Echoes of “Different Trains”

January 29, 2014 at 12:14 pm (Music) (, , , , , )

Have you heard that great piece by Steve Reich called “Different Trains”? It’s a wonderful work for string quartet and tape written in 1988. Reich’s parents split when he was a toddler and one lived in New York the other in L.A. He spent a lot of time riding the train with his governess in the early 40s visiting his parents.

train_tracksTo recreate this experience he recorded interviews with his governess (then in her seventies), a retired pullman in his eighties, three holocaust survivors and period recordings of American and European trains. It’s a very moving piece commissioned for the Kronos Quartet and if you’ve never heard it, or haven’t heard it for a while, have a listen to the their fantastic performance. [1]

The interesting thing about this piece is the way Reich imitates the snippets of dialogue that he selects from the interviews. It makes you realize how musical our speech patterns really are. He captures the melodic and rhythmic nuances of each of the voices and transforms them into lines for the string quartet. The rhythmic motion and sounds of the train are also reproduced by the quartet to create a wonderful sensation of riding the rails.

I was reminded of this piece by two cultural events I attended this past week.

The first was a concert at the Wychwood Barns last Friday night featuring the music of Nicole Lizée.  It was the world premiere of her Hitchcock Etudes that reminded me of Reich’s Trains. Lizée likes to explore technological glitches hoping to “capture and replicate those beautiful mistakes.” In this piece for string quartet, percussion, tape
and film, she deconstructs and “damages” the soundtrack of a few middle period Hitchcock films notating the results so the quartet can recreate them. There was a particular passage from Psycho where Anthony Perkins is looped and stuttering along with the quartet that brought Reich’s piece to mind.

The second event was the play London Road written by Alecky Blythe with music by composer Adam Cork at the Bluma Appel Theatre last night. The play is about the affects of a series of murders that took place in Ipswich, one of the oldest towns in England. Blythe interviewed and recorded the “beleaguered residents.” To create the actors’ parts she had them use the edited recordings as the basis for their performances rather than learning their parts from a script. [2] Cork added the musical element which produced an effect very much like that achieved by Reich in “Different Trains.”

Great performances by all with an excellent musical ensemble under the direction of Reza Jacobs. Still time to see this show, it’s running until February 9th.

A couple of good nights out to be sure and an interesting synchronous experience where both independent events produced a wonderful echoes of Reich’s “Different Trains.”


[1] Here’s part one on Vimeo, ‘America Before the War
[2] For more information about this play and the “verbatim technique” see this
study guide for London Road

image: Scott Stensland

Permalink Leave a Comment

Code4Lib North Meeting at Ryerson

May 26, 2013 at 11:48 am (Conferences) (, )

I attended my first Code4Lib North conference this past week, something I’ve never quite felt “geeky” enough to do in the past.  This year an implicit invitation to technical services librarians encouraged us non-coding types to participate.  The result produced a gathering rather similar to what I’ve experienced at Access conferences.

Kudos to the folks at Ryerson for hosting and putting on such a well-organized event.  It was great to meet and learn from participants from the local and regional community and the unconference/unthemed style worked very well.

There was a wonderful flow that emerged on the first day beginning with Alan Harnum‘s talk on the idea of Computational Thinking.  This served to set up the inclusive tone of the conference nicely noting that although some of us were not coders our activities as librarians, such as cataloguing and project management, draws on and applies computational thinking processes.

Alan drew on Jonathan Rochkind’s blog post as inspiration for his talk and outlined the steps of the computational thinking process: decomposition; pattern recognition; pattern generalization and abstraction and, algorithm design.  He emphasized the importance of analysis during the decomposition phase noting that because project failure can be so far along in the process considerable work can be done before it’s realized that this might not have been such a great idea.  Breaking the problem down allows potentially fatal flaws to be identified and corrected earlier in the life of the project.

Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline came up during the Q & A and although coming out of the computing environment of the 1980′s, and therefore also pre-internet sounds like it might still be worth investigating.

Alison Hitchens then took the floor and talked about RDA.  She reminded us that the purpose of RDA is to create “data for discovery” and that the rewriting of the cataloguing code has resulted in a clearer identification of the bibliographic data elements.  She talked a bit about the RDA Vocabularies and how they have been used by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in their linked data experiments.

