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It’s Blitz.

Filed under: Music — Thomas @ 11:46 pm

11:46 pm

Went to FNAC to get the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. For some reason when I left I had 80 euros worth of CD’s in my bag.

The problem was I discovered a small section called ‘tributes’, where I picked up

  • John Peel, a tribute
  • Phil’s Spectre, a collection of Phil Spector-produced tracks
  • Kerouac – Kicks Joy Darkness
  • Controversy – a Prince tribute with Soulwax, Hefner, D’Angelo and Stina Nordenstam
  • Sing a song for you – tribute to Tim Buckley

I have a collector gene that keeps getting me into trouble.
Besides that, I also get the YYY one, a CD box called “Now that’s what I call No. 1’s” which at 10 euros for 60 tracks just represents good value for money, and some Arctic Monkeys EP.


Filed under: Dave/Dina,Elisa,Hacking,Music — Thomas @ 7:29 pm

7:29 pm

Six years ago, before I moved to Barcelona, my digital music collection was well-organized and simple.

I had my CD’s. And I had a copy of all of them, in Ogg, on my Dave/Dina box. I had very few downloaded tracks, and I didn’t really listen to those much. All my music on Dave/Dina was tracked in DAD, a project I did with my former housemate Kristof.

Life was great. Every new CD was ripped directly in Dave/Dina, imported in DAD, and from there it could be rated. So each track was immediately available for the dynamic playlists DAD generated. Those playlists were then played directly on the Dave/Dina box attached to the living room stereo, my desktop, or the kitchen or bathroom computers (small Compaq IA1 machines from the Golden Bubble days).

Today, it’s all a mess.

I have music (ripped, bought online, downloaded, or copied) on the following devices:

  • My elisa machine (which holds all the old Dave/Dina content)
  • My home desktop
  • My laptop
  • My work desktop
  • My Nokia N800
  • My Cowon A3 media player
  • Kristien’s iPod

I haven’t ripped a single CD in the last 4 years since I stopped working on Dave/Dina, so these days I also listen to CD’s on either our small portable stereo or the PS3. I have 200+ CD’s still waiting to be ripped.

So my music listening has become erratic, listening to either the old ‘good’ playlist from Dave/Dina that hasn’t changed for the last 6 years, and, while good, is getting stale; or whatever I recently ended up downloading, for a specific album, but random play is terrible when going through those directories, and of course each album is on some different machine or device.

The last two years, I’ve grown more and more annoyed at this situation. So one of my goals for 2009 was to finally *do* something about it. I realize that music is one of the things I love most in life, and my life would be better with the music I buy and find in it as soon as I have it. So what little hacking time I have left before real life begins (you know, kids and stuff) is going to go in code that is going to make my music experience better.

Having goals is a good way to direct your hacking. I’ve come up with five major projects I need to work on to get my music where I want it to be. All of these are projects I’ve had thoughts on in the past, but never really gotten to. Over the last few years a lot of new ideas and technologies have arrived that would help a lot now however.

  1. Re-rip all my CD’s in a lossless format, with perfect quality, according to a certain website’s standard
  2. Find a replacement for DAD, or make one. It should be able to track rips, tracks, different encodings of the same recording, different versions of tracks, parts of tracks (hidden tracks for example), and different collections across devices that it should be able to synchronize. Think ‘put 10 GB of the best songs on my N800’, and each time I’d connect my N800 it would automatically add new ones and remove old ones.
  3. Improve on the rating system DAD used to have, reusing ideas from a project at the radio stations all those years ago. Have a bunch of fuzzy parameters on each track which would allow much richer controls for song selection. Possibly turn it into a collaborative website if it makes sense. This hinges on uniquely identifying each track, for which acoustic fingerprinting would be a good solution. Basically, I want to use the power of the web and the music lovers to improve song selection. last.fm and pandora are going in the right direction, but don’t really satisfy me.
  4. Write a player that does the automatic mixing the way Dave/Dina used to, or better.
  5. Make a LEGO Mindstorms robot to automatically rip all my CD’s again

I’ve been tackling each of these separately, which turned out to actually be a good thing. Each time I’m stuck on one of them, I can work on any of the others. For example, I’ve been stuck on (4) for a long time, waiting for Edward to fix some bugs in gnonlin, so I switched to (1), writing code to parse .CUE files, implement CDDB disc id calculation, and AccurateRip verification of ripped images.
I also waited on a friend who I worked with at said radio station to confirm that he doesn’t have any backups either of the database for (3).

