Yeah, What They Said 6/28

Yeah, What They Said, pointers to interesting stories. Some people call it “link sharing.”

Webomatica chronicles the hoopla as the launch of the iPhone approaches. Antics include people paying other people to stand in line, christening June 29 as “iDay,” and links to major newspaper reviews.
T-minus 5, 4, 3, 2

A number of audiobooks were sold at the iTunes Store recently that didn’t work on the iPod. That problem has been fixed.

Speaking of the iTunes Store, these two links will take you to free downloads from it: Link one. Link two.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of a Netflix subscription.

Speaking of Netflix, Internet Zillionaire confesses the irrational lengths passionate Netflix users can go to in their efforts “to scam, scrimp, rob, cheat, copy, burn, and screw over” the service.

Comprehensive Mac performance tests.
Comparative results from running Geekbench on every Mac released since the slot-load iMac (400Mhz G3 from October 1999). My Intel iMac at home scores a 2338 while my G5 PowerMac at the office scores a 2108. My PowerBook G4 scores a lowly 692.

Electric, battery-powered lawnmowers reviewed by Wired.
I have a Black & Decker model and I love it. No gas. No oil. No spark plugs. No exhaust. Push-button start and enough juice to cover my entire yard (front and back) in one go. The best part: I got it for a third the price on eBay.

Star Wars fans hate Star Wars.
This pretty much sums it up. Personally, I think that, as a story, Star Wars is so poorly thought out, written and executed, if it weren’t for John Williams creating an emotional connection through his superb music, the original film would have flopped. Or, at best, it might have attained underground cult status a la Planet of the Apes or Logan’s Run.

::

Oh hey, here’s a Velocity Girl video, I Can’t Stop Smiling. It’s an excellent song.

KickAssClassical.com

Staff and Bar

I can assure you that you know every single piece of music featured at KickAssClassical.com, but you’d probably strain a muscle trying to figure out when and where you’ve heard them. Hopefully it won’t come to that, because Mike Nelson no, not of mst3k fame has compiled 100 of the most popular pieces in the “serious music,” aka classical music repertoire, pieces made famous by their use (or perhaps over-use) in film, television, cartoons and commercials.

Divided by composer (52 of them), each entry gives a brief bio and pronunciation guide for all the non-anglo names and lists where each piece has been used in modern culture.

The site also includes mp3 snippets of each composition, featuring the most well-known measures of music. I promise you’ll probably be able to hum along to every one. The real trick will be if you know what comes next. I found that on a handful of them, I was at a loss to continue the song after the sample had stopped, even though I completely recognized tune.

Still, you’ll be surprised by where a lot of familiar songs come from. Myself, I nearly had a fit when I heard the sample of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King:

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Because about five years ago I decided to use one of my Mac’s speech voices to record my cell phone voicemail message. After playing with all the various options, I settled on one of the “singing” voices, a voice that sounded a lot like the speech from Stephen Hawking’s talking computer, but to a melody.

That was with OS 9 and I’ve since lost the sound file. Mac OS X maintains that melody but has changed the tone with the speech voice “Cellos,” which I used to recreate part of the message i don’t remember all the lyrics.

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Trust me, it was funny. But since then, I’ve always been curious about what piece of music it was based on, because I recognized it, but couldn’t place it. As you can hear, it’s clearly In the Hall of the Mountain King. Now that I’m armed with that information, I think I’ll have to track down a good recording of it.

“Cellos” isn’t the only Mac voice to take its inspiration from a classical tune however. “Good News” is modeled on Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, a piece known to graduates world-wide, while “Bad News” is Chopin’s “Funeral March” aka Piano Sonata No. 2 In B Flat Minor.

Speaking of Chopin’s “Funeral March,” KickAssClassical makes the observation that John Williams’ Imperial March “sounds like an amped-up version” of it.” He might be onto something there, especially it you take that march, speed up the tempo, and overlay it with The Ride Of The Valkyries.. Then you might have a case.

Anyway, go check out KickAssClassical.com.

h/t Centripetal Notion


ArkivMusic, The Source for Classical Recordings

Trotter Trio – Sketchin on Star Wars Jazz

star wars jazz at amazon

Interpretations of John Williams’ Star Wars music is a veritable cottage industry. A portion of it is sure to turn up at any concert performance featuring “movie music” as well as concert recordings featuring the same. Then, there’s Meco’s disco versions, The Evil Genius Orchestra’s excellent cocktail versions as well as countless techno/dance/club versions.

So it should come as no surprise that there is at least one jazz variation. The Trotter Trio lays out nine tracks from the original trilogy plus one “inspired by” song that incorporates quotes of the “Force Theme.” The styles range from uptempo swing jazz to mellow cool jazz. There’s even a hint of “smooth” jazz mixed in too but I won’t hold that against it.

