Monthly Archives: February 2002


So much for all my digital music ramblings. Here is an article that puts it much more eloquently than I could, but expresses pretty much the same sentiment:

The price would have to be reasonable. The mp3 format is a notoriously pirated format, but most people aren’t going to go through the trouble of locating, downloading, and organizing pirated tracks if they could get them all in one place, legally, for a small fee. A band selling unencrypted mp3s at a low enough price wouldn’t have to worry about piracy. In a sense, it would be like “legalizing” the mp3 format, if cheap and convenient, there’d be no reason to “black market” the music via the pirate networks. Unbound by the needs of record store shelves, trucks to ship units, and record companies, a band could charge a fee of say, $0.50 per track, so an “album” of music would run about $5-6. Of the few attempts by record companies to offer downloadable or streaming electronic versions of popular music, they’ve often set prices as high as $3 per song (scroll down to “digital downloads” and compare to the CD price), making an album cost two to three times the cost of a conventional CD, allowing companies to write them off as failures and say there is no market for electronically distributed music.

My absence in writing up this diary is due to a big redesign of musical taste. This will hopefully launch in the next couple of days.

Compilation - Johnny Cash: 'Murder' (CD; American/Legacy; 1955-1993)
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An interesting Johnny Cash compilation. The only other Johnny Cash stuff I had on CD before buying this was the 'prisons' (Folsom and St Quentin) CDs. This is a great disc, in spite of its slightly gimmicky theme and liner notes by Quentin Tarentino. The original Sun mono version of 'folsom prison blues' is here, and sitting comfortably alongside it is the 1993 recording 'delia', which is a remarkably addictive song.

Perhaps because of the nature of the subject matter, there are a few sound effects gimmicks which spice up the songs. For example, in 'Joe Bean', we get to hear the sound of the protagonist's neck breaking as he is hung from a noose.

I've never consciously collected Cash's albums, but I respect him a lot, and this disc provides a high quality collection of tracks. Cash's influence on idols of mine like Nick Cave is strongly evident. Other hightlights include 'going to memphis' and 'when it's springtime in alaska (it's 40 below)'.

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pressplay update

Update: pressplay responded to my email asking how many songs they had within an hour. Impressive! More impressive than what’s on offer. Apparently there are ‘roughly over 100,000 songs available’. This doesn’t seem that many considering the size and number of record companies involved. Doesn’t ’emusic’ have 165,000? I much prefer emusic’s interface an methods: they sell actual mp3s, as opposed to the right to listen to audio while subscribed to a paying service. They also allow you to purchase just one song if you like. Good customer service, poor product. If anyone signs up with pressplay, or hears of anyone who has, please drop me a line.

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pressplay is a premier on-demand music service that will change the way you discover music. For a low monthly fee, you can search, browse, and instantly listen (via streaming) to full-length songs of your choice from your favorite artists while you are connected to the Internet. The pressplay service also lets you download high quality music files to your computer, and play them as much as you want as long as your membership is active. In addition, you can make your own compilations, or playlists, and you can even burn your favorite tracks to a CD.

I just received an email from the online music venture founded by Sony, Universal and EMI, plus a handful of independent labels. I was invited to have a 14 day free trial. I’m not going to bother.

While I’m glad that the service has finally launched (it had been scheduled for last summer), it is quite astonishingly unappealing.

First, here is the pricing:

  • Gold: $19.95 per month for 750 streams, 75 downloads and 15 burns.
  • Basic: $9.95 per month for 300 streams and 30 downloads.
  • Silver: Special Limited Time Offer – $9.95 per month for the first 3 months.

    $14.95 per month every month thereafter for 500 streams; 50 downloads and 10 burns.

  • Platinum: $24.95 per month for 1,000 streams, 100 downloads and 20 burns.

Sounds great, eh! Yeah, you can pay $25 per month, and still only have the right to make a CD with 20 tracks, and only be able to download 100 tracks for offline listening. It gets worse. You are only allowed to burn a maximum of 2 tracks per artist, and your downloads must be encoded in a proprietary format that is only playable on the pressplay software, because they apparently deactivate and disappear if you stop paying your monthly subscription,

This notion of ‘subscribing’ to music, rather than being able to do whatever you want with it is pressplay’s main departure from the way I (and most other people) have enjoyed music in the past. And I honestly don’t think people are going to buy it.

