sick day

Posted April 17, 2014 by collectedobsessions
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m on vacation, and haven’t been sick in a long while, but ended up in rough shape this morning – I’ll be discrete and call it a “stomach bug.” Better now, but the plumbing is still off.

On days like today, I usually struggle to find music I can live with, and usually don’t, including most of Van Morrison’s  “Astral Weeks” while I sat outside a doctor’s office waiting for a family member. I’m reading Greil Marcus’s book about Morrison, “When The Rough God Goes Riding,” but it didn’t give me a way into “Astral Weeks,” not today. It’s obviously beautiful, but I’ll be damned if it just doesn’t move me, don’t ask me why.

Anyway, with soured stomach and bowels I retreated to spoken word. I have the Stitcher app on my Android tablet. For the life of me, I don’t understand Stitcher; I think it’s supposed to be some kind of personal playlist for whatever audio you’re interested in besides music, but how to use it well eludes me. I just clicked on it, lay down and let whatever was there play. So I heard stuff from public radio and CBS tv audio and maybe one of the other networks as well. I’m guessing you’re supposed to train it in your likes and dislikes, but I prefer direct, hands-on control.

Stitcher was followed by this week’s “Windows Weekly,” lots of semi-interesting stuff about the 8.1 update to Windows Phone, and then part of “All Things Considered.”

Tonight, Pristine Classical’s radio channel. I found out about Pristine through a write-up on Kirkville, and a second one in the New Yorker. It’s very old classical music recordings, cleaned up using some interesting techniques. Having been on the wrong end of RCA/BMG restorations of Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet in the 80s, I’m skeptical, but whatever they do seems to work.

theater of the absurd

Posted April 17, 2014 by collectedobsessions
Categories: Uncategorized

I have refrained from commenting on CNN’s increasingly bizarre obsession with the missing Malaysian airliner, mostly because I don’t have anything useful to contribute.

However, I was surprised when I took a look at the current state of cable news ratings. Obviously, CNN has a narrow ledge to stand on, sandwiched between the two more ideological channels. CNN does best when there’s a breaking story; it has the most resources, and a 30 year reputation for handling the big stuff well, even if that reputation has taken some hits in recent years – see the Boston bombing and the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act. Most of all, breaking news usually doesn’t have an obvious ideological component.

So it makes sense that CNN would run hard at the story of the missing airliner, try to pick off Fox and MSNBC viewers, and from what I recall, it got some numbers early on. But we’re about 40 days out now, and well past the story’s sell-by date. Tonight, for instance, we have a ferry overturned in South Korea and scores of children (likely hundreds) dead; new, dangerous developments from Ukraine, including a weird threat to Jews living in the country;  a few other worthy things.

But of course the 7 pm CNN anchor’s show (this would be the show that specializes in asking odd straw man questions as set-ups for various segments; the questions are almost never actually addressed) led with Malaysia, which amounted to “another day of looking,” followed by more panel discussion and – having abandoned the aircraft simulator that poor Martin Savidge was held prisoner in for a month – a new, underwater vessel wired for pictures and sound to, ummm, demonstrate what it would sorta, kinda be like to be looking for the missing airliner deep underwater. Except the search that’s going on is being done by remote drone, which is not terribly exciting.

Anyway, the point: CNN has apparently gotten somewhere by remaking itself as the plane crash channel. Take a look at Wednesday’s ratings, courtesy of TV by the Numbers. For the day, Fox dominates both overall and in the critical 25-54 demographic, but CNN edges MSNBC in 25-54. During prime time, CNN is third overall and third 25-54, but in terms of 25-54,  it’s close. CNN does well at 5 and 8 pm in 25-54, and well at 10 and 11. (“Well” is a relative term; again, Fox dominates the numbers, so “well” means ” in terms of runner up status.”)

This is a classic case of going all in with what you have; CNN has no ideological base to draw on, so it has no ready made, easy options for stoking outrage/ratings. The network’s attempt to declare everyone suspect (the Anderson Cooper promotion line that seems to be going away: “Keeping Them Honest”) didn’t get any traction. Give Zucker credit; he has focused the network on the big story, and then backs and fills with specials and series that are purpose-built to compete with programs on the History Channel and A & E.

