Hard News by Russell Brown

26

Friday Music: Apple and the Analog Hole

Back when Apple Music launched I went into some detail about what was good about the new service, and what was very bad.

For all my frustrations, I became a paying customer when the three-month free trial of Apple Music expired, and I have been using it. So I was very interested to see what the first big refresh of Apple Music, both in Mac OS and in the new iOS 10 would bring. And the news is, it's substantially better.

But first, it wouldn't have been Apple without an iCloud fuckup. After a smooth install of  iTunes 12, a message appeared warning that iTunes was unable to connect to iCloud Music Library and to try again. Tried a couple more times: same result. So, unlike people on the internet who started panicking and trying stuff, I figured it was probably a load issue and that I'd try again in an hour or two. Which I did, and it was fixed.

What wasn't fixed was the principal matching screwup I've been able to identify from the initial iCloud Music Library calamity: all three volumes that I own of the M&M remixes by John Morales have the same track listing in iTunes. That may be a reflection of the sometimes-ropey metadata from Bleep.com, where I bought the tracks, and I can just delete what I have and re-import the original files (they're still somewhere in my Downloads folder), but I had kind-of hoped that iCloud would clean up its shit on its own. Oh well.

The good news is, the user interface design in both iTunes and the iOS 10 Music app is out-of-sight improved. The tiny wee fonts, buttons and contextual menus in the latter are all bigger. Much bigger. And the organisation makes more sense. No longer are "Library" and "Playlists" two different things. Playlists are, logically, a part of the Library.

This also makes it easier to identify and get to music stored locally on my phone if I'm in an offline listening situation.

You'll also notice that the confusing – and functionally identical – "New" and "For You" sections have been replaced by "For You" (which actually sees some decent algorithmic action going into a new music playlist based on my recent activity, although as Macworld points out, it's still not as good as Spotify's see-into-your-soul Discover Weekly) and "Browse", which is where you go to see what's new and search for stuff.

The paradigm is the same in the new iTunes too. And if I want to add a song or album in Apple Music to my Library, there's a fuck-off big blue button marked "ADD". If I want to add a track or album to a new playlist, the "New playlist" option is now at the top of the contextual menu, not right down at the bottom.

What would make it better? 1. Being able to instantly add an album as a new playlist to an existing playlist folder (say, one called "2016 Albums"). 2. A list of "recently updated playlists" right at the top, just under "New playlist", so I don't have to scroll down through every expanded playlist folder in my Library to add another track to a killer playlist I'm building. 3. Hey, why not give me the option of showing my Library's playlist sidebar while I'm in Apple Music and let me just drag tracks over into it, in time-honoured fashion? That's way better than holding down the mouse button and navigating through the pop-up menu.

But yeah, in general, it's a shame this wasn't the the Apple Music that Apple launched in the first place, because it's bolder, clearer, more logical and more enjoyable to use. There's a roundup of other changes here.

And there's one other thing that I might be the only person in the world to notice and appreciate. For some time, I've used one or more underscore characters to toggle a playlist or folder up and down the list for easier access. (I know, I know, it's a dirty, dirty thing to do, but I'm not a librarian.) But while iTunes sent underscore-prefixed playlists to the top of the list, the iOS Music app relegated them to the bottom. Now, the Music app sorts the same way as iTunes. Hallelujah.

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There has, of course, been another music-related Apple controversy of late: the fact that the new iPhone 7 does away with the old headphone jack. Cue outrage across the whole flaming internet.

Well ... I can actually see both sides of this.

Apple actually published a spec for headphones using the Lightning connector back in 2014 and it's not the only manufacturer to be heading in this direction. The dropping of the headphone jack might be like Apple doing away with the floppy drive in the first iMac: a crazy move that changed the industry. And the audio jack is a century-old technology.

