Thursday, August 31, 2006

TiVo Two and a Top 25

Subject 1 - TiVo revisited
While individual viewing patterns may vary, it seems the recent TiVo study was right on the nose. Ken and I checked out TiVo's site, and checked their listing of the most-recorded shows. It's right in line with the survey. Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Lost, CSI, House — the top eight are network programs. In fact, there are 17 network programs in this list of 25; about 68%. I guess there's something on after all.

Subject 2 - Top 25 composers
Speaking of lists, Tim Page submitted his list of the top 25 composers of the 20th century we should be listening to. I have no gripes with most of the list — I don't think much of Stockhausen, but that's OK. Stockhausen's elevated opinion of his own genius more than makes up for it.

Part of Page's intent was to suggest composers and works currently underrepresented in the concert halls that orchestras should expose their audiences to. Hearing the same tunes over and over from a tightly controlled playlist is driving listeners away from radio, and I think its doing the same to concertgoers. But in place of Stockhausen, I'd suggest another composer who would better appeal both to newcomers and bluehairs.

Bohuslav Martinu's music can sound slightly exotic at times, but never strays far from a tonal vocabulary. This Czech composer's output is varied and vast, with symphonies, concertos and plenty of shorter orchestral works as well.
Some might argue that there's not a lot of variety from piece to piece, and that's certainly true. However, a single work inserted into an evening's program could seem like a breath of fresh air surrounded by the same-old same-old.

In keeping with the spirit of the article, I'd recommend the Supraphon recording of his fifth and sixth symphonies. Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic really "get" the music of their countryman and imbue the music with an added depth.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tivo and me

I have to admit I was a bit surprised by the results of the survey in the Washington Post that Ralph cited. I had a romantic vision of TiVo owners as rebels, fighting against the tyranny of time and network prime-time pap, tailoring our eclectic viewing tastes to personalize our TVs.


Turns out that TiVo (and DVRs in general) have become so mainstream that user viewing habits pretty much reflect the general public. Well, I'll just have to look for the next wave I suppose. TiVo has had a significant effect on me. I watch less TV, and make frequent use of wishlists to find specific programs that interest me. Sometimes I stumble upon excellent shows purely by accident that way. It's how I found Globe Trekker — a stimulating look at travel destinations, some out-of-the-way, some not. With so many channels available (and so little on), TiVo busts through the clutter and turns the jumble of my 50+ cable channels into my own personal narrowcast.


P.S. — You've got to admire Ralph's widely eclectic tastes in music. I'll let you sneak a peak at my favorites later on.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Practicing the preaching and Tivo vox populi

While Ken catches up on some things, I'll continue my double threads.

Subject 1 - Classical Programming
In addition to complaining about radio, I'm actively trying to improve it as well. Since 1991 I've hosted a classical music program on WTJU, and just aired the latest one yesterday. Here's my playlist, with some commentary to help illustrate my points about classical music programming.

Gamut Program #702 8/22/06

Peter Schat: Collages for 31-tone organ
Van Goozen, organ (RN Classics)
This is difficult listening at its finest. An interesting sonic experiment that deserved to be heard at least once (but probably not much more than that). I'm doing a cycle of Peter Schat's music, so this was aired to give a more complete insight into the composer's talents.

Wilhelm Stenhammer: Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 23
Ortiz/Jarvi/Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (BIS)
Beautiful, late-romantic music that doesn't get played enough -- and a soothing balm after the Schat.

J. S. Bach: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659
Bowyer, organ (Nimbus)
Solo organ works are a no-no for most classical programmers. Not me.

Muzio Clementi: Sonata in B minor, Op. 40 No. 2
Wong, piano (Ivory Classics)
Tuneful, well-crafted music. At one time he rivaled Mozart and Haydn in popularity. Surely this is music that deserves a listen.

Karl Goldmark: Symphony No. 2 in E flat, Op. 35
Halasz/Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra (Marco Polo)
The greatest symphony ever written? Nope. But it's a thrilling sonic ride nevertheless.

Antonio Rosetti: Sinfonia in G minor, Kaul I:27
Concerto Koln (Teldec)
An exellent example of the rococco period. Frothy, tuneful and (because it hasn't been played to death) fresh

Georges Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody, Op. 11 No. 2
Andreescu/Romanian National Radio Orchestra (Olympia)
Enescu celebrated his musical heritage with these Rhapsodies. Played by a Romanian orchestra, the music takes on added depth.

