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Lileks @ Lunch

James Lileks writes about everything - except sports and gardening

Apple Music is a Mess

There are three qualifications for reviewing iTunes: one should have used it since v.1.0; one should regard it as as a kludgy blob of bloatware that does a few things well; one should be open to change, and accept a few new paradigms and perhaps a loss of some old features if it means the new product is slim, smart, and unintuitive. For example: iTunes handles movies and TV shows, neither of which are tunes, but that’s how you sync to your mobile device or play them through the TV. It handles phone management, so it knows about all your apps, and handles updates and backups. Well, it handles updates through the App Store pane, which is a different place in iTunes than the pane where you see you sync and backup info, but nevermind. It lets you sync your books, even though those aren’t tunes either. And the books are added by a separate app.

Otherwise it’s a totally seamless experience.

If some of these things were spun off into different apps, or iTunes was visually organized to draw sharp distinctions between each medium, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The new version of iTunes does not do either. It adds Apple Music, the new subscription-based streaming system. This is different than Radio, and it is different from iTunes Match - both of which are still around. How does it work? Well, I’ve seen wads of cold spaghetti that were less complex.

An early review of Apple Music is not impressed, but looks for something nice to say:

After installing iTunes, the only thing that was available to me was Apple Music's "Connect" and the Beats1 station. I turned on the Beats1 station to see if it was any good, heard some rap music, and then very very quickly turned that station off. Fortunately, that much worked.

Can you delete the radio stations? Hard to say. People ask about that on the Apple discussions site, but the answers apply to old versions. You may ask: why do you care? Just don’t click. But it’s not like a radio station, really. There are stations I don’t know exist, because I never play them. I do not want them to be demolished. But a window on a screen is different; if it presents options you do not want and cannot be customized, it’s their window, not yours. I mean, the first thing you see at the top of the radio banner is the Beats logo, spreading the width of the page. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing on that channel I care to hear. But there it is. That goes for the Children’s Lullaby channel, too. That goes for the Pop section sponsored by Pepsi, which starts a Pepsi video if you click on it, because you’ve never heard of Pepsi before.

Anyway, that’s the radio feature. Apple Music is different. Apple Radio plays songs they’ve chosen for you, like radio. Apple Music plays your music, except you don’t own it, and the options are a collaboration between your input and their guesswork.

When you launch Apple Music you get a nifty interface that asks your music preferences, and lets you nuke some so they’re never heard. They’re rather broad; I’d prefer more specific genres, like “Young men yelling over samples of music they did not write,” but you’re stuck with the basics. Then you’re asked to choose between certain artists - tap once for like, tap twice for love, click the X box to eliminate. Okay, that helps; that narrows it down. You’re still stuck having to make a blanket judgment about, say, Elvis. There’s a few songs I like. Maybe one I love. Do I want my stream to be choked with Elvis? No. Do I want a stream in which Elvis never makes an appearance? I don’t know kinda maybe no not really. But you can hit RESET and ADD MORE ARTISTS to fine tune what you want. Then it thinks a bit and comes up with your channels, available in the FOR YOU tab of iTunes. Your experience may vary, but I got four panes, three devoted to a particular artist, the bottom pane consisting of five suggested albums, from Daft Punk to the Wiener Phiharmoniker.

This is different than NEW tab, which has everything in the world that is new.

Well, let’s add some songs. Anything new from Royskopp? Noppe. Apple Music looked at royskopp and had no idea what I meant.

This may sound petty, but Spotify looked at royskopp and figured out I wanted Royksopp - based, probably, on previous searches. Apple Music was flummoxed by the spelling and couldn’t deduce the correct band. Well, I found a new song, and decided I should add it to my playlist, so it will sync with my phone. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Select something on the laptop, add it to your constellation of musical pleasures, and pick it up later on your phone when you want to hear it again. So I clicked the small “heart” icon” on the window that shows play, progress, name - you know, the part that used to look like a radio station display. the part that’s on the bottom in Spotify’s desktop app. Once I clicked the heart a window popped up saying “Your First Love,” and assuring me it had been added to -

Well, I can’t remember. I don’t know where it went. Is it in “MY MUSIC”? No. Is it in “Playlists”? No. It doesn’t show up in the smart playlists designed to show most recently added songs, which means there’s an iron curtain between the music on Apple Music and My Music, which are the songs on my hard drive. I don’t know where it went. Contrast that to Spotify: there’s a big button next to PLAY that says SAVE, and after you have clicked it, it changes to SAVE. Apple Music lets you make a station from the artist, and I clicked this option to get an all Royksopp channel. I have no idea where it is. RADIO? No. NEW? Doesn’t seem like it.