Apple has been talking up the fact that losing the jack makes it possible to make the phone thinner and easier to waterproof. I guess it probably doesn't want to play on the main actual benefit of only having a digital audio output: it puts an end to the shitty little Digital to Analog Convertor (DAC)  squeezed into its mobile devices. Any plugged-in headphone experience with an iOS project has hitherto been limited by the quality of a DAC designed for small size and low power, rather than quality. The most expensive headphones in the world faced the same limitation as a $10 pair of earbuds.

Now, the DAC and the amplifier will be in the headphones, so you'll eventually be able to buy third-party headhones or buds with a very high-quality DAC built in – assuming you want to pay for them. The all-digital path should make things like noise cancelling and spatial sound better too.

On the other hand ... Apple licences the use of the Lighting port, adding $US4 per device to manufacturing costs. So that's slightly more expensive headphones right there anyway. (Note that Lightning-compatible earbuds and a dongle to convert for legacy headphones ship with the phone.)

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation is among those to note another implication of Apple shifting everything to a port it controls: it removes the "analog hole", the traditional refuge from oppressve digital rights management (DRM). DRM can't limit access via an analog output. The EFF briefing on it is headed: Analog: The Last Defence Against DRM.

Apple’s motivations for abandoning the analog jack are opaque, but likely benign. Apple is obsessed with simple, clean design, and this move lets the company remove one more piece of clutter from the phone’s body. The decision may also have been a part of the move to a water-resistant iPhone. And certainly, many people choose a wireless listening experience.

But removing the port will change how a substantial portion of iPhone owners listen to audio content—namely, by simply plugging in a set of headphones. By switching from an analog signal to a digital one, Apple has potentially given itself more control than ever over what people can do with music or other audio content on an iPhone. We hope that Apple isn’t unwittingly opening the door to new pressures to take advantage of that power.

And it's all true. This does raise the spectre of content owners being able to control the use of their works in new ways:

In other words, if it’s impossible to connect a speaker or other audio device to an iPhone without Apple software governing it, then major media companies might pressure Apple to place limits on how Apple’s customers can use their content. Because U.S. law protects digital rights management (DRM) technologies, it may be illegal to circumvent any potential restrictions, even if you’re doing it for completely lawful purposes. There would certainly be a precedent: big content companies infamously pressured Apple to incorporate DRM in its iTunes service.

Well yeah, but the reason the iTunes Store caught on is that its DRM was vastly less irksome than that being foisted on consumers by Microsoft and others. Steve Jobs managed to get the music companies to agree to a more transparent, persmissive DRM model than they really wanted – and that's why digital music sales started to work. Before long, even the industry stopped caring about DRM on paid downloads and it went away. It didn't make sense.

Where there is DRM is on tracks from Apple Music, Spotify or any of the other subscription services. Even if you save Apple Music or Spotify tracks to your device, you can't can't just copy them and play them somewhere else. So potentially, there could be a bid by content owners to stipulate what devices could be used to consume their content – with the specific aim of preventing stream-ripping.

Further, any attempt to get around that restriction would breach the ban on interfering with a technical protection mechanism in copyright laws in America, here and elsewhere. And restrictions apply to uses for which there are explicit exceptions: either preventing fair use or making it subject to fanciful rules about getting a librarian to do it for you, as is the case in our Copyright Act. As Jonathan Mosen (who is blind) has pointed out on this site, copyright blocks are the enemy of accessibility when it comes to television, especially in the case of the "appalling in every respect" Sky Televison.

The closing of the "analog hole" does make this possible: but is it likely? Only a small part of my music listening on my iPhone is actually done video the audio jack these days. I AirPlay music either to Apple TVs connected to two different Onkyo receivers (which have, I am told, very good DACs in them) and to a Sony midi-system in the kitchen, which supports AirPlay. If I'm travelling, I have a groovy little Sony Bluetooth speaker for the hotel room.

There are also, of course, any number of wireless Bluetooth headphones available for mobile listening with the iPhone 7 and every other smartphone. Is Big Music really going to get in and control the Bluetooth spec? What leverage would it exert to do so? It's not like Sky TV, which owns and thus controls every device with which its service is received.

