Bjork & PJ Harvey playing Satisfaction [Stones]

I spent a portion of this Saturday going through my extended archive of music, the stuff that’s not in my central, everyday iTunes library. Most of those files are a bit old and for either quality or tagging reason, they’ve been left unincorporated. Some of these songs have been sitting untouched and unlistened to on cds and hard drives for years.

So I’ve decided to start sorting and evaluating them for re-inclusion into the main library, checking the ID3 tags, bitrates and such to make them conform to my standards.

And of course, I’m making sure I still actually like the song. In the case of this one particular song, Bjork and PJ Harvey covering the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No) at the 1995 Brit Awards, I was sure it would be gangbusters.

Turns out it was lacklusters. I didn’t much care for it. Somehow, they mangage to go over-the-top without doing anything at all.

So I’m deleting it from my collection. But not before I give it away. If eight-year-old mp3s are your thing, and the prospect of a Bjork/PJ Harvey duet makes you salivate in anticipation, download away.

Just so you know what you’re getting yourself into, there just happens to be a YouTube video of the performance:

Can anyone tell me why my iPod’s album art is a thumbnail?

OK…

CD and vinyl album covers generally come in the shape of a square. The iPod’s screen is a 4:3 rectangle. It makes sense that when displaying album art at full screen, the display would be limited to the short edge of the display, thus the white borders on the left and right sides.

So my question is, why, when I have album art that is not square, but closer to the aspect ratio of the iPod, does it still display with the white borders on the left and right?

Take a look at this image:

dismemberment plan small album art

It’s this rather kick-ass shot of the Dismemberment Plan that I’m using as the album art for the recording of a live show. Notice how it’s is in a widescreen ratio? Also notice how it has the same white borders as regular album art, plus some extra thick borders on the top and bottom?

Why does the iPod not scale the image so that I fills up as much of the screen as possible?

I know the iPod has the ability to do that. Just look at the same jpeg, but using the iPod’s Photo capability:

dismemberment plan large photo art

Full screen and lookin pretty cool. I much prefer it that way. So Apple, when you get a chance, please take care of this little over sight.

Until then, I’ll just had to settle for the thumbnail.

Weird Al – Trapped in the Drive Thru: Perfect Parody

What can I say? This is brilliant. It’s a bit long (11 minutes), so block out some time to watch the whole thing.

It also helps to be familiar with Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly’s hip-hop opera in multiple parts which tells a complex story (with several interwoven plots) of increasingly bizarre cases of infidelity and sexual hang-ups. Here’s a Google Video if you need to brush up. Sometimes referred to as the “Plan 9” of music videos, the series has obtained a bit of a cult following and it has been a ripe target for parody since its 2005 release.

So it should be no surprise that Weird Al decided to tackle it. But the caliber of the results, now that is a bit surprising. Mr. Yankovic has done some amazingly clever and funny work in the past (his Star Wars Episode I song comes to mind), but the source material for this is just so ridiculously over-the-top that its quite the feat that he was able to top it. And of course, it’s all the more astonishing that he does it by transposing the excessive and strained drama of the original to a topic most mundane: the search for dinner.

Trapped in the Drive-Thru – "Weird Al" Yankovic (Doogtoons)

trapped in the drive thru at itunes

Speeding Up Podcasts part 3: Make Yourself an Audiobook

Part of the Faster Podcasts Series

  1. Speeding up podcasts:
    Listen to more, faster – Part 1
  2. Speeding up Podcasts part 2:
    Using Audacity to speed up MP3s
  3. Speeding Up Podcasts part 3: Make Yourself an Audiobook

faster podcast

This instructional is nearly two months late. Sorry folks. I know you’ve been dying to find out the quick and dirty way to add acceleration to your podcast listening. Onward, then.

A note before we begin, these instructions are for Mac users only, as they require the use of an AppleScript to modify audio files from within iTunes. Windows folks, however, can try a variation on this method.

