Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Guilty pleasures

Ok, I admit it. There are times when I love listening to country music.

Now, I don't mean the classic stuff, bluegrass, the honky-tonkers, western swing, Cash, etc. (which I love, but good luck finding on the airwaves except weekends on WAMU).

I mean the new stuff...the kind of music that puts you the divide between cultured and "ig'nt". You know, guys with cutoff shirts, wifebeater t-shirts, chaw, pick-up trucks, and wouldn't miss NASCAR for anything. As opposed to who I'm "supposed" to be. You know, classical music loving, wine-swishing, haute cuisine, pansy-ass, egg head liberal. Well, aren't I a paradox? Aren't we all, or wouldn't we like to admit that some of our likes don't fit the little boxes we put ourselves in?

Every so often I turn on a DC country station, WMZQ (a Clear Channel station--I know, double evil). I just need a quick hit of Martina McBride, Trace Adkins, or Keith Urban. (With the repetitive programming, I usually tune out after a few hours).


Country music gets my blood pumping, reminds me of the simpler pleasures in life, and could even inspire me change my oil in my car someday (HAH!). I'm not saying a lot of these songs are profound, innovative, or even musically interesting. But they serve another function to me than other types of music do. For example, folk music often makes me contemplative, Celtic music makes me feel like dancing, and music theatre...well, again the stereotypes. I guess it reminds me of where I'm from, my grandparents, and about the folks from high school that stayed on in my hometown.

That's my honky-tonk ba-donk-a-donk. :P

So, what's your guilty pleasure?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Please let the spinning stop

An excellent article in the Los Angeles Times on how new musicians are making it in the new media landscape. It talks about who the new players are (blogs, Starbucks, NPR), how locality is still important (hip-hop, Nashville), and how critics are tired of buzz for buzz sake.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Catching up on reading

I've been perusing some books on radio broadcasting which I picked up at a used book store outside of West Chester, PA last month. One of which is a 1980 book called Radio in the Television Age by Peter Fornatale and Joshua E. Mills (Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1980; ISBN: 0-87951-106-0) which discusses what happened to radio [and not in the usual negative way that golden age radio broadcast historians like to proclaim] after the dissolution of networks, and the fall of network programming.

From the book jacket:
"The authors...discuss: the impact of commercial television on radio programming, listenership, and advertising revenues in the 50s, 60s, and 70s; the great technological inventions--the transistor, FM, car, and clock radios...the creation of formats--including Top 40, All-News, country-and-Western, Disco, and classical music...and the pervasive influence of rock-and-rol ont he industry."

Being that this book was written in 1980, they can't get that deep into the great FCC deregulation of the 1980s, but it had started by that time. There is a good chapter on the history of non-commercial radio, including public access, community radio, college low-wattage stations, the Pacifica stations, and National Public Radio.

They start out with some interesting statistics (bearing in mind, again, this is 1980):

* There are nearly twice as many radios in the U.S. as there are people.
* More than 95 percent of America's cars have radios, and the average household has 5.7 sets.
* About 71 percent of American bedrooms are equipped with radios, and 60 percent of all homes have clock radios.

There are lots of amusing anecdotes about the power of listening and how radio has saved lives by playing the right song at the right time to depressed listeners.

I'll leave you with a story about a local station and the "service" it provided to its listeners:

Religious broadcasts on WOOK, Washington, D.C., that proved to be tips on numbers to bet in lottery rackets. A typical sermon: "The first three figures is 547...My God, my God. And take the mysterious two that was blessed through last week, if you place it on the five you'll see it's still working for you, and the 74th and the seventh verse was a blessing to Washington, D.C." The station lost its license in 1975 (xx).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Search vs. browse, or downloading vs. broadcasting

HERE'S TO RADIO IN THE 21ST CENTURY: A Librarian's Perspective

I listen to audio all day long. Whether it's the digital files my library creates or its collection of over 1 million recordings in all sorts of formats; WAV and MP3 files, and my ever expanding collection of CDs and iTunes, both my apartment and my workstation (and computers) are filled with them. I could start with John Adams's Chamber Symphony, and in a year, never make it all the way through my classical section to James Conlon's recording of Alexander Zemlinsky's two-act opera Der Traumgörge. The same is true of a number of other genres as well: folk, jazz, musical theatre, soundtracks...everything, well, except contemporary pop or hip-hop. As a music major, I started to collect classical recordings to build a basic music library, sort of an audio encyclopedia. Why would I do that now that I can subscribe for $20.00 a year to Naxos's subscription service where I can stream every piece of classical music they own and license from their online? Sure there are pieces they don't have, and hundreds of unique performances I crave. But as an encyclopedia Naxos does pretty well. (Alexander Street Press has a similar service through their Classical Music Library, Smithsonian Global Sound, and African American Song).

As a librarian and a music cataloger, searching is what I do best. I can write metadata with the best of them; I tag my Gmail with multiple subjects for efficient retrieval; and can devise complex search strings using keyword or Boolean (limiting my searches by date, language, format, etc.) operators. But what do I enjoy most about going into a library, bookstore, or record store? BROWSING. Whether it's finding a book that I've heard of, but have never seen in person before, or impulsively buying the complete set of DVDs from a television series long since canceled, some joys can not be calculated or quantified so easily. Computer searching requires precise logic, but we can let our imaginations wander and take us to unknown lands when we browse. The audio equivalent of browsing is listening to radio.

