The Velocity Girl Mystery Show Bootleg Cassette

I was digging through a box of cassette tapes here at the tunequest compound and happened upon a handful of bootlegs from my tape trading days back in the 90s. Shows by “alternative” artists like Beck and Weezer early in their careers. Somewhat surprisingly, most of the shows have informative tape jackets, complete with show dates, venues and setlists.

But there is one which has no jacket at all. And the tape itself is simply labeled “Velocity Girl (live)”. I have no idea when or where this show took place. Having listened to the tape, there aren’t any clues or statements by the band or audience that hint at a time or place (though I think Sarah Shannon may have said “Thanks to the Dispatch” at the end of the show. Possible evidence there). From the song selection, I guess it’s a show from the group’s ¡Simpatico! era, which would put it anywhere from late 1993 to early 1995.

And Google has been of no help. Velocity Girl may have been the second biggest band on Sub Pop, but in the 15 years since they broke up, the band has slid into the murky depths of obscurity. Information about the band’s history is scarce these days.

So I’m throwing this to the Internet. Hopefully, a fellow tape trader or Vgirl fan has this show or knows something about it. If you recognize the setlist, please let me know. Thank you!

The Setlist

Forgotten Favorite (joined in progress)
Medio Core
Crazy town
I Can’t Stop Smiling
Pop Loser
Tripping Wires
The All-Consumer
Audrey’s Eyes
Seven Seas (Echo & the Bunnymen cover)
There’s Only One Thing Left to Say
Drug Girls
Sorry Again

Your Silent Face (New Order cover)


A Bonus Mystery

This is unrelated, but after the end of the Vgirl show, on the unlabeled back side of the tape, is a live in-studio performance by the band Trans Am at WPTS radio in Pittsburgh. This is a recording which I do not recall having ever heard or known about. The performance is followed by standard on-air programming from the radio station until the tape runs out.

This existence of this recording is completely baffling. I started listening to Trans Am in spring 2002, which is about six years after I got the Vgirl bootleg. By 2002, I had already gotten my first iPod and was leaving the world of cassette tapes behind. But most importantly, I’ve visited Pittsburgh twice since then, and neither time was I packing a box of ten-year-old cassette tapes with me. So I’m certain that I didn’t make this recording myself.

It would help if I knew the date of the performance at WPTS, but once again, the Google fails me. I can find no references to this radio appearance anywhere. The DJ even mentions that they’ll be playing at a venue called “Cloud Nine” in the evening, but I can’t find any references to that either. I don’t think it exists anymore.

The only conclusion I can draw is that this Trans Am recording was already on the tape when I got it. But of course, I don’t remember when or from whom I got it. By all appearances though, it would seem that I had a bootleg in my collection for a band I wouldn’t actually discover until several years later. And the thought of that kinda blows my mind.

Whenever and wherever it came from may never be known and it may forever be a tape of mystery.

A recording of the show is available on SoundCloud.

In Which Spotify Leads Me to iTunes Home Sharing

The story of how iTunes and Spotify co-exist as a near-perfect music listening environment.

itunes + spotify = happy music

So I was recently sent an invitation to join the “exclusive” ranks of American Spotify users. I had been hearing about the free all-you-can-stream music service for quite some time, but never gave it much serious thought. Maybe it was my years being stranded in a slow-Internet hell, but I’ve never held streaming services is especially high regard. Besides, with a music library as large as mine, I am usually hard-pressed to find many songs that I want to listen to at any given moment that are not already stored in iTunes. And I’ve invested so much effort into that little jukebox that, at the press of a button, I could literally listen to music for 55 days straight and never hear the same song twice.

Despite that, I signed up for Spotify anyway, just to see what all the fuss was about. My initial impression is that the rave reviews are justified. The program is simple to use: search for song->press play. And though the collection of available songs is quite extensive, it is not quite up to the bold marketing claim of “every song ever”. There have been a handful of (admittedly obscure) tracks and artists that I’ve been disappointed not to find.

Rarities aside, if you want to hear it, you can find it. Around here, Spotify has quickly replaced YouTube as the go-to source for one-off indulgences or for finding songs that come up in discussions but aren’t in my iTunes library.