So without further ado, here’s part three of the series:

By converting your podcasts into iTunes-flavored audiobook files, you can save yourself some time and listen to more, faster by accelerating the speed at which they play on-the-fly using your iPod.

In the previous two articles in this series, I described how to listen to podcasts (or any sound file really) faster by

  1. using Quicktime to adjust the playback speed
  2. using Audacity to process the mp3s

Method 1 is handy for quick adjustments if you happen to listen to podcasts while sitting at a computer. Method 2 gives you fine grain control over playback speed and allows you to put the faster files on MP3 players other than an iPod.

But what if you want to be able to listen to faster audio on the go, without having to wait for Audacity to process it? Then you let your iPod do the work on-the-fly. Starting with the 4th generation model, all iPods (and iPod nanos) are capable of playing audio back at a rate 25% faster than normal. To do this though, the audio file must be in a specific format, either an Audible.com audiobook (.aa) or a bookmarkable AAC (.m4b).

Not to worry, turning your podcast mp3s into a bookmarkable is a very simple and very fast process with the help of an AppleScript: Quick Convert. Download it and install per its directions.

But before we can use that script to do any converting, we need to do some setting up and organizing. Converting podcasts this way will make iTunes treat them as audiobooks. The files will be removed from the nifty Podcast manager and appear, instead, as a jumble under the Audiobooks tab. The new files will not be accessible through the iPod’s Podcast menu.

We’ll need to set up some Smart Playlists to ensure that our converted files end up on the road with us and are easy to find. To do so, hold down the option key and watch the plus sign turn into a widget. itunes widgets Click the New Playlist button. In the window that pops up, we can specify our criteria so that our bookmarkable podcasts appear in this playlist.

It only takes two selectors:

  1. Album is <<name of podcast>>
  2. Kind does not contain MPEG


Click for full size. This example features The Sound of Young America, which you really should be listening to.

Do this for each podcast subscription you have.

When you convert podcast episodes, the ID3 tags on the new files will be exactly the same as the original, but the type of file will have changed from MPEG to AAC audio. Therefore, whenever you convert a new podcast to audiobook form, it will automatically be added to the appropriate playlist.

If you’re not sure about the podcast title to put the Album selector, get info on an episode in iTunes’ Podcast pane and copy from there.

Once those playlists are ready to go, we can do the fun part, the actual conversion. For this we use the Quick Convert AppleScript. The script allows you convert to different audio formats without having to change settings in iTunes’ preferences.


Click for full size.

So let’s get going:

  1. Select all the episodes you want to convert to bookmarkable/accelerate-able format. From the Scripts menu in the menu bar script menu, which should be visible if you’ve installed at least one AppleScript, select Quick Convert.
  2. From the window that pops up, select AAC converter.
  3. You’ll be asked if you want to make it bookmarkable. Say Yes.
  4. Then you’ll be asked if you want to add it to a playlist. If you’ve set up your Smart Playlists above, it’s unnecessary, so say no.
  5. Finally, you’ll be asked if you
    1. want to delete the original file
    2. remove it from the library
    3. do nothing
      Personally, I usually have no use for the original once converted, so I choose delete. Select your own preference.

With all the options set, iTunes will begin converting the file. Your mileage will vary of course, but iTunes’ AAC encoder is generally speedy. My G4 PowerBook processes at around 8X speed while my Intel iMac clocks in at roughly 30X.

The next time you update/sync your iPod,your new playlists containing the converted files will appear in the Playlist menu. Podcasts can be accessed under the Audiobooks menu as well. When listening to these files, use the center Select button to adjust the playback speed. It comes in three flavors: Slower, Normal and Faster.

There you have it, an easy way to adjust the play rate on an iPod. Now get listening.

The Downward Spiral of Kermit the Frog

Poor Kermit. Times have been rough for the ol’ muppet in recent years. Things just haven’t been the same since Jim died. The last major film was considered a dud and the Muppets have largely stayed out of the public eye of late. To add insult to injury, the franchise is controlled by Disney, Disney! of all companies.