Listening to this record, I can’t help but imagine Star Wars set, not as an epic space opera, but as a mirky black-and-white film noir, particularly when hearing Han Solo and the Princess:

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starwarsjazz.png

Clean up your Composer tags already!

Update: The revised sorting feature/problem in iTunes 7.3 and later renders portions of this advice useless. Some of it still applies for Smart Playlist building, but the segregated sorting no longer works. If you’re using a version prior to 7.3, go nuts. If you’re using 7.3 or later, be warned.

In striving for zen-like simplicity while maintaining and extending the usability of iTunes, please follow me as I introduce you to the technique I use to keep my Composer tags orderly and navigable particularly when using an iPod. The idea is to streamline the presentation of the tags while adding meaning to them.

In my library there are three types of songs that require use of the composer tag:

  1. Classical and other so-called “serious music”
    Principally includes all works by traditionally-recognized composers and performed by orchestras, quartets, etc. Also includes film and television recordings that are not the originals, such as when the Royal Philharmonic plays Star Trek or Trotter Trio’s jazz CD Sketches on Star Wars.
  2. Cover songs
    Whether live or in studio, remakes or performances of songs that were originally recorded and released by another artist or group.
  3. Remix Albums
    Collections of remixes of other artists’ songs released under the marquee of the remixer. For example: Fila Brazillia’s Brazilification.

If a song in my library doesn’t belong to one of those categories, the composer tag is left empty, completely blank. There’s no need to use the tag in the pop/rock idiom; all the relevant info is contained in the song-artist-album structure.

The same goes for movie scores and other “Original Motion Picture Soundtracks.” It’s redundant to put “John Williams” in both the artist and composer when it’s his recording of the original release of the album that you’re tagging.

Some people are tempted to put the songwriter in the Composer space and CDDB/Gracenote often includes it when retrieving a CD.

Well, don’t. And if you already have, delete it.

How likely are you to go to the Composer field and select “Cobain, Kurt” when you want to hear Heart-shaped Box? Not very, I’m sure. You are much more likely to select “Nirvana” from the Artist field. If you must obsessively keep that info, put it in the Comments field. That way you can still find it in your Encyclopedia iTunica if you need it, but it won’t get in the way of using your iPod.

So how do we keep these styles from intermingling, so that you don’t end up with Guns n’ Roses next to Gustav Mahler?

It’s rather easy; just add leading character to the beginning of your composer text based on the type of file it is, particularly if a song does not fall into the Classical category.

In my scheme, classical music takes priority, as it is the format that best benefits from using the field. In these cases, the composer is, well, the composer. Syntax is up to you: Mahler; Gustav Mahler; Mahler, Gustav; however you see fit to do it.

Likewise for film and tv music that’s not from the original release. I treat those recordings the same as classical. The Artist tag goes to the ensemble performing the work while the original composer gets credit in the Composer tag.

ipod plays composer tags with brackets for cover tunes

Cover Tunes

With cover tunes, the original performer’s name is surrounded by brackets [ ]. So when The Cardigans play a Black Sabbath song Iron Man, the Composer tag looks like this [Black Sabbath]. Now all the cover songs are sorted alphabetically together on the iPod. Plus, I can create a Smart Playlist with condition Composer starts with [ and have all of them gathered in a single spot. If new cover tunes get added in the future, they’re automatically included in the Smart Playlist.


Cover tunes smart playlist. Click to see larger version.

Finally, there’s remix albums. There’s a long discussion to be had about how to treat those with iTunes.

Hopefully, these suggestions are helpful and will assist in taking full advantage of iTunes’/iPod’s power.

Tortoise, Star Trek, and Orbital (with more Star Trek): Song of the Day Triple Feature

I spent a good seven+plus hours burning through some iTunes today to make up for yesterday’s somewhat disappointing performance a shortened day at the office will do that. With about 100 songs to choose from, I had a very hard time narrowing down the song of the day, so lucky you, here’s three songs to choose from. Choose wisely.

Orbital: Time Becomes

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Constructed from a single line spoken by Worf from the 2nd season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Time Squared which I happened to see just the other day—it’s almost unwatchably bad, this song is more of an experiment in recording technique than actual music. But it’s fun to have your own personal Moebius.

Time Squared of course, is not to be confused with the 5th season episode Cause and Effect, where the Enterprise is destroyed every 11 minutes or so.

Tortoise: Swung From The Gutters

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From TNT, this song is just great; not quite as good as The Equator, but still one of my faves from the band.
tortoise at iTunes.

