Truncated MP3s

One of my hosting clients — who is on a dedicated server — recently reported a strange problem: Some readers of their site were getting truncated downloads on MP3 files. Eventually we nailed the problem down to users of FireFox on Windows and Mac. FireFox for Linux was fine, and other browsers were fine as well.

After a testing splurge and much hunch following, we were able to eliminate upload methods, MP3 encoding tools, and MIME types as potential culprits. But neither I nor the data center are having any luck figuring out what actually is causing it. Google ain’t helping. Here are two links to bit-identical files on two different Linux servers:

One version on Birdhouse
Another version on Newwest

In both cases, the file is 5497828 bytes, permissions are the same, the MIME type is the same (and correct), and the file command reports:

StupidMistakes.mp3: MP3 file with ID3 version 2.2.0 tag

Both were put in place with wget from the same source. But if you’re using FF Win or Mac, the second link will appear to work, but give you only a few seconds of audio.

Theories welcome.

Music: Captain Beefheart :: Magic Be


Been meaning to check out Pandora for a while, and reminded by two Birdhouse readers in a week that I really needed to jack in. “Pandora is a music discovery service designed to help you find and enjoy music that you’ll love. It’s powered by the Music Genome Project, the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken.”

Create a Captain Beefheart playlist, and it includes The Minutemen, Shellac, Pere Ubu, Iggy Pop, Love… Had similar experiences creating lists starting from Warren Zevon and Chet Baker. The associations it makes feel incredibly natural – uncanny even. Lather, rinse, repeat the experience starting from nearly any artist or song you can think of.

Pandora plays to your current mood like nothing I’ve experienced. Associations are not based solely on the usual “what other people who liked this song also liked,” but on musical analysis of more than 10,000 artists, building a database cataloguing tonality, syncopation, rhythmic style, vocal style, etc. But you can thumbs up/down individual tracks, so it’s an analytic database fine-tuned by associative listener impressions.

Free version is ad-supported, but subscriptions are affordable. Audio quality is a bit on the lo-fi side, but not terrible.

Tune into my Cheap Thrills station.

Can I Get An Amen?

Nate Harrison discusses the history of the legendary “Amen Break” – probably the most-used drum sample in all of hip-hop, jungle… and advertising. An entire subculture based on a 6-second loop from an obscure 1969 R&B record.

Can I Get An Amen? is an audio installation that unfolds a critical perspective of perhaps the most sampled drums beat in the history of recorded music, the Amen Break. It begins with the pop track Amen Brother by 60’s soul band The Winstons, and traces the transformation of their drum solo from its original context as part of a ‘B’ side vinyl single into its use as a key aural ingredient in contemporary cultural expression. The work attempts to bring into scrutiny the techno-utopian notion that ‘information wants to be free’- it questions its effectiveness as a democratizing agent. This as well as other issues are foregrounded through a history of the Amen Break and its peculiar relationship to current copyright law.

Fascinating (relatively speaking) to watch how the progression of the needle across the LP inversely tracks the progression of your own QuickTime slider.

Lessig: “Culture is impossible without a rich public domain.”

Thanks Sean Graham

Music: T.Rex :: The Motivator

UbuWeb Is Back

Ubuweb After a long downtime, U B U W E B is back online, bigger and cleaner and more amazing than ever. The site is a 100% free repository of avant-garde and conceptual audio and video — concrete poetry, experimental sound works, obscure video. From Erik Satie to John Cage and Sun Ra to Bill Burroughs and Ed Sanders, the depth and quality of the collection is astounding, and seemingly immune from the copyright storms surrounding downloadable/shared audio and video everywhere else online (immunity through obscurity, perhaps). From the FAQ:

What is your policy concerning posting copyrighted material? If it’s out of print, we feel it’s fair game. Or if something is in print, yet absurdly priced or insanely hard to procure, we’ll take a chance on it. But if it’s in print and available to all, we won’t touch it. The last thing we’d want to do is to take the meager amount of money out of the pockets of those releasing generally poorly-selling materials of the avant-garde. UbuWeb functions as a distribution center for hard-to-find, out-of-print and obscure materials, transferred digitally to the web.

I’m listening now to a scratchy original recording by dadaist Tristan Tzara performing probably in some dusty club, somewhere in history’s fog. Find that on BitTorrent!

