Hi-fi sci-fi

I’ve been gobbling up soundtrack CDs lately. The new Chronicles Of Narnia soundtrack is good stuff, and I had forgotten how good the orchestral score (i.e. “the stuff Queen didn’t do”) to Flash Gordon was in places. Yes, that Flash Gordon. That CD has become very very hard to find – it was a composer promo pressed for Howard Blake by the now-defunct SuperTracks, and also includes Blake’s music for Amityville 3-D (while I’ll admit I have yet to listen to, and have never seen). I snatched up a copy for a reasonable price this month (merry Christmas to me!), and I’m very pleased. Other recent acquisitions: Firefly, Stargate Atlantis, Planet Of The Apes (TV series), Stargate SG-1 Season 1…

Picking up on a trend?

I’ve asked this question many a time before, and I still haven’t found an answer. And I really want to know, psychologically, aesthetically, what it is that connects science fiction fans to soundtrack music so much. Is it an appreciation for the orchestra? When a couple of my favorites of the past 6-7 years have included the new Battlestar Galactica and the Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade, both of them very unconventional musically, I don’t think that’s necessarily it. So what is it? Are the composers’ imaginations unleashed by the subject matter to create more thrilling soundscapes than usual?

I don’t just own science fiction movie and TV and game soundtracks exclusively, but let’s tune in to reality FM: science fiction scores probably comprise at least 90% of my extensive soundtrack collection. And the scary thing is, I can’t even tell you why that is.

Talk to me, people. There’s a graduate paper in musicology just waiting to happen here.

They call me the ripper

The music shelf in my closet - this is where the CD changer magazines live.  And where the fish lives.My mission, which I spoke of in an earlier blog entry under the music heading, is within 30 discs of being complete – my entire music CD collection is now on my hard drive, with the exception of my Beatles CDs. (I’ve been doing this by pulling a handful of 6-CD changer magazines off the shelf at a time, and I’ve closed in on the Fab Four from both sides of the alphabet.) To say that this has proven to be not just labor-intensive (and CPU-time intensive) but an organizational challenge as well would pretty much sum it up. I’ve got 80 gigabytes of music ripped at 160Kbps…how does one organize that much stuff when it’s all discrete tracks?

The structure I’ve settled on pretty much drops the music into one of these directories: 50s and before, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, Soundtracks, Comedy, Game Music; each of those is then divided up alphabetically. There are also individual directories for several “go-to” favorites which are my musical comfort food – ELO, Alan Parsons, the Finn family tree (Split Enz, Crowded House, and the various solo and side projects emerging from those groups’ history), Star Wars music, Star Trek music, Doctor Who music, Peter Gabriel…there are probably about 20 of these “specialized” directories that fall outside the decade/category structure.

I tried to build a Winamp playlist of everything on the drive, just to see how long it would take for me to listen to my entire collection, from start to finish. Winamp froze up while trying to add up the length of the list.

But I thought it’d be fun just to total up some of those specialized directories. Let’s see what I have the most of to listen to. (This doesn’t really reflect how much of it I actually listen to on a frequent basis, just how much of it I’ve got on CD somewhere.) It’s not fair to compare the volume of music from a TV series (which may have tons of releases reflecting year after year of new music) to more mainstream stuff where someone’s touring, so I’ve divided things up that way. Here’s the countdown:

Afro Celt Sound System – 5 hours, 29 minutes
Jason Falkner (no Jellyfish) – 5 hours, 41 minutes
Art Of Noise – 6 hours, 29 minutes
Ben Folds / Ben Folds Five – 7 hours, 52 minutes
Depeche Mode – 9 hours, 11 minutes
Peter Gabriel (no Genesis) – 10 hours, 8 minutes
ELO, related artists & tributes – 11 hours even
Tori Amos – 13 hours, 14 minutes
Alan Parsons & related projects – 15 hours, 27 minutes
Finn family tree, related artists & tributes – 32 hours, 23 minutes

Star Wars soundtracks – 14 hours even
Babylon 5 soundtracks – 18 hours, 42 minutes
Star Trek soundtracks – 19 hours, 32 minutes
Doctor Who33 hours, 42 minutes

If some of these totals seem impossibly huge, I also tend to throw spinoff and remix stuff into the same directory as the artist or the property being remixed. (The Star Wars directory includes Meco, Shadows Of The Empire, and Christmas In The Stars, for example, and most of the soundtrack directories also include any original music for games based on that series. Frighteningly enough, the B5, Trek and Who directories include subdirectories for music by cast members, such as the solo musical escapades of Mssrs. Shatner, Mumy & Pertwee, which I did not count in these totals.)

