Musical Meandering

August 30, 2009

I can’t decide if I am a Geek or a Luddite. Sometimes I ache for the latest tech-toys, and sometimes I shun them like the Amish avoiding buttons. Blogs and wikis ? Love ’em. Facebook and Twitter ? What IS the point ? Laptop computers ? Can’t live without them. Mobile phones ? Don’t even own one.

So I am pleased to report that my latest toy testing has been a success. I have dipped my finger into the honeypot of internet radio and it has come out tasting sweet. This was not a foregone conclusion. My normal listening pattern is  80% Radio Four, 15% Planet Rock, and 5% Radio Three. Yet all this time a larger world lay undiscovered…. Of course, being an astronomer, I found myself compelled to classify what I found on my voyages.

(1) Same old same old.  Some sites are just web faces of normal radio stations –  eg

The last one is for feeding my Californian nostalgia.

(2) Same but more so. Some internet radio stations are are pretty much like normal radio stations, but in classic internet style, the whole world is there for your pleasure. Some I found and liked :

  • Radio XRadio Indie and 3WK are Indie/Underground channels
  • Accuradio says its for grown ups. It has some classical stuff, but I just loved the Bluegrass channel.
  • SOMA FM is a San Francisco underground station . SOMA means “South of Market” , a bohemian area
  • Resonance104.4 has speech and arty stuff
  • Radio Paradise is from Paradise CA, and has no ads !!

(3) Pre-canned. Some internet radio stations are really podcasts : pre-recorded shows, chatty hosts etc. Some examples :

  • Scottish Internet Radio – blues and folk music.
  • Garage Punk – err… garage punk.
  • Magnatune – particularly good classical stuff. Magnatune is interesting for all sorts of other reasons. It may bring down the evil record labels.. More another time.

(4) Enquire Within Upon Everything. Some are web sites are aggregators. This is another internet tradition of course. As soon as something gets popular, suddenly there are hundreds of ’em and Joe Public gets confused and dismayed… but then The Portals come riding to the rescue. Fear ye not, its all here, and we have categorised it for you !  Some examples :

iTunes may seem out of place, but as well as all those 99p tracks, it gives you loads of free radio stations and podcasts. Somewhere in these tangled thickets you can find marvelous stuff – for example Anuraag, a station with 100% Indian classical music. Try finding that on your usual FM radio.

(4.1) The people shall be heard. Now for the Web 2.0 bit …the first three of those aggregators are also station hosters. Now any spotty teenager can make their own radio station. Sign up, download the software, prepare your playlist, cough up $10 a month … and you’re off.  This is like musical blogging and I am guessing its the same mixture of absolutely wonderful and toe curlingly awful. Haven’t really had time yet to do a sampling.

(5) Music on Demand
The new thing is internet jukeboxes. These sites have vast searchable collections of recorded music. You can type in “Madonna” or “New Riders of the Purple Sage”, and get a list of tracks to play. Unlike iTunes, where you pay per track, its free as long as you listen to the adverts; or you can pay a subscription to get rid of the ads. They also offer complete albums for sale, and a radio mode, where you can listen to a themed stream. There are now a lot of these. Here’s a few examples  :

  • Spotify Actually a downloadable application. You can make your own playlist. Very impressive but not complete list. They’ve got Terry Riley but not Led Zeppelin.
  • Last FM Probably my favourite, partly because there is a Firefox toolbar interface, called Fire FM. The streamed radio, rather than having fixed categories like Spotify, creates streams of your selected artist, and offers “similar artists” so you can meander pleasantly through musical space. I typed “Bartok”, started “Bartok Radio”, and was offered Schonberg, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Messiaen, and others. Not bad. It also has pretty good information on every featured artist. All this works better on the Fire FM version I think.
  • Jango Very similar to Last FM  – start an artist-centred stream, get some suggestions of related artist. Somehow I don’t quite like it as much as Last FM. Its all a bit too busy and confusing and I couldn’t make it work the way I expected. Or maybe thats me getting old.

(6) Weird shit. As usual with internetty things, its great for finding stuff far out on the long tail. Some musical websites are just very very weird indeed. In increasing order of weirdness :

  • Birdsong radio Very relaxin’.
  • Orange county anarchist radio Only on an hour a day. Presumably broadcast from a van parked somewhere different every week.
  • Sound Transit My favourite ! Design a journey around the world and get a sequence of recorded sound effects. Mesmeric. Try it.
  • Weirdsville Err …what it says on the tin. I love it. You’ll hate it.

Thats all folks. Happy Listening.