Too much time on Youtube recently.
I’ll do a real blog post soon, instead of nicking other people’s stuff.
Was music genre a problem before iTunes? Most certainly a first world problem, although I am not the only one trying to tame their digital music collection.
Daniel Chandler’s An Introduction To Genre Theory
Chandler makes a few interesting points. Firstly, that genre evolves according to pressure from the media it classifies:
The interaction between genres and media can be seen as one of the forces which contributes to changing genres. Some genres are more powerful than others: they differ in the status which is attributed to them by those who produce texts within them and by their audiences.
Secondly, genre can describe the relationship between audience and performer.
Related redefinitions of genre focus more broadly on the relationship between the makers and audiences of texts (a rhetorical dimension). To varying extents, the formal features of genres establish the relationship between producers and interpreters.
Wikipedia Definition of Music Genre
Wikipedia talks about a differentiation between Art music, Pop music and Traditional music. This categorisation has a lot wrong with it, and for me it rapidly falls over when any mention of “Art Rock” or similar is made. A lot of what I listen to is not very commercial – especially by today’s standards – and yet falls into a pop category in the way I consume it.
Genre can also relate to sociological origins – which is a lot more useful if, for instance, you have a lot of music from film and soundtracks. Even if the originating context is orthogonal to other notions of genre.
Daniel Stout reckons you should simplify your collection to 25 genres(!). He then suggests a whole load of subgenres for each genre, which IMHO makes genre tagging less useful, not more useful – if you care about the distinction between blues rock and bluegrass, the chances are you listen to a fair amount of both. When I tag my music I want to raise the visibility of all of the stuff I listen to infrequently, rather than sort the music I listen to a lot into smaller and smaller categories.
The Tippapotomous asks whether it’s possible to automatically tag digital music by genre. What they find is that different online resources already have different classifications. They do have a nice seperate article about rating songs, which is pretty similar to my own strategy.
Using the classification of Allmusic or Discogs is neat but actually not useful if it includes terms you don’t identify with. By other definitions I have a lot of New Age music (Vangelis, Robert Rich, Mike Oldfield) but it would never occur to me to use that terminology. Because I am music lover, not a patchouli scented crystal-waving hippy.
At least, not any more.
A flat list of genres and subgenres can be divisive. What I want is the opposite, to classify my music in such a way that it takes notice of crossing genres, so when I create a playlist it won’t create dissonance but will create interesting contrast between tracks. An electronic downtempo playlist could, for example, take elements of minimalist classical music, electronic ambient, vocal downtempo such as trip-hop and so forth – but insert hard rock or gangsta rap and it doesn’t work.
So, an alternative approach is to use the Content Group Description tag as an auxiliary grouping field – for example taking the Allmusic definition of “Genre” and “Styles”. *Content Group Description* is identified as *Grouping* in iTunes.
From the [ID3v2.4] spec
TIT1 The ‘Content group description’ frame is used if the sound belongs to a larger category of sounds/music. For example, classical music is often sorted in different musical sections (e.g. “Piano Concerto”, “Weather – Hurricane”).
That’s confusing. Is the Genre or the Content Group the “larger category of sounds”?
Then there’s Apple’s interpretation:
Grouping: the grouping (piece) of the track. Generally used to denote movements within a classical work.
p>In other words the pop-loving cretins can keep their filthy hands off the Grouping field. Still that interpretation only matters to a tiny proportion of listeners, so the Grouping is up for grabs as a wildcard field for any metadata you like.
There’s one very good reason to pick Genre over Grouping, and that’s the way iTunes orders music – genre is a high-visibility field whereas Grouping and Comments aren’t. Of course some people feel iTunes is the tool of the devil and wouldn’t use it anyway.
I ended up making an excel file and adding terms to it that could be plugged usefully into the genre or grouping field, trying to decide whether they were useful Genre terms, Grouping terms, of both. Generally if I have a lot of music in a well-defined genre (e.g. darkwave, industrial) or a small amount of music that I only care to group broadly (e.g. Jazz) then using the genre field is a good idea. Anything else and the Genre field can get congested and less useful; at this point adding metadata tags in the Grouping is handy. Metadata I plan to use includes “Ambient”, “Goth” and so forth.