The site’s FAQ frequently betrays the lameness of what is on offer. The volume of ‘tracks to burn’ on offer is so paltry that it was clearly a concession, an afterthought. They also pepper the promotional materials with meaningless statements like this:

With up to 2 tracks from each of your favorite artists per month, and thousands of artists to choose from, you can be sure that your pressplay CDs are going to reflect your individual taste.

I am clearly not part of pressplay’s core target audience. If I hadn’t guessed this already, it would have been confirmed to me by the fact that I don’t recognize any of the six artists pictured on their home page (wait, the fourth one in could be JayZ; the rest I have no idea about). However, I doubt if _any_ audience really exists for what they are offering. Even the most expensive plans focus on ‘streams’, but do most people really like to listen the music they get over the internet while sitting at their computer with headphones? If so, there are still hundreds of free radio stations offering this for free. So pressplay is offering, at a price, the chance to hand-pick songs for a ‘personal’ radio station. But this still doesn’t make any sense – if someone doesn’t already have a song on CD or vinyl, are they really likely to want to pay to listen to the song at their computer, but not actually be able to do anything else with it?

• What is the alternative to this ridiculous-seeming project (which apparently took a great deal of time and money to develop)—what should the major record companies have done instead of pissing their money away?

In my experience, the desire to ‘own’ the music never went away – I’m talking not just about 45s and LPs and CDs, but cassette recordings of songs, songs taped from the radio, mp3s…Ok, as you can tell, I’m a big hoarder of music. But I expect that to a certain extent, this desire is present in everyone, or at least everyone interested enough to be downloading music.

Therefore, my suggestion is that the record companies sell mp3 files.

Yes, regular mp3 files —they can add a ‘copyrighted’ tag if neccessary, but hey, at the end of the day, when you send stuff out into the world, there’s very little you can do to control what happens to it afterwards.

Yes, people will abuse the system, and people will freely distribute paid or copyrighted mp3 files. But they do that now anyway, and for years have been doing the same with CDs and other audio. The only way to combat this is to offer what things like audiogalaxy and napster offer, but do it better (as an aside, it might have been a good idea to start doing this about three years ago). The record companies have the resources to do this. Furthermore, the record companies have the master tapes of rare recordings, and the means to offer perfect recordings of every available track. On a personal level, if what pressplay (or musicnet, or whatever) was offering was HALF as good as napster or audiogalaxy, then I would pay (a reasonable amount, like $1 or $2 per song). Right now, what they are offering is just insulting people’s intelligence. If the major labels are hurt by the free distribution of copyrighted music, I understand, but they are going to have to do a lot better than this.

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I enjoyed this fascinating article about record collecting, which was mentioned by Alan on the exotica list.

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It’s rather superior-sounding at times, but I found this article from the Guardian very amusing and informative.

Compilation: 'electronicagainsbourg' (CD; Pagan; 2001)
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I was happy to find this disc used. It seemed like a nice counterpart to 'Morricone RMX'. Serge's recordings sit alongside those of Ennio Morricone in my collection, so it seemed appropriate to have this as well. However, after the first listen, I feel disappointed.

  1. Howie B's remix of 'Ballade de Melody Nelson' opens very promisingly, with catchy strings, that very familiar picked acoustic guitar phrase, and a crisp beat.... Howie drops in occasional vocal and string samples. However, let's face it, the track is not interesting enough to justify it's seven minute length. The sound is very pleasant, but 150 seconds would have done me.

  2. Faze Action with 'La-bas c'est naturel'. I don't know the original track. This remix is quite fun, opening with some tropical forest sounds, and morphing into a pleasant disco track with some funny electronic effects. Again, it seems very long to me at 6:15, and at this point I'm starting to think I could have bought a CD that is patently not for me.

  3. Krickor & W.A.R.R.I.O's version of 'Love on the beat', one of Serge's 80s outings is more interesting, perhaps because the original was also electronic. It has a fat, squidgy bassline and sounds like a messed up old school hip hop record.

