29 April 02006

Satellite and internet radio recording: 'could' versus 'should'

After nearly three years of blogging, I'm beginning to appreciate one of the ways it keeps you honest: your past projections and predictions are still there to haunt you when (to mix metaphors) the chickens come home to roost. I don't think what I wrote about 'martini media' one or two years ago was wrong exactly, but some of it reads as slightly naïve.

Early last year, for example, I got enthusiastic about the TimeTrax software for recording satellite radio in the US — particularly the feature that allowed users to instruct your software to record every track by a particular artist broadcast on any station (to be fair, my enthusiasm only echoed Wired's).

Now a couple of US senators are backing an act to constrain this 'ripping' kind of recording from the radio. However, their act does sanction some degree of 'time-shifting' recording for larger bundles of programming. From Senator Feinstein's web site,

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28 April 02006

Neil Young: Living With War

Cover of Living with War album by Neil Young[Click the image to hear Neil Young's new album in full.] Even if I didn't like all the results when Neil Young first donned a vocoder and got a synthesiser in 01982, when he put out a rockabilly album months later, followed by a country album, and so on, I liked the fact that he was brave enough to make life difficult for himself. While a lot of people were sniffy about his Greendale album three years ago, I saw him play acoustic versions of the whole album before it came out, and it was astonishing. The point being that, at 57 years old, most people would be looking to rest on past accomplishments, but Neil decided it was time to have a go at narrative performance art.

And now that he's built a reputation for these curve-balls, his record company have finally realised that they can build on this, rather than always being painted as the villains of the piece. So the new myth is that Neil wrote an anti-Bush "metal folk protest album" in a week or so — he got fed up waiting for a younger singer to do it — recorded it in five days at the start of this month, and it will be in digital stores next Wednesday. At 60, he's done it again.

They're leaving no 21st Century promotional stone unturned. Here's the blog, the MySpace profile, the YouTube interview (worthwhile just for the CNN interviewer's question, "there's a song called Let's Impeach the President — what is this song about?" and Neil's predictable response). As of today, the full album is streaming from the Neil Young web site, though the buffering of tracks is slowing as more of America wakes up (the double entendre was unintentional and probably wishful).

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25 April 02006

Virtual listening sessions with your buddies

For years it's been common for people posting to music-related email lists and forums to sign-off with a note saying "now playing" (abbreviated to "np") followed by the title of the album they had on while composing the message. It's a way of adding a personal touch, disclosing a bit more of your musical identity, and hoping some of the aura of the music would rub off on you.

Of course, you could always claim you were listening to Trout Mask Replica when you actually had a Carpenters compilation on (I'm not casting aspersions: both have a place in my collection). But if you're listening with iTunes or Windows Media Player, and you have a new feature in MSN Messenger 7.0 enabled, then your buddies will automatically be able to see what's actually playing on your computer.

For me, this would get interesting if you could actually elect to listen to what your buddy is playing: the virtual equivalent of saying, "please can I listen in on one of the earphones on your iPod" or just sitting in the same room playing records and chatting about them. Clearly there are licensing issues with this, but Mercora has a legal solution that allows users to stream music from friends' collections.

What I have in mind is a solution that enables both streamer and streamed-to users being able to listen more or less synchronously, and have a chat via instant messenger at the same time. Does anyone know if this functionality is available anywhere (Mercora is Windows-only, so I can't use it)?

23 April 02006

Update on playlist services

In preparing the White Bicycles playlist yesterday, I revisited a subset of the playlist services that I reviewed last year and in January.

Here are some notes on what's changed, plus some notes on different contexts for searching for tracks.

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22 April 02006

Review of White Bicycles by Joe Boyd

White Bicycles at AmazonWhite Bicycles at AmazonIn the April issue of Prospect, Philip Oltermann observes a trend he calls the network biography, focusing more on artists' social networking to gain influence, and less on individual talent and its fruits. Along with this, "anecdotes have become more than mere padding", he claims, and have moved to centre stage in biographical accounts.