I’ve had the extended version sitting on the dvd shelf for a while – viewing was always going to be a bit of an excursion at 279 mins long (over 3 discs). It’s a german release, so the passages in French near the start don’t have english subtitles – but the plot isn’t exactly complex.
It’s been 20 years since I saw the film. It may be the first near-future film I felt was “Cyberpunk” in terms of its holistic view on future human society – something that’s conveyed in novels (e.g. Neuromancer, Snow Crash) but few films achieve. Certainly Blade Runner – which I also saw as the Director’s Cut in the PPP around the same time – doesn’t; that’s just a mashup of cultures in a big city where space exploration and colonisation is implied, but very little of the world outside the city is considered (which is the point). Transmetropolitan is the same.
It’s neither Cyber or Punk, really. The trailer doesn’t really convey what the film is about, which is the journey. Of course there is a spy plot and a future technology plot but these are secondary to the heroine’s travels and her struggle with her own sense that everything is coming to an end. I’ve never been a fan of the transhumanism side of cyberpunk or space exploration, and I think the focus on world cultures coming together is much more interesting.
Naturally a film made in 1991 about 1999 is going to get technology wrong in a few areas. There are no handheld mobile communication devices, but there are vehicular based ones, as well as vehicular tracking of entry and exit to cities. There’s GPS as well. There are handheld cameras which are not far from reality too. There is videophone of course. Information stores (music and personal ID) are in the form of credit cards – I assume with magnetic stripes, given the pre- Chip and PIN era.
The cross-genre soundtrack enhances the sense of globalisation and the vehicular anachronism and choice of locations – Venice, a farmhouse, a grassy plain – make the film particularly vivid. Overall I don’t think the film is dated, or will be – it’s a fantasy set in an alternate future where technology does not dominate lives as much as it does ours.
And at one point the heroine rides a Pedersen Bicycle.
The soundtrack is pretty good with appearences from U2, Talking Heads, Neneh Cherry, Lou Reed… however the film score by Graeme Revell has never been released apart from a few tracks on the soundtrack CD – although one blogger has managed to extract the audio cues from the dvd soundtrack.
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Duckworth is apparently very pleased with it. I wonder how he feels about the Neely Bruce performance, because the two are really quite different. Brubaker’s version is slower and less demanding on your attention, and kind of softer. This is particularly evident in the very first movement – the Neely Bruce version gets off to a flying start and the Brubaker version just seems to idle along – almost lagging behind the music, frustrating the listener with its dawdling.
However the relentless pace of the Neely Bruce recording is a bit fatiguing with its constant demands on your attention. By comparison the Brubaker version is easier to live with, and though slower the music feels more organised, and communicates more effectively. Overall I feel the Brubaker recording is easier to get into – I felt like I was holding the other recording at arm’s length a lot of the time. They’re both awesome pieces of music though, and worth doing the comparison for yourself.
A third recording by R. Andrew Lee is out in October, which should make for an interesting third comparison. Although his name isn’t Bruce, which may cause a bit of confusion.
About a year ago a neighbour gave me his vinyl from the 70s and a turntable with an Australian plug. They were moving and he didn’t want to take it with him.
Then my grandmother died and I inherited my grandparent’s vinyl as well as an idler deck – a Goldring-Lenco 75.
Lencos are sought after for refurbishment because they’re easy to turn into good decks by sticking them in a good plinth with a decent tonearm. The platters are heavy and because they’re idler drives instead of belt drives they have very good speed stability – poor stability leads to wow and flutter.
The Lenco will need some work, so for now I’m using the Project deck – but even that sounds pretty good.
More recently I decided to get a tape deck as well. I wondered about a Nakamichi, which are supposed to sound like nothing else. They certainly look like nothing else:
Analogues vs digital
Vinyl has an occult status in hifi – those who prefer it will claim that it represents the original master more faithfully than CD ever could, along with a load of other myths. But there are several good reasons why budget vinyl playback is as good, or better than CD.