Later I discovered my problem: in the Royksopp artist view - that is, everything by this artist - I had played the latest release by clicking on the play button. I know, I know: total n00b movie. If you click on the album art, or the song title, you go to a different window.

and then you get an option for adding it here or there, IF you mouse over the line that has the track number, and 3 dots magically appear.

If you click on the three dots in the top grey pane, you get a menu. If you right click, you don’t. Below, where the title is duplicated and has more info, like rating / time / genre / date released, you can click on the three dots to bring up the menu to send it thither or yon, AND you can right-click for a different menu. Providing you moused over to make the dots appear.  

One more thing: they have pre-made playlists that sound interesting; you can click to send them to your list of playlists. Except you can’t. It doesn’t export the collection as a new playlist; you have to add it to a preexisting playlist, and since I don’t have a Summer Poolside Playlist, you have to go back to My Music, create a playlist, go back to NEW, then add it.

Voila, there’s the songs. The playlist even syncs to your laptop if you choose the LIBRARY option, which looks at everything you have everywhere, but the playlist is empty because this version of iTunes doesn’t think you’ve signed up for Apple Music. Well, click the button that says “Already a member?” and deduce that this may be a rhetorical question, because no log-in option appears and nothing happens.

Verdict: one day they will blow it up and pave it over and rewrite iTunes from the ground up, and stop hanging more ornaments on its slender boughs. This is not that day.

Partly phoenix over the Tri-County Area, chance of ashes

They’re redoing “The Bad Seed,” except it’s a mini-series. If you haven’t seen the original, it’s pretty good, and I’m sure there’s lots of analysis about how it was a subversive critique of the family archetypes of the day. Actually, that’s not the subtext. That’s the text. The little girl is so loathsome you can’t imagine why anyone else didn’t see through her. The audience comes to hate her so much it’s not enough that she is punished by God with electrocution. The end credits give the audience what they really wanted.

ARCHITORTURE Many architects aren’t looking to the temptations of computer-aided design to invent new bad buildings; the ones with a sense of history are looking to the 70s for bad buildings. This article, which lauds three New York proposals, gets all a-quiver over this beaut:

If there’s anything we learned from the 70s, it’s how enormous, featureless concrete bases has the same effect on streetlife as molten aluminum poured into an ant colony. In related news: a Brutalist landmark may be renovated, despite the objections of people who prize the style. It’s the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, NY. It looks like a group of disconnected, cluttered, overstuffed bureaucratic offices, jammed together with no thought of efficiency, just a collection of individual fiefdoms radiating petty power. Wikipedia:

The building has had problems over its life. (Built in 1967,) It leaked severely enough after a heavy storm in 1970 that the Finance Department had to stretch a tarpaulin across the ceiling. Today many of its 87 roofs leak and it has also become expensive to heat.

Eighty-seven roofs.

Slightly related: here’s James Ellroy’s house. Interesting furniture. Ghastly bathroom. Note the absence of a computer; he writes on long pads of paper in pencil.

SADBOTS Art made by computers is creepy, as discussed last week. Conversations between chatbots have a certain melancholy poetry, punctuated with dada wit.

Y.: Do you like to talk about philosophy?
Z.: I like to talk about animals.
Y.: Do you have some animal at home?
Z.: Yes I do have a computer at home.
Y.: I asked whether you had a sword at home.
Z.: I am not a computer. I am a female.
Y.: I know, but I HAVE a computer, and some candy.
Z.: What are you thinking about?
Y.: Nothing really.
Z.: Sounds good.
Y.: What sounds good?
Z.: Something about a phoenix.
Y.: What’s a phoenix?
Z.: A bird that dies and rises from its own ashes.
Y.: Wow, how poetic.
Z.: That isn’t poetry.
Y.: No, that is a weather-description.

More here.