Joe Boyd's White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s could be seen as a kind of network autobiography or memoir. In the 1960s, which more or less coincided with Boyd's twenties, he had an uncanny knack of being in the right places at the right time, and worked with movers and shakers across generations of the music world. He was road manager for European tours by Muddy Waters and the 'blues caravan', Coleman Hawkins and Roland Kirk, as well as for Bob Dylan's electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival. He produced Pink Floyd's first single, as well as all the early landmark albums by Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake. As co-promoter of the UFO Club, he hosted everyone that mattered in British psychedelia during the Summer of Love.

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17 April 02006

Visualisation of music collections

thumbnail of visualisation from Musicstrands research paperThe picture on the left is an annotated version of a possible visualisation of someone's music collection, as proposed and described in a research paper available from Musicstrands. The segments in the circle represent different genres of music within the collection; the distance of each track (represented by dots) from the centre shows how old or recent it is; adjacent tracks all come from the same album; and the colour highlights show whether a track is part of a current playlist. I've shrunk the image down to about half size, partly to minimise accusations of infringing the authors' copyright, but also to give some indication of what this visualisation would look like on the screen of a mobile phone, iPod or other handheld device — not much use, I think you'll agree (download the paper, 580 KB pdf, for full-size image and explanation). I take that as reinforcement for my instinct that iPods, phones and such like will not be the main music device for serious music fans (people with more than a thousand tracks), but will continue to be just portable playback devices.

However, I'm not writing here principally about music devices, but about music visualisation in general, and assuming no particular constraints on screen size. I'm interested in visualisation for people organising and managing their own collections, sharing them with others and exploring others' collections, plus generalised visualisations of what might be called the 'music universe' (i.e. all the tracks and artists in the world), and how music maps onto other non-musical domains.

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14 April 02006

blog.ac.uk: educational use of weblogs

On 2 June I'll be participating in the blog.ac.uk one-day conference on educational use of weblogs and weblogging software. It's in London at Living Space, and is free to attend. There's an embryonic web site for the event, which will develop over the next six weeks.

My involvement comes through a connection with Josie Fraser, who (along with Steve Warburton) is a fantastic catalyst for bringing together bloggers in the learning area. Register your interest in attending by emailing Josie via her posting about the event

13 April 02006

Copyright infringement in shared playlists: don't blame the carrier?

Webjay play pageWhen I created a playlist on Webjay last year, I noted the varying legal statuses of the recordings I included — from public domain to creative commons to promotional 'giveaway' — including one I deleted when I knew it was not authorised and had read Webjay's legal guidance.

This Reuters article seems aimed at stirring up trouble for Webjay (and its relatively new owner, Yahoo!), claiming it "makes downloading the Beatles' music or Kanye West's full-length video as easy as a keyword search and a click of a mouse". Well, the Webjay legal guidance does say (perhaps inadvisedly), "[Webjay] helps you find music like Google helps you to find web pages". What they mean by this comparison, however, is that Webjay isn't responsible for making the music available, any more than Google is responsible for publishing all the web pages it indexes. So is Webjay's case being highlighted unfairly?

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5 April 02006

Music recommendation data spread about

Having written last month about Pandora apparently opening up, and having drawn comparisons with Last.fm, two music services have licensed some of the Last.fm data to add recommendations to their sites.

Download store and magazine site TuneTribe.com is perhaps the less interesting example. Their home page now has a search facility "powered by Last.fm". Provided your search gets an 'exact match', you get a link to recommendations for similar artists. Thus TuneTribe's similar artists for Brian Eno are effectively the same as the Last.fm listings of similar artists for Brian Eno — though interestingly the rankings are slightly different, suggesting that TuneTribe does not have a 'live' data feed. The Last.fm-TuneTribe arrangement is reciprocal in that the Last.fm web site includes links to download tracks from TuneTribe.

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