30 November 02005

A cure for messy music metadata?

Gracenote has added over 650,000 CDs to its database in the seven and a half months since I last checked. That's quite a lot, and unfortunately it seems likely that there a significant number of duplicate records among them — cases where the same CD appears with the title or artist name written in a slightly different format. I noted before that the Gracenote database used four different ways of writing the titles of the six CDs in the Anthology of American Folk Music collection — now there seem to be one or two extra ways on top of the original four.

These inconsistencies create annoying problems for people trying to find particular albums or tracks on their MP3 players, as noted in this Wired article by Dan Goodin. His solution is to get tag editor software and sort out the metadata formats the way you want them, on your own. But surely there should be a less labour-intensive option?

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28 November 02005

Does music have a genome?

Alongside the Last.FM model of personalised online radio (which I covered at some length and have cited in several other posts), Pandora provides an alternative based on different technology and classifications:

We take your input (artists, songs) and feedback ("I like this", "I don't like this") and use the Music Genome Project™ to create stations that play songs that are musically similar to what you've told us. That's it; only the music counts. We don't care how popular the artist is, who's backing them, and we don't care which genre bin they usually belong in. Only the music matters. [Source]
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23 November 02005

Theatre of Voices UK tour performing Stockhausen

I was just clearing out my email in-box and found an unsolicited request to plug a tour on this site. Normally such messages would be deleted straight away, but I must have noticed the polite tone and decided to stay its execution until the next clear-out. Then, on re-reading it, and in the spirit of more or less random ways of discovering new music, I thought: why not?

Dear Sir

I manage Paul Hillier's ensemble Theatre of Voices, and I'm writing to tell you of Paul's exciting plans to perform and record Stockhausen's Stimmung in early 2006. Paul has a long history with the piece (having performed it many times with the Singcircle ensemble) and for a long time wanted to direct performances himself. Anyone who knows Theatre of Voices' fantastic recordings of Cage, Reich and Pärt will understand what an exciting prospect this is. Paul has chosen now to revisit the piece as the firts step in a new direction for the ensemble — to explore extensively a repertoire (both new commissions and classics) for vocal ensemble + amplification / electronics.
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21 November 02005

No Music Day

I found out rather late in the day (via the Soundscape UK email list) that today is No Music Day. This idea began with Bill Drummond, who apparently chose 21 November as it is the eve of St Cecilia's Day — St Cecilia being the patron saint of music.

The idea of No Music Day is to create some space in your listening so that you can, in Drummond's words, "do nothing but think what it is you want from music, and develop ideas of how that could be achieved".

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15 November 02005

Use case examples of Web 2.0

"This article may be confusing for some readers, and should be edited to enhance clarity." That's the editorial foreword at the top of Wikipedia's entry for Web 2.0, an entry which says straight off, "a consensus upon [the term's] exact meaning has not yet been reached" (all quotes as of the time of writing, but subject to change). I discovered, after I started writing this post, that searches for Web 2.0 were briefly in the top ten searches on Technorati's blog index, so bloggers at least are keen to know more. I found all of that strangely reassuring, because it meant that it's not just my lack of brainpower that's to blame for me not being able to get a firm handle on the concept.

But a presentation at this week's User-Generated Content seminar from Colin Donald of Futurescape gave me some more insight through reasonably concrete examples — the kind of use cases that I was missing when I wrote about Digital Lifestyle Aggregation (a very Web 2.0 technology).

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14 November 02005

Discovering new music: rationality and randomness

Do you behave completely rationally when you buy music? These days it's a lot easier to base your purchases on sound evidence (pun unintentional). You can Google an artist you've heard of, check out their reviews in the press; read about their development and discography on All Music Guide or Wikipedia; see if there are any freely available MP3s or streams on the artist's own site or on Epitonic; or, failing that, listen to 30-second samples on the iTunes Music Store or Amazon. If you haven't got a particular artist in mind, you can listen to Last.FM or Pandora for a bit and hear the music that people who share some of your tastes like, or you can just ask them on your favourite fan chat forum. There's really no excuse for not being fully genned-up before you splash your cash.

But do you sometimes like to let a little randomness into your life? Is there anything you've bought that was based on some looser intuition about what might appeal from you, or what might broaden your horizons beyond what you normally listen to? Do you even buy music on the basis of a good track title, or the singer's haircut? If you've got any good anecdotes to share, please send them to me, as I'm collecting little stories that illustrate different ways of discovering new music.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of stories of my own, going back to the days before everything you needed to know was available on demand.

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13 November 02005

The slow evolution of DAB digital radio devices

My excitement and predictions about the Bug — the digital radio that can pause, rewind, record and convert to MP3 (pictured right) — seem so far to have been overstated. The Bug DAB digital radio, from Pure DigitalSixteen months ago, I said I'd trade my iPod for a Bug, and just over eleven months ago I recorded the prediction: "next year it will be possible to download the programme guide to your Bug digital radio, set it to record your favourite programmes for the week onto flash memory and then copy them to your iPod" (I can't honestly remember whether that originated with me or someone else at the event I was writing about).

In the intervening period, iPods have gone through several generational changes (including the introduction of the iPod Mini in the UK, followed by the Shuffle and the Nano). By comparison, the Bug seems to have more or less stood still, and is nowhere near being a pace-setter in the market. I thought I'd wait to see how the second generation Bug looked before buying one, and I'm still waiting.

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11 November 02005

The spectrum of song: Jeays, Jenkins, Roberts

I have a theory that there are three men in the UK each of whom represents one of the primary colours — red, green and blue — in the spectrum of song. From blending their work in different proportions, you could make any other colour you wanted. But, even though all of them wear the influence of strong traditions on their sleeves, what sets these performers apart is that they don't sound like derivatives.

Blue is the South-East London blues of Billy Jenkins, who plays the guitar like a clown, a truly sad clown. Green is the twist on traditional folk songs (parables of hunting and shapeshifting) performed by Alasdair Roberts. Red is the English chanson repertoire of Philip Jeays, with its shades of Jacques Brel, Jake Thackray and Brecht/Weill.

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9 November 02005

Event: digital film/cinema

The informal network Cass Creatives is hosting a second event on the future of filmmaking on 30th November at City University (London, less than 200m from where I'm writing!).

The last time they covered this topic the presentations and discussion were fascinating — see the official report and mine.

The event is free. Here are details and booking (also here).

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7 November 02005

More usability nightmares with DRM

Leaving aside the moral, legal or economic arguments about Digital Rights Management (DRM), how does it affect usability and the user experience?

Last week a new form of DRM used by Sony BMG CDs came to light — though it has apparently been in use since March [source] — which installs a 'rootkit' on Windows-based computers. A rootkit hides software both from the user and from security or virus-protection software (hence its existence going undetected by users for months). The software, which controls what you can and can't do with the music files on the CD, is correspondingly difficult to remove. Here's an article that gives an overview of the case, and here's the original discovery.

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