June 25, 2007
Pipe Dreaming – Memorial Auditorium Pipe Organ Recital This July 2nd, a musicological essay.
I scored today. No – not in the traditional sense of the phrase; as in regards to drugs or sex or something of that ilk; I got something of value for pocket change: “I Scored.”
The item, of which I speak, is actually of not all that great a value – at least to most people. I swung by a flea market after church and found and subsequently purchased a decent Sony Tape deck of newer vintage for just a few dollars. Now you have to ask yourself – why in this day and age of mpg downloads and Ipods – where CD’s themselves are threatening to go the way of the Dodo bird – would Matthew be excited to procure a tape deck? The answer is easy – and it actually involves the previously referenced music media technologies.
Now while I am an actual owner of a 5th generation video Ipod, and I have, as many others have, taken the time to rip my entire CD collection into it – there remains a vast collective of music and related media that spans all the layers of technological strata as it has been layered down in the span of my lifetime. It is true that many of the kids of today’s age have never not known either the Internet or a lack of CD’s – I remember the advent of both. I remember the first time I witnessed “internet communication” and I remember the first CD that I had ever bought, when they first came out. I am ashamed to say it – but I overcame my packrat ways and recently consigned to the trash can my first boom box cd player that I had ever bought – the very one that I actually played that first CD upon. It had broken and was virtually useless for the past few years – but it was my first. I have stacks of – of all things – 8 tracks, many of which we listened to endlessly on family vacations. I have vinyl records that have never been released on CD. And most of all- I have hundreds and hundreds of tapes. Now the truth is – these are not prerecorded tapes of which I speak. Rather they are recordings that I made of songs off the air – the scope of which span almost from my earliest teenage years to the day I started burning songs on to CD’s and later Ipods. All this comes back to why I made that certain purchase from a vendor at the local flea market for a marginally broken in hi-fi cassette player/recorder. I intend to begin to pick tapes from the overflowing boxes that I have of cassettes – and start the slow and gradual process of burning them to mp3s, which I will archive and start to file away on my ipod. This is the burden of all those who are audiophiles, and who have lived long enough to have musical tastes acquired from almost every format that represented Hi-Fi capacity at some point in their lives. I have a friend who has recordings from wire recorders –which predate magnetic tape, such as Reel to Reels and then later cassette tapes. I had a Reel to Reel – but it was always more of a plaything- the real music archiving took place on the practical format of the cassette tape. A high-end metal tape with Dolby Noise reduction made up for the inadequacy of the format in comparison to the higher standard of reproduction that the wider reel-to-reel tape afforded.
I opened up the new Sony – as I am accustomed to doing; and made a visual inspection of it’s innards, making sure that the belts were intact and it’s myriad of gears and switches were well oiled. They were. What was surprising was the amount of oxide built up on the heads of the unit. I literally dirtied 5 q-tips soaked in alcohol in the cleaning process. I have to wonder if some stereological inept doof thought his tape deck was trashed – and unloaded it in equal fashion – oblivious to the fact that a couple of passes with a cleaning tape (or alcohol and q-tips as I use) would have restored it to near pristine condition. Nevertheless – I have a decent hi-fi tape deck now that I can pretty much confine to the dedicated task of transferring tapes to mp3’s. Now to do that will take years. I may never even get half of it done – but I’d like to get some of it done. And the parts of my cassette music that I’d like to have on my ipod the most – well that is part of what inspired this essay…
After I put my new acquisition back together and finished cleaning and testing it – I set it down, and opened up a box of tapes, to look back over the volumous amount of work that would need to be done, should I ever actually complete such a task. Doing a tape is a lot more complicated then doing or ripping a CD. You pretty much just point and click with a CD. The music is already digitized – your just transferring it from one digital format to another. In case of Cassettes, or even vinyl or yes- 8 tracks – they are all analog; and they have to be both captured in real time and then edited into appropriate time-based chunks.
I was thumbing through my endless reams of cassette tapes, and I remembered what I had long forgotten. A large section of my “cassette library” is dreams. Specifically – they are “Pipe Dreams.” For a period of about 2 years I religiously taped a program that still comes on NPR on Sundays – Michael Barones Pipe Dreams – a radio show that exclusively plays and explores both the music and the history of pipe organs.
Now I have always loved Organ music – and that is certainly not an assumption that most people would make about me; but it is certainly true. Now in addition to having a love for the Pipe Organ, I am also a Creationist in terms of my faith and how the world came into being – but I find it interesting when evolutionary biologists speaks of evolutionary or “residual” DNA: the idea that genetic material is passed on from one generation to another. A geneticist predisposed to evolutionary biological principles would point out that both my grandfather and my mother played the organ and the piano – and that somewhere in my residually passed down DNA structures, there dances if not the makings of a great third-generation pianist/organist, at least the underpinnings of the makings of a ferverent love thereof. There has to be some explanation – or does there? I have friends who literally hate pipe organs. A good friend of mine grew up Seventh Day Adventist – and his church featured a huge organ – one that I have heard play. When I was ogling it one day; it was actually on his wedding day- in that same church – he informed me that he used to have nightmares about the organ – that he dreamed, as a child that one day the pipes would do more then just shakes the floors and walls – but that they would burst from their confines and devour him.
I don’t know if – outside the confines of Stephen Kings ever unfettered imagination – there ever has existed a pipe organ that feasted on little boys – but I know that such creations feasted on other instruments; rather – perhaps, it might be said more adequately, exalted themselves rightfully over all other instruments. It is for this express reason that the pipe organ is rightfully referred to as being “The King of Instruments”.
I have a certain appreciation for music – and I aspire to someday soon dedicate myself to the task of learning to play the piano. And while I know that it is cheesy to say it – I like just about all kinds of music; but I am especially fond of techno. I have music that reaches back into the very dawn of electronic music, before it diversified into trance, and house, and whatnot. I have a feeling that most of what we call techno is merely the unconscious reincarnation of the organ, unknowingly reasserting itself back into vibrant circulation/life in the creative energies of techno artists. It is generally true that a vast amount of electronic techno music could be interpretively be played on a pipe organ – and call me stark raving mad – I almost want to learn to play the king of instruments just so that I can take the newest itineration of musicology and superimpose it upon the expansive and endlessly interpretive capacities of one of these bellowing and whistling behemoths. Call me crazy- but I can hear it in my head. I can hear Pet Shop Boys and Paul Van Dyke transposed upon the racks of some medieval beast brought back to life through the meticulous care of an organ restorationist.
I wish that I could give you a sampling of some of the tracks that I have of clearly stunning organ recitals – played with masterful expertise upon some of the most complicated musical instruments ever created. The cadence and the variance gives a depth and expanse to the composers imagination that knows no boundaries.
I had forgotten how much I loved organ music and how many well-worn tapes I have in my possession of recorded NPR Pipe Dreams broadcasts from so many years ago. The irony of my purchase and my fumbling though the many to be hopefully digitized broadcasts of Organ Music recitals – is that when I walked upstairs and picked up the paper I read that the individuals in charge of the organ restoration at the Memorial Auditorium, here in Chattanooga, are celebrating the return of the organ to suitable service. They have spent almost 20 years and 1 million dollars in it’s restoration, and they are hosting an organ recital – the first in two decades – next week.
It is going to be this next Monday, July 2nd at 7pm.
I think I’m going to be there.
Pipe Dreams and all