Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Music streaming options

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve made extensive use of Rhapsody’s music streaming service for the past several years. It’s a great resource to try out an artist or an album for a while before I purchase a copy for my own, and I have a pretty extensive playlist that I listen to almost as regularly as I do my personal collection.

There is speculation in the music and tech community that personal music collections in the form of CD’s or MP3 files may go the way of the 8-track cartridge and 45-rpm records – why buy all that stuff, when you can customize a HUGE library of all your favorite stuff, and be able to access it from anywhere? Not a bad argument, but rather than digress into that discussion here I’ll circle back on that at a later date. One thing that does prevent me from relying totally on a streaming service is that a couple of my favorite artists – Robert Fripp and his constantly evolving band King Crimson are not available through ANY music streaming service. That isn’t a concern for 99.999% of music listeners, and any emerging artist is not going to avoid streaming services, so going to all streaming from a purely musical standpoint is not a horrible option.

In the meantime, I was wondering if I was missing something, or if I should look at other options. One thing that concerned me was that articles or discussions of the various streaming services very seldom ever mention Rhapsody. I don’t really understand why this should be the case, other than the tendency to dismiss any technology or business model that has been around too long (Rhapsody’s roots in the music business go back all the way to the Jurassic period, back before the turn of the century!!). Still, any business trying to exist at a nexus of pop culture and technology that fails to gain sufficient mental shelf-space among the journalists that cover those areas might not be around much longer.

My research led me to look at Spotify and to sign up for a 30-day free trial. I figured if I could find any reason to switch, I’d do so.

At first, I couldn’t see that Spotify was that much different than Rhapsody – both had enormous collections of music; Spotify claims a larger collection than Rhapsody, but I couldn’t find any shortage of any of the more obscure music I listen to on either service, so it was a wash there. The user interface of course was slightly different, but nothing that one wouldn’t get used to in time. While I have the Rhapsody app on both my iPhone and Android tablet, I’ve never used the Rhapsody desktop application (and poking about their site I wasn’t able to find it), but Spotify kinda puts the desktop app right in your face when you sign up , and I have to say it’s an improvement over both their and Rhapsody’s web interface.

Where I noticed a big difference was in two areas that are important to me. Rhapsody limits the subscriber to using their service on only ONE mobile device, which meant that every time I tried to use it on my iPhone, I had to agree to de-activate the registration from my tablet and vice-versa. Spotify has no such limitation – you just can’t stream to more than one device (computer OR mobile device) at the same time.

The second feature that I like on Spotify is an additional option for creating a “radio station”. Rhapsody allows you to create a genre-based station, or radio based on a particular artist. Spotify drops the genre-based radio, which I was a little displeased with, especially as Rhapsody’s genre classifications run pretty deep (I could stream radio based not just on Downtempo, but specifically Drum’n’Bass or Acid Jazz). However, Spotify will allow me to stream radio based on a playlist!! That’s pretty cool. I dump everything into a “Library” playlist so I can choose to shuffle-play the whole collection, and it ranges from Techno artists like Underworld or Nightmares on Wax to Doo-Wop, Blues and Duke Ellington – all of which can make for a pretty interesting radio station!!

There is one other feature of Spotify that is attractive, and corrects an irritation that I always felt with Rhapsody. When signing into Rhapsody, I was presented with all the stuff that Rhapsody was pushing because it was new stuff from hot, popular artists – Kanye West, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and all the other ubiquitous pop stars that are being shoved in my face at every turn. Spotify instead looks at stuff that I’d listened to recently, (which includes things that I’d heard on a radio stream as well as stuff in my library), and suggests other, similar artists. What a great way to get exposed to new stuff, and since my listening tends to be pretty eclectic, the suggestions are similarly eclectic, but consistent with my taste in music.

So, it looks like it’s going to be goodbye to Rhapsody for me in the near future. I just hope that Spotify doesn’t screw up what seems to be a pretty good service.

New food ideas

I posted recently about a new Thai cookbook that Marcy got me for my birthday.

What has been kinda neat about learning how to do this traditional Thai cooking thing is how it can start to work its way into some of my everyday cooking.

Last weekend we had some company for dinner, and I prepared one of my favorite dishes – medallions of brined pork loin cooked in a slow cooker with herbs, onions and dried apples, served with smashed redskin potatoes. When it came to an accompanying vegetable, I decided to cook up a Thai recipe for stir-fried Brussels sprouts! They turned out to be an excellent complement to the pork.

Then, last night I had some quarters of red cabbage left over from a slaw I also made as an accompaniment to that pork dish (thin shavings of cabbage and granny smith apples marinated in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, apple juice and toasted caraway seeds). I decided to make some braised cabbage with steamed rice for dinner, but for the braising liquid, I used the same ingredients that went into the stir-fried brussel sprouts (fresh garlic, oyster sauce, fish sauce and a Thai pork stock). Again, this turned out really good.

Suddenly I have a whole bunch of new ingredients with flavor profiles significantly different from the European or Southern US cuisine I normally prepare.



Musical treat 2 of 2 (Imogen Heap)

I’m not gonna be coy about this – I have a crush on Imogen Heap.

She’s probably nowhere near as charming in person as she is on stage or in the videos she shares of her progress when working on a new album, but considering I’ll probably never meet her in person, I can indulge my foolish crush.

Immie is an absolutely brilliant songwriter, producer and performer. She won a Grammy a couple of years ago for best engineered album of the year. Her writing eschews conventional song structure, she has an angelic but familiar-sounding voice, and she has the technical skill to use all the modern electronic tools to create the richly textured and layered production achieved by the best techno artists. Marcy & I were fortunate to see Immie in concert at the Fillmore a couple of years ago, and it proved to be one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever seen.

The first of the two videos below shows Immie performing Hide And Seek, the first Imogen Heap track that caught my attention. She has her keyboard configured as a voder – she’s playing her own altered voice via the keyboard to accompany her singing. She closed her concert with this track, but first started playing it in the middle, at the point in the recording where she is singing over a loop of her own voice. She stopped suddenly, revealing that the audience was singing that accompanying part, and said “OK – you all know your part”, and then started the song from the start, knowing the audience would come in on queue!!
The second video is a demonstration of a set of “magic gloves” that she uses with a whole bunch of technologies to play her accompaniment through body movements, finishing off with the performance of a song using the magic gloves. Pretty amazing stuff, and actually gives a very good feel for how Immie comes off in concert.