The real power of Spotify is in its immediacy. Virtually any song can be found in a matter of seconds, which makes it a superb platform for exploration. I no longer have to buy or bootleg an album just to see if I’ll like it. I can listen to it in its entirety as many times as I want. And I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time cruising the full catalogs of artists I hadn’t thought about in a while. I had no idea PJ Harvey had so many albums.

A lot of deep cuts, b-sides and compilation appearances are also available. So if you like to dig into the music of your favorite artists, Spotify is a great way to do so. All-in-all, a big thumbs up for Spotify from me. I can see myself getting a lot of use from the service in the future.

A few other observations:

  • Albums often have the wrong year associated with them. Nine Inch Nail’s Head Like A Hole single/EP was released in 1990, not 2011. And there are plenty more examples where the date is more recent than it should be. So many so, I don’t trust the dates until I’ve seen them confirmed by an outside source. I don’t know where Spotify gets its data from, but this needs to be fixed.
  • Tricksy Spotify pauses commercials if you mute the computer, so there’s no avoiding them.
  • However, songs are not paused if the computer is muted. This is disappointing, especially after seeing the behavior with the ads.
  • The ads themselves cover the usual self-promotion gamut (encouraging the exploration of Spotify’s full range of services), as well as promotions for new content (artists, albums, etc). I don’t mind the promos, but the content ads can be a little jarring. It’s quite disconcerting to have your mellow Yo La Tengo marathon interrupted by boisterous ads for Thug Rapper Whozit or Popstar Whatserface. If the ads were more relevant to my interests (say, based on my listening habits), I wouldn’t really mind them. But as it stands I just find them annoying. Neither the artist nor record companies nor I receive any benefit from having Top 40 content directed at me.

So what does all this have to do with iTunes?

The thing is, I like Spotify. And I can see how it has the potential to be a massive disruptive influence on people’s music listening habits. The murder-obsessed tech media has been calling it “an iTunes killer” for some time, even before it was available in the States.

And it certainly had an effect here; it made me realize how much I missed being able to listen to music at my computer. Crazy thought isn’t it? I love music, but for the longest time, technological limitation has made it difficult for me to listen to it in the places I most often am.

Since the day iTunes came out, my library has been too large to fit on the internal drives of any computer I’ve ever owned. As drives got bigger, so did my library. Thus the library has been forced to live on an external drive connected to my iMac for its entire existence.

I, however, rarely do any actual work on my iMac. I’m more frequently found using a laptop from the comfort of a couch, bed or dining table. These days, the iMac mostly acts as a server and information hub/data manager.

My library is a rather complicated thing. The shear size of it necessitates a rigorous organizational structure (taking full advantage of multiple smart playlists based on play counts, play dates, star ratings, etc) to be used effectively. And traditionally, the problem has been that it’s hard to listen to music in places other than the iMac without corrupting the integrity of the library.

This effectively meant that my music library was isolated from the other computers in the house. All my vast quantities of tunes inaccessible save for some workarounds of various success:

  • Grabbing files over the network directly and/or using a third-party music player program. Advantage: playing music from the laptop itself. Disadvantages: no interaction with the library.
  • An iPod. Advantage: Since iPods are extensions of the iTunes library, I didn’t have to worry about breaking my organization. Disadvantage: requires headphones, limited music selections, metadata/playlists only updated at sync time.
  • iTunes Sharing/LAN streaming. Advantage: Access to the full library from any computer in the house. Disadvantage: does not update song metadata, so I could listen to songs, but my playlists would not get updated or refreshed.
  • Airfoil, essentially pushing music from the iMac to other computers. Advantages: music is sourced from the main library and can be played simultaneously on multiple computers. Disadvantages: cumbersome to set up, difficult to control.

This is the environment I was operating in when I discovered Spotify. Not a group of ideal solutions there.

Spotify’s ease of use reminded me that I wanted to easily play my music on a laptop. But as much as I like Spotify, using it exclusively is out of the question. For one, there are songs in my library that aren’t on Spotify. It also doesn’t share/sync local files (that aren’t in its database) between computers, so the app wouldn’t actually solve my multi-Mac music dilemma. Ultimately though, what’s the point of having a meticulously maintained, tagged and organized music collection sitting in the next room if I’m just going to stream it all over the Internet? Besides, there’s no guarantee on Spotify’s lifespan; its service could change or be shutdown completely in the future. My local library will remain usable even if Apple goes out of business tomorrow.

