NAPLES, Fla. -- Alexander Goldstein was watching the pairs skaters at the Olympics Sunday — with his ears.
From his cozy studios at ABG World LLC in North Naples, Goldstein could take apart every piece of music that is played in the "Iceberg" Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, over the next week.
A fair number of them will be his own creations. Goldstein is something of an Olympiad himself among sports music programmers, having edited music for 38 gold medal ice skating programs, and at least as many silver medals.
"I counted. There are 104 competing, and Alex has worked with 26 of them," said his wife, Marina Berkovich. She and her husband don't wait for prime-time coverage; they've been streaming Olympic ice competition live over the last week. Goldstein-edited music is behind Canadians and Russians, as well as the U.S. leaders — Meryl Davis and Charlie White — going into the ice dance finals on Monday.
Goldstein has edited competition music for Koreans, Japanese and nearly every Western country. In fact, he programmed the music behind the first ice dance competition to be sanctioned by the Olympics Federation, back in 1976. Liudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov, Russians, as was Goldstein, won it.
"Everything was different in those days. You had to work with tapes — it was so much harder," Goldstein said. "Now it's all done on the computer."
That doesn't make the work easy. When Davis and White take to the ice on Monday, skating to Rimsky-Korsakov's romantic "Scheherazade," it will be only after a compilation that has had to do its own epic ice jumps.
For every program he edits, Goldstein must find recordings played at the exact speed set for each type of dance by the International Skating Union. That music must also fill the choreographic needs of the skaters' program. For the Davis and White routine, Goldstein combed through 15 different versions of "Scheherazade."
What TV watchers will hear is his careful blending of just three of those versions, choosing among phrases from each of them to insert the necessary rhythm where the program calls for it and to extend or cut a phrase to work with a lift, a jump or a compulsory move. While Rimsky-Korsakov might scratch his head, Goldstein surgically connects the pieces so seamlessly most viewers are sure they heard a single work.
There's a maze of mathematics. Depending on the beats per minute, songs can stretch out by as much as 20 seconds. So, for a short program such as the pairs skaters competed in Sunday, Goldstein had to make each piece fit a time slot of two minutes, 50 seconds, with a maximum 10-second overrun. Because the tempo uses fox trot and quick step, rules set the beats per minute at a brisk 104, with a tiny, two-beat leeway on either side.
Goldstein isn't finished. International Skating Union judges must approve the music before it's used. Goldstein learned long ago that incorporating a detectable little fillip that will help them keep the beat is critical.
"The judges aren't music experts," he explained. "They're skating experts. They're straight about this. If they can't keep the rhythm, they won't allow the music."
So, with his synthesized talent, he creates a swirl of strings around each planned spin or incorporates a bass and flute "count" into a phrase. Few of the millions of people watching around the world have an inkling of the musical architecture that's been built for this single 3-minute dance. By the time he's finished, the edited, embellished music program of "Scheherazade" on his computer looks like Morse code done in Lego blocks.
Goldstein and Berkovich don't only work with the Olympics; music edited by ABG is at nearly every world skating competition. Goldstein has composed documentary scores, radio and TV scores and his own contemporary works, including "Rotissimo," an homage to the legendary film composer, Nino Rota. He and Marina have won Tellys for their work with the Naples Historical Society's documentaries and created "Naples, Redefining Paradise," a video tribute to their adopted home.
There's one skill Goldstein won't take advantage of. He is certified as an official coach with the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Goldstein can't skate.
"No," he said with a sheepish smile. "Never. I'll let the coaches who can get on the ice handle that part of it."