Since this is what I’ll be hacking on in my spare time in the forseeable future, I’ll probably blog about the different pieces as well. I’ll start with some more technical information on (1), the ripping part, which I’ve been working on the last month, in a separate post.

But man, I look forward to ripping my CD’s from the last four years and actually listening to those songs regularly, rather than once in a while.

Isn’t it amazing how our parents actually had to get up from their desk, go over to the turntable, and actually flip an LP over if they wanted to hear something else for 20 minutes ?


Filed under: Fluendo,GStreamer,Hacking,Life,Music,Python,Spain — Thomas @ 7:10 pm

7:10 pm

Hard to believe that next week it will be Five Full Years I live and work in Barcelona.

It seems like only yesterday that I closed the door on the empty house I then shared with three good friends, and drove our truck through the icy mist on to a new life. That night where we had no place to live I passed by my grandmother’s house for dinner, a few hours late. My grandmother’s not here anymore. Neither is her house. At least part of her floor is now the floor of my apartment.

Originally we planned to give it a try and see after a year. And then one turned into two, then two-and-a-half, and now five.

When I left there wasn’t even a company yet to give me a contract. Now we’re three companies, and our fifth move has taken us to an office of around 50 people now, and already people are complaining again about space. Par for the course.

I also guess I never actually publically informed about my move from Fluendo to Flumotion – it was just a logistical confirmation of a practical situation. Today Julien is managing Fluendo (the GStreamer/codecs/DVD company), and Elisa was always managed by Lionel anyway. And Flumotion is a full-blown commercial company.

Meanwhile, after a bit of a hiatus on my GStreamer involvement, I am slowly coming back to my plans of using GStreamer – the plans I had originally when I discovered GStreamer more than 7 years ago. I just reread my first post the mailing list, from April 10th 2001 – at least it wasn’t a completely stupid question.

My original plan was to write some code that would play your music just like a radio would. Nicely mixed, correctly levelled, a good flow between songs, and playing what you like to hear. An extension of the thesis project I did a long time ago which I used in our student radio at the time.

But GStreamer being what it was at the time, I got sucked into the vortex and didn’t really work on these ideas for a long time. I took a quick stab at it during 0.8 in the form of gst-python’s gst.extend.jukebox which worked quite well already on the mixing front, but when it got ported to 0.10 using gnonlin it just never worked for me and was left abandoned.

So third time’s a charm. After close to 10 years of random hacking, it’s about time to decide on one good personal project to invest my time in before life takes over. And this time I think I want to write something that not only Linux people can use. I want to write something that my friends can use too, and that means it has to work on Windows.

My motivation comes from being annoyed at not being able to listen to my music the way I should want to. I’ve been lax at ripping my new CD’s over the last 5 years, and a 300 CD backlog to show for it. My automatic playlists reflect my tastes of five years ago, and only once in a while do I bother to get some new tracks on one of my three computers or my Nokia, to which I then listen only in certain conditions. And every player I deal with annoys me to some extent. And none of them do any kind of decent crossfading, if at all.

I’m not promising anything yet, and I’m only at the beginning, but my experience makes me a happier hacker, advancing quicker from the idea to the code stage than way back when. That’s a nice feeling. Over a few two hour nightly sessions, I’ve put together some code that analyzes tracks, calculates RMS and attack/decay envelopes, and puts together a half decent mix. I’ve written a simple example using gnonlin which allows me to pre-listen these mixes, playing 5 seconds of the first track alone, then the mix, then 5 seconds of the second track alone.

This makes it a lot easier to evaluate different mixing strategies, making them easier to tune later on. I’ll have a fun plane trip with my laptop, earphones, and three batteries.

If you happen to be adventurous and interested, you can always check out the repository and play around a bit and see if it can mix your tracks at all.

So, I’m celebrating my Lustrum of Fluendo and Barcelona with a bit of code for a new project!

