Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Using Spotify to sync music to iPod from GNU/Linux

Posted in computing by Andrew Hickey on March 13, 2012

Just a very quick tip for Linux users with iPods – you can use Spotify to sync music between your desktop and the iPod.

The reason I mention this is that my wife’s well-meaning parents got her an iPod for Xmas, and we quickly discovered that it’s not possible to plug a new iPod into a GNU/Linux computer and have it ‘just work’ (libimobiledevice, which sorts out syncing of older iPods, doesn’t yet have music syncing for iOS5, and nor does it have it planned for the next release). And while Apple have their iCloud thing which allows you to store stuff on their servers and then access it from an iOS device or web browser, to *upload* music to their cloud you need to use their proprietary software which doesn’t work on GNU/Linux.

We could, of course, run iTunes in WINE – except that downloading iTunes requires some Windows-only hackery that means you can’t do it from a browser running on GNU/Linux as far as I can tell.

This sort of thing is why I normally avoid both closed devices and non-free software, and why I have a loathing for Apple and all its workings that sends me into a blood-boiling rage whenever the name of Steve Jobs is mentioned. But happily, I have a single piece of non-free software installed on my machine, and that software provides a solution.

If you have a Spotify premium account (and it is *well* worth it if you don’t and you love music – unfortunately new accounts require a Facebook account (older ones didn’t), but there’s nothing to stop you creating a FB account with a disposable email address and never using it again if you don’t want an account there) and wireless internet you can do the following.

First, allow Spotify to see the local files you want to sync. You do this by going to edit->preferences and then clicking “Add source” under “Local Files”.

Next, create a playlist of those files.

Now connect your iOS device to the same wireless router your GNU/Linux box is connected to, and from the App store, download Spotify. Log onto Spotify with the same ID you use on the GNU/Linux machine. Within a few seconds, your iOS device should show up under ‘devices’. Click on it.

It will show a list of all your Spotify playlists, with a checkbox in the top left hand corner of each. Check the playlist you have created of your MP3s, and they will be copied across to your iOS device, where you can play them in Spotify (you can’t play them in iTunes this way, but you can play them).

While Spotify won’t let the same user play streaming music on multiple devices simultaneously, it *will* let the same user play *local* files on as many devices as you want, so this can be used for multiple iOS devices.

Unfortunately, for those of you who want to watch video, I know of no way to sync video between iOS devices and GNU/Linux computers, but this way works very well for MP3s.

(For those of you running OpenSolaris, one of the BSDs or some other odd OS, Spotify works extremely well in WINE on Debian, and I imagine it will work equally well on any OS on which WINE is supported)

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While waiting for Smile, some contemporary albums on Spotify

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on October 30, 2011

My Smile Sessions box set is in the post right now. It should be arriving tomorrow. If, like me, you are getting incredibly excited for this box set’s release tomorrow, here’s a dozen or so albums from 1966 through 1968 that go well with the feel of Smile, or in some cases contrast well with it. All can be listened to free on Spotify.

First up, the Beach Boys’ own releases of 1967, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.
These are often overlooked because they’re not Smile, but there are a number of incredible moments of beauty on them.

The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson, on the other hand, is much less good. But it’s interesting to note that while Brian couldn’t get his masterwork completed, his dad was able to release his own album the same year.

Song Cycle is what Van Dyke Parks did next after Smile, and is his most Smile-like material. Beautiful, baffling, utterly wonderful, this is unlike any other music Parks made later, and unlike anything anyone else did either.

Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart may seem an odd choice, but at this time, when the boundary between pop music and countercultural rock was far more porous, and the unlikeliest people were having commercial success, Beefheart’s first album actually has a lot in common with the pop music of the time. There’s a definite L.A. *sound* at this time, and there’s a continuum from Zappa and Beefheart at the most extreme end to the Beach Boys and Monkees at the other end, with Love and the Doors somewhere in the middle.

How To Speak Hip by Del Close is a comedy album with which Brian Wilson was obsessed in 1966.

