Tag Archives: Music

Music Piracy and Star Trek

This is one of those absolutely bizarre ideas that one has completely inexplicably, but then feel the need to share with the world.

Once upon a time, music was scarce. It was all bound up into a physical item: a vinyl record, a tape, or a CD. If you wanted a copy of the music, you’d have to physically remove that item from the possession of someone else. There was no such thing as piracy; there was only theft.

What has happened since then is that technology has ensured that music has become a post-scarcity commodity; once a piece of music is in existence, it costs almost nothing to reproduce and transmit it. As most of you are aware, this has caused the music industry to collectively shit itself; it’s not their fault, really. The people at the top were too old, and too stuck in their ways to understand that the economics they were used to were fundamentally gone, replaced by something that nobody had ever really seen before.

Which makes me wonder what will happen if something like Star Trek replicators are ever invented. To the uninitiated, a replicator allows any item to be duplicated as long as one possesses the raw materials. This of course leaves some scarcity, as the raw materials will still be hard to come by, but it raises the spectre of a world in which, say, an Audi or an iPhone can be duplicated as easily as the latest Muse single.

I have no conception of how such an economics would impact society. Imagine if the histrionics of the music industry were repeated everywhere, from every sector and corner of society.

The shame of it is that living in a truly post-scarcity society would probably be like existing in utopia. Although, there’s probably a reason that “utopia” means “not place”.

Dylan

Last Saturday the O2 Arena played host to the latest leg of Dylan’s never-ending tour, and I happened to be there, quite by chance.

Well I say that, it was actually quite difficult to get there, because over the weekend the Jubliee line was undergoing upgrade works; this is quite a problem, as the Tube is pretty much the only practical way to get to the O2, otherwise it has pretty much the worst transport links in the world.

In the end, we had to get a Tube, a train, and a rail replacement bus service, and it took probably the better part of two hours. Getting back was equally as difficult, but there we go.

Once we’d all met up and taken our seats, we waited for the show to begin. Dylan was announced by someone saying that he released some of his greatest works in the 90’s – not an ausipicious start.

He came out and launched into Maggie’s Farm. This is where things started to go rather downhill; there were no video screens, so Dylan was rather an indistinct blob in the distance. Also, at some point in the last few decades he seems to have lost the ability to sing; rather the lyrics were growled out, a short phrase at a time. This lead to a curious effect where there quite a few times where he was actually out of time with the music. The lyrics also suffered from some pretty bad intelligibility problems, so I had a hard time understanding what he was, erm, growling.

Then there was the music itself; often he’d be halfway through the song before I recognised it from the lyrics. What was performed bore no relation to the songs I knew and loved. Also he talked to the crowd exactly once, to reel off the names of the members of his band. Because apparently he doesn’t play the guitar himself any more either.

I can understand that maybe if you’ve been playing and touring as long as he has, you’d get tired and sick of the whole business; I could understand that, but do it on your own time. Sir Paul McCartney is from the same era, and he still manages to put on an incredible show.

Honestly, to play the Devil’s Advocate, I had a lot more fun going to see Coldplay at the O2. They must be sick to their back teeth of playing Yellow, but you bet it comes out at every show, and they make it look they’re actually enjoying themselves. Also, Chris Martin just seems like a nice guy, whereas Dylan just came over as a bit of a twat.

Witchcraft

So here I am, blogging from my iPhone, listening to music that’s digitally stored on my computer, using my phone as a remote control.

I think this is pretty awesome, but I’ve just been thinking that only a few years ago this would be impossible; a few years before that, utterly incomprehensible.

As the sadly missed Arthur C Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

If this is what we can do today, I can’t wait to see the future.

Speaking of remote control, anyone know of anything that would work well for controlling computers from an iPhone that’s either free or actually worth paying for?

Anyways, back in London on sunday. Looking forward to it!

My Trouble With All Music Software

Recently I’ve had a bit of a go at iTunes. I was mad, and I said some mean things, and I meant all of them. Recently, they released iTunes 8, which adds a Grid view that lays out your music in a grid of album art. Which is exactly what Windows Media Player has done for yonks, but that’s a good thing! Everybody should rip off their competitors best features without being ashamed, I say. As long as the side getting copied from doesn’t get cocky about it (I’m looking at you, Apple!).

