Tag Archives: music

Père Lachaise

I just visited Paris for the first time and had a very hard time coming back home. It’s a big understatement to say that I fell in love with the city. The delicious pastries, the amazing traditional bistro food cooked with passion, the tangible feeling of a long history everywhere you go, the excellent public transportation, the incredible museums and bookstores, … I could go on and on. I could see myself living a very happy life there.

When booking this trip (meant as an early celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary in 2011), I confess that I didn’t have many plans. Other than eating and walking all over the city, that is. Of course I might end up seeing the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Orsay, and all that, but I wasn’t really planning touristy activities. Whatever happened would have been fun, with one exception: there had to be one sure visit to the Père Lachaise cemetery. Why one would want to visit a cemetery on a romantic get away? You could probably try to psychoanalyze this to no end and you’d be wrong on most accounts, so I’ll give you a couple of clues.

First, Dead Can Dance is one of my all time favorite music groups (I wouldn’t call them a “band”) and one of their most intriguing album covers was from Within The Realm of a Dying Sun. Ever since I learned that this sad but beautiful artwork was a mausoleum at Père Lachaise (back in the 80’s), I vowed to see it in person some day. Second, back when I was studying photography in the 90’s, I used to enjoying going out to look for unusual angles on unusual subjects; in that search, I visited cemeteries that would have interesting artwork. One of them, was the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. At first, I was just attracted by the look of moss covered, decaying stone or cement (yes, I used to listen to a lot of goth/darkwave music). Later on, though, I started to enjoy the sense of peace in those places and developed an interest, if not the reverence, for the history and the lives of the people in those resting places. There’s quite a bit of sadness in a cemetery, but there’s also a sense that someone’s life left behind something tangible for us to appreciate even in the brief history contained in a epitaph, in their dates of birth and of passing. The melancholy mood is there, of course, that sense that humanity as a whole was diminished by a life that was extinguished. I discovered, though, that when I close my eyes in front a mausoleum, I feel inspired by the known or imagined contributions that those people would have left behind.

I’m really glad that in the midst of our time in gorgeous, but tourist mobbed, loud, and often hectic Paris, Lisa and I took a couple of hours to walk around serene Père Lachaise. We agreed that it turned out to be a very inspiring time for both of us. We paid homage to Jim Morrison, which on that day had his tombstone draped with a Brazilian flag. The sight inspired me to revisit my Doors music collection and to watch When You’re Strange, a great documentary from 2009 (which was actually being shown in theaters in Paris this summer). We also visited Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite writers, whose mausoleum is covered by red lipstick imprints. We tried to find Brillat-Savarin (“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are”, author of The Phisiology of Taste quoted on the opening of the original Iron Chef), but got lost in the process.

The part of the visit that got us really down was the section reserved to honor the victims of the WWII holocaust. The appropriately stark and harrowing artwork is a slap on your face that gets you out of whatever romantic reveries you might be entertaining and reminds you that mankind is capable of creating horror as well as beauty.

Pricing Strategy

The other day I wrote about being excited that there was good music to be had legally and fair prices from Amazon.com (Fair Enough). Yes, there are many good albums for $5 and less, which you can download instantly and that is the good news.

The not so great news is that Amazon.com’s pricing strategy doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. For instance, today, August 17, 2010, two items cost you the same whether you purchase physical media or the download:

  • Vapor Trails, Rush –  $7.98
  • Counterparts, Rush – $9.98

And this is when their pricing strategy stops making sense to me. You can get free shipping for orders of $25 and above – that is, it’s free to you, but it costs someone money (in this case, Amazon, obviously). Why wouldn’t they factor their shipping expense out of the cost of the physical media? Perhaps they assume that most people will be stupid enough to not pad their orders to $25 so that they can get free shipping, or that most people will have bought Amazon Prime membership. That would drive people to opt for downloading at exactly the same price. (Well, they have the hard data to make a judgement, so I am quite possibly wrong here.) Not to mention that if you buy the media, you have to wait a few days to get your music, which is anathema to our entitlement and instant gratification culture.