Odessa by the Bee Gees is actually from 1969, so outside this timeframe, but I include it because it’s another example of a resolutely ‘square’ vocal harmony group, with three brothers in, doing something utterly bizarre and uncommercial. Oddly, Black Sheep, Van Dyke Parks’ Smile parody written and recorded for the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, sounds far more like Odessa than it does Smile.

Present Tense by Sagittarius is one of several collaborations under various names by Curt Boettcher and Brian Wilson’s old songwriting partner Gary Usher. My World Fell Down, the main single from this, is sung by Glen Campbell (who had toured as a Beach Boy) and Bruce Johnston (of the Beach Boys) and is possibly the best attempt at a Smile-alike I’ve ever heard. The album also features comedy interludes in some songs, performed by the Firesign Theatre – again, very like Wilson’s idea of doing an album full of humour.

The Pentangle by Pentangle is a bit of an odd one. In the mid-late 60s there was actually almost no back-and-forth influence between the LA musicians and their British contemporaries, apart from the huge names like the Beatles. But I think there’s something of the same spirit that animated Smile about this, with its marrying of older, ‘outdated’ forms of music (traditional folk in the case of Pentangle, vaudeville and Americana for Smile) with attempts to move popular music as a whole forward.

And likewise Gorilla by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band mixes 1920s novelty songs, comedy bits, and up-to-the-moment progressive pop.

Da Capo by Love is half of the greatest album ever made (the side-long blues jam rather spoils it for me). Intense and paranoid, yet utterly beautiful, this has a lot of the childlike creepiness of Smile.

Head by the Monkees I’ve already discussed.

Feelin’ Groovy by Harper’s Bizarre combines harmonies that are, if anything, over-sweet, with songwriting by people like Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks, the last of whom also arranged the album.

(Albums I would have included but which are not Spotifiable – Genuine Imitation Life Gazette by the Four Seasons, Absolutely Free by the Mothers Of Invention, Switched On Bach by Wendy Carlos, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings by Michael Nesmith, Carnival Of Sound by Jan & Dean, Place Vendôme by the Swingle Singers with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina by the Left Banke)

Spotify Monkees Playlists

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on October 19, 2011

I finished the draft of the Monkees book yesterday, and sent it out to my proof-readers, so I’ve not posted much here for a few days because I’ve been working on that. To celebrate completing it, and to show I know better than all those important record producers, I thought I’d do what every Monkees fan seems to do, and put together tracklists for how I would have sequenced the albums.

I’ve limited myself to the material that’s on Spotify, which is not quite everything (some of the deluxe versions are missing, and More Of The Monkees isn’t on there at all), and added a few other rules. Each album has to be twelve tracks long, and consist of material that was available to be released at the time. And there can only be six albums total – the number released before Tork quit – though the last album in my timeline would have been released a few months later than in reality, to get the last few scraps of good material.

If you’ve not listened much to the Monkees, I think these come out as more listenable albums than the original ones:

The Monkees

Tracklist:
Side 1:

Theme From The Monkees
Saturday’s Child
Papa Gene’s Blues
Take A Giant Step
Let’s Dance On
Sweet Young Thing

Side 2:
Last Train To Clarksville
I Don’t Think You Know Me
Propinquity
I Won’t Be The Same Without Her
(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love
All The King’s Horses

We might as well call this one The Mi(c)ke(y)s actually, given that Davy only gets one lead vocal on this version. My review of the original is here.

More Of The Monkees
Side 1:
She
Mary, Mary
Your Auntie Grizelda
The Kind Of Girl I Could Love
Sometime In The Morning
Valleri

Side 2:
I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone
Of You
Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow
Tear Drop City
Looking For The Good Times
I’m A Believer

It was really hard to get anything at all listenable for this one, but I think I managed – and not only that, I got a better balance of leads – six for Micky, three for Davy, two for Mike and one for Peter. My review of the original album is here.

Headquarters
Side 1:
You Told Me
Forget That Girl
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
Zilch
Sunny Girlfriend
Randy Scouse Git

Side 2:
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
You Just May Be The One
Early Morning Blues And Greens
No Time
Nine Times Blue
For Pete’s Sake

With this one I’ve changed very little – I’ve just cut out the filler Band 6 and a couple of the weakest tracks, and added in the contemporary hit single and Nine Times Blue (one of the greatest songs ever written). Review of the original here.

