December Sun – A Web Comic

April 8, 2009

Pandora, Lastfm and free internet radio

Filed under: 3,computers,music — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 2:08 pm

hooray for my free clip art cdI listen to an unnatural amount of music during the day. I have a hard time doing anything computer-related without a steady stream of music to tune out ambient noises (especially so in an office setting…. the white noise generator only does so much to tune out.) Anyhow, after a lot of looking around, I’ve sortof settled on two that I like: Pandora and Lastfm. I had been, for the longest time, a junky of Yahoo! Launchcast radio, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but apparently Yahoo! or AT&T felt the need to pull the plug on this free service, even for those “grandfathered” into this service through AT&T/SBC (it was one of the things I was given when I signed up with AT&T and their DSL/Phone service around 4 years ago. Apparently it wasn’t important enough to continue to offer by Yahoo. That, and Yahoo! Briefcase, which recently was taken away. What’s the deal, Yahoo?)

Anyhow, once Launchcast was cruelly removed (at the time it was dropped, I had rated roughly around 80k albums, artists and songs) I moved over to Pandora more, and started creating some stations.  The concept behind the music genome project is an interesting one, and I’d like to see more exploration in this type of technology: namely, matching up a SOUND of a particular song with other songs like it.  Yet there are times I’ll get one song, and the next song seems like a far cry from the sound and style of the artist I’m currently listening to.  For instance, I built a station based on the song ‘Drive’ by the Cars, a favorite of mine from the 80′s, and I’ve been hit with a successive stream of synth-based 80′s era pop songs (as expected) but at one point, the segue was into a song by… Johnny Mathis?  What?  I think the genome project has a few more bugs to work out.  Anyhow, I’ve enjoyed Pandora, but on my Sony Vaio Crashmaster it tends to be a little bit choppy sometimes.  I’m not sure why this is, because I generally have very few apps open at the time (my Sony has more or less turned into a giant radio player) so the choppiness doesn’t make sense.  

On the other hand, Lastfm runs pretty much without a glitch.  And what’s curious is that, while I don’t believe that LastFM is a genome-style setup, there is a good stream of similar artists recommended.  I’ve been listening to a number of electronic, down-tempo tracks, and there’s a good consistency to the sound so far.  I’m really rather impressed.  Although the lack of a pause button is a HUGE negative!  Perish the thought that someone needs to answer the phone, or go to the bathroom!

But Lastfm trumps Pandora due to the lack of choppiness.  Wonder why Pandora has the problems?  Granted, if I open Photoshop Elements on my Sony, it will bring the PC to it’s knees and any music, Pandora, LastFM, Windows Media Player, whatever, will turn into a choppy, awful nightmare of sound.  Time for a new PC one of these days, but I want to get as much mileage out of this box as I can…

So anyhow, both Pandora and Lastfm are great for free music.  Both do a good job of tracking your likes and dislikes, and both run reasonably even on an aging PC.

And Yahoo! removing Launchcast…. blah.  Breaks my heart.

March 19, 2009

A-Ha: One of my stranger musical interests from the 1980′s…

Filed under: 3,music,pandora — admin @ 10:36 pm

One of the things I love about Pandora radio is that it not only introduces me to new and interesting music and sound, but it brings back fascinating and mediocre classics from years long ago. One of those forgettable yet intriguing sounds would be that of the group A-Ha, a pop hair band from Norway (or Finland?) with a singer, who’s name I do not know, with a remarkable ability to hit a seemingly impossible octaves  (Falsetto?… or at least notes that shouldn’t normally be obtainable by the human voice.)  This, and a goofy pop sound with lots of synth, makes A-Ha one of my favorite groups from the 80′s, right up there with Duran Duran. There isn’t much substance or content here: just a unique and sometimes disturbing vocal sound. I think I first heard of A-Ha through the song ‘Take me on’, with the creative video of a girl reading a comic book, and from the comic book springs the high-note-singin’ leader of A-Ha, into the real world, until he gets bopped on the head with a wrench or something.  I’m sure it’s on Youtube somewhere, but I’m relucant to link it here, because it seems like most of the videos I link here are either taken down, or cause Flash to crash (but that’s a rant for another blog some other day.)  


Anyhow, A-Ha also did the theme song for ‘The Living Daylights’, one of the better of the James Bond films. I can’t think of much more beyond that, but as I listen to other of their “greatest hits” (greatest hits in Europe, maybe?) I’m finding that I enjoy these oddity songs as well that I’ve never heard of.  But I can’t help but wonder: how does he sing notes that high?

Anyhow, here’s a playlist from one of their greatest hit albums.  Good stuff, sortof.

February 28, 2009

Rocky IV and an excellent sample of Vince Dicola’s music

Filed under: 3,film music,music — admin @ 12:05 am

While I regard ‘Rocky IV’ as one of the silliest films ever made, it does feature one remarkable element, and that’s the music of Vince Dicola. The electronic score that he offered for this film is just incredible, and I wish that there was more of this available on CD.

Here’s one of my favorite musical clips from Rocky IV: Rocky is in Russia somewhere, he’s just had the pep talk with Apollo’s coach (can’t remember his name) and then he’s off for his first day of training, running through the snow, chopping trees, pulling sleds and stuff. The opening music for this scene, as Rocky scopes the landscape, is just so good. Vince Dicola did a great job with this.

