Disco Mausoleum

31 October 2006

Žižkov’s horse
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Speaking of Halloween, I noticed that there have been complaints raised by veterans recently about a disco birthday party that was held in the Žižka memorial on Vítkov hill in Prague. The giant building is basically a mausoleum—it was built as a memorial to First World War soldiers, later became a mausoleum for great Czechoslovak Communist leaders, and now is a sort of defunct relic. The building's current manager, the National Museum, allegedly promises to restore it by 2009, but last time I was there (in February) there was no sign of restoration. The only visible construction is the new section of the Prague ring-road (i.e., freeway in the middle of the city) being built in a tunnel underneath the hill.

Well, apparently the veterans were offended when the wife of the governor of Central Bohemia rented the place for a disco party complete with "scantily clad dancers." To me, it sounds like the perfect place for a Halloween party. You could even have fires in the braziers.

More pictures of the monument were recently featured at the MyCzechRepublic blog. There were a lot of other interesting articles up today at Radio Prague, including: a response to author Ludvík Vaculík's new book, Improved Songs (the article's picture of Vaculík performing also shows cimbalomist Jan Rokyta from Ostrava); Coilin O'Connor interviews filmmaker and music writer Simon Broughton, a guest of the MOFFOM festival;* and David Vaughan talks to journalist Martin Simecka about the paradoxes of October 28th and recognizing a non-existent state.

Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
*Commentary and thoughts on the state of folk music, perhaps a neo-disco mausoleum: Broughton said, "I think it's fantastic that there's been a sort of revival here in this sense [i.e., traditional music]. During the communist period all this music became rather cheap and sanitised and corrupted. There's now a new generation of people who are sort of reinterpreting the music and going back to its real rustic roots, not this "fakelore" as one could describe it, which was generated by the former regime." This is a commonly heard sentiment among English speakers, but not that many people that I've talked to actually characterize the situation as such. First, the idea of "fakelore" was popularized in discussions of British and American folklore (by folklorist Richard Dorson, I think, though I haven't the resources to check at the moment) and, I think, bears little relation to the situation in central Europe. A similar idea is Eric Hobsbawm's "invented tradition" concept. Both of the ideas imply that cultural expressions utilized in ideological ways are somehow less valuable than "clean" ones. Of course, no cultural expression is devoid of ideology, some ideologies are just more acceptable (and less visible) to the majority in certain times and places. Second, many of the "cleaned up" or folklorized versions of Moravian music came from the 1920s and 1930s, not the Communist regime. Third, folklore as regional expression was popular long before Communism, and it is always somewhat of a niche genre—just as everybody doesn't listen to rap music, not everybody listens to cimbalom bands. If "folk music" in south Moravia was sanitized during the 1960s and 1970s, and if it really saw a decline in homegrown musicians (so to speak), these conditions must have had much to do with the urbanization of the previous hundred years as much as the political situation. State support of music through festivals, radio, and folk troupes certainly increased during Communism, but those were not necessarily signs that the music declined. The indicator of that should be how individuals think about and consider the tradition, and it seems that Moravians tend to take their song personally (and with a glass of wine) rather than politically. This latter concept—music as individual experience and expression—is another way to gauge the health of a tradition. Despite the novel's neo-Romanticism, that may have also been what Milan Kundera concluded in his 1967 novel Žert (The Joke).

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Scary Stuff

Happy Halloween, and don't forget to celebrate dušičky if you're in the Czech Republic. Or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. All it takes is a visit to the cemetery and a lit candle.

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20 Litres

Yesterday I had a chance to search some older recordings at the Brno radio station. Entrance is closely controlled by a reception desk, and to obtain entrace (even if you have an invitation), it's necessary to explain yourself when you're not a regular employee. The vrátnice—the word is related to vrata ("gate") and means something like "gatehouse"—is an essential element of most public buildings in Czech cities. At the radio station, it is also the principal point for public contact and occasionally real, live listeners come and ask for information.