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd

Side 1:
Salesman
She Hangs Out
The Door Into Summer
Love Is Only Sleeping
What Am I Doing Hanging Round
Cuddly Toy

Side 2
Words
Goin’ Down
Daily Nightly
Don’t Call On Me
Riu Chiu
Pleasant Valley Sunday
(hidden track – Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky)

This was *hard* to cut down to twelve tracks – the original 13-track album is near perfect, and I desperately wanted to get both Goin’ Down and Riu Chiu, two of my very favourite tracks, on there too. My review of the original is here.

The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees

Side one:
Daydream Believer
Auntie’s Municipal Court
Can You Dig It?
Tapioca Tundra
PO Box 9847
Writing Wrongs

Side two:
DW Washburn
Magnolia Simms
My Share Of The Sidewalk
Lady’s Baby
Zor And Zam
Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?

And this one bears essentially no resemblance to the album as released. I’d actually have made even more changes, but the box set version of this album isn’t on Spotify. Review of the original here.

Head
Side One:
Porpoise Song (single version)
Ditty Diego War Chant
Daddy’s Song (Nesmith vocal)
As We Go Along
If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again
Shorty Blackwell

Side Two:
Listen To The Band
Circle Sky (live version)
Rosemarie
Pillow Time
Some Of Shelly’s Blues
Someday Man

Unfortunately, in salvaging The Birds, The Bees… I somewhat gutted this album, and while I’ve done my best to add as many good tracks from the period and straight after as I can, this still feels a little like a collection of good tracks rather than a coherent whole. My review of the original here.

In Praise Of The Future

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on September 23, 2011

One of the things it’s very easy to do – and something I do a lot myself – is to romanticise scarcity. I used to be a record collector, because being a record collector and being a music lover were, until very, very recently, the same thing. I remember the excitement of finding a 60s copy, on lovely thick, heavy vinyl, of Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, for 50p in the pile of unfiled albums they always kept in Empire Exchange in Manchester city centre in the back section with the old porn mags. I remember being the first person in the UK to hear a recording of Brian Wilson live with his new band, because of a tape trade I arranged with someone on the internet!. I remember a friend in Sweden sending me a CD in the post, and my dad being worried when he saw the stamp in case I was receiving material from ‘behind the iron curtain’ (this was in 1998).

I remember making a sixteen mile round trip, on foot, to the nearest decent record shop when I was growing up, to order a single. And then repeating that trip a week later to pick the single up.I remember buying my very first bootleg – a terrible double CD of Get Back sessions. I remember treating music as a scarce resource that needed to be hoarded – I have maybe a dozen Johny Cash albums that I’ve not listened to more than once or twice, but which I bought because I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to get them again when I found them in second-hand shops.

No-one growing up today has that experience, and they’re missing out on something very precious.

I can even understand, in this context, the cretins who don’t want the Beach Boys’ Smile Sessions to be released next month because it will stop that music being something ‘special’, for the cognoscenti only. They’re wrong, for many reasons – not the least of which is that the amount of effort it takes to spend £120 on a nine-disc box of what is mostly two-chord plinking harpsichord instrumentals is much greater than the effort it takes to type “Smile bootleg” into Google – but I can sort of see it.

But the benefits of having essentially unlimited access to music are, paradoxically, so great that they’re easy to miss in this nostalgia. I have 26935 MP3s in my MP3 collection (a mixture of five years’ worth of eMusic (RIP) purchases, things I’ve ripped from my CDs, and downloaded bootlegs – only a very, very small proportion is commercially-available but illegally-downloaded music) and if for any reason I don’t fancy listening to any of those, I can use Spotify to find the exact piece of music I do want to hear, or play last.fm radio and discover new music.