MJ Suhonos, one of the conference organizers and a fellow linked data enthusiast, then talked about metadata formats.  He evaluated a number of formats against the criteria of serialization, encoding, and schema.  The JSON MARC-HASH format seemed to satisfy all three and is considered one of the better formats to use.

Cynthia Ng, another conference organizer and our host during the event, talked about the importance of web accessibility and accessible user-interfaces on different platforms.

Katie Legere from Queen’s presented a very interesting session on the “sonification of data” a perspective I had not considered despite my own musical background.  This is a relatively new area of research and Katie provided an example based on reference question statistics from a multi-branched library using snippets from Beethoven’s third symphony to sonify and express the data.  It struck me that combining this with data visualization might also be applicable in a future navigation scenario.  I’ll talk a bit more about this idea in a subsequent post.

The final “formal” presentation of the day was by Nick Ruest who talked about his recent work archiving web information from York University‘s news source Y-File and resources associated with the Dale Askey/Edwin Mellen controversy.  Nick introduced us to web archiving and the use of WARC files and their importance as historical sources for researchers in the future.  He also talked about the importance of advocacy and the librarian’s role as the “social conscience of the information world.”

Nick’s session inspired a reply and very informative talk on hashing and digital file identification/verification by Mat Trudel.  That Mat was able to quickly throw a presentation together and deliver it to the group is a testament to the real beauty of the unconference format.

The afternoon began with a detailed overview of SFX by Dana Thomas and then discussion groups and hackfest sessions began.  I sat in on the discussion about University Librarians and technology led by Mike Ridley.  Mike asked two main questions: what should the UL know about technology?; what should the UL know about those who work with technology.  Some highlights from the discussion: trust your staff especially when weighing information provided by vendors; also trust reports from staff at other institutions who have first hand experience with products you are considering; attracting and keeping “talent” when money is not available as an incentive; importance of fostering a culture of “yes”, i.e. to provide freedom to experiment and participate in projects that might not benefit the library directly; if you are operating in a unionized environment consider the union a partner rather than an adversary.  It was a good exchange of ideas.

That evening was spent in good company. Bill Denton took us over to the fabulous Arts and Letters Club on Elm Street for drinks.  Some computational drinking ensued with Ian Milligan, Alan Harnum, Giles Orr, Abe de Jesus, Anna St. Onge, Nick Ruest and Bill. We migrated to the Queen and Beaver for dinner managing to grab a table for nine in a small private room. Excellent!


Day two began with Andrew McAlorum and Ken Yang talking about a couple of digital collections maintained at the University of Toronto:  DEEDS (Documents of Early English Data Set) [still in development] and the RPO (Representative Poetry Online) Anthology.

We then saw a demonstration of an app called Book Finder that Ryerson has developed to help library users find physical books on the shelf. Here’s an example of the app at work:

The following session was about developing a “responsive catalogue” that is capable of rendering itself in a good way on any device that might be used to access it.  This is something that will be launched at U of T next month.  If you want to test your own site they recommended a device emulator called the Responsive Design Bookmarklet.  They also showed us how Chrome can also be used to do some of this testing through the built in user agent/device metrics feature.  And they noted that it is best to try things out on the actual devices.

Giles Orr from TPL talked about a number of “credit card sized” computers including: the Raspberry Pi; MK802, the Beaglebone Black, and the TP-Link MR-3020 wireless router. A fascinating colection of gizmos if ever I saw one …

John Fink showed us a way to do storage on the cheap with an array of consumer grade hard drives and a BackBlaze Pod. Effective but apparently a tad noisy.

Tim Ribaric and Jonathan Younker, both from Brock University, talked about the recent acquisition of EZProxy by OCLC and what this means for the authentication of off-campus access to library licensed digital resources.  I hadn’t heard about this development and was glad to see this discussion of options to paying the small annual fee that OCLC will now be collecting.

David Fiander then looked at three ISBN APIs comparing Library Thing, xISBN and Open Library. Interesting to see the different results obtainable through each of these services.  I believe it was Open Library that demonstrated the most flexibility.

After lunch there were a series of Lightning Talks beginning with a short discussion that I “led” on navigation and visualization in a linked data environment.  It was a half baked idea to be sure and I’ll elaborate on it and the discussion in a later post.  Other talks included: a very promising project that MJ Suhonos is working on called Ladder; David Fiander talked about using WebDav with Zotero; and, Dale Askey talked about using Passpack and YubiKeys to manage passwords and authentication.

