvova immediately after taking his.

The play, written by Mudzvova, is about the chairman of a building called Liberty House (a thinly disguised Mugabe) and his political challenger (presumed to be opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai) trapped together in an elevator during a power failure. At one point, the two duke it out in a boxing match.

In Zimbabwe's repressive climate, artists and actors find creative ways to protest. People crowd into clubs to drink beer and laugh at stand-up comedy poking fun at Zimbabwe's problems. They turn out for the opening nights of political plays, even though police often raid theaters and close productions before the first lines are spoken.

Zimbabwe's underground arts culture is thriving, taking hard-hitting political messages to the masses in the crowded black townships, the engines of their cars running in case they need to make a quick escape from the authorities. Filmmakers recently secretly shot an underground movie based on a banned political play in Harare, the capital.

The two nights Mudzvova and Tongani spent in custody had elements of the kind of surreal political play in which they might perform. Police laughed in all the right places, especially when the chairman gets knocked out by his opponent. But the CIO men were outraged.

"The CIO guys tried to convince the police that we were actually talking about the president being knocked down," Mudzvova recounted in an interview the day after his release. "But the police did not see it in that way. To them it was just a simple, straightforward story.

"The police did not know what to do with us. But the CIO kept insisting that we be charged. The question was, with what?"

In the end, Mudzvova and Tongani were charged with inciting the masses to revolt, a statute that carries a 20-year penalty. Twice, police modified the charges, first to criminal nuisance, and then breach of the censorship laws.

Mudzvova says that with media freedom hobbled, it is up to artists to take a message of protest to Zimbabweans.

"Artists, like everybody else, fear for their lives. But the moment you have that fear, you won't get anywhere. People are saying, 'If you guys have that fear, where are we going to get the correct information from?' "

The night after their release, the two men were back onstage in the small circular Theatre in the Park, modeled on an African hut, in Harare. But they modified the script to satisfy the CIO: The knockout in the boxing scene was gone. A day later, after debate with colleagues and actors, they restored the scene, without drawing further visits from the police.

An unlikely career

Bulawayo-based satirist Cont Mhlanga grew up in a village with no theatrical tradition. His father expected him to be a farmer. Mhlanga didn't intend to become an actor, because he didn't even know what it was.

Even today in Zimbabwe, the idea of a career in the theater is unthinkable for most people. It is seen as a last resort for beggars and failures, people incapable of producing something real to eat or sell.

He was introduced to theater by accident when a group wanted to hold a drama workshop in the hall where Mhlanga practiced karate. "I said, 'What is theater?' " But he joined in, got hooked and has been writing political satire since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980.

Stepping into Mhlanga's cluttered Bulawayo office is like visiting the inside of an inspired but chaotic mind, crammed with yard-high stacks of books, yellowing newspapers and scripts, drafts of his latest protest letter to the government, and pieces of old broken, unidentifiable equipment, with a sleek laptop basking happily in the middle of it all.

Wiry, with piercing eyes, he speaks in a tumble of words. He does not look old but declines to give his age, shrugging scornfully at the question.

"Everyone around here calls me Grandfather," he says dryly.

His plays are so bluntly political that he and his actors frequently get into trouble.

In May, the officer-in-charge at Bulawayo Central Police Station went through Mhlanga's play about AIDS, "Everyday Soldier," deleting lines with a red pen, offended because one character disappears as part of the plot.

"He said, 'You can't have this because you are implying that people disappear in Zimbabwe.' I said, 'I'm not going to remove the lines. It will play as it is.' He said, 'It will not play as it is. I'll close it down.' "

He did prevent public presentation of the play but Mhlanga found a way around it: "We started to run the play for closed audiences. We just make sure there are no police in the audience."

Mhlanga's latest play, "The Good President," inspired by beatings and arrests of opposition members in March, was shut down on opening night in June, and riot police surrounded the theater for a week to prevent the actors from staging the play.

To evade arrest or censorship, artists run underground projects. Mhlanga invented what he calls Invisible Theater in bars, trains and the commuter minibuses called taxis.

In Invisible Theater, several actors plant themselves in a group and improvise a conversation.

