Friday, August 31, 2012

All Labor That Uplifts Humanity Has Dignity and Importance

[Rivera Murals, Detroit Institute of Arts]
It's getting to be a tradition at In Aurem A2D to use holidays as opportunities for Surface to Air Full Circle music challenges. Our last was on the 4th of July.

You know the drill. (Connection between our game and the WDET-FM Music Head fundraiser is in our first challenge.) Starting with a particular song, chart a path along associated metadata to create a connected playlist; but at some point, reverse course and return along a different metadata path to arrive full circle back at the starting song, in "about an hour" of running time. Bonus points if you only use songs from your personal library.

That bonus may get harder to achieve over time, if the trend continues away from music ownership and personal libraries to music access and personal playlists via streaming services.

To celebrate Labor Day in the USA, our starting/ending song is Elvis Costello's "Welcome to the Working Week."

Full-size table here. Annotated table with metadata associations here.

We're getting a little lengthy at an hour and 49 seconds (longest running time for a list to-date). But this list appeals to me for metadata associations enlisting songwriter names that we have not explored in pevious exercises.

Happy Labor Day!

             Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #41             

Artist: Elvis Costello
Title: My Aim Is True
Genre: Alternative
Year: 1977

My Aim Is True is the debut album by Elvis Costello. It was the first of five consecutive Costello albums produced by Nick Lowe. In 2003, the TV network VH1 named My Aim Is True the 80th greatest album of all time. In 2003, the album was ranked number 168 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time..

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Of All the Charlie Browns in the World, Mine is the Charlie Browniest

The United States Library of Congress voted to designate the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas a national audio treasure, including it among the twenty-five 2011 inductees to the National Recording Registry — America's sound heritage.

Trouble is, the Library did not have a copy of Charlie Brown among its holdings. So I gave them mine. Here's the story.

Since 2001, the Library of Congress has annually selected 25 sound recordings to be preserved in the Registry of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" recodings. To give you an idea of the diversity among inductees, this year's group also included Prince's Purple Rain and a wax cylinder from an Edison Talking Doll. The press release made me curious: what exactly does the Library archive for any of the recordings and artifacts in the Registry?

In response to email, Library spokesman Cary O'Dell gave this explanation. "For each item selected for the Registry, we attempt to locate and acquire both the earliest and the best format. For example, if a work was originally issued on 78rpm, that is what we will attempt to acquire. Often as well we try to obtain a copy on CD (if one is available) for the ease of researchers." (Apparently we can count the US Government among those who believe the audio CD is a format of convenience, not significance.)

He continued. "Keep in mind that the Library of Congress already holds thousands of records and discs so many of the items named to the Registry we already have a copy of. When Purple Rain started to be discussed, I explored our holdings and found we did already have a vinyl LP. Though we have a digital copy of the Edison cylinder, the original remains in the historic archives of the Edison Labs in Menlo Park [NJ]."

Which brought us to the topic of Charlie Brown. "Another new title this year was A Charlie Brown Christmas. The [National Recording Preservation] Board has discussed it for several years with some members truly singing its praises and importance. This was the year it got enough votes. Surprisingly, we didn't have any holdings of that!" Mr O'Dell concluded, "The Concord Group has since been kind enough to donate a CD of the work to the Library and I am working to obtain an original vinyl."

This was an opportunity too good to pass up. My own vinyl copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas is in storage, having long ago been ephemeralized to 24-bit/96KHz weightless digital format for playback. So I offered to donate it to the Library for induction into the Registry. Mr. O'Dell immediately accepted; the government even paid shipping costs and sent a gracious acknowledgement letter (at right).

The work is currently undergoing a lengthy process of cataloging, curating and digital preservation before it can be counted among the Library's holdings. I'll let you know when the catalog number has been assigned so you can search for it. [Update 14-December: here's the link.]

I am proud that my humble LP is now the definitive audio copy of a beloved classic in the Library of Congress, preserved for posterity. Or, to paraphrase Linus: of all the Charlie Browns in the world, mine is the Charlie Browniest.

                Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #2 (originally described 1-January-2012)              

Title: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Artist: Vince Guaraldi Trio
Genre: Jazz/Christmas
Year: 1965

There are two CD copies of A Charlie Brown Christmas somewhere in my house. But when it came time to install this title in my weightless digital Library, I decided to dub the old LP copy rather than ripping a CD. Like the homely Christmas tree selected by Charlie Brown, all the LP needed was a little love (and a few mastering steps in software) to make it shine. For more on Vince Guaraldi's music, please visit the Impressions of Vince website.

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An 11th Simple Truth For a Delusional Music Industry

It seems like a week doesn't go by without new proposals for streaming music services — some real, some imagined. Most services position themselves to be more convenient than digital downloads. Few promise better quality than CD audio. Therein lies the problem with listener-paid business models, a simple truth from the software industry that should be heeded.

When I got into the commercial software business, titles were delivered in boxes containing install discs accompanied by paper user manuals. From there it became commonplace to purchase a license key to download software and soft-copy documentation. It remains to be seen whether full-feature software can be now be accessed solely through the cloud.

The analogy to music is obvious. The industry has progressed from physical media to digital downloads to the promise of streaming services that make music ownership irrelevant.

A concept the (3D design) software industry embraced, that the music industry still struggles with, is that there is a difference between modeling and having read-only online access to a model. Modeling is scarce and high-value; access is infinite and low-value. Model creation requires full-feature software; access requires only reader/viewer apps. The latter provide low-res representations where complex curved surfaces are approximated by triangular facets suitable for cloud streaming. These so-called tessellated models may look OK for casual viewing (so you can tell you are looking at the right model) but aren't nearly accurate enough for even simple measurements.

Again, the analogy to music is obvious. Low-resolution streaming services are fine for social interaction and music discovery, but not nearly accurate enough for full-fidelity listening enjoyment.

So, if streaming services are the equivalent of reader/viewer apps, here's the 11th simple truth for a delusional music industry, courtesy of the software industry. There is no sustainable business model based on payment for low-res read-only online access. The reader app is always free.

            Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #40            

Artist: Pink Floyd
Title: Wish You Were Here
Genre: Rock
Year: 1975

On its release in 1975, Wish You Were Here topped the album charts in both the UK and the USA. Reflecting the band’s thoughts of the time on the music business, and exploring themes of absence, WYWH contains the classic cut Shine On You Crazy Diamond, a tribute to founder member Syd Barrett.

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.