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Archive for the ‘Digital Age’ Category

Popol Vuh at eMusic!

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Big news for those of us who do the legal-downloading thing: eMusic has put some of the SPV catalog up, including 19 (count ‘em) Popol Vuh releases! Pretty awesome news — I’ll use this to fill in the gaps in my Popol Vuh collection, like the lesser-praised albums that I wasn’t planning on buying on CD anyway.

Also, Alex Temple has begun updating his blog again — his project of writing about all of the albums in his collection in alphabetical order. As for my own similar project, well, I’ve slowed down, but I’m still working on it slowly but surely. I wanted to try to post what I’ve done so far, but I’m having trouble getting the PDF to look right. I’m going to put it up soon though, as soon as I figure out the problem, just so folks can see what I’ve been up to.

eMusic carving out their no-DRM niche

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

Great, great article at ArsTechnica (an excellent computer-geekery site), regarding the rise of eMusic thanks to their business model eschewing cumbersome digital rights management (DRM) copy protection schemes. The problem with this model is that none of the major labels are willing to distribute their product electronically without DRM, so eMusic has to “settle” for indie labels.

Well, turns out this isn’t a huge problem after all. In an encouraging sign for the state of music today, apparently eMusic has a 12% market share of digital music downloads — and if the article is right, there’s plenty of room for growth, as the “bands found on the site account for almost 30 percent of sales in the US music market” — all this despite the fact that not one major-label release is anywhere to be found. I think that’s pretty great. And, equally amazingly given the ridiculous cheapness of eMusic downloads (you can literally get full albums for 25 cents), apparently their business model is making money.

On a side note, I find it fascinating, and pretty shocking, that the average age of eMusic’s customer base is… drumroll… 39! Really? I wonder what the average age of an iTunes customer is — or for that matter, the average age of anyone that downloads (legal) music. Probably at least a decade younger.

In which I pimp foobar2000

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Well, if I’ve been going through music burnout as I mention in my previous post, at least it’s been mitigated by the fact that my recent spike in interest in computer nerditude has led me to upgrade my playback software to foobar2000 v0.9 (from v0.7 — it’s been a while since I upgraded). This is really the ultimate music playing software for the slightly geeky crowd. It’s practically infinitely customizable, though since it comes with a totally bare-bones, ugly interface, it’s not really for the casual computer user, and won’t be fully appreciated except by those who really want to take the time to customize their music software.

Aside from the customizable user interface, foobar also has amazing batch tagging capabilities, native support for a wide array of popular audio formats, including OGG and FLAC, powerful organizational possibilities through an album database function, ReplayGain support to deal with albums of widely different mastering levels, and the fact that it’s stable, bug-free, and will run breezily on systems that bloated pieces of shit like RealPlayer, iTunes, Windows Media Player and some versions of WinAmp would slow to a crawl.

Below is what I’ve done with my foobar (I cheated and stole someone else’s basic config, then built around it); you can click the thumb for a full-size version. I usually have it taking up most of the real estate on my secondary display:

For those interested, check out the foobar2000 official website for a download of the stable 0.9 build (if the TAGZ scripting language scares you off, you can always do what I did and steal someone else’s config from forum threads like this or this), read the extremely active and helpful official forums for hints on how to customize the look and feel, and download what I think are the most essential plugins for the latest version (one of the examples of how unfriendly foobar is to unsuspecting non-geeks is that new versions are almost never backwards compatible with plugins written for older versions):

  • foo_ui_columns Columns User Interface — the one single plugin you need to make foobar actually start looking good; an absolute must.
  • foo_uie_albumart Album Art — displays the cover artwork for the currently playing album in a Columns UI sidebar. Requires a bit of work to get all the cover scans you need, but it’s well worth it and you can use software like the Album Art Aggregator to make the process easier. (See the upper left of my screenshot above.)
  • foo_uie_albumlist Album List Panel — Adds the powerful database-driven album list functionality (allowing searching and sorting by artist, album, genre, directory structure, and more) to a sidebar panel using Columns UI. (See the lower left of my screenshot above.)
  • foo_infobox File Info Box — Adds essential tag-editing functionality, especially for torrented files.
  • foo_input_shorten SHN decoder — adds support for the mildly popular Shorten lossless format. Mostly for folks interested in live recordings and torrents.
  • foo_playcount Playback Statistics — tracks how many times you’ve played a song. Inessential but fun.

