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iTunes 12: Where’s the Repeat Button?

Sometimes you’re playing an album you love, and you like it so much that you want to repeat it. There used to be a button in the iTunes window – in what’s called the iTunes LCD, which shows information about what’s playing – that let you do this. In iTunes 12, that button is gone, and you only see a Shuffle button, just to the right of the album artwork:

Itunes lcd

Well, the Repeat button may be gone, but the Repeat feature is still there, tucked away in a menu and sub-menu. Click the Controls menu, and you’ll see Repeat; click that to choose All, which repeats the entire album or playlist until you stop playback, or choose One to play the current song over and over, until you simply have to turn it off.

Repeat

As Jacco points out in a comment below, you can also bring up a menu with Shuffle and Repeat options by right-clicking or Control-clicking just to the right of the artwork, where the Repeat button is:

Screen

Interestingly, the Repeat button appears in the iTunes LCD if you turn on Repeat:

Ember.png

This suggests that its absence may be a bug in iTunes, and it will be restored later. Even if you click the button to toggle Repeat, or choose Controls > Repeat > Off to turn off the Repeat function, the button remains visible until you quit and relaunch iTunes.

Apple’s Handoff and Continuity Work Now; So What?

I wrote about a month ago about my travails getting Handoff and Continuity features to work on my Macs and iOS devices. With the exception of my MacBook Pro, which does not work at all with these features, all my other devices – my iMac, iPhone, iPad Air 2 and iPod touch – work. It’s clear that the problems are on Apple’s side; something to do with devices being correctly registered with their servers.

Handoff

But now that they do work, so what? While these are certainly gee-whiz features – the ability to start an email on one device, then finish it on another; accessing a web page on one, then viewing it on another device – there’s really not much point. With the exception of text messages and phone calls, I think I’ve used these features about twice, not counting testing.

While these features are a good idea on paper, how often do you really want to start an email on your iPhone then finish it on your Mac? If your Mac is close enough for Handoff or Continuity to work (I still don’t know which is which; Apple should have just one name for these features), then you’d be more likely to start the email on the Mac.

Handoff2

The only times I’ve used it was when I was looking at a web page in the living room or bedroom, then realized I wanted to see it on my Mac, such as to order something. I went to my office, then accessed the web page. But I could have done that with iCloud Tabs, which works (more or less) well.

I really can’t imagine using these features with Pages or Numbers documents, because if I’m creating a document, and I’m near my Mac, then I want to use that. If I’m just editing or viewing a document, it often doesn’t matter which device I use. And since I store them either in iCloud or Dropbox, I can easily access them from any device.

So this is another example of a feature that looks good (remember the fast user switching cube animation, that Steve Jobs happily explained that they do it “because we can?”) but that really doesn’t have much real-world application. I wonder; do you, dear readers, use these features, other than for text messages and phone calls?

Help a Good Samaritan Return Your Lost iPhone, iPad or Mac

You know it could happen some day: you might lose your iPhone, iPad or laptop. If you’ve activated Find My iPhone (or the similarly named feature for other devices), you’ll get an approximate location for the device, but if it’s in an apartment building or office building, or if there’s no Wi-Fi or cellular access, you might not be able to track it down precisely.

If someone finds your device, it would be good to make it easy for them to get in touch and return the device to you. There are plenty of Good Samaritans out there, and it’s worth preparing your device so if one does find it, they can contact you.

Essentially, you want to add contact information to your device, in a way that anyone who turns it on can find your name, email address and phone number (obviously not your iPhone’s number), and get in touch. An easy way would be to paste a sticker on your device, but that might be ugly and it could wear out. Why not add contact information to the lock screens of your Macs and iOS devices? It’s easy.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

In What World Does a Record Producer Think that This Kind of Compression and Clipping is a Good Thing?

Nils Frahm, Says, from the album Spaces. There’s no excuse for this kind of clipping. Presumably, the engineer or producer thought the music was too soft at the beginning, so compressed it heavily, resulting in excruciating clipping and distortion near the end of the track.

Clipping

To be fair, it’s the only track on the album like this; there’s one other track that has some clipping, but most of them are very quiet. But this one is painful to listen to.

OS X Tip: Increase Icon Size in iTunes, Mail and Finder Sidebars

If you find the icons and text in the sidebar of iTunes, Mail or the Finder to be too small or too large, you can change their sizes. But the setting isn’t easy to find; it’s not in the preferences of any of those three apps; it’s in the General pane of System Preferences.

Prefs

Choose a size from the Sidebar icon size menu: you can choose Small, Medium or Large. Here’s how the three sizes look in the iTunes sidebar:


Medium  Small  Large

Note that the above screenshots are a bit larger than what you’ll see, depending on your display, but the scale between them is accurate. I scaled them at 50% from screenshots taken on my retina iMac.

