Tuesday, February 12, 2008

music: pirating early Joanna Newsom albums

Joanna Newsom's bio on Drag City lists "Walnut Whales" (2002) and "Yarn and Glue" (2003) both self-released CDs. These home-made albums are no longer sold.

Bizarrely, stupidly, and short-sightedly, these songs aren't purchaseable as MP3 downloads from Amazon, even though this is exactly the sort of long-tail, low cost, make-fans-happy monetary transaction that the Internet should enable. I'll gladly pay for these songs, but can't. Probably her record company contract forbids her to release her own records.

Anyway, where legit business fails to meet a demand, the pirates step in.
  • Google for "Joanna Newsom" "Walnut City"
  • One of the results hits is for Mininova's tracker of a BitTorrent file. BitTorrent is a protocol for sharing files piece by piece among computers. A fan has digitized the tracks from both early CDs, and taken pictures of the covers, and included an excellent early interview.
  • What should happen next:
    • Click to download the .torrent file, it opens in the BitTorrent client which downloads the file from peers, and a few minutes later I play the songs in my music player
What actually happened:
  • click to download the .torrent file, BitTorrent client starts, nothing happens. After contacting the tracker, zero download activity, 0.0 kilobits per second.
  • kill all the other inactive BitTorrent downloads, quit BitTorrent and restart, still nothing.
  • download and install latest BitTorrent client. It reopens the torrent, shows its contents, finds 5 other members of "the swarm" but no download, no activity
  • suddenly I can't access the internet at all (a coincidence?), so power off cable modem and router.
  • tinker with the Firewall settings for BitTorrent in my P.O.S. Norton 360. It has a rule to allow some incoming and all outgoing. Just replace that with Allow all.
  • new BitTorrent client displays a neat warning icon in its status line: "No incoming connections... could be your network". Double-clicking that leads to a dialog with a neat [Test if port is forwarded properly] button, which takes me to a neat web page that tests and says "Error! Port 6881 does not appear to be open" with a link that takes me to a neat port configuration guide.
  • Indeed, my port forwarding settings are out-of-date since my Vista laptop slog, so I update my router to forward to new IP addresses
  • the web page test now works, the warning icon goes away, but still no download activity
  • disable Norton 360 Firewall altogether
  • then a computer in Sweden starts handing me pieces of the file. Estimated time to download: 31 hours.
  • the warning icon comes back, the web page test fails, yet the little-computer-that-could in Sweden is still slowly passing me pieces of the file
  • 20 minutes into this two other computers join in, one handing me pieces at a rapid clip.
  • After another 24 minutes I have the entire download on my computer
  • The anonymous uploader had converted the CD tracks to Free Lossless Audio Codec format. The key is "lossless", these are shrunken files to save disk space and time but they don't use audio compression like MP3 or AAC files.
    FLAC stands out as the fastest and most widely supported lossless audio codec, and the only one that at once is non-proprietary, is unencumbered by patents, has an open-source reference implementation, has a well documented format and API, and has several other independent implementations.
  • But Apple with their monopolistic bullshit not-invented-here "We'll only work with open source when there's a business case to do so" attitude doesn't support .flac files, so I can't play them in iTunes.
  • bitch yet again about this on Apple's feedback form
  • try to find the obscure music player I used last time to play flac files. Nope, not Media Player Classic, it's VideoLAN VLC music player with some Xiph codec bundle.
  • play Joanna Newsom's tracks.
I feel I deserve a merit badge for getting it to work, but it is wrong. It's definitely not stealing, but it is piracy as in "copyright infringer." Alas, the Fairtunes site built by two Canadians in a dorm room that let you voluntarily donate money to artists when you rip them off went defunct years ago. Even during the Napster boom when millions of people were downloading billions of songs, they only received a few tens of thousands of dollars.

Joanna Newsom, I owe you $7.80 (13 songs at .60 cents). What's your PayPal account?

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 17, 2007

music: Joanna Newsom wish partly granted

Wasn't too proud to beg:
Joanna, please please please please please please release a concert DVD!
So along comes Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP. "Cosmia" performed by the same band, a reworking of "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" and a fine new song "Colleen."

I'd still love to have a video of her amazing performance. Twinned with the UK appearances with orchestra. I wonder how long before you can assemble a concert video from phone cam captures off YouTube. So long as the artist can get appropriate compensation, why not?

   "In the trough of the waves,
which are pawing like dogs,
pitch we, pale-faced and grave,
as I write in my log."
(Sawdust and Diamonds)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

music: pick jaw off floor at Joanna Newsom concert

So after listening to Ys all day we went to the concert. She was jaw-droppingly good, concert of the decade for me (not that we see many concerts). I've never ever seen an artist throw herself into a performance so completely. Just like the New Yorker review said, "Without seeing Newsom’s hands and feet, it is difficult to understand how hard she must work to pluck the strings and press the pedals while reciting by heart a small book’s worth of verse. I haven’t seen a performance of such sustained intensity all year."

She performed some solo songs off "Milk-Eyed Mender", and all of "Ys" but with a weird band (accordion, tambura, saw, glockenspiel, banjo, ...) rather than orchestra. The shrieks and cracks in her recorded vocals are obviously intentional because they were largely absent live. Watching her pour everything into her singing and playing was transporting. The reorchestrations for her band were great, the harp and strings sound from the record spread around the musicians like quadrophonics.

Joanna, please please please please please please release a concert DVD!
"And I miss your precious heart" (Cosmia)

Categories: ,

Labels: ,

music: Joanna Newsom Ys good

As I wrote in my Amazon review of "The Milk-Eyed Mender", it's pretty straightforward: Play the Sprout and the Bean video four times in two days, and you'll know if you can get past the vocals. She does sound like Bjork's niece going nuts in detention.

I've been listening to her ambitious follow-up "Ys" all day prior to the concert. The lyrics are fantastic. The music varies, tracks 1/3/5 are standouts; it does meander over the course of the long songs. If anything the orchestrations by Van Dyke Parks (who most recently worked on Brian Wilson's "Smile") are more of an acquired taste than her voice, but they highlight the lyrics and music. She's got a strong command of her instrument in service of her songs, but she's not a harp virtuoso (I saw classical harpist Dan Yu perform, and she's about three times faster than Joanna Newsom).

It's not as balanced as "Milk-Eyed Mender" because the lyrics overpower the rest, but what lyrics. They move from precise natural descriptions (of skipping stones, puppets, meteors, ...) to talismanic phrases of birds and water, to epic adventures.
And, Emily - I saw you last night by the river
I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water
Frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever,
In a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky'd been breathing on a mirror

Categories: ,

Labels: ,