I recently got Bach: Complete Works, which is a 155 CD box set on the Brilliant Classics label (yeah, I’ve never heard of them either). The amazon reviews were surprisingly favorable, and it’s very reasonably priced. But until you’ve seen it in person, it’s hard to comprehend how massive 155 CDs of music is. I tried weighing it on my kitchen scale, but the scale tops out at 6 pounds and the collection Errored the scale (seen on the right). Next I tried hanging it from the ceiling with my antique hanging bullet scale. Eight and a half pounds. Or somewhere between four and seven days of music if listened straight through.
The collection is organized by musical category, not in order, as I was expecting. Twenty-three CDs for Orchestral Works / Chamber Music, 23 for Keyboard Works, two sets of Cantatas (60 CDs total), 32 CDs of Vocal Works, and 17 Organ Works CDs. They appear to all be performed on historic instruments (harpsichord instead of piano, most notably), and each category of music is done by a different group of artists.
I may regret the attempt, but I think I’m going to try to tackle these in order, hopefully writing a blog post about each CD or set of CDs. If I do a couple CDs a week, it’ll only take me 18 months to get through all of it. Lucky for me, and my relatively uneducated ears, the collection begins with the Brandenburg Concertos, which I’m already quite familiar. If I wind up getting tired of a particular category I may skip around a bit, since I may have trouble getting through all of the vocal parts without some instrumental breaks.
After that, perhaps the 170 CDs of Mozart!
Yesterday I found myself with 43 eMusic downloads available and my refresh date approaching quickly. I’ve got quite a few records in my queue, and choosing among them to exactly consume my available downloads is difficult to do by hand. So I wrote a program to do it.
It’s a Python script, so it’ll run any any platform. Click this link to download it: choose_albums.py
To use it, you’ll need to create a separate file that contains a list of the albums you’re interested in and the number of tracks on each album. Here’s the file I was working with yesterday, called queue:
clientele 14 rosebuds 9 okkervil river 11 stravinsky 19 saint-saens violin 3 8 mapmaker 12 of montreal 5 long blondes 14 glass #4 7 widor #5&9 9 bonnie billy 13
Each line contains an album name, a space, and the lines end with the number of tracks on the album.
To run the program, call it and pass the name of your file and the number of downloads you’ve got left:
$ ./choose_albums.py queue 43 glass #4, saint-saens violin 3, stravinsky, widor #5&9: 43
This is one (of many) ways to use up my 43 downloads. The script chooses albums randomly, so if you want to see all the possibilities, you’ll need to run it a lot. I wrote a very simple shell script to do that:
#! /bin/sh tracks=$@ for i in `seq 1 100`; do ./choose_albums.py queue $tracks; done | sort | uniq
You can download it here: doit.sh
Depending on how large your queue is, you may need to increase the number of times it runs the script. Because it’s random and not deterministic, it can take a lot of runs to find all possible options (in fact, with 25 albums in the queue and 90 tracks available, there are more than 40,000 possible combinations, so this script is best at choosing from a small set of options, unless a random choice is what you're after). You’ll also need to change the name of your queue file if it’s not called queue.
Here’s what I did yesterday:
$ ./doit.sh 43 | grep blonde | grep glass bonnie billy, glass #4, long blondes, rosebuds: 43 bonnie billy, glass #4, long blondes, widor #5&9: 43 clientele, glass #4, long blondes, saint-saens violin 3: 43 glass #4, long blondes, of montreal, rosebuds, saint-saens violin 3: 43 glass #4, long blondes, of montreal, saint-saens violin 3, widor #5&9: 43
The two grep commands were included because I knew I wanted to include the new Long Blondes album and Philip Glass’s Fourth Symphony in my selections. I wound up going with the second choice, adding Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s The Letting Go and Widor’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies.
One final note: if after 1,000 tries, the script doesn’t find a set of choices that uses up all your downloads, it’ll report the last set of albums it found and the number of tracks used up. Be sure that the final number reported matches the number you passed in or you won’t be using all your downloads for the month. The script isn’t smart enough to find the “best” solution in this situation, so if this happens, you’ll need to run it a bunch of times to maximize the number you’re downloading (or better, add more items to the queue file and run it again).