  4. I had some apprehension when I put on Herbert's 'Bonnie & Clyde' - it's one of my favorite 60s Serge Recordings, and the remix is very long 7:30. It opens pretty well though, removing all musical backing, and just presenting Serge and Brigitte's voices over a stripped down electronic backing. It's not exactly to my taste, but comes across as less lazy than Howie B's effort.

  5. Dax Riders 'No comment' is quite fun. Again, it sounds better to me because it seems to have a nice authentic 80s sound going on.

  6. Demon Ritchie's 'Sea, sex & sun' remix recreates the song by stripping away the old backing track and adding a new (rather cheesy and Kenny G-esque) musical background to the vocal line. After a minute or so, this turns into a mid-90s style dance track. It's perfectly pleasant, but I don't really see the point.

  7. Chateau Flight's 'Lola Rastaquouere' does similarly little for me.

  8. Readymade's 'Aeroplanes' is one of the more interesting numbers. It's still very dancefloor oriented, but has a lot of variation in sound, making it much more attractive to me.

  9. Bob Sinclar's Marabout sounds pretty much as you might expect - a huge, relentless, silghtly ethnic sounding beat is in place through the entire track, while samples are dropped in, and occasionally the beat is pumped up further. The sound is incredibly 'pure', but that doesn't really make me want to listen to it. I actually own a couple of Bob's albums, but they only come out around once a year.

  10. OGM's 'Five easy pisseuses' is ultra-smooth, with some backing vocals that frankly appall me. The overall mood is actually quite cool though, with a nice Pet Shop Boys feel. I think I could actually come to like this.

  11. The idea of the Orb doing 'requiem pour un con' interested me. However, the actual track is underwhelming. To me, there's nothing about it that is either offensive or interesting.

  12. Stratus take on 'L'hotel particulier', the original being one of my favorite tracks on 'melody nelson'. Happily, they add some interesting musical content to the track alongside the nice beats. This was lacking in most of the other tracks on this compilation. One interesting touch is the switch from minor to major of the final chord of the chorus (the one where he sings 'Melody' in the line 'Lentement j'enlace Melody'). This by some distance the best track on this CD.

  13. Dzihan & Kamien's Je t'aime... moi, non plus is a strange track. The remixers take a heavy bossa nova beat (like that used by Nicola Conte on many of his tracks), and add a dirgey, slightly depressing synthesized chord sequence, over and under which the vocal tracks are placed. Right now I can't imagine ever wanting to listen to this, but it's nevertheless an interesting experiment.

  14. The final track is Snooze's 'New York - USA'. I quite like the sound of this track, but the vocal tracks seem to have been overlaid in a slightly random fashion. The overall sound is so depressing that this sounds totally as if it could have been written in tribute to the events of September 11th 2001. The lyrics about having never seen anything so high add to this effect. I wonder if this has ever been used anywhere in tribute.

Anyway... I'm sorry to come down on this one so negatively, but it doesn't do it for me at all. Even though I didn't massively *like* many of the tracks on 'Morricone RMX', I had more respect for them then most of the things on offer here. Many of the remixes seem very lazy and insubstantial to me. Track 12, Stratus's 'L'hotel particulier' is the only real winner for me. I guess the root of my problem with the remixes here is that they focus in on Serge the personality - most often sampling only the vocal tracks, and then instead putting in inferior or barren musical backings. More remixes which played with Serge's arrangements, textures and musical phrases would have made this far more interesting to me.

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Strange, half-forgotten music memory of the day: I just remembered an email I read five or six years ago on the exotica list. Unfortunately the archives are not searchable, so I can’t trace the mail. Or maybe I imagined it. Anyway, it concerns a version of Grieg’s ‘In the hall of the mountain king’ by Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats. This was apparently called ‘In the hall of the Mountain cha cha cha’, and intrigued me at the time. It has since dropped back into my head, and I’ll be looking out for it. That said, it’s not completely clear what album it’s on. It *could* be on ‘Harmonicha-Cha-Cha’ (Mercury MG 20391), but there’s no track listing anywhere. That sounds like a fun album anyway, so I’ll look out for it.

The whole thought of a cha cha version of ‘mountain king’ (which I first heard via ELO’s version when my elder brother played it to me aged 7 or so) is very cool to me. Kind of like what Caterina Valente and Edmundo Ros did to Miserlou.