So ... yes, the closing of the analog hole does theoretically allow content owners to mess with the rights of music consumers. There is no doubt about that. But history says that content owners generally don't get what they want.

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Speaking of streaming: it appears that Soundcloud Go has just (unless I've missed something) launched in New Zealand.

It promises no ads (there are no ads on NZ Soundcloud anyway) but the main offering for your $12.99 a month is probably offline listening of all tracks, via the mobile app. Good for keen Soundcloud users (there are lots of mixes and stuff I'd like to hear at better than 128k), but its hard to see how they can take on the comprehensive catalogues of Spotify and Apple Music.

Anyway there's a free 30-day trial. I'll have a go.

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And with that:

The Laneway 2017 lineup has been announced. I don't ever really get the point of Tame Impala, but I've been checking out Bob Moses and Tourist and I'm pretty excited about them. Lots of indie electronica festival-fare, basically.

The Wireless interviews Street Chant's Emily Edrosa on breaing up the band. Their farewell tour hits Whammy Bar tonight and Tauranga and Wellington next Friday and Saturday.

Someone's digitising all seven issues of the long-gone bFM magazine The Book of BiFiM.

Henry Rollins on record-shopping at Real Groovy.

The Guardian celebrates this month's 40th anniversary of 'I'm Stranded' (although as Ed Kuepper has noted on Twitter, the 7" was actually pressed up in June 1976, it just took a while for anyone to notice).

Graeme Jefferies has a memoir coming out.

At Audioculture, Andrew Schmidt surveys New Zealand punk fanzines.

And here's Kenny 'Dope Gonzales' playing vinyl for the Boiler Room in New York (hat-tip Peter McLennan).

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Tangerine Dream apparently inspired the people who composed the soundtrack music for Stranger Things. And now the Germans have repaid the compliment by recording the own versions of the themes they nspired. It's all on their Soundcloud and it's like this:

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

12

The Dr G giveaway

As you may be aware, I have the pleasure of hosting An Evening With Ben Goldacre at Auckland's Mercury Theatre on Saturday week. The boffo interview I did wth Dr G a little while ago was very enjoyable and I'm sure it'll be even more fun on the night.

Anyway, if you'd like to cram before the jam, the promoters have kindly offered a prize pack of Ben Goldacre's three books for me to give away:

To be in for the prize pack, you need only email me using the button at the bottom of this post with "Books" as the subject line. I'll draw a winner in a couple of days' time.

But there's one more thing: a number of people from the autism community have expressed interest in hearing Ben speak, not least because of his role in bringing the dreadful Andrew Wakefield to account.

I know not everyone in that community can easily afford what isn't a cheap ticket. So I talked to the promoters and they have kindly offered to make available 20 tickets at a reduced rate ($59 + booking fee, the same as the student discount).

The discount can be claimed by emailing me via the button at the bottom of this post with "Neurodiverse" as the subject line. I'll then send you a code to use when you buy your tickets.

Now, I thought about how  to do this and decided the best thing was to simply do it on trust. The discount is intended for ASD people themselves, but I'm happy to consider a request from supporters and family.

But mostly, neurotypicals, do not lie to me.

16

Orcon IRL: Vote Auckland

After a smashing session on the state of journalism, ORCON IRL AT THE GOLDEN DAWN is back next Tuesday – and this time we’re taking on democracy!

ORCON IRL VOTE AUCKLAND presents:

Efeso Collins
Chloe Swarbrick
Cathy Casey
Paula Bold-Wilson
Bill Ralston
Chang Hung
Patrick Reynolds

CO-HOSTS: Russell Brown and Charlotte Ryan

SPECIAL GUEST DJ: Anthonie Tonnon

“We wanted to cover the local body elections in a way that people could engage with,” says Russell Brown. “We clearly couldn’t accommodate every candidate or commentator, so we’ve gone for interesting people. Unfortunately, this decision ruled out all the 2016 mayoral candidates bar Chloe Swarbrick.

