Professor's Efforts Expand Recording
Opportunities for Students
CD Production Was an Unusual Learning Experience
for Student Composers
by Anne C. Paine
The idea had been bouncing around the Conservatory's Division
of Contemporary Music for some time, but in the spring of
2000, it landed squarely on Tom Lopez's desk.
The idea? To produce a compact disc of
works composed by students.
"Its time had come,"
said Lopez, a 1989 Oberlin graduate and assistant professor
of computer music and digital arts in the technology in music
and related arts (TIMARA) department. "A few faculty
members in the division had been thinking about it for some
time, and it suddenly erupted. We made an initial proposal
to the dean and that jump-started it all."
A full year in production, the CD - titled
Aural Capacity by the students - was released last
May and contains eight decidedly contemporary works by student
composers. A committee of faculty members oversaw the project,
but Lopez took on the day-to-day responsibility of keeping
the project on schedule.
One of the most exciting aspects for the
student composers involved, said Lopez, was the chance to
work with professional recording engineer Paul Zinman '84,
founder and owner of SoundByte Productions, Inc., an independent
audio services company in New York. Zinman has worked for
many major classical labels, as well as for the New York Philharmonic
under Zubin Mehta, Richard Goode, the Kronos Quartet, and
Zinman recorded and mastered three of
the works on the CD in the TIMARA department's recording studio
in the Conservatory basement; he recorded the tracks for a
fourth work in Warner Concert Hall and the TIMARA facility.
For the remaining pieces -one of which had been previously
recorded and three of which are electronic compositions requiring
no instrumental performers -Zinman provided mastering services.
The students learned that a recording
engineer's view of good music can differ sharply from their
"The composers sat with Paul during
the recording sessions, and they got to help him choose which
takes to use," said Lopez. "Paul guided them through
this process. It can be easy for students to get attached
to the notes they write, and if the performers don't play
exactly those notes, or they miss a few, the composer may
think that's not the best take. But Paul was able to hear
it differently. There were situations where he would say,
'Well, they didn't get all the notes, but the music here is
Jim Altieri '02, a double degree student
majoring in composition and geology and whose work "thirty-two
feet per second per second" is included on the CD, agreed
that the experience was eye-opening.
"Watching Zinman work was fascinating
because I was able to see how far removed classical recordings
are from the actual live performance. Hundreds of edits go
into a substantial work," Altieri said.
The Division of Contemporary Music anticipates
that Aural Capacity will be the first in a series of
such recordings to be released every other year. Dean Robert
Dodson, whose office funded the project, emphasized the importance
of recording experience for students.
"In the last few decades, the recording
studio has emerged as powerful competition for and supplement
to the stage, and it can be expected that musicians will increasingly
rely on recorded media to reach their audiences. Proficiency
in the use of recorded media is an important component in
preparing young professionals for lives in music," Dodson
said. Having high quality recordings of their works will also
help students build their portfolios as they move into graduate
school or professional careers, he added. The students learned
a great deal, but so did he, Lopez said.
"I hadn't carried a CD project from
idea to shrink-wrapped product before, and it was a joy. But
it will be
easier next time," he laughed. "Who knows? Maybe
five years from now we'll be doing DVDs!"