Saturday, May 6, 2006

Downloading Music

Tonight I thought I would write about downloading music. No, I am not talking about downloading music "illegally," through the various file sharing programmes out there. I am talking about purchasing music "legally" through the internet, such as the various stores on Windows Media Player or through iTunes.

If you are wondering why I put quotations marks around "legally" and "illegally," I guess I should explain. While I recognise that the recording industry legally has a right to the music it produces, I feel that ethically and morally they do not. In my mind that music should belong to the artists. That is, when it comes to Monster Magnet's recordings, it should be Monster Magnet who controls the rights, not A & M Records. Consider, when you pick up a book by Clive Barker, the copyright is shown under his name, not the publisher of the book. In the publishing industry, at least, the rights of an artist's works belong to that artist. Sadly, this is not the case in the music industry. Long ago the recording industry used their muscle to finagle the government into enacting copyright laws that favoured them rather than the artists who actually create the songs we listen to. While I will not illegally download music, then, I feel that the recording industry has no ethical or moral right to the recordings of that music. Quite frankly, I think that they are worse than any music pirates out there, as they are claiming what is ethically and morally not theirs. Here I should say that while I don't download music "illegally," I by no means condemn those who do.

Anyhow, back to the subject at hand, I must admit to being positively addicted to purchasing music through the internet. My favourite place to buy music is Napster. Napster originated as a file sharing programme specifically dedicated to MP3s. After being shut down by lawsuits from the music industry, Napster was revived as a legal venue for selling digital music. One can buy music from Napster in one of two ways. The first is a stand alone programme that is not that dissimilar to the original file sharing programme. The second is a Windows Media Player plugin. I use the latter myself. What I like about Napster is that it is user friendly. When downloading songs from Napster, it gives the amount of time left for the download and the percentage of the file that has been downloaded. If for whatever reason the download is interrupted, one can simply resume the download where one left off.

Indeed, I think that Napster's customer service may be the best of any of the online music stores out there. As I related in this blog, my niece recently crashed my PC. Because of this I had to do a reinstall. In the process I lost my music licences. I don't know if I didn't back them up or if the reinstall simply wiped them out. I promptly emailed Napster customer service and I received a reply within 12 hours. They gave me step by step details on how to get my licences back. In the end, I got the licences back for about 300 songs (everything I'd bought from Napster), without having to spend money to rebuy them. Now that is good customer service.

The other online store I have used a good deal is the WalMart Downloads Store. The WalMart Downloads Store works primarily through a plugin in Windows Media Player. Like Napster it is very user friendly. It is also the cheapest online music store around--it sells songs for 88 cents a pop. That having been said, there are things I don't like about the WalMart Downloads store. First, their licences allow for one to burn a song to CD only nine times--Napster allows one to burn songs one has bought from them as many times as one likes. Second, their customer service is lousy. I emailed them about the loss of my licences following the computer crash. I have yet to hear back from them. Quite frankly, this has inclined me to simply cease doing business with them and to do more business with Napster.

Of course, if one is going to play digital music today, it is as often going to be on an iPod as it is a computer. To this end, Apple developed iTunes, a programme for both managing one's digital music and media (such as video) and purchasing it over the internet. Before this week I had never used iTunes. I really didn't see the point, as I already had Windows Media Player with its Napster plugin. But then my ancient VCR failed to record Lost and, knowing one could buy TV show episodes from iTunes, I went ahead and downloaded it there. I must say that I like iTunes, but I can't see using it very often. It is easy to use, but it does not give the amount of detail about downloads that Napster does. And songs there are the same price (99 cents). Unless I get an iPod or I miss another episode of Lost, I don't think I'll be doing much busines there.

Another online music store is MusicMatch. I must admit I don't know much about them. I have only bought one song from them ("Words" by The Monkees). They have a plugin for Windows Media Player like Napster does, although I don't know if there is a stand alone programme. It does seem to me that they are not quite as user friendly as either WalMart or Napster. And I don't think they have quite as good a selection. That having been said, I think MusicMatch is a good choice for anyone wanting to purchase music online.

At any rate, I do think downloading music is the wave of the future. By no means do I think that it will put an end to the CD. CDs offer a good deal of convience in that one can simply buy them and then pop them in one's CD Player or PC. They also have such things as liner notes, which digital music does not come with. That having been said, I do think digital music will become incresingly common over the years. The way I see it, digital music and CDs will co-exist in the same way that LPs and singles once did in the days of vinyl. When an individual wants to buy just one song, he or she will simply download it online, just as people bought singles years ago. When he or she is particularly enamoured of a group, he or she might well buy the CD. I find myself doing this. I will buy CDs by my favourite groups, but then I will simply download songs by artists who have produced only a few songs I like. By no means do I think digital music means the end of CDs.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The Mother of Television Has Died

Elma Gardner "Pem" Farnsworth died at the Avalon Care Centre in Bountiful, Utah this past Thursday. She was 98 years old. Farnsworth was the wife of Philo T. Farnsworth, who at the age of 21 invented television. Farnsworth worked alongside her husband in the lab and he always gave her equal credit in the invention of TV. Among other things, she made the technical drawings for his experiements. In fact, she may have been the first person whose image was transmitted on television. Following his death in 1971 she fought to insure that he was remembered as the man who invented television.

She was born in Vernal, Utah on February 28, 1908. Her family would eventually move to Provo, Utah. It was there that she would meet Phil T. Farnsworth. They would eventually have four sons.

Farnsworth was in their lab in San Francisco on September 7, 1927 when her husband made the first television transmission. He transmitted the image of a line to a TV reciever in another room. The screen was very small, only the size of a postage stamp. Regardless, it was the first electric television transmission. A few other inventors had worked on mechanical television prior to Farnsworth, but it would be Farnsworth's work that would lead to television as we know it today.

Sadly, Farnsworth very nearly did not receive credit for his work. RCA claimed that television had been invented by its chief television engineer, Vladimir Zworykin. In 1935 a court upheld Farnsworth's patent, making it clear he was the man who invented television. In 1939 Farnsworth would license his patents to RCA.

Farnsworth also wrote her autobiography, Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on the Invisible Frontier, in 1990.

Farnsworth is survived by a sister, two sons, 13 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Scarborough Fair

Yesterday was May Day and, for whatever reason, that day always brings to my mind the song "Scarborough Fair" The song is perhaps best known as having been recorded and released by Simon and Garfunkel, although "Scarborough Fair" pre-dates the 20th century by a good deal. The song dates back to the either the 16th or 17th century, at a time when the English town of Scarborough was an important trading place. While I tend to think of May Day when I hear "Scarborough Fair," the actual Scarborough Fair was held starting on August 15.

The song itself could have been adapted from an earlier ballad called "Elfin Knight," which produced a good number of variants. As to the subject matter of "Scarborough Fair," it is esesntially a love song. "Scarborough Fair" is about a young man jilted by his lover, who then assigns her a number of impossible tasks if she would win him back.

Although the best known version was performed by Simon and Garfunkel, it has also been performed by various other artists. Sarah Brightman, Martin Carthy, Queensryche, Medwyn Goodall, and many others have recorded the song. It may well be the most successful medieval ballad of all time.

Anyhow, here it is:

"Scarborough Fair" as performed by Simon and Garfunkel

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tristan + Isolde

"You were right. Life is greater than death. And love is greater than either."
(Tristan from the film Tristan + Isolde)

"All men must have someone, have someone
who would never take advantage
of a love bright as the sun.
Someone to stand beside them
and you just may be the one."
("You Just May Be the One," Michael Nesmith)

Last night I watched Tristan + Isolde on DVD. I must admit that I didn't know quite what to expect from the film. I knew that it was directed from Kevin Reynolds, who directed two of my favourite movies (Fandango and The Count of Monte Cristo). I also knew that it based on the Celtic myth of Tristan and Iseult, upon which many poems, books, and even an opera (by Wagner, no less) are based. Unfortunately, the movie made little impact at the box office and I seem to recall it got decidedly mixed reviews. While I knew the subject matter would interest me (I have always been a Welsh mythology buff), I did not know if I would like the film.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Tristan + Isolde is a very good movie. The movie's strength rests with Dean Georgaris's screenplay. Geogaris wrote a tale which unfolds with a deliberate pace, where character development is given precedence over set pieces. Tristan + Isolde is not an empty love story where all the old cliches are slipped into place. It is a romance where the events emerge from the emotional states and actions of the characters and the political realities that surround them. The love between Tristan and Isolde develops over time as their characters develop. As a result their love seems all the more realistic. Indeed, the movie captures the themes of the myth perfectly--the conflict between a man's honour and duty to his king and his love for a woman.

Of course, even the best screenplay won't make a good movie if the performances aren't good. Fortunately, the cast does a good job in Tristan + Isolde. Sophia Myles is very convincing as Isolde, while James Franco does well as Tristan. The best performance by far, however, is given by Rufus Sewell as Marke. Sewell's Marke is good, noble, sympathetic, and, ultimately, tragic.

The performances are aided aptly by the movie's production values themselves. Shot on limited money, Tristan + Isolde has the feel of an epic without an epic budget. Much of this is due to the direction of Kevin Reynolds and the cienmatography of Arthur Reinhart, who wisely choose their shots to give the movie a bigger than life feel without a cast of thousands. Indeed, Reinhart's photography (the movie was shot on location in both Ireland and the Czech Republic) is absolutely beautiful.

I will not say that Tristan + Isolde is necessarily a great film, but it is certainly a very good film. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Celtic myth, the Dark Ages, or simply a well told love story.