Also, no smart playlists. And I loves me some smart playlists.

While Spotify isn’t a solution for me, it did inspire me to look for others. My first inclination was to look at iTunes LAN streaming, which allows the client laptop to access and control the music. I’d seen some solutions to the metadata problem in the past, but none of them ever worked for me. I hoped that there had been more recent developments.

Enter Home Sharing

Fortunately, one of the first search results I found pointed out the oft-overlooked preference in iTunes to allow Home Sharing to update play counts. Until this point, I had never considered Home Sharing. When Apple introduced the feature in iTunes 9 two years ago, it was pitched as a way for family members to share music among their computers. Since I’m only one guy, I didn’t think, like parental controls, that the feature would be of much use to me.

So I ignored it.

My mistake. Home Sharing is the next best thing to having my master iTunes library synced up between iMac and laptops. From my laptop, I can load the shared library, play songs and the metadata is updated when finished, which keeps my organizational schemes intact. Plus, I can use Home Sharing to move actual files between the master library and a satellite library, which helps improve my management workflow. The only thing I can’t do is edit the song or any playlists on the remote library. But that’s a limitation I can live with.

This is such a big breakthrough for me, that I don’t think I’ve been this excited since the invention of smart playlists. I’m just ashamed it took me two years to figure it out.

From the comfort of my couch, I can, within the span of seconds, be listening to any song in my collection. And for everything else, there’s Spotify.

MacBook Air 11.6″. Some real world usage notes

MacBook Air profile

Hey folks. So I picked up one of Apple’s new MacBook Air notebooks. I had been wanting a more portable computer than my trusty tote-able 2008 MacBook Pro and the new 11.6″ form factor was mighty tempting. I did spring for the BTO 4GB RAM upgrade, but I opted to stick with the stock 64GB hard drive.

My first impressions are, like a lot of other reviewers, that despite its relatively slow clock speed the machine is fairly snappy and capable of doing more than just writing and web surfing. Yes, you can do real work on this thing. You just might have to have some patience during certain tasks.

After using it for about a day, installing programs, copying files (WIFI only) and running some usage tests I’ve come to two principle conclusions:

  • For CPU-intensive computational tasks, the 11.6 model is a bit of a laggard (blame the slow CPU)
  • But for usage involving many open applications and background tasks, the thing flies (thank the SSD)

Some Numbers

No usage summary would be complete without a few benchmarks, so I put together a suite of tasks to compare the performance with the other Macs in my house. The contenders:

  • 2010 MacBook Air 1.4Ghz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD
  • 2008 MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, 200GB HD (5400 RPM)
  • (some tests only) 2006 iMac 1.83Ghz Core Duo, 2GB RAM

The tests included start up time, video encoding, misc usage tasks and working a Parallels 5 virtual machine to do some geospatial analysis.

The Tests

Start up time

  • Winner: MacBook Air, by a lot
  • It was more than thirty seconds difference so I stopped counting. I could probably start the Air up twice before the Pro even reached the login screen.
Parallels 5: Boot identical virtual machines:
  • MacBook Pro faster by ~3sec
Parallels 5: Launch ArcMap 9.3 GIS software inside VM:
  • MacBook Air faster by ~15 sec.
  • I did this one twice and the result was the same both times.
Parallels 5: Suspend VM:
  • Tie: virtually no difference
Parallels 5: Wake VM:
  • MacBook Air by 1 sec
Parallels 5: ArcMap: Spatial Autocorrelation analysis
  • Spatial Autocorrelation analysis is a computationally expensive process of searching for clusters of similar values inside geographic data. This task was run on a feature set of 3700 observations.
  • MacBook Pro by 59 sec
Parallels 5: ArcMap: High/Low Cluster analysis:
  • High/Low Cluster analysis is similar to Spatial Autocorrelation analysis. This task was run on the same feature set.
  • MacBook Pro by 60 sec
Parallels 5: Reboot of VM:
  • MacBook Pro by ~2 sec
Launching Safari with Parallels and Aperture open:
  • MacBook Air by ~25 sec
Wake VM with Safari and Aperture open
  • MacBook Air by ~10sec
Create a Par2 set from 110 MB of files:
  • MacBook Pro by ~10sec
Python script (time to task completion):
  • I’ve written a Python script that loads, parses and analyzes my iTunes XML file (~56 MB).
  • MacBook Pro: 40.5 sec
  • MacBook Air: 64.0 sec
  • iMac: 59.8 sec
Handbrake CLI video encoding
  • Convert a 1.7GB HD-Photo JPEG .MOV from my digital camera to a 900kbps mp4 using ffmpeg
  • MacBook Pro: 74 fps (fan kicked on)
  • MacBook Air: 47 fps (no fan)
  • iMac: 43 fps