“We’re delighted to offer a warm Ponsonby welcome to Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board chair Efeso Collins and Paula Bold-Wilson, one of an unprecedented four Māori candidates standing for the Henderson-Massey local board. And we’re pleased to have local lad Bill Ralston, who is standing for Auckland Council in the keenly-contested Prego ward.

“They’re joined by Albert-Eden-Roskill councillor Cathy Casey – whose daughter Alex starred in last month’s IRL – broadcast jester Chang Hung, whose bid for the Waitemata local board is quite serious, and transport troublemaker Patrick Reynolds.

"The breaks will be filled by DJ sets from Anthonie Tonnon, who has written more songs about local body politics than anyone in the history of New Zealand music, probably. And to cap it all off – we’ve brought Charlotte Ryan out of media retirement!"

WHAT: Orcon IRL Vote Auckland

WHERE: The Golden Dawn Tavern of Power, Ponsonby

WHEN: Tuesday September 20, 6.30pm-9pm.

LIVE ON THE INTERNET COURTESY: 95bFM and Hugh’s team of cybernetic helper-elves

RSVP: Here on Facebook.

10

Friday Music: The Cinema of Loss

I was fortunate enough last night to see One More Time With Feeling, the unusual documentary created to serve as a once-only interview in advance of the release of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' new album, Skeleton Tree.

The backdrop to the album is the death of Cave's teenage son Arthur, and the British media orgy that followed, amplifying and multiplying a family trauma. The thinking behind the film – financed by Cave himself and directed by fellow Australian Andrew Dominik – was to talk about it once, and not have to traverse it endlessly in press for the album, inevitably reducing the whole thing to rote answers.

Strikingly, for nearly two thirds of the film, they don't directly talk about it. Indeed, if you went in without knowing the story, you'd end up as bemused as the Variety reviewer who complains about "this dithering" and ventures that "something seems amiss" in in Cave "never remotely confronting the issue of whether he feels in any way responsible for the death of Arthur".

There was course, no end of public commentary on Cave's alleged responsibility for his son's death after Arthur fell from a cliff after taking LSD – among other things, Cave watching horror movies with his kids was cited in a vile story in The Times – and Variety's hapless tut-tutting merely rehearses the unpleasantness the family has had to bear.

The rest of us went in with more open hearts. It's awkward for everyone, and Dominik contrived to underline that awkwardness by deciding to shoot not only in black and white, but in 3D. The film deliberately breaks itself in its opening minute, when the unreliable 3D camera fails as Cave's bandmate Warren Ellis attempts to explain what his friend has endured.

Eventually, the first of five songs from the album, 'Jesus Alone', plays. Dominik captures not the original writing-recording process, to which he doesn't seem to have been privy, but a pick-up vocal that Cave clearly struggles to muster. There are long minutes of self-doubt, sitting at the piano, before he sings it. He's vulnerable.

The song, when it comes, is cavernous, dissonant, haunting, and Dominik's direction makes it even more those things. I found it an affecting, slightly disorienting experience  in 2D and I imagine it must have been more so in 3D (on the other hand, I feel like wearing 3D glasses would have been difficult, as if something was in the way). The juxtaposition of this lush choreography and the observational sequences – they're fucked up sometimes, because everything is fucked up – is central to the film.

"I'm not sure about the songs," Cave remarks at one point, explaining that he and the band simply had to let them go forth. You can sense it: there's an artlessness in places you don't usually hear in Cave's work. He repeats a line because he doesn't have one to follow, leaves in one that scans awkwardly.

Ultimately, it's a film about grief, which compels Cave's fashion-designer wife Susie Bick into creative work when she doesn't even know why, but proves impractical as material for Cave himself. It's just too big, too awful. 

One More Time With Feeling is remarkable, awkward, beautiful, moving. Most people in the theatre seemed gobsmacked afterwards. About half of us stayed in our seats right through to the end of the credits.

In theory, the film had its first and only screening in cinemas all over the world last night. But you'd think it might come back. If it does, and you feel something for Nick Cave's work, you might want to see it.