For a start, although turntables can suffer wow and flutter they will never have a problem with jitter.
I do believe that jitter makes a big difference – when an audio stream shows jitter it sounds confused, loses timing, just doesn’t make sense. That’s why making a high end CD player isn’t just a matter of digital to analogue conversion – the transport matters both in getting detail and reducing jitter.
Because analogue music doesn’t suffer from this problem, even budget turntables sound just great – infectious and musical, relaxing and easy to get into – music just flows. Even my tapes have the same quality although they’re limited in other ways, particularly tape hiss and dynamic range.
But there’s also another reason that vinyl – vintage vinyl – sounds better than cd. Take my copies of Diamond Dogs:
My CD release is the 1999 Virgin Remaster. The vinyl copy is probably based on the 1974 master.
The version on vinyl sounds muddy, crackly, diffuse. The CD is predictably detailed with better frequency extension and cleaner sound. But the vinyl sounds better. It’s most obvious on Sweet Thing – the CD loses all of its emotion. Somehow the remastering has squashed all of the life out of the original and just made it very hard edged, not at all soulful.
But is this effect really down to the music, or could it be the vinyl’s rolled-off treble that just makes it sound “warm” by comparison?
The Dynamic Range Database doesn’t have an entry for this album, although it does note that “Heroes” has lost about 4db of dynamic range in the 1999 master compared to the 1984 release.
There are a lot of good reasons to like vinyl – gatefold artwork, mechanical handling, the joy of digging through second hand stores – but the biggest reason is that some of the recordings just aren’t available on CD. It’s kind of tragic.
Warning: I am going to talk about a film and it will contain spoilers. This would be something that would frustrate me if i didn’t feel the film was spoiled already.
But just in case you don’t read the rest of the text, I’m going to print a bit I was saving for the end. T and I went to Venice again recently, on a day trip from our holiday near Lake Garda. We went to the Guggenheim again, and I got a t-shirt with the Angel of the City in silhouette on the front:
It’s a bronze statue of a naked man on a horse with a huge erection. It’s apparently one of a series that Marino Marini did of mount and rider, where the later sculptures show the rider’s attention directed somewhere other than his mount. Not sure why the horse is straining its neck like that, unless the chap was prodding it in the back of the neck with his nob. That would make me kind of apprehensive too. But what you can’t see is the look beatific joy on the man’s face, which really evokes the joy of the piece (at least from the man’s perspective).
Now, on to Funny Games.
I dimly remember seeing the trailer and immediately T said “I don’t want to see that”. I did because it looked stark and stylish, and just a bit surreal.
Now, these people don’t have much good to say about it.
I sat through it over the weekend after the holiday. T doesn’t like this kind of film so I started at around 7.30am (couldn’t sleep, which seems to be a trend these days). I finished at around 5pm after numerous breaks. The film itself is about 2 hours long but I found it difficult to watch and engage with the film for more than 20 minutes at a time. God knows what the people in the cinema felt – Kermode described it as “being lectured to”.
Many directors break the fourth wall. Sometimes it’s to share a joke or do a double take with the audience. In Funny Games it’s used to lecture the audience that we are, basically bad people for enjoying depictions of violence, to ask us why we’re still here, to tell us that there is no hope.
Up to a point I don’t really mind the lecturing. I get that the director hates his audience, hates the cartoon violence of american cinema, and feels that the audience need to be woken up and examine why we choose this as entertainment. It is a very nicely crafted piece of cinema, the message is entirely valid and the way it has been delivered has profoundly affected me in a way few horror films ever have, in that I remember and replay bits of the film in my head. Part of the reason for this post is to try to lay those thoughts to rest.
Funny Games will not change my view on action movies or violence in cinema. If anything the violence is kind of irrelevant. Violence doesn’t make a film good or bad. It’s the protagonist’s spiritual growth and overcoming adversity that makes for a good story or film, and this film has no spiritual growth whatsoever.