Oh, for the heady days of the late 1970s, when Muppets were on top of world, making the rules and taking names. What’s an anthropomorphized piece of green fabric to do?

Apparently, the answer to that question is: find solace in drugs, booze and gloomy music.

Yes, Kermit has found solace on the darker side of life, indulging in the cathartic music of society’s more notable misfits. Nine Inch Nails, for example:

Find the full story, including a couple downloads at sadkermit.com.

Yeah, What They Said 4/17

Yeah, What They Said, links to interesting stories that I don’t have time to write about. Some people call it “link sharing.”

In television and movies, “sourced” music is music that is heard by the characters in the scene. That’s opposed to the underscore, which is heard only by the audience. StarTrek.com has a series of articles on the source music used in:

Need to identify a song? Play it for Tuniac.

For something cool, spy these intricate and detailed models made entirely out of paper.

Also, here’s a chimpanzee playing Pac-Man. Seriously.

Finally, since both Ratatat and Nine Inch Nails have made appearances recently, here’s a video mixup. It features Ratatat’s Wildcat played to the video of NIN’s The Hand That Feeds. Enjoy:

Nine Questions for The Polish Ambassador

the polish ambassador

Anyone who’s been around tunequest for a while surely knows of my fondness for The Polish Ambassador, the Earth’s greatest half man, half cyborg, all electro-groovin’ diplomat. Anyone who is new around here should get up to speed by reading my write-up of his debut album, Diplomatic Immunity.

After posting that review, I sent a list of questions to the Ambassador, inquiring about his species, his adventures, his artistic methods and, of course, his jumpsuit. Read his responses below and learn about this enigmatic officer of good will and intergalactic dancetasticsm.

::

Mr. Ambassador,

Are there other Polish Ambassadors bringing good will and electrogrooves to other planets, or are you the last of your species?

I choose the name “Polish Ambassador” merely so humans could better relate to me. My true name and profession exist in an ethereal sense that humans do not possess nor understand. There are many of my kind traversing throughout the far reaches of the galaxy.

Sometimes we pass each other on our cosmic voyages spreading good will throughout the universe. We’ll stop for a little while and say hello. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to share a hot cup of mate, perhaps eat some toast covered in the finest organic mayonnaise, and reminisce about the old days and the aural orgies we shared at The Academy.

You’ve recently moved your consulate from Chicago to San Francisco. What diplomatic opportunities do you hope to uncover there?

One thing I didn’t expect coming to this planet is the havoc that the atmosphere would wreak on my delicate, boy-like skin. Most people don’t know this but I have severe psoriasis and the moist climate of the Bay Area was mandated by my dermatologist, Dr. Friezenberger. Plus, the hilly topography will only further the development of my robust quadriceps. Thusly, I will be better able to perform my diplomatic duties. “Soft skin and huge legs are what make a man,” is what my hermaphrodite wet nurse always said.

polish ambassador in times square

What’s the greatest diplomatic incident you’ve ever had to deal with? Did it bring you glory or shame?

Once, while rollerblading along the Pacific Coast Highway, I witnessed a rainbow trout named Mohammed and a coho salmon named Isaac arguing about who has been the most influential Canadian of all time. Mohammed argued it was Mike Myers and Isaac retorted that only a trout brainwashed by celebrity culture could believe such a thing and that Mark Messier was the greatest Canadian to have ever lived. I quelled this debate by letting them know that they were both wrong and that the correct answer is, “Who is Alex Trebek.”

They both immediately recognized that I was right, copulated at once, and began to produce a super-race of fish known today as Trebekian Troutmon.

Glory this brought to all. No doubt.

Where can all the kids get their own Polish Ambassador Jumpsuit?

