iPod Evolution

iPod Evolution escapePod Pinwheel Herman Gustav

So the tunequest is now powered by a new 5.5th generation iPod (80GB). His name is "Gustav" (after Mahler and Holst); let’s all give him a warm welcome.

At long last, I can fit all my remaining tracks in my pocket, none of that "2000 songs sorted alphabetically by album" crap. That’s pretty awesome. However, I’m slightly dismayed that I still can’t take my entire library with me on the road. Due to the usual hard disk conventions, that 80GB HD actually holds 74.44GB of space. My library currently measures at 75.36GB.

C’est la vie (say the old folks). It’s just as well I suppose. That’s honestly too much music to have to deal with at one time (but it is great for shuffling). Plus, I do plan on making full use of its video functions, which will certainly require much space.

In that photo above, you’ll see my iPod evolution. On the left is a 5GB 1st generation, from back when they were Mac-only and had a mechanical scroll wheel. It still works, mostly. Its HD got a little bit flaky, so, after a year and a half, it was replaced by a 15GB 3rd generation, the all-touch-panel model. It also still works, but its battery lasts only about an hour and, after nearly 3 years, it is feature sparse compared to the current offering (larger display, video, photos, adjustable audiobook playback, etc).

So it was time to upgrade. I told myself I would resist the urge to get a new pod until the capacity was 80GB or greater, so TA DA. There it is. It’s going to be fun.

I wasn’t always a Radiohead fan

Hard to believe, I know, considering that Radiohead recently valted to the top of my last.fm profile and that the band has consistently been in the top 5 in my iTunes library in terms of number of songs, average ratings and total play counts.

But it’s true, I was late to the Radiohead party. For about five years after they band hit with Creep, I was unimpressed. At the time of that song’s release, I didn’t expect to hear much from the band after its popularity died down.

So I was mildly surprised when the group re-emerged with The Bends to favorable buzz. My own opinion hadn’t changed in the intervening years. When Fake Plastic Trees was released as the first single, I renewed my dislike for the band and vowed to continue indignantly ignoring them. I liked that song even less than Creep. That indignation only grew as Radiohead became more popular, as musical popularity tends to be a sign of mediocrity.

You see, I’m pretty open to musical experimentation; I think you’d pretty much have to be to build a library the size of mine. But once I make up my mind, I’m rarely apt to change it. There’s just so much good music, that it’s generally not worth the time to continuously devote the time and effort to re-evaluating things I’ve already passed on. That’s what makes my Radiohead turnaround remarkable; it almost never happens and never to this degree. I’ve been known to soften my criticisms of a band, but I’ve never gone from abject dislike to unchecked adoration like I did with Radiohead.

I credit my transformation with three coinciding factors.

First, it was fall/winter 1997. Radiohead’s popularity had metastasized with the release of OK Computer. The album, of course, had been a runaway success for six months or so, which meant increased exposure to the band’s music. I was intrigued to find that I wasn’t all that offended by Paranoid Android. So my interest was piqued.

At the same time, Dan, a friend and musical compatriot, had been relentlessly imploring me to reconsider my stance.

But what really turned it around for me was the video for Just. I don’t recall exactly where or when I saw it, but that video was so brilliant that it instantly turned me from wary of to excited about Radiohead. It didn’t hurt that the song completely rocks.

I suddenly couldn’t get enough of the band and quickly obtained all their albums plus several singles. I even changed my opinion of Creep (five stars in iTunes), though Fake Plastic Trees still ranks as one of my least favorite songs.

All these years later, I’ve still not seen the band perform live, which I understand is a transcendental experience. To help make up for that though, I’ve collected a fair amount of the band’s music, more than 250 songs and counting in my library, consisting of albums, singles, bootlegs and live recordings. Hopefully one day soon, they’ll swing through my town and I’ll be able to get some tickets…

The video that made me a Radiohead fan:

It’s a continuing mystery what the guys says, but I’m pretty sure it’s "Check it out. Radiohead is playing in that apartment up there."