"People don't know they're actors. The dialogue might be: 'This government is terrible. Look at those kids in the street. They should be in school but they're carrying water.' Then another actor will say, 'Don't start with that. You'll get us all beaten. There are CIO guys everywhere.' Then a third actor will say, 'The way we're living in this country is more than a beating.'

"Then other people will join in," he said, referring to the unsuspecting people around them. "The actors will keep directing the conversation, and the moment they think they've made a point, they will get off the taxi and get onto another one.

"The thing we are challenging is fear, because we know that people are afraid of discussing these things in public."

'Hit-and-run' shows

In Harare, a theater organization named Savanna Trust does "hit-and-run" street performances in volatile areas such as Mashonaland West, where actors risk arrest by police or violence from ruling party thugs.

They're designed to reach people in poor, crowded neighborhoods who otherwise would never see theater. The performance must be quick, sharp and funny, and the actors ready for a quick getaway.

"When you do hit-and-run theater, you beat drums and the people gather. You have a car there with the motor running," Mudzvova said. "Your heart is beating very fast. You are full of fear that you are going to be arrested at any minute. You know the exact message that you want to give. You make sure the people get the message in the shortest time. As soon as you see that people are getting the message, you disappear.

"Afterwards the actors go, 'Phew! That was extreme!'

"We escaped by a whisker in Bindura," he said, referring to a stronghold of the ruling party. "We only escaped because the car we had was far more powerful than the car the police had."

Mudzvova is not the only one producing controversial material. The low-budget underground film "Super Patriots and Morons," produced by British-trained Zimbabwean actor Daves Guzha, was filmed secretly over nine days in Harare. It includes real scenes of Harare street life, bread queues and crushing poverty.

Filming without permission is banned in Zimbabwe, and the filmmakers, questioned by police while they were working, were lucky to escape arrest.

The film's portrait of an isolated, paranoid president haunted by dreams of a bloody hangman's rope is unlikely to hit cinema screens in Zimbabwe. The best its makers can hope for is mass production of DVDs that could be distributed free. But there is no money for that, so the film's future is unclear.

The director, Tawanda Gunda Mumpengo, is critical of what he sees as self-censorship by artists terrified of arrest and violence.

"It's up to us as citizens of this country to demand our freedoms if we feel they are being curtailed and to assert ourselves," he said, "because no one will do it for us."

In his jumbled office, Mhlanga gestured at the mountains of papers around him, the fruit of 27 years of labor. "No one will shut me up," he said. "There's only one option to shut me up and that's to kill me. But they can't kill what I stand for."

Rock Study: Teaching Rock

Washinton Post

Rock Study
Schools Draw Crowds of Students by Setting Music Lessons to a Modern Beat

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2007; D01

In a rundown walk-up in Silver Spring, class begins to rock.

On a recent Tuesday night, about 15 teenagers are taking turns approximating a pretty good Rush cover band at Paul Green's School of Rock, one of a number of rock 'n' roll schools popping up around the region and the nation.

There are at least three rock schools in the Washington area. The nascent sector got a boost with the 2003 film "School of Rock," in which a failed rock musician, played by real-life rocker Jack Black, impersonates a school teacher at an elite prep school and teaches a gang of middle-schoolers the only thing he knows: how to rawwwk.

Now, in real life, classically trained musicians, working session guys and aging rockers are discovering that there is an emerging business to be made in teaching kids the music of Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and Kiss, instead of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.

At the Silver Spring School of Rock, a charmingly disheveled space across from the AFI Silver Theatre, a teenage drummer, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and vocalist are playing on a makeshift stage under fluorescent black light, rocking a muscular version of "Tom Sawyer," the 1981 anthem by Canadian math-rock trio Rush.

The song, like many in the Rush catalogue, is among the harder songs a rock band can attempt. There is no three-chord simplicity here. "Tom Sawyer" showcases Neil Peart's uncanny polyrhythmic percussion.

Drummer Andrew Cohn, 17, is giving it his all on Peart's lightning-fast riffs but, halfway through the song, School of Rock music director Steve Kilgallon stops the music and addresses Cohn.

"Your one hand is, you know," he admonishes, without having to finish the sentence.

"Uh huh," nods Cohn, folding his sticks.

"You gotta go with the flow and give up on the sixteenths," Kilgallon says, referring to the quick-note drum fills, which Cohn is slurring.

