Sonic Youth: New album, life without Jim

I got a fan notification email a while back that Sonic Youth were working on a new album, which is always cause for celebration, especially after the last two (Murray Street and Sonic Nurse were real career high points). But I had totally missed a more interesting piece of news: back in October, Pitchfork reported that Jim O’Rourke, who was an official Sonic for the last two albums and played on others including NYC Ghosts & Flowers and SYR3, has officially left the band … to focus on directing films?

Personally I think the last bit is a canard, given that Jim is visibly active in the music business (he produced Beth Orton’s long overdue album, out yesterday). But you never know.

Everyone can blook.

Tony Pierce wasn’t the first blogger to go from blog to book, and now it looks like he won’t be the last, thanks to the new BookSmart software from Blurb. Announced at the DEMO conference, Blurb BookSmart is a general purpose tool that does for text what iPhoto does for pictures: makes it easy to self publish quality hardbound books.

Given my experience with iPhoto books, I’m curious to see how it turns out. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a way to get into the beta without an invitation, so if anyone can hook me up, I’m your friend. Oh yeah: also no word about Mac compatibility for the software either. (Update: I missed the software compatibility info on the bottom of the Create Your Book page, which indicates that Blurb BookSmart is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.)(via)

Time to buy a Shuffle?

My 512 MB USB memory stick has gone missing; I’ve looked all over for it. But I’m not sure I care after seeing the news from CNet that Apple has lowered the price of the 512 MB Shuffle to $69 (and the 1 GB to $99).

I don’t really think I can get one, of course, right now; but it’s still a suddenly compelling value proposition. Who needs a screen? It’s a memory stick with previous-next and a headphone port. What more do you need? Besides, it would be good to have a backup for those long flights when my regular iPod’s battery goes.

The only catch: 1 GB of memory is not designed for people who rip losslessly. I think I could fit about 100 minutes of music on it. (Update: I missed reading a review that points out that iTunes can automatically downsample lossless files for a particular iPod to 128kbps AAC. I never knew iTunes could do that!!)

But what’s the message in the new 1 GB Nano? I guess that people like the small form factor enough to want to have access to the screen even if they only have a few songs on it. And that it’s important to get new models out to customers so that the market gets even more saturated before the competitors catch up.

Neko Case brings the noise

Coming next month: Neko Case’s new album, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. I couldn’t be more excited if tomorrow was the first day of school. (Yeah, I was that kid.) The good news is that Joey Burns and John Covertino of Calexico, who made Blacklisted so spectacular, are returning. The really interesting bit is that The Band’s keyboard player Garth Hudson is also on the record; according to his site he is playing on four tracks. Hope he brought the Lowrey with him.

Review: Hilliard Ensemble, Gombert: Missa Media vita

The first thing that I thought on reading the liner notes for the new Hilliard Ensemble recording of the works of Nicolas Gombert was, What a bad time to record the music of a Catholic composer who was sentenced to hard labor for molesting choirboys. The first thing
I thought when I listened to the first track was, Wow, the Hilliard Ensemble sounds amazing. When did they add a bass?

In fact, this recording represents yet another turn in the evolution of the Hilliard Ensemble, one of the longest running early music ensembles performing today. Joining long time members Rogers Covey-Crump, Gordon Jones, and countertenor David James are tenor Andreas Hirtreiter (who has augmented the ensemble on two of their previous three recordings), Steven Harrold (who performed on the Hilliard’s chart-topping Morimur and their splendid 2004 recording of Machaut motets), and bass Robert Macdonald. It is the latter’s presence who is most spectacularly felt on the recording, as the trademark lush sonority of the Hilliard Ensemble gains a new and welcome depth of tone.

And the bass presence is needed on the title work, Gombert’s monumental Missa Media vita in morte sumus. The mass is a musical elaboration or “parody” of Gombert’s own motet, “Media vita in morte sumus,” which leads off the recording, and both mass and motet share a richly ornamented polyphony that is seamlessly rendered by the Hilliard Ensemble. There is very little space in these compositions; they are densely ornamented and constantly in motion, never settling or resolving. Gombert became famous (prior to being sentenced at hard labor in the galleys for “gross indecency” with a choirboy) for his highly complex and rich writing, which was published all over Europe during the time that he served as unofficial court composer to Emperor Charles V of Spain. Gombert’s unparalleled imitative writing and skillful use of dissonance is particularly striking in the closing motet, “Musae Iovis,” where sudden changes of tonality, meter, and rhythm that would be at home in a Tallis or Gesualdo composition are put to service in an evocative memorial to Josquin, Gombert’s teacher. This motet is the greatest revelation on the disc and makes a solid case for Gombert’s rediscovery. The Ensemble’s vocal performance, as always, is superbly nuanced and expressive while maintaining the same purity of line and heartrending perfection of phrasing that has characterized all the group’s recordings for ECM.

The Hilliard Ensemble is forever inimitable, for a very simple reason that was once outlined to me by a good friend and conductor who worked with the early music ensemble, the Suspicious Cheese Lords, in which I once sang. He was helping us improve our performance of Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah, and told us that our tempo was too slow. “Well, we’ve been listening to the Hilliard recording…” I ventured. He cut me off. “Ah, but they’re not human. No mere mortal could hold phrases for that long, that perfectly.” Listening to this latest recording it becomes perfectly clear that he was right. Even with a few guests along for the ride, even performing long suppressed compositions that fell through the cracks between Josquin and Palestrina, the Hilliard Ensemble is still the closest thing on record to an out of body experience.

Also posted at Blogcritics.

The NFL hates bloggers?