When I arrived yesterday, a rather substantial older lady wearing a large brown coat was already standing at the window. She was quite entertained by her own conversation, although the gatekeeper behind the window was also quite entertained. The conversation went something like this:

"Good day. I was listening to this program this morning about trading and didn't have a pencil at hand and hoped you could give me the number. You don't know if you have it, do you? There wasn't anything at hand to write with." She seemed to be referring to a program through which people can advertise products available for sale or trade—it's kind of like the classified ads, but on the radio. They also advertise available jobs on some programs.

The man behind the glass seemed to know exactly what she was talking about. "Oh, you mean today's program? The meruňkovice?" He was right (I don't know how he knew), and immediately began shuffling some papers to find the number. I thought that he had all the necessary information, but there were more questions. "And what are you interested in exactly? The meruňkovice?" (Meruňkovice, what you might call one of the "Shot[s] of Moravia," is a strong brandy like slivovice but made from apricots.)

"Yes. Well, you know," she said and smiled back at me as if I might have some private information about this meruňkovice, "it's so hard to find stuff that tastes right." I actually had no idea that it had much taste other than the afterburn, but I'm no connoiseur.

"Aha!" The gatekeeper had found something. "Yes. Here it is. Do you want to write down the number? There's only 20 litres."

I hope that's enough.

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Let's take a look around

23 October 2006
I have a very part-time translation and editing job that allows me to use my Czech and English skills once in a while. Today, after finished proof-reading a new report, I had this great idea: there's not much food in my fridge, but I can make leek and potato soup! I was very hungry on the way home, and for some reason (character flaw?) ate a chocolate bar on the way. So I was not very hungry by the time the soup was ready. Oops. But soup's never quite as nice for one as it is with friends (whether at a potluck or after a long walk by the river), and my limited array of spices didn't quite make it as savory as it should have been.

I should clarify that I've had a rather reduced appetite since I had some sort of stomach flu last week and now I have a cold (I must be getting old, talking about all my ailments). Instead of eating, I should have been working on my dissertation, but I'm using the cold as an excuse to take a break. And so I started surfing online. And then I decided to do one of those infamous link posts, and roll it into a long and discursive ramble all in one!

Doug Arellanes translated an article about the recent "Doležel scandal." I read about the scandal in the papers, but didn't really follow it—thanks for the translations! It seems that a group of politicians were plotting to kill the head of the police's anti-organized-crime unit (ÚOOZ). The ÚOOZ obviously needs to be scrutinizing high-level politics more. Of course, there were a bunch of other things involved, too, like wiretaps and special EU funds—all sounds a bit too much like James Bond, but that's what happens when people don't realize that Bond is fake and emulate him in real life—in later articles it seems that there was a cafeteria involved, too.

And in other quarters of the blogosphere—Julia posted an amusing story about Czech manners. Karla muses on Czech suicide methods. (I take it that she would prefer jumping off a building to slowly pickling oneself in alcohol.) Ovšem pozor! highlights a film about design available at Google about "American Look." (Of interest, since I've recently taken up documentarism—I'm definitely hiring an angel choir for my film about Moravian music.*) The film they link to is made for Alex, who posts a picture from our outing to Kyjov a week ago. Brian reveals what he's been up to all summer. Malý čtenář found some strange menus in Slavonice—to sample the local cuisine, just serve up a plate of piquant whiskers on a pig slice after flour-milling.

Speaking of taking a look-round and assessment—let me tell you what I'm up to. I'm going back home on 20 December. I will miss Brno, but in fact I actually need to write a dissertation and not just think about it. I would also like to see a few friends and family for a while. Plus, if you have a choice about when to move, why not do it in the middle of winter? I am actually already looking forward to the coziness of the U.P. around the holidays—the snow covers the pink flamingos, but there's nothing like a sauna up there.

And speaking of returns, it looks like Homer is waiting for Godot, or something like that. I always knew he was putting us on with that happy-go-lucky exterior. Or maybe he's just resigned to his new career as Jack's footrest.

*But there are other people out there who are ruining the reputation of documentary film makers, so I guess I won't have to worry about that anymore.

