How the Music Got Free

life / thoughts
How the Music Got Free (Viking, 2005).

I’m currently having a blast reading this rip-roaring yarn of how MP3, at least for a while, threatened to kill an entire industry. It’s a well-informed book which, if you were there, jump-starts a whole bunch of recollections.

Stephen Witt, currently hailing from New York, provides us with a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the music industry, its sometimes frustratingly block-headed bigwigs and, with much panache, a glimpse of the thriving pirate networks that had their own set of values and, as much as the music industry, a highly competitive demeanor.

A real page turner.
Highly recommended.

***

Stephen Witt. How the Music got Free. Viking, June 2015.

  • Finalist for the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize,
  • finalist for the 2016 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize,
  • finalist for the 2015 Financial Times Book of the Year,
  • finalist for the 2015 Business Book of the Year,
  • a New York Times Editors’ Choice,
  • and one of the year’s best books in  The Washington Post, Slate, The Atlantic, Time and Forbes.

Weingut Hörner

life / out and about
Weingut Hörner.

Horns.
It’s all about horns.

Several years down the road, “Weingut Hörner” (German) still produces my favorite wines in a region that is positively brimming with excellent wines. In fact, many wine lovers would kill to live where I do, right on the edge of two of Germany’s best wine regions.

The quality Thomas Hörner (a mere 25 years old) has managed to produce these past years (he took over in 2013) is absolutely astonishing. I’m drawn to his wines every single time I go on major wine tasting trips, only to end up once again with a couple of crates of either his “Sauvignon Blanc“, “Weissburgunder” or “Gelber Muskateller” (or just about any other wine he produces in “my” price bracket around 8 to 10 Euro per bottle).

Hörner is a member of the ever-growing group of those young and fine winemakers who have all but revolutionized wine making in south-western Germany. Out went the old “safe” wines that everyone had gotten all too complacent about and in came the young blood, risk-taking, revamped design and a ton of passion.

This summer is going to be grand just because of people like Thomas Hörner.

Scann-Tec – Unyt

listening to
Scann-Tec - Unyt (2016).

I love myself some good ambient music more often than not and Scann-Tec’s “Unyt” is a recent 2016 favorite.

Scann-Tec is Vladislav Isaev, a Russian music composer and sound sculptor from Moscow.

“Unyt” is available for 10.- Euro (or more, if you like) as a 24-bit download from Ultimae/Bandcamp. As someone wrote in a brief review, “[…] The 70-minute “Unyt” is a subdued dynamic ride full of hidden beauty, emotive currents, ethereal spheres and holdback grooviness percolating onward consistently and smoothly. I’d say there’s a kind of hypnotizing veil hanging over the carefully mapped out structures and patterns (especially on “Unyt”, “Svet”, “Klinostat” and “Parsec”) that keep the listener’s attention.

Just up my alley.

This, and only this …

life / thoughts
Conan.

I am a father of two, I like to believe I have a shred of common sense, and I simply do not understand why anybody in this country is allowed to purchase and own a semiautomatic assault rifle. It makes no sense to me. […] These mass shootings are happening so often now that lamenting them afterwards is becoming a national ritual.

Conan O’Brien

Joining the Dark Side

life / new / new electronics
Tolino Vision 3HD (screenshots).

Fact is that media are taking up too much space in my place. My living room looks like a CD shop and the rest of the apartment like the Royal Library of Alexandria. Things have to go. That isn’t an easy thing to do because I am attached to the stuff. I know that more and more people are becoming the “minimal” types, the ones who are able to stuff all of their belongings into a single mid-sized suitcase, whereas I would need a separate U-Haul truck for each and every one of my rooms.

For more than 30 years, I have invested a substantial amount of money into books, most of which are a sizable collection of dark fantasy, horror, … or whatever people might call it at the moment. The rest are mostly an assorted mix of music and rather lavish art books. Before the financial crisis hit, someone offered me a comparatively outrageous sum for my entire horror collection (all of my books are in English, by the way) and I declined. Since then the market value of those books that aren’t extremely rare collector’s editions has decreased so drastically that burning what I have might be the best solution when compared to selling the collection off.

***

So, I got myself an eBook reader after having decided that my book collection has got to go (*groan*). This decision was aided by the fact that roughly 70% of my collection (also the totally obscure stuff) is readily available today with many authors, often by themselves, having switched to republishing their older material in various eBook formats across the many different retail sites.

Now that I have joined the dark side with my Tolino Vision 3HD (check the specs on the UK site, if you like), a simple reader that I bought after extensively reading reviews and deciding on a device that just works, some observations:

We need an eBook standards movement: Web design and web programming only got better when the so-called “Web Standards movement” started to get on people’s nerves by forcing them to adapt, well, standards. Studying the structure and layout of eBooks that I have, it immediately becomes clear that at the moment, everyone is doing things the way he or she likes. Fonts are either forced on the device or not, eBooks are made to look exactly like the print copy, which is a real dumb thing to do because they aren’t, etc. I even have eBooks that divide sections up with a series of blank pages. Duh.

