• Moderation

    Set 12 2007, 13:47

    I've just had my first real interaction with (three of the) site moderators at the Forums, and it was pretty depressing: they managed to show discourtesy, heavy-handedness, and obtuseness (natural or assumed) in the space of a short discussion. This even extended to the unexplained and unjustified deletion of one of my messages. Aside from answering a question that I've had for a while (that is, what sort of person volunteers to work for nothing for a commercial site), its only positive effect will be to save me from getting involved in the Forums again.

    I had thought that the only down-side of Last.fm (aside from its tendency to take up far too much of my time) was its incredible bugginess; it's the most bug-ridden and prone to collapse of any site that I've been involved with. It now turns out to have the worst moderators I've come across. I'd thought, naïvely, that a site based on shared love of music would engender a better, not a worse spirit of community than a general site (such as, say, Wikipedia). In fact my interactions with other users have borne that out, so it's especially saddening that it doesn't extend to the people whom one might have expected to set the tone here.

    [The main and worst culprit was Jester-NL; I've since seen his work elsewhere on the site, generally abrupt to the point of rudeness, absolutely sure of his own rightness even (especially?) when he's wrong, and misusing (to my eyes) his moderator's powers (see, e.g., Saban Bajramovic, where he's declared the spelling to be incorrect, pointed to the also incorrect Šaban Bajramovic (it should be Šaban Bajramović), and locked the artist bio with his mistake in place so that no-one can correct him. He did the same thing at Kudsi Erguner, which he wrongly insisted should be Kudsi Ergüner; in that case, he also replaced the photos with a red "keep stats clean" image. That mess has been cleared up now, fortunately.]

    And he's done the same thing at Aynur, insisting incorrectly that she be tagged Aynur Doğan. See the relevant forum discussion.

    (See also http://www.last.fm/group/Group+Leaders+Support+Group/forum/69206/_/328076 .)
  • Album reviews

    Ago 13 2007, 22:10

    Joe Zawinul, the Bee Gees, Erroll Garner, Jaco Pastorius, and Albert Hammond.

    Does it work? Surprisingly, I think that it mostly does. She's well supported by pianist Julian Joseph, Steve Smith on guitar, Matthew Barley on 'cello (also the arranger and producer), and a trio of percussionists. It's not easy to get hold of, for some reason, but well worth a try. I've been waiting some time for a follow up, so far without any luck.

    • Sevara Nazarkhan: Yol Bolsin

      There's enough here to make me want to hear the real thing -- but the traditional songs are swamped by layers of soft-pop; not just electric guitars and keyboards, but "loops" and "additional sonic treatment". In so far as "world music" means anything beyond marketing departments' chauvinistic desire to lump together inconveniently diverse genres into one homogeneous lump, it probably means this: the tendency to throw everything in together so that rich cultural traditions become just elements in the mix, often hardly discernible, and divorced from their true nature. There's a generation of listeners who will think of themselves as loving musics from around the world, but who have actually never heard the real thing -- people who think that throat-singing is something to do with Celtic rhumbas, or that Uzbek traditional music involves synths and "beats"...

    • New Koto Ensemble: The Japanese Four Seasons: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Handel: Water Music Suite, Music for the Royal Fireworks Suite

      Vivaldi and Handel played on kotos; sometimes it works, sometimes not, but for those willing to keep an open mind, this is at least an interesting experience, and often an enjoyable one. Having had the original LP of their Four Seasons (conducted by Seiichi Mitsuishi), I jumped at the CD reissue, which adds the Handel (conducted by Yoshikazu Fukumura).

      These are all familiar (one might almost say over-familiar) pieces, but given unfamiliarity by the instrumentation. The koto is often well-suited to Baroque music, though apparently the musicians were often stretched; as the liner notes tell us, the music often required not only traditional techniques of changing the pitch of a string, but the moving of the bridge during performance.

      For me, the Vivaldi works better than the Handel; the koto isn't so well suited to Handel's more declamatory style, though there's still much to enjoy in both suites.

    • Laura Nyro: Eli And The Thirteenth Confession

      I first came across this album in the mid-seventies; as I remember I found it in a second-hand shop in London, where I was living at the time, and probably bought it mainly because of the title. It was a musical genre in which I'd had no previous interest (my record collection was divided pretty equally between classical, jazz and blues, rock, and what's now irritatingly caled "world music". If I'd been told what kind of music it was, I might not have bothered giving it a try. How wrong I'd have been. It grabbed me immediately. I could hear things that I shouldn't have liked (her vibrato is far wider and more insistent than I like, her upper registers can be a bit shrieky, etc.), but none of that mattered — the music and performances carried me along with their power and beauty. I immediately went out and looked for as many of her other albums as I could find, and have enjoyed them all — but this remains my favourite, if only because it introduced me to music that's been with me ever since.

