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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

No, I’m not writing about HRC’s remarks Friday, I’m talking about the Eurovision Song Contest – that annual celebration of kitsch, glam and (mostly) pedestrian music in which 25 European performers from different countries go up on stage and perform so that the whole of Europe can choose the best song/voice/sex appeal/weird outfits/light show/weird dancing/ability to get their border countries to vote for them.

To those unfamiliar with the Eurovision process, here’s what happens: most European countries (43 this year) choose one singer/band to perform an original song that will go to the contest. There are two semifinal nights before the final, at which 25 countries are represented. Each performer gets three minutes on stage to perform, taking about two hours, and then viewers across Europe vote for who they think should win. They take 15 minutes to vote, 15 minutes to count the votes, and then spend 45 minutes describing how each of the 43 countries entered initially voted, giving points to the top ten performances: 1-8 points for places 10 through 3, 10 points for second, and 12 points for first. Country size doesn’t matter; 12 points from Malta is as good as 12 points from Germany.

Of course most of the music is… well, crap. It can usually be divided into one of three categories: bad europop, really bad europop, and pale imitation of really bad europop. Occasionally a completely off-the-beaten-track song shows up, such as Lordi’s death metal song from two years wihch won the competition for Finland. Much of the time the winner is a marginally decent song, usually a ballad or something that falls into the category of bad europop.

Usually however, the winner has more to do with inter-country politics: the Scandinavian countries vote for each other, the east European countries vote for each other, Portugal and Spain vote for each other, etc. So the winner is rarely the best song. In principle winning Eurovision can launch careers – in practice it rarely seems to do much for the winner outside his own country, unless they were already established. Celine Dion and Cliff Richard have won it when they were already established artists – only Abba and possibly Dana seem to have had their careers launched by Eurovision.

I watched this year’s Eurovision streamed live online, which began with a tedious Romanian ballad and ended with a tedious Norwegian pop song. Mixed in between was a 75 year old rapper from Croatia, a blind singer from Georgia, and a 16 year old from Armenia. Other notable performances: the Russian performance was forgettable but featured an ice rink on the middle of the stage. The Latvian group dressed up as pirates and sang a half-decent song about pirates, the Azeri group had some weird performance involving half the performers dressed as angels and the other half dressed as devils, and the Bosnian performance was just bizarre (but a pretty good song nonetheless). (You can watch the full program at eurovision.tv – the links above take you to the original videos for each song, but I recommend watching the whole performance to understand the full force of Eurovision.)

In the middle of all this came the one real bright spot of the night – a nattily dressed group from Denmark, singing a crisp pop song, with a crisp melody, crisp lyrics, crisp outfits and an overall crisp performance. A song vaguely reminiscent of Frank Sinatra/Peggy Lee style music but with a much more modern edge. The only song I’d probably want to listen to regularly. Of course, since they had the best song of the night, they only came in 14th.

The winner? Russia, with another boring song. The big loser? The UK, a result that says more about how the rest Europe dislikes the UK than about the song itself (it was certainly much better than the Russian entry).

I’ll stick to my music collection.

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I sent a letter to the prime minister, and the ministers of industry, heritage, and the chair of the Industry Commmittee about the upcoming copyright reform legislation, which by the way has now been delayed. The text follows.

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

My name is David Puglielli, and I am a PhD student attending Queen’s
University in Kingston, Ontario. I am writing to express my view regarding
upcoming copyright reform legislation. I am deeply concerned that this
legislation is being driven by the interests of large copyright holders at
the expense of consumers, educators and researchers.

I am especially worried that the legislation may reproduce the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is a poor strategy to follow. We have
had nearly a decade of experience to examine the effect that the DMCA has
had on consumers, educators, researchers and innovation. There is no point
to introducing legislation that will only cause the same problems here, and
I urge your government to learn from the mistakes made by US lawmakers in
crafting the Canadian legislation.

The DMCA has had numerous undesirable consequences. There are dozens of
cases in which the DMCA has been used to:

1) stifle competition, in which companies lock down their intellectual
property and then take legal action against competitors that need to reverse
engineer those products to build competing products, as has happened in the
after market for inkjet printers;
2) prevent researchers from carrying out their activities; in particular,
security researchers, which makes it more difficult to discover security
problems in protected systems before malicious hackers do;
3) prevent American citizens from making legitimate uses of media under
American fair use laws (unfortunately the Canadian fair dealing exception is
more narrowly defined than the American fair use clause); and
4) stifle freedom of speech, such as when organizations use the DMCA to
silence online critics.

