Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Of iTunes, Streaming, and Thrift Shop Finds

A gramophone. The binary text in the caption says "gramophone".

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Apple has announced that it will be discontinuing iTunes on Apple devices.  For the moment, iTunes will remain untouched in the Windows environment.  You can read about the change in this Apple press release about the new Catalina OS.  You might also find this CNET article of interest.  Apple users will still have access to all of their music, but will reach it through the Apple Music app.  You do not have to subscribe to the Apple Music streaming service to access your existing collection, and the iTunes Store will still exist to purchase music.  The decommissioning of iTunes follows the trend of more people using streaming services to access music.  Also, iTunes has been criticized as it has evolved from its earlier sleeker form.

If any of you find this upcoming change uncomfortable, you might want to check out my survey of music management software for Apple and Windows devices.  There are a variety of solutions available (many free) for managing your music library.  Also, here is a previous post on streaming services.

In the meantime, you still have all of your digital music on your computer.  As with any digital data, I would advise readers to keep their music media in several locations.  I learned this the hard way after a hard drive failure, followed shortly thereafter by an external drive failure.  My mistake was to have data in only one operational device—which then failed.  Fortunately, only a small amount of data was lost; unfortunately, this included a couple years of photographs.  Yeah, you don’t want that to happen.

So how do you avoid that?  External drives have been dropping in price and are very portable, so if you can afford one, having one wouldn’t hurt.  Also, microSD cards, the size of your fingernail, now have capacities that can handle even large music libraries.  You might also decide to back up your music to the cloud, for example, with Amazon Music, Google Play Music, or iCloud.

Do be aware, however, that if you “upload” your music library to iCloud, Amazon Music, or Google Play Music and play it from there, you may not actually be hearing your copy of your music.  To save space, these services match your track to an existing track in their system, and use that one instead.  Otherwise, they might be storing millions of copies of, say, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  To hear your copy, you would need to back your music up to a service like Dropbox or OneDrive, or the like, that doesn’t have its own music database (but you will probably have to pay a fee for storage if you have more than a small music collection).

One of the reasons streaming services are appealing is that this pesky maintenance issue goes away.  For a small monthly fee, you don’t have to worry about losing your music, or getting scratches on your CDs (or vinyl) and you have access to a vast library (as long as you keep paying).  You will always have a pristine copy anywhere you go (as long as you have an internet connection).

You also don’t have to physically store music in “pre-digital” form.  More than one article I’ve read recently has declared the CD dead.  Many computers no longer have drives that can play CDs; some tablets no longer have USB ports to hook up an external DVD drive or hard drive (digitally, you can still usually accommodate a microSD card, especially in phones).  The inexorable force that moved us from VHS to DVD, from LP to 8-track to cassette to CD is now nudging us toward the cloud.

The other day, I was wandering through a local thrift shop and stopped to look at the CDs and LPs.  For those of you for whom these are not extinct formats (and who have room for them) there are wonderful bargains to be found, as people digitize and divest themselves of physical media.  And in fact, I found LP box sets of Wanda Landowska playing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1 and 2.  Each box set contained three LPs—all were in perfect condition.  I paid 99 cents for each box set (about the cost of buying one digital track).

LP box sets of Wanda Landowska playing Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, priced 99 cents

I lowered the needle on the record, and clear analog sound streamed forth.  Twenty-some minutes later, I had to get up and flip the record.

Or I could have listened on YouTube.

The choice is yours.





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From Machaut to Micro SD

micro SD card on a finger

The picture above shows a micro SD card on my fingertip.  It is the size of the fingernail of my smallest finger.

It holds my entire digitized music library, classical and pop, with room to spare.  This is a 128 gigabyte card, but these cards also come in the “supersized” 256 gigabyte variety (and higher), also the size of a fingernail.

You can install a card like this in a smartphone (except iPhones) or tablet.  I was going to say “easily install” but they are tiny and easy to fumble, not to mention the fact that the slots into which they are installed are frequently spring-loaded.  Which means, if you don’t click it in completely, your device may shoot the card across the room like a watermelon seed (about the same size and color).  I strongly suggest installation in an obstacle-free environment, preferably with a light-colored floor.  With an adapter, you can also plug it into the USB port of a computer, DVD player, or television.

I’m currently pairing this card with a FiiO X1 portable MP3 player, which is about the size of a deck of cards.  I chose it because at the time it was one of the only players that handled the FLAC format (a lossless form of MP3—if this terminology is unfamiliar to you, you might want to take a look at my post on digital music formats).  It also can transmit music wirelessly via Bluetooth or be plugged directly into a stereo receiver as an audio input.  It can accommodate a micro SD card of up to 256 gigabytes.

This all means that I can walk around with a representative sample of 1000 years of music in my pocket and play it even when there is no internet connection or electricity (at least until the battery runs out; solar rechargers exist though).

I can’t help but find this amazing.  My mother had a Steelman blonde-wood console stereo record player (to which you could also connect other devices—revolutionary!) that, with the speakers, was slightly smaller than a Fiat 500.  It did make a mighty sound though–I’ve written about it before.

But to make music, you also needed vinyl records, which took up a sizeable amount of shelf space.  My computer’s music library currently contains something like 1000 albums from physical CDs, LPs, or born digital files.  This would, I estimate, require about 15 linear feet of shelving for vinyl.  Oddly, the width of a standard CD case is equivalent to 2 LPs, so they would actually take up more linear feet; but due to their shorter height, they can be arranged more densely.

All of this now fits on a fingernail.  This blows my mind.

I can’t conclude without some music for you.  So, I think I’ll reach way back into the archives, and give you music that I carry around on my little card.  Here is the Kyrie from Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame, written before 1365.