I had suggested a hackfest dealing with the conversion of MARC records into a format(s) that could be employed in a linked data environment and was lucky enough to spend some time with MJ and see some of the inner workings of his Ladder project and the conversion processes he’s used there.  We also took a quick look at a couple of open source conversion tools: marc2rdf and Ross Singers’s marc2rdf-modeler.  Alison Hitchens, Mat Trudel, and Liam Whalen also took part in this discussion.  Many thanks to everyone for bringing me another conceptual step closer to filling the gap that exists between connecting our bibliographic data to the semantic web.

A fantastic couple of days!  Thanks again to Ryerson for the wonderful hospitality!!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Bibliographic Framework Report Released

November 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm (Cataloguing) (, )

So the Library of Congress released Bibliographic Framework as a Web of Data: Linked Data Model and Supporting Services a couple of days ago.  Haven’t had a chance to read this yet but look forward to doing so.  The buzz is that there is some good analysis here.

“The Initiative aims to re-envision and, in the long run, implement a new bibliographic environment for libraries that makes “the network” central and makes interconnectedness commonplace … this document presents a high-level model for the library community for evaluation and discussion, but it is also important to consider this document within a much broader context, and one that looks well beyond the library community.”–Introduction

Permalink Leave a Comment

Wonderful Continuum Concert This Evening

October 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm (Music) (, )

The Continuum Contemporary Music season was off to a fine start this evening with some wonderful pieces by Butterfield, Smith and Dutch composer Martijn Voorvelt. There was a rather long cue when I arrived at the Music Gallery at a few minutes before concert time, which for a contemporary music concert struck me as a little unusual. And once inside I discovered a large crowd and few choices for a good seat in the pews.

The concert opened with Christopher Butterfield‘s Music for Klein and Beuys which I thoroughly enjoyed and was surprised to read was written in 1987. An interesting ensemble including bass recorder, melodica and banjitar with some lovely newspaper tearing and crumbling to punctuate sections of the piece.

Linda C. Smith‘s piece Brush Line provided a lovely instrumental texture that supported what I think was an intentionally understated mezzo-soprano. The result was a voice that was truly part of the ensemble rather than sitting atop an instrumental accompaniment.

The last two pieces were a “musico-dramatic study” by Martijn Voorvelt from The Netherlands. Actually quite an entertaining and theatrical pair of pieces which Jennifer Waring indicated are the beginnings of a larger composition focusing on the unfortunate death of Frederick the “liberal German crown prince” in 1888.

It was a great evening with fantastic performances by all and especially the tenor Cristopher Mayell and mezzo-soprano Marion Newman; although, I have to admit, I left with the words “random stabbing” running through my head and an uncomfortable urge to clear my throat.

Permalink Leave a Comment

End of Second Day at LVI 2012 – more pics

October 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm (Conferences) (, , )

It’s over! It was a great conference and congratulations to John Joergensen and Núria Casellas for putting together a great collection of presentations for Track 5, Data Organization and Legal Informatics.

Clay Shirky delivered a great opening plenary this morning talking about crowdsourcing, openness and “cognitive surplus.” Time to stop watching TV and start working on shaping the web, at least that’s one conclusion to draw (Wikipedia=100 million hours of work; U.S. TV viewing=200 billion hours per year).

Clay Shirky delivering a great plenary.

Then it was Jerry Goldman and Matt Gruhn talking about the multimedia Oyez Project and some fascinating work on machine readable access to U.S. Supreme Court information. Broccoli was high on the word cloud for this session.

Jerry Goldman

Matt Gruhn

Had a chance to take a short walk around Ithaca at lunch and check out more of the gorge.

Hey, that’s me at the top of Catherine St.!


The gorge at Stewart St.

After lunch Track 5 started to bunch up a bit with two half hour programs; although some seemed like hour programs compressed into that half hour. Yoshiharu Matsuura and Amy Huey-Ling Shee talked about translation issues between Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China. Interesting to see the different interpretations and English translations of the same and similar ideograms.

In the second half hour Michael Curtotti shared his research on visualizing the law. I think visualization of data is an area that will become increasingly important especially as we start negotiating our way through linked data on the semantic web.