But the benefits are greater than that, even. I have a huge record and CD collection, too. But I’m mildly autistic (in the actually-autistic sense, not the ‘all men are *so* autistic, am I right girls?’ sense of newspaper columns) and I have a tendency to become fixated on a single band or single album. If I’m left to choose a piece of music to listen to, I’ll often choose the same thing for months on end – right now, for example, I’m in a mid-period Monkees phase, and were you to ask me to choose an album to play, it would be either Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd or The Birds, the Bees And The Monkees – or maybe my live DVD of the Monkees I got last week and have already played ten times.

But this isn’t good for me, because there is so much beauty in music – so much good stuff out there, so much that will move me, give me ideas, make me feel better, make me a better person. And so I can use shuffle.

In fact, I have a playlist in Rhythmbox, automatically updated, which plays only MP3s I’ve not played before (or at least not played in Rhythmbox since I last lost my home directory or whatever – I have multiple pieces of music software on my computer, and if I want to listen to a specific album I’ll use something more lightweight), on shuffle.

So, just as an example, the last five songs I’ve heard as I type this are The 59th Street Bridge Song by Simon And Garfunkel, Density 21.5 by Edgard Varese, You’ll Be Mine by Howlin’ Wolf, The Casket by Mike McGear and Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’ by Duke Ellington. Currently Drowning Butterflies by the Cleaners From Venus is playing.

Now, all those songs have two things in common. Actually, they have three, but the male-centric nature of my music collection is something I am slowly working on. The first is that they are all worth listening to – they vary in quality from astonishingly brilliant (Varese) down to catchy-but-inane (Simon & Garfunkel), but all improve my life in some way – all have moments that make me want to dance, or move me emotionally, or make me think “that’s clever…”

(Imitation Of Life by R.E.M. just came on).

The other thing they have in common is that I wouldn’t have listened to them if I had to play them on a record player. If I had to get up, take the Simon & Garfunkel album off, put the Edgard Varese record on… it would just be easier to just play the same album again.

(Girl On The Phone by The Jam)

But even more than the ease of it, I didn’t remember half those tracks – I didn’t even know I had the Mike McGear album – and so it wouldn’t occur to me to put them on. Yet there’s some genuinely wonderful music there.

(The Allegro from Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto)

So I can hear all this music – music that I know I’ll enjoy, because it’s music I’ve chosen to own, but music that would possibly have lain unlistened for decades had I had to own it physically, and be overjoyed by it. And I can share it with my friends.

(Henry Lee by Nick Cave and P.J. Harvey)

(My wife just phoned, and Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles by Captain Beefheart came on while I was on the phone).

I can create a playlist of all the songs I’ve mentioned (except the McGear one which isn’t on spotify), and now anyone who wants to hear that music that’s made me feel so good over the last hour or so can hear it too.

And they don’t have to go into the second-hand-porn-mag section of a shop to do it.

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New Spotify Playlist: In Memoriam Arthur Lee

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on August 3, 2011

I’ve still got quite a bit of writer’s block, and am working on a book and on the Mindless Ones stuff, but didn’t want to let this anniversary pass unmarked.

Five years ago today, Arthur Lee died. I still find it nearly impossible to believe that. While I was never lucky enough to know him, I *was* lucky enough to see him perform live five times between 2002 and 2005, during the all-too-brief creative renaissance he had after his release from prison, when he was planning a new album and being celebrated in the House of Commons (Early Day Motion 1369 – “That this House pays tribute to the legendary Arthur Lee, also known as Arthurly, frontman and inspiration of Love, the world’s greatest rock band and creators of Forever Changes, the greatest album of all time; notes that following his release from jail he is currently touring Europe; and urges honourable and especially Right honourable Members to consider the potential benefit to their constituents if they were, with the indulgence of their whips, to lighten up and tune in to one of his forthcoming British gigs.”).

I’ve never seen anyone more *alive* than Lee was, and I still can’t really believe he’s dead. Even in the last year of his life, he had an astonishing, beautiful voice and was moving like a man half his age, as well as, of course, performing the wonderful songs he’d written.

Here’s a spotify playlist of some of my favourite things by Lee. I’ll try to find time in the next few days to go through it track-by-track, but it’s too hot for me to think right now, and I want to get this up today.

Listen to his song.

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