"Right," Cohn says.

"So, I'm going to be annoying cowbell guy," Kilgallon says, referencing an old "Saturday Night Live" skit. Kilgallon, 31, still a working drummer, mounts the stage, directs Cohn to restart the song and bangs a cowbell to mark the beat of the tune -- much like a classical music teacher would use a metronome to rein in a piano student rushing through a sonata.

Classical music lessons are a staple of youth and have been for generations. But over the past few years, the fuzzbox has joined the metronome as a must-have of music education.

Paul Green, the school's namesake, was on his way to law school in 1998, when he got the idea to teach kids rock. Now, at 34, Green runs the nation's largest chain of rock schools, with 34 sites and more than 3,500 students, he said. He opened his first school in 2000 and is rapidly expanding via franchising. He envisions 100 schools by 2009.

Green played guitar in garage bands as a youth. He said he had no idea even how to go about making it big as a rock star. He said if he had attended a school of rock, "I probably still wouldn't have made it, but at least I would have known how to try to make it."

Lessons at his school range from $200 to $300 per month, which includes four hours of instruction per week. The students are expected to perform between six and 20 concerts per year. His top students play in all-star bands that tour with professional rock bands; this year's all-stars toured with Jon Anderson, former lead singer of Yes, prog-rock superstars of the '70s and '80s.

Paul Green's School of Rock is a privately held company supported by individual and institutional investors, Green said, and many of his franchisees are parents of students. The company is attempting to expand quickly and hoping the established schools support the new ones.

For example, the school in New York grosses about $700,000 per year, he said, enough to support the two new Washington area schools, in Silver Spring and Vienna.

Also in Vienna is All Things Rock, a school started in 2005 by Bard-trained musician Barclay Saul with a $12,000 loan he got from his mom. Two years later, he has more than 200 students and nine teachers, most of whom are part time, all of whom went to music school. A one-hour-per-week lesson (weekend jams included) costs $300 a month. Barclay said his school became profitable months after it opened.

Where Green's Schools of Rock also teach stagecraft -- how to look like a rock star -- Saul's focus more on musicianship. All of Saul's students must learn how to read and compose music. Both Saul and Green say their schools complement, rather than suck students away from, classical lessons. Green said about half of his piano students take classical lessons.

Saul's teachers are working musicians. Two are in a band called Honor by August, which recently opened for Bon Jovi.

"The vibe here is not to have some balding dudes tell kids, 'I remember when I used to play,' " said Saul, 31. "The vibe here is to have people who play and gig teach the kids."

David C. Levy, former head of New York's New School and Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art and a lifelong jazz musician, met Jeffrey Levin and his East Coast Music Production camp a couple of years ago. Levy was attracted to Levin's experimental instruction methods with young kids -- teach them simplified music they could master fairly quickly, hopefully encouraging them to keep learning music.

Levy left the Corcoran in 2005 after 14 years and a bitter tussle with the gallery's directors over its direction. He was looking for a new challenge. He and Levin formed a partnership in early 2006 and began raising money from investors for a full-blown rock school.

Now, after nearly two years and after amassing about $1 million in capital, they have 400 students in their Bach to Rock schools in Bethesda and Gaithersburg, with two in Virginia planned. The business is profitable, Levy said, and the newer Gaithersburg branch is about two months away from profitability on its own, he said. He opens the schools in places "where parents want to be," he says, such as Gaithersburg's Rio Center, with its stores and movie theaters.

Teaching kids rock in addition to classical music appealed to Levy because he wanted to turn traditional music lessons -- a solitary exercise often rued by children -- into a relevant, team-oriented enterprise, like playing in a band.

"You need to choose music that has some meaning to the kids," Levy said. "If this were the 18th century and Mozart lived next door, you'd play Mozart."

Back at the Silver Spring School of Rock, after the Rush set, Cohn says that Gilgallon's drumming advice was correct. "He knows when songs are not ready to be done," Cohn says.

Up walks Dan "Big Dan" Geraghty, who, at 13, is maybe -- maybe -- a head taller than his Jackson Randy Rhoads RR3 model guitar. Gilgallon informs Big Dan that he will play on the school's float in a holiday parade. Big Dan is cool with that. Why does he like the School of Rock?

