Diversion: SRSLY, 1000 SONGS

I enjoy reading Captain Future’s Soul of Star Trek blog for its insightful reflections on the franchise and the role Star Trek has played in changing and shaping attitudes, cultures around the world. I couldn’t help but be inspired by a line in a recent post, and I was off to the LOLbuilder:

SRSLY, 1000 songs in your pocket

We’ll return to your regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling: A cool and special place that is good for thinking

Before the beginning of this year, I had barely heard of Kelley Polar or his music. Toward the end of ’07, I ran across one of his songs and checked out his debut album, Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens. I was hooked in short order. Color me exultant when I learned a new album would be coming out just as I was really getting into Polar’s music.

And that anticipation and excitement probably affected my initial reactions to Kelley Polar’s follow up record, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling, released earlier this month. Whereas I’ve only just begun listening to Polar’s music and at the most basic level had merely been wanting more, he’s had nearly three years to grow and change as an artist.

I must admit that I’ve been listening to this record for several weeks now and it’s taken a little longer than Gardens did to grow on me. Yes, the peculiar combination of classical, spacey electronics, disco and catchy pop gratuity that made the first album so compelling is present. I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a very good follow up record, but in its first few moments, it becomes clear that while it is largely the same, it is also different, closer and more intimate.

Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens struck me with its expansiveness, by how much room there seems to be between its sounds. Falling, for the most part, feels like its standing right next to you. It’s also much more vocal. Kelley Polar has said in interviews that he’s spent some time actually trying to sing on this one and for the most part it works, though there are a handful of moments where it could have been toned-down a notch.

Appropriately for an album premised on the sky falling, the music feels much more serious and less carefree than an album of interstellar love songs. Chrysanthemum is downright foreboding and grim, talking about people being killed in bed.

It’s not all dour though. Entropy Reigns (in the Celestial City) is the most straight-ahead pop in the entire repertoire, while Sea of Sine Waves continues that early-career Michael Jackson danceitude that hooked me the first time.

All in all, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a worthy and eminently listenable sophomore opus.

Chrysanthemum video:

eMusic interviews Kelley Polar and they discuss the numorous classical influences on Falling.

5G iPod Problems with Audiobooks, revisited

Lately I’ve been on a tear with audiobooks, managing to cram a number of books in between my regular music and podcast listening. The sudden upswing in interest has prompted me to renew my investigation of the problems the 5G (fifth generation) model iPod has with long-playing books. As I noted last summer, the 5G has troubles with homemade m4b files (bookmarkable AAC) longer than a certain play time.

The iPod will suddenly stop playing an audiobook within a few minutes and return to the main menu. This happens when resuming a book, after having listened to something else or resyncing the device, basically anything that stops rather than pauses the book. When selecting the book again, the iPod starts from the beginning, having lost the bookmark and updating the play count/date as though it had properly finished playing.

Since I knew I would be delving into book territory, I decided to figure out the optimum way of working around the iPod’s inexplicable limitation. And really, for all my experimentation, the only concrete result I’ve been able to find is: 4 hours. 4 hours is about the maximum running time of any homemade m4b audiobook file before the iPod starts wigging out about it. It didn’t matter what I used for my encoding settings, my sample rates, or bit rates or channels or workflow or program. No combination of settings allowed the iPod to play longer than 4 hours without a hiccup, always stopping in the middle of the same phrase.

I even tried this little ingenious trick:

audiobook start time option

I manually set the audiobook’s options in iTunes so that the start time was at the 4 hour mark, hoping to persuade my iPod to at least go for another 4 hours. No dice.

I can say however that the sample rate seems to have the most effect on how long you can listen before the iPod won’t let you pick up where you left off. 22 kHz seems to be the trick. Whether your book is stereo or mono seems to matter little, giving about the same performance. Same for bitrate. However, higher sampling rates seems to reduce the amount of time before you lose the bookmark feature.

There probably are a handful more combinations and techniques I could try, but it takes quite a while to join, encode, test and evaluate each option. If anyone finds something with significantly different results, feel free to drop a line this way.

audiobook builder max part length

In the meantime, I’m glad Audiobook Builder can set a Maximum Part length and will split files so that nothing is longer than what I need them to be. It’s a groovy little workaround.

Tunequest is 2!

Happy birthday tunequest!

It slipped my mind until this very moment, and I meant to commemorate it at the time, but tunequest is two years old. On March 1, 2006 I launched a small website to log my musical adventures as I listened to every last song in my ~15,000 song (at the time) iTunes Library. It was a modest post that simply stated what I had listened to that day.

I set a goal for the end of the year, which I met on New Years Eve, averaging more than 50 songs and 3 hours of music listening per day. The site’s slogan at the time as “No Repeats,” as I couldn’t spend the time to listen to any song more than once.

But the exploration of music didn’t end with the final play count. This decade has been an exciting time for music and technology, as they have been greatly influenced by each other. Thanks to the Internet, each day has more music instantaneously available than at any point in history. And after the tunequest ended, the site kept humming along, continuing to post thoughts and insights on music and technology.

Numbers wise, I consider [email protected] a modest success. The feed counter broke 100 for the first time today, so a friendly “hello and thanks” to all you feedfolk. The site also receives more than 3,000 unique visitors per week and manages to pay for itself, which I’m happy about. All-in-all not bad for a guy’s hobby.