Well, I guess you could argue that it’s a morality tale that includes the audience as a character, and it’s our spiritual growth that the director is trying to achieve. It would be a valid point except there is no catharsis. The film is entirely nihilistic – the bad guys go unpunished and the cycle of violence continues.
I liked the direction and the build up of tension and the symmetry of the tale – it’s clear that what happens to the family happened to the family’s neighbours before them, and will happen to some other neighbours afterwards. I was even OK with Pitt’s character breaking the fourth wall the first time, when he asks us if we’re still on the side of the victims, hoping they will survive. But the film doesn’t end well in any way other than the neat closing of the circle. As art it is poisonous; I feel it eating away at me, not with guilt but with dread and disbelief.
Oddly, the film mostly reminded me of Mark Millar’s Wanted: same lecturing tone, same nihilistic attitude, same fuck-you message to the audience through the fourth wall. But that was just about bearable for two reasons. Firstly it was clearly a fantasy. Secondly Wesley Gibson is drawn to look like Eminem:
So hard to take seriously, therefore hard to take Millar’s message seriously either.
(The graphic novel isn’t great, the film is pretty good and completely different though).
So Funny Games made me miserable. But on the other hand there’s a statue of a naked guy on a horse with his knob out. I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.
A few months ago I dragged my other half to Bespoked, the first UK Handmade Bicycle Show in Bristol. I’m the bike geek in the family, so it was something of a surprise that I saw nothing I liked and she decided she wanted a new bike. A nice one.
Part of the decision may have been me introducing her to Lovely Bicycle, a blog by a woman who likes old-styled, steel framed and beautifully finished bikes. She wanted something beautiful, but also functional. Hub gears and brakes would be perfect, and a rack was a must – she needed to haul laptop and books to work at least once a week. And no, a backpack wasn’t going to cut it.
And we found what should have been the perfect bike – laid back, hub gears and brakes, simply designed and functional, and above all low maintenance.
But there was one problem – no rack. No rack was a deal-breaker. The bike really needed a bespoke rack, because there were no traditional fixing points and the rear stays were too wide to fit one.
At this point we were told by the shop that there was a rack, although not in stock, and we were shown a couple of pictures of the rack. Shortly thereafter, the bike was ordered with a rack.
It arrived a month later. I remember because the phone call happened during a disastrous lunch with my visiting mum and stepdad (when something crawled out of the watercress garnish on my steak). Over the phone T was told that the rack had not arrived, but the bike was ready and announced this to the rest of us. We picked the bike up later.
The bike looked great, but no rack. No problem says the salesman – he’d managed to fix a traditional rack to his wife’s bike using longer bolts at the contact points and fixing the front of the rack to the seatpost binder, by fitting a longer bolt to the binder. I wasn’t entirely convinced but I could visualise the fixing, and we had a spare rack at home.
Before we took the bike home, I pushed the chap on the ETA of the bespoke rack. Eventually (and reluctantly) he explained that there was no rack. The manufacturer had run into a significant issue which I will not relate here – upshot, it didn’t give me hope of getting the rack in the next 6 months. But we took the bike home anyway, resolving to fit our own rack. That was a mistake.
I should point out that the bike was not a 100 quid object from Halfords. Prices range from just under 700 pounds, to over a thousand. The shop in question carried other fancy brands – serious cycling kit for specialised customers who know exactly what they want. Of course their bread and butter is low end bikes, accessories and labour – more on that later.
The rack we had didn’t fit. It was alloy and would need the stays to be spread to fit – something you can get away with nice springy steel, but alloy can fatigue and fail. T was heartbroken – it was the first sign that this was not The Bike after all.
A phone call to the boss a couple of days later started off a bit frosty when it looked like she might need to return the bike as not fit for her purpose. She certainly didn’t want to have to pay for an interim rack, only to pay again when the proper rack arrived – whenever that might be. But the conversation became more amicable when the shop offered to fit a spare rack they had as an interim solution, at no cost. The bike was duly returned and the rack fitted over the weekend. It then laid idle while we went away over the bank holiday.