Subjective Analysis

From the numbers we can clearly see that the faster processor in the 2-year-old MacBook Pro makes a big difference when crunching numbers. In all the CPU tests, the Pro performed the task in about 66% of the time as the Air. The real surprise (and disappointment) is where the Air barely keeps up with a 5-year-old iMac using an older chip architecture in the Python and Handbrake tests. (Though I suppose it shows that a 1.4 C2D can do the work of a 1.8 CD, which I’m sure helps with heat and power consumption).

One thing to note though, is that despite all the intense processor usage, the Air barely got warm. During the video encode test, while Handbrake was doing its best to max out both cores, the Macbook Pro’s fan kicked on to full speed after about 1 minute. The Air on the other hand stayed cool and quiet the entire time. This bottom comfort is something my lap and legs are sure to appreciate.

But what the Air lacks in raw power, it makes up for in responsiveness. It’s hardly possible to get it to hiccup, even when running tasks in the background. I was able to use Aperture to edit some RAW photos without any significant slowdown while copying 6 gigs of files to the Air. Kernel_task was chugging away at ~50% usage in Activity Monitor without any noticeable effect on the overall system performance.

And this is where productivity gains will be made with the Air. In all the tests above, the processes running were the only active applications and that’s rarely how I work. I often have multiple browser windows open and Mail and who know what other apps going simultaneously. Look at the Safari launch test. With both Aperture and Parallels open, the Air launched Safari almost instantaneously while on the Pro it bounced in the Dock for 25 seconds. Similarly, Parallels’ disk-based performance (waking the VM) slowed significantly when other programs were open competing for resources. If the Air can keep the dreaded beach ball from the showing itself, then I will be a happy, less frustrated Mac user.

Youth, Aging, and the Making of Music History

Hi folks! I bet many of you were thinking you’d never here from the ol’ tunequester ever again. I can’t say I blame you; it’s been months since I’ve written anything for this site. And it’s been a busy handful of months. But lately I’ve been pondering something and I’ve decided to share.

I recently finished a course in the history of rock music. I like rock and I like history, so I of course enjoyed the study. We started with early 20th century blues and old time country as the roots of rock and progressed through the development of rock n roll, british beat, folk, soul, funk, psycadelic rock, metal and so on.

One of the central themes of the course was that the development of a new style comes from the appropriation, combination and adaptation of existing styles. To wit, artists start out imitating their influences and gradually add in their own creativity, bringing about a new form. This can be seen in early rock n roll artists of the 1950s (e.g. Bill Haley) extensively covering existing rhythm and blues songs from the 40s (Big Joe Turner) and early British beat groups of the 60s (The Beatles) covering the rock n roll music of 50s (Chuck Berry), and so on.

At the same, or perhaps because of, societal changes in the wake of World War II, a “teen culture” emerged in the western world. Before the war, there was very little media aimed specifically at young adults. But with post-war economic bounty and increased urbanization, a market and the means to make purchases developed, and suddenly “dad’s music” wouldn’t cut it anymore.

Mix these two factors together and get a situation where change comes very quickly. This much should be obvious to anyone who pays attention to the prevailing tastes in music. What was hip in 1978 was hardly the same as what was hip in 1974. And this is because rock/pop music is a game for the young. Young performers playing to young audiences. Young artists building off their inspirations in rapid succession. And because the definition of “youth” is fairly narrow, this succession is quite rapid indeed. The entire history of rock music is the story of chasing what the teenagers like.

One side effect of this succession is that artists tend to make their main contributions to music, then fade from popularity. Barring accidents or tragedy, these people then tend to stick around for a while.

