Monday, March 31, 2008

iPod Farming Update 

When I wrote about iPod farming four weeks ago, I meant to tidy up a letter a day on my iTunes, a schedule which would have got me through my entire library by the time term starts again next week. But I didn't reckon with a three day trip to Derbyshire or the length of certain letters. So, a confession, so far I've only go to M. Or, to be precise, 'Ma'. Yesterday I cleared a few of Madonna's lesser tracks. At the moment I'm in the middle of deleting one of several Manu Chao albums that I downloaded as research before going to see him last year (he was disappointing and exhausting. Mike and I left independently but at the same time, about 70 minutes in, even my student who's a big fan left before the end).

I started this process when I passed the 14,000 mark and the good news is that I've deleted hundreds of songs. The bad news is that I've downloaded or imported loads more, so I'm still on 13,925 tracks, and that doesn't include various folders of obsure Robert Wyatt and Kevin Coyne that I haven't opened yet. It does include albums by the Raconteurs, Long Blondes and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy that I haven't actually listened to yet. In other exciting news, I've bought a posh lead to connect the iPod to my new amplifier which will stop me burning stuff to CD and reduce my carbon footprint by a miniscule amount. Oh, and we've had a new path laid which takes you through our garden to the allotment behind it.

Sorry, not much of a post this, and I've started work on a new book today so updates will be even less frequent. Are you still here? OK, then, why not head over to this reactivated children's books blog or, if you're musically inclined and bittorrent proficient, register at this relaunched recordings of indeterminate origin downloads site. Enjoy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mamet, Monaghan and R.E.M. 

After reading the UK press coverage of David Mamet's Village Voice article about why he is no longer a liberal, one might assume that he has become a rabid right winger. I just got round to reading the article that inspired the fuss and it turns out that, in writing his enjoyable farce, 'November', which I saw on Broadway last month (probably the first and last time I'll be able to write that), he learnt to appreciate the importance of the marketplace and came to some mild, entirely logical conclusions about the hypocrisy of all politicians and why having a balance of power within government is a good thing. To wit: 'The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long. Rather brilliant.'

And rather unexceptional, but that wouldn't have made for much of a news story.

Niki Monaghan's second novel Starfishing is a different kettle of fish from her first, which was about life on a Nottingham council estate, but is equally autobiographical, in that she spent several years working in the city of London financial markets before doing her Creative Writing MA at Nottingham Trent. Having said that, I hope it's not too autobiographical - you'll know what I mean if you read it, and no spoilers here. I read some early versions of material from the book in Fiction workshops on the M.A.but her writing has evolved considerably since then and I barely recognised them in what is a pacey, very sexy, drug fuelled dazzler of a novel. No knowledge of financial markets needed. I do hope that her third novel isn't about her Maths teaching years, though... In an interesting new angle on metafiction, 'Starfishing''s narrator has a (fictional) blog here.

The new R.E.M., out in a fortnight, has leaked. Most of the songs are ones that they played when I saw them twice in Dublin last year and they sound great - slicker, more polished but no less energetic. 'Horse To Water', after two plays, remains the most thrilling number, but there are at least three other really strong ones and nothing that's less than enjoyable. Their best album in at least a dozen years. To celebrate, here's them playing my favourite new song in one of last year's 'working rehearsal's.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Leonard Cohen to tour 

I thought seeing Lou Reed play 'Berlin' was excitement enough for June. Now comes news that Leonard Cohen is to tour for the first time in nearly thirty years. Regular readers will remember that I visited his home on Hydra last September. I saw him play Birmingham on the last tour, in '79, and briefly met him in Liverpool in '75, after his show at the Empire (I'll save that story for another time). If his performance with U2 in the recent film is anything to go by, Leonard hasn't got much voice left, but if he just recites his lyrics (many of which started as poems) as he does in the video below, I'll be happy. That is, if I can get a ticket for his Manchester Opera House residency. In the meantime, here's a 10 minute clip of his induction at the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame last night. There's a brief biog, then you get to see Uncle Lou induct Laughing Lenny. No joke, that nickname - far from being a prophet of doom, he's one of the funniest performers I've seen. The drag about the tour is that, in his 70's, Leonard only needs to tour because his accountant stole all of his money (several million dollars) while LC was on Mount Baldi being a buddhist monk. No joke that.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Bon Iver - The Wolves (Act I and II) 