That’s the way I heard the legal voice over that just aired during the Superbowl, anyway, the one that announces that “this broadcast is only for the NFL’s watchers. Any other use of the broadcast, including images or accounts, is forbidden.” I guess that means the play-by-play blog is out. What’s the legal meaning of account here, anyway? Does it include pointing out that the Seahawks are really sucking wind so far and need to stop missing 50-yard field goals?

New Mission of Burma, lots of 12″ vinyl

All you Mission of Burma fans and radio folks might want to check out the discussion about the forthcoming Mission of Burma album, The Obliterati, at Pitchfork. Clint Conley says that the band is rolling out a “singles club” in which 8 of the 14 album tracks will be released on 12″ vinyl—and as CD singles. The subscription club has unfortunately sold out—but I got mine, heh heh heh. If the demand for these singles is any indication, it will be Mission of Burma’s second post-reunion album that will be the real story of their career.

Tagging and iTunes: a roundup

As someone whose digital music collection keeps growing (now filling, despite my previous pledge, all but 15 GB on a 270 GB drive), I am always alert for new ways of managing the mountain of music. One trick that has been productive has been putting track metadata, including lists of musicians, actual recording dates, and keywords like “cover” or “remix,” in the Comments field of each track. This is a more staggering task than even I imagined, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is the domain: even rock bands usually have north of four people involved in a given song, and when you look to jazz tracks, the task of manual data entry becomes huge. Also, unlike with iPhoto (or Flickr or, there is no concept of a discrete “tag” for a music track—in iTunes or anywhere else, as far as I can tell. Everything must live inside an unstructured comments field. So each item must be added manually, and God forbid you want to remove a tag from more than one item.

I had created an AppleScript to cope with the first challenge, a simple script that puts a user-defined keyword at the end of the comments block. But in a recent MacOSXHints article and its comments, I was exposed to a host of other solutions and am convinced it will be easier for me just to adopt someone else’s approach.

I’m tempted by the approach of managing iTunes tagging with Quicksilver, but I have actually given up using Quicksilver as it tends to slow to a crawl on my 1GHz G4 PowerBook. The approach of Common Tater looks good, but I’d rather have a small atomic script than a monolithic application, and it hasn’t been updated in quite a while. TuneTags has the same objection, plus the fact that its XML-like markup is too big to fit comfortably inside the meager 255 characters given for comments on a track.

I look forward to checking out Christopholis’s TuneTag (no relation) and the Add/Remove Tags scripts from dwipal. But ultimately the AppleScript solutions will need to yield to either a cross-platform iTunes plugin with a consistent tag separator methodology (semicolons? asterisks? XML? <T>?) or to a dedicated tag feature implemented by Apple. I’ve never understood why iTunes never got tags and iPhoto has had them since the beginning.

Newspapers: Sorry for leaking your credit card. Now I’m going to break Google.

This is not the sort of headline you want to see: Subscriber credit card data distributed by mistake, writes the Boston Globe. It’s particularly galling when you find out how the information was distributed: stacks of account reports containing credit card numbers and bank account numbers with routing codes were inadvertently recycled as “toppers” on bundles of subscriber papers. Thanks to the Slashdot thread, I can also point to an online application that reports if your information was leaked or not.

Contrast this with the latest in a series of “make the bastards pay” stories about pre-Internet dinosaur businesses who want to tax providers of useful Internet services out of existence: Newspapers want search engines to pay:

Web search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, collect headlines and photos for their users without compensating the publishers a cent,according to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), which announced Tuesday that it intends to “challenge the exploitation of content” by the Googles and MSNs of the Web.

Since the World Association of Newspapers seems to have a lot of time on its hands, I have a list of suggestions for more profitable activities:

  1. Create a code of conduct about how you will treat sensitive subscriber data.
  2. Enforce it.
  3. Stop trying to block search engines from accessing your content.
  4. Stop arbitrarily limiting your online ad inventory and hurting your authority by scrolling your old headlines behind a paywall.
  5. Start getting a clue about information security and the Web. Please. For the love of God.

Modern boiler, stone-age brain

I awoke this morning to realize that the heat was offline and the temperature on the main floor was about 55 ° F. Oy, I thought, and checked the boiler and the circuits. All the breakers seemed to be fine but the voltage converter (the Viessmann high efficiency unit that is the core of our system runs on 230V AC) wasn’t lit up. Fortunately there was enough hot water in the tank for a few showers. We called the HVAC guys.

Three hours later there was egg on our face and a new factoid in our brains: the supposedly dead cut-out switch at the top of the basement stairs that used to power off the oil furnace but was supposed to be inactive is still alive and now cuts power to the Viessmann. Someone inadvertently did just that last night. Nurr two masters degrees in this house nurr. We’ll have a little conversation with the electrician about that. But the house is warm now.

Not too much otherwise going on with the house right now. We have baseboard molding to replace, one more phone jack to install and wire, two more new plaster walls to paint, a basement to redo… but we’re a little hung over with home improvement projects right now and are enjoying the respite.

New Hooblogger: John “JP” Park

I should have added fellow Virginia Glee Club alum John “JP” Park to the Hoobloggers list a while ago, but fortunately in some recent correspondence he was good enough to remind me gently that, yes, he did have a blog and I should really check it out. The blog, Park Haus Addition, is an account of designing and (eventually) building a large modern addition onto the 1939 bungalow that JP and his family call home, and it’s enriched by JP’s computer renderings of the design ideas and plans (he is a computer animator in his non-blogging life). Like JP, the blog is creative and visually interesting, and is highly recommended to general readers and housebloggers alike.