"You play some songs, you go to Jerry's, you get some grub," he says, nonchalantly. "It's tight."

Teaching Public Schools to Rock

David Wish on Huffington Post.


"I became a public school teacher because I felt the best hope for our future had to be our children. It seemed to me that a lot of the grown-ups of the world seem to have gotten, well, let's just say "distracted." On my first day as a teacher, I went to my principal's office to ask when my class would have their music periods. She just gave me a blank stare and told me that we didn't have a music teacher and that anyone who wanted to introduce music to their class would have to develop the curriculum and teach it themselves. I was shocked but, being an avid guitarist myself, I took it on as a personal challenge. The twenty second-graders in my class were going to learn to play the guitar.

I started with nothing but index cards. I asked my students to write down all their favorite songs on one side of their card and all their favorite artists on the other. When I had collected the cards, I had my curriculum and repertoire for the year. Now all I needed was twenty guitars. I called up some of my musician friends (especially ones that owed me favors) to see if they had old beat-up six-strings that they could donate to the cause. Within a few weeks I had assembled a ragtag fleet of instruments and I began to offer a guitar class once a week after-school.

The music classes I had grown up with took a very dry and didactic approach. Since there was no formal music program, I had the freedom to create something from I scratched most of what I had seen of more traditional music programs almost immediately. The first thing that went was the cannon. We didn't learn "Mary Had A Little Lamb" or "Three Blind Mice." We learned top 40 hits that the kids knew and loved. The kids went bananas over that! The next thing I eliminated was the use of music notation. I simply taught the kids to play by ear, a less-intimidating path and one that eliminated a first obstacle to playing. Finally, I added two elements rarely seen in music classes for kids: improvisation and composition. That's when things started getting really interesting."


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

For Clues on Teenage Sex, Experts Look to Hip-Hop

New York Times
November 6, 2007
For Clues on Teenage Sex, Experts Look to Hip-Hop

Hip-hop, with its suggestive lyrics, videos and dance moves, has long been criticized by public health experts and parents, who fear that it leads to risky sexual behavior among teenagers.

But it has never been clear whether there is something uniquely insidious about hip-hop or whether the problem is simply that most people over 40 just don’t understand it. After all, nearly every generation seems troubled by the musical preferences of the next; remember, Elvis’s gyrating hips were once viewed as a corrupting influence on the nation’s youth. To solve that riddle, public health researchers are deconstructing hip-hop culture, venturing onto club dance floors and dissecting rap lyrics. The hope is that by understanding hip-hop, experts can design more effective health messages — and maybe even give parents insight into the often confounding music embraced by their children.

“There’s definitely a popular opinion that hip-hop is music that is bad for you and makes people do crazy things,” said Miguel A. Muñoz-Laboy, an assistant professor in the department of sociomedical sciences at Columbia. “We need to try to see how youth understand their own culture without imposing our own adult judgments.”

Dr. Muñoz-Laboy spent three years studying the hip-hop club scene, talking to dozens of teenagers and watching them dance. While hip-hop music has been widely assailed as misogynistic, the researchers found that young women were the “gatekeepers” of boundaries on the dance floor, according to research published this month in the journal Culture, Health and Sexuality. Even during the highly sexualized form of dance known as grinding, in which bodies rub against each other, the girls in the study “were consistently vigilant about maintaining control over their bodies and space,” the study noted.

Most of the teenagers in the study were sexually experienced. But the researchers found that the overt sexuality of the music and dancing was not the main influence on sexual behavior. Rather it was the old standbys of alcohol, drugs and peer pressure that typically led them into sexual encounters.

The lesson for public health workers is that hip-hop is not just music but a support system and social structure that dominates youth culture, Dr. Muñoz-Laboy said. The language of hip-hop also may in fact be a more effective way to communicate with teenagers. One H.I.V. prevention ad that resonated with women, for instance, mirrored the sexualized lyrics of hip-hop, telling girls, “Don’t take it laying down.”

Questions remain about whether hip-hop’s explicit lyrics encourage early sex. Last year, the journal Pediatrics published research from the RAND Corporation concluding that degrading lyrics, not sexual lyrics, were the problem.