    • Palladian Ensemble: An Excess of Pleasure

      Music from seventeenth-century England, by English and Italian composers. I think that this is the only recording that I've ever bought on the strength of the cover (Pamela Thorby looking ravishing), but the performances are brilliant, and the music consistently entertaining.

    • Vangelis & Irene Papas: Odes

      I must admit that I hadn't known that Ειρήνη Παπά (Irene Papas) sang -- I don't know why, as she's very good. What's more six of the eight tracks are beautiful songs. Why only three stars? Because it's arranged and performed by Βαγγέλης Παπαθανασίου (Vangelis), and so we get the usual cheesy electronics and unimaginative arrangements, the monotonous, soulless bumpety-bumpety beats, the pointless and deeply irritating high-pitched whoops and wheeps that sound as though they've been sampled from 1970s science-fiction television... oh lord, it's awful.

      So the arrangements and instrumental performance are worth half a star, Papas and the tunes that Vangelis didn't write get four and a half. Normally a three-star album is one I'd listen to reasonably regularly, but I doubt that this one will have the dust blown off it very often. Papas deserved better.

    • The Alan Parsons Project: Eve

      Some good moments, and some clichéd (not to say pretty cheesy) moments. Not to be listened to very often, but once in a while it's passable.

    • Pink Martini: Sympathique

      This isn't at all bad, leaving aside a deeply cheesy "Bolero". Singer China Forbes' accents are pretty good (I was impressed by her on "Never on Sunday", though the arrangement's a bit uninspired; her French goes a bit awry sometimes, however), and some of the arrangements do more than just fit the pieces to the band. On their Website, their pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale is quoted as saying: "My hope is that we’re creating exquisite musical wallpaper" -- I think that they've managed that, and a little more.

    • Bud Powell: Jazz Giant

      The remastering is poor - very noisy, with constant tape-hiss, and the occasional nasty distortion - though the music is (of course) brilliant. You'd have thought that the'd have tried a bit harder with the "master edition", given their claim of "meticulous restoration".

      Leaving aside the sound, this would be a five-star recording

    • Rihanna: A Girl Like Me

      Another dreary slab of bland, anonymous pap that RYM's automatic-recommendation software slipped me. Why? Surely nothing in my music collection entered so far (or ever) hints that my tastes extend this low into the swamp of synthetic teeny-pop?

    • Renee Rosnes: Life On Earth

      This is Rosnes' attempt to marry jazz with various musical traditionas from around the world. I'm afraid that it largely doesn't work for me. Too often the bits and pieces of percussion, voice, etc., feel bolted on to an alien form (the low points for me being parts of "Senegal Son" and the snippet of the Balinese monkey chant levered in to the beginning of "Hanuman"; the one side in which the fusion works for me is the opener, "Empress Afternoon"). There are some pleasurable moments, inevtiably with musicians of this quality, but the album as a whole disappoints.

      I love all the musical traditions of which Rosnes makes use; I also love jazz. Occasionally I enjoy mixtures of traditions. What is beginning to worry me considerably is the feeling I get that some of the traditions are disappearing into a melting pot in which they become part of an undifferentiated "world music". Rosnes' album isn't really part of that, but it echoes it; my disappointment, though, is musical rather than principled.

    • Nitin Sawhney: Human

      There are one or two tracks which neither irritate nor bore me -- otherwise it's a soulless mixture of clichés; if I found the clichés attractive it would have had an extra half star, but mostly I don't (they're just the usual tics and monotony of its genre). Even when some of the ingredients are pleasant or interesting, they're usually ruined by the context into which they're painted. Oh, and the lyrics (when I can understand them) are trite -- but that's also par for the course.

    • Sandie Shaw: Puppet On A String

      Less a review, more of an explanation. When this came out (after winning the Eurovision Song Contest) I was in Belgium and France on a school trip (I was eleven years old, and about to move on to Boston Grammar School). "Puppet on a String" was on every jukebox, and I grew heartily sick of it. I can now listen to it without a shudder, but it still does nothing for me.

