Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: music (page 1 of 4)

Dinner and a show

Gwen resolved (for both of us) that we should see more live music this year. Last night we took a step in that direction by seeing the Golden Hornet Project with the Tosca String Quartet at Lambert’s.

Neither Gwen nor I had been to the current incarnation of Lambert’s (and incarnation is the right word for a “fancy barbecue” joint)—we had been to the old one on South Congress once. So we decided to make an evening of it—we got their early, got seats at a table, and ordered dinner. I had the brisket with a side of mac and cheese; Gwen got the trout with a side of mashed potatoes, and we split a Caesar salad. My brisket was good but not amazing; Gwen said her trout was some of the best fish she ever had. The sides were excellent and decadent, and the salad was also very good.

The show was great. It consisted of alternating numbers by Peter Stopchinski (of Brown Whörnet) and Graham Reynolds (of Golden Arm Trio), performed by Tosca, with the composers sitting in on piano for some of them. Some of this we’d heard before, but most of it was new. Some of it was challenging to listen to—jangly and discordant in spots—some of it was beautiful.

There’s nothing so pure as the kindness of an athiest

Gwen’s been a fan of Freakwater for some time—a couple of women belting out country music with warped lyrics. Last night they played at the Cactus Cafe, along with a drummer/clarinetist/keyboardist, pedal steel guitar/mandola player, and bass player ripped straight out of the Rockabilly Book of Stereotypes, with an ugly old turned-around Rickenbacker and a black cowboy shirt with pearl snaps and embroidering. It was a good show. Two encores. The Zincs (well, the Zinc, since there’s only one) opened, and he was good too.

As a side note, it is interesting that Freakwater posts fan transcriptions of their lyrics on their website. After the recent flap over lyrics posted online, this is refreshing.

And as an update to this side note, it’s doubly interesting that Google’s new music search takes you directly to a lyrics search link.

Liner notes

Moving can be an occasion for reconsidering how you live your life. One aspect that Gwen and I are confronting is how we listen to music.

I’ve got all my CDs ripped to digital files, and since I spend most of the day working at (or, well, sitting at) my computer, listening to my music through iTunes is the most obvious option. I’ve been pushing for having a gadget to relay music off my hard drive to the stereo in the living room, something like the Airport Express or Slimp3 player.

Not Gwen. She doesn’t dislike iTunes, but she’s visual. She wants to browse through the covers of her music to make a selection, rather than scroll through a list of artists or the like. But she and I both feel that it would be nice to put away all of our CDs. So what to do?

The MP3 and AAC file formats allow you to include cover art as metadata right in the file. iTunes can display this art while it the track is playing. And there exist a number of applications for the Mac that will display the art when iTunes is hidden, and even help look for it on the Internet–Clutter, which I could never bond with, Sofa, which is an intriguing app now caught in limbo by its author’s death, and Synergy, which I’ve been happily using for some time. But these don’t help you browse your collection by cover—they just show you the cover once you’ve selected something.

One of the big problems with cover browsing is that you need to have the cover art. As I said, there are some programs that can help (by mining Google Images or Amazon), but often enough, they can’t find anything, or they find the wrong thing, or they find the right thing, but only a thumbnail image. And there’s some stuff for which there simply is no cover art (remixes, bootlegs, etc). I’ve been rather laboriously going through my collection and manually searching the usual sources to dig up good-quality images to make cover browsing possible. I reckon once I’m done, I’ll still be left with 2% to 5% of my collection sans art, and for that stuff, I’ll have to improvise.

I recently learned about Cover Buddy, which gives you a slide-sorter view of your cover art. It’s got some nice features, and it’s reasonably priced. But I’m really excited about my latest discovery, CoverFlow. When I read the description of this, I was doubtful of its utility, but having played with it, I’m hooked. It’s still very beta and rather primitive, but also very impressive. You really need a scrolling mouse to make the most of it.

