20 Albums

First off, sorry for neglecting this blog as long as I have. I blame twitter; somehow it is a lot easier to write 140 characters of an idea down rather than write out a blog post. I'm going to attempt to rectify this.

While recently stalking someone on Facebook I noticed a neat note: pick 20 albums from your music library that are significant to you. So here is my attempt at this, with explanation for the crazy choices I have made:

Classical Music Start-up Kit - Various

This was my first introduction to 'secular' music as it were. And it was quite the introduction: 43 tracks covering classical music from its roots to modern times. I don't know exactly when I started listening to this, although I do know it was long before I had a computer.

Surround Sound - Various Artists

This introduced me to a lot of other styles besides classical music, although most of it's tracks are classical.

The Complete Works of Scott Joplin - Scott Joplin

My love of jazz definitely started with Scott Joplin. I'd put scans of the Scott Joplin LPs I have up, but I don't have a scanner large enough to scan them on. If I were to choose two albums that have influenced my tastes the most, it'd be this album and Classical Music Start-up.

Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi

Quite possibly one of the most popular jazz albums of all time, and definitely an influence on my tastes. 

Absolution - Muse

Black Holes and Revelations - Muse

One of my friends initially borrowed a CD-RW from me because I had burned him some downloads that he had wanted (back in the day before ubiquitous broadband...). He returned it with Absolution and Origin of Symmetry on it. This was my official introduction to modern 'secular' music, although hardly mainstream at the time. Also, the jazz and classical roots Muse draws on helped to synthesize, in my mind, modern music with my other musical tastes.

At this point, the list takes on a different sort of flavor. I have listed some of the influences of my taste; artists and albums that changed what the rest of this list is. At this point my tastes had mostly solidified and music became a case of finding new artists that fit somewhere within the framework I had built.

Aeneid Soundtrack - Various/Colton

This is not an album per-se; in fact, only 12 other people have a copy of it. One year in Advanced Literature in high school we studied the Aeneid. My friend Colton made a three disc mix-CD that followed the book's storyline. He filled it with tracks from artists ranging from AC/DC to The Who, covering important artists such as Howard Shore, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Collins, and Pink Floyd.

Nassau Coliseum - 1985-03-29 - The Grateful Dead
Madison Square Garden - 1991-09-16 - The Grateful Dead

These two 'albums' are really concert recordings, and introduced me to another genre: psychedelic rock/jam rock. While that is the generic genre The Grateful Dead's music belongs in, it really covers everything from country to jazz to rock to avant-garde classical. I spent a year or so listening to pretty much just Grateful Dead music; whether this was entirely beneficial I do not know.

Freedom - Michael W. Smith

This album intrigued me when I first heard it. Before this I was used to 'Christian' music being mostly about words with musical accompaniment or trying to fit into mainstream rock/pop. I was not particularly pleased with the musical qualities of either. This album changed that. It is a classical album with some jazz mixed in. The album is very united; I believe there to be some level of a story in the music.

Tesseract - Tesseract

I found this band quite by accident wandering around the web starting from, of all places, a Hack A Day article. Tesseract is a local prog-rock band in California that recorded this album in 1997 and then broke up a few years later. Their music encompasses classical elements as well as rock elements for a weird but interesting listen.

Lost Christmas Eve - Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This was the first Trans-Siberian Orchestra album I heard, and I immensely enjoyed it. It essentially makes the instruments found in a modern rock band members of a classical orchestra.

GratisJazz - Eternal Jazz Project

Eternal Jazz Project is a jazz band from Sweden. This is classic jazz at its best: keyboard, saxophone, guitar, bass. It's incredibly peaceful and good for those times when you have to do something frustrating (ahem, Pearson MySpanishLab...).  They recently released another album, Seasons, that I am looking forward to hearing.

E. Centre - 1998-11-02 - Phish

Again, not an album per se, but a concert recording. While Phish has many excellent live concerts, this one is definitely iconic of Phish's style. It includes everything from jazzy organ solos to techno-esque gooves to a cover of Dark Side of the Moon.

Letters to the Editor Volumes 1 and 2 - Andrew Osenga

I cheated a bit with this one, as it's technically two albums. I look at it more as two halves of a larger picture. These are another example of 'Christian' music done correctly: talented instrumentation and deep lyrics. The style is more folk-rock-esque; if I were making a tree of these artists Andrew Osenga would be somewhere along The Grateful Dead's branch.

Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd

Although a cliche album to have on the list, Dark Side of the Moon unifies some of the weirder aspects of The Grateful Dead's music with the jazz and rock genres. As well, they create a unified album that, while not telling a story, conveys a consistent idea across the album.