    • Soweto String Quartet: Rhythms Of Africa

    • Various artists: Agnieszka Osiecka: Herbaciane nonsensy

    • Various artists: Famous Greek Composers

    • Tom Waits: The Black Rider

    • Tom Waits: One From the Heart

    • Weather Report: Heavy Weather

    • Wolfmother: Woman

    • Gail Wynters: My Shining Hour

  • Last.fm members with links to other Web page - a plea

    Ago 10 2007, 22:08

    Please, please, please, when you link to your personal Web page from your Last.fm page -- don't set it up to play music automatically. Strange as it may seem, many if not most of us are already listening to music while we browse, and the last thing we want is to have your music suddenly blare out on top of our own. Many times I've had to leap to close a page that was creating an appalling cacophony when mixed with whatever I was listening to at the time. If you're interested in having others look at your Web page, you're going the wrong way about it.

    In general, in fact, it's surely better manners to allow your visitor to decide whether she wants to hear music. So please, just give us a "play" button.
  • Another bug?

    Lug 24 2007, 9:23

    Now the software is replacing each track I play with the next one, so that it looks as though I've listened to only one track today. Is there no end to the ingenuity of these bugs?

    Oh well, it's not just me.

    It didn't last long, and it looks as though all the scrobbled tracks were cached and saved.
  • Šaban Bajramović: where to find more details

    Lug 21 2007, 22:13

    More details (including albums) about Šaban Bajramović can be found under the incorrectly spelt Saban Bajramovic.
  • "Top artists" - caveats

    Lug 17 2007, 11:10

    Last.fm regulars know all about this, but it's worth pointing out that the software inadvertently builds in various biases. The most important is the issue of track length. Put simply: in general, popular music comes in small chunks, while serious/art/"classical" music comes in larger chunks. I could therefore spend two hours listening to two symphonies, which register as a total of six tracks, and another hour listening to a rock album, which registers as ten tracks. The rock artist will therefore come out well above the sympny-composer. Over time, that effect is magnified.

    On the other hand, sometimes it works the other way. For example, I've just played Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations: 76:44 minutes, but 32 tracks. Bach is inevitably higher in my list than is entirely warranted by the time I spend listening to him.

    So take the "Top Artists" lists with a smallish pinch of salt.

    It's worth mentioning, too, that my top artists and top tracks are very much unrelated. In fact, as I have a fair number of CDs, I don't very often play the same tracks, though I do often play the same artists. On the whole, then, my top tracks can pretty well be ignored (especially as a surprising number are likely to be the result of different tracks having the same name...).
  • Neighbours, WinAmp, & tags again

    Lug 9 2007, 10:57

    I now have neighbours. Of course, the compatibility of the nearest is "Very Low", but give it time...

    Since using WinAmp to play music (I've rarely played CDs on the computer before, and when I have I've used Musicmatch Jukebox -- but that can't be scrobbled from), I've discovered how peculiar some of the details are. I'm currently playing the fifth CD from a boxed set of Igor Stravinsky (Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky), only to find the tracks listed as songs from various musicals. Odd. It means quite a bit of typing before I can play a lot of albums.

    The issue of tags is exposed as sillier and sillier the longer I'm here; tagging some pieces by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I was depressed to see that last.fm has its share of brain-dead racists and xenophobes. It's a pity that there isn't some way of policing at least the more extreme abuse of the site.Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky
  • Reasonably happy

    Lug 8 2007, 11:47

    Everything seems to be working now (except that the software keeps trying to knock fourteen years off my age -- nice if it could really do that...). The challenge is to play music that I want to listen to at that moment, rather than keeping an eye on my statistics; I think that I'm succeeding, though the resultant stats will be rather skewed for some time, until I've played enough music over sufficient time to normalise things.

    I'm maintaining my habit of playing serious/art/classical music in the mornings, moving on to pop/rock/etc., jazz, and music from around the world. No reason -- just what I tend to feel like listening to at various times of the day.
  • Being ignored....

    Lug 5 2007, 22:58

    Oh well, the site has been ignoring me for some five or six hours now, and nothing that I do makes any difference. I'll stick with it for a while, but added to the fact that more than 10% of my attempts to access the site fail, it's more of a frustrating experience than a pleasure.
  • Tags

    Lug 5 2007, 18:02

    Is there someone (a group, perhaps) going around last.fm adding mad tags to artists and tracks? I've seen some blindingly silly ones in the short time that I've been here -- just now I looked at the tags for the Belcea Quartet: it's a string quartet, so guess what tag wasn't there? It was, however, tagged with "piano" and "medieval"...