The researchers interviewed more than 1,400 teenagers over two years, asking them about the music they listened to along with factors like peer pressure and parental supervision. They found that adolescents who were exposed to the highest levels of sexually degrading lyrics were twice as likely to have had sex by the end of the study.

The researchers defined degrading lyrics as those that portrayed women as sexual objects, men as insatiable and sex as inconsequential. One example they cited was from the rapper Ja Rule, whose song “Livin’ It Up” includes the lyrics “Half the ho’s hate me, half them love me.” Notably, lyrics that celebrated sex, like those crooned by the band 98 Degrees — “I’m dreamin’ day and night of making love” — had no effect on sexual behavior, the study found.

It may be that teenagers who are most interested in initiating sexual activity simply gravitate toward songs with edgier lyrics. But the research suggests that parents should focus less on whether their children listen to hip-hop and pay more attention to the content. “We need to teach teens that these portrayals of women and sex don’t represent reality,” said Steven C. Martino, a behavioral scientist at RAND.

This year, another paper in Culture, Health and Sexuality titled “Representin’ in Cyberspace” studied the way black American girls used hip-hop terms like “freaks” and “pimpettes” to describe themselves on personal home pages. The research led the author, Carla E. Stokes, to form HotGirls (Helping Our Teen Girls in Real Life Situations), an Atlanta-based nonprofit group that holds workshops where girls talk about music, rewrite objectionable lyrics and even record their own music. “We’re trying to build on the empowering aspects of the hip-hop culture,” Dr. Stokes said.

In fact, many experts believe the keys to communicating with an entire generation of young people can be found in hip-hop. “That’s far more powerful than any negative influence the music may be having,” said Bakari Kitwana, an artist in residence at the University of Chicago whose book “The Hip-Hop Generation” is viewed as the leading scholarly work on the culture.

“Hip-hop is a generational phenomenon that has united young people,” Mr. Kitwana added. “If that’s not understood, you’re going to miss a lot.”

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Igor Moiseyev, 101; Russian choreographer elevated folk dancing into a theatrical art

Igor Moiseyev, 101; Russian choreographer elevated folk dancing into a theatrical art
By Lewis Segal
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

November 3, 2007

Igor Moiseyev, the ballet-trained dancer and choreographer whose pioneering vision of theatricalized folk dance not only created an acclaimed Russian company but influenced artists and audiences around the world, has died. He was 101.

A proud, ambitious man who once said the aim in his work was "to give the public a spiritual portrait of a people," Moiseyev died Friday in a Moscow hospital. He had been in poor health in recent years and was rarely seen in public. Looking frail, he did appear at a Moscow performance celebrating his centennial last year. For the last three days, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported, he had been unconscious.

Moiseyev virtually invented folk dancing as a professional stage spectacle, insisting that he had both a right and a duty to change a participatory endeavor to a serious choreographic idiom worthy of standing beside classical ballet and modern dance.

"Folklore in the strictest sense is confining," he told Times music and dance critic Martin Bernheimer in 1970. "I never was interested in that. I merely take the folk dance and its related customs as a point of departure for fanciful interpretation.

"My dancers are classically trained at our own school," he said. "The choreography I give them would defeat the amateurs they are called upon to impersonate."

The Moiseyev company's success led to copycat ventures in Russia and abroad, troupes that filtered national idioms through the prism of ballet, modern dance or contemporary show-dancing, emerging with impressions of folk culture more than actual transcriptions or adaptations.

Few of them, however, matched Moiseyev's "Partisans," in which a smattering of folklore and an abundance of choreographic imagination produced a stirring tribute to the guerrilla fighters who defended his homeland during World War II.

But the same formula could also generate blatant kitsch, such as his "Yurochka," in which an indecisive womanizer wooed six finger-in-the-cheek village maids, or his "Night on Bald Mountain," which descended to coarse comic mime and then sank even further to pseudo-demonic dance-charades of no choreographic distinction.

Like many of his imitators, Moiseyev may have brought a new audience to folklore by harnessing it to existing theatrical dance traditions. But some of those traditions were artistically bankrupt long before he adopted them, and they gained no credibility from their new context.

Igor Aleksandrovich Moiseyev was born on Jan. 21, 1906, in Kiev, the capital of what is now Ukraine, to a lawyer father and a mother of French origins.