However, the downside is substantial – my guess is CNN is not getting cruising altitude doing what it’s doing and struggles for its numbers. That means CNN has to keep stoking its version of the outrage machine, in this case, the gross overuse of the term “breaking news.” And that brings with it the age-old problem of exhausting your audience. To put it another way, the next time there’s big news happening, will you trust CNN as much, knowing they’re playing a tightly focused game for eyeballs?

new old music

Posted April 16, 2014 by collectedobsessions
Categories: Uncategorized

Sold some box sets I don’t listen to – Steely Dan, a Beatles set, Hendrix (over many years, I’ve decided I’m just not drawn to Hendrix) and got another copy of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” (haven’t been able to find mine), John Fahey’s “Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes,” a Jimmie Rodgers sampler, a Stereolab album I didn’t think I owned but do, McCoy Tyner’s “Extensions” and a collection of Coleman Hawkins on the Keynote label.

Also, the Criterion “Battle of Algiers,” which I’ve bought and sold once, and wanted to see again. I seldom revisit movies, but bits and pieces of this one have stuck with me and I want to give it another look.

At first, the Hawkins looked less than promising; even though it’s Hawkins and Roy Eldridge and Teddy Wilson, all the takes of a given song are grouped together – so right now, for instance, I’m hearing “I Only Have Eyes For You” three times in a row. Usually, that bothers me – I like it better when the alternates are put at the end of the main album, though in this case there probably isn’t a main album to work from; these started life as 78s, and were not collected into what we think of as an “album” until much later. However, in this case, for the moment, hearing multiple takes in a row doesn’t throw me – it’s a pleasure to hear how Hawkins, Eldridge and Wilson fit together just so.

things fall apart

Posted April 14, 2014 by collectedobsessions
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m halfway through George Packer’s “The Unwinding” and I understand why the book got all the praise it did last year. Packer accumulates an unbelievable amount of detail about the last 30 years, and there’s a terrible momentum to the story, a sense of things getting worse and worse, faster and faster. The scary thing is, you know reading it that there’s no bottom, no wall to hit, no place for the nation to pick itself up and start over.

I think the most valuable part of “The Unwinding” is how it calls attention to what’s in plain sight – the destruction of industries, neighborhoods, lives, what the country is supposed to be, even a sense of what’s real – yet isn’t the news, or what we talk about. We can’t see what’s happened because we can’t see enough of it to make sense out of the whole. Packer fixes that – his basic method, interwoven stories, loosely chronological, has the effect of bringing us up to speed. We get a little, then a little more, and gradually the big, terrible picture is in front of us.

That’s my halfway evaluation – maybe the book turns out different, but I kinda doubt it.

Listening, to no great end: this afternoon, a little to the stream of St. Louis’s relatively new classical station from the “Radio Arts Foundation” (great name) web site; from cd, some Charlie Parker on Verve, which grated on me, and an Ellington album, “Masterpieces By Ellington,” which I liked. Then Pandora’s bebop channel. Tonight, Schubert Symphonies 3, 5 and 8, again from a Warner Classics budget collection.

spring sunday listening

Posted April 14, 2014 by collectedobsessions
Categories: Uncategorized

I didn’t mess with the 8x’s radio today, and finally got around to downloading a podcast player/organizer for the dog walks. Fortunately, the same guy who wrote Podcasts! for Windows 8 put it on the phone as well. That’s one thing I can cross off my “things to get on the Windows phone” list.

After early rain it was sunny and warm and even though my back grumbled some, (yesterday’s yard work) the dogs and I got two walks in. For the walk, I listened to the latest “Windows Weekly” episode – I never knew the desktop picture in Windows XP of the hill and sky was a real place. From what the WW folks said, there has been rampant speculation for years about where the picture was taken. Turns out it was California.