I'm not going to go into much detail here because I don't aspire to be a music writer. If you're interested in the records mentioned, check out the reviews at Pitchfork, Stylus Magazine, Cokemachineglow, and other music blog sites. With the exception of Grizzly Bear, available directly from Warp Records, and the RIAA artists, everything here is at eMusic. All the lists are in order from top to bottom even when I didn't use numbers.Top 10
- Sunset Rubdown, Shut Up I Am Dreaming
- Califone, Roots & Crowns
- Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies
- Calexico, Garden Ruin
- The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
- Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
- Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards
- Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
- The Futureheads, News and Tributes
- Girl Talk, Night Ripper
These would be in my Top 10 list, but I'm making a special category for them because they're strange and unique enough to be held apart and above the rest of the Top 10. You might not like them, but they're all fantastic and quite different from anything else you're likely to hear.
- Joanna Newsom, Ys
- Scott Walker, The Drift
- The Books, Lost And Safe
- The Fiery Furnaces, Bitter Tea
These two albums are pretty great too, and could have been in my Top 10, but they're distributed by record labels that belong to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Normally, I prefer to spend my money with companies who aren't forcing digital rights management down our throats, treating customers as criminals, and in the case of Sony, infecting our computers with spyware. But I made an exception for these records.
- The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
- TV On the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
- Sunset Rubdown, Sunset Rubdown EP
- Bishop Allen, 2006 monthly EP's
- Professor Murder, Professor Murder Rides The Subway
- Tokyo Police Club, A Lesson In Crime
The rest of the list. All of which are very enjoyable, and might be on your Top 10 if you give them a listen.
- Grizzly Bear, Yellow House
- Swan Lake, Beast Moans
- Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit
- Portastatic, Be Still Please
- Aloha, Some Echoes
- Beach House, Beach House
- Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, Ole! Tarantula
- Plus Minus, Let's Build a Fire
- The Evens, Get Evens
- Beirut, Gulag Orkestar
- Chin Up Chin Up, This Harness Can't Ride Anything
- M. Ward, Post-War
- Asobi Seksu, Citrus
When I was in high school there was a downhill ski "club" that rented a bus and drove all of us down to Bristol Mountain, eight or ten times each winter. We'd leave right after school on Wednesdays, ski all afternoon and evening, and be back in Webster late that night. Portable cassette tape players were the iPod of that time, and I spent a lot of those bus rides getting sick from diesel fumes, listening to Peter Gabriel and reading Stephen King novels. To this day, whenever I hear certain tracks off Melting Face or Security, I can't help but think of Jack Torrance, Randall Flagg, and the other characters from King's early books.
Yesterday I finished Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, and for most of it, I was listening to Calexico. They're an independent rock group from Arizona that plays music that just sounds like the southwest. Perfect soundtrack for a book about the border country in Texas. Because the book made a strong impression on me, I have a feeling that whenever I hear Calexico in the future, I'll probably think of Moss, Bell and Chigurh.
I came across The Books because they're similar to Animal Collective (Feels is a great album) in the last.fm similarity diagrams I've been playing with. Lost and Safe is their latest record. The music is hard to describe, but is oddly compelling. Most tracks are combinations of simple string melodies, odd percussion, manipulated vocals and lots of spoken words from random recordings. It's not quite ambient music, and it's also not the sort of thing you can hum while walking to your car in the parking lot. All the layered melodies, strange spoken words, and descending string progressions really bring a lot of emotion to the music.
My favorite tracks on the album are Smells Like Content, An Animated Discription of Mr. Maps, and An Owl With Knees. Smells Like Content and An Owl are both more straightforward than the other tracks, with nice layered melodies and mostly traditional vocals. Mr. Maps is a percussive tour de force and demands to be listened to loud. It's also got lots of spoken word material, including the great line: "Leaving the friendly aroma of doughnuts and chicken tenders hanging in the desert air." There's also someone reading what sounds like the criminal profile of a serial killer, but there isn't enough detail to figure out if it's from a movie or a news recording.
This is certainly not music for everyone. But if your tastes tilt toward the experimental and are looking for a change, give The Books a listen. I'm looking forward to picking up their previous two albums (Thought For Food, The Lemon of Pink) in the near future.