An Evening of Light and Sound

Hard to believe it’s been a decade since Christian Crumlish invited me to become part of a small-ish group of web-based artists and developers called antiweb (ironically, no web site to speak of). Mostly centered around a mailing list that has survived the ups and downs of the internet through the years, antiweb has become one of the few stable aspects of life online for me over the years, as well as a posse of online friends I always know I can turn to with tech questions and observations, confessions, ramblings, etc.

Because antiweb is scattered over the earth’s surface, only small sub-clusters of us have ever met face-to-face. Even though it’s a closed list, antiweb isn’t a clique; it’s loose, ragtag, sometimes seems barely to hang together at all. But I feel strangely close to almost everyone on the list, if only for the amount of time we’ve spent together.

To celebrate our 10th birthday, antiweb founder Malcolm Humes is throwing a Bay Area happening this Thursday night (July 28), public invited.

Hard to say exactly what the evening will become, but there’s some cool stuff planned (click Continue for details). I’m working on a 30-page digital comic mash-up including photography by Amy and me, recklessly integrated with text culled from the antiweb list. Will post the comic at birdhouse sometime after the event.

Hope to see some of you there!
Continue reading “An Evening of Light and Sound”

Amplified Bicycle

Mallet On the second night of the recent Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival, cellist Theresa Wong played an amplified bicycle, in a performance that brought many in the house to tears. Wong, who studies performance at Mills College, had been playing the amplified bicycle prior to having known of Matthew or his death. I had been storing the bicycle from which Matthew was struck in our garage for quite some time.

After the performance, I offered Matthew’s bicycle to Theresa to use as her instrument; she accepted. I spent Saturday afternoon getting the wheels rolling again, chain disentangled, brake pads unstuck, and cleaning up the road grit. Rested my hands on the grips – the last things Matthew ever touched – and took the bike for a spin, meditating on his life. Sunday I delivered the bike to Theresa’s Oakland loft.

Theresa found the bike resonant, full of surprising sounds. After a few minutes of orientation, she improvised a piece for Matthew. A wild dove had been hanging out in the loft for a few days, and we imagined it to be Matthew’s visiting spirit.


Intrigued by Apple’s Airport Express / AirTunes announcement. Finally, an Apple-centric (but not Mac-centric!) way to get the iTunes library across the house and into the stereo. The solution is pretty unique — not at all what I (or almost anyone) expected, which was more like a wireless iPod-like home stereo component, maybe with video capabilities bolted on. AE plugs into a power outlet and into your stereo’s audio-in (analog or digital). Your Wi-Fi capable Mac then auto-discovers the device, and music flows like water. Cake. And it doubles as an AirPort Extreme base station and print server.

The good people at Slim Devices must be hating this. I personally sold our sliMP3 a while ago; had finally come to see our home stereo as the final refuge, a fortress from which I could escape the ubiquity of MP3 in my life. But AirTunes is a tantalizing prospect…

Music: Can :: Cutaway

Thoughts on The Grey Album

GreyAlbum DJ Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album has been on my iPod for a week now, and I’m still feeling conflicted by it. In case you’ve missed the story, executive summary: DJ Danger Mouse has taken Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” and remixed it with samples from the Beatles “White Album.” The results are brilliant, frustrating, obnoxious, beautiful, and an insult to the legacy of the Beatles (though ironically, probably intended as a tribute). If you haven’t heard it, download mirrors are all over the place. And EMI is dispensing cease-and-desist letters like Pez.

Looking at The Grey Album from three angles:

1) As a concept and a piece of technical wizardry
2) As a challenge to copyright law
3) As a piece of artwork

1) Technically, the Grey Album is a remixological wonder. Danger Mouse is a whiz. It’s a trip to hear such familiar strains hashed and rehashed and whipped up and layered back down with this kind of slick wrist expertise. It’s like there was an explosion at the LP factory and somehow all these disparate parts came back down to earth magically hanging together — all wrong, but still somehow totally in sync. While there are long-ish excerpts from The White Album, most of the Beatles you get here are new beats created by twisting and tangling and untangling snippets from familiar songs. Listening to this stuff, half my attention is busy marvelling at Danger Mouse’s skills.

2) It’s funny how this case overlaps with the Ken Light Kerry/Fonda case that’s been front and center for me at work lately – both involve two works by different creators being remixed by a 3rd party. In Light’s case, lawyers are trying to determine whether newspapers can run the composite/collaged image copyright-free or whether royalties are due. Striking parallels to the Danger Mouse project.