They also added Genius, which generates a list of songs that go well with a song of your choice. This is a brilliant feature! Well done Apple, I like it. It means I don’t really have to screw around with the rest of the crappy interface to listen to just start listening to a particular kind of thing. Yay?!

Anyways, as I was looking through the grid of albums, I came across Soviet Kitsch by Regina Spektor. I didn’t realise I had this album, and so I looked closer: turned out it only contained one song: “Us”. That’s the trouble, right there. One song does NOT an album make! I do not have a copy of Regina Spektor’s album Soviet Kitsch, I have Regina Spektor’s song Us. Yet no media player I have ever seen makes this crucial distinction.

I think the problem is that engineers and computer scientists love their neat little hierarchies. Artists “contain” albums, albums “contain” tracks, and that’s just the way things are. Isn’t it neat? This leads to those cute little absurdities where if the album name is missing from the track’s tags, it ends up clustered in this neat little “Unknown Album” pseudo-album with all that artist’s other poor orphaned songs. Even worse, in iTunes albums with multiple different artists listed in the tracks’ tags get automatically fragmented into multiple copies of the same album, each with the same album art; there’s a special “Compilation album” setting you have to tick to make them stick back together. Not to mention the Soviet Kitsch fiasco.

This is just absolutely stark-raving bonkers, in my opinion. I can kind of understand the neat little hierarchy when it makes sense; I have bought all four Coldplay studio albums, so clicking through Coldplay –> Rush of Blood to the Head –> The Scientist makes sense (on many levels, it’s a really good song). But I’ve also got an album listed called Death Will Never Conquer. It’s a little ditty they released for free on their website, and it’s stylistically close to Viva La Vida. That’s creating a spurious “album”. It’s no such thing, nor will it ever be. It’s not even an album fragment.

Essentially, our music software is built with 20th century assumptions about music in a 21st century world. Maybe a friend wrote and performed some music, recorded it and sent it to me. It’s not an album, it’s just a few songs here and there, but apparently it’s from her album “Unknown Album”. There’s just that ever-present assumption that songs come bundled in albums. That’s not the world we live in.

The other major issue I have is the assumption that if it comes packaged in a music file, if it has tags, if it came on a CD – it’s music, and should go into the Artist->Album->Track hierarchy. This isn’t true, either. What about say, learn-to-speak language CDs? Podcasts? Sound effects? All my media players say I have an artist called Jasper Carrot, who has an album Jasper Carrot Live, with the track Dangerous Sports. It’s not music, it’s a actually quite funny little comedy routine about Australian car insurance forms. Can I tell any of my music manager programs it isn’t music, that it should be still there and still indexed and still playable, just not treated like music? You bet I can’t.

There’s very little that bothers me more than when things are built on faulty assumptions, and seemingly every piece of music software out there is built on these huge great ones.

I don’t know what the solution is, exactly. But I have the feeling it revolves somewhere roundabouts working out what the real fundamentals here are – like what exactly the primary identity of a track is. Common wisdom (ha!) seems to be that the primary identity is the Artist/Album/Track name triad, but I would say it was the actual sound of the music. I mean, Under the Bridge is the same recording on Greatest Hits as it is on Blood Sugar Sex Magic, for instance. Conventional reckoning of the identity would have those two being separate, which is obviously wrong! I’d say a tougher question would be if it shares an identity with Under the Bridge from Live in Hyde Park, or that hideous All Saints cover.

For the latter, I would definitely say no. I would hope you, dear reader, would too, otherwise I’m not sure we can get along.

I guess my point is that this is tough messy problem currently being solved in a simplistic and ham-handed manner, and that everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves and try and work together to do better. Maybe just baby steps at first – like if you have less than say, 50% of an album, just don’t show it up in a list of albums. If someone searches for that album specifically, show it. Easy. Practically trivial to implement too. Sadly though, I doubt anyone from Apple or Microsoft will ever read this.