I showed it to Gwen, and she was impressed as well. I think we’ve solved our music-browsing dilemma. Now we just need a Mac that can run CoverFlow in the living room…

Makes no difference if it’s sweet or hot

We’re having one of those whacky music weekends.

I don’t mean the ACL festival. What with the extreme heat and the crowds, that’s for masochists. A friend was forced to empty out her camelbak at the gate, and was told she could refill it from the fountain inside. Technically, there is a fountain inside, but she tells me there’s also a half-hour line to reach it, and the flow is so puny it would take another half-hour to fill her camelbak. This is nothing but evil moneygrubbing on the part of the organizers. It’s not a TABC requirement.

No, on Friday night Gwen and I rode down to Guero’s to catch our friend Gregory playing in his band, Bonneville County Pine Box. Not really our thing, but it was a fun outing.

After that, we rode over the Long Branch Inn to catch Sonic Uke and the White Ghost Shivers. Sonic Uke, which seems to be populated entirely by Cafe Mundi baristas, played their very strange interpretation of sweet music from the 20s. Always fun. White Ghost Shivers, on the other hand, is your quintessential hot-music outfit. They had seven (?? hard to tell) people crammed onto the Long Branch’s tiny stage, and they just tore it up non-stop with their rowdy, bawdy stuff until closing. Very high-energy, and a very packed room. We had to get there an hour before anything got started to find any kind of seat.

Saturday we veered in a completely different direction and heard the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin by Claudio Monteverdi, with instruments by the Whole Noyse and vocals by the St Mary’s Cathedral Schola Cantorum (phew). The program notes say that this piece marks the end of renaissance music and the start of baroque. I’ll take their word for it. The show was at St Mary’s, and I gotta say, the Catholics do not want you to get comfortable in church. The music was not my usual thing, but was excellent nonetheless.

Juana Molina

A friend recently turned me on to Juana Molina, a contemporary singer from Argentina. She just had a solo show at the Parish (formerly Mercury Lounge, and completely unchanged apart from the name). Now that we are supposed to have more free time, Gwen and I have resolved to go out for more live music, so we caught the show.

It was a solo show, with her laying down vocal, keyboard, and guitar loops live, and then playing and singing over them (I saw Warren Zevon use the same format a long time ago). Her style is very distinctive. She has a breathy voice that I think of as characteristic of Brazil’s female singers, and the sounds she makes with her instruments remind me a little of Robert Fripp. Very nice. Funny repartee with the crowd and the sound guy. She asked “how many of you speak Spanish?” Something like 10-15% of the audience raised their hand. She then explained that when she was growing up, she was listening to music in English, which she did not understand at the time–she liked the music anyhow. And that for the rest of us, listening to her singing in Spanish was a parallel experience.

Mashup

I’ve never been a fan of mashup music, but perhaps that’s because I wasn’t listening to the right stuff. I recently ran across DJ Earworm, and damn is he (she?) good. I’ll admit it’s weird stuff–mashups in general are pretty weird, but this is taking it to extremes, combining Dolly Parton (covering Stairway to Heaven, of all things), Annie Lenox, Pat Benatar, the Beatles, Laurie Anderson, and I don’t know what else all in a single track. Somehow it works.

Multiple iTunes libraries, one music folder

What follows is a solution to a problem that has annoyed a lot of people for some time now.

Suppose you are in a household with two Macs. Each person has a copy of iTunes installed. They both want access to the same music directory, but they both want it to be part of their own library.

iTunes already makes it easy to share your music over a LAN, which is nice up to a point, but doesn’t give you much flexibility: you can’t assign star ratings to someone else’s music, make playlists, or load up an iPod with it. What you really want is for all that music to be yours (and all your music to be similarly available to your cohabitant).

Here’s the recipe. I’ll assume you have a LAN set up already.