And this brings me to the point of my ramble. So often in history, the accomplishments and contributions we hear about people tend to occur later in their lives. Most of the time, we expect these people to have died not long after. Because in most fields, it requires a lot of time and effort to reach the point of great accomplishment: years studying science, working the halls of political power, building a business, honing a craft, etc. No matter who the person, we almost never expect them to still be alive when studying their history.

Yet in the case of music (especially within the relatively short history of rock music), because success can be found at so young an age, we routinely see musicians living well past their marks of primary contribution. It completely blows my mind that 50 years adding to music history, the likes of Chuck Berry, Pete Seeger, Little Richard and George Clinton (among others) are still around and kickin’ it.

The fact that many of these “elder statesmen” of music still perform and make new contributions to musical heritage creates a living connection to the histories and traditions of the form. As time goes on and new waves of performers and creators come and go, it is important to remember those connections.

App: TonePad- Tenori-On for the rest of us

Allow me to share with you one of my favorite apps in all of Apple’s App Store: TonePad. You see, I’ve been intrigued by the elusive (and expensive) “visual music composition device” known as Tenori-on since I first heard about it a couple years ago. And since I don’t have the time to make the most of a thousand dollar diversionary investment like the Tenori-on, only an intrigue it has remained.

Which is why I took notice when I first read about TonePad, an app for iPhone/iPod Touch that replicates a part of the Tenori-on concept. And since downloading it, I can’t stop making minimalistic, dreamy tunes with it.

Usage is straightforward and simple. On launching the app, the user is presented with a 16 x 16 grid of dots, where the rows represent the beats and the columns represent 16 tones, with higher pitches at the top of the grid. Press a dot to activate that particular note and each time the measure loops to that beat, a tone is played. For visual feedback, each dot pulses as it is played. Combine dots into chords and melodies, and voila, you’re making music.

The tones themselves are pleasant, with a small reverb applied, making it hard to create a “bad” song. Sure, swiping a finger across the interface may not make for the most compelling of compositions, but it certainly doesn’t create the mess that mashing a keyboard or piano does.

As fun as TonePad is though, it does suffer from some limitations. For one, the composition options are fixed. The tempo, time signature and tone are set to a default, and on a default they must stay. You can’t make the loop any faster or slower, or change the number of beats in the measure or change the basic sound of the tone (or make it another sound entirely). Also, you’re limited to working within just the one loop. It would be pretty nice to be able to set up a loop and have it continue to play as you put together another loop to layer on top (and it would be especially nice to do it with different base tones). Finally, and this one can’t really be helped, but the dots are small enough that they can be troublesome to accurately press. There have been a number of times when I wanted to turn one off and ended up turning the neighbors on.

But hey, I’m not really complaining. TonePad is both fun and free and a worthy app to carry in one’s pocket.

Enjoy some TonePad improvisation from yours truly:

On the Web:

Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The Beastie Boys Paradox

Part of the Star Trek Time Travel Series

  1. Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The Permanency of the New Timeline
  2. Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The First Contact Paradox
  3. Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The Beastie Boys Paradox

The newest Star Trek movie is premised on the idea that a new, alternate timeline is created when Nero’s ship appears and destroys the USS Kelvin at the beginning of the film, killing Jim Kirk’s father and depriving the captain-to-be of the stable childhood he had in the original timeline. Everything before that point remains the same as the established canon; everything after then will develop differently. It’s a solid enough foundation with which to play with the original series’ characters without interfering with all the established stories of the past 40 years. But some extended thinking brings up several questions about and potential paradoxes within the events of this new alternate universe.

Please join me as I devote far too much mental energy to some of these issues.

The Beastie Boys Paradox

In an early scene of the new movie, a young Kirk steals a car and cranks up some Beastie Boys (Sabotage) for a little joy ride.

Now the Beastie Boys have a couple of songs where they make explicit references to Star Trek. Intergalactic features a line about a “pinch on the neck from Mr. Spock” and Brouhaha mentions “Bones McCoy” and “Sulu” by name. The song Ch-Check It Out shouts out Klingons and the video features the Boys dressed as Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Since we now know that the Beastie Boys exist in the Trekverse, how might the observant future-aficionados and scholars of classic music react to the realization that the rap group are themselves potential time travellers, spinning tunes with oblique nods to events and people in the future?