September 14, 2014

Playlist Week of 2014-09-13

* Ives: Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Zukofsky/Kalish) (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Ruggles: Complete Music (Buffalo Phil. et al./Tilson Thomas) (CBS Masterworks 2LP)
* Charlie Parker: Charlie Parker With Strings: The Master Takes (Verve CD)
* Sun Ra: Astro Black (Impulse!/iTunes MP3)
* Joseph Jarman & Famoudou Don Moye: Egwu-Anwu (Sun Song) (India Navigation 2LP)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Jazz Gallery, NYC 2010-02-11 (AUD FLAC)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Village Vanguard, NYC 2014-07-31 (AUD FLAC)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Village Vanguard, NYC 2014-08-03 (AUD FLAC)
* Billy Cobham: Simplicity of Expression – Depth of Thought (Columbia LP)
* Eddie Henderson: Sunburst (Blue Note LP)
* Bobbi Humphrey: Blacks and Blues (Blue Note LP)
* Ronnie Laws: Friends and Strangers (United Artists LP)
* Jaco Pastorius: Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions (Omnivore LP+MP3) †
* Nils Petter Molvær: Khmer (ECM CD)
* Tim Berne: Snakeoil (ECM CD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet/Septet: The Stone, NYC 2011-10-14 (AUD FLAC)
* Grateful Dead: Spring 1990 (The Other One) (selections) (GDP/Rhino 23HDCD)
* Goblin: Contamination OST (Cinevox LP)
* U2: Songs Of Innocence (iTunes MP3) †
* Sleep: The Clarity (Praise Iommi 12”) (†)
* Opeth: Pale Communion (Roadrunner 2LP)
* In Flames: Siren Charms (Sony CD)
* Triptykon: Melana Chasmata (Century Media 2LP)
* Black Tusk: Tend No Wounds (Relapse EP)
* Sòlstafir: Ótta (Season of Mist 2LP)
* Windhand: Soma (Relapse 2LP)
* Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore 2LP) †
* Mortals: Cursed To See The Future (Relapse LP)
* Krakatau: Water Near A Bridge (Trouble In Mind LP)



I guess the big news this week is U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence, released for free on iTunes in conjunction with Apple's latest product announcement.  What’s more interesting to me than the music is the reaction to it all.

Many people are incensed that U2 (and Bono in particular) have invaded their precious iTunes Library, forcing them have this (presumably) horrible album appear unbidden on their computer. Some are comparing the move to spam, the unwanted, useless data which clogs our inboxes everyday.

Well, my experience was a little different. I’m not a huge U2 fan, but I was curious to hear the album for free. Why not? I loaded up iTunes expecting to see it lurking there—but no. When I went to the iTunes Store, it stated that the item was “purchased” but not obviously downloadable. As a matter of fact, I had to do a bunch of research and change a bunch of settings before I finally got it to work. I rarely ever buy downloads and don’t use “The Cloud” to store my music, so perhaps I am not the most sophisticated iTunes user on the planet. But I certainly had to jump through some hoops to even see the damn thing, much less download it.

Others are annoyed with U2 for promoting the idea that music should be “free” and thereby devaluing the art form, etc., etc.  Of course, U2 got paid (and big!)—but by Apple, not the end user. Songs of Innocence is really just part of Apple’s new advertising campaign, which I agree devalues the art form. But make no mistake: U2 made plenty of money, up front off this stunt. What bothers me is that a crummy 256kbps MP3 is so massively over-valued in this move.

Ever since the rise (and fall) of Napster, I have argued that lossy MP3 files are inherently worthless and should be given away as promotional items, in the same way that records used to be given away to radio stations and journalists by the thousands back in the music industry's heyday. With radio pretty much a closed door, it would have been smart of the labels to embrace Napster back in 2000 rather than suing their customers and fighting tooth and nail to preserve an obsolete business model. A 256kbps MP3 file is, sonically speaking, barely acceptable—but it’s perfect for a promotional tool.

So while I admire U2’s seeming willingness to “give away” an MP3 of their forthcoming album as a promo, it turns out that Songs of Innocence is not quite what it appears. It’s still all about money, leverage and rock-star power moves. Whether or not this stunt results in increased sales once the physical album arrives later this year remains to be seen.