I’d not seen the modification to the bike – I assumed it was now all sorted. I’d always had a bad feeling in my gut about the solution described, but I dismissed it – after all, what did I know? I was just an amateur and although I knew a lot about my own bikes, this was their job. They did this kind of thing all the time, and must have had dozens of satisfied customers.
My gut feeling turned out to be right. The modification was made of cheese. The first time T tried to lower the saddle, she stripped the threads in the binder. It would turn but no longer tighten. The shop’s modification looked cosmetically fine but was technically unsound and caused a failure. It was trivially easy to break the fitting – and yet when she was on the phone to the shop again, the tone was such that it was obviously fragile and she had obviously caused the breakage. On a bike that has been designed as maintenance free, and one-size fits all just by lowering and raising the saddle height.
The final trip back to the shop resulted in accusations, recriminations, and a final collapse of the already fragile customer-supplier relationship. The salesman’s expression was incredulous – he could not believe T was being so unreasonable after the shop had obviously bent over backwards to her whims up until now. But I can tell you here that she was concilliatory, apologetic and calm throughout. Even when he whined that she hadn’t given him a chance to fix the problem, and he was fully aware that the temporary bodge was no good. Even when he accused her of just changing her mind, now that “the honeymoon period is over”. Even when he sullenly refunded her money, and told her that her future custom was not welcome.
Of course you have only my word for it, and I am hardly a neutral observer. No doubt the owner is adamant that we knew full well the item wasn’t available to purchase – in his words “everyone else who bought that bike knew the situation about the rack” and “it’s obvious it wasn’t for sale, or we’d have had one on the demonstration model”. But I was there when we tested the bike, when T had first said she needed a rack, and when he showed us the photos of the rack – and I am equally adamant that he said no such thing. And I wonder, if he was so certain he’d told her up front, why did he take pains to tell her over the phone that the bike had arrived without the rack?
I only spoke up once to back her up and say yes, you definitely implied the rack would arrive with the bike and no, you never mentioned anything about a delay. I had been expecting to have to step in and take over the conversation, invoke the sale of goods act and present him with the letter we’d typed cataloguing the shop’s failures. But it didn’t come to that. Suddenly the man lost his temper and refunded the money in full, and we left.
Now a part of me still feels bad for the shop. They’ve lost a sale, and T doesn’t have a bike, and everyone’s time has been wasted. Nobody wins. And I really believe in supporting local businesses and in the spirit of the LBS, an independent bike shop run by people who love bikes for people who love bikes.
But a much, much bigger part of me says good riddence. After the order was taken the shop took no responsibility for the customer relationship – T was belittled and made to feel like she was being unreasonable for asking for what she’d paid for. She came to dread having to make the phone calls, and that caused me stress too. And not once did they apologise. In their view we were stupid and ignorant and did not have a realistic view of the world. An interesting way to treat a customer spending the best part of a grand in your shop.
There’s a certain kind of retailer who behaves as if the customer should be grateful to be served. Maybe it’s the exclusivity of the product. Maybe it’s because the type of people who shop there are spending thousands of pounds on an item so the shop assumes a higher level of disposable income. Maybe their clientele enjoys abuse. Certainly the shop behaved as if our refund was small change, given the speed with which it was returned. If that’s the case, then I won’t sleep badly because they’ve lost a sale.
And the one thing that I did not say, and perhaps I should have done, was to question the competence of their workshop. They knew they were cutting corners on the seat-bolt – something we might not have noticed for weeks had she not needed to lower the saddle – and yet they just bodged the job. But even worse, was something I’d let go at the time but I really should have mentioned – that when the bike came home for the first time, the front axle nuts were done up finger tight and had rattled loose. They’d let her ride the bike home like that. Thank goodness she hadn’t needed to apply the front brake with any force – it could have caused the wheel to pop out of the fork. The more I think about that, the angrier I get.
The hunt for a new bike will continue – if I can find a nice mixte frame and build it up myself, so much the better.
Up until a few months ago my computing at home was a sort of inhomogeneous affair. I had a windows XP Pro desktop (dual booting Crunchbang Linux), a G4 Powerbook running MacOS 10.4, and an old PII that originally ran Win98 and had been used for a variety of server duties, and even as a command-line only writing machine.
