Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Category: music (page 1 of 4)

Amazon Throws Down The Gauntlet

For all its many faults there is no denying that iTunes currently has the downloadable music market stitched up. However if there’s one company that might be in a position to challenge the status quo it’s the go-to online retailer Amazon. Rumours have been circulating for some time that they have been eyeing up the digital music landscape and now they have officially announced exactly what people have been hoping for: high bitrate (256kbps) MP3 free of DRM (or whatever euphemism the industry currently wish to use). Naturally this means the majority of the music will be coming from EMI, the only one of the big labels to release their iron grip on DRM’d music, but Amazon will also be providing music from hordes of independent labels too. Launch could be as little as a month away, so all that remains is for the price point to be announced. This will be the clincher, of course. If they can release this music at the same price as iTunes then it’s easily a superior service — if they can undercut Apple then they’re on to a winner that could drive down prices for consumers. And yes, if it’s offering DRM free mp3 albums at a similar price I’ll be forced to honour my promise and download an album myself when the store launches.

Loathe as I am to promote something so clearly viral marketing, the new Symbian Boo-Hoo For You! campaign is so creatively bizarre as to be worth watching. The psychedelic video features a duo of Japanese-style characters showing off the benefits of Symbian phones in Japan that we Europeans just can’t have. Boo-hoo for us. Somewhat lacking in accuracy one assumes it is intended more for its oriental insanity than to be informative. In that it succeeds.

You may be hearing confusing things about Google’s new Universal Search which aims to integrate specialist search results into the general search interface. Fortunately I don’t have to try to explain it because Search Engine Land have put together a comprehensive article on what this actually entails.

And finally it’s the time of year once more when I link to 3D Pong in order to distract and frustrate you in equal measures.

Paradise Lost @ KOKO

I haven’t spoken to Jamie from Whitgift for about 3 years but he contacted me a week ago to ask if I fancied seeing Paradise Lost this week. Apparently he remembered from our school daze that I was a fan, and seemed a likely companion to accompany him to his first metal gig. The reason was that Mike, a friend of his, happened to be the frontman of support act Serpico. A competent bunch of metalheads they produced a pretty impressive set with Mike doing a great job of winning over the crowd (never easy when you’re newly graduated opening for band who’ve developed a following over 17 years and 10 albums). Mike, incidentally, is actually an Oxford lawyer, probably not something he publicises too much in the name of credibility. However Jamie let me in on a noble little secret that would damage it far more. We also met a girl who turned out to be the cousin of Serpico’s talented 18-year-old guitarist who had a distracting tendency to wander across the stage.

Paradise Lost @ KOKOParadise Lost then emerged to play a fantastic retrospective set that covered everything since their Gothic album. The whole set was being recorded for a forthcoming DVD release which certainly made me jump at the chance to attend, having also been at the Opeth gig which spawned the superb Lamentations DVD. KOKO has a great multi-tiered structure so we took up a position higher up without feeling a world away from the stage (having been a few feet away from the band at the Mean Fiddler several years ago, I was not too disappointed). It was a strong set, sagging a little only towards the end. However this was more than made up for by two encores featuring Say Just Words and a great live rendition of Isolate. Bring on the DVD.

On a similarly music related note (no pun intended), Steve informed me about a Washington Post article chronicling the results when they took world famous virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell (he performed on the phenomenal Red Violin soundtrack) and had him busk in the metro. The results are either surprising or saddeningly predictable depending on your level of cynicism. However they don’t simply berate modern society but actually investigate the meaning behind it, comparing it to “art without a canvas”. Ultimately if beauty cannot make people recognise it, can it really be considered that beautiful? From Bell’s perspective it was just deeply unsettling to find himself being ignored.

Simple Pound

Simple PoundWith preparations complete I can proudly unveil Kirsten’s new blog, Simple Pound. It aims to share insights into finance and investment at a graduate level, making the most of your starting salary. This is likely to be very relevant for a lot of readers here and Kirsten decided to start this after finding a distinct lack of such information targeted at a UK audience. Aside from her course, she’ll also have first-hand advice from the professionals at Merrill Lynch once she starts working. To begin with she has set out her basic goals — in fact goals seem to be a recurring theme throughout all the posts so far. I am currently hosting the site here, but address you’ll want to bookmark is simplepound.co.uk. We’ll be looking at ways to expand the resources offered beyond the blog itself, but as a personal guide to investment early on in your career it should prove an interesting and informative read.