This setting applies to other Apple apps, such as iPhoto and a few others. Try the setting in each of the apps you use; you’ll find the right size for you. However, it’s a global setting, and if you want to use Small in iTunes and Large in the Finder, you’re out of luck.

pleiade_4723621

Bibliothèque de la Pléiade: Fine French Books for the Common Reader

Reliure 1 medium 2In 1931, Jacques Schiffrin, who ran a French publishing company called les Éditions de la Pléiade/J. Schiffrin & Cie, created La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, a series of pocket-sized books – long before the birth of the paperback – which gathered complete works of classical authors. These books were not meant as budget volumes; they were bound in leather, printed on bible paper, with attractive typography. They were designed to be affordable yet slightly fancy editions of great works. Initial volumes contained works by Baudelaire, Racine, Voltaire, Poe, Laclos, Musset, and Stendhal.

Les Éditions Gallimard bought out the series in 1933, continuing the books in spirit and in the same level of quality. Since then, Gallimard has published more than 600 titles, with authors ranging from Aristotle to Zola, covering the great classical French authors – Voltaire, Balzac, Stendhal, Saint-Simon, etc. – as well as authors in translation, such as Shakespeare, Henry James, Faulkner, Tolstoy, and many others.

These books are unique in France, being the only high-quality volumes that you can buy in a continuous series. In a country where hardcover books are rare (for novels and general non-fiction), the Pléiade series publishes books for the common reader who wants to have nice-looking books of great authors.

While most of the authors published are dead, some have been published during their lifetimes: Gide, Malraux, Claudel, Montherlant, Saint-John Perse, Julian Green, Yourcenar, Char, Gracq, lonesco, Nathalie Sarraute, and Milan Kundera.

Most of the authors come from Gallimard’s catalogue, though some were published by other houses: Many of Marguerite Duras’s novels were published by Les Éditions de Minuit, and Julian Gracq’s works were published by the small publisher José Corti. But the majority of these works are Gallimard’s authors, or their translations.

These books aren’t cheap; according to Gallimard, the average selling price is €58. (Though for many of them, it wouldn’t cost that much less to buy the individual paperback editions.) Nevertheless, they sell around 300,000 copies a year, 74% of which are back catalog. Back in the early 1990s, when I worked in a French bookstore for a few years, a sales rep told me that part of what kept the series afloat was the number of American universities that bought one or more copies of each volume.

Reliure_bibliothèque_de_la_Pléiade
I love these books. I have a few dozen of them, with works by Proust, Camus, Duras, Kundera, Cioran, Balzac and many others. I like the way they feel in the hard; the soft leather covers are comfortable. I like the typography, which, while a bit small (9 point Garamond), is delicately designed, with attractive ligatures. The light beige bible paper is very thin, yet sufficiently robust; you can have a volume up to about 2,000 pages which is still easy to handle. And the ribbons that are sewn into the binding make it easy to keep your place.

Typo

Unfortunately, in recent decades, the way the series publishes books has changed a bit. Instead of presenting collected works with limited notes, the volumes now include extensive scholarly apparatus, with up to several hundred pages of notes per volume. When I moved to France in 1984, the first book(s) I bought was the three-volume set of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, which was around 3,000 pages long. A newer version, published in the late 1980s, takes about 7,500 pages, in four volumes. A volume of novels by Jean-Paul Sartre that I recently bought is 2,300 pages long, with about 500 pages of “notes and variants.” Not all volumes have so much extra material, but those that do end up being unwieldy – and expensive – because of all the extra texts they contain.

Nevertheless, if you read French, and are interested in either classical authors or those of the 20th century published by Gallimard, these are beautiful, highly readable books. Buy some for yourself, or as a gift for anyone you know who reads French.

Restore Missing Ringtones on iOS Devices

A bug in iOS 8.1.1 has caused many people to lose their alert tones and ringtones. To restore these tones, first update your iOS device to 8.1.2, which was released yesterday. Then, do the following.

If you sync your device with iTunes, connect it to iTunes, and click on it in the iTunes navigation bar. Click on Tones in the sidebar, and make sure that Sync Tones is checked.

Tones

Click Sync to sync the tones to your device.

You can also do this from the iOS device, restoring the tones from the iTunes Store. To do this, go to itunes.com/restore-tones in Safari; this link will redirect you to the iTunes Store app. Tap Restore; You’ll see a message saying:

“This may take a while. You can continue to use this device while we prepare your tones. You will be sent a push notification when they are ready to download.”

Tap Done, and wait for the notification. When you see it, tap Download, and all of your tones will download. You can check that they’re all on your device by going to Settings > Sounds > Ringtone and Settings > Sounds > Text Tone (and the many other sounds listed).

See Apple’s support document about this issue.

