Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn

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The Reviewer’s Conundrum: What to Do with a Very Bad Recording?

07/26/2014

I review CDs and DVDs for MusicWeb International, the site with the largest number of classical CD reviews freely available on the internet. I’ve been writing reviews for the site for nearly 15 years, and have reviewed some 600 CDs and DVDs.

MusicWeb reviewers receive a list of CDs every month or so, and choose the ones they want. (I also get some CDs directly from record labels.) So I go over the list, and check out what interests me, what new releases fit with my musical tastes and knowledge. In this month’s lot, I got a recording of a work I love and know very well – I’ll leave it nameless – that I tried to listen to this morning, but that was so bad, I had to give up. It’s a solo instrumental recording, and the performer plods through the piece, which, by the way, is played at a tempo which makes it about 50% longer than other versions of the same work.

So I’m faced with a conundrum. In general, I don’t like writing bad reviews; I think it helps no one, and harms the performers and record labels. But there is also a responsibility to write such a review, to alert other music fans about such a poor recording. It’s not like they can’t judge from themselves; the release is available by download, so anyone can listen to excerpts and hear what I heard, and see if they agree with me.

So what do you think? Is it better to write honest reviews of bad recordings, or just toss them aside, and spend time writing reviews of the good ones? Because, since the time of all reviewers is limited, every bad recording that gets reviewed means one less potentially good recording will go unreviewed.

“Take Control of Beta Testing Yosemite” Says It All

07/25/2014

“Members of Apple’s Mac Developer Program were given early access to a preview version of the new operating system, and Apple began accepting signups from the general public. That public beta (a slightly later version than Developer Preview 4, released earlier this week) is now available — and so is a new Take Control book about beta testing Yosemite!”

I love it that Joe Kissell has written a book about beta software. If you’re messing with the beta, it would be a good idea to read this book.

via TidBITS: “Take Control of Beta Testing Yosemite” Says It All.

iTunes 12 and the Case of the Missing Sidebar

07/25/2014

I can’t say much about iTunes 12, a beta of which is only available to the million-plus people who have access to betas of OS X 10.10 Yosemite. I can’t publish screenshots, since I’m under NDA, having a developer account. But I can comment about what I’ve seen on many other websites about iTunes 12.

Apparently – and I can neither confirm nor deny this – iTunes 12 eliminates the sidebar. If you’re a long-time iTunes user, you may have a weak spot for this sidebar, which gives you access to your different media libraries, connected devices, shared libraries and playlists, all at once.

ITunes002

I like using the sidebar, and even the column browser, as you can see above; that’s the default way I display iTunes. With iTunes 11, if the sidebar is not visible, you can display it by choosing View > Show Sidebar. And if the column browser doesn’t show, you can turn that on by choosing View > Column Browser > Show Column Browser.

I’ll miss the sidebar, and I wonder why Apple is removing it. For those who use it, it’s a convenient way to access much of your iTunes library. According to screenshots published on a variety of websites, there is no longer even a drop-down menu at the top-left of the iTunes window when the sidebar is hidden; you access the various libraries and devices by clicking icons in the navigation bar.

This may be more efficient, and the lack of the sidebar offers more screen space to display content, but I still think the sidebar is a useful tool. Maybe Apple will add it back by the time iTunes 12 is released. If not, I’ll miss it.

The iTunes Guy Discusses Re-Ripping CDs, Non-Syncing Album Art and More

07/25/2014

itunesguy-thum-100004188-gallery.jpgSometimes, what seems like a good idea turns out to have unexpected consequences. One reader wrote in about album art that wasn’t syncing to his iOS devices, and had a surprise when he found out the reason. Another wonders whether it’s worth re-ripping songs ripped from CDs more than ten years ago. And another reader is looking for a way to save Internet radio stations in iTunes. In this week’s column, I have answers to all those questions.

Read this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy at Macworld.

No, Your App Isn’t Compatible with Yosemite

07/25/2014

app-icon.pngI got a press release in my inbox just now, telling me about an app that is compatible with OS X 10.10 Yosemite.

“This latest version of APPNAME adds support for Yosemite, OS X 10.10.”

Sorry, you’re wrong. Your app may be compatible with the latest beta of Yosemite, but claiming that it’s compatible with Yosemite is misleading. Until the GM – the golden master, the final release version – is released, no one can be sure that their apps are compatible with an operating system.

Naturally, this is just a marketing ploy from someone who wants to garner a bit of attention, but it’s bullshit.

On the other hand, I have seen developers tweeting about apps that are compatible with the Yosemite public beta; that’s fair. But don’t suggest that your app is compatible with an operating system that’s not been released yet.