As if to prove correct my description of the EMI/Apple DRM announcement as a smokescreen, my dad arrived home informing me that EMI and Apple are now selling DRM-free MP3s at the same price as before. None of which is true. Reading the Metro article he had seen it is not difficult to see why he was confused. Although it did not actually state this, it certainly seemed to imply it because the journalist had simply reproduced the Apple/EMI line without actually engaging their brain. That article is by no means an anomaly with virtually every media outlet regurgitating the same press release like faithful lapdogs. When did it become okay for media journalists not to do their job? There are a few exceptions. Engadget, despite being obvious Apple fans, did critique the announcement more astutely, while The Inquirer said something about baseball bats. If this comes up in conversation please clue people up about it. Remember friends don’t let friends buy crippled music. Or Andrew Lloyd Webber.

EMI drops DRM. Sort of.

A lot of speculation had arisen regarding Steve Jobs’ announcement with EMI but the improbable sounding rumours of DRM-free music fell a little to close to April 1st to be taken seriously by many until Tuesday morning. A pleasant surprise for all, then, when they announced just that. DRM-free music in about a month’s time. Well, sort of. The first caveat is that to begin with it’s only available through iTunes. That means it will only be downloadable in AAC which is frankly useless to anyone who doesn’t own an iPod or one of the few compatible Sony players. Apple are quite deliberately not providing MP3 downloads, which again casts doubt on Jobs’ seemingly altruistic championing of “open” music.

The second issue is a split-pricing structure. DRM-free tracks are available at a higher bitrate, while the standard bitrate tracks remain fully DRM’d just as before. Naturally this provides an excuse for higher prices for the former, with the latter available because “not everybody cares about interoperability or sound quality” according to EMI CEO Eric Nicoli. Quite why those two should be entwined, however, is a mystery. It also means the unknowing are likely to purchase the cheaper option without understanding what they are giving up. So it clear they are not yet committed to a DRM-free world since it is being sold as an enhanced “feature”, not a consumer right. Worse still, it only benefits those who are happy to embrace Apple’s non-interoperable format, so it’s trading one problem for another. It is a step in the right direction, however, and we can only hope that this is the first domino toppling. Despite my scepticism about the world of online music purchasing, I have said for some time that as soon as one of the major labels releases their catalogue in DRM-free MP3 I’ll buy an album and that promise still stands. We’re getting there, but there was something of a smokescreen in yesterday’s announcement that not everyone seems to have grasped.

Kirsten and I (but really her) are currently working on a new project that I can hopefully reveal very soon, once everything is set up and running smoothly. It’s looking to be extremely informative for those tentatively stepping out into the real world in the next year or two, and is rather pretty too. Watch this space for details.

Neil Gaiman was sharing a bunch of YouTube videos in his latest post and I’ll leave you with Tyger, which was simply stunning in a beautifully mysterious way. Mesmerising enough that I feel compelled to share.

Pure Reason Revolution @ The Loft

Pure Reason RevolutionWork has been grinding me down over the last few weeks so that every task seemed to take three times longer than it ought. I needed something to reinvigorate me and, while slicing my thumb open a few days ago did not do the trick, such relief eventually came in the form of Pure Reason Revolution. I first saw the band supporting My Vitriol at KOKO last year and was instantly snared by the pop hooks underlying their progressive rock. “The Loft” is the upper floor of The Graduate, a pub on the other side of Jesus Green. The tiny venue is not particularly noteworthy, though it has impressive lighting for its size (Jon tells me this is a common trend amongst the smaller gig locations in Cambridge).

I knew Jon, Philly J, James and Ian would be coming along but they were all late so I ended up chatting to the band’s tour manager while a few rather mundane support acts performed. Our discussion meandered between films and music and in particular the experience of going alone. You are well aware that I strongly oppose the stigma attached by society to solo cinema viewing — I often go with friends but if no one else wants to see the film I’d rather see it alone than drag along uninterested people. Although I have also been to gigs alone, I much prefer company but could not place my finger on the reason for this divergent attitude. Sure, there’s the queuing and waiting which is more pleasant with conversation but more than that is that I find live music an experience to be shared. It stretches beyond music too. While I have no qualms about watching most films alone, the “experience films” like your Star Wars and your Lord of the Rings, I would want to share with others and would be less likely to see alone. Of course for movies like those there is rarely a dearth of willing accomplices.

Chloe AlperPure Reason Revolution took the stage around 9:30pm and produced a great set. We were positioned at the very front, literally two feet from the band. It’s odd to see a bassist take centre stage but Chloe Alper also provides vocals and fills the central position well, with a certain sensuality in the way her pursed lips envelop the microphone. She is flanked by the bands two guitarists, both performing incredibly tightly as they each seem to dance of the tray before them, boasting a spread of around a dozen pedals and switches. Their self-proclaimed perfectionism is swiftly evident. They were, sadly, sans violinist this time.