CD Review: John Adams’ Become Ocean

Unknown.jpegIt’s difficult to review a recording of a new piece of music when it has won the Pulitzer Prize (when did that become important for music, and not just writing?), and when it has been universally acclaimed. It’s also difficult to review said work when it is programmatic; when it is supposed to be about something. As the Pulitzer Committee says, Become Ocean (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is “a haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.”

And, as we reach the end of 2014, this record is on a number of “best of the year lists.” Which puzzles me.

I guess the part about the ocean is obvious from the cover of the CD, and from the fact that, for my first listen, I accidentally put the DVD into my living room optical disc player, just after playing a Blu-Ray disc, and seeing the visuals that accompany the music. (I had thought there was just a CD, and simply hadn’t gotten around to turning off the TV.) As the music plays, there are a series of photos of water; some from above, others below. So, water is clearly something that this music is “about.”

I’d only heard two recordings by this Mr. Adams before (he is not to be confused with the minimalist composer John Adams, or the politician of the same name), one of which, Four Thousand Holes, I reviewed for MusicWeb. I found it sounded like ambient music, by Brian Eno or Harold Budd, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it.

The difference here is that Mr. Adams has a symphony at his disposal; the full range of instrumentation and dynamic range. Yet it sounds as though he really doesn’t know how to composer for an orchestra; Become Ocean is a 42-minute drone work, with rising and falling waves of volume, and with arpeggios, played by different instruments, arising and fading away.

Nothing about it suggests a “tidal surge,” or “melting polar ice and rising sea levels;” those ideas would never cross my mind, if I hadn’t read what the Pulitzer Committee had to say. Very little happens in this work, other than the dynamics of the music changing as the instruments play louder and more softly. It has little actual melody; it sounds like one massive chord going through subtle changes, as different instrumental groups are heard.

I was quite astounded to see the otherwise circumspect Alex Ross writing in the New Yorker compare this premiere to that of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps. Mr. Ross was clearly moved by the work, saying “It may be the loveliest apocalypse in musical history,” which is, of course, quoted on the CD. Mr. Ross’s discussion of the work borders on incomprehensible. He says, for example:

“The majestic sonorities emerge from a musical machine, an inexorable process. (“Inexorable” is, in fact, the indication at the head of the score.) There are six hundred and thirty bars of music, plus a bar of silence. The three main sections of the orchestra play sequences of varying lengths, each of which swells to a climax and then fades, and each of which reverses course at its midpoint, in the manner of a palindrome. The winds have fifteen units of forty-two bars (including rests); the brass nine units of seventy bars; the strings twenty-one units of thirty bars. At three points, the crescendos of the various groups coincide, resulting in those Debussy-like climaxes. The really confounding thing is that at Bar 316 the music begins running in reverse. The work is a gigantic palindrome, ending where it began.”

The way the music was made seems to take precedence over the music itself. Who really cares – other than composers or musicians – about what the above paragraph describes? That tells me nothing about the music, about the feeling of listening to the music. In fact much of Mr. Ross’s review discusses the backstory to the work: what inspired Mr. Adams, how it was written, but not so much about the music itself. (Yes, he does talk about chords and how the music recalls Debussy, Sibelius and Wagner, but not what the music sounds like.) I would sum it up as a series of crescendos and diminuendos (sorry, I used technical words, but ones that most people will understand), than eventually die out at the end. One very important problem here is how to know how loud to play this disc; in concert, the dynamics of the music are important, but there’s no benchmark here to know what the correct volume should be. Is the music very soft, building to mildly loud? Or does it begin fairly loud, reaching even louder crescendos? In the absence of any way to know how to listen to it, does it even make sense to listen to it?

This work isn’t easy to label. One could broadly call it minimalist, since not much happens; but it’s not the kind of repetitive minimalism of Reich or Glass. It’s closer to the kind of dark ambient drone music that is quite popular among aficionados of electronic music, with a bit of Sigur Rós thrown in. But I assume that, for the usual audience that attends concerts of symphony orchestras, it will be a surprise; nothing like Le Sacre de Printemps (sorry Mr. Ross), but a surprise nonetheless. And one that may have them squirming in their seats for 42 minutes.

The package includes a CD and a DVD-audio, the latter of which offers both stereo and surround mixes. There is no information about the work itself, nothing about the different formats in the package (for example, does the DVD-A contain high-resolution audio?), and nothing to even tell you that you get both a CD and DVD. If I hadn’t accidentally pulled out the DVD, I might not have known that there are two discs. There is a quote from the composer, saying: “Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.”

I found this to be a fairly bland work, with little originality, and not enough “music” to interest me. I’m a big fan of ambient music, and I can see listening to this in the background, and I can even imagine that it might be quite exciting to hear live. But there’s little on this recording that makes me want to listen to Become Ocean repeatedly. I’m clearly in the minority; as I said at the beginning of the review, this disc is showing up in lists of the best recordings of the year. Go figure.

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