Later, a little of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 off cd, (a bargain set from the Cleveland Symphony on Warners Classics) and a download of Jeremy Denk’s album of György Ligeti’s piano etudes and Beethoven’s Sonata 32. I don’t know much about classical music, but Denk writes a great liner note, which helps a lot.

a couple of itunes items

Posted April 13, 2014 by collectedobsessions
Categories: Uncategorized

The rumor that Apple will start selling better than cd-quality downloads is making the rounds again; Kirk McElhearn notes it over at Kirkville, is appropriately skeptical, but adds that he thinks Apple “will soon begin selling lossless files.”

Good. I hope he’s right, and that there’s a reasonable upgrade path for albums already purchased through iTunes, much as Apple offered when it moved from 128 kbps to 256 kbps aac files.

While I’m at it, a couple of other iTunes thoughts; bear in mind I’m ok with iTunes, and don’t understand the irrational hatred it brings out in some people.

Item one: its critics are right to complain (though not at the length and anger with which they complain) that iTunes is big, and on a less than great machine, can be slow to load. On the old dual core laptop running Windows 7 I use for most things, it takes 10 or 15 seconds to come up.

Contrast that with my PandoraOne player, built on Adobe’s Air technology, which launches almost immediately. So as an iTunes Match subscriber, I’d like a lightweight “iTunes radio” player. My guess is they won’t do it because the point of iTunes is to sell you stuff, and adding a separate radio player would introduce an additional step between your wallet and Apple, but it would be nice.

Item two: pricing sanity on big box sets. I’ve been eyeing the Julian Bream “Complete RCA Albums” collection on Amazon, where I can get it – all the cds, the case, the (presumably) nice book – for $115. iTunes price, with no booklet? $149. I would love to stop buying cds, but at those prices can’t afford to.


listening on a spring day

Posted April 12, 2014 by collectedobsessions
Categories: Uncategorized

The weather where I live was terrible for a long, long time, months, and only in the last week has it felt like winter is going away for good. Even though it touched 60 degrees today, you could still find a chunk of snow/ice on my back porch, grimly holding on. Why not? The snow and ice won all the rounds from November through March.

But it’s spring, unsteady though it may be, and it felt good to be out and listening.

Radio first: as promised, the Windows phone (HTC 8x) for walking the dogs, because unlike any iPhone and most Android phones, the radio chip inside is turned on. Last summer I carried an iPhone in my pocket, set on “vibrate,” and listened using an iPod Nano. I love the Nano, but wanted to get my carry down to one object. Hence, the Win phone (I like Windows phones anyway).

However, my early results aren’t great. I’m using a set of Koss PortaPros with the phone, and even though the headphone cord made a perfectly good antenna for the Nano (that’s how radio on these small devices works) it’s static-y on the 8x. Not a big deal if I want to listen to the local repeater for the public radio to the south of me at 99.9, but my preferred NPR station, about 60 miles north, cuts out more than I’d like. Plus, using the X Box-whatever-it’s-called to tune stations is peculiar; you swipe through to get to your station of choice, which works well, but it’s too easy to then accidentally change the channel unless you switch away from the radio interface. So I’m not sold, not yet.

Anyway, I got a nice springtime Saturday morning dose of Scott Simon, including an interesting interview about Mahler’s 1st Symphony. I learned that it has a deeply disturbed take on “Frère Jacques” and klezmer music. Take that, John Zorn.

I went out to run errands this afternoon – you’re supposed to change the water filter in your refrigerator every six months, we go four and a half years – and grabbed some dance music for the ride, The Avalanches’ “Since I Left You” and “Bob Blank: The Blank Generation.”  Spent most of my time with the Blank, and of that, the best was an unreleased Sun Ra track, “Where Pathways Meet.”

I didn’t bring music with me while I did yard work; it was dumb, painful labor, stooping and picking up, and music would have just annoyed me. That said, the birds were speaking up, which was nice when I stopped for a break.

And late afternoon, now, Angela Gheorghiu “Live from La Scala.” I’m not much of an opera fan, but I get this – she sings with just piano accompaniment, and stripped down like that, I understand (sorta) why people love this music.

The best news: I’m on vacation and still have four or five hours today in which to lend an ear, and even though I’m always thinking about new music I already have more than enough to keep me occupied for, well, a long time. Bring it on.





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