Format compatibility: When I decided on my eBook reader, I also consciously decided not to get locked into the Amazon empire. The people behind my Tolino are a consortium of various German, Austrian and Swiss publishers and retailers trying to combat Amazon’s dominance. The eBook market is highly fragmented with each one of the players pushing either their own format(s) and/or excluding that of others. A ridiculously stupid move because they effectively limit their own audience who are then also forced into a legal grey area (in Germany) by having to remove copy protection and utilize software like Calibre to transcode formats.

The hardware is almost there: From what I can see, the hardware seems to be sufficient to carry around at least several hundred books, if you like (I can get about 2000 hefty books onto my reader although I intend to only carry my current reading list around with me). The screen technology works, besides the flicker problem that is more or less prominent across the various reader models. The e-ink display needs to be protected from burn-in by regularly refreshing the screen, but my player only really needs to do that after having displayed cover or inline images, the latter of which I try to avoid like the plague. You can even turn pages on my reader by lightly tapping the back of the device, a nifty idea.

The software needs more work: Before I bought my Tolino Vision 3HD, I think I tried every other available device on the market, including the Kobo models, which came in second place on my list. Based on Android, they all work differently and they all offer more or fewer functions depending on the model. The software on mine is a bit sluggish and rather limited in functionality, but I knew that before I bought it. 98% of the time I read on my device, so rudimentary administrative functions are all I need. But even those seem to be far removed from any prior usability testing. I have no idea why the sort order of books cannot be set to be different for authors, titles and collections. Once set, it is applied to all three screens. Mass moving of titles into different collections is a drag and a restore function for how you had it set up isn’t available. Populating your device with reading material and then (again) sorting it into collections, something you really have to do once or twice before you get the hang of things, is a drag. On my device, the start screen wastes just about half of the screen estate on offering me books I won’t buy from the store I was locked into but won’t visit often and it’s the first thing I would get rid of if I could. One of the detrimental effects of the fragmented eBook market.

User intervention: Because the software across all the models I have tried is flawed, something I would call “user intervention” is a must. In order to get things to work the way I want them to, I needed to both read up on the various eBook formats (epub, mobi, etc.) and find ways of going into the eBooks to remove and or change aspects of the content layout and content structure. Luckily, there is some really nifty software around to help you with that and, in the end, eBooks are really comparable to webpage layouts which are easy to tweak once you understand the underlying rules.

***

Right now, I am quite happy. Besides the odd device crash that I will probably get a handle on once I tweaked my eBooks into submission, I find myself reading a lot more than I have these past many years. Just as music streaming has allowed me to rediscover a lot of the music that had been lying dormant in my extensive collection, my Tolino 3HD has allowed me to easily and quickly dive into my book collection again.

It’s been a fun ride so far.

***

P.S.: And, yes, because I’m anal like that, I made my own separate quick’n’dirty covers for the books on my Tolino.

Dear Steve Lukather …

life / listening to
Great music that sounds like shit.

Toto put out a fabulous album a few months ago.

21st Century Blues“, with Keith shufflin’ the hell out of the tune, is perhaps my favorite song of the past many years.

Really.
Fabulous.
Stuff.

Shades of Steely Dan, great writing, and you are absolutely fabulous on it.
Did I say how much I like that tune?

Why the f*ck did you allow the absolutely shoddy, atrocious and painful mastering of said release? What the hell rode you? I know you defended the CD’s sound with bloody knuckles on Facebook and although I wonder why the hell you did that, I respect that you took the time. It was close to your heart … and all of that.

Still, the whole CD sounds like someone had sonic constipation.
The music you invested so much lifeblood in sounds like someone shat on it.
Shat.
On.
It.

And that’s coming from someone who is quite forgiving when it comes to the sonic appearance of music he likes.

Don’t trust your own ears.
Do it over.
Fix it.

Don’t let your music go down the sonic chute of oblivion.

Thanks for listening.
And keep on writing great stuff.
Love it.

Volkher

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

currently watching / life
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Just when I had given up on films altogether, along came this little gem of a film that I liked a lot better than “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014), a film it is naturally being compared to.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015) not only has an intelligent, imaginative and witty script, it also boasts an ensemble that turned it into, yes, a charming little film about friendship, adolescence, dying … and a lot more in between.

Filmed on a comparative shoe-string budget (a mere $5 million) in just about 4 weeks, it isn’t perfect, but it sure as hell easily beats the pants off any and all of these studio franchise tentpoles that I (and hopefully others) am (are) so incredibly sick and tired of.

Certainly worth your time (and repeated viewing), if you are so inclined.