If you’re a feed reader and haven’t been to the site lately, then you’ve been missing the tunequest reading list, frequently-updated, hand-selected articles, blog posts and links to interesting and noteworthy stories in my sidebar. Stop on by and check it.

Here’s to keepin’ on keepin’ on.

Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts: First Fruits of the Label-less Era

nine inch Nails ghosts i-iv

Jump to Review

Halo 26, Ghosts I-IV has just been announced at the nine inch nails website. It’s a collection of 36 instrumental tracks created with no clear agenda, with the entire process being driven by impulse and improvisation.

Of it, Trent says:

We began improvising and let the music decide the direction. Eyes were closed, hands played instruments and it began. Within a matter of days it became clear we were on to something, and a lot of material began appearing. What we thought could be a five song EP became much more. I invited some friends over to join in and we all enjoyed the process of collaborating on this.

Nine Inch Nails takes the Radiohead gambit a step further with this release, offering multiple formats and ordering options. All songs are available immediately for download from Amazon MP3 and nin.com:

  1. Ghosts volume I (9 tracks) is a completely free download.
  2. All 36 tracks can be downloaded for $5. Provided formats: 320kbps mp3, FLAC lossless and Apple Lossless. Also comes with a 40-page pdf. Paypal is an option for payment, if you want to avoid using credit/debit cards.
  3. For $10, you can get 2 physical cds shipped on April 8 as well as immediate access to the downloads.
  4. $75 gets you the 2 audio cds, a data dvd with multi-track files for remixing, 2 Blu-Ray disc with high-definition 96/24 stereo tracks and visual slide show all bound in a hard-bound slipcase. Also comes with 48-page photographic accompaniment book. You also get access to all the downloadable materials. Ships May 1.
  5. And for the true nin spendthrift, there’s the $300 Limited Edition (limited to 2500 numbered copies). You get everything in the $75 package, plus four vinyl LPs, Glicee prints, and Trent Reznor’s signature. Ships May1, but of course, you get the downloads now.

Ghosts I-IV limited edition
Ghosts I-IV Limited Edition

I’m actively reducing the amount of physical clutter in my house. So as a devotee of digital formats, I’ll probably opt for the $5 version. Apple Lossless is a pretty nice format. Though I expect the NIN online store to be crushed by the demand for the next day or so. If mp3s are your thing, Amazon might be the way to go. You still get all 36 tracks for $5.

UPDATE: store.nin.com is pretty much DOA right now. I’ve actually managed to make a transaction, but the download failed after 100kB. So I’ll have to talk to customer service, since the store is providing “one-time download links.”

UPDATE II: Trent writes at nin.com from Hong Kong:

The response to this album has been overwhelming, causing our website to slow to a crawl. We THOUGHT we were ready, but… We’ve been adding more servers to accommodate the unexpected demand and we expect to be running smoothly in the next few hours. In the meantime, if you’ve had any problems with downloads from the Ghosts site, don’t worry – you’ll be able to use your download link again when the site is more stable.

Good to know the early adopters won’t be left in the proverbial cold.

UPDATE III: 24 hours later and the site is humming along nicely. Either the added servers are handling the crush well or demand has slowed or both. I had no trouble using my original download link to retreive the Apple Lossless + bonus files (more than 600 MB), which transfered without any hang ups.

Review

The 36 songs range in length from 1:53 to 5:52 and total a running time of 1 hour 50 minutes. For comparison’s sake, both discs from The Fragile run 1 hour 46 minutes.

My initial impression after a couple listens is that Ghosts I-IV is a series of tone poems that don’t necessarily have any connection to each other. Nine Inch Nails records tend to have a certain “flow” to them that’s largely missing here. Instead, we have, as the album name would suggest, is borderless apparitions of sound and space. Many tracks stop suddenly, like a figment seen in the corner of one’s view that disappears when looked at directly, while others fade away or into the next track.

Stylistically the sound is unmistakeably Nine Inch Nails and the overall feel has more in common with the dark ambient tendrils of Trent’s soundtrack for the Quake computer game and The Fragile (think The Frail) than the apocalyptic paranoia of Year Zero. There is, however, some new ground here. I Ghosts 6 is borderline playful in its demeanor, a quality not usually associated with Nine Inch Nails’ music.

Ghosts has all the qualities of great instrumental music. It works well as background, as white noise with which to block out the world or drift away, but upon close inspection reveals remarkable textures and attention to detail.

But in typical fashion, Ghosts is more than just a listening experience. Each of the 36 songs has its own unique album art, snapshots to accompany the music.

Ghosts is Nine Inch Nails’ first release since the band was freed from its recording contract with Universal last October and its good to see that it is wasting very little time taking advantage of the new-found freedom and utilizing new media and techologies to promote, sell and circulate the music. There’s absolutely no way a record company would have released a double-disc set of what is a essentially musical diversions. And certainly not for a $5 download.

But Trent’s free agent status allows him to do whatever he wants. He can give this thing away, which he actually did: All 36 tracks are released under a Creative Commons license: Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike, meaning that anyone can give away the albums or use the songs as part of any non-commercial project so long as they credit NIN.

Trent says that there will likely be further editions in the Ghosts series. I, for one, will be looking forward to the music and future releases using the model.