Doug Adams says it very well:

I make no guarantees as to the reliablity of any software authored by me when operated under a pre-official-release beta version of the operating system.

Yosemite-compatible software will be clearly labeled as such. Otherwise, don’t presume any script or app has Yosemite compatibility at all until the official release date in the Fall.

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Music Review: November, by Dennis Johnson

07/25/2014

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Buy from: Amazon.com | Amazon UK | iTunes

The musical avant-garde has created a number of very long pieces of music. Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2, for example, runs for around six hours; other works by the same composer last from one to four hours. La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano runs around five to six hours. John Cage’s As SLow aS Possible runs from 20 to 70 minutes, but a performance underway in St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and should take about 639 years. Other long works include Erik Satie’s Vexations, which runs somewhere around 28 hours. But the latter two works are more gimmicks than anything else; Satie’s piece is merely one minute-and-a-half piece played 840 times.

Length does not equal quality, but in the area of minimalist music – this is the minimalism of sparseness, not that of repetition, such as the music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass – the listener enters a sound world that moves at a different pace from the world around them. Listening to such works – Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet is an excellent example of this – forces the listener to rethink what music is and how it is heard and experienced. I like music of this type which slows me down and makes me listen differently. In many ways, November, as with many of Morton Feldman’s works, is as much like looking at a painting as it is like listening to a work for piano. It’s beautiful music that moves in slow motion.
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miles-mono

In Praise of Mono Recordings

07/25/2014

I sit at my desk, listening to Miles Davis playing ’Round Midnight, from his 1957 album ’Round About Midnight. The sound is crystal clear, with each instrument balanced against the rhythm section, as Miles shares the lead with John Coltrane on tenor sax. I’m listening to the original mono mix of this album, and it sounds like the musicians are in my room.

Miles midnight

Around 3 minutes into the song, when Coltrane’s sax takes a solo, the mono mix has a cool, smooth sound; the stereo mix feels harsher, with reverb and artificial space trying to fill the stereo soundscape. The mono sounds real; the stereo sounds contrived.

This is the case for many albums from the 1950s and 1960s, produced before stereo became the norm. When I want to listen to Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, I’m more likely to queue up the mono mix of the album; the way most people heard it when it was released. And if I listen to The Beatles’ Revolver, it’s the one-channel version that grabs me more than the stereo mix. And have you ever listened to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds in the original mono? It’s a different experience from the two-channel version.

In a time of surround sound, why would anyone want to go back to one channel? Home theater systems offer 5.1, 7.1 and even 9.1 systems, with the plethora of speakers and wires needed to reproduce this sound. Since most recordings today are recorded on at least 32 tracks, it’s easy to manipulate this music and spread it across the soundscape. But does it sound real? Or is it a creation of an audio engineer?

Back to Basics

For the Miles Davis album I mentioned at the beginning of this article – as for many jazz albums of the 1950s and 1960s – mono was the finished product. The mono mix had to allow each instrument in his quintet to come through in a single channel; listening to it today, you can hear how successful it was. This is one of nine Miles Davis albums on Columbia Records recently re-released in their original mono versions. On each of these – including the iconic Kind of Blue[1] – you hear a relaxed sound that doesn’t try to manipulate the music. There’s no attempt to create an illusion of instrument placement; just the music in one plane. And it sounds great.

Miles mono

Several high-profile mono box sets have been released in recent years. The Miles Davis is the most recent, but two other important sets are Bob Dylan’s Original Mono Recordings and The Beatles in Mono. The Dylan set includes his first eight albums, “as most people heard them, as they were expected to be heard, and as most often they were meant to be heard: in mono.” As mono recordings represented the majority of sales, the stereo mixes were often rushed out as an afterthought. As engineer Guy Massey says about The Beatles’ early stereo mixes, “The mono was always The Mix. On Pepper they spent three weeks mixing that, and the stereo was done in three days.”[2]

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How to make a bootable OS X 10.10 Yosemite install drive

07/25/2014

“If you do decide to participate in the Yosemite beta program, I recommend creating a bootable installer drive, on an external hard drive or a thumb drive (USB stick), for many of the same reasons I recommend making a bootable Mavericks installer drive: If you want to install the Yosemite beta on multiple Macs, using a bootable installer drive can be more convenient than downloading or copying the entire installer to each computer.”

Naturally, if you have a developer account, and work with the betas, you may want to do this. It’s very useful if you run into problems and need to reinstall Yosemite, which I’ve had to do a couple of times since the first release.

via How to make a bootable OS X 10.10 Yosemite install drive | Macworld.

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