Then my mum said she wanted a laptop to replace her old, ugly, bulky and slow (800MHz, 384 Mb ram) PC. I said get a Macbook Pro, because learning OSX will be no more painful than learning Windows 7. She loves it.
I then realised the last new computer I had bought was in 2006, so I was probably due an upgrade. On impulse I got a Macbook Pro as well. Now it’s my main machine. The WinXP machine is used to play old games that I can’t let go, otherwise it would have been given away by now.
But I wonder what would have happened if I’d bought a PC laptop instead of the mac. And then by chance (well, luck over judgement) I’ve been selected to pilot the new work desktop, based on Win7. And today I got my new desktop.
It’s really shiny. In fact, it’s too shiny. Out of the box there are several “theme packs” that vary the desktop background and the window border/taskbar colours. I found that anything other than a variation of grey for the borders and taskbar just annoyed me. I was never a fan of the cartoonish default blue for the XP desktop (the Royale theme made it bearable, otherwise I just used classic).
Once the grey borders were turned on – and a fairly calm desktop background selected – the UI became a lot less distracting. I realised I’d chosen more or less the same colour scheme as I like on the Mac.
The Mac UI tends to put toolbar icons, if there are any, against a grey background in the top of the window. Folder icons in the finder tend to be muted grey or blue.
Win7’s folder icons are pale yellow – not the best contrast with the white background in an explorer window. And then there’s some weird shading thing going on with the folder icons and others that make small icons difficult to identify if you like to use a detailed view of the explorer tree all the time.
OK, that sounds like a stupid complaint, but hear me out. There are a lot of places where spots of colour stand out and really draw attention – like the close button on window borders, or the back button on IE. It means than the window decorations have a higher visibility than the actual content you’re working on.
The worst offender is MS Office. Yeah, I know that the Office Ribbon (from 2007 onwards) was a big UI change that annoyed a lot of users, but I really wasn’t concerned when running it on Windows XP where it had a nice pale blue background that let all of the options stand out. But in 7 the Ribbon background is somehow paler, and this doesn’t change if you switch Aero off. If your contrast is too high the toolbar turns white, meaning it’s harder to see where the toolbar ends and the content begins. Couple this with a dazzling number of icons of different sizes, shapes and colours, and it’s just so much harder to see the option you want.
Snap To It
While I miss the virtual desktops of OS X and Linux, I really like the Aero features. Aero snap, aero peek and the other tricks do raise visibility, and alt-tab (or win-tab) works nicely. Overall the accelerated desktop is lovely, although jerkier than I remember it (probably because of crappy integrated graphics).
Finally, this is where it’s either genius or stupidity.
A user’s documents are grouped together from different locations into “libraries”. The phrase Document Library is used, even though I don’t believe it’s the same as the Sharepoint definition (something else I’m also trialling at work).
I have never liked this trend of hiding the folder path from the user, but to combine more than one location into one symbolic link seems madness. OK, iTunes does that but then it’s a content delivery vehicle, not something you would upload to. It’s confusing and, I think, a bit unnecessary.
I used to think OS X hid absolute paths from the users, until I realised that if you want to know that information it’s easy to find out. Not so with the Windows 7 libraries. I have yet to “get” them, although I remain hopeful.
I have yet to encounter UAC but then it’s my first day with the new OS. But my initial impressions are they created a nice, hardware accelerated desktop and then made it so garish and busy that in many cases it’s not fixable. Compare to my OS X experience, then Win7 UI is inhomogeneous and confuses me. I have done productive work in the environment, but I can’t see a single thing that Win7 offers that WinXP didn’t aside from a longer future of security updates. Fair enough businesses need to migrate to Win7 for security updates past 2014, but aside from that I can’t see a single thing that Win7 brings other than some cute graphical effects. Maybe my opinion will change with time and experience. Or maybe I will just let the crushing inevitability of Windows 7 roll over me.
Thank goodness Windows isn’t the only option these days.
My name’s Ralph. This is a blog about all kinds of RPGs, HEMA, music and anything else that interests me.