Between foobar, the Exact Audio Copy CD ripping program, and the LAME MP3 encoder, I have everything I need to encode my entire music collection to convenient electronic files — and all these software packages are completely free. I now have my computer hooked into my amp and bookshelf speakers instead of using crappy computer speakers, so this is pretty much how I listen to all my music at home these days.

Ok, here ends my plug. I’ve been having fun playing with foobar for a couple days now; hopefully soon my excitement for the music itself will get back up to its normal levels!

France to legalize file-sharing?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

Wow: according to this Bloomberg article, the French Parliament voted to legalize file-sharing with regards to music and movies. Not really sure what to think of that. I’m all for the replacement of the current music industry business model with something sustainable given the utter ease of digital duplication and distribution these days, but is this really the right answer?

Probably a half-step would be better: don’t let industry thugs like the RIAA get away with suing grandmothers and pre-teens for downloading, but at the same time, don’t just let people copy whatever they want whenever they want. How to find (and how, technologically, to implement) a middle-ground measure is awfully tricky to imagine, though. What the ethical basis for such a compromise would be is also a bit hard to see.

Jazz as “the opposite of business”

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Nice ending paragraph from an article in today’s New York Times about the 2005 releases of a 1957 Thelonius Monk Quartet archival on Blue Note, and Coltrane’s One Down, One Up (which is at the top of my wish list).

This is how jazz works. It is not a volume business. (Its essence is the opposite of business.) Its greatest experiences are given away cheaply, to rooms of 50 to 200 people. Literature and visual art are both so different: the creator stands back, judges a fixed object, then refines or discards before letting the words go to print, or putting images to walls. A posthumously found Hemingway novel is never as good as what he judged to be his best work. But in jazz there is always the promise that the art’s greatest examples - even by those long dead - may still be found.

If this is the case, then, and I say this because I have Tzadik on the brain thanks to eMusic, John Zorn and company are following the right model — releasing scads of great live recordings alongside (or, in the case of bands like Electric Masada, in lieu of) relatively contemporaneous studio recordings. Tim Berne is another great example, as his Screwgun releases are often basically just high-quality audience DAT recordings packaged onto CDs.

On that topic, I’m currently most enthralled with the latest 50th Birthday release, Painkiller’s. This series has been a real goldmine for me, although I’ve been avoiding the non-band stuff (Zorn solo and with guests) except for Volume 5, the duo with Fred Frith, because I know that stuff will just grate on me more than anything else. But the stuff I do have is fantastic, including this one (Volume 12).

I joined eMusic

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Yesterday I signed up for after posting the below entry, to get my 50 free downloads. Sure enough, it’s on a purely track-by-track basis, so I downloaded the entirety of FantômasDelìrium Cordìa, all 74 minutes and one track of it, and still had 49 tracks left to download. Hmm.

I also discovered that while Tzadik has nearly 400 albums up on eMusic, it’s equally if not more exciting to find that both ReR and Atavistic have some 125 albums each up there as well. This is alongside plenty of indie labels, jazz labels, metal labels, and so on — eMusic is strong in all those areas, weaker in classic 70s music, mainstream prog, and, actually, contemporary mainstream rock and pop.

I also may have to rethink what I posted yesterday about exclusively using eMusic as a kind of scouting service. It does seem a little silly to pass up on what is essentially an enormous amount of incredibly cheap music. Still, I’m not quite sure what my approach will be. Most of the things I really like I’ll probably still buy on CD, but for other things I might just settle for the MP3s.

I’m thinking about joining eMusic

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Most everyone who’s been paying attention knows by now that Tzadik has put their entire discography, nearly 400 albums, online at I think this is unbelievably awesome, and is going to result in Zorn’s label getting a lot of money out of me at least. However, I’m only using emusic for the unfortunately brief (30-second) free previews, figuring out what I like, and then going to a real record store to buy the actual CDs. I’ll probably sign up eventually for $10 a month just to download a full track from each album that sounds promising, and make more informed decisions based on that.

