iTunes Plus Upgrades Now Available A La Carte

Posted by AJ Harbison at 7:31 pm

My soon-to-be former roommate (and soon-to-be best man) Mike alerted me yesterday to an article published on Macworld. Apparently, when iTunes upgraded to higher quality, DRM-free music, you could pay 30 cents per song to upgrade music you’d already purchased–but in order to do that you would have to upgrade your entire library all at once. This would have (and did) cost iTunes users hundreds or even thousands of dollars if they chose to do so, and left them without the ability to only upgrade certain songs.

But fortunately, as the article says, iTunes has announced that users can now upgrade individual albums and individual tracks to iTunes Plus. There are still restrictions–as some of the comments say, if you purchased an album as an album you can’t upgrade individual songs from that album–but it’s much improved. It does make one wonder why they didn’t implement this policy when they first introduced iTunes Plus; it’s a rather shady business move if they were just trying to get some dedicated suckers to give them some extra cash before they introduced the pick-and-choose version. But in any case, I’m glad of the new turn of events. The article can be found at the link below.

“iTunes Plus upgrades go à la carte”


Newborns Already Know How To Rock Out

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:49 pm

I saw a headline on MSN.com this morning entitled “Babies born ready to rock out, study says”–so naturally I was intrigued and had to check it out. Apparently this study has found that even newborn brains can properly interpret musical rhythmic patterns, and if an expectation is not met (such as a strong downbeat being omitted from the pattern) the baby’s brain registers an “error message” that attempts to gauge how far off its expectation was. Pretty interesting stuff!

“Let’s rock! Even newborns can follow a rhythm”

P.S. I’ve decided to add a new label to my existing list of 14–posts like this that I find through news sources will now carry a “News” label in addition to whatever else they may be about. Just thought you’d like to know.

UPDATE: My friend Stephen brought to my attention an article on the same topic on Wired, which is a much more detailed article and even includes an MP3 sample of the beat that the babies heard. Check it out:

“Baby Got Beat: Music May Be Inborn”



Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:37 pm

Thanks to my company being so cool, I had the chance to watch part of the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday morning of this week. They set up the big-screen TV in the conference room to stream the video feed; unfortunately it kept hiccuping, the audio and video were out of sync, etc. which was pretty annoying. But I enjoyed the chance to see it regardless.

As you probably know, famed film composer John Williams composed a piece specifically for the inauguration entitled Air and Simple Gifts, based on the famous Appalachian folk melody, and it was performed live by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriella Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill. My first thought upon seeing the performers was “They can’t really be playing, it’s way too cold for the instruments to stay in tune!”

You know, turns out I was right. I saw an article on MSN today making that same point. The musicians were in fact performing live, so the people who were close enough to them could hear them playing; but the instruments were not amplified and the music that was broadcast over the speakers at the event and to the millions watching on TV (myself included) had been recorded several days before.

That’s a reasonable decision–really the only reasonable one, if you think about it. The temperature was about 30 degrees, as the article points out, too cold for any of the instruments to play in tune but especially “play[ing] havoc” on the piano. This happens pretty frequently with classical performances in very cold environments, and even the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti famously lip-synced his final performance. I fully support the decision of the musicians at the inauguration, as I imagine any reasonable person who understands the factors involved would. But I find it amusing that the press wants to make a point of revealing this fact. The article can be found at the link below.

“Their performance was live — but music wasn’t”

When I wrote the first draft of this post, I replaced my original text “I find it amusing that the press wants to make it a big deal” with the text of my penultimate sentence above, thinking the word choice of the former was too strong. But several hours later, the article made it to a more prominent place on MSN’s front page and also added a reader poll, entitled “Vote: Bad Choice?” So now I return to my original thought. It’s ridiculous that the press is making such a big deal out of it. The actual question on the poll is practically incriminating: “Was it wrong to ‘fake’ music at the presidential inauguration?” Fortunately, 68.2% of the people who voted in the poll voted no. But some of the responses (you can comment as well as vote in the poll) are rather amusing in themselves; one person who voted yes commented “Just more smoke & mirrors from the obamamite camp.” The third option in the poll (besides “yes, it was wrong to fool the masses” and “no, who cares, it sounded good”) is “Maybe. If this is how the administration starts out …”, and one of the readers who voted that option also commented “i’m not at all surprise if it was recorded, everything sorrounding the obama campain has been stained with deceitfulness” [sic]. As if Obama or his “obamamite camp” or “campain” had anything to do with the performance (whatever the heck they are). Doesn’t anyone have any common sense anymore?


