Monday, December 15, 2008

Michael Lowenstern's Earspasm (December 2008 column)

One of the most outstanding clarinet websites on the Internet is, created by bass clarinetist (and composer, producer, and web designer) Michael Lowenstern. Earspasm's captivating interface contains a treasure trove of materials and resources for the bass clarinetist.

Earspasm has the standard sections for a performer website: Lowenstern's upcoming performances, recordings on which he is featured, and his press kit with biography and photos. But the good stuff is in the "Performer Info" section. After clicking on "How Do I...", one is invited to drag and drop topics such as "circular breathe" and "buy a new bass" to view Lowenstern's mini-classes. Stealthily embedded videos provide a visual demonstration of slap-tonguing, and all of the text is downloadable. Teachers may appreciate Lowenstern's methodical approach to bass clarinet voicing (under the "altissimo" topic), including his motto: "There are no squeaks, only wrong voicings."

Lowenstern describes himself as "an unashamed gear-hound," which becomes abundantly clear when exploring the "gear" section of the site. When Lowenstern talks about his "rig," he's not referring to his instrument; there is a photo of him playing onstage, and viewers can mouse over pieces of equipment for a description and picture -- from the wireless microphones on his bass to the LCD display he uses instead of a music stand. There is also a great discussion of equipment needed to perform pieces for clarinet and tape/CD as well as clarinet with interactive electronics. As for more conventional equipment, he highly recommends the Backun bass clarinet bell with a neat video demonstration.

Under "charts," there is an interactive altissimo fingering chart that can also be downloaded and printed. The chart has only one fingering per note, but makes up for it with the range covered -- up to a double high F! Other goodies include the download section with free mp3s (both streaming and downloadable) and pdfs of sheet music. For reference, Lowenstern includes his repertoire list, and has also begun an online composition database of works for bass clarinet and tape/CD/electronics.

All of this great content is assembled into an innovative Flash site that is a pleasure to explore. The site is highly interactive; you can not only grab windows and watch them bounce around, but also adjust the "viscosity" and "elasticity" to your liking. Don't like the default color? Choose from seven others to find the most pleasing hue. Some sheet music examples even zoom in as you grab them, iPhone-style.

The site will undoubtedly change as Lowenstern updates it and adds new content, but it is probably safe to say that Earspasm will remain on bass clarinetist's bookmark lists for years to come.

No comments: