Tag Archives: iTunes

Welcome to the 21st Century

This is a silly little useless bit of information I noticed, but far more interesting than blogging about politics:

The iTunes Music Store has reclassified "20th Century" in the Classical section as "Modern/Contemporary." I had made such a suggestion to them a while back, pointing out that much of what was in the Post-Romantic period was composed in the 20th Century, and since it’s now the 21st Century, any new releases classified in this category wouldn’t really be appropriate. I’ve always hated the classification of “20th Century” as referring to contemporary classical music, for those very reasons. Welcome to the 21st Century, everyone. We’re here.

This is odd though. They have classified Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shoenberg as "Post-Romantic", while Shostakovitch is currently featured as in the Modern/Contemporary section. I surely would have placed Shosta-K squrely in the Post-Romantic set. In fact, I think the whole classification of Post-Romantic is somewhat off with iTunes, and difficult to pin in general because here in history (early to mid 1900s) is where styles began to differ wildly. When I hear the term “Post-Romantic”, I think Mahler, Richard Strauss, Shostakovitch much of Prokofiev, and the like. They have got Dvorak in there, which is clearly in the original, core Romantic period, and a bunch of impressionists like Ravel and Debussy. Stravinsky and Schoenberg need a new category altogether – and within those two, it’s really hard.

Stravinsky found atonality early, while Shoenberg’s earliest works like Verklärte Nacht were definitely dripping with the heavy syrup of Post Romanticism. Schoenberg quickly discovered Atonality and eventually invented 12-tone, while Stravinsky evolved to a retrospective style of Neo-Classicism and eventually to an abstract, more sparse, introspective style at the end of his career. You can’t put this stuff in one box easily. And that only scratches the surface – then you have stuff like Minimalism, Film, and everything else that kids are calling Avant-Garde these days.

Classifying music, especially artist themselves, is a frustrating and somewhat impossible task. There are pieces like some of Beethoven’s late Quartets that still sound ‘contemporary’ by today’s standards (and even the 2nd movement of the 7th symphony has a bit of chromaticism, and stuff written today that could easily have been Baroque, Romantic, Impressionist, or what have you. Same thing for other genres – what the hell is the difference between Alternative, Rock, Metal, Grunge, etc? I see the Foo Fighters in the Alternative bin in one day, the Rock bin the next, and the Metal bin in a third location. Is Kenny G Jazz or Elevator Music? And from Björk, it’s impossible to categorize one place for the artist: Trance, Pop, Jazz (Gling-Gló, It’s Oh So Quiet), and even Classical (such as an arrangement of Hyperballad, Evelyn Glennie stuff, etc.)

But you have to put the recordings somewhere I suppose, if you’re going to sell it. Sometimes I wish it was all just in alphabetical order. I never know where to find stuff – let me just sort the whole thing alphabetically please. When I’m running iTunes, this is how I listen to stuff anyway – put the whole collection on shuffle/repeat.

Goodbye world

Sennheiser Worldwide: Microphones, Headphones and Wireless Systems

I’ve been enjoying my new headphones for a while now and they are working out great. My criteria for new headphones were that they offered high-quality sound output, especially in the bass frequency and in reproducing classical music, had some kind of effective noise cancellation to save my eardrums during my morning commute, and were portable. After looking at many options, including offerings from Sony, Bose, and Etymotic, I settled on the Sennheiser PXC 250.

I did hear that the Etymotic ER-4s were by far the best of the bunch in terms of sound output, and obviously very portable, but I am too much of a wuss to stick those things in my ear canals all day. I seriously can’t stand ear plugs to begin with – after about 10 minutes I want to tear them out of my ears. canalphones are too irritating to me and were not an option. But I have three friends at work that swear by these models. (And one of those also has a pair of the Sennheiser 250s – she switches between the two depending on where she’s at or what she’s listening to.)

The Sennheisers do fold up nice and compact for a supra-aural headset. They fit quite comfortably and I have no trouble keeping them on my ears all day at work and on the train. When I’m wearing them, I can still hear some external sound. But noise is greatly reduced – I am amazed when I take them off and suddenly I am awash in sounds that I completely took for granted. Like the hum of the aging iMac on the desk behind me, the television in the other room, the traffic outside, and the upstairs neighbor’s little puppy that is gleefully scurrying across the floor. I am listening to the 3rd movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony right now and the sound is pristine with the volume set only to about one quarter of it’s capacity.

There are some minor drawbacks however, and these might not be for everyone. If you can stand canalphones, the Etymotic ER-4s seem to be the best bet for sound quality. There is a minor but noticeable high pitched white noise that appears with the active noise cancellation turned on and no music is playing. In a scenario where noise cancellation is necessary, such as a train or a bus, this is hardly a consideration since the environmental clamor and the good job of the noise cancellation will outweigh this minor con by leaps and bounds. Probably the biggest drawback however is the battery pack which hangs halfway down the cord, and the fact that the unit requires batteries in the first place. But I’ve gotten quite used to it and it clips to my belt or is stowed in my coat pocket with ease.

A nice unexpected feature is that the noise cancellation cuts out much of the sounds I had come to expect to hear even in a quiet setting, such as the creak of the bolts in my old office chair, or even the clacking of the keyboard which is already pretty quiet to begin with. I hear them, but not nearly as much now. It’s all just the music (which has now progressed to Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No.3, 1st movement, Jordi Savall)

Listening to music while working helps me focus on whatever I’m doing. Distractions such as people talking, train cars creaking along the tracks, and street traffic can really make it hard to concentrate. I think it’s the constant progression of musical pitch over time that seems to somehow keep my brain moving forward when deep into a coding binge or trying to design a page layout. I am addicted to the act of listening to music – I have 7.33 GB of music on my computer that I listen to regularly which, if played continuously, would repeat itself after 4.7 days. I’m already too familiar with each and every nuance of each and every track, and I feel that I need more – lots more. Considering I’ve been working like this since 1998, a mere 4.7 days of music seems woefully inadequate at this point. These headphones were a logical next step – partly to save my ears on the train of course, but also to provide a much better audio experience than a cheap pair of earbuds or a lousy set of $20 headphones. The new headphones make all the difference, and I am forever spoiled.

So if you’re trying to get my attention from now on and I don’t answer – just throw something at me. But preferably something not too hard…

Max’s iTunes Hypnosis

Max and iTunesThis kid… ever since he first saw the iTunes visualizer at maybe 6 or 7 months, he has been totally mesmerized by it. He loves the damn thing. I was just now letting it run on full screen while listening to some of my new tracks from the iTunes Store and he climbed up into my lap and just sat there, staring again. Still the same effect, at 2 years and about 4 months of age. When he was still an infant, I’d sometimes just park my PowerBook in front of him and he would be entertained for a good half hour or more. Sometimes he would kick and wiggle like he was dancing, while other times he’d just sit there and stare at it like he was in a trance.

It’s really interesting to see his association with visual motion and musical sounds in this way. It is an unique reaction for him – nothing really holds his attention quite as well, except for maybe Monsters, Inc. or Toy Story. But you can see the expression on his face when he listens to the music and sees the visualizer at the same time. You can tell he is studying it closely, soaking it in, listening and seeing the music at the same time, assembling something inside his little brain. I suspect there is something important going on here that has to do with child development, education, and musical training. At the very least, he is paying attention to some good classical and jazz music. And perhaps it is a good way to progress his intellectual development in other ways, too.

The New Addiction

The new iTunes Music Store is my Beanie Baby addiction. Ugh… too cool – 99¢ for a single track, or a nice price for a full download. I would just rip the new album anyway and listen to it from my PowerBook – that’s the way I’ve done it since iTunes came out. So why not just download the thing. No schlepping to the store, no waiting for delivery. Just an on-demand download, the way god likes it. Very nice.