Boston Pops conducted by John Williams performing the theme to Star Trek

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A very unusual and extended take on the classic and well-known theme to the original Star Trek television program, performed live in concert by the Boston Pops.

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.

In the Minority Report: Disappointment

Minority Report, the 2002 film and it’s accompanying score, are both somewhat disappointing. The normally spirited chemistry between Señor Spielbergo and his personal maestro, Johnny William-san, turns into a cinematic and orchestral mush.

Yeah, like the film, it’s dark and complex and quite technically proficient. But it lacks that certain gravitas that one expects from a Williams’ score.

This is surprising; the dystopian-future themes and settings of the previous year’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence would seem to lend themselves to further musical exploration. Yet, the score to A.I. is one of Williams’ all-time masterpieces while Minority Report is rather forgettable. It’s further surprising considering that the new-millennium has been a new golden age for the composer.

In the end though, I’ve had Minority Report for four years and I’m still struggling to appreciate it. Thus, i’m disappointed to say that this is one score that will soon be leaving my library.

John Williams – Jurassic Park: Hold on to your butts

jurassic park

jurassic park compact disc jurassic park at itunes

Since the mid-1970s, John Williams has never been lacking in notoriety.

Jaws, Towering Inferno, Close Encounters, Superman, Star Wars… these film scores made him a household name, gaining fame and respect for work that is generally restricted to devotees and cultists only. The Star Wars album even managed to break into the public’s consciousness, becoming best-seller on the Billboard charts for 1977 and inspiring an awful disco/dance version of the main titles that went to number one on that same chart.

My dad even had the vinyl double-disc mixed in with his Beatles and Grand Funk.

Williams became as close to being a rock star as a composer of "serious music" could get. And he kept it up into the early 80s with popular themes to the Star Wars sequels and the Indiana Jones franchise.

Then something peculiar seems to have happened. Looking over his list of credits, starting in 1983, we see a sharp decrease in his film output. I’m not overly familiar with his biography, so I don’t know what all he did during that time, but he does appear to keep a rather low profile for the next 10 years (maybe he spent most of his time chilling with the Boston Pops?). And while many of the scores he did produce during that time have artistic merit, none of them can claim to have captured the same public zest as those earlier hits.

Even the scores to the hit films Home Alone and Hook failed to garner much attention outside of film score buff circles, despite the films’ mass audience popularity.

Williams never really disappeared, but in 1993, he becomes a rock star again. And the film that does it is Jurassic Park. Like Star Wars before it, this picture hit a critical mass in cultural awareness and became a landmark event in the history of movie making.

And as with Star Wars, Williams’ music for the film became a crossover hit. Among my peers, it was not uncommon to see Jurassic Park mixed in with Nirvana or Snoop Dogg.

And the reasons are obvious. With its sweeping themes and dinosaur-sized sound, this thing is a masterpiece. The majesty of the Journey to the Island suite is easily the high point of the score. But throughout the score’s entire length, it fails to disappoint. There is not a single bad note in its entire 70 minute length.

If you haven’t heard it in a while, I heartily recommend that you check it out.

Another day of seemingly non-random iPod

As if to prove my previous post for me, the tunequest-pod offered me these selections today (in order):

  1. pearl jam-live at the fox theatre in atlanta (which i skipped because i had just heard a live show yesterday)
  2. vince guaraldi’s oh good grief (a decent jazz album)
  3. sonic youth experimental jet set trash and no star (my first sonic youth record and, for lack of a better word the group’s most "quirky." to this day, ‘self-obsessed and sexxee’ remains one of my favorite songs.)
  4. tchaikovsky’s symphony 4 (ooo, the lush strings of its marvelous second movement)
  5. spiritual vibes’ newly (more work from the ever-fascinating nobukazu takemura. before tunequest began, i would have named his songs as top candidates for removal from the library, but now i’ve a much renewed and invigorated appreciation for his musical talents.)
  6. john williams’ score for the 70s disaster film earthquake (skipped because i wanted to pay extra attention to it and couldn’t at the time)
  7. a pearl jam single (hail hail, b/w black red and yellow. that one’s a good b-side)
  8. two beck singles, then a beck album (mutations. all of which were skipped because i wasn’t in a beck mood)
  9. two more symphonies i didn’t feeling hearing at the time
  10. finally, the 1992 re-recording of maurice jarre’s lawrence of arabia. (fine stuff there)

So despite the fact that albums by Beck, Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth have only a roughly 10% chance, combined, of being the next one played, we see here that, in fact, said artists account for 6 of 11 “randomly selected” albums for the day, or 55%. My iPod choose them at 5 times the rate I would have expected.

I’m not railing against it, since it doesn’t really bother mean though; just pointing it out.