Call me old-fashioned, maybe, but the true reason behind this decision to buy actual CDs isn’t necessarily that I like having a real CD with real packaging — although that is also true. The real reason is that emusic is kind of behind the times and only offers downloads as lossy MP3s. If they offered FLACs, I might rethink. Still, this is extremely cool, and who knows — I might download full albums I might not like quite enough to buy the actual CD of.

Also, another eMusic flaw is that they seem to charge by track — you pay a certain amount to be able to download a specific number of tracks per month. They don’t seem to have a download-by-album option, so you pay a lot more for an album that has 20 short tracks as opposed to 3 long tracks. Maybe once you sign up a solution to this problem becomes apparent. It does seem like a pretty major issue.

You can browse Tzadik’s catalog at emusic from this starting point.

I am officially a Dimeadozen junkie

Friday, November 11th, 2005

Having moved about six weeks ago (locally in Washington, DC), I only just — two days ago — got a broadband connection set up at my new house. And I’m relieved to have it again, not so I can check e-mail or the weather or the news or music sites, no… but so I can get back to my Dimeadozen addiction. For those of you who haven’t gotten with the program, Dimeadozen (hereafter just “Dime”) is a carefully-controlled bittorrent site on which users post live recordings — but any hint of any commercially-released material, or material from bands who publicly condemn live recordings, is immediately removed, so theoretically it’s all legit. Further, only lossless formats are allowed (ie mostly FLAC files — MP3s are allowed only if there is no lossless original recording).

In just a couple months on Dime, I’ve discovered recordings of bands I honestly never expected to ever, ever hear live recordings of. To wit: Art Bears, Weidorje, Aksak Maboul, Happy Family, Shub Niggurath, Änglagård, even some zeuhl band so obscure no one has ever heard of them (and they never released any recordings), Evohé. It’s amazing how these unlikely, decades-old recordings of unbelievably obscure bands come out of the woodwork. There have also been plenty of recent recordings of equally-obscure modern prog bands, including a bunch from NEARfest 2005, as well as from various avant-rock festivals in Europe.

Probably my favorite finds, though, are a couple of immaculate soundboard recordings of Belgian avant-jazzers Aka Moon with guests: one from 1997 with African percussionist Doudou N’diaye Rose (who also collaborated, decades earlier, with Toubabou), and one from 2002 with a turntablist who just rips. Great stuff!

In fact there’s so much great music to be found on Dime that I have been having a hard time balancing my listening between new CDs and new live recordings. I’ve never been a huge fan of live recordings simply because there’s so much music out there to discover that I always kind of thought it a waste of time to listen to 20 different versions of the same songs; but when you get recordings of such obscure bands who are supposedly great live, it’s tough to resist. And I’m not regretting my time spent with most of this stuff!

What’s spinning, January 28 edition

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Mike Prete asks the question: What have you been listening to lately? Well, okay, he didn’t really ask it that explicitly, but I feel like answering anyway. I’ve been unemployed for the past two months - quit my job at the beginning of December - so I’ve had plenty of time on my hands to listen to good stuff (and catch up on some promos that I was sent long ago).

Currently spinning is free-jazz alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s The Sublime And. - a totally brilliant live album from his Science Friction band - Berne on sax, plus his usual sidemen on guitar (the inimitable Marc Ducret - I’m trying to track down his Qui parle?), drums, and keys/electronics. This stuff totally rips. I’ve definitely been on a kick lately exploring some of the more out-there modern jazz - the downtown scene, the Blue Series stuff, lots of the better stuff on Tzadik, etc. Berne’s work may be edging closer to my favorite among it all, though knocking off Electric Masada’s 50th Birthday Celebration disc might be a tall order.

Otherwise, well, a lot of the stuff I’ve been listening to has been the stuff I’ve reviewed recently. For a while I was back to metal, listening to Amorphis and Dissection and the like - and right now I’m trying to find myself a copy of Gorguts‘ followup to the absolutely brilliant Obscura, From Wisdom to Hate. The release of K.A had me revisiting a lot of my old Magma - I think K.A may eventually become my favorite Magma album, because it’s got all the ingenuity of the old stuff, but with way, way better production and sound.