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There was a loss closer to home last week. Stephen O'Hoy died after suffering a brain aneurysm. I first got to know Stephen when he helped sell my Great New Zealand Argument book while he was working at Amplifier, where he helped many local labels and artists to get their music on the internet for the first time. (Before that, he managed One Million Dollars, and there some laughs at the wake about the kind of person who would take on managing a 12-piece funk band.)

Stephen was Australian-born, of Chinese heritage (he was often mistaken for Pasifika). He was clever, kind, funny  and – this word has come up a lot in the past week – gentlemanly. His wife Ros and their daughters have suffered a terrible loss. And the local music community has lost one of the good men too.

You can get a sense of Stephen's musical identity via his turn on the Music 101 Mixtape:

RIP, Stephen.

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I heard the news about Stephen standing on K Road last Friday night in the midst of The Others Way festival, on what was otherwise a marvellous  night. The evening began for me with an enjoyable onstage interview with Roger Shepherd about In Love With TheseTimes: A Flying Nun memoir, in the fale at Samoa House.

From there, I saw Nadia Reid (new songs!), Voom (who were in great form), Hex (a heavy, awesome all-woman power trio from Wellington), Shocking Pinks (brilliantly rhythmic), Yoko Zuna (a surprise funky party, especially when Randa got on the mic), David Kilgour (good, but a little down on atmopshere compared to some of the other shows), King Loser (at once comedic and compelling), Ghost Wave (now evolved to stoner electronica, and quite unlike anything else on that night) and The Phoenix Foundation (who clearly had a magnificent time, ending with a very raucous version of 'Buffalo').

But it wasn't just the bands, it was the people. The atmosphere was great, like a big party up and down the strip. And I think you only get that when you get a lot of little things right.

But for all that, Ben Howe at Flying Out isn't sure whether The Others Way will be back in 2017. It's an enormous amount of work for a very slim margin and the festival needs external support to continue – probably from both council and commercial sponsors. I hope that happens and I'm happy to lend my support to anything that will help it happen.

I took some pictures. Here's Buzz from Voom:

 

Shocking Pinks:

Hex:

The Phoenix Foundation:

And a still from Stuart Page's shooting for Amdrew Moore's King Loser Loser doco:

Although I maintain my King Loser pic is also an accurate representation of the vibe:

 

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Meanwhile, Ben's former business partner in Auckland Laneway festival, Mark Kneebone – who was there enjoying himself on Friday night – had some happy news to share this week. Laneway has a new site: Albert Park, Princes Street and Alfred Street, with the main stage on Princes Street. The new site is 75% bigger than the Wynyard one, but the crowd limit will remain the same at around 12,000.

It promises to be a much more comfortable experience – and there's a symmetry there, given that the Lantern Festival has vacated the same precinct in favour of The Domain, where Laneway thought they were going to be able to go this year, leaving them in danger of not having an Auckland site at all.

Mark shared the news with me a couple of weeks ago, when I was at Mamata on the Saturday-morning bagel run (Mark had a pie) and he said  that it hadn't been easy to secure the site – and that the person who'd done more than anyone to get the festival over the line was Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye.

I gather she was keener to make the case on the basis of the employment and economic impact of the the festival rather than the intrisic merit of people dancing in the streets, but all praise to her for helping.

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Elsewhere:

Emily Littler looks back on Street Chant and explains why the band is ending.

At Audioculture, Redmer Yska recalls a country music scandal – one that cluminated in its very own Commission of Inquiry!

British music mag The Wire reports that Christchurch's Roy Montgomery is back with his first release in a decade – a four-LP box set.

And ... Ben King recently shared on Facebook part one (the other 17 parts are on YouTube too) of the 1989 "documentary" Hells Bells: The Dangers of Rock 'N' Roll, which is described as a "journey thru the dark side of Rock 'n' Roll music and its negative influence on society from a Christian perspective."

I had assumed that this sort of thing was confined to certain states in America, but Ben's school screened it to puzzled students and it appears that many others did too. How very, very strange. Also, it appears to have been singularly unsuccessful in deterring young folk from embracing the Devil's music.

