Friday, August 20

Black metal

Berger on Moore

Mick Fealty links to a piece by John Berger on Fahrenheit 9/11.

Berger summarises the film's conclusions:

It declares that a political economy which creates colossally increasing wealth surrounded by disastrously increasing poverty, needs – in order to survive – a continual war with some invented foreign enemy to maintain its own internal order and security. It requires ceaseless war.

Note that Berger does not say why inequality of wealth would require constant wars. He proceeds:

Thus – fifteen years after the fall of Communism, decades after the declared End of History, one of the main theses of Marx’s interpretation of history, again becomes a debating point and a possible explanation of the catastrophes being lived.

This statement is particularly laughable when you consider that Marx offered no way of understanding Communism and certainly no way of understanding its fall. Because Marx said Communism would work and was proven as wrong as it is possible to be.

Maybe it's too late for John Berger, who is now quite an old man, to let go of his Marxist framework. But it is sad to reflect on the brilliant mind, and all the other minds as brilliant as Berger's, that were wasted on such stupid ideas.

Thursday, August 5

Classical music on the iPod

I hesitated before buying an iPod since I'd read it wasn't ideal for listening to classical music, which is the sort of music I usually listen to, and iPods are quite expensive.

There is some discussion of using the iPod on the internet for classical music, but not a lot, and some of that is faint praise. So it seems worth adding some thoughts, as well as rounding up some links to the discussion I unearthed myself.

The iTunes/Gracenote database classifies music using artist, album, song and composer.

All CDs I've tried so far have at least been recognised by Gracenote. BUT.
  • The artist field often contains the composer name.

  • The album name is normally at least on the right lines (some have suggested dropping the album idea and using this for work name; so far I haven't felt the need to do this).

  • The "song" is awkward to correct: should you include the composer name and work title here, or not? In fact sometimes a CD pops up with the track names in the artist fields. This is not logical, but turns out to display quite neatly when the iPod plays the tracks back.

  • Album and song titles are often too long to fit in the iPod's screen so that I have to guess which album or song I'm looking at. I haven't arrived at the best way to abbreviate these. But at least the song titles scroll around while the song is playing.

  • The composer field is often left blank but is easy to correct. Apparently with some earlier iPods, you could not easily browse using the Composer category, but you can with the 4G.

iTunes is good for editing multiple selections at once. There's more on the Gracenote database and use of its fields here, here, here and here.

Care must be taken in ripping (if that is the right word) CDs in which tracks are intended to be heard without a break between. For instance Berg's Violin Concerto which has 4 movements without a break. iTunes has a "join track" facility which solves this. Snag: you might well only realise that one track goes straight into another when you play it back later. Here's a very good article dealing with the "join tracks" thing, which also has some inspiring playlist ideas.

A CD takes about 6 to 7 minutes to copy to the iTunes on your PC. Just long enough to update the details on the last CD you copied up so that you have some chance of locating your latest content later on.

It only ever takes a few minutes to update the iPod with the latest version of the library on the PC via USB.

I may be an atypical classical listener, but audiophile sound quality is not crucial to me. Since I'm normally listening to my iPod in an environment with background noise (people typing or chatting, traffic passing), I don't see much point in encoding my music at a higher bit rate than the iTunes default. It sounds good enough to me. A few years ago I would have been playing cassettes out of a hissy Walkman. And I want to get the most out of my 40 gigabytes.

Why, despite the grumblers, I like the iPod for classical music

In common with many classical listeners, I have more CDs than I have time to listen to. I have been interested in classical music for perhaps five years, only after becoming bored with rock and drum'n'bass and the rest. So I lack familiarity with well-known pieces and even with many of the CDs on my shelves. How to boost this? The iPod may have imperfect music labelling and less than audio-obsessive sound quality but these are pedantic concerns. I use it as background music. Norman Lebrecht would not be happy. But I can listen to Bach or Schubert at the merest whim. If I have a passing fancy to dabble in something harder on my ears, I can follow that fancy before it vanishes. An iPod means there is more choice and at more times. More opportunity for music.

Update 25/1/2005: here are some related thoughts at