Archive for the 'Music' Category

Fonoteka

Svibanj 31, 2006

I usually don't write about the Croatian "web scene" because I have the mental health of my visitors in mind, but I just HAVE to write a few sentences about this lousy attempt of creating the first legal music download site in Croatia. Now, I have to mention that I'm not a big fan of T-Com, the leading… nah, who am I kidding – the almost-exclusive telecommunication services provider in Croatia. Not that I have anything against the gals and guys that work there, I just don't like their… "bussiness plan". But, they do allow me to connect to the 'net every day, so I have to show some respect now.

So, the gals and guys decided recently to launch the first legal MP3 download site in Croatia, called Fonoteka. Behind the obscure address (mdp.tportal.hr – WTF? – http://www.fonoteka.hr isn't working at the time of writing this) lies the revolutionary web service. Not.

The first thing that I noticed is the obnoxious "BETA" underneath the logo. I just don't see the point of marking a web service as "BETA" and trying to sell it (or something at it). Sure it'll be updated and sure it has bugs – which (web) app doesn't? – but don't tell me your product isn't finished yet. Why should I use it if it's not finished? 

Next, the layout. Oh, the horror! The whole T-Portal website shares a similar framed design which makes me want to scream every time I visit it. It just annoys me – sometimes it screws up the "back" button, and I can't simply copy/paste the link to the site I'm currently watching. Terrible.

Now when the site experience is already ruined, let's see the offer… It's not too rich, but it's not too poor, either. The fact that it's not too long online (hey, it's BETA) and that they'll probably add some songs and albums as they go helps them a bit. There are a few albums that are interesting to me (I like albums, not separate songs, so I didn't check out that offer), but now comes the interesting part – the price.

Albums are usually not cheap in Croatian music shops (real-life, not virtual :)) – the price for albums of Croatian performers goes around 60 – 100 kn (around 8 – 13,5 €) and around 110 – 150 kn (around 14,5 – 20 €) for foreign artists. The prices at Fonoteka are: 7,32 kn (around 1 €) for a single song, and 73,20 kn (around 10 €) for a whole album. I wouldn't even think about buying a single song if it was two times less expensive than that. It's just damn too much. As far as the whole albums are concerned – it's true that it's probably cheaper, but when you add the ADSL traffic (or the time on the 'net for dial-up users) you spend to download the album, it's the same. Not to mention the inferior quality of MP3 over a regular audio CD and the lack of the original CD booklet. As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather walk a bit to the local music store, buy an original CD for a bit higher price and enjoy the full-quality audio CD with the original booklet.

And the last thing – the payment methods. Or, the payment method. The only way of paying for the songs is over the T-Com telephone / internet bill. Noup, no credit cards, no cheque orders – nothing. Sad, especially because T-Com has its own Pay Way service – an online credit card authorization in real-time. Maybe they'll implement that when they take off the "BETA" out of their logo.

All in all – really poor. Bad site design, poor user interface, weird and monopolistic payment method, insanely high prices and the limited range of songs and albums just don't make me want to use it. Thumbs up for the initiative, but two thumbs down for the implementation and the prices. At least for now.

In Concert

Svibanj 30, 2006

Although it isn't the largest town of 'em all, Pula (the place where I live) isn't poor with concerts. The beautiful Amphitheatre sure has its share in that fact, but I'm rarely at concerts over there – the tickets tend to be expensive, and the artists involved aren't really the ones I'm dying to see (although Paco De Lucia will be playing in the Amphitheatre soon :)).

There is also a great deal of other, smaller concerts, but these are usually more interesting to me. In the last couple of weeks, the project Jazzbina, which is over 10 years old and is dedicated to the promotion of jazz music to the Pula audience, brought two very interesting bands to play.

The first of them was Marco Quarantotto Oddball Quartet. Marco Quarantotto is a drummer from Pula, involved in many different projects, with East Rodeo being the most important and well-known. With three great instrumentalists – Sava Miletić (piano), Elvis Penava (guitar) and Robert Jukič (bass), he played a range of interesting jazz (and even funk) pieces by artists like Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock and many others. The small number of people at the concert didn't discourage them and only made the overall atmosphere of the concert better.

The second, and maybe better know, was the Bojan Z Trio. Bojan Zulfikarpašić is a well-known European jazz pianist and the winner of the Hans Koller jazz award for the last year. And he sure deserved it :). With Ari Hoenig on drums and Remi Vignolo on contrabass, they played an incredible concert with many different pieces, ranging from blues to etno-jazz, without being boring for one second. Ari Hoenig is probably the best drummer I've seen live, and Remi Vignolo's solos are just amazing. Bojan's piano work is incredible and fascinating.

A few photos from the Bojan Z Trio concert can be found here.

Rockbox Testing

Svibanj 14, 2006

So, I finally got around to test the alternative iPod (and other MP3 player) firmware I was writing about a few times – Rockbox.

The installation is a breeze – just follow the instructions carefully. I tried it on both Windows 2000 and Ubuntu GNU/Linux and it simply worked. After you install the bootloader, you have to copy the software itself to your iPod. It's just copy/paste, so it's probably the easiest part of the installation. You have a selection of daily builds and CVS builds – I recommend the CVS builds. After that, you restart your iPod and it boots itself into Rockbox. 

If you're lucky, that is. Rockbox (for iPod, at least) is still in its early stages of development – it is buggy and crashes often. The CVS releases of the software from the last couple of days were so buggy I couldn't really use them – Rockbox wouldn't boot, or would just freeze while playing a song or using a plug-in. The most recent CVS release I downloaded today is better. Much better, I'd have to say. For now, Rockbox boots each and every time I start it, and it doesn't freeze that much on song playback. It's usable, so if you try to load Rockbox on your iPod, I recommend the latest CVS release of the Rockbox software.

My impressions are, for now, great. It allows me to just copy & paste the songs to my iPod and play them immediately. I missed that option most on my iPod and I'm glad someone decided to do something about it. As far as I can see, the sound volume in Rockbox is much higher than in the original firmware. That's probably OK for some users,  but I don't like my music too loud anyways. The plug-ins are also interesting – most of them are still in their early stages, but some of the games are addictive :). I still haven't tested the OGG playback, but I'll do it through the day.

The nice thing about Rockbox is that it allows you to boot into the default Apple firmware without much hassle – just hold "menu" during the start-up. That's a nice feature for everyone who wants to try Rockbox, but isn't really sure if it really suits his / her needs. 

All in all – in spite being a bit buggy, Rockbox is (in its most recent CVS version, at least) usable and interesting firmware for MP3 players. With a bit of bug-fixing, it'll make my iPod everything I ever wanted it to be – a bug-free music player with drag'n'drop support, many playback formats and a great interface. Bye-bye Apple firmware! :)

Rockbox for iPod Mini 1G

Svibanj 1, 2006

It seems that the iPod Mini 1G version of the Rockbox alternative firmware has been released. I don't have my iPod at hand currently, but I'll try it out ASAP and let you know how it works. I just hope the results will be better than on iPodLinux :-).

The Stuff I’ve Been Listening To Lately…

Travanj 20, 2006

Although I listen to a lot of music every day, there are a few bands that really caught my attention in the last few weeks… They're pretty diverse, so I think there's something for everyone in here…

The first of them is Death Cab For Cutie. It's a great indie-pop band with really nice melodies, although the vocals can be irritating sometimes, especially on the first few listens. I've listened to their album "Transatlanticism" and a few other songs – I'd say the song Photobooth stands out.

A bit more conventional, but nonetheless great is Keane. Piano-oriented (alternative) pop/rock – not really something I'd usually listen to (although the last Coldplay album rocks :)), but these guys are great. A friend of mine gave me the album "Hopes and Fears" and it kicks ass :). The song This Is The Last Time has some really nice melodies, and the whole album has a bit of a theatrical sound.

Modest Mouse is an emo / indie rock band, but they do experiment a bit. Their debut, "The Moon & Antrarctica" is a bit strange and tiresome at moments, but after a few listens, everything fits in almost perfectly. The friend responsible for the introduction to Keane is responsible for this one too, and I'd like to thank him for that :). The songs The Cold Part and Gravity Rides Everything would be my reccommendations.

The last, but definitely not the least, is an Australian post rock band, Clann Zu. Combining noise, post rock, Australian native (etno) music and interesting melodies with strange vocals, they created an impressive piece of music called "Black Coats And Bandages." I consider this a must-listen for every fan of experimental and/or post rock. The songs So Complicated Was The Fall and From an Unholy Height are just beautiful.

There you go… I hope you find something for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

Alternative iPod Firmware

Travanj 15, 2006

As an owner of a 4GB iPod mini (1st generation), I'm not happy with the software I have to use to upload music to the drive. It's not that I don't like iTunes, but I don't like the idea of being limited to one app (and one operating system) to be able to put some music on my portable music player. It would be way much better if I could just drag'n'drop the music to the player from Nautilus / Windows Explorer / whatever. I'm aware of gtkpod, but I my experience with the app isn't really good, and it still doesn't allow greater portability and drag'n'drop support.

In the last couple of weeks, I found two alternatives to the default iPod firmware – iPodLinux and Rockbox, the latter being more interesting to me than iPL. iPodLinux is an attempt in porting an alternative Linux kernel (uClinux) to the iPod with loads of apps available, while Rockbox is an alternative firmware for many different MP3 players (like iRiver, iPod, iAudio etc.). I really didn't have the time to play around with iPodLinux (I may find some time next week, and I'll post the impressions), but Rockbox really got my attention because it allows simple drag'n'drop song upload.

Unfortunately, Rockbox isn't yet available for my 1st generation iPod mini (they're working on it! :)), but it's available for a range of newer generation iPods and other MP3 players, so you might want to try it out. If anyone has any other suggestions, feel free to e-mail me (you have my e-mail address on the About page) or leave a comment. I'll be glad to try it out.

Happy Easter to everyone! :) 

The Best Of 2005. in Music

Prosinac 12, 2005

Recently, on a Croatian music forum which is mainly based on metal music, someone brought up a topic on the best five albums in 2005. As a big music fan, I've decided to do something similar on my blog. And here they are, in no particular order:

System of a Down – Hypnotize
Pretty refreshing. Altough it has much in common with Mesmerize, Hypnotize is more mature and simply better sounding. It's probably their first album that made me listen to it over and over again carefully, unlike their older albums. The vocal parts are beautiful at moments, and the arrangements are great. This is their best work so far, in my opinion.

The Mars Volta – Frances The Mute
Here's a band you either love or hate – it's that simple. I love them. They've successfully managed to bring together many diverse music styles as progressive rock, psychedelia, noise, punk into an extremely hard to listen, but extraordinarily well played, complicated masterpiece of modern music. The drumming is wonderful, the Spanish fits them perfectly, and the music in general is brilliant. The only objection goes to the album being too hard to listen, especially for the first few times.

Van Der Graaf Generator – Present
It's possible to create a classic-sounding progressive rock record in a modern style that sounds fresh and new. And it's even possible to make it sound this good! It sounds like they never stopped playing together. The first disc (the studio recordings) is definitely too short (under 40 minutes). The second disc (the improvisations) is longer, but also harder to listen and more tiresome. Yup, it is too short, but it's still enough to make it in the top 5.

Dream Theater – Octavarium
Altough not a masterpiece of progressive metal, this album is here because of one song only – the 24-minute epic Octavarium. As far as I'm concerned, they could've released an EP similar to "A Change Of Seasons" with this song and a few covers, and I'd be more than satisfied. And I wouldn't have to skip 7 songs to get to this masterpiece. OK, OK, not all of the songs are that bad, but they can't be compared to Octavarium. I hope I'll hear more music like this from them in the future, because it fits them perfectly.

Koenji Hyakkei – Angherr Shisspa
And this is an odd one… The Japanese Zeuhl (Magma, anyone?) masters came up with a record which is more (avant-)jazz oriented than ever. Yoshida's drumming is great, and the new keyboard player brought the much-needed change in the band. This one is their all-time favorite of mine. Definitely a must-hear.

There you have it. The "best" five albums of the year in my humble opinion. N.B. that there were more great albums this year, it's just that these five somehow caught my attention more than the other ones. I'll be writing more about good (subjective mode on! :)) music soon.

Merry Christmas & a happy new year!