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Byly volby

22 October 2006
Over the last weekend (20 and 21 October), there were elections in the Czech Republic for the second time since I've started this blog. (Less than a year!) Up for grabs were a third of the 81 seats in the Senate, the upper house of the Czech parliament, and posts in city governments around the country. It turns out that the Senate does very little except comment on laws (it can excercise a veto if enough votes can be mustered) and elect the President. After the inconclusive results of the June elections, the "center-right" ODS party (Civic Democrats) won by a large majority. This was apparently considered a referendum on their leadership and they had a strong showing, averaging around thirty-six percent across the country.

Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
There was a surprise in Brno, where ODS has held a majority for about 15 years. Although ODS still came out on top, the "center-left" ČSSD (Social Democrats) got more than twenty percent of the vote. In addition to that, a non-partisan association called Brno 2006, led by Senator Jiří Zlatuška, got a whopping 9 percent, enough to seat some of its candidates. We don't know yet who the next mayor will be since that depends on negotiations between the victors. As one non-traditional campaign poster put it, Vítěz má vždy pravdu (the Victor always holds the truth), in part playing off the slogan of the Czech president, Pravda vítězí (the Truth shall be victorious).

Word on the street has it that there's been some pretty corrupt stuff going on at the radnice (town hall) during ODS's watch. Their mayoral candidate, Karel Hledík (pictured at top), was rumored to be a nice guy but selected because he could rubber-stamp whatever policies the party power-brokers wanted. I don't know what the truth is, but that's the rumor. Hledík is only 63, and I don't know if he would be easy to push around or not; however, he apparently was too tired (or uninterested) to stay at the ODS's party until all the results came in. He got the results at home on the telephone.

Brno2006 surprised everybody, I guess. I was rooting for them, though, because they have a good candidate and a catchy campaign. Here's what Rovnost had to say:
Even the political opponents [of Brno2006] were shaking their heads over such a high result. "I thought that they would not get that many votes. I will have to think about what it is. Mr Zlatuška did not really offer the power of real things," wondered Civic Democrat Hledík. Similarly perplexed by the Senator's high result were [ČSSD's mayoral candidate] Roman Onderka and Communist [mayoral candidate] Pavel Březa. "They had a lot more massive campaign than us. Our results are a definite disappointment and didn't meet our ambitions," said Březa, attempting to explain why they [the Communist party] had finished behind Brno2006.

You can view the election returns for yourself at volby.cz, a Web site maintained by the Czech Statistical Institute.
Interviews with all the mayoral candidates were re-posted at Moderní Brno

**By the way, this post marks the one-year anniversary of NvB!**

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Máš žízeň?

16 October 2006

Lively Monkey
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Mám žízeň jako trám.

That's a Czech phrase about being really thirsty. It means, literally, "I have a thirst like a girder." I guess you need a big drink to satisfy a thirst like that, but I never realized that girders and joists and crossbeams (oh my!) got thirsty.

I'd rather be thirsty like a monkey—at least they can scamper to the nearest water source. It's hard to do that if you're a girder.

Still thirsty?

If you are a monkey and live in Brno, then you can scamper on down to the "At the Thirsty Monkey" wine bar, just over the hill from NvB headquarters.

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Three Men and a Bagpipe

13 October 2006

Three Men and a Bagpipe
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Last weekend I was in Uherské Hradiště, a town about an hour east of Brno by car, to see the XVI. festival hudebních nástrojů lidových muzik (16th Festival of Folk Musical Instruments). Don't worry, this post gets racier soon. This year's theme was "music of minorities in the Czech Republic," which brought out many outstanding groups from around the Czech Republic. The hosting group of the gala concert on Saturday was Kašava, a band sponsored by the friends of folk music in Zlín.

Kašava is from a region in north Moravia called Valašsko (Walachia, with various spellings, in English and German). Valašsko has a bagpipe tradition. The picture is a group from the "Croatian minority" (descendants of Croatians who settled in south Moravia) in the Czech Republic. They use bagpipes, too.

As I suppose is the case everywhere, there are a lot of jokes about the bagpipe. I started realizing the basic Czech bagpipe joke a while back when I saw A Prarie Home Companion (the movie). At one point Lefty the cowboy makes a joke like this:

[Taking a swig of whiskey from his hip flask, he addresses a beautiful lady haunting the theater's backstage]:

Hey, I'll give you some moonshine if you show me your jugs.

