From the archives: Music

Or, if you'd prefer, return to the most recent posts.

Tablets and tablature

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 — 9:40pm | Computing, Music

Many are rightly wondering if Apple’s iPad really does fill a niche that isn’t already better served by a laptop and a phone (specifically, Apple laptops and Apple phones). I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve long desired a device that allows me to do two things:

  • Read full-size PDFs and websites in bed;
  • Prop up music books on the piano in digital form, complete with gestural page-turns and sheets that don’t blow this way and that.

The iPhone and iPod Touch can’t do this because the screen is too small.

Laptops can’t do this because they go practically anywhere but on your lap, you can’t set them on the bed because they’ll set your house on fire, and the keyboard juts out and gets in your way. The screen orientation is also unsuitable for most PDFs. If you use a laptop, you are practically tethered to a desk. (I have, incidentally, seen a few musicians who put their laptops on the piano as a substitute for lugging a bagful of Real Books around. The form factor leaves much to be desired.)

What about e-readers? I’m astonished at how poorly existing e-readers have handled PDF support. The Kindle, last I heard, allows you to convert PDFs into its proprietary format so you can interact with the text the way you do with any of the books available for the device, but this completely fails to handle the kind of documents I tend to read as PDFs in the first place: music, articles in academic journals (often with diagrams, footnotes, and figures all over the place), and other scans that are sensitive to their original layouts. While the iPad can’t hope to match the battery life and screen texture of dedicated e-book readers for, well, reading books, a bright full-colour screen is exactly what I need for the kind of documents that wind up on my drive as PDFs.

The iPad is perfect for both of these tasks. By the looks of it, I can hold it in any orientation in the laziest of postures without strain, and it will sit nicely on any music stand. It’s an absolute dream for musicians, and the ideal device for someone who needs to pack a lot of stray documents on the go. Who knows—it may even save The New York Times, and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if this was a major reason why the Times had the gumption to announce it would move its online edition to a paid subscription model next year.

What’s odd, then, is that Apple is falling short of its usual marketing savvy in promoting the features of the iPad as if it were merely an iPod Touch with a bigger screen. The company is clearly expecting the revolution to come from third-party application developers, as was the case with the iPhone, and banking to a lesser extent on the massive content push of its iBooks store, but this seriously undersells the potential of the device.

Combined with a keyboard dock, the iPad is potentially a complete computer replacement for everything I do except a few heavy design/development applications, World of Warcraft, and Civilization—essentially, every reason I have a MacBook Pro instead of the lightweight standard line. And as comfortable as I have become with using LaTeX for all of my document preparation, I am even willing to go back to a word processor like Pages if someone develops a good implementation of speech-to-text, so I can try the Richard Powers method of prose composition. Most people don’t use their computers for any of these tasks, and so long as there is an adequate file management system—something we have yet to see—the iPad could be viable as a standalone device. Keyboards are around to stay, but it’s only a matter of time before the mouse paradigm is dead.

Annotations (5)

Suggested reading, cork-popping edition

Monday, 18 January 2010 — 9:24pm | Assorted links, Classical, Jazz, Literature, Mathematics, Music, Science

I read too much and write too little. This has made it difficult to keep this space current and engaging, something that I sought to remedy with a weekly book review until other commitments started getting in the way. The book feature will return as soon as I can manage it and for as long as I can help it; but until then and going forward, I will content myself with regularly sharing some links to pieces that may fascinate the sort of people who come here in the first place, as they certainly fascinated me.

Up to this point I have typically refrained from aggregating news and commentary from elsewhere without any reply of my own, but I would rather pass on insightful reading material free of comment than never have it reach you at all. At the very least I hope to introduce some of you to the many excellent blogs and journals I follow.

Some recent highlights:

Annotations (0)

Stephen Harper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Monday, 5 October 2009 — 7:16pm | Canadiana, Music

You didn’t seriously expect me to let this pass without comment?

Were this a political blog, I would have little to add to the obvious analysis that every national publication promptly shoved out the door. Nobody knows what to do with this, yet everybody knows what to do with this because there isn’t that much to debate. Say, wasn’t that rather good? Aren’t the lyrics ironic in light of Conservative policy? Didn’t the Prime Minister previously criticize this sort of arts gala as too removed from public concern? Is this a gift-horse for the artsy-fartsy elites or a populist slap in the face? And isn’t Michael Ignatieff ever in trouble when all he has to his name is a tour of duty as a BBC culture personality in the 1980s (which carries a lot of weight with me, as you can probably guess)? Colour me bored. The one refreshing piece of journalism in all this is this human-interest story in The Globe and Mail about how Laureen Harper arranged the gig—and I call it refreshing not least because it’s, you know, The Globe and Mail.

We can ask ourselves if this was an “honest” move or a shrewd grab for political advantage (as if the two were mutually exclusive!) until we are blue in the face. But this is not a political blog, and what Mr Harper’s performance says about politics is a good deal less interesting to me than what it says about music.

Continued »

Annotations (1)

I am the very model of a squandered opportunity

Saturday, 3 October 2009 — 9:46pm | Classical, Literature, Mathematics, Music

Among the many things I passed through upon my arrival in Cambridge was a symposium on Euclidean Geometry in Nineteenth-Century Culture, organized by Alice Jenkins (University of Glasgow) and CRASSH. I may say a few things about it later, but for now, let us limit ourselves to this tidbit.

I briefly spoke to Robin Wilson, the author of Lewis Carroll in Numberland (reviewed here), from whom I learned that Lewis Carroll once corresponded with Arthur Sullivan to propose an operatic adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Sullivan declined.

Or, as I like to tell it: Sullivan declined, and English comic opera has never recovered since.

Annotations (0)

Greenie’s Blues

Saturday, 11 July 2009 — 10:23pm | Jazz, Music

Prowlers of Wikipedic biographies may have come across the factoid that Alan Greenspan was once a Juilliard-educated jazz musician who played with Stan Getz. What you may not know, however, is that “Greenie” was allegedly a very good jazz musician—or could have been, were he not intimidated out of it by the best. As Joe Queenan reports in The Weekly Standard:

Napolitano was in the room the night Greenspan’s supernova career fizzled out. It was September 14, 1949, and Greenspan found himself in the same Greenwich Village club as John Coltrane. Coltrane, a convivial sort, went out of his way to be friendly to the youngster, but Greenspan was having none of it. Sax at the ready, he challenged Coltrane to an onstage showdown. It was a mistake he would regret for the rest of his life.

“Trane smoked his ass,” Parnell remembers. “Greenie foolishly tore into ‘Cherokee,’ Charlie Barnet’s old standby, but Trane knew that tune inside out from his days in Kansas City. Greenie tried to keep up, but no chance. Trane didn’t rile easily, but something about the way Greenie carried himself didn’t suit John. Trane took him apart.”

(No, it isn’t true. But, much like the Orson Welles film of The Bat-Man, it’s a story one wants to believe.)

Annotations (1)

« Back to the Future (newer posts) | A Link to the Past (older posts) »