My hypothesis is that they price media and download equally because they assume people would be more likely to buy single items this way. Perhaps this works wonderfully well in times of economic downturn.  Several hypotheses, no conclusion for me except that in a case like this, I’ll opt to buy the media, with the old fashioned paper insert and the physical sense of ownership. I may be in the minority, but the small wait doesn’t bother me at all. Amazon could have saved a couple of bucks in shipping and handling…

It’s even more interesting that as soon as I place the order for physical media, Amazon send me email to say that I earned $1 to apply toward the purchase of music downloads! This only adds to the nonsense that I had already observed and gets me more confused. I should have studied marketing or game theory.

As to why I’m buying four Rush albums in the same week (downloaded one at $5 and ordered a third CD that cost me $2 more than the download), that’s something to be discussed in another post.

Geeky Soundtrack for Coding Inspiration

If you don’t know this yet, geek and nerd mean very different things. I’ll let you do a web search and talk to your friends about it, but here are a few thoughts.

  1. By definition a nerd can’t be cool, but there’s no one to say that geeks can’t be cool. Actually, geeks are the coolest.
  2. Geeks don’t have to be anti-social, dress funny, or be the prey of bullies. They just are better at science, math, and technology than the average person.
  3. People are jealous of the geek’s skills and self-confidence. They try to hide it by saying “you are such a geek!”, particularly when the geek shows knowledge that trumps that of the first person.

But… enough about the nerd versus geek debate; let’s get this playlist started. I invite you to add to it!

Math

  • Love and Mathematics, Broken Social Scene
  • Mathematics of Chaos, Killing Joke
  • My Mathematical Mind, Spoon
  • Music is Math, Boards of Canada
  • Black Math, The White Stripes
  • Any song by Math and Physics Club

Science and Technology

  • She Blinded Me with Science, Thomas Dolby
  • Anything from The Sounds of Science, The Beastie Boys
  • Natural Science, Rush
  • Weird Science, Oingo Boingo
  • Atom Dream, William Orbit
  • Anything from Better Living Through Chemistry, Fatboy Slim
  • Life is a Gas, from Electric Warrior, T.Rex
  • Life on Mars, David Bowie
  • Space Oddity, David Bowie
  • I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship, David Bowie
  • Here on Earth, Love and Rockets
  • Holiday on the Moon, Love and Rockets
  • Time, Pink Floyd
  • Astronomy Domine, Pink Floyd
  • Chemistry Class, Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  • Rest My Chemistry, Interpol
  • Surrealchemist, Stereolab
  • President Gas, The Psychedelic Furs
  • I’ve Got a Miniature Secret Camera, Peter Murphy
  • Computerworld, Kraftwerk
  • It’s More Fun to Compute, Kraftwerk again
  • Computer Love, Kraftwerk one more time… (maybe they’re simply the geekiest band ever)
  • Future in Computer Hell, Junkie XL
  • Computer Blue, Prince
  • Paranoid Android,  or anything from OK Computer, Radiohead
  • Technologic, Daft Punk
  • Any song by Electronic
  • The Electric Co., U2
  • Ultraviolet, U2
  • Atmosphere, Joy Division
  • Invisible Sun, The Police
  • Body Electric, The Sisters of Mercy
  • Anything from Electric, The Cult
  • Electricityscape, The Strokes
  • Electrified, and anything else by Electric Boys
  • Electricity, Suede
  • Electricity, Spiritualized
  • Electric Alice, Grinderman (You know Alice the programming language, don’t you? This one scores double.)
  • Are Friends Electric?, Gary Numan
  • Electric Requiem, Queensrÿche
  • Electric Feel, MGMT
  • Electric Funeral, Black Sabbath
  • She’s Electric, Oasis
  • Radar Love, Golden Earring (although the Ministry version sounds better)
  • Shooting Star, Lou Reed
  • Atari Baby, Sigue Sigue Sputnik

Fair enough

Thinking back to 1992, the average price of a music CD was somewhere between $12 and $13. As time went on, prices rose steadily until they hit an average of $15 to $16, with individual discs costing about as much as three dollars more for those who didn’t known where to shop.