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Tunes!

Leisure build up towards their alvbum release with another sleek single.

The Roulettes' new single has been compared, I gather, to Brough-era Straitjacket Fits – and yeah, it's got the slow burn and the sweet vocal allright. You can buy it for a dollar here on Bandcamp.

This is a mash-up that works: Jamie Xx's 'Good Times' vs the Dre Skull remix.

And finally ... don't forget that I and a few other people will be selling vinyl from our archives at Southbound Records in Symonds Street from nine till noon tomorrow. I'll have interesting dance 12"s, some rare indie 7"s, randcom albums and the odd original Flying Nun gem. All fees go to 95bFM's Bombathon fundraiser.

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

13

Radio B and the secret pirates

In an era where almost everyone has access to the tools to speak to almost everyone inclined to listen, it's easy to forget that not so long ago, the reins of broadcast communication were tightly held by the state. It wasn't until 1970 that Radio Hauraki was permitted a licence, ending a long state monopoly on radio. And even after that, it was literally an offence to express a controversial opinion on the radio.

Many of us have some idea of the Hauraki story. But there's another story of radio rebellion: one that went on longer, whose protagonists stuck to their guns, and which in many ways had a more profound impact. It's the story of Radio B and bFM.

Audioculture today publishes two articles that tell the beginning of that story – much of which has been forgotten, some of which has never been told until now.

One, The First 10 Years, tells the story of Auckland University's rebellious radio station and the furry freaks who established it and eventually succeeded – beating out Radio Rhema in the process – in gaining New Zealand's first temporary broadcast licence. (Amazingly, even then, they had to put up a $50,000 bond against the risk that they might swear.)

The other one is The Pirate Story. It's about a series of illegal broadcasts that ran, first in AM then in FM, from 1972 to 1980. The perpetrators surrendered the odd transmitter, but they were never caught – and it wasn't for lack of trying. There were raids on the university, plainclothes police, teams of Post Office inspectors and spectacular escapes; questions in Parliament and prosecutions in court.

The two artices are founded in a remarkable clippings file sent to 95bFM in 1992 by one of the pirates (and hence one of the "official" 1970s Radio B crew), Robert Gordon – and thence forgotten until the present 95bFM general manager Hugh Sundae arrived and had some volunteers look in the loft. Robert, who now lives in Wellington, also provided most of the photos and much of the background information for the articles.

He also helped me identify the ringleader of the piracy: a man who has since been honoured with the New Zealand Order of Merit and a Radio Award for services to broadcastng.

Although the more sensational part of the story lies in the first illicit AM transmissions, the subsequent pirate FM broadcasts were actually more influential. New Zealand in the 1970s was one of the last developed countries whose citizens were not able to listen to the radio in FM. The students campaigned on FM – on one occasion firing up a transmitter in Wellington and aiming it at Parliament – and did more than anyone to make the lack of FM an issue.

They also did another thing: played good music. For all that we recall the Hauraki story, the music it was founded turned to more conservative fare in the years after it was granted permission to broadcast. And while Hauraki's management strongly opposed Radio B's applications for a temporary licence, Hauraki's own DJs secretly did shows on the pirate station (then called Radio U) as a form of protest at what they had to play on the job. By the time of the final FM escapade in 1980, hosts from both private and public radio queued up to do pirate shows.

When FM finally did arrive in the 1980s, some of the same tensions came into play. But that's another story – one I'm researching for another Audioculture article.

For now: thanks so much to Robert Gordon and the other people I contacted (including those I didn't have space to quote in the stories): Julie Pendray, Glenn Smith, Tim Stanton, John Sweetman, Stuart Dryburgh (yes, that Stuart Dryburgh) and others. You all helped make the culture.

And in the meantime, you, the reader, might have a moment to consider the contribition this enterprise has made and the new challenges it faces in 2016 – and chip in a litte to 95bFM's Bombathon fundraiser. It's still independent media, after all this time.

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And now, here is a picture of a pirate radio transmitter: