An interview with Dan Tramte – creator of Score Follower channel on youtube (part 1)
Probably most of you have at some point used youtube to read scores along with the music. There are many fantastic videos around which follow the music exactly and turn the pages for you. Although many of these videos are for classical music there are dedicated channels especially for contemporary music, and they feature a lot of music that would probably be hard to get as scores.
But who are the great people behind these efforts? Are they doing it as a hobby? Are they composers themselves? What drives them to put so much work into something that benefits the modern music community as a whole?
I took the opportunity to speak to Dan Tramte, creator of “Score Follower” channel and caretaker of “Incipitsify” channel, to answer these questions. Thanks so much to Dan for doing this (and for your patience)!
The interview will be published in 2 parts….
1) Tell us a little about yourself – how did you get involved in contemporary music? Where do you live and work?
• My name is Dan Tramte, and I am a composer who frequently works with electronic and video mediums. I recently completed a PhD in music composition / computer music media at the University of North Texas. I am now based in Somerville, MA and currently work as a teaching assistant at Harvard University, where I teach courses in musicianship. I started getting into new music when I studied percussion in undergrad. I performed a number of contemporary works due to the simple fact that some of the most interesting percussion repertoire began to appear only in recent history. I enjoyed the performance practice of interpreting difficult scores, unraveling complex rhythms, and finding practical ways of consistently executing these challenging and thus rewarding works.
As a listener then, I would still roll my eyes at the sounds of Webern, Carter, etc., but I respected those works on an intellectual level. I’m not exactly sure when I began to sincerely enjoy listening to new music; it was a gradual process. I will say, however, that YouTube played a major roll in the process. When I saw these visualizations of Xenakis’s works, Metastasis
and Mycenae Alpha,
they gave me concrete contexts for these terrifying pieces, and I could at least sort of understand them on both intellectual and affective levels. Now I’m a junky for the stuff.
2) How did the youtube channel Score Follower come about? When did you start it?
• I created the channel in 2013 shortly after a few of my works were featured on the channel, Incipitsify. I was incredibly grateful to that channel not only because it helped to disseminate my work, but also because I was studying for my doctoral qualification exams at the time, and it helped me improve my knowledge of repertoire without having to go to the library, log into Naxos, and turn pages at the right time. So much was becoming available on such an open platform, and that inspired me. Since I happen to enjoy making videos, and since I like to think that I have good taste in new music, I thought I’d give it a try.
3) How did you get involved with Incipitsify and who started that particular channel?
• A couple months ago, I received a short email from the original owner of Incipitsify, Josh, asking if I could take over his channel (for personal reasons). I knew that I would not be able to maintain the level of activity on both channels, so I divvied up the ownership of Incipitsify with two of my likeminded friends from North Texas, Ermir Bejo and Zach Thomas. Though the two channels will continue to remain separate, I am merging them into a single project (more info here:). I have since put together a team, and we are in full operation (the team: )
4) Who was the first to present scores and recordings in the way you now do? Did the idea start in the contemporary music scene or did it come from somewhere else?
• I really don’t know the entire history because so many channels have been deleted due to copyright infringement, and while I do listen to pre-20th c. music, I don’t follow that music closely enough to know those channels particularly well. I get the sense that the recording+score genre has been around since the early days of YouTube, and perhaps even earlier, but I’m fairly sure that contemporary music didn’t really pick up the idea until the early 2010s with channels like Michael Nelson (recently deleted for copyright strikes), John11inch (also recently deleted), and p0lyph0nyXX (still alive… also a friend of mine in real life). I think it was Incipitsify, though, that lead a significant ‘boom’ in the movement beginning sometime in late 2012. Recently, more and more composers make videos of their own works in this manner as well.
5) How long does it take to create these videos? Has the process been streamlined or does it remain very time consuming?
• The length of time it takes to make these videos varies substantially according to the length of the work, formatting of the pages/systems, and the difficulty level of the score. I want to give you a thorough answer, though, so let’s look at each step:
Step A. Discover music (I spend a LOT of time at concerts, on soundcloud, youtube, and social networks to keep apprised of current activities) [ongoing task]
Step B. Contact composer & obtain materials [≈ 5 min.]
Step C. Extract each page of the score into individual PDFs [≈ 2 min.]
Step D. Convert each page into a high resolution PNG file (automated process) [≈ 30 sec.]
Step E. Crop images [≈ 10-15 min.]
Step F. Import media into video editing software [≈ 10 min.]
Step G. Line up images with corresponding audio (i.e., turn the pages at appropriate points in time) [≈ 30 min. – 1 hr.]
Step H. Export video, upload copies to Dropbox & Youtube [≈ 20 min. (though mostly AFK)]
Step I. Have composer review the video by sending him/her a link to a private video, and make sure the page turns are copacetic. Also, if there are any major issues with the performance, I’ll have the composer contact the performers and make sure they are okay with having the video public (only in the case that they were not already contacted). [≈ 5 min.]
Step J. Share on social networks. [≈ 10 min.]
TOTAL: On average, 2 hr. per video.
Some pieces don’t require cropping, and/or have obvious page turns, so I can complete them in well under an hour. There are other cases, however, in which the piece is over an hour in duration, or the notation might not signify the aural result in an intuitive manner, or there is a lack of aural/visual cues, or maybe there’s an error in the performance that makes it extremely difficult for me to determine the page turns. Therefore some pieces require me to spend several hours learning the notational system, and searching for cues that a performer may have unintentionally omitted.
Needless to say, it is a lot of work, but I only spend a few hours per week working on these tasks. When I started, I figured that I could simply binge-watch two less episodes of whatever show I was watching—I believe it was Breaking Bad at the time—per week, and instead, do something productive.
6) What are the main challenges converting scores into videos? Is there stuff you can’t do? What are the limitations, what are the advantages?
• I can only think of one main limitation. You know how annoying it is when somebody takes footage with their mobile device in portrait mode? Since the portrait frame displays perpendicular to the 16×9 landscape frame that YouTube uses, the video becomes so small because of all the wasted space. Unless you have a vertical computer monitor, or you’re watching on an iPad, there’s only so far you can zoom in to view the detail of the video. Likewise, I think you will find that most of the videos uploaded to Incipitsify and Score Follower are of solo or small chamber ensembles because we can easily squeeze a system or two within the frame and fill up most of the space. Orchestral, or other tall scores unfortunately do not display well within the landscape format. I guess this is an interesting issue in that we are not promoting as much repertoire for large ensembles—and these are precisely the ones that need promotion the most!
TO BE CONTINUED