The list of reasons not to follow the U.S. lead on copyright reform is far
too long to list here, but a summary of the unintended consequences of the
DMCA may be found at
http://www.eff.org/wp/unintended-consequences-seven-years-under-dmca. If you
have not read this yet, I invite you to do so to familiarize yourself with
the problems brought on by the DMCA in the U.S.

How will this legislation affect me specifically?

My concern is that I am a Linux user. Linux, as you may know, is an open
source operating system that that can be used in place of Microsoft Windows
on a PC. I use it because it integrates with my work environment better than
Windows and because it is far more stable and secure. In order to access any
type of protected media on my computer, I need to circumvent the
copy-protection schemes used to encrypt them, since licenced software is
rarely available for Linux. I occasionally watch my (legally purchased) DVDs
on my computer, but these DVDs contain CSS encryption. Under the DMCA, it is
a crime in the U.S. to use open source decryption tools to watch DVDs under
Linux. Should I be made a criminal for watching a DVD under Linux? Similarly
I must use circumvention if I wish to view high-definition (HD-DVD, Blu-Ray)
discs under Linux.

Here is one example of the unintended consequences directly applicable to
me. New iPod firmware updates include a hash check that ties one iPod to one
copy of iTunes. I need to use my iPod with Linux – there exist numerous
tools that integrate the iPod seamlessly with Linux, but they must now
circumvent the hash check to do so. Under current American law, his may
violate the DMCA. Thus, the next time I sync my iPod with my Linux music
player, I risk violating Canadian law, assuming the Canadian version is
similar to the American one. Why should this be the case? The hash check is
an artificial protection measure that abuses the DMCA to lock out
competitors, but does absolutely nothing to stop piracy. Should I be
considered a criminal simply for using my iPod with Linux? You will note
that the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision is used by companies to lock in
customers and lock out competitors, which is a completely unintended
side-effect of the DMCA.

I read earlier this week that the upcoming legislation has been strongly
influenced by lobbying pressure brought to bear by copyright holders. I am
not happy about the prospect that this legislation may have been written
without protections for consumer rights and without protections against the
excesses I outline above. I am a stakeholder in this debate just as are
copyright holders, and I do not appreciate it if my interests are shunted
aside in order to placate lobby groups. However, every indication is that
this is what is currently happening.

I would ask that this legislation *not be fast-tracked* so that committee
may have adequate time to study it. Consumers are not well organized like
large copyright holders, I believe that the best opportunity we have to
address our concerns about the legislation will come in committee. It would
be an insult to the millions of Canadians consumers directly affected by
this legislation who do not have a lobbying organization at their disposal
to fast-track it.

I wish to emphasize: We have a unique opportunity to take a novel and
effective approach with our copyright reform because we’ve seen the problems
caused by the approach taken by other countries, especially the United
States. Do not follow their example.

I will close by noting that I hope that your government will pay at least as
much attention to the interests of consumers, educators and researchers as
it does to large copyright holders. I am confident that if the concerns of
all stakeholders are appropriately addressed, our copyright reform will
serve as a successful model for the digital age, instead of a failed model
that deserves to be abandoned.

Sincerely,
David Puglielli

—————-
Now playing: Steven Wright – This Woman I Met
via FoxyTunes

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I’m not telling you how I came across this.
—————-
Now playing: TV On The Radio – Wolf Like Me
via FoxyTunes

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Pandora: Disaster Looms

Update: The webcasters and SoundExchange are now (as in, this evening) negotiating a new deal, giving net radio a reprieve – with congress paying close attention, apparently. Both the minimum per song fees and the minimum per channel fee are off the table.

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I recently joined Amie Street, which is a new music service with very interesting business model: upload your music and people can download it for free, and as it becomes more popular the price starts to go up to a maximum of $0.98 per song. That way, there’s an incentive to seek out relatively unheard-of artists while also knowing exactly what’s popular. I downloaded (for 88 cents) an album from Jotto.

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Bits and pieces:

  • Paul Ohm on Eugene Volokh has a couple of nice posts discussing the price of digital music and the analog hole (the analog hole costs exactly 23.9828 cents) here and here.
  • MiniBooNE saves the standard model of particle physics: it finds no neutrino oscillations where LSND did, which means there is no reason to believe any new physics (such as sterile neutrinos) is required by LSND.
  • Quote of the day: ‘Emo – punk music on estrogen.’ From Urban Dictionary.

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From digg: An old but excellent piece in Salon written by Courtney Love (!) about how record companies have exploited recording artists finacially and wrested control of coyrights from them, and how new technology is slowly eroding their very reason for existing (i.e., no more scarcity).

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