Alexander Agricola: Je nay dueul
Anon 15th c.: Hor oires un chanson
Dit le burguygnon
Jacob Obrecht: Tander naken
Heinrich Isaac: La morra
Antoine Busnois: Accordes moy
Anon.: Si a tort on ma blamee
Gentil Prince
Piffarro (Dorian)
Music from a 1502 publication. Between these pieces and the Schat we spanned 460 years of music in three hours, and in the process hopefully delivered engaging content for both the newcomer and the long-tlime classical listener.

Subject 2 - How do you Tivo?
According to the Washington Post, there's a new study on Tivo usage that has some interesting results. Apparently, most folks use Tivo to resolve the conflict of choosing between two programs broadcast simultaneously. And most of the programming recorded is coming from network, not cable channels. How closely does this match your usage? Another question for my colleague, the lifetime Tivo subscriber.
- Ralph

Monday, August 21, 2006

Two and a half subjects

Since multitasking is au courant, today I divide my post into two and a half subjects to concurrently continue one discussion and begin another.

Subject 1 – Classical Music
Ken's right; the field of classical music covers everything from 10th century Gregorian Chant to the next month's performance of Isang Yun. The important thing to remember is that you can jump in anyplace and make your own connections; just like you would with any other music.

Think about listening to rock, for example. The average person isn't intimidated by the half-century of recorded rock music — especially as a barrier to listening. Do you have to be familiar with Buddy Holly before you buy a 311 song? Is it important to understand the structure of late 1950's doo-wop before going to a Polyphonic Spree concert?

Of course not. You hear a song that you like, and start building from there. The song may lead to investigating other songs by the same group, which lead to other groups with a similar style, and then on into the farther reaches of the subgenre. Classical can be the same way. I started in high school with David Munroe's soundtrack to the Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the Shostakovich 5th Symphony, which we played in band. Shortly after that, I discovered PDQ Bach.

From that, I soon expanded out into the English Renaissance, other tonal 20th Century composers, and the Baroque period. In college I gained a greater appreciation of the other styles and genres, and here I am, some (mumblety-mumble) years later, enjoying the full range of classical music. And all the while continuing to enjoy top 40 and an increasing number of popular music subgenres.

As they say, the best way to learn how to write is to write a lot. And the best way to listen to classical music is just to listen a lot.

Subject 2 – Car Tunes
So this weekend I spent most of the time in the car, driving up and down the Shenandoah Valley for various reasons. We drove across the mountains to Harrisonburg, then to Northern Virginia, and then (the following day) down to Radford. And, as readers of my first post know, not once did I listen to commercial radio. It was the iPod all the way, using a DLO TransPod.

Now the TransPod's a great solution for me most of the time. I can move it from vehicle to vehicle. It plays through the car's radio, so I don't have to fool with any kind of connections. But on long trips, it does have some drawbacks. If I wanted to change menus, I had to pull the iPod out of the dock and use the player's Click Wheel. I couldn't see what was playing (and with over 3300 tunes loaded, sometimes I couldn't place the artist). As I drove in and out of different coverage areas, the frequency I used sometimes got interference or static. And sometimes fidelity was less than ideal.

Ken knows far more about car audio than I do, so my question to him (and our gentle readers) is this.
What kind of setup would you recommend to address some of those issues? And – if there's more than one recommendation — which would be the optimal tradeoff between features gained and simplicity of setup?

Subject 2.5 – Big Words
"Writing Off Reading," an article in Sunday's Washington Post by Michael Skube notes the decline of vocabulary along with voluntary reading among our brightest and best. Hope I didn't lose any one by using the phrase au courant. 8-)
- Ralph

Friday, August 18, 2006

A classical education -- via podcasting

Ralph's rant on the state of classical programming on the satellite radio services is a bit off the mark, IMO. The real problem lies not so much in their choice of programming, but in the size of the repertoire they have to choose from.

The scope of Classical music is breath-taking in it's variety
of style periods, composers, ensembles, and compositions. That's one of the most stimulating things about classical music, but it can also be intimidating to the newcomer. It's difficult to know where to start, especially if you're just starting to put together a personal library of classical music recordings.

