Sunday, 9 June 2013

iTunes ... meet classical music

Just a little bit – looking organised
After the warmth and sun of yesterday, a blanket of cloud and a considerably lower temperature meant that today has been a time to spend inside.

And how best to make use of such time? Well, there’s been loads of kitchen action – or which more to come – and the continuation of my ongoing battle with iTunes to get all my classical music digitised and onto the iPod.

Not that this means that I’m planning on getting rid of my CDs – quite to contrary. This is simply about the portability of my collection.

After experimentation, I don’t particularly like buying music in a digital format any more than I like buying digital books either.

Yes, I know that the latter would mean that I wasn’t lugging tomes around with me on holidays etc, but I love books.

Indeed, after finishing the 608-page new translation of Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum on Friday (of which more to come another day), which was carried around for a few weeks in my everyday bag, I’ve now started an even weightier tome: Richard Osborne’s Herbert von Karajan: A life in music, which enters the ring at an impressive 800-plus pages.

It’s weight-training, Jim, but not as we know it.

Which brings us back to music.

I don’t wish to buy music digitally, first because when I’ve spent the money, I want to have a copy physically in hand, not just – in effect – on digital loan, ultimately ‘stored’ somewhere in the digital ‘cloud’ or somewhere else in cyberspace.

And second, because in terms of classical music particularly, recordings are very often accompanied by booklets that are not only very informative, but can be very substantial themselves.

Take a collection of the ‘complete works’ of French composer Pierre Boulez. ‘Complete’, that is, in that he’s still alive and active.

It’s 13 discs (the final one comprising a series of interviews) and a book of more than 200 pages – half in French and half in English. I don’t like these as digital copies any more than I like books as digital copies.

And digital recordings appear particularly susceptible to a certain sloppiness too. A few years ago, for instance, I actually downloaded a copy of a Virgin album called Minimalist, with pieces by “Adams – Glass – Reich – Heath”.

It’s actually quite a nice album – I made a copy onto disc for the shelf/security and even printed off a version of the cover art. But it provides less than little information about the content – not even offering the full names of the composers.

Bookish weightlifting
Not that hard copies themselves always make it easy. I had two discs – from a Deutsche Grammophon boxed set, at that – that had every single piece of data on them in what I think was Japanese. I had to individually input every piece of information about artists, track listings etc, including – because this was Mozart – the Köchel-Verzeichnis cataloguing numbers.

And then there’s the small matter of cover art.

On an iPod, when you’re thumbing through hundreds of albums in a single category, the cover icon becomes all the more helpful.

In general, iTunes is a decent tool – but it certainly wasn’t designed with classical music in mind.

In popular music, the artist usually takes precedence over the composer. With classical, it’s either the other way around or equal billing.

But because of this, iTunes takes it upon itself to split up albums into artist-based chunks. So if an album of, say, Beethoven sonatas was originally recorded by different artists, it will create different digital ‘collections’ based on that.

In recent weeks, imported albums have, on occasion, been divided into as many as eight or nine separate ‘collections’ or individual tracks like this. Indeed, the worst offender was a rare example of a classical album that I had bought via iTunes.

It can be sorted out by ensuring that all the tracks/sections have the same artist information, but it’s time-consuming and frustrating, to say the least.

There may be a way to set the software to do it the way I want, but that’s a level of geekiness beyond my competence for organising my collection thoroughly and by composer (apart from the exceptionally rare occasions where I have recordings of selections by a specific artist).

I have looked – yes, even into preferences – but I cannot obviously spot anything.

It’s hardly difficult to see why Apple doesn’t put classical listeners at the top of its agenda – we are probably in something of a minority of those who use iTunes and iPods. And most of us probably listen to all sorts of other kinds of music too.

But that's an interesting point – I have lost of other music on the system too, but have never encountered such problems before when adding, quite frankly, absolutely anything else.

But it would be nice if the people at iTunes could explain if there’s a way to change how a disc is imported to eradicate the issues mentioned above – or, if there isn’t, perhaps even write in an option for a different set of import/listening priorities at some stage.

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