There were hints at the direction in which the band is moving, though I shall reserve judgement until the new single “Victorious Cupid” is released later this month (as a free online download accompanied by a card slipcase being given to gig attendees who want the full CD experience). Up until now they have essentially been continuously fleshing out the Cautionary Tales For The Brave EP which then grew into The Dark Third album. This received different releases in the States and in Europe so on the current tour they are selling the culmination of everything released to date in a 2-disc version of The Dark Third for a very reasonable £10. Although she admitted they were in progress, their tour manager was coy about future releases. However a scrawled notice in the entrance promised “New album coming sooner than Chinese Democracy”. For the confused it’s more of a Guns n’ Roses reference than a political statement, but also links neatly back to their support for My Vitriol last year. Either way, anything new is more than welcome.

Shackles

If “crippleware? seems an unduly harsh description, it balances the euphemistic names that the industry uses for copy protection. Apple officially calls its own standard “FairPlay,? but fair it is not.

-Randall Stross, NYT

Following my previous discussion of the iPhone I came across a very insightful article somewhat inappropriately named Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs. Inappropriate in that it is less about the iPhone than FairPlay, Apple’s dubious DRM system which it uses to lock customers in to their products — an accusation often levelled at Microsoft but rarely at their rival. Particularly interesting is the second page which details how Apple blame record company demands for the copy protection and yet still utilise it when record companies make no demands at all (indeed many songs protected via iTunes can be legally bought elsewhere sans “crippleware”).

Apologies for my silence after returning to Cambridge. It’s taken me a few days to get up to speed and I’ve had an Equity mock exam to grapple with too. With that out of the way I can now dive into the term proper which promises to be a fairly intense one. Whether that means I become less or more prolific remains to be seen.

Shamini mentions that she’s been playing keyboards on her father and uncle’s musical endeavours. The Bundell Brothers describe their sound as “Contemporary & original English Folk / Roots”. You can listen to a couple of tracks from Stood on the Shore.

Late to the Last.fm Party

I first stumbled upon Last.fm about two years ago and was intrigued by its idea of storing the regularity with which you play all of your music and sharing it with others. At the time I was using Musicmatch Jukebox as my primary player, which was unfortunately not supported. I recently revisited the site and decided to join now that I tend to default to WMP11 (at least until the next release of Amarok which finally has a confirmed Windows port).

The basic idea is simple enough: download the small Last.fm client and it will watch your music player, writing (or scrobbling) to the server whenever you play a song. This updates your profile on the site with the latest songs you’ve been playing as well as charts of your weekly and overall top artists and songs. Linking up with friend’s profiles it will also tell you how compatible your music tastes are. It’s all very Web 2.0 but has the unusual advantage that its premise is actually grounded in something that people already want. People have always wanted to share music with their friends and find out what their friends are listening to in order to discover new bands. Last.fm actually provides a surprisingly intuitive way to do this.

I’ve already linked up with Philly J, El, Jon and Louis. Let me know if you’re using it as well. No doubt my played songs will reveal a few dirty secrets and guilty pleasures, but my alibi is that Kirsten also uses this computer. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

One of my major gripes with Firefox has always been its lack of true fullscreen browsing. It still leaves far too much clutter that while not using much real estate is still distracting when I want to browse fullscreen. This has finally been fixed with the excellent Autohide add-on. This lets you select exactly which elements remain in fullscreen mode and which should be autohidden (i.e. until you move your mouse over them). Decent fullscreen performance is a feature I think should be incorporated into the main browser, but until then this add-on certainly does the trick.

My Vitriol @ KOKO

My Vitriol @ KOKOI dragged Alex W down to Camden with me to see the gig. He’d actually been to KOKO before, though it was my first time. In return I introduced him to The End of the World pub, deceptively small as you enter, then opening up into what can only be described as an enclosed, roofed courtyard. After a couple of drinks we headed down to KOKO which proved to be a great little venue, somewhat reminiscent of the Brixton Academy but a better size (capacity a little over 1600) so that even from the balconies you still feel close to the band. It is stacked in several levels working away from the stage with a full bar at the back of the lowest and highest levels.

By strange coincidence while standing in the thick of the crowd I spotted Jon and El so we weaved our way over. El is now doing her clinical at Imperial so Jon was staying with her for the weekend. I also saw several people in the audience with the Tool t-shirt I had elected to wear and discovered they are playing a London gig on Monday — so Maynard’s “see you in November” comment at the end of the last gig turned out to be true.

Pure Reason RevolutionThe support was well chosen, particularly the fantastic opening act, Pure Reason Revolution. Experimental with definite prog rock leanings, they were really rocking out in style live. The songs definitely have enough of a hook to ensnare non-prog listeners too and they burst with energy (like “He Tried To Show Them Magic”). They have recently acquired a very atypical burly violinist which complements their sound well. A female lead vocalist/guitarist is slightly odd for this sort of affair, and Chloe Alper is certainly easy on the eyes as well as the ears. The Cinematics were less noteworthy, being a somewhat standard preppy rock outfit. To say there were allusions to Weezer would be staid, but in truth the most interesting thing about them was that their drummer could still keep time while clearly absolutely wasted.