I'm assuming this doesn't need explanation (if you keep reading it will dawn on you eventually). Well, the Czech subtitles said something like this: I'll sing you a song if you let me play your bagpipes. My response was, "What? They completely got the wrong metaphor." To me it seemed obvious that "playing the bagpipe" must refer to male anatomy. But not in Czech! It refers to the female, the above-mentioned "jugs" (just to be clear and slightly obfuscatory at the same time).

What, you are probably thinking, does this have to do with the folk music festival? Good question. Kašava and two other groups featured bagpipe numbers, which were played by the traditional bagpipe ensemble—bagpipes (the player doubles as singer), violin, viola, and occasionally cello (bassette or even double bass sometimes). So you have a basically complete, portable ensemble for singing songs and accompanying dances. This sort of group was common in many parts of central Europe, and in the Czech Republic, there are still groups in Moravia and south Bohemia.

This morning I was talking with my cimbalom teacher, who is recording a new album that will feature bagpipes, and I told him about the concert at the folk instrument festival:

"So I went to this concert last weekend, and this group played the bagpipes."

"Uh huh."

"There was one bagpipe and three men."


I'll leave the details to your imagination. It took me a while actually, due to my various linguistic slownesses, to get it. But finally, it dawned on me: to Czechs—just so you know, the "bagpipes" seem to be the primary focus of erotic attention here—to Czechs, one set of bagpipes is not enough for three unless you're making a *ahem* movie or on videochat.

Just one of those moments when you think you're just talking about folk music and it turns out a little differently than you expected.

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Brno Days of Spiritual Health

11 October 2006
Last night my teacher's band Cimbál Classic performed a benefit concert that was part of the kick-off for the Dny duševního zdraví v Brně (Brno Days of Spiritual Health). It was a benefit for a children's hospital and "raising of children's spirits."

Before I get all critical, let me say that it was a very nice concert. The Primavera children's choir sang the first half of the concert. There's always a special community that forms around kids concerts because the parents come to sit in the audience, run up to take photographs every other moment, and the performers are cute. The Primavera choir is, apparently, like Brno's "honors choir" and is taken from "gifted" kids from Brno's elementary schools. They sang very well.

But there were a few problems. I filmed the concert, and as I was watching it again I realized that choir concerts must be the same the world over. Unless you get a really exceptional group, they sing similar warmed over repertory, wear funny clothes, and are accompanied by horrible pianos. You may say that other concerts are like this too—people always wear funny costumes and play the same old stuff in orchestras, too—this may be true, but a crucial difference is that those other groups usually do not feature sopranos only! A choir of child sopranos has about one timbre and it's nice when you get some variety (like when they're integrated with other groups), but a whole program is a bit much.

To top that off, the hall was incredibly dry—hardly any reverb. I think that it is really designed for lectures and not concerts, but we could hear the performers. The voices sounded fine: crisp, clear, and well articulated. But you want a bit more warmth in music (unless you are a porcelain figurine).

Most of the band's concerts are attended by a dog. His name is Balík, he's a cocker spaniel, and there is a song about him. His wandering through the audience personalizes the performance. I suspect that no one would bring a dog to their concerts in the US since everybody is so concerned about allergies and dogs aren't really accepted in public culture. Of course, the places where dogs go (like restaurants) can be a bit surprising at times, but in this case it's nice—once you've been to a Cimbál Classic concert you are ready for balík, and sometimes he even remembers you, too! All in all, it was a good concert, and I really just wanted to let you know that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

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Weave at Chicago Calling

06 October 2006
As usual, I know few to none of the people who read my blog can go to a performance in Chicago (or perhaps even have the interest to). However, in the interest of spreading the word, note this upcoming performance of the Weave Soundpainting Orchestra:
Live Internet Collaboration
In conjunction with the Chicago Calling Festival (Chicago, IL) and IEAR Series (Troy, NY)

Weave Soundpainting Orchestra (Chicago, IL)
Sarah Weaver, artistic director


Tintinnabulate (Troy, NY)
Pauline Oliveros, founder and director

At the Empty Bottle
1035 N. Western
Chicago, Illinois
October 25th at 7pm

admission is $10 (includes 5pm concert at Empty Bottle by Michael Zerang)

In the Chicago Calling Festival, Chicago-based artists will showcase performances and projects that involve collaborations with artists living in other locations-here in the U.S. and in other countries worldwide. For more info please visit www.chicagocalling.org.