He lived in Paris from ages 4 to 6, then moved back to Russia, where he saw his first ballet at age 13 in Moscow. Either that year or the year before, he started ballet studies, first privately, then at the Bolshoi Ballet School, where he became a pupil of ballet reformer Alexander Gorsky. He also studied at the Moscow School of Choreography.

He graduated from the Bolshoi school in 1924, joined the company and danced leading roles in ballets such as "Joseph the Beautiful" (1925) and his own first major work, "Salammbo" (1932), to music by Andrei Arends that had previously been choreographed by Gorsky. He also formed a partnership with leading Bolshoi ballerina Ekaterina Geltser.

His choreographic association with the Bolshoi continued long after he left the company in 1939, most notably with a 1958 version of "Spartacus" to music by Aram Khachaturian (not the choreography the Bolshoi currently performs). But he felt restricted by that company's aesthetic throughout his career there. "I left without regret," he told Bernheimer. "The Bolshoi is very beautiful, but I have managed to survive quite adequately without 'Swan Lake.' "

In 1936, Moiseyev was asked to head the choreographic department of a new Theater of Folk Art in Moscow, and he soon helped organize a nationwide folk dance festival. At a program of works from all parts of the country, he formed the plan of creating a professional company dedicated to folk dancing, edited and adapted for the stage.

In 1937, the State Folk Dance Ensemble -- soon also known as the Moiseyev Dance Company -- was founded with the participation of 35 dancers, most of them amateurs. Moiseyev had to train them and also re-choreograph the Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Byelorussian, Armenian, Kazakh, Azerbaijani and Moldavian folk dances that were seen for the first time in Moscow's Hall of Columns. Other regional specialties were soon added.

At the time, his creative objectives included "perfecting" traditional ethnic dances using the aesthetic principles and technical disciplines he had gained from classical ballet.

His success in achieving this goal proved not only a major reason for the growing popularity of his company with audiences unfamiliar with his source-idioms but also, much later, for controversy over the extent to which he had adulterated them. "We are not a folklore collective," he always insisted. "We are a creative collective."

By 1941, the company had 70 professional dancers trained under Moiseyev's supervision at either the Bolshoi Theatre School or its National Dance Department. It continued to expand and began to tour internationally after World War II ended -- the first major Russian company to do so -- visiting England and France in 1955 and making its American debut three years later.

One of the chilliest junctures in the Cold War found Moiseyev playing goodwill ambassador, wooing the U.S. public in 1958 with his company's energy and professionalism but also with prime Americana -- the Virginia Reel -- danced as a finale year after year. "No folk ever danced like this," New York Times dance critic John Martin wrote admiringly after the company's debut, and he was right in more ways than one.

In 1966, Moiseyev founded a smaller company, the Concert Dance Ensemble, to develop talented young artists. Along the way, he picked up the Lenin Prize, the Stalin Prize and the State Prize and was officially named People's Artist of the USSR (1953) and Hero of Socialist Labor (1976).

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought him greater creative freedom but also new financial realities. "The government supports the company, pays monthly salaries and pays for our studios," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2002. "But it isn't enough to cover all our expenses." Another important upside: "Now we can decide what to do with the money we can earn from our performances."

More than once, Moiseyev attributed his longevity to staying busy and productive. "Follow a healthy routine with uninterrupted creative work," he advised in the same 2002 interview. "The most important thing in life is to do what you love."

Survivors include his second wife, Irina Alekseevna Chagadaeva. A funeral is planned for Wednesday in Moscow.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

What Do Album Sales Measure?

From State of Mind of the Art blog:

"Free downloads from major artists are simply a proving ground that in the post major label era of music, people will still buy music they support. The only difference between downloading an album for free on an artist site or off Bit Torrent is the amount of effort one has to put in (i.e. clicking a link instead of typing a name into a search prompt).

Although accurate sales totals for In Rainbows won’t be available till the end of the year, it’s clear people are willing to pay for music when they are not forced to. Now that big time acts are involved in the independent music world, there’s no denying that people buy music they love, even if it’s free. The only thing that has changed with In Rainbows is the kind of market analysis we are seeing in major media publications. Major labels can’t whitewash entertainment news about the reality of the business anymore.

When people have access to the music they want for free, and without being treated like criminals, supporting the artist is a natural action to take. it’s when we are treated like criminals, or asked to pay large sums of money for long dead artists, that the public begins to resent buying music.

The Bottom Line: Album sales no longer measure marketing ability or brand placement, they measure people’s love of the music."

Is iTunes U for You?

Washington Post
Is iTunes U for You?
Now that Apple has amassed courses via podcasts from schools around the country, the offerings are uneven. But you can't beat the price.

By Jeffrey Selingo
Sunday, November 4, 2007; W22

In an empty classroom on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Walter H.G Lewin, a physics professor, is practicing one of his lectures on the science of everyday phenomena.

Lewin has been teaching at MIT since the 1960s, and his courses are legendary among generations of students there. But he wants to get this lecture -- where he dives into the science of rainbows, musical instruments and pacemakers -- exactly right. The audience is not just his students at MIT. It could be anyone around the world with access to a computer and Apple's iTunes store.

MIT is one of 28 colleges that have posted courses, campus speeches and other events on a section of iTunes known as iTunes U. Since the site was launched last spring with 16 institutions, material from it has been downloaded more than 4 million times.

Unlike other offerings from Apple's music store, where songs cost 99 cents, everything on iTunes U is free. Penn State University offers instruction on information management. Users can download a general chemistry class from Seattle Pacific University, a lecture on the psychosocial aspects of health care from Northeastern University or a class on Ben Franklin from Stanford University. (No universities in the Washington area participate.)

"The content can be downloaded to an iPod and listened to on the go," says Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of iTunes, "making learning from a lecture just as simple as enjoying music."

What is not yet clear is whether Apple will end up transforming online education as it did the music industry, with the introduction of iTunes in 2001. Right now, iTunes U is something of a novelty. The subject matter and quality of courses offered vary widely. Only a few classes are like Lewin's, where the instructor even seems conscious of the fact that some people might be following the lecture on a tiny iPod screen. The video content from some classes is nothing more than a static slide that shows the name of the course while the professor drones on.

"I'm baffled at what universities get out of this," says A. Frank Mayadas, president of the Sloan Consortium, which promotes standards for online learning.

ONE THING THEY SURELY DON'T GET IS TUITION DOLLARS. Apple doesn't pay anything for the content. Users don't get credit for the courses they watch. And professors don't get paid extra for courses on iTunes U. Administrators and professors alike view the idea of giving away courses that traditional students pay thousands of dollars a year for both as a free promotional tool and as a public service.

"Very few people have the ability to get a degree from MIT as students," says Lewin, "so why not open the world to our best courses?"

Lewin's classes are often among the top downloaded courses on iTunes U. His newfound popularity is exhibited by the dozen or so

e-mails he receives each week from people around the world.

"There are students who are using my courses to prepare for exams," says Lewin. "There are people who are retired taking the courses. There are professors in developing countries using the courses as models for their own."

Before his lectures are recorded in front of his actual class, Lewin performs three dry runs: one 10 days before, another five days before and the last the morning of the lecture. The first dry run, he says, almost always takes more time than the 50 minutes available for class. So, he restructures the lecture. "That can be quite time-consuming," Lewin says. "You cannot simply delete the last 10 to 15 minutes."

The end result is a class that even a physics novice could follow. As he moves quickly through his lecture, Lewin is well aware that he has an audience beyond students in the classroom. When he demonstrates a tuning fork to the class, for example, he does so for those at home, too, by speaking directly to the camera. He is careful to print large enough on the chalkboard so that, when the camera zooms in, even those watching on an iPod can make out what he has written.

"You have to prepare enormously if you're going to teach this way," says Lewin.

But judging by the inconsistent quality of the classes offered through iTunes U, not all professors who have posted courses prepare as much as Lewin does. Unlike Lewin's courses, some iTunes U classes are audio only, making it difficult to follow certain lectures that can last more than an hour.

To make the online classes more valuable, the New Jersey Institute of Technology encourages its professors to record their classes specifically for iTunes U. Live classes often fail online because faculty members have a difficult time controlling the classroom environment in ways that are necessary for those viewing the lecture from a distance, says Blake Haggerty, the institute's assistant director for institutional design.

"In a live classroom, there may be talk that has nothing to do with the course, such as an assignment being delayed," says Haggerty. "Discussions like that don't matter to someone not enrolled in the class."