Sadly, the names I was considering a few years ago were already taken – pyjama is now a jamendo python application (mine would have been Just Another Music Application – in Python), and Orpheus, which also exists. So for now I recycled a name of a previous project that handled another aspect of the problem.

8 hours of plane hacking baby! Here I go.

half week

Filed under: Belgium,Life,Music,Spain — Thomas @ 12:13 am

12:13 am

I don’t often have the opportunity anymore to spend part of the weekend in Barcelona, which I miss, so when Kristien told me she was going to be busy receiving a really old Spanish guy and his boat in Antwerp on TV this Saturday, I decided I was going to spend my Friday night and Saturday in Barcelona.

A good decision! Thursday I went with Mariette and Sofie to go see Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Contrary to what I’ve been led to believe, the film is excellent and tells a wonderful story about love by putting caricatures of people into a situational movie. It’s clear the story worked very well as a lesson in love because I got drawn to a different message that was in the movie than some of my friends were, just going to show that a good story is multifaceted and resonates with a different one for different people. I also ran into Carl at the theatre who had gone to see Bye Bye Belgium – apparently they show the mockumentary here in Spain!

Friday night was spent hanging out in one of the Usual Suspect bars after work, then going out with Carl to one of his friend’s birthday drinks. Didn’t go to bed before 4:30, which is how a Friday night in Barcelona should be spent.

Saturday was a lovely day, 18 degrees C and sunny all day long. I spent it walking through the city, going to La Botifarreria to get some excellent sausages for a Sunday lunch in Belgium, seeing all the apartments for sale (surely this is a sign the prices are going to go down), and strolling through Parc de la Ciutadella. On the plane in the evening, to arrive home at midnight and crash into bed, exhausted.

Sunday lunch was spent with An, Mike, and my god son Arthur. I made home-made fries and mayonaise to go with the sausages. Sausages were a mix of apple/curry, spinach/pine nuts, foie gras, fig/mushroom, roquefort, sweet, and chocolate. It took Arthur a while to warm up to the idea of ‘sausages with specks’, as he calls it, but the fries definitely helped.

He kept making me build Lego houses so he could knock them down. I confused his young mind by saying that from now on, he was only allowed to knock over and break apart each house only once. Not realizing that there was no difference, he got angry and proclaimed that I was the worst person to play with. He quickly got over it though after we jointly invented the shove hug (push and hug until the other falls over)

We ended the evening by going to see Sigur Ros at Vorst Nationaal. We arrived as they closed off the main floor and instructed us to go to the highest seats, which sucks. But I managed to sneak us past the barriers and onto an only half filled floor anyway. We had a great view a good 15 rows from the front.

The opening band was called ‘For a minor Reflection’, also from Iceland, and though the name sounds off, they were really good. I ended up getting their album and listening to it all the way back to Spain – although you’d be hard-pressed to hear the difference between this and an Explosions In The Sky album. I guess that’s a downside of having no singing in your music – while I scoff at people who can’t hear the difference between Interpol and Editors, or Radiohead and Coldplay based on the voice alone, I would definitely have mistaken these guys for ‘is there a new EITS album ?’

Sigur Ros was good, picking from their darker works compared to the festival sets. For whatever reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as the two summer gigs – the sound’s never very good at Vorst Nationaal, and I was probably too tired. But the closer, song 8 off of (), was perfect.

All in all, a damn fine couple of days. I should plan to stay in Barcelona for the weekend more often.

Throw those curtains wide

Filed under: Music — Thomas @ 11:27 pm

11:27 pm

Prize for best intersong banter this year goes to Guy of Elbow

Who where in the audience is married ? Raise your hands

Wow, that’s not a lot of you. Who of you was once married ?

OK, raise your hand if you were married more than twice.

You, what’s your name ? Stef ?

Ok, this next song is for Stef, the most married man in the room!

As always, a spectacular concert. What a voice… He’s definitely grown in his role as a band leader over the years. Besides the amusing banter between songs, he had the crowd sing Happy Birthday to his girlfriend, who was in the room, and he challenged us to sing Bohemian Rhapsody during the ‘band-goes-off-stage-and-hangs-backstage-before-the-encore’ part, which worked out better than expected.

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