  1. On each computer, go into System Preferences : Sharing : Services and enable “Remote Apple Events”
  2. Designate one computer as the “music host”; the other will be the “music client.”
  3. On the client, connect to the host, and mount the hard drive on the host that contains the iTunes music folder. Go into iTunes Preferences : Advanced on the client and set it to use the same folder as the iTunes music folder as the host (the one on the host’s computer)
  4. In the interest of good file management, you probably want to go into iTunes Preferences : Advanced on the host and enable “Keep iTunes Music folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library”. However, on the client machine, I think you will need to disable these (otherwise multiple computers will contend over where and how the files should be organized). If the client already has music files stored locally, relocate those files to the host and remove them from the client. Add those tracks to the library of the host computer manually.
  5. Find and remove the files “iTunes Music Library” and “iTunes Music Library.xml” (or create an archive of them) from the folder ~/Music/iTunes on the client machine. Manually add all the tracks on the host machine to the client’s copy of iTunes by dragging the into the iTunes window. For very large collections, you should probably do this in chunks (iTunes seems to get confused otherwise). I added all the artists starting with A at once, then B, etc. Took a while, but it worked.
  6. Now both users have access to the same music directory, can make their own playlists, set their own ratings, load up their own iPod, etc. The problem is that the situation is static–if anyone adds a new track, things get out of sync, and only that user will have access to that track (without additional futzing).
  7. That is where the following mystical-magical script comes in. This was pretty much written by “deeg” (with some nudging from me) in the Applescript for iTunes forum at iPod Lounge.
    (*=== Properties and Globals===*)
    property theDateofLastSync : "" -- date of last sync
    property theOtherMachine : "" -- ip address of other machine
    
    (*=== Main Run ===*)
    
    if theDateofLastSync is "" then set theDateofLastSync to ((current date) - 1 * days) -- force date of last sync to sometime ago for first run
    if theOtherMachine is "" then
     display dialog "Please enter address of other Mac" default answer "eppc://"
     set theOtherMachine to text returned of the result
    end if
    
    -- chat with other machine
    set GotsomeTracks to true
    try
     with timeout of 30000 seconds
      tell application "itunes" of machine theOtherMachine
       using terms from application "iTunes"
        activate
        set theListofTracks to location of file tracks of library playlist 1 where date added > theDateofLastSync
       end using terms from
      end tell
     end timeout
    on error
     set GotsomeTracks to false
    end try
    
    -- back to this Machine
    set SyncedOK to false
    if GotsomeTracks then
     set SyncedOK to true
     try
      tell application "iTunes"
       if (count of items of theListofTracks) is greater than 0 then
        repeat with alocation in theListofTracks
         add alocation to library playlist 1
        end repeat
       end if
      end tell
     on error
      set SyncedOK to false
     end try
    end if
    
    -- save sync date if all ok
    
    if SyncedOK then set theDateofLastSync to current date
    
  8. Copy this script and save it as “sync libraries” to the directory ~/Library/iTunes/Scripts (if you don’t already have a Scripts folder there, create it). Relaunch iTunes and it will be available under the Scripts menu. You can now run this script manually on each computer to update its library against the host. Better yet, use a timed macro (or cron job, which you can set up easily with cronnix) to launch the script in the wee hours. This assumes that each computer will be turned on when the script executes.

Additional notes:

  • Assuming that different computers will have different user accounts, you will need to specify the other user’s username and password in the “please enter the address” dialog that appears when first running the script. The URL format looks like this: eppc://username:password@machinename.local I’m not sure how to deal with spaces in the computer name (perhaps a backslash \ before the space–my machines all have one-word names; you can change the computer’s name in System Preferences : Sharing).
  • Likewise, it should be possible to sync libraries between two user accounts on a single machine using the above format. This probably requires that both users are always logged in (using Fast User Switching).
  • This script only works for one host and one client. It should be possible to modify it to deal with multiple clients. I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Update With recent versions of iTunes, this is all redundant. Although it’s not entirely automated, there is a much simpler way to deal with this problem.

As above, treat one Mac as the host and one as the client. On the client, go into Preferences:Advanced and make sure that “Keep iTunes music folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes music folder when adding to library” are both unchecked. This is important.

Make sure the host’s disk is mounted on the client mac. Again, in iTunes, select the menu item “File:Add to Library…” and select the music folder on the host disk. This will scan the entire directory and add all the files to the client’s iTunes database. The client’s database will need to be updated whenever new files are added on the host (new files should only be added on the host); to do this, just repeat this process. It takes a few minutes.

Shuffling along

Apple’s release of the iPod Shuffle created a lot of buzz, as would just about anything new from Apple. And it is interesting that Apple would take the interface they developed for the bigger iPods–which is one of the aspects of the iPod that really sets it apart–and rather than try to shrink it down to fit a smaller unit, simply discard it.

It’s interesting for reflecting the changing way we listen to music. It used to be that we listened to albums, sometimes with the liner notes laid out in front of us, and there were only about six tracks per side to remember before you had to flip the record. Some people would make mix-tapes, but that was fairly arduous. And of course there’s always been the radio. I get the impression (I can’t back this up) that more and more radio is talk, though, and the music programming that remains is increasingly narrow, with two conglomerates pushing uniform formats to radio stations all over the country, and very little variation within those formats. If you want to listen to something different now, you have to listen to something other than radio.

Apple was already partly responsible for changing the way we listen, thanks to iTunes and the iTunes music store. iTunes and programs like it make it trivially easy to rip your music to your hard drive and put together a mix CD, taking individual tracks out of the context of their original albums. Or listen to customized or randomized playlists at your computer (or on your iPod). And the iTunes music store (and other online music vendors) sell tracks individually, so you may never have the whole album to start with (and this has been a point of contention for some artists, who refuse to sell tracks individually). And of course there’s that whole P2P thing, not that I would know anything about that. The existence of collections like Massive Attack’s Singles 90/98, with four or five different mixes of a given song, mocks the idea of listening to an album straight through, and invites shuffling with unrelated tracks.

So I was initially dubious when I saw the iPod shuffle, sans display, but I realized that I already listen to a lot of music from my own collection without being able to identify what it is, so the lack of a screen might not be that big of a deal after all. Right now in my car, I have the CD changer loaded with 6 CDs filled with random stuff from my music collection. I suspect most runners, pedestrians, and people riding public transit or in cars don’t check the screens on existing MP3 players much. What is most interesting about the iPod shuffle is not that it innovates (deleting features isn’t exactly an innovation) but that it is the first to acknowledge reality.

MP3 Sushi

It’s getting pretty common to have all or much of your music on a hard disk. This in theory makes it possible to do all kinds of nifty things with it. One nifty thing is listen to it remotely. It seems obvious: if your computer is online, and your music is on your computer, you should be able to get at your music over the Internet. But how?

If you use a Mac, the answer is simple: MP3 Sushi. This is actually a bundle of open-source Unix tools packaged up with a nice Mac interface. It sets up a music server you can access over the web, with handy features like live downsampling of high-bitrate music, creating m3u streams, etc.

I’ve got a fixed IP number, which makes it a little easier, but there’s a solution for dynamic IP as well.

My music is online, but is hidden behind a password to limit access. Ask me if you want to listen in.

Covers

Gwen IMs me and tells me to turn on KUT. I start KUT’s stream and listen. Some Indian-influenced spacey dance music with a twangy sitar. Fun. I don’t recognize it at first, but after 20 seconds or so, there’s an unmistakable hook.

Turns out the track I’m listening to is “From Rusholme with Love” by Mint Royale, but the sound is straight from a 1971 number called “Zoom” by the late Volker Kriegel, which I recognize from the compilation Bombay Jazz Palace.

Usually, when a band does a cover, they keep the same name on the song, or at least tip their cap in the original artist’s direction. No sign of that here. Does that make it a cover or a ripoff?

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