As iTunes U grows in popularity, universities will need to pay more attention to the quality of the content they are placing there, says Mayadas, of the Sloan Consortium. "There's still an experimental nature to iTunes U, so users are willing to overlook problems."

Maybe so, but for many people, a course downloaded from iTunes may be the only interaction they ever have with a particular university. Ricky Fernandez, who has sampled several courses on iTunes U, including some from well-known universities, says he has been surprised by how little effort was put into designing them for use on an iPod. In some videos, he says, it is difficult to hear instructors, while in others it is impossible to read what they write on the blackboard.

"If I paid for the classes, I would have asked for my money back," says Fernandez, a student at Hartnell College, a two-year school in California.

OREN SIMANTOB IS A SENIOR PRE-MED STUDENT AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, but this fall his favorite course is an iTunes U physics course taught by MIT's Lewin.

"To be honest, he does it better than anyone else here," says Simantob. "All the lecture classes here are 300 people. So there is no engagement. Even online, Lewin is engaging." Sometimes, Simantob adds, he skips classes and watches Lewin's lectures on his iPhone.

One downside, though, says Benjamin Cooper, a freshman physics major at Boston University, is that "you can't ask questions." Cooper says that if he has difficulty understanding a concept, "I usually look it up on Google or Wikipedia."

If he can't find the answer he needs, he moves on. After all, he says, "there's no penalty for not understanding the material."

Many of the institutions now giving away lectures on iTunes U had ambitious plans a decade ago to make money from selling course materials online.

Nearly all those efforts to profit from distance education failed, in part because higher education institutions overestimated demand. In many ways, online education is still in its infancy. About 3.2 million students took at least one online course in the fall of 2005, according to the Sloan Consortium, up from 2.3 million the previous year but still a small slice of the 17.4 million students enrolled in colleges nationwide that fall.

The iTunes U service is not the first to give away course materials online. Since 2001, MIT has been publishing materials on the Internet for free as part of its OpenCourseWare project. The effort, however, is not without costs. The institution spends more than $6 million a year on the project, much of it coming from foundation grants. "MIT is special in that it can raise that kind of money to support such a project, but most universities can't," says Mayadas.

With tight budgets a fact of life at most colleges, Mayadas believes the market for free courseware is limited to a few classes at any one institution.

Officials at universities participating in iTunes U say that the biggest benefit is worldwide exposure. Norbert Elliot, a humanities professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, says a world literature lecture of his that was featured on the iTunes U Web site recently was viewed 74,000 times in one month. "There is no way that anything I can do under traditional means would interest 74,000 people," says Elliot.

While Apple releases download statistics to universities that participate in iTunes U, the company does not release them publicly. Stanford, which worked with Apple on the development of iTunes U, averages about 10,000 downloads a week, says Scott Stocker, Stanford's director of Web communications. A survey the university conducted last year found that 22 percent of users of the service identified themselves as Stanford alumni. "It's yet another way for alumni to stay connected to the university," says Stocker.

For now, Apple's Cue says the company has no plans to charge for iTunes U. "Our view is that students at the university are already paying for the classes to be produced," he says.

Indeed, many universities, including Stanford, also use iTunes to make recordings of other classes that are available only to current students on a secure server. But some iTunes U users say a few courses are so helpful that they would be willing to pay for them.

"It's definitely worth more than music on iTunes," says Simantob, the Columbia pre-med major.

Jeffrey Selingo is editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education. He can be reached at
Top 10 Downloads From iTunes U

1. "Steve Job's 2005 Commencement Address" (Stanford University)

2. "Modern Theoretical Physics." (Stanford University)

3. "Exploring Black Holes: General Relativity & Astrophysics; Einstein's Field Equation" (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

4. "The Heart of Nonviolence: A Conversation With the Dalai Lama" (Stanford University)

5. "Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain" (University of California at Berkeley)

6. "The Earth in the Balance" (Stanford University)

7. "Requiem -- Mozart Requiem" (Duke University )

8. "Introduction to Copyright Law: Basics of Legal Research; Legal Citations" (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

9. "Mozart: Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat" (Yale University)

10. "Elementary Greek: Introduction" (Concordia Seminary)