My Vitriol took the stage without too much delay and their set ran over to a decent length. Given that they only have a single (double) album of songs, there was a good mixture of old and new material with several songs from the forthcoming release. Som was on form teasing the crowd about the delays, “I promise the new album is amazing — I guess we have no excuse after three years.” After introducing his fellow band members Som followed up with, “My name a Borat. I like you. You like me?” Most intriguingly, he also promised that the new album is “better than Chinese Democracy” implying the name has been changed (perhaps in light of the Guns n’ Roses album of the same name — he earlier proclaimed “We are the new Guns n’ Roses” in relation to the release delays). Of all the bands I have seen live, this was the first time the music sounded exactly as I expected. It was great, particularly to hear the new “We’ve Lost Our Way” (it may sound even better live than the demo they released).

PussyAfterwards, we discovered, KOKO turns into a club until about 3am so we hooked up with Jon and El again for a few drinks. Spotting a can of “Pussy” behind the bar, curiosity eventually got the better of us and we had to buy. In the shape Red Bull made common, there was debate amongst us as to whether it contained alcohol at all as none was discernible by taste. It turns out to be a new “natural” energy drink without caffeine or taurine and consequently without the associated negative effects. Instead it uses botanical extracts from plants like ginseng and milk thistle. It certainly tasted far too sweet for the guys but El was a big fan, voicing her concern that being “a girl from Newnham who likes Pussy” would make her some sort of stereotype…

And then it was home, grabbing a cheeky kebab (they taste so much better in London) before luckily catching the last fast train back to Cambridge.

Facebook This Story

Happy Separation of Church and State Day! Yes, that is what the Pilgrims were most thankful for.

-Stephen on Thanksgiving

A large number of our readers are Facebook users and it only takes a glance at our site statistics to see how many of you now regularly arrive through there. As such it seemed that a little more integration was due. You will now find a small Facebook icon at the bottom of each entry on the site, allowing you to “share” it through Facebook. This allows you to post it on your profile or send it directly to friends who may be interested. The idea is to provide an easy way for you to highlight interesting posts to others, store useful entries for later, or simply to collate all your favourites in one place.

The small change will hopefully be useful to Facebook/P-2006 regulars, while not getting in the way of others. Accompanying it there is also a minor alteration to the layout with a quotation at the bottom of the page replacing some defunct information. A cookie for the first person to identify the current Fragments quotation without use of search engines.

My Vitriol - GroundedTonight I’ll be heading down to Camden to see My Vitriol‘s sellout show at KOKO. The only show they are doing this year, the first time I’m seeing them, and the first chance to hear more of the new Chinese Democracy album, I’m more than a little excited. The demo of We’ve Lost Our Way sounds incredible.

Poor planning by the certain members of the Cranworth Law Society (who shall remain nameless, A— ) resulted in several of us not being able to attend the formal last night. In fairness, getting some work done to make up for tonight in London probably isn’t such a bad idea.

A Dire Shortage of Virgin’s Blood

PS3 vs. WiiI’ve just become brother of the year after Gameplay confirmed that a pre-ordered Wii for my sister will be arriving on the day of launch (“Wii is yours!” being their somewhat dubious phrasing). Let’s just say I’m glad she wanted that and not one of the near mythical PS3 units that have resulted in several outbreaks of violence already. Particularly when people do this. I believe the current slow rate of production is now due to a shortage of virgin’s blood, needed to coat the lens of the blu-ray drive…

Speaking of violence on release, booking for Downing’s free Christmas Formal inevitably led to server suicide as 400 impatient students hit refresh in what would have been a perfect 10 in synchronised server slaughter, were it to become an Olympic sport. I fear they may have rules banning that level of performance-enhancing alliteration, however. The majority of the KLM crew (as Dave dubbed us) got through, but several will have to give it another go tomorrow. Whether the server will stand up to a second round of beating after being reinforced is anyone’s guess. I certainly would not want to be responsible for it right now.

For those who love Pandora as a method for discovering new music, Musicovery is a really nice visual representation of a similar concept. The user triggers the process by selecting a mood from a graph and can limit the genres if so wished. A visual array of lines is then produced with linked songs which are played in order. The user is free to navigate around to see and play similar songs in different genres. Definitely both unique and captivating to look around, particularly in genres one would not normally consider.

And for those who enjoy the fictitious boxart I occasionally produce, the latest speculates on the possible future direction of the Total War franchise.

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