Weave Soundpainting Orchestra (Chicago, IL) and Tintinnabulate (Troy, NY) collaborate via Internet as part of the Chicago Calling Festival at the Empty Bottle and the IEAR Series at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Using live audio and video streams, the two groups will improvise together in real time, first for Paula Matthusen's installation Filling Vessels, and second as an open multidisciplinary improvisation.

Weave Soundpainting Orchestra is a multidisciplinary performance ensemble based in Chicago, IL. Featuring musicians, actors, dancers, and visual art Soundpainted by Artistic Director Sarah Weaver, Weave is on the forefront of new genres in contemporary multidisciplinary performance. Soundpainting is the live composing sign language created by New York composer Walter Thompson for musicians, dancers, actors, poets, and visual artists working in the medium of structured improvisation. For more information on Weave, please visit www.weavesoundpainting.org.

Tintinnabulate is a multimedia ensemble founded and directed by Pauline Oliveros of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the Fall of 2005. The mixed instrumental ensemble consists of graduate students and faculty. Tintinnabulate has performed at the RPI MFA show Fall 2005 and Spring 2006, at Eyebeam in New York City January 2006, the Children's Museum Renssealer Technology Park in the dome, and telepresence performances with Brown University, Arizona State University and Stanford University.

Weave Performers will include...

Justin Foster, flute
Marc Elzweig, bass clarinet
Laurie Lee Moses, baritone saxophone
Matt Field, guitar
Cynthia Simone, djembe
Christopher Bruce, percussion
Sarah Clark, actor
Jeremy Blair, dancer
Cindy Huston, dancer
Kristi Murray, dancer
Amanda Telischak, dancer

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No Nukes

No Nukes
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
I remember asking my parents when I was a kid, "What does that button mean?" It was one that said "No Nukes." I seemed to think that it meant that microwave ovens were bad, which I suppose it may have in a way, but I later realized that it was even more serious. When I visited Zlín a few weeks ago, I saw a sign with similar import and didn't know what it meant. It was on a billboard for the local Communist party. (They seem to have come to terms with the town's new name—during Communism it was named Gottwaldov in honor of a Czech leader.) The sign basically says, "Say no to American bases." Most visible is the bold "NO" and a missile icon uner a cross-hatched red circle. The implication is clear, but I wasn't sure what it meant. I saw similar stickers on trams in the past month.

After reading this post at the Beatroot, I have a better idea:
Out of the sites where the US [anti-missile] system could be installed in Europe—to stave off any rockets fired by 'rogue states', apparently (which means Iran or North Korea these days) the Czech Republic and Poland are the leading contenders. (More)

A month ago, rumor had it that the Czech Republic was more likely than Poland. I haven't followed the story, but it seems that there should be an update soon (if not one already...as you can tell, I'm slow on the uptake with these sorts of things). I can certainly understand the Communists being against this, but it seems like other people would be more interested too.

Perhaps I'll find out more while I'm in Zlín again this weekend for a folk festival. More from BBC: Czech Bid for US Missile Base, Czechs May Host US Missile Base

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Play Me a Song, Pick Me a Shroom

05 October 2006
It seems that a new crop of blogs is here, springing up after the summer like mushrooms after rain. It’s nice to know that some people have interesting stories to tell, and perhaps I will again after the weekend. In the meantime, check these out:

Hubert (aka skladatel) has posted a review of the semi-final round in the third season of Česko hledá superstar. This is the Czech version of the Pop Idol reality show franchise (known in the US as American Idol). It is a fascinating phenomenon, and seems to have a bit more to it than its American counterpart:
Instead of flamboyance, the Czechs actually deliver quality judges who are less interested in soundbites and actually evaluate the performers and state their cases for evaluation at the end of each performance. . . . The three Czech judges carry credentials. Ilona Csáková was former member of the famous Czech pop band 'Laura and Her Tigers', Ondřej Hejma worked as an AP reporter, and Eduard Klezla (shown below) is a professor at the Jaroslav Ježek Conseravatory here in Prague!