Here’s the clip:

Rocky IV, and Transformers:The Movie, are two excellent scores by Vince Dicola. I honestly know of nothing else that he’s done, but these two really stand out to me.

January 27, 2009

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, John Williams, and Reused Music

Filed under: 3,indiana jones,john williams,movies,music — admin @ 8:52 am

Once again, following in the tradition of “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”, George Lucas has again produced a film, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, in which a good chunk of the musical soundtrack is comprised of reused music from other Indiana Jones films. I sortof knew that this would happen going into the film, as this seems to be Lucas’ operational style these days: take music from other films and cut-n-paste them in, and no one will be the wiser, or will notice the reused music in the film. Well, that is, except for fans of John Williams who know most of his music by heart.

But what’s troubling this time is, part of the music sounds like it was taken and reworked by Williams himself (namely, the “flight from Peru” music) that’s heard briefly in the film. Now I’m left wondering if this cut and pasting was all Lucas to blame, or if Williams willingly had a part in this as well?

Regardless, the new music (not the cut-n-pasted music) was an absolute disappointment in “Crystal Skull” and sadly was completely unmemorable. The brief reappearance of Marion’s theme was a nice touch, but was just too brief throughout the film (and why wouldn’t we hear Marion’s theme when she first reappears in the film? During that sequence, all we hear is awkward musical silence?) More of this, and more variation thereof, would have been great.

Also, throwing in the “Ark of the Covenant” theme at the warehouse sequence made no sense to me. I remember hearing the music in the theater and thinking, “The Russians are going after the ark! That’s…. sortof strange, since this film is supposedly about a crystal skull.” But no, now, apparently, the “Ark of the covenant” theme is now just “the Warehouse” theme. The logic there escapes me.

As for the rest of the film score, I’ve tried to listen to it isolated from the film repeatedly, and try as I might, I just can’t get into it. It doesn’t have the emotional appeal that the other Indy scores had (even awful films like “Temple of Doom” have absolutely remarkable segments of music to them.)

What’s puzzling to me is that Steven Spielberg, who I thought was a fan of Williams’ music, would watch the final cut of this film and not notice, “hey, that’s the same music from ‘Last Crusade’! [the sequence when Indy picks his hat up off the CGI anthill was taken from the boat sequence at the beginning of Last Crusade]“. I mean, didn’t I read once that Spielberg collected Williams’ music and was a fan of it? Wouldn’t he be just a little puzzled to have directed a NEW film, but with rehashed music in it?

Whatever. The glory days of John Williams, the greatest composer ever, are gone, and I’ll always be a huge fan of his music, but this last outing of Indiana Jones was, musically, a huge disappointment.

January 22, 2009 Radio

Filed under: 3,music — admin @ 11:50 am

I found out recently that AT&T is discontinuing their Launchcast radio service, which I was something of a fan of (I had rated 80K+ artists and songs and listened to this faithfully) and I thought it was a great system. What is more, I was part of the unlimited plan with my AT&T service that I signed up for nearly 4 years ago. So now I find out they are dropping Launchcast, and they AREN’T BOTHERING to grandfather their “loyal customers” (e.g. people who drop $100 a month for service) into a new option for free music. No, instead, it’s just a perk taken away. Crummy AT&T.

Ah, well. Launchcast, like Pandora, was a free radio service that I really got a kick out of. Pandora is great in that would can build individual stations build around the “sound” certain artists, songs, etc, so you can pursue more granular directions of musical sound. I’ve found some great new artists this way. But the gimmick of Launchcast that I really liked was that you basically had one primary station of your own, and you’d basically have EVERYTHING you rated appearing potentially at any point in the lineup (you can do something like this as well with Pandora too, actually, and have one station that “plays all”.) I get a kick out of this, as the music could jump from John Williams’ film scores to one second, to a Queen rock ballad, to a funk tune, to a jazz song, to an Oompa-Loompa tune, etc. I always found the segue’s illogical and often hilarious.

Well, all that is gone now, so I’m left with Pandora, which I still enjoy, but recently I started toying around with radio. Initial thoughts, speaking as a software QA, is that there are a LOT of bugs to work out of this system, but it is in beta, so I *guess* this is ok. But in the time I wrote the last two paragraphs, I’ve been WAITING for a song to load on the station, and I know it’s not my internet connection.

I like some of the customizations that the user can have, such as an option to “go deep” (or listen to more obscure works of an artist as opposed to just “hits”. That’s actually pretty cool.) Also, offering the user an easy to use interface for finding artists and related, similar artists is a nice feature as well. However, offering an option to “don’t play” and “suppress influence” of an artist, while good, should still give the user a way to move the banned artist OFF of the main target screen. Instead, I’ve got a big blob of banned artists (sorry, no Billy Joel on my station) in the upper right corner.

please test this

Clocking and freezing do seem to be a problem though, and enough of a problem to test my patience, but I’m hoping they work some of these glitches out because it looks like it could be a great configurable radio station for users. Here’s the station : a work in progress so far.

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