Podcasts can be a valuable tool in educating yourself about classical music. If you're just beginning to scratch the surface of (or looking to expand your horizons), check out these podcasts. Each has a different feel, but all of them will help you learn more about different composers, ensembles, recordings, and history of classical music.

Naxos Classical Music Spotlight Podcasts — One of the leading classical music labels, Naxos' podcast features musical selections and commentary that highlights recordings from their extensive library. It's well-produced and updated frequently. Great if you have a desire to learn more about classical composers and their music (well known and otherwise).

Classical ConnectionsBill Eddins is the music director of the Edmonton Symphony.
His personal podcast is (in his own words) "about Classical Music and the History of the World." Expect an interesting take on classical music, the classical music tradition in the West, and whatever else strikes his fancy. Bill loves film music and film composers, like I do, so this is one of my favorites.

WGBH Classical Podcast — Recordings of live performances and interviews from WGBH's Boston studios. Consistently high-quality music, performance, and commentary.

The Gramaphone Podcast — Self described as "A monthly window into the world's most authoritative classical music magazine, featuring an overview of the best releases, news, exclusive interviews with leading figures from the music world, and lots of great music." In essence, a slickly-produced advertisement for The Gramaphone magazine, but with enough starch to stand on it's own.

DCD Classical 'Cast — DCD Records is a small label specializing in producing recordings of regional artists as well as distribution of variety of other small labels. The podcast offers a well-balanced look at current offerings from their classical catalog. The host (some fellow named Ralph) does a nice job providing background for the excerpts.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Classic Complaint

I'm hoping Ken, as an XM subscriber, will weigh in on this. This past Sunday the Washington Post's radio reporter Marc Fischer (how 1940's does that sound?) did an in-depth comparison of the programming offered by the two satellite radio operations, XM and SIRIUS.
Despite the considerable overlap in programming, a handful of distinctions are so clear that you can base your decision entirely on them. Baseball fan: XM. Football nut: Sirius. Movie maven: XM. Howard Stern addict: Sirius. Bob Dylan freak: XM. NPR lover: Sirius.

There's more in the article, of course -- it's well worth a read.

One of the reasons I haven't subscribed to either service is the short shrift classical music receives from both services. Granted, the goal is to build subscribers, but something other than the Basics 101 would be nice.

So what would I like in a classical channel? I'll save the detailed rant for another time, but in brief, I'd like a focus on living composers, complete works (no excerpted movements), unusual repertoire, a wider range of composers and style periods, and a better representation of chamber and vocal music. And part of me thinks that the general classical audience would like some of that also – if they only knew there was a choice.

- Ralph

Radio? We don't need no stinkin' radio!

To follow up on Ralph's previous post, let's look at how the car audio marketplace is adapting to the reality of new listening habits. Scosche, a manufacturer of car audio installation gear and audio accessories, has put an in-dash installation kit on the market that complements their lineup of Bluetooth transmitters and receivers -- by eliminating in the in-dash receiver.

The Bluetooth Dash Kit lets you mount their IUBCKH Bluetooth receiver into the dash of many cars in lieu of an in-dash radio. Connect the IUBCKH's transmitter to your iPod or MP3 player, and you can stream music and podcasts wirelessly to your car's audio system.

Obviously, you won't have a radio (or CD player) in the dash anymore. But if you've got an amplifier to power your speakers, you won't need one. And who needs CDs and radio when you can carry a massive music library around in your pocket?


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Radio loses, listener wins (IMHO)

A recent article in Podcasting News caught my eye. It ponders the decline of satellite radio as a result of increased podcast listening. As someone who's worked in the field of both commercial and public radio for sometime, I've been following the upheavals in the industry with some interest. I think the audience is settling into new listening habits, and it might be a bit soon to predict with absolute certainty how it's going to end up.

Reading the article did make me rethink my own listening habits. I've never subscribed to satellite radio, but I do subscribe to a fair amount of podcasts -- more than a fair amount. I had been vaguely aware that I was listening to less radio during my 35-minute daily commute as I discovered more podcasts, but it wasn't until I thought about it that I realized I hadn't listened to the radio in the car in about two months.

Worse yet, I didn't miss it. Satellite radio never had me as a listener, but now it seems terrestrial radio doesn't either….
- Ralph