The MP3 Collection

As mentioned the other day, yes, I’ve bought an iPod, succumbing to their shiny white allure at last. It isn’t my first mp3 player, though: I’ve had two years of mixed results with various flash-based players. Allow me to bore your ears off (or eyes out) with some tales of temperamental technology...

I started out with a Philips Key003, a 64MB USB stick with headphones bought for £45 from Richer Sounds. This compact unit had just enough room for a Joost Elffers sticker of a dog carved out of a potato, so I ended up calling it the Potato Pod. It was only big enough to hold an album or so, but for bus trips that was fine, and it could double as a straight flash drive. No cables and no extra batteries; it plugged straight into a USB port and recharged directly. One drawback was the lack of any display; another the proprietary headphones with built-in controls. Those were its fatal flaw: when the headphones eventually broke, the whole thing was useless. Now it really did have the sound quality of a potato.

Luckily it was still under warranty, so Richer Sounds exchanged it for the nearest equivalent. Player number two was an iRiver IFP-180T, the one I’d originally coveted but didn’t want to spend £120 on. Now it was down to fifty quid, so it only cost me an extra fiver. Twice the capacity, an inbuilt FM radio, and I could plug in a new pair of Shure headphones worth more than the player. Despite having to feed it AA batteries, I would happily have stuck with the iRiver: 128MB was enough for a few commutes, the LCD navigation was good, and I liked its Toblerone shape. But its plastic body was a bit too flimsy, and eventually a connection broke on this one too, after about nine months.

Still under warranty, though, so back it went to Richer Sounds—who exchanged it again, which was decent of them. This time they gave me a tenner back and a Philips Rush SA230, a 128MB player with a slot to take up to 512MB of additional SD memory. That was a great feature, and it had a radio and a voice recorder; but it took AAAs, wasn’t as cute as the iRiver, and the navigation interface was a step backwards, a problem when searching through 600MB of stuff. So I never really warmed to it (possibly also because its black and red coloration brought to mind The Phantom Menace—naturally, I called this one the Darth Pod).

Meanwhile, Jane had owned an iPod for a year, the new ones were out, and 60 gigs finally weighed the right amount (in pounds and ounces, if not pounds and pence). Time to ditch the album-in-your-pocket and switch to every-album-in-your-pocket. The Darth Pod was only six months old, so I shoved it on eBay, where it went for £28. So two years of trying out three different mp3 players cost me £12 plus batteries. Ha!

The iPod (or, ahem, rPod) sounds great, and the navigation is a dream (before anyone says anything, I know about hard-disk iRivers—a friend has one—but this suits me fine). But filling it up is like furnishing an empty mansion. New iPod + Easter + vast quantity of CDs to rip = no new blog posts...

Fortunately I’ve been ripping as I buy for the past couple of years and have done a lot of the backlog already, so on current estimates only have about half of the collection to go. At a rate of 10 or 12 a week that should only take, oh, until this time next year. Not to mention all the cleaning up of tags and re-categorising everything into genres that mean something to me. (“Alternative & Punk”? Johnny Rotten alongside Jarvis Cocker?)

It’s fun just bringing stuff back to the surface, though—all those memories of musical obsessions past: Chrissie Amphlett panting about sci-yunce fic-shu-hun; Peter Garrett pointing out that Gough was tough ’til he hit the rough; Rob Halford screaming that metal rules the land; Kim Wilde asking if I can come over and meet her tonight (which at age 16 I fervently wished I could). And, of course, Mike Oldfield burbling gibberish into a vocoder.

Yes, just as Ommadawn was the first CD I ever bought (on principle), the collected works of Oldfield were the first to go onto the iPod. Well, equal first, with about ten gigs of other stuff. By coincidence, at the same time I finally got hold of a copy of Sean Moraghan’s out-of-print biography, Mike Oldfield: A Man and His Music, as well as a second-hand copy of the new Platinum Collection for all the 12” mixes. So there’s been a lot of vocoder, screeching lead guitar and tinkly mandolin passing through the headphones this week.

And although his proofreading leaves something to be desired, I have to agree with Moraghan’s broad assessment of Oldfield’s career: 1970s stuff good, 1980s stuff not, with some exceptions. The main points of disagreement were that I liked Five Miles Out more than he did and Heaven’s Open less. The 1970s stuff still sounds great, and unlike anything else that was going on at the time, even the prog rock he gets lumped in with; and then he discovered the vocoder and the Fairlight and it all went wrong. More to the point, he did a psychotherapy course in the late 1970s that purged his childhood demons and threw out whatever it was that made his music so good. He recaptured it completely only once, with Amarok, and it’s been middling releases ever since.

If you’re new to Mike and that doesn’t put you off, you could do worse than The Platinum Collection: disk one is as good a coverage of his seventies albums as you’ll get in an hour, with well-chosen and substantial excerpts from everything up to and including Platinum; and disk two opens with “Moonlight Shadow”, his biggest hit single. When you’ve heard those, press Stop, put in disk three, cue up “Amarok (Excerpt)” and “Far Above the Clouds”, and then ignore pretty much everything else.

If you’re a fan, all you need to know is that it has a bunch of 12” mixes you won’t have on CD; “Pictures in the Dark” is not only on CD at last, it’s also the extended version (which is the song—the 7” version was an edit); “Evacuation” bizarrely has “Legend” tacked onto the end; “Heaven’s Open” isn’t the extended version it says it is (which has a totally different guitar line and sounds less upbeat); and “Don Alfonso” is here too, although inexplicably in mono. But honestly, compared with his finest moments—or those of countless other musicians—is any of this going to win him new fans? Any that he won’t lose straight away when they hear Bonnie Tyler belting out “Islands”?

Still, it could have been worse. It could have included the instrumental version of “Tricks of the Light” with the tinkerbell replacing the vocal line—the track that’s prompted me to create a whole new category tag of “Unlistenable”.

17 April 2006 · Music

"At a rate of 10 or 12 a week that should only take, oh, until this time next year."

You're more efficient than me, then. I've had an iPod mini (blue, since you ask) since September, and it currently has about 15 albums on it. Most of which have been there since September. This is mostly because my own computer is too aged to run iTunes, but there are five other computers in the house, so there's really no excuse...

I like the music from Amelie, but not enough for it to be one-fifteenth of my potential listening choices.

Added by Kirsten on 18 April 2006.

Accordions on infinite loop? Sacré bleu!

Added by Rory on 18 April 2006.

Well, quite. It's not even as though the memory is full... sheer laziness!

Added by Kirsten on 19 April 2006.

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