Anyways, if you have other suggestions, or know of media players which work in the way I’ve described, leave a comment!

If only he’d played in Soho.

Then I could have titled this post “JoCo rocks Soho” which would have been awesome. Alas, instead he rocked Camden while I drank SoCo, which has much less dynamic flair to it.

It’s taken me just forever to get round to writing this, because as everyone knows, I’m pretty terrible and disorganised. And it’s going to be a pretty terrible blog post anyway, because I’m think I’m already starting to get typing-fatigue. Anyways, the show was fantastic, I kinda wish I’d thought to take a camera because there are pictures I’d love to show you, but I can’t. So I’ll have to resort to pushing you in the direction of Youtube and Flickr, which are no doubt full to brimming with media by now.

Anyways, the attendees were Dickie, Josh, Sarah, Samir, and myself.

Once we’d met up, we had trouble finding the venue. We walked all the way up the road to the Roundhouse, walking past the actual venue (Dingwalls in Camden Lock) by a heck of a long way. The moral of the story was that people shouldn’t listen to me when I say a big line of people doesn’t look like a queue. It was an amazingly huge queue, it stretched right around the corner and threatened to spill out onto the road, and it took ages for them to see everyone inside.

Finally we got in and found some (albeit cramped) seats. Which was lucky, as the show was a sell-out and thus the venue was filled to capacity. First impressions were that the place was filled with our people, our tribe, as it were. We spotted people wearing xkcd, HL2, Portal & Penny Arcade T-shirts. These people are our people. After buying some drinks, the man himself came on stage, apparently amazed himself at the number of people who’d turned out. The crowd was incredibly enthusiastic, cheering, screaming, the works.

The set started with Over There, contentious seeing as how it’s basically insulting us all, but I think we collectively took it in good humour.

According to “Tart” at http://www.jonathancoulton.com/2008/02/29/london-calling/#comments:

Set list was: Over There, The Future Soon, Ikea, Shop Vac, I’m Your Moon, Baby Got Back, Still Alive, a Billy Bragg cover called The Saturday Boy, Someone is Crazy, I feel Fantastic.

Set two was Tom Cruise Crazy, Better, Skullcrusher Mountain, I Crush Everything, Code Monkey (with new toy backing up the guitar), Creepy Doll, Drinking With You, Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed the World), Chiron Beta Prime, Millionaire Girlfriend, Mandelbrot Set, You Ruined Everything, re: Your Brains and for the encore: First of May.

Highlights included Code Monkey featuring his brand-new Tenori-on, the impromptu Bandaid cover with riotous audience participation, the sweet-as-heck introduction to I’m Your Moon (it’s Charon singing to Pluto!), and general laughing and singing along all evening.

Everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely, and I have to say I’ll be first in the queue to buy tickets for another show in London. And I’ve been listening to pretty much nothing but Jonathon Coulton music since the gig, so that pretty much says all that’s required.

Radiohead

“A Pig. In a cage. On antibiotics”

So I’ve know they’ve been around for a while, and I’ve got a copy of The Bends, and I’ve heard a few songs here and there, and saw them at V a couple of years back, but I haven’t really got into them especially much.

Then I bought In Rainbows the other day (I thought, I’ll pay about £5, how can it go wrong?) and it’s one of the albums I’ve enjoyed most recently. Reckoner and Nude are two of the most brilliantly beautiful songs.

So when I saw OK Computer for £4 at Zavvi (Virgin Megastore, until they decided on path of Southern Comfort-style brand suicide) and again thought, what the heck, at least I’m not out much if I hate it.

But no, I’ve been listening to it more or less non-stop for the last few weeks. I think I may actually be slightly in love with it, which is slightly worrying. I’m not a music expert or journalist, so I’ll try and refrain from using phrases like “soaring soundscapes” and “constructed melodious noise”  because I have very little idea what they actually mean.

What I do know is that possibly my favourite track is the breathtakingly experimental track Fitter Happier where a computer voice recites 90s-era motivational era statements at you, getting causually and effortlessly more surreal & disturbing. The feel is bleak and Orwellian – it’s wonderful.

(This was written yesterday and posted into the Future)