The Wall - Pink Floyd

Opera converted into rock. There's more that I could say, but I'll just point out the impressive storyline told through this album.

(For those wondering where the words on the wall are, the original The Wall CDs had "Pink Floyd The Wall" written on the CD case itself. The liner just had a white brick wall on it.)

Dark Passion Play - Nightwish

Nightwish is a Symphonic Metal band. While the musical style itself falls something along the lines of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I like to classify it as 'epic' music, that is, music that conveys an epic tale such as that of The Lord of the Rings.

Viva La Vida - Coldplay

This album bolstered my falling faith in mainstream music. Coldplay manages to create an album that not only appeals to a wide variety of people, but also brings a wide variety of musical styles to the table. Despite this, the album is remarkably unified, almost to the extent that Dark Side of the Moon is. Their '/' songs: Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love and Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant are particularly interesting because they combine two different styles of music while keeping a similar idea in both halves of the song.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason - Pink Floyd

This is one of Pink Floyd's lesser-well-known albums, but it is still an excellent piece of artistry. It is an example of a 'secular' piece of music that has very meaningful lyrics in some of the songs without sacrificing musical artistry, a mistake that much 'Christian' music makes.

Well, that turned out to be quite a bit more navel-gazing than I had expected when I started out. Hopefully it's of some use to someone, or at least worthy of discussion.

By the way, if you're wondering about the ''s around secular and Christian music, read this article by the perceptive and intelligent texanpuddleglum.


The Zune HD Interface

I have a blog. Yeah, that's right. You (one of my two readers) probably forgot that because I haven't written in forever. I blame Twitter.

Anyhow, I was watching this video about the Zune HD: http://ignco.de/176

I'm going to ignore the hardware and just look at the UI. I'm a sucker for a well-designed, beautiful, and functional UI. This is why I have a Mac and why I would buy a Pre if I had the money. Now, at this point, most of you who haven't watched the video are looking at me (so to speak) incredulously. Me, a guy who has a Mac and likes Palm actually wants a Microsoft product? Yeah. I do. Here's why.

The UI is excellent for what it is doing--playing music. It's not designed as an iPod Touch; it's more like a music player with web browsing thrown in. I don't think it will extend well to apps, but we'll see what happens when Microsoft gets there. In the meantime, let's look at the UI, not the featureset.

The design is very minimal, but functional. It's menu driven and all text based, which could be problematic; it would be nice to have some icons next to each item. That said, the UI does have a 'light' feeling to it. There are very few widgets and screen dividers, unlike--dare I say it--the iPhone interface. This lack of widgets makes the UI look a lot simpler; there's a lot less going on on the screen.

The dual-home-screen setup might be confusing to some people, but the key here is that it's optional. You can get to everything you need from the main menu; the second screen just gives you access to your recent and new items. However, that's a very nice feature; if you're browsing the web, you don't have to jump out of the web browser, jump through the Music UI, and pick out that album you just heard yesterday. You just click the home button twice and click on the album. Much faster and probably very handy; I'd definitely pin a few favorite albums that I listen to all the time and just use the Music menu option when I need something different.

Another interesting aspect of the UI is their use of cut-off icons and text. Notice the arrow in the top left corner of the Now Playing screen. It is too big to fit in the corner, so the edges of the circle are cut off. This happens in a few other places in the UI. This uses your imagination to draw in the part of the circle that's not there because you know it is a circle. By making you imagine things that are actually partly off-screen, it makes the screen seem bigger than it actually is.

The music UI is also worth noticing. Instead of being a--gasp--drab menu-based UI like the iPhone, it emphasizes album artwork and albums. This is almost a throwback to the days of LPs where artwork was actually important. I could easily see myself hooking this up to a TV and watching the art while I listened to an album. Also, playing a whole album is an option, encouraging people (or at least making it easier than the iPhone) to play a whole album.

So, shoot me, but if I could afford a new mp3 player, the Zune HD would be a consideration, especially considering that Apple botched the iPod Touch update (c'mon, no 16 gig Touch? Seriously?). The one big problem? No Mac software, so I'd have to use an XP virtual machine, which is ugly.


Power of Communication

So, this year I'm attending Missouri S&T (aka UMR). As part of their fresman opening week stuff, I had to pick a class. I ended up in The Power of Communication because it sounded less boring than the other choices that I qualified for. In that I was assigned to a team of four people. We took a trip to Meramec Springs and had to write a presentation and a blog about it. This is the blog:


(In case you're wondering, posting this gets me extra credit. And if you comment I get extra credit. So go comment on the blog.)