Shuffling confusion

Steven Levy over at Newsweek has a great article on the iPod’s seemingly non-random random function. See I wasn’t crazy when I wrote about the rock block, but I do recall a couple people wrote me explaining much of the same thing Levy heard. I took a few courses on statistics and understand how these things can happen, though they seemed to happen with such frequency that it seemed uncanny. Of course, like Ev, I remember when the Pyra music server seemed to play Cake incessantly, even though there were hundreds of other artists on the drive.

Random really is random, and it’s human nature to make sense of it all, looking for patterns wherever you see them and doing your best to make order from the chaos. It’s what humans do well and what I notice myself doing everyday.

My 2000+ song libary still constantly surprises me by playing

Audioscrobbler – like an iPod shuffle for computers

I’ve been logging every song I listen to over on my audioscrobbler account for almost two years now, and I discovered a really cool random feature.

There’s a feature called “Personal Radio” that lets you stream songs from a user’s profile (you have to be logged in to see it, and you might need to donate to them to get it — I donate $5 a month to Last.fm). Last night I was playing music from my own profile, on a computer that doesn’t have any of my music collection locally. I expected to hear my current collection streaming back at me, but what I was heard was a randomized collection of all the music I’ve heard in the last six years of mp3 use.

I didn’t realize it, but Audioscrobbler has a record of every song I’ve ever listened to, which currently numbers about 5400 songs. My current iTunes collection only contains 1800 songs, because I do a monthly delete of songs I no longer care for as I add new ones. I completely forgot about my 1999 era music archives I heard on two other computers in the past two years, but no longer listen to.

What’s cool about this is that I can log into Audioscrobbler from any computer on earth and start streaming my entire all-time music collection without having anything more than a player that understands music streams.

Best of the net music for 2004

I want to spare you from reading another indie-heavy best of 2004 music list, so instead of recounting my absolute favorite albums this year, I decided to highlight all the little guys I enjoyed this year. These are my favorite unsigned or small label bands that started out as a person in their apartment with a PC and a website. The real indies, if you will.

Citizens Here and AbroadTheir debut is so consistent that I still spin this in my daily mix, and I love their video. They also do a great high energy show.

Goh Nakamura – A guy with a PC and a guitar (and a boatload of effects pedals I hear) making delightful music. It’s like coffee spot folk music, but with a sense of humor and an undercurrent of romance. Lots of catchy little love songs on his debut.

Say Hi To Your Mom – I bought his first album via paypal on his site last year, and now he’s on a little label and I picked up the new one at the iTunes Music Store. The new release is even better than the first and I’m happy to hear he’s on a small label and doing east coast tours.

Fredo Viola – I found out about this guy from this incredible music video he shot for his Sad Song. He used the 15 second animated-gif function of a cheap nikon digital camera to shoot the entire thing and it’s a clever use of simple tech to produce something that looks fantastic. It was good enough to get me to buy the album, which is great. It’s got an ephemeral sound, sorta like a male Enya or something with tons of vocal layering. Fantastic driving music, I find.

Dealership – The dealership kids finally got their third album out on a small label and toured the country with it. It’s fantastic and also has a great video for my favorite track on the disc.

Magnatune – not an album or band, but an internet label that offers downloadable samples and a sliding pay scale. Discs I enjoyed in 2004 from this small outfit included Cargo Cult, Emma’s Mini, and the Magnatune Remixed disc. If you’re ever at a conference they’re at, try out their genre sampler CDs, or just listen to their entire catalog stream.

Worth a mention: I discovered Brad Sucks last fall so it can’t make it into this 2004 list, but I still hear his songs everyday in my monster mix and enjoy them all. It’s still a wonder his music hasn’t caught on like wildfire with a label.

Bands that put sites between themselves and fans

Merlin’s post about the Five Mistakes Band & Label Sites Make is incredibly spot on and mirrors my own problems finding samples from new bands to listen to, finding tour dates in my town, and trying to find tickets to shows.

The only bands I can think of that do it right are The Long Winters, Dealership, Citizens Here and Abroad, and Sloan.

You can easily and quickly find MP3s to download, show dates including location maps and 21+/all-ages info, and Sloan even offers RSS feeds of their tour dates, so you can set the subscription in your reader and forget about it until they tour again.

That all four band sites were built by folks connected closely to blogging probably has something to do with their extreme utility and good balance between usability and artistic design.

Rock Block!

Every once in a while, iTunes seems to start playing two tracks from the same album in a row, even though I’ve got it on a global shuffle, going through 1600 tracks. It seems to happen periodically, and I wonder if somewhere in the darkest reaches of the iTunes codebase they’ve written a “Twofer Tuesday” routine to give me this kind of non-randomness once a week.

It can’t just be me

Am I the only one that hears U2’s new song, where Bono starts it off chanting “uno dos tres catorce!!!” and instantly thinks he sounds like an idiot?

Maybe to an irishman that doesn’t speak spanish the way the words kind of rhyme sounds good, but when I hear it, I translate it, and any song that starts “One… Two… Three… Fourteen!!!” sounds really dumb.

Where are they now?

American born, Venezula raised, Cuban influenced Nil Lara‘s self-titled debut was my favorite CD in 1997. I played it several thousand times that year after I saw him open for Rusted Root and it’s been critically acclaimed since its release. I was reminded by him today and figured he must have released a few more albums by now, but amazon still only lists his one label disc from ’96.

Finally I stumbled upon his new site. From the looks of it, he lost his recording contract and is doing a new “indie” album only via postal mail in small quantites, starting this month. That’s unfortunate, but I’ll be sending my $16 in.

It’s weird, he had a broad fanbase way back when and I bet he could draw in all sorts of american and latin american audiences, but here he is selling small runs from someone’s apartment in 2004. Maybe he had the worst management in music or the label didn’t know what to do with him.