TLB: Now Available On Twitter!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:45 pm

Thanks to the continual persistence of my roommate, I’ve given in and finally joined Twitter. Twitter is a free online service in the category of “microblogging,” which allows users to post 140-character messages (ostensibly answering the question “What are you doing?”) and connect with a community of friends. (In some ways, it’s an entire social networking site based solely on status updates like the ones on Facebook.) So what does this mean for you, the loyal TLB reader? Two things. First of all, it’s a new way to be connected to TLB and receive updates on posts. Thanks to a service called twitterfeed, I’ve set up my Twitter account so that every time I post an entry here on the blog, a “tweet” notification will be posted to my Twitter page. If you have a Twitter account, you can “follow” (the equivalent of “friending”) me and be notified whenever there’s a new post here. And second, one of the cool things about Twitter is that it can be updated at any time by a simple text message from a mobile phone. So every once in a while (or maybe more than that), if I’m listening to something interesting, attending a concert, or composing, I’ll use my phone to post a short “tweet” to my Twitter page. Kinda like a mini blog post (thus the term “microblogging”). So head to Twitter and check it out!



World's Fastest Finger Snapper

Posted by AJ Harbison at 6:18 am

As a long-awaited follow-up to my post on the world’s fastest clapper (come on, you know you’ve been waiting), I hereby present to you the world’s fastest finger snapper. I’ve watched several YouTube videos of people claiming to be the fastest, but this guy takes the cake. And he refuses to show his face in the videos, which (according to your perspective) is either really cool or really lame. Enjoy!


Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:01 pm

One of my favorite TV shows is House, a medical version of a Sherlock Holmes mystery: “House solves mysteries where the villain is a medical malady and the hero is an irreverent, controversial doctor who trusts no one, least of all his patients.” It’s now in its fifth season, but since I’m watching it on DVD and very slowly, my lovely fiancée and I are only in season two. One of my favorite episodes, which was the fourteenth episode of season one, is “Control,” in which House, by questionable ethical means, saves a young CEO who has destroyed her heart by ipecac self-poisoning and bulimia. I don’t think I agree with his decision in the episode, but despite that disagreement the episode is very well-written and the ending is one of the most satisfying that I’ve seen yet on the show. After his final conversation with the patient, House returns to his office and begins playing “Baba O’Riley” by The Who over his iPod speakers. The song has an awesome intro, and the feeling of triumph is unmistakable. (You can watch the whole episode for free, albeit in low quality and with Spanish subtitles, here. If you’d like to skip to the last scene, start playing the video and then click around in the timer bar until you get to about the 38’30″ mark. If you really trust me on this one and want to watch the whole episode on Amazon for $1.99, click here. You can listen to the entirety of “Baba O’Riley” for free, courtesy of our good friend Last.fm, here.)

As I’ve mentioned, I really love this episode and I really love the way the song is used to evoke elation in the watcher/listener. So, a few days ago I got an idea for the recessional for my wedding. (As I wrote before, I’m going to be writing all the music for my wedding ceremony.) The piano would start by “fading in” with a high ostinato repeating pattern, perhaps based on the keyboard intro to “Baba O’Riley” but not the same. The anticipation builds as the pattern continues and the pastor says: “I present to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. AJ Harbison!” at which point I give a quick conducting cue beat and the pianist crashes down on low octaves in the left hand–the same notes and rhythm as in the song. (Believe it or not, Eleanor actually really likes the conducting cue idea.) Hey, satisfaction, elation and triumph all count at the culmination of the wedding ceremony, right? I think it’ll make a rocking recessional. And I can’t wait to give that cue–more fun than a composer should be allowed to have!



Posted by AJ Harbison at 7:19 pm

I work in a small office across the street from my company’s main office in Costa Mesa, and I walk back and forth to the main office once a day or so. I just headed over there to make a dropoff, and on my way back I noticed some birds singing in the trees by the side of the road. Birdsong is a sound I unfortunately hear only seldomly here in Orange County, often drowned out by the constant hum of freeways and cars on busy streets. But because of that, it’s a beautiful and refreshing sound–and a peaceful one, even when the birds themselves are chattering excitedly. Good for the soul.

And in that vein, I’d like to present you with the same sound. In March of last year, I came across a post on A Payne Hollow Visit, a blog that I often disagree with but read in order to acquaint myself with an opposing point of view. The author posted the video embedded below, a soundtrack of birdsong and flowing water with still photos of trees and creeks near his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. At the time I enjoyed the video very much and it felt very refreshing. I hope it feels the same to you!


"Just As I Am" Branches Out

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:32 am

First off forgive me for not posting over the weekend–your favorite listening blogger came down with a cold; but I’m feeling much better today and we’re back to your regularly scheduled posts!

Second, I want to thank everyone for the proliferation of comments recently. As I’ve mentioned before, I love getting your thoughts and opinions and dialoguing with you on the site here, and I appreciate the consistent comments I’ve been getting on the last few posts. Keep it up!

Third (now that I got those things out of the way) I wanted to inform you all of an exciting development for me. I’ve written several times about my arrangement of the hymn “Just As I Am,” and how the Jeff Mercer Band has been playing it pretty regularly at their River of Worship services. (Incidentally, I drove up to Redlands to record my acoustic guitar parts and vocals for the Jeff Mercer Band CD two weeks ago, and it’s now entering the final stage of production. I can’t wait to share the version of “Just As I Am” from the CD with all of you; it has a full band behind it and it sounds really cool.) One thing I haven’t written about yet is that I also shared the song with the worship director at my church, and he’s been playing it on Sunday mornings for several weeks now. I’ve gotten great feedback from members of the congregation, and one of my musically-inclined friends suggested I try to publish the song.

Since I’ve never published anything (yet) and didn’t know quite how to proceed, I sent an email to the CFAMC Yahoo group and asked their advice. I got a number of excellent responses, which were all encouraging but also noted that “publishing” (in the sense of finding a company to print sheet music) is not necessarily a profitable way to go in regards to worship music, since most worship bands learn new songs by imitating recordings rather than reading sheet music. However, several of them said they really liked the song and wanted to pass it on to the worship leaders at their respective churches. Based on the latest emails I’ve gotten, it was already played by one church in Ohio yesterday, and is in the process of being pitched to churches in Canton and Granville. It’s exciting to know that a song I’ve written is being played in at least two churches literally 2400 miles apart, with more likely to come!

If there are any CFAMCers who read this blog, I want to thank you for your group’s thoughtful and encouraging response. (And I’d love to hear from you and know you’re listening!) And for everyone else–I’ll keep you posted on the continued progress of the song!


iTunes–Now Higher Quality and DRM-Free!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:44 am

In other musical news, Apple announced on Wednesday that the iTunes store has been upgraded and all new songs will now be offered in higher quality (256-Kbps AAC encoding) and (more importantly) DRM-free. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, which in turn stands for that pesky technology that prevents you from playing songs from the iTunes store on any digital device you want or copy them to another computer, and limits the number of times you can burn the songs onto a CD. Many consumers felt that the DRM technology was too restrictive, but of course many artists supported it because it was able to increase the likelihood that they would be paid for their product–consumer convenience versus artists’ rights.

In order to allow the new DRM-free music, Apple negotiated with record companies to offer songs at three different price points: 69 cents, 99 cents and $1.29. But the company assures us that most songs will be offered at the lowest price. And your current iTunes library can be updated to “iTunes Plus” (higher quality and DRM-free) for 30 cents a song.

I should point out that just because music is DRM-free does not make it legal to burn CDs for other people from your music library.

To see Apple’s announcement on the iTunes website, click here. A good MSNBC article can be found here; the other good article I found was on InformationWeek and can be found here.

P.S. I should also point out that this blog marks the 101st post on TLB! I would have pointed out that my last one was #100, but I failed to realize it until this one. So raise a glass of champagne, good wine or your drink of choice and toast to another hundred posts on everyone’s favorite listening blog!


Raves At Stonehenge

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:57 pm

MSN.com today is featuring a story regarding an acoustic study of Stonehenge, the mysterious ancient stone monument in England. The original purpose of Stonehenge has baffled researchers for centuries, but this new study suggests that the stones may have been intentionally placed to reflect and amplify sound. Check it out!

“Stonehenge: One Totally Awesome Rave Location”


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