Embedded Music

Back when I was a small child, my parents played quite a bit Mannheim Steamroller in the house. In particular, I remember listening to the Fresh Aire series (not this Fresh Air series, though I listen to that quite a bit these days) first on record albums then on cassettes as I played quietly in my room with my Legos (I was about 6 years old at the time). This was long before the series of Christmas albums  out that Mannheim Steamroller is perhaps best known for now. The first four Fresh Aire albums had a seasonal theme. That is, the first was spring, Fresh Aire II’s theme was summer, and so on.

I put Fresh Aire IV in the CD player back in December when I needed a break from all of the holiday music, but still wanted to listen to something wintery. As the third track, “Interlude 7” came on, I nearly stopped dead in my tracks.

Sound vaguely familiar? I posted a song last December that I composed, or rather improvised, called “#37: Improvisational Nocturne” with very similar features: the (nearly) solo piano, the quiet start, the uneven tempo, the swelling and diminishing dynamics, the undulating bass line and dissonant chords that bring to mind a midnight caravan in a distant land… even the major chord at the very end. Heck, even the names are similar in that they both contain a number and the name of a type of song.

Sure, I’ve listened to the album a number of times since my childhood, but none of that was intentional. Granted, in some ways the similarity was inevitable. The songs were created specifically with a wintery theme in mind. I’ve never taken piano lessons so most of the bass lines I make up sound like that – playing the octaves to create a fuller sound – to compensate for my inability to come up with adequate chords on the fly (which also explains the dissonant chords, too, now that I think about it…). I’ve historically had few friends with musical tendencies interested in playing together in a band, so most of my playing is solo anyway. And the song title? It was the 37th recording I’ve made on my Roland Virtual Studio and a nod to the Dave Matthews Band’s tendency to leave some of their songs untitled (e.g. #34, #41).

I’ve never considered Mannheim Steamroller as one of my musical influences. I always think of the various artists that I’ve listened to for ages… Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel growing up courtesy of my parents, progressive and art rock (Rush, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis) or alt rock (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Jeff Buckley, Cake) in high school and college, or the electronica and downtempo stuff from my 20’s (Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation).

Though I still really enjoy all of those artists, I’m starting to realize that they apparently haven’t had as much of an impact on me as a musician as the music I heard 30 years ago at a very early age.

Hiatus Shmiatus

Back at the end of the August the server that was hosting brahm.windeler.net went belly up. Something went awry when the server was being moved by a sys admin and the hard drive just decided to give up the ghost. The people that I shared the server with and I are trying to go through a data recovery service, but it’s not looking promising.

Though I don’t have an exact backup of everything that was on the site, I do have the photos that were published on the site as well as all of the blog content.

I’ve been exploring my options over the past few months. Do I host my own site again? Do I go with hosted service? How much do I want to pay? What features are available on the various blogging platforms?

Since I was using the windeler.net domain for e-mail, my immediate action was to move the domain over to the free Google Apps to reduce the number of email messages that would otherwise bounce or be directed into the great bit bucket in the ether. I put up a placeholder page using the Sites functionality within the Google Apps framework, but it was obvious from the start that the functionality it provided was very bare bones and not really set up for blogging.

I also investigated using Typepad, as my blog was originally hosted using Movable Type, which is the blogging platform that Typepad uses. Initially the site would hang during the import because I had specified the wrong filetype encoding (what, you expect a common user to be able to tell if the file was encoded as MacRoman or UTF-8?). Once I determined the correct file type, I was able to import my blog posts just fine but was unable to import the corresponding comments. After many tries deleting and re-importing the entries, I gave up. This did not inspire confidence. If the code for importing their own export format was that buggy, I wasn’t going to spend any more time with it. Another factor was the fact that the free version was severely limited in customizability (2 themes… neither of which were particularly attractive).

After putting the effort aside for a few months, I decided to try to bring the blog up from the ashes again. I started researching if other people had also had the comment-import problem with Typepad. I didn’t come up with much, but did find a lot of pages talking about how to migrate to WordPress. On a whim, I decided to set up a free account and test the import functionality. I’m pleased to say all the posts and comments were imported intact. And I have to say the functionality that it provides is quite impressive. However, I started looking into what it would take to use a custom domain and found it would cost $12/year to do so. That seemed fairly odd to me, because technically all that should be required is to update the DNS record at my domain registrar to point to the appropriate IP or hostname. Additionally, if I wanted to customize the theme as much as I have in the past, it would require paying an additional $15/year. Blogging isn’t worth $27/year to me.

A few people I know have Posterous blogs, so I thought I would investigate that service. I exported my blog entries out of WordPress and imported them through their import tool. I used that method rather than importing directly from my Movable Type backup file because the import option didn’t seem to be able to import from a Movable Type-based site without the site already existing… not helpful when the site has gone bye-bye!

The import went smoothly again. Both posts and comments were added. I also imported two posts that I had written on my very first blog when I went to Malaysia back in 2001 (!) and thought I’d document my travels. I’ve come across a few hick-ups with the site not behaving the way I thought it should (mostly in relation to editing imported entries before merging them into the blog), but all in all I’m happy so far. Also, it’s completely free, I can use a custom domain for no additional charge (the DNS is updating as I write), and the available themes are all fairly attractive.

The one thing that I haven’t decided how to tackle is what to do with all of the broken links in the older posts. Any links that referred to other posts within the site or the photos that I hosted on the site point to non-existant items at this point. I may go back and fix them, though the thought of going back through ~270 posts to fix all of that is making me cringe. I’d also need to re-post all of the albums somewhere like Flickr or Picasa. I’ll probably just leave them as is for now and address them as I have time. For now, I’m just glad to have the blog operational again.