You must collect 10,000 proofs of purchase from Cap’n Crunch Crunchberry cereals (part of a complete breakfast), send them into General Mills, and then in 6 to 8 months you’ll get your very own one-size-fits-all Ambassador gear. Easy, right?

Any chance of a fact finding mission with live show dates?

Yes. I will connect with Earth people at the end of this summer if the Orb of Fortune aligns with the blue diamond of Pestulan.

What kind of advanced technology goes into creating your jams?

Harnessing the infinite.

Does that bonus track at the end of Diplomatic Immunity have a name? If so, what is it?

Yes. Internet Electrocution.

Speaking of song names, there’s a little irony in that the titles to your purely instrumental songs have a certain lyrical quality. What goes into your naming process?

Where I’m from there is no such thing as free will. The names of these tunes have been ordained since the birth of time and are not up to me.

Tell me something cool about Poland.

Here’s a cool thing about Poland: It’s full of Poles. Sometimes you’ve just got to face facts. Polish folks are the ideal specimens of the human race.

They also have sublime dirt.

::

There, if this hasn’t sated your appetite for all things Polish Ambassador or it simply made you hungry for sausage, continue exploring the farthest reaches of diplomacy at polishambassador.com, his MySpace page or get Diplomatic Immunity at the iTunes Store.

If that’s not expedient enough for you, just check out The Lonely Perch and you’ll get a general lay of the land:

 

Ratatat in Atlanta: The ringing in my ears

The ringing in my ears serves as a reminder that I have permanently lost a portion of my hearing, but I’m telling you it is worth it. I just got home from Ratatat’s show in midtown Atlanta and I have something to admit to you:

Seeing Ratatat perform live is one of my favorite things in the world. This show marks the third time I’ve managed to catch a performance and each time has been simply mind-blowing.

ratatat in atlanta april 10 2007

In studio, Ratatat’s synthesized beats are phenomenally addictive and their guitar melodies rock oh so much. But live, man, there’s this power and richness of atmosphere that creates a unique kind of sonic ambrosia that’s rare in modern popular music.

If I had the means, I would totally follow them around on tour.

For a good explanation of the Ratatat sound (and better photos of the show), check ohmpark’s write-up. Though I hesitate to lump Ratatat in with the 8-bit sound crowd. In fact, I think the band could hardly be farther from it. 8-bit operators rely on the primitiveness of early game music as the source and inspiration for their sound, whereas Ratatat is clearly coming from a traditional rock background (whaling guitars!) spiced with a danceable groove and almost baroque composition style.

::

Ratatat will play a few more date in the U.S. and U.K. throughout April. Go see them if you can.

For a taste of the Ratatat live experience, check out this crappy cameraphone video clip I shot during Lex, one of the rockin’ist songs in the repertoire.


For a better experience, try this video of the band performing in Seattle in September 2006. The songs are El Pico and Wildcat:

Lego Trent Reznor

lego trent reznor

I visited Legoland California in Carlsbad a couple weeks ago. It’s an intriguing place, where everyone’s favorite miniature building blocks are put to some amazing uses. One feature of the park is fairy-tale boat ride, where some notable folk tales are brought to life by Lego blocks.

The Sleeping Beauty display warrants particular attention, because Prince Charming here bears a striking resemblance to Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor.

actual trent reznor

Incidentally, as I write this, I’m listening to NIN’s forthcoming Halo 24: Year Zero, which you can do at yearzero.nin.com. According to Trent, Year Zero is more than an album and the “stunts” are more than mere marketing. The concept is that we, the audience, are participating in Year Zero, helping to reveal and write a dystopian, alternate-reality story in real-time. The album is just part of the mix.

The level of detail and planning that has gone into the whole project is simply astounding. And this music’s not bad either; it’s some of Trent’s more pointed work. You bet I’ll be buying it on the 17th.

You can catch up on background and track the developing story at the Nine Inch Nails wiki. Start with notes on the album itself.

year zero at itunes store, for instant gratification.

year zero at amazon, for the full experience.