Looks like the venerable Compact Disc turned 30 years old on Sunday.

Compact discs weren’t always impromptu drink coasters. Once, in the not-so-distant past, they played music, contained pictures, and let people play video games with tacked-on FMV sequences. And today, the venerable CD turned 30.

Of course, the CD didn’t immediately take off right then and there…it wouldn’t be until October 1, 1982 that Billy Joel’s 52nd Street became the first CD album released. It was conveniently released in Japan alongside Sony’s brand new CDP-101 Compact Disc player. The album (and more importantly the medium it was pressed upon) changed history, as more compact disc players were introduced into the market beginning in 1983. The music CD would reach its zenith with The Beatles “1” (30 million in sales), before beginning its eventual and inevitable fall to the Mp3 in the mid-2000’s (in 2008, for example, CD sales dropped 20%).

The first CD I ever bought was purchased while on a trip of some sort — I’m not sure, but I think it was during a trip to the Episcopal Youth Event one summer. A group of us Episcopal Youth had flown from Anchorage to Seattle, from whence we’d load up in a van and drive to Missoula, Montana for the EYE. While in Seattle, we got to browse through the Pike Place Market. This was my first time there, and I remember two things clearly: seeing a prop phaser (possibly a replica, though I’ve always remembered it being an original prop) at Golden Age Collectibles for quite a few hundred dollars more than I had available to me; and browsing through one of the music stores in the Market and finding a “Limited Edition” of Queen’s “The Miracle” album.

I didn’t even have a CD player at this point, but this was a limited edition! Who knew how long it would be on the market, or whether we’d ever be able to get it in the frozen wastelands of Alaska! As a Queen fan, I had to have it, and I plunked my money down. Of course, it wasn’t long before I discovered that “Limited Editions” are rarely anything but marketing drivel, but hey, I had my first CD.

(I did this with my DVD collection as well, picking up the original, un-edited release of “The Devil’s Advocate” before that pressing was recalled to have the unauthorized appropriation of the Ex Nihilo sculpture digitally edited out. This time, I’ve got a Special Edition that’s truly special!)

Amusingly, before that point, I wasn’t convinced that CDs were going to take off. In fact, it would be far more accurate to say that I was convinced that they wouldn’t take off. I mean, really, they didn’t seem that that much of an improvement over the tapes I’d been collecting for some time by then. They didn’t seem to sound any different, and you couldn’t even repurpose them when you got tired of the music that was on them! At least with cassettes, you could tape over the little holes at the top and put whatever you wanted on there after you were bored with that album. These CD things would be useless if you decided you didn’t want the music!

Of course, better CD players and better stereos soon convinced me that yes, there was a (very) audible improvement in sound quality, my CD collection soon grew to far outstrip that of my cassette collection, and now the majority of the 1,500-some CDs I own are in storage, while any of that music (and so much more) is available at a moments notice on my computer. And yet, I spend a chunk of my free time importing old LPs, 45s, and 78s to my computer, relishing the warm tones and old, outdated, analog crackles and pops of my collection of vinyl. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Andy Ihnatko does a wonderful job of slaughtering the Zune, Microsoft’s new iPod competitor…

Yes, Microsoft’s new Zune digital music player is just plain dreadful. I’ve spent a week setting this thing up and using it, and the overall experience is about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face.

“Avoid,” is my general message. The Zune is a square wheel, a product that’s so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity.

[…]

The Zune is a complete, humiliating failure. Toshiba’s Gigabeat player, for example, is far more versatile, it has none of the Zune’s limitations, and Amazon sells the 30-gig model for 40 bucks less.

Throw in the Zune’s tail-wagging relationship with music publishers, and it almost becomes important that you encourage people not to buy one.

The iPod owns 85 percent of the market because it deserves to. Apple consistently makes decisions that benefit the company, the users and the media publishers — and they continue to innovatively expand the device’s capabilities without sacrificing its simplicity.

Companies such as Toshiba and Sandisk (with its wonderful Nano-like Sansa e200 series) compete effectively with the iPod by asking themselves, “What are the things that users want and Apple refuses to provide?”

Microsoft’s colossal blunder was to knock the user out of that question and put the music industry in its place.

Ouch.

(via /.)

…mostly because I hate letting a day go by without tossing something up here (even though that happens fairly often).

  • Prairie and I went to the Seattle Aboretum on Sunday along with her sister Hope and Hope’s puppy, Loodie. Pictures of flowers, trees, cherry blossoms, and various and sundry other people enjoying this last weekend’s gorgeous weather have been added to my Seattle Arboretum photoset, starting here.
  • I really, really, really want a copy of Native InstrumentsTraktor DJ Studio 2. I’ve been feeling the DJ itch lately, most recently at a party this weekend, and this is the first time I’ve seen a software package that looks like it can do a good job of replicating (and expanding on) the functionality offered by my old CD DJ deck. The downloadable demo is very impressive, but as it’s a demo, it’s limited in what it can do (no saving of files, 30-minute run time limit, etc.). The only downside is that it’s $220 that I don’t have expendable at the moment — but since my birthday is coming up on May 3rd, perhaps someone out there will feel generous? ;)

iTunesHaloes” by Christian Death from the album Gothik (1993, 3:37).