Supreme Beings of Leisure: Overlords of Recreation

supreme leisure

The Supreme Beings of Leisure debut has the distinction of being one of two albums that I’ve ever purchased after hearing less than a minute of music from it. The other is The Dandy Warhols Come Down. I bought it shortly after listening to snippets of a couple of songs at a Barnes & Noble kiosk. Incidentally, it’s entirely possible that themodernista sold the cd to me about six months before we officially met.

For a time, I was enthusiastic about it and the record received a lot of play. That was five years ago.

I can truthfully say that, despite the enthusiastic start, the album hasn’t aged very well. Perhaps it’s because it has this kind of big-budget Propellerheads-meets-Portishead slickness to it that comes across as formulaic. Like a Michael Bay film, the Beings produce a superficially appealing work that can’t help but come across as cold and calculated from the start.

Granted, the album’s retro-lounge-spybreak sensibilities do sound good and the music is not unpleasant to listen to. I just can’t escape the feeling that each song was deliberately designed to be used as the establishing background music for trendy night clubs on TV or in as many commercials as possible.

In the end, I think I’ll hang on to it (for a lark), but I won’t respect myself for it.

On iTunes
Supreme Beings of Leisure
Dandy Warhols
Propellerhead
Portishead

Star Trek Refit: Balance of Terror Side-by-Side comparisons

I know I know. It’s a bit off topic for the tunequest, but I couldn’t help myself. Here’s a bunch of the new "enhanced" Star Trek footage of the new revised special effects from Balance of Terror Star Trek: The Original Series - Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1 - Balance of Terror for folks who are having trouble locating a station that’s showing the new episodes. Enjoy.

Myself, i’m refusing to pass judgement on them.

Joel McNeely – Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

shadows of the empire

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire at itunes Shadows of the empire at amazon enhanced cd

In 1996, LucasFilm embarked on a multi-channel marketing project in an effort to make more money off the aging Star Wars franchise. The result was Shadows of the Empire, a venture that involved all the machinations of a movie marketing and tie-in campaign, without the production of an actual movie. In total, the endeavor included a novel, comic books, video games, trading cards, toys (of course) and, most relevant to this site, a soundtrack.

Not surprisingly, John Williams was approached to compose the score, but he declined, instead recommending Joel McNeely for the job.

McNeeley’s results are quite surprising and offer a unique look at Star Wars music. In contrast to Goldsmith’s approach with SG-1, McNeely almost completely abandons the established music for the franchise. Beyond the opening titles, there’s scantly a mention of any Star Wars motif or cue. No location cues for places featured in the films, and no character motifs save for a short mention of Leia’s theme. There’s a single quote of the "rebel fleet" cue from the end of The Empire Strikes Back and brief blast of the force theme. The Imperial March makes two brief appearance. Beyond that, the music is wholly original.

Listening to the soundtrack this past week, I couldn’t help but hear this music as I would some romantic-era "program music." Indeed, that’s what Shadows of the Empire essentially is. As a soundtrack without a film, each track works as a symphonic poem that exists to convey the ideas, settings and emotions of the story, without being tied literally to the images on a screen, leaving sonic imprints of peoples, places and events that can only be imagined.

Easily highlighting the score is track seven: The Seduction of Princess Leia, which is built around a fabulous freakin’ waltz, a first for Star Wars. The rest of the album is equally intriguing, invoking fantastic settings in a way reminiscent of the late romantics. Imagine Debussy or Holst writing music for Star Wars; the results would probably be similar to this.

Derivatives: A Tale of Two Joels, part 1

This past week I listened to two soundtracks that were spin offs from successful motion pictures. However, neither one was for a motion picture sequel.

The first was Joel Goldsmith’s score to the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1, the long-running TV show. Joel, of course, is the son of legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith, and is a composer in his own right.

I have to give him credit for this score. While it’s not terribly inventive, it does an excellent job of continuing David Arnold’s themes and motifs from the original film. Rather than re-invent the wheel, the SG-1 score is a nearly seamless transition to the small screen which keeps the Stargate universe cohesive. The re-use of the original cues also gives the score a much larger sound than is typically found on television program, where budgets for music are limited.