As for the music, it’s…OK. Actually, better than I expected. But the reaction to its surprise pre-release has been far more intriguing. I hope such discussion will help reinvigorate the music industry—what’s left of it, anyway.


george said...

I'm still confused about mp3s- I've heard that in blindfolded tests very few folks can distinguish much above 192 kbps, let alone when compared with lossless files. What level of ears and audio system is required to definitely hear a pronounced difference? Or is it just placebo effect, as I believe it more commonly is? Same question with the vinyl/CD debate, actually. (I suspect after seeing the Ramones twice in the late 70's, one time in a junior college cafeteria, then Black Flag later on in the college caf, I've never heard the same since. Or looked at music the same way for that matter... )

Rodger Coleman said...

Hi, George! Thank you for your comment. I think two things are critical to be able to tell the difference between an MP3 and lossless formats (or the difference between vinyl and CD). One is the program material. Pop music with limited frequency response and narrow dynamic range will suffer less than, say, most classical music. The other (and perhaps more important thing) is the playback equipment. The more revealing the system, the more apparent the problems with MP3s will be. On both my reference system and my near-field studio monitors, the difference between 256kbps MP3s and lossless versions of the same music is NOT subtle. 320kbps is better, but still barely acceptable to my ears. Fine for promo use, but I am loathe to pay money for an MP3 file (especially at less than 320kpbs bit rate, as with the U2 download).

Sam said...

No comments here on mp3s. Context is everything.

Here are my lists from last week:

Playlist 2014-09-15:

*Niklas Schmidt/John Chen: Strauss/Rachmaninoff Cello Sonatas
*Various artists: From Czech Electronic Music Studios
*AMM: Sounding Music
*AMM: Uncovered Correspondence
*Lester Bowie Sho ‘Nuff Orchestra: 1979-02-17 NYC (CDR)
*Anthony Braxton/Falling River Music Quartet: 2012-10-11 Ulrichsberg, Austria (CDR)
*Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: 2013-12-23 Nashville (“Cosmologies” outtakes) (wav)
*Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: 2013-12-27 Nashville (“Cosmologies” outtakes) (wav)
*John Coltrane: Blue Train
*Coleman Hawkins: The Bebop Years (disc 3) (selections)
*Billie Holiday: Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933–1944 (disc 6)
*Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax (disc 3)
*Nucleus: Snakehips Etcetera
*Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Drawn Inward
*S.O.S.: Looking for the Next One (disc 2)
*Sun Ra Arkestra: 1979-06-17 Baltimore (CDR)
*Lester Young: Classic Columbia, Okeh, and Vocalion Lester Young with Count Basie (1936-1940) (disc 1)
*Circulatory System: Mosaics Within Mosaics
*Clash: London Calling
*Mike Elder/Harry Forrest/Greg Jordan/Sam Byrd: 2014-08-29 (wav)
*Lassie: Lassie
*Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle
*Seastones: 1974-06-30 Springfield MA (CDR)
*Seastones: 1974-09-21 Paris (CDR)
*Shaolin Afronauts: Flight of the Ancients
*Tower of Power: Hipper than Hip (disc 1)
*Various artists: Aquarius Rock: The Hip Reggae World of Herman Chin-Loy

Reading List 2014-09-15:

*Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son (started)
*Bate, Jonathan. “General Introduction,” in William Shakespeare and Others. Collaborative Plays. (started/finished)
*Gioia, Ted. History of Jazz (2nd ed.) (finished)
*King, Stephen. Insomnia (reread/finished)
*Mikics, David. Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (in progress)

Roddus said...

MP3's have their place and I have discovered copious amounts of music in that format online that I would never have had the opportunity to hear otherwise. In the early days it would have been impossible to download the huge FLAC files or other formats with my old dialup connections.
I agree, Rodger, that top end equipment will show up MP3's but probably 90% of listeners are running cheap mass produced stereo systems and I think they would struggle to tell the difference and probably don't care any way. I have been running a small DAC through my Cyrus system so I can listen to music I find online and also make playlists for casual listening from my CD collection and I find the sound very acceptable and the difference in sound quality is small to my ears. In saying that I still prefer the real thing for serious listening and also I would rather spend my hard earned money on something of the best quality and actually have the thing in my hand. Mp3's are over priced and subject to be easily lost when computers and hard drives crash which they seem to do with disturbing frequency.