I no longer think of the standard radio itself as the only (or even the predominant) means to receive programming. Through the web, via satellite radio, and yes, through their AM/FM band on your car's stereo, one can receive opinions you've never thought of, discover music you've never heard before (even re-discover a piece you thought you knew), and hear other people's stories through music and voice. (OK, internet radio is still sort of stuck in search mode, buried beneath the avalanche of Internet content which only a search engine can penetrate). Why do I forsake my own collection to listen to a medium that's constantly changing? I don't often know, but I keep doing it, just like my grandfather did. In a way to tune into radio is like throwing open a window, rather than rummaging through your attic. You may know what you have, but without radio (in all its modern forms), you'll never know what you're missing.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New tunes from the Kitchen Party

I've been collecting audio artifacts again. Fans of my radio show, The Kitchen Party should appreciate of some of these:

1) Cornbread Nation
Tim O'Brien
Sugar Hill Records 2005 (SUG-CD-4005)
Favorite songs: Hold On, Moses, Cornbread Nation, Foggy, Foggy Dew, House of the
Rising Sun. Offbeat arrangements of folk songs which lsoose none of the energy
of the originals. Can't wait to get his twin album of 2005, Fiddler's Green.

2) 3-D
Casey Driessen
Sugar Hill Records, 2006 (SUG-CD-4016)
Favorite songs: None yet, but I like the album's energy. He's a good fiddler, but
doesn't have that big of a sound live. This is an expertly produced album. I
don't mean that to be a slight to Driessen's artistry, just a comparison to what
I heard on the album to the time I heard him at the Birchmere.

4) Alberta: Wild Roses, Northern Lights
Various artists from Alberta: Corb Lund Band, k.d. lang, Ian Tyson, etc.
Smithsonian Folkways, 2006 (SFW CD 40538)
Favorite songs: None yet, but I like the whole album. There's some real dyed-
in-the-wool cowboys singing on this one. But who doesn't love Ian Tyson! I'm
finally catching up on the Smithsonian festival which I missed.

5) Due South: The Original Television Soundtrack
Various Canadian artists including Jay Semko, Spirit of the West, Sarah
McLachlan, Figgy Duff, Blue Rodeo, and the Holly Cole Trio.
Unforscene Music, 1996 (40004)
Favorite songs: Possession (McLachlan), Horses (w/ Ashley MacIsaac), Henry
Martin (Figgy Duff), and Victoria's Secret (Semko). If you've watched the show,
you probably have heard some very haunting music. Well, I couldn't resist; and
as a portrait of Canadian pop, it's a good representation of the best from the
mid 1990s.

6) Barenaked for the Holidays
Barenaked Ladies
Desperation Records, 2004 (2-40015)
Favorite songs: Deck the Stills, Hanukkah Blessings, I Have a Little Dreidel.
An album which I was prompted to pick up after listening to a number of tracks
at the Erie B&N. I love BNL and it's nice to hear some alternative holiday (both
Christmas and Hanukkah) songs.

That's all for this edition. Stay tuned for more Audio Artifacts.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Is music listening for enjoyment or discovery?

Yes it's been awhile...

With my busy schedule and preoccupation with folk music this last year, I have been somewhat ignoring my classical music listening. Now by that I don't mean that I haven't been listening to radio stations (over the air or online), but I really haven't been actively seeking out new recordings or keeping up with the latest recordings. (Which was a lot easier when I worked at a classical radio station and had to catalog all of the latest). Well, a chance purchase of Gramophone has sort of revitalized my interest. I have been going through a debate in my mind over how I am going to consume music, in addition to making it actively. Either by recordings or radio. I have been satisfied by the latter, esp. in ther performance aspect; but very few stations give the variety I seek. Sometimes I want plain folk music, sometimes Celtic, sometimes orchestral, sometimes choral, sometimes barbershop, band, etc...you get the picture.

There is also my classical CD collection which has been largely ignored, since I've been working again. It is a good reference source, but there are some major holes which I don't really have the time to plug in. As good as it is, it's not a source for discovery for new or unheard compositions. So, I bit the bullet yesterday and subscribed to Naxos. I could have gone for Web Radio, with all of its many channels, but I went for the on-demand service for $19.95/yr. Do I get downloads? No, but I get streaming on-demand for any of their recordings (and their subsidiary labels).
That should suffice for work. Plus I think it'll help at work, when I need to identify works which I think I have an idea what it is, but I don't have easy access to a recording. On the broadband connection at work, it sounds really good.

Which brings up the issue of compression. Yes, it uses it. iTunes uses it. Everyone does--some better than others. In my everyday life, it doesn't bother me (except when I notice). But I can live with it. I don't regularly strive for aural perfection, because it's a moving target. But I don't like walking around with personal music devices. I don't think one should be in public and walk around with them. I like to engage (or ignore) at will, and earbuds are a barrier. I'm also addicted to high quality, comfortable headphones which cushion the ear, rather than buds which stick right into the ear (not comfortable to me). So, I have many issues with Eyedevices of all ilk. But I want access to music when I'm doing other things. If I'm at home that can be my stereo system, but again I'm not home that much these days and it's a pain to schlep CDs to multiple computers. So now, if I want to listen to Brahms' 3rd violin sonata, I can punch it up on Naxos, and listen to it whenever and wherever I want (if a web connection is available). For other times, I can download a copy on iTunes or track down a cheap CD copy. In the car, radio and CDs work best, and I don't tend to listen to classical music CDs in the car. That's what works best for me right now. Okay, enough random thoughts for the day...time for other tasks.

Here's an article from the Christian Science Monitor on whether compressed music is good enough, for further thought:

"Thousands of songs in your pocket: An audiophile's nightmare?
Will consumers who demand portable music always have to compromise on sound quality?"