SG-1 assumes that the viewer knows the premise of the show. Thus, the show spends less time than the film did unraveling a mystery and concentrates more on action and spectacle. The TV score reflects that, providing 50 minutes of compelling music.

Another Musical Tragedy on my part

bugs! starship troopers

Starship Troopers Basil Poledouris - Starship Troopers - Klendathu Drop is one of many film scores sitting in my library that haven’t received much more than a cursory listen from me. For more than four years, Basil Poledouris’ score has gone unappreciated by me and, and damn, I regret that. I don’t remember the film well enough to judge the music as it’s used on screen, but alone, this is some robust stuff.

Sweeping, stirring, rousing and vibrant, this score is fittingly thematic and action-packed. It makes particularly good use of low brass. But avoid that last song; it’s terrible.

How to use iTunes 7 built-in back up

Another new feature of the newly-minted iTunes 7 is that the program now features a built-in back up system, similar to that originally found in iPhoto. The function allows you to copy either your entire library or just your iTunes Store purchases. However, you are limited to backing up to either CD or DVD, no external drives and no networks.

Select "Back up to disc…" from the file menu.

iTunes 7 backup menu

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New to iTunes 7: Album Artist and other features

In addition to all the hullabaloo about the new iTunes 7, here are the minor enhancements and changes I noticed while exploring.

Album Artist

There’s a new music tag called "album artist." I’m not sure what it’s used for yet, but it could be for compatibility with windows media files. UPDATE: From glancing around the interweb it seems as though album artist is in fact used by wma files, but i think iTunes 7 still doesn’t play them (i don’t have one to test). within iTunes, however, it looks like the tag is most useful for when a song has a guest artist in addition to the main artist, like Basement Jaxx featuring J.C. Chasez. Under the iTunes 6 scheme, I had been putting that info in the comment field. I’ll let you know how it works, when I try this method.

It could also be useful for classical music in situations where a soloist or vocal is featured in addition to the orchestra. On that note, please allow me to plug my classical music tagging article, which was written for iTunes 6, but still applies today because of the iPod’s shortcomings.

From Apple’s support page:

iTunes 7 includes a new attribute for song files called Album Artist This allows you to assign a primary artist name for an album that many includes songs by several artists. It is important that all songs in the album have the same Album Artist name. To assign an Album Artist, select all the songs in the album and choose Get Info from the File menu. Next, type a name in the Album Artist field name such that it will apply to all the selected songs. This field can optionally be left blank if all the songs have the same album name.

Album Artist is not respected by the iPod, however, at least not iPod Software 1.2. Songs continue to be sorted by the Artist tag alone, which of course makes the new tag almost useless. I say, "almost" because I did find one use for it. Also, I have additional criticism of the Album Artist tag with regards to the iPod.

iTunes album artist

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New Album Sorting Options

The album column in list view also sports new sorting options. Click on the Album header. It’ll switch between Album, Album by Artist (each artist’s album sorted alphabetically), and Album by Year (each artist’s album sorted chronologically). Click the triangle to reverse the sorting order.

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Gapless and Crossfade

And it looks like you have to tell iTunes that your songs are gapless. If you’re using Crossfade playback, click “Part of a gapless album” to keep seamless songs together. Look under the song options. Thanks Brian!

iTunes gapless playback

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New batch operations in iTunes 7:

iTunes 7 batch

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Multiple Libraries

Hold down option (or alt) when opening iTunes to choose from multiple libraries. You can also create a new library from scratch and save it in a new location. iTunes will use this library as its default until another is selection using this same method.

iTunes 7 multiple libraries

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New Smart Playlist Selectors

iTunes 7 smart playlists
Then there’s some new smart playlist criteria, including the afore-mentioned album artist, as well as the brand new last skipped and skip count.

Syncing Problems

Also, iTunes now lists all the problems it has syncing files with an iPod.

iTunes 7 ipod errors