Michael Curtotti

The next double whammy began with a write in presentation with Susan Newell Hart comparing Lexis and Westlaw and their development of the digest and citator components of their platforms. Very interesting to hear about Lexis using machine algorithms to catch up with the legacy of human created digests created by Westlaw.

Susan Newell Hart

The second half of this hour featured Pompeau Casanovas presenting his research on crowdsourcing “relational law” and I was really disappointed that we didn’t have time to hear more about this very interesting area of research. He raised some great questions: how do you define knowledge when you can connect everything together; what is law today?; what is a legal document?

Pompeu Casanovas

The final pair of presentations began with Lee Hollaar and his statutory “time machine.” This was an interesting report on an older project and I would have liked to have had an opportunity to see this in action.

Lee Hollaar

Søren Nielsen and Rasmus Lohals shared their experience with optimizing Danish statutory law so that they had better exposure in general search engines on the web. Loved the “extreme search” option that they provided on their own site.

Søren Nielsen

Rasmus Lohals

Thanks for the hospitality Cornell Law School and Itahca. Enjoyed the conference!

Sunset over the Ithaca gorge.

P.S. Gotta get me a real camera …

Permalink Leave a Comment

Some Pics from the Law via the Internet Conference

October 8, 2012 at 9:07 pm (Conferences) (, , )

So I’m down in Ithaca attending the Law via the Internet congference. It’s a beautiful little city surrounding Cornell University and nestled against Cayuga Lake. It being October the leaves are starting to change colour which provides some wonderful vistas.

I’m essentially following Track 5 which is focused on Data Organization and Legal Informatics. Here are some shots of the speakers I had an opportunity to hear today.

Richard Susskind

Richard Susskind delivering this morning’s opening plenary at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts

Mr. Susskind delivered a talk almost identical to the one he gave at AALL in Boston this past summer. Still good to hear it again. Although, as my colleague Louis Mirando noted, he did not mention his view that, “Law schools have always been on the cutting edge of tradition.” :-)

After the plenary we trooped over to Myron Taylor Hall crossing “the gorge” with this wonderful view from the bridge:

View from the bridge over “the gorge” at Cornell University.

Beautiful fall colours.

I then heard Anurag Acharya, the founding engineer for Google Scholar talk about how they are providing access to U.S. case law. Very interesting, but still wondering how they define “significance” without any reference to a classification structure.

Anurag Acharya

Anurag Acharya talking about legal search and Google Scholar.

After lunch I heard Phillipe Grand’Maison and Daniel Poulin talk about statistical analysis of Supreme Court of Canada decisions and the idea of the “half-life” of a digital document.

Daniel Poulin

Daniel Poulin discussing statistical perspective of SCC decisions.

I then enjoyed Philip Chung from AustLII talk about citation searching in a session provocatively titled, “Searching Without Search Terms.”

Philip Chung

Philip Chung, one of the AustLII developers.

And the last session was delivered by Enrico Francesconi from the Institute of Theory and Techniques of Legal Information. A fascinating talk on the impact of semantic web technology on legal information.

Enrico Francesconi

Enrico Francesconi talking about legal information and the semantic web.

A great first day at LVI 2012. Looking forward to tomorrow!

Permalink 1 Comment

Sophistication of Library Resource Description Structures

May 14, 2012 at 10:49 am (Cataloguing) (, )

This is a provacitive statement by Ronald J. Murray writing with Barbara Tillett in their paper, “Cataloging Theory in Search of Graph Theory and Other Ivory Towers“:

“… library resource description structures — when teased out of their book and card and digital catalog implementations and treated as graphs — are arguably more sophisticated than those being explored in the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Library Linked Data initiative.”

Murray explores this idea in a series of presentation slides he’s posted on SlideShare.

Permalink 1 Comment

Book Meme

May 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm (Miscellaneous) (, )

Remembered this blog of mine the other day and finally sought it out to see if it’s still around. Surprisingly yes.

Reading through some of the old posts and came across this book meme and thought I’d try it out again.

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open it to page 56.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

Proper selection among the many books available was crucial because ‘if a scholar does not have the books required for his subject, he does not enjoy the privleges of a scholar.’”

Blair, Ann M. Too Much to Know

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 385 other followers