Read more at Hubert’s blog, Martinů and Fried Cheese.

Bayard is writing a new Brno-based blog, and I enjoyed his mushroom post. Mushrooming is a great Czech pastime. I've been remiss in never mentioning it! They are serious about mushrooms here:
The Czechs are crazy for mushrooming and take pride in being able to identify their mushrooms, distinguish old from new, poisonous from edible, and knowing special secret places that other mushroomers have yet to find. In fact, the Mushroom Cult is so intense, Czechs don't buy mushrooms; one must pick one's own.

Read more at Bayard’s blog.

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How Do You Take Your Tea?

03 October 2006
Wolfgang and Wilhelmina liked to take their tea sitting on the verandah. It was a bit tedious since Arabella’s grandfather had decorated everything with a high gloss deep blue paint. But since it was necessary to keep up appearances, they dressed everyday in their blue porcelain robes around 4 p.m. to take tea.

"My dear Willie," said Wolfgang one day, "I really need to take up a stretching regime to increase my flexibility. These porcelain clothes just don’t allow me the movement I’d like. And I’m tired of my teacup being attached to the table."

Wilhelmina always inclined her head just so. "Yes, Wolfie. I know I’m looking forward to detaching this one from my hand! And that wretched gold lining is just so ostentatious. If only grandfather hadn't been so enthralled by porcelain and the late Empire style. We could've had a fashionable functionalist villa and cubist tea set instead of this stodgy old porcelain. But you know, we can’t just trash his décor. And anyway, it would break his poor little porcelain heart if he knew that we didn’t appreciate how he did up the verandah."

Wolfgang sighed in resignation.

One day two roving gypsies came by. "Play us a tune," begged Wolfgang. "We’d be happy to," they said, merrily baring their glistening white teeth. They struck up a frottola and things were very happy, even though the rhythm was a bit stilted and brittle. "Our glass instruments do not resonate very well," they explained.

Sooner or later Wolfgang and Wilhelmina decided to drown their sorrows in drink. To make sure their plan was not discovered, they purchased a set of matching "Jules Verne edition" cups and saucers. Everyone thought they were drinking tea. There was not a speck of blue on it, and it was loads of fun. "I say, we can tell when we're going to run out because there's a porthole in the side of the pitcher!" enthused Wolfgang.

"One lump, or two?" asked Wilhelmina.

I guess I was reading Threadbared too much a few days back. These porcelain figurines are in a shop window of the Moravian Palace on Divadelní street (just off Malinovksého náměstí).

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A Bit on Recording

01 October 2006

Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
The sounds I've posted recently haven't been entirely perfect, but Pam asked if I could post a bit about my recordings. Hopefully there will be more sound in upcoming posts! Since I don't have a very wide experience with recording, I'll let you know what I do and what I've found out from friends, through research, and first-hand experimentation.

My major considerations are equipment and technique. I use a Sony minidisc recorder. It offers the best price for the quality of sound, portability, and digital editing. I use the Hi-MD format, which is Sony's "new" minidisc innovation, and I recommend it since it offers a lot of recording time on each disc, has the option to record at levels of very high quality, and has better compatibility and transferability options. (The recordings I've posted on the blog have all been done on the setting for lowest recording quality. For a recording intended for archiving I might use a higher setting, but so far this seems fine for webcasting.) There are always disadvantages, and one consistent problem with the Sony minidisc option has been Sony's proprietary file formats, which have limited file compatibility ensuing from Sony's copywright protection measures. Sony is becoming a bit less big brother than it once was, though, and the new software is supposed to be better.