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Let’s get rid of some money

I’ve just bought myself a new toy, a CD walkman that plays CDR discs with MP3 files on them. It’s a top of the line (although soon to be outdated, I’m sure) model by Philips, the ‘expanium 103‘. I wanted to get a good one, and at the very least, one that read the ID3 tags (so that the name and artist can be seen in the little LCD screen). It seemed to be between this and the ‘Riovolt 250‘. I chose the Philips, probably because it looked nicer. I am shallow. Plus I rarely listen to the radio, so wanted to avoid the added distraction of having one built in.

Earlier this evening I hooked my new toy up to my old Aquatron ‘egg’ 8-track player with built in speakers. It was funny to mix the new and old technologies.

I spent most of the evening making just one full (700MB) ‘mp3 CD’. I started off by including a Super Furry Animals ‘best of’ set of mp3s I had done for a recent compilation. I thought I would do the same for a few other contemporary bands, but in the end, it seemed like too much hassle. So I did the easiest thing – I plugged in 4 Belle & Sebastian albums, five Hefner albums and three Pulp albums, and let Music Match and the CDDB encode the mp3 files for me. The Philips machine will treat each folder as an ‘album’, so it wasn’t too hard to set things up nicely.

However, the M3U tags on my existing mp3 collection left a lot to be desired. I downloaded a program, ‘tagclinic’, to help with this, but I think however you do it, making them perfect is a big job.

I’m currently listening, rather emotionally, to a quickly-put-together ‘nostalgia’ compilation of tracks I was into at age 16-18. I’m a complete music fanatic now, and I was then too, but in a different, almost more obsessive way. While my taste now is much wider, this spreads me more thinly around, and I don’t listen to records as obsessively often as I did before.

Here’s my ‘nostalgia’ collection (I should really go and recommend all of these):

  1. Stereolab – Peng 33
  2. Chapterhouse – Mesmerise
  3. Fieldmice – Indian Ocean
  4. McCarthy – Red Sleeping Beauty
  5. Pale Saints – Half Life remembered
  6. Popguns – Someone you love
  7. Ride – Vapor Trail
  8. Smiths – Last Night I dreamt that somebody loved me
  9. Sundays – Goodbye
  10. Wedding Present – Give my love to Kevin

Anyway, the thought that I could potentially put my entire music collection onto a number of CDs that I could carry is kind of amazing. I guess within a few years, compression will have improved to the extent that thousands of songs will fit on one disc.

A self-indulgent post, sorry.

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Hildgard Knef, a great singer and actress

“Hildegard Knef ist tot.”

What is it with 2002? A lot of people I really admire have died already, and it’s only February. I have been listening to her a lot recently, and she really was brilliant. Although I gather that she was mainly an actress, I’ve never seen any of her films, and it’s her music that fascinated me. Over a long career, she made dozens of great records, including countless German language versions of standards (e.g. ‘the lady is a tramp’), bossa novas, and psychedelic, groovy Bacharach-tinged pop. Like many people who don’t sing in English, Hildegard doesn’t seem to have had much of a following in the US or UK. This is a great shame. Some time, I’ll make a single-disc Hildegard compilation in her memory. People have to hear this stuff – much of it is really incredibly good. If you’re interested in checking her out her music, I recommended a couple of tracks (with sound samples) at musical taste. You can get the superb 7-disc box set of her work very inexpensively at These really only cover a tiny corner of her oeuvre, but there you go. Rest in peace, Hildegard, and say hi to Juan, Peggy and Julie for me.

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Until you love me

What did I do last night? Hmm, there’s no point in dressing this up. I made three really childish tracks incorporating the outrageous audio which came from Mike Tyson last week. I sampled a few choice tracks while making these, but I warn you, the beauty of the music does not make up for the disgusting nature of the words… If you want a taste of my childish sense of humor, this is at 20 seconds the shortest track.

Oh, and that isn’t all I did last night. I also stopped by the superb Tom Friedman exhibition at the New Museum. I actually didn’t know him by name before, but had stuck one of his photos (an incredible one of a huge crater left in the earth by what seems like it must have been a giant falling from a great height) to my diary a few years ago.

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