And I found some tapes of my old radio show, “In Praise of Listening,” that I did for one semester my sophomore year at WYBC, Yale’s radio station, before their Internet stream went down for something ridiculous like an entire year. Listening to that brought back some pretty neat memories, and reminded me of a lot of old stuff I haven’t even thought about recently - like, say, that great surprise from Rockenfield/Speer, Hells Canyon.

The neat thing about my listening style is that I now listen almost entirely to MP3s. When I get a new CD, I rip it immediately to MP3 - I have a 160-gigabyte hard drive dedicated entirely to music, and a 40-gigabyte portable MP3 player (the Creative Nomad Zen Xtra - a slightly clunky and considerably cheaper iPod clone). Because of this, I have ready access to practically my entire music library whenever I want. No hunting around for CDs, no having to switch CDs every time I want to listen to something different. Sometimes this is bad, because I get all ADD. But most of the time it’s great, because it means that I listen to a much more diverse range of stuff than I would otherwise, and I’m much more likely to, say, listen to old stuff that I haven’t pulled out in years. I don’t have enough inclination to go get my old Pink Floyd CDs, but sometimes I have enough to scroll down to the Ps and click on “Echoes”. I was a little afraid my listening habits would go completely bonkers with this newfound freedom when I made the switch to MP3s, but I think the real effect has been almost entirely positive.

But I digress. How about stuff I’m looking forward to? Let’s see - the Naked City box, the new Present (oh man), the new Mars Volta (I think it’s either going to be really, really awful or really good), the new Silver Mt. Zion. That’s some good stuff. But I would be pretty surprised if 2005 turns out to be a better year for new music than 2004; last year was really, really good in my opinion. I think it’s going to be hard to keep my best of 2004 list down to ten albums, in fact, especially if I accumulate much more from 2004 over the next 11 months before I write the list.

In short, though, most of what I’m doing right now is trying to restrain myself from buying shitloads of new jazz CDs until after I get a job and have some cash flow again. Oooh, it’s hard sometimes.

So I got an MP3 player

Monday, February 23rd, 2004

A little before last Christmas I went and bought myself a 40GB Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra (how’s that for an overly long name). It’s noticeably larger than an iPod and the interface, to be blunt, sucks ass - but it was also more than $200 cheaper than the comparable 40GB iPod. I’m not generally one to pay extra bucks for style, and this was no exception. I can put up with the shitty interface.

So anyway, the interesting thing about this purchase is that my listening habits have changed. That in and of itself is neither interesting nor particularly surprising: when you suddenly have the capability to carry 500 albums (encoded at high-quality variable bitrate) in your pocket, some things are bound to change. What is interesting is how my habits changed: I now am more likely to listen to full albums rather than random individual tracks. This is surprising, to me at least: I’d think that given the ability to access any of thousands of songs with the touch of a button, I’d listen more to great songs rather than entire albums, which more often than not are padded with weaker songs among the good ones.

Indeed, when I had my CD player in my car I would invariably listen to mix CDs that I’d made - personal greatest hits collections. Now, when I plug my Zen Xtra into my cassette adapter, I skip the playlists and just listen to whole albums. Previously, I rarely had the patience to sit through an entire album in the car. The annoyance of having to switch CDs while driving meant that, instead of listening to original CDs, I burned mixes so I wouldn’t stick in a CD, get bored halfway through, and have to change it. Now, because I can just push a few buttons to change to a new album if I get bored halfway through, I’m far less hesitant to start playing a full album from the beginning. This all makes sense. The mystery is, why is it that now I seem to have more patience and am more frequently able to listen to an album in its entirety?

Maybe part of it is a physical fetish thing. I see all these great CDs lying around, and just seeing them makes me think of the music on them and makes me want to listen to them. So I’m compelled to keep switching CDs. With the MP3 player there are no visible cues as to other music I could be listening to, so I have no motivation to switch music and am instead content to listen to whatever I’m listening to already.

I’m rambling. But this is odd. I remember posting a long time ago that I was afraid of what an MP3 player might do to my already-fragmented listening habits; evidently these fears were entirely misplaced.