The microphone is at least as important as the recorder. In fact, I think it is really the key to making a clean and clear recording. An external mic is really essential because otherwise you pick up machine noise. I'm using an electret condenser microphone that is easy to find in any Sony store (there are a lot in the Czech Republic, I don't know about other places in Europe). It cost about 100 USD. This is not fancy by microphone standards, but it works. The advantage of the microphone is that it is very small and (relatively) unobtrusive. A lot of "technique" will differ based on the sort of microphone you use. Condenser mics, even a low-end one like mine, are very sensitive (note windscreen note below) and have to be handled with care lest your recordings sound like distant thunderstorms are forever threatening.

Mic positioning is aso important. To record specific sounds, it's important to get close as close as possible. When I recorded the ticket stamper, for example, the microphone was only inches from the stamper (I used a dummy ticket so I could get the sound more than once). The farther away from the sound source(s) the microphone is, the more you hear other noises.

Windscreens (the little foam bits that cover the end of the microphone) are important. The more sensitive a microphone you use, the more important that little piece of foam becomes. Some microphones have built in windscreens. Here's my tale of woe. When I got my current microphone, I thought, "Hmm. That crappy little piece of foam doesn't do anything!" I promptly lost it when moving out of an apartment. Then a friend told me that it was important. I was skeptical. I tried recording outdoors in a very light breeze, and it sounded like elephants were stampeding over the microphone. This wouldn't have been such a problem except that I can't find a new one in the Czech Republic that fits the microphone. The moral is, keep your windscreen or you may not be able to find an affordable one (new ones can cost more than 30 USD, even though they're just foam; the big poofy ones cost even more).

For editing on computer, I use Audacity, a free program that is great for simple editing. There are fancier options, but Audacity works fine for my purposes. You can read a good article about moving audio from your original recording to the computer here.

Finally, you need a way to play it on the blog. I chose Odeo because they have the embeddable player option. I got the idea from the Global Voices Online podcasts page.

I say all this with longwinded musicologist-geek authority because I learned it the hard way. Graduate school ain't about learning practical skills, it's sink or swim while contemplating the finer points of Schenkerian theory. Which means that there is a lot I don't know, but this is what I have done so far. I suggest the following sites that offer lots of helpful recording information:

If you want to do recordings of specific sound environments in cities or other soundscape type recordings, Quiet American (currently linked from the sidebar) has a lot to say about techniques and equipment. Another helpful site is www.transom.org, a wonderful radio resource with a lot of sound advice (thanks for the tip, IM). Three helpful guides to field recording, equipment, and editing are maintained by Andy Kolovos at the Vermont Folklife Center. Finally, if you use minidisc, or want to know more about it, have a look at minidisc.org.

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Beer Food

You know something's wrong when you start buying the foods that accompany Czech pivo. (Beer foods, that is.) Last time I was at the store I bought these little pickled sausages in a jar that are called utopenci. There are usually onions in the mix as well. If you're trying to imagine this, then picture these done up like pickles. Most people probably eat these at the local bar or pub, but I figured I'd give the home version a try.

The smell is curiously reminiscent of Bean and Bacon soup, a Campbell's variety that I used to like. This seemed a bit odd since it's not a very sausagey smell. The flavor is basically fatty with a vinegar zing to it, and some light notes of pepper and pickling spice linger. Surprisingly, it's quite enjoyable. And yes, if you were wondering, I bought the brand that verges on the obscene.

There's another edgier Czech beer food—tvarůžky. (Photo at right.) These are, according to my former roommates, not true cheese, but something very much like it. They are somehow related to tvaroh (a sweet, cheese-like dairy product used in cakes and pastries), but it's hard to taste or see the relationship. Tvarůžky are usually brown and come in little rings; the best ones come from Olomouc. They smell and taste very ripe—one of those foods that explains the expression about cutting the cheese. I've seen them fried at restaurants, but my roommates ate them in small pieces with butter-smothered bread and raw onions and a liberal sprinkling of ground black pepper on the top. With a glass of beer on the side, they make a quite potent snack. The mustiness of the cheese and bread combination is overshadowed a bit by the onions, but it complements the beer perfectly. Now I detect hints of tvarůžky in most Czech beers.

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