At some point in the 90s, the music industry was accused of having formed a cartel. I remember some federal investigation, some verdict or settlement, and even something about money being owned to customers, the color of which I never saw. And I had bought a lot of music for many years. Parenthesis: “Hi, I’m Luiz Felipe and I’m addicted to music and no, I don’t want to get into your 12 step program for that.” End of parenthesis.

In the meantime, both the Tower Records-types of stores (remember?) and the independent ones were starting to suffer with the advent of online businesses like CD Now (bought by Amazon.com) and CD Universe. The competition was enough to give consumer a bit of a break in prices and I was moderately happy with the situation. (Truth be told, I’ve always been a bargain shopper and often raided bargain bins and used CD shelves with great success, so I rarely paid full retail prices).

Then, around the turn of the millennium, what followed was Napster, KaZaA, Emule, and other shady means of “acquisition” of music, but who would have wanted to risk their neck in an RIAA lawsuit? It turns out a lot of people did. It was easy, it was free, and only a small percentage of people were getting caught. There was much more to this “rush to download” than people trying to get away with stealing. People are mostly good, people have consciences (most of them), and most often, people want to do the right thing.

There were years of marked up prices, there was widespread belief that of the CD price only a small fraction was getting to the artists, there was a bit of a Robin Hood feeling of retribution going on. Teaching CSCI 240 Computers and Society, a class focused on computer ethics, I got to have many discussions with young people who said they didn’t feel that massive file sharing and music downloading equated to theft. Certainly a great point for in-class debate.

Young people are informed consumers. They know well that in the $17 they’d pay for a CD today (that is, if they were still buying that kind of media), only a small fraction would go to support the artists, pay for production and distribution costs, for the media, etc. Perhaps it is the sense of having been robbed in the first place what justifies them going after Prince John.

An indication that people would pay if charged a what was considered a “fair price” came with the .ru sites such as Mediaservices Inc.’s AllofMp3.com. People could pay to download by the bit, not by the song, and not at iTunes’ $0.99 a song, but they were paying and that made consciences feel better than just downloading. There was a catch, though, as widely documented, which I quote here:

“Mediaservices argues that it is a legal company because it pays royalties to the Russian Organization for Multimedia and Digital Systems (ROMS) which is basically the Russian version of SoundExchange in the United States. The problem is that the major labels don’t recognize ROMS and have refused to accept any payment from the organization.”

AllOfMp3.com was shut down, but just like a zombie, it came back and seems to have multiplied. At the same time, the status quo has changed a lot and I feel that we have reached a point where excuses for not doing the right thing won’t cut it anymore. Amazon.com has been offering mp3 downloads are very fair prices, what has been bad for my addiction “problem” (if you can call being passionate for music a problem).

For instance, this weekend they sold me Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” at $3.99, which compared to iTunes’ $9.99 is a really great deal. That’s more than a 50% discount, if you’re lazy to do the math. MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular” (which I loved) cost me $5.00 about two weeks ago. Amazon is showing that it is possible to sell digital music at fair prices by creating the right opportunities. The catch is that the special offers are fleeting opportunities and if you miss the boat, that might be it. While  I used to drive around to scavenge for the right CD bargains, I can reach the same result from my computer by visiting Amazon.com: MP3 Special Deals once a week. You might not get exactly what you want, when you want it, and at the price you want it, but come on, tone down that sense of entitlement. If you want that cake and want to eat it too,  just pay the regular download price or go shop at a Virgin Megastore (I actually love them, but their prices are insane). Alternatively, you can be patient and money-savvy, and enjoy discovering great music in the over 1,000 titles that come around as special deals.

I recently bought some great music at fair enough prices from Amazon.com:

  • Rodrigo Y Gabriela: 11:11
  • Paula Morelembaum: Berimbaum
  • Stan Getz: Jazz Samba Encore!
  • João Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto
  • Celso Fonseca: Natural
  • Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
  • Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Gimme Fiction
  • MGMT: Oracular Spectacular