All four of those major soundtrack directories crammed into the same playlist totalled 86 hours and 23 minutes. As a side note, there’s plenty of Star Trek music – and good Star Trek music, at that – waiting to see the official light of day. But the simple fact is that more Doctor Who music has been released. What’s even scarier than that is that, after about half an hour of crunching to come up with the number, Winamp says that the total running time of every soundtrack – movie, TV or game – is over 230 hours (5,671 tracks).

If the formula for royalties, performance rights fees, internet radio and podcasting ever gets simplified into a workable form that doesn’t look like the combination of a quadratic equation and a potato that’s exploded in the microwave, then somewhere in here lies the ingredients for one really freakin’ weird internet radio station. If not several.

In the meantime, I’m apparently going to need a iPod approximately the size of a box of printer paper. Hey, while we’re at it, they have these new video iPods. I’ve been thinking…if that thing people listen to has been called an iPod for years, wouldn’t it have made as much sense to call the thing that people will be watching an earPod?

Shifting a pair o’ dimes

Confirmed.I don’t quite know when it happened to me, but it has happened to me like it’s happened to so many other people. When I got my new PC (a.k.a. “Zen”, actual photo seen at right) in July, I immediately shifted all of the responsibilities of my cranky and slowly-dying old PC (a.k.a. “Orac”) to the new box. And with my then-upcoming trip to CGE just weeks away, I immediately set about ripping a bunch of my CDs to the hard drive -at 364 gigabytes, the most massive storage device I’ve ever owned – to transfer to my NetMD player.

Now, tonight, with one of my first free nights away from work in very nearly a month, I’ve reached a milestone – I’ve ripped my entire soundtrack collection to the hard drive, and a goodly chunk of my mainstream rock/pop collection. (Okay, admittedly, anyone who knows me knows that perhaps “mainstream” is perhaps not the most applicable term.) And why? I’m not listening to the NetMD that much. No. It’s because my computer has become my main music source. It’s hooked up to my stereo system. I’m listening to it right now as I type this (now playing: Night Fever by the Bee Gees, and no, I’m not kidding – more on my playlist in a moment), through my stereo amp and headphones. (I’m not sure my wife would dig getting down with the Brothers Gibb at 4:30 in the morning. While she’s trying to sleep and while, by all rights, I should probably be giving sleep a fair shot at happening.)

Oh, hang on, just went to the next song – Fade To Grey by Jars Of Clay.

One of the big reasons I made the leap, some 13 years ago, from being a guy with hundreds of cassettes to a guy who would someday have hundreds of CDs, can be summed up in two words: random access. I had experienced the joys, at my radio job at the time, of using a CD player with a full numeric keypad. (Funny, isn’t it, how that feature has largely fallen by the wayside? My preferred model of CD player, the massive, Borg-ship-like Pioneer TM-3 18-disc magazine changer, still has the keypad…but then again, it was made in 1993.) Having everything on the PC pushes that random access paradigm to extremes. Point, click, queue, bang, it’s there, or coming up in just a few moments.

Now playing: Lenny Kravitz – It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over.

Okay, and while we’re talking random access, let’s talk about my playlist. I’m an old radio fart – meaning that I was DJ’ing on air back when saying the word “ass” on the air wasn’t trendy, but rather a one-way ticket to unemployment and unemployability, and so help me I miss that standard – so my tastes, while they clearly do include some mainstream stuff that everyone knows, usually tend to veer far, far off the 130bpm beaten track. Almost 1/3 of my 800+ CD collection consists of scores from movies, TV, games, and stage musicals, so there’s a lot of that in there. I’m unwinding after 3+ weeks of nonstop activity at work, and (God willing) enjoying my first actual two-day weekend in about a month), so I’m in a weary, contemplative and somewhat relieved mood tonight. Keeping the words “random access” in mind, here’s what I’ve been listening to tonight:

…anyway, you get the idea by now, I’m sure. I’d love to find a radio station that programs like that. There’s only one catch: radio stations have to keep an audience awake to play their commercials too. (I didn’t list, in the list above, a few of those that I threw in as well – albeit things like Firesign Theatre spoof commercials, NPR pledge drive spots from the Star Wars radio drama box set, and whatnot.) That’s the beauty of an MP3 player program (in my case, Winamp) that allows you to playlist whatever the heck you please. It’s Earl-FM.

I knew my whole way of thinking shifted one day this past week when my copy of the Firefly soundtrack arrived in the mail – and I yanked it out of the shrinkwrap and stuck it in the computer, and then put it back in the jewel case and then into my bag to take to work on the off-chance I’d have time to listen to it there.

So it’s happened to me too. My poor old CD player, much as I love its blinky yellow LCD lights and its keypad and its remote control, just isn’t seeing as much action these days.

Oh, and with roughly 80% of my CD collection ripped, only about 25% of my hard drive is in use – and that includes applications, this entire site, Windows XP, tons of photos, and other documents that aren’t music.

Man, I love computers.