Terrence has a review of his Nomad Zen Xtra mp3 player posted, and while it’s essentially a positive review, one line stood out to me. After having had the unit for six months and using it on what sounds like a near-daily basis, he mentions that he has “basically mastered the controls.”

Yowza.

I pulled my iPod out of the box, and had the controls mastered in about six seconds.

This isn’t at all to disparage his purchase — as I said, he seems to be quite happy with it — but it really stood out to me as one major reason why the iPod is such a success.

iTunes: “Sacred City” by YelworC from the album German Mystic Sound Sampler Vol. IV (1992, 4:51).

Regular readers of this mess I call a website will occasionally have seen me rant about metadata, especially where the iTunes Music Store is concerned. In short, it’s woefully incomplete, and at times, flat-out inaccurate. It was quite heartening for me to run across Jazz in 2500?, a jazz-lovers look at the disservice done to music when only the least possible information is preserved when purchasing music online.

The consumer that buys an album on ITMS should have access to the same liner notes, session information and songwriting credits that are sold with the CD version. Online music stores should facilitate rather than hinder access to this information before, during and after a song or album is purchased.

[…]

Removing the identity of artists is one of digital music’s largest threats to jazz preservation. A full understanding of jazz goes beyond the “Great Man” theory and recognizes the influence of side players – the wide network of people that developed this musical language together. Selling songs and albums separated from names disrespects the artists and hinders the education of new listeners.

ITMS often does not list the names of the musicians who play on jazz albums. When they do list the names, it is never on a song-by-song basis, making the information confusing and useless on compilations and box sets.

[…]

Box sets and CD reissues often feature meticulously researched session information, as well as essays from experts. Having this information sold with the music enables jazz fans to educate themselves and others. Most jazz albums for sale in the ITMS have none of the original album’s liner notes or session information.

Maybe it’s true that most people aren’t bugged by this stuff, or the lack thereof. However, those of us who do care, care a lot.

Besides — why in the world should we accept marketing to the lowest common denominator? There’s enough business out there that do that already. Apple and the iTunes Music Store should be at the forefront of showing how things should be done, and that they’re also music lovers, not just music retailers.

iTunes: “That’s It! (Dub)” by Hyperdrive from the album Club Cuts EP Vol. 1 (1998, 8:19).

I want an iChat/iTunes plugin that would set my iChat icon to the cover art of the currently playing track in iTunes.

Does this exist?

If not, could someone write it?

That’d be really nifty.

Update: I really should Google before I post: Mac OS X Hints: Set iChat status message and icon to iTunes song.

iTunes: “Dreams” by Land of Dreams from the album Essential Chillout (2000, 5:57).

Not useable metadata goodies, unfortunately, but still, this is good to hear. Apparently, Gracenote — maintainers of the CDDB (which iTunes and many other audio players use to provide track information upon insertion of a CD) have many additional possible data fields that can be used, according to this comment sent to Macintouch (emphasis mine):

Classical music is a difficult problem for almost all digital media players. The rock & pop music world is much different than the Classical world – the data fields are not sufficient for describing Classical music. The Gracenote database has support for Composer, Ensemble, Orchestra, Conductor, and many other fields, but many applications choose not to support these fields. So over the years, the fields have been overloaded in meaning and in data. We recently re-wrote our Classical music standards so that existing applications can begin to be more consistent. But more importantly, Gracenote’s next generation database will fully support Classical music metadata like no other database. We are working to spread these changes out to our application developers, including Apple. Our editorial team is working hard to standardize the existing Classical data as well, partnering with experts in the industry. Look for big changes in 2004 and 2005.

Hopefully these extra fields trickle down to iTunes in a (near) future release!

iTunes: “1st Premonition (DBX)” by Giannelli, Fred from the album Sound of Superstition, The Vol. 5 (1997, 6:08).

Feel like having some sampling fun with George W. Bush? Head on over to the George W. Bush Public Domain Audio Archive.

The George W Bush Public Domain Audio Archive is a public domain database of the speeches of George W. Bush. Every phrase from each major speech has been made into an individual audio file, where the filename is, in most cases, the exact text content of the sample. This allows you to search the entire database for individual keywords. […] What you do with the database is up to you. Musicians, linguists, historians, media professionals, students and activists may all find this database to be of use. You are free to download and use these samples for any purpose, both non-commercial and commercial.

(via BOP)

iTunes: “Fuzzy Math” by Bots, The (2004, 3:27).

I was just reading this Macworld article on how AirTunes works (the new audio streaming technology built into Airport Express), when I noticed this paragraph…

If iTunes is playing back a digital multichannel file format like AC3 (Dolby Digital) or DTS, those bitstreams are wrapped in Apple’s compression and encryption, and then decoded at the other end. In those cases, AirPort Express would end up streaming the raw AC3 or DTS stream via an optical cable to your home theater receiver for decoding.

blink

iTunes can play and output AC3 and DTS? How does that work — and from what source? Are there standalone AC3/DTS audio tracks out there somewhere? I’ve generally only seen them used on DVDs, though I know that there are some audio CDs made that use DTS, and probably some that use AC3. If I had such a CD, how would I put an AC3/DTS audio track into iTunes?

I don’t have a use for this information right now, I’m just really curious. It’s news to me.

iTunes: “Sweet Surrender (Roni Size v2)” by McLachlan, Sarah from the album Plastic Compilation Vol. II (1998, 4:00).