Last Tuesday, thousands of web sites mirrored copies of The Gray Album in an all-day protest called Grey Tuesday, the idea being that if enough people participated in the protest, they’d all get away with it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted comments on the legal position of Grey Tuesday participants.

Napsterization wonders what your rights are “if you own the two albums outright already, and simply want the blended version, remixed?” Great question.

At Corante, Ernie Miller wonders whether some kind of remix formula or recipe could be created to allow consumers to recreate the Dangermouse mix from the two original sources, thus sidestepping copyright issues. I respond that the suggestion is similar to the technique used to distribute the lame MP3 encoder, thus bypassing Fraunhofer’s patent. But music is not a computer program, and I am highly doubtful that sufficient notation could be devised, or that anyone could enter in the data in sufficient detail to recreate the artwork.

3) No matter how marvelous the mix or how interesting the copyright questions, you’re still left with a work of art that somehow has to stand on its own, despite leaning so completely on the work of others. Bottom line: Is it a good record? Well, I’ve been listening to it for days, so it must not be a total abomination. But for the most part, I keep listening because I’m fascinated, not because I think it’s a particularly good record. I’m not much of a rap fan to begin with, and Jay-Z’s style doesn’t do much of anything to goose my predilections. As rappers go, his delivery is bland and his lyrics mediocre. It’s not all gangsta, but there’s way too much of this kind of crap (from various tracks):

All my wimmin get tennis bracelets…
Used to deal snowflake by the O.Z….
I like big-body Benzes…
Stay away from ho’s…
I got 99 problems but the bitch ain’t one…

So you get this amazing mix experiment, all these great old Beatles riffs chopped up tossed up chunked up in cruel and unusual (and very cool) ways, all colliding bizarrely with this semi-gangsta crap. The result is as depressing as it is amazing.

Yes, many of the lyrics are better than the ones I quoted, but bottom line is that Jay-Z’s rap is not worthy of The Beatles backing music (even remixed). In fact, it creates the opposite effect: You get the feeling that one of the greatest records of all time by one of the greatest groups of all time has just had mud ladled all over it. You hear these old Beatles samples, and those lyrics start running through your head. Then Jay-Z starts up with his juvenile patter and you just feel kind of robbed. Listening, I go back and forth between digging this whole crazy messed-up adventure on one hand, and feeling like a great chapter in human creativity has been totally desecrated on the other.

My favorite lyric on the album:

“And if you can’t respect that
your whole perspective is whack,
maybe you’ll love me
when I fade to black.”

Well, maybe. I like what Danger Mouse is trying to do from an experimental POV, I like the way he’s challenging copyright, I dig the beats, I enjoy hearing the Beatles in a totally new vein, but the rap pretty much cancels out any positive net effect. Not entirely, but pretty much. All told, I guess I just feel kind of grey about it.

Music: Jay-Z + DJ Danger Mouse :: Moment of Clarity

SACD Outputs Analog

Hooked up a Sony SACD player to our system the other day and popped in one of the newly remastered Bob Dylan SACDs*. Our MSB Link DAC is auto-sensing, and knows what’s plugged into it. Was amazed that as soon as the SACD started playing, the DAC’s signal detect lights went dark and the system went silent. Eh? The player is connected to the DAC via optical Toslink, but analog also goes out for other purposes. Using the player’s remote to enable the CD layer rather than SACD brought sound back, but it was clear the DAC was totally out of the picture (and the extra SACD data was being ignored).
Continue reading “SACD Outputs Analog”

Which Media Player Sucks Least?

Currently involved in a mondo thread regarding the question of whether QuickTime sucks or not, which by necessity also asks whether Real Media and/or Windows Media suck, and if so, how much? As with operating systems, I think all of them have strengths and weakness, but there are no secrets about my leanings: I think QuickTime is more flexible, has better (or at least equal) quality per bitrate, has a cleaner UI, is less big-brother-ish, and is less invasive (is less brash about stealing associations). QuickTime is also, unfortunately, the only one that nags the user till they cough up $30 — something I’m more than willing to do, though I know many/most people are not.

Not everyone shares my opinion. Thought I’d take a straw poll here on birdhouse, where the air is slightly less rarified than on the mailing list. What do you think? If all audio/video media on the web had to be in a single format, which should it be?

Which media player/platform gives the best overall user experience?

View Results

Gorgeous example of QuickTime in action.

Music: Janis Joplin :: To Love Somebody