I somehow managed not to notice that my last entry was the 100th one on this blog, so here we are, well and truly into treble figures, with entry 101. I'm kind of excited about going to see Duffy at the Bodega Social tonight (I've decided that her voice is better than Lulu's, although the latter maybe had a better knack of song choice in her Atco soul days). I'm delighted that I've got front row seats for Lou Reed's Berlin tour when it hits Nottingham in June. But what's really thrilling me at the moment is the album by Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago which is a haunting, beautiful breakup album, mostly recorded, evidently, while he spent four months in a remote cabin in Wisconsin. The video below gives you some sense of this, and you get to hear one of the ethereal songs, the kind that creep up and grab you when you're not looking.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Politics Junkie 

I've been an American politics junkie since, age 14, I got caught up in George McGovern's 1972 campaign against Richard Nixon. So I'll be watching tonight's results from Texas and Ohio with great interest. As a Brit, it doesn't behove me to take sides in Obama vs Hillary but my favourite live band, Canada's Arcade Fire, have been campaigning for Obama in the last week (two of them were born in the US, so I guess they have the right). Here they are in Cleveland, performing a rather apt Sam Cooke classic.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

iPod farming 

I learnt a new phrase this week. After his talk to the MA on Monday I went out for a quick meal with Mike and described how I'd spent half my morning deleting and adding tunes to iTunes. 'Ah yes', he said, 'I call that iPod farming'. And that's what I'm doing now, before going to an exhibition and taking my nephew swimming. Only, there's an added urgency. I've had a 60GB iPod photo for nearly three years and it's been full since Christmas. I've taken various precautionary measures - unclicking most files over 10MB on my iTunes, converting tunes with a high bit-rate to 128AACs, but this week I got to over 14,000 tracks and, when I updated my iPod, first it refused to import the photos and then it left off half of the Duffy album (research - I'm going to see her on Friday. She's playing Nottingham's smallest venue, when she could be selling out the arena round the corner: go figure). I thought I'd calculated the space carefully, but not realised that iTunes had downloaded a bunch of new podcasts.

Today, I'm anxious to load up the Bon Iver album that Laura Barton wrote so eloquently about on Friday (the couple of tracks I've heard on my computer suggest that she wasn't exaggerating about its quality), so I've started deleting. Unclicking tracks just saves the problems for later and, anyway, my 320GB external drive is nearly full. So far I've lost half a dozen podcasts, a couple of Animal Collective albums and all but one track of Amy Winehouse's 'Frank' (guess which one). It's a fairly relaxing way to spend Sunday morning. Part of the joys of the process is that you click on a track you got from an mp3 blog but barely remember and it turns out to be wonderful.

I've only got to the Bs so far. Maybe I could do three letters a day. I reckon if I get rid of another dozen tunes, I should be able to load everything up, including some of the high bit rate stuff. There are some things I want to play through my new amplifier without adding to my carbon footprint by burning yet another cd to add to the tottering piles in the living room. Yet anything less than 192kbps sounds terrible through a good hi fi and 256 is preferable. And yes, I know, that I could follow various friends and my brother Paul by buying a 160GB iPod video, but I'm reluctant to replace something that works perfectly and, anyway, I'm not sure if the newest iPods work with the USB1 connector on my 5 year old iMac. Shuffles certainly don't. But there's now way I'm replacing my anglepoise mac, with its handy adjustable screen position.

Now then, who the hell is Bobby Hebb and do I need both those tracks by him? Oh yes, I do. I've got to the end of the Bs ('When Jesamine Goes' by the Bystanders, another forgotten but wonderful song) and am down to 13,996 songs. Will that do? Better just connect the iPod and find out...

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