Music Punctuation

Look, we all forget. I’m no exception; no doubt, if you poured through this blog long enough you’d find a couple examples of thoroughly un-Strunk&White examples of punctuation.

We should try, though. So, for the record, here is how you punctuate music titles:

An album, EP or similar collection of songs should be titled in italics. A song title should be written in quotations. When it comes to band and artists names, however, we must resign ourselves to whatever form that artist has chosen, bizarre though it may be.

Thus, in my August, 2009 post, I discussed the song “This Blackest Purse” from the album Eskimo Snow by Why?.

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Mandatory Reading

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Compression vs. Compression

I heard the piece embeded below on NPR and it resurrected an old bone of contention for me: the use of the word “compression”. In said story, the word compression is used to describe two very different concepts. One is audio compression, whereby dynamic range is reduced, making soft sounds louder and loud sounds softer. The other is digital compression in which file sizes are reduced in order to accommodate limited storage space or bandwidth. More specifically, the story discusses “compression” of hi fidelity sound files into the MP3 format.

I would argue that the word “compress” canotes that the resulting product constitutes the same material as the original, uncompressed item, only in a smaller form. Id est, if 1 gallon of gummy bears is compressed into a shape that is 1/2 gallons in volume, none of the original gummy bears are missing. They are simply in a denser form than when you started.

That is NOT how MP3 “compression” works. The MP3 format is based on the idea that there is data in a music file that is either redundant or ancillary and can be removed without noticably altering the sound of the original file. Given that CD-quality files contain a higher frequency range than most people’s hearing and that it requires very little data to reproduce certain sounds (very quite sounds, in particular) this is a solid theory. However, like many theories, this one gets royally screwed up in practice.

Audio files are created by taking snapshots of a sound source’s volume at regular intervals. For example, at CD quality, we take a 16 bit sample 44100 times per second. We’re using 705,600 bits per second to document a mono sound source, whether it’s the crescendo of Beethoven’s 9th or total silence.

When making an MP3, we make the correct assumption that you can reproduce a moment of silence using a fraction of the bits originally used to capture that auditory moment. You can also remove elements at the top and bottom end of the human hearing range without any perceptual difference, because many people cannot hear those frequencies to begin with. The trouble starts when you cut into frequencies that people can hear and this missing data is often perceived either as added noise, distortion, or a “thinning” of the sound.

And so I ask you, does what I just described sound like compression to you? What if a compression sock, instead of gently constricting your leg, simply shaved off parts of your leg. Would you agree with the manufacturer’s definition of “compression” then?

MP3s and similar “lossy” files have their place, but to call them compression is misleading. I think “digital reduction” would be a much better term. I have no doubt, however, that this is a losing battle. The offending use of the word is even codified in Merriam-Webster’s definition, “To reduce in size, quantity, or volume as if by squeezing <compress a computer file>”. Ugh…

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Mensa Invitational

I get this chain email from time to time and it never fails to give me a belly laugh.  I believe this is referring to the 2008 contest.  I looked around a bit and couldn’t find the 2009 results or any information on when they will be published, but I will keep an eye out for sure:

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to
take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or
changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year’s
winners. Read them carefully. Each is a real word with only one letter
altered. Some are terrifically innovative:

17. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until
you realize it was your money to start with.

16. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

15. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops
bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows
little sign of breaking down in the near future.

14. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the
subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

13. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

12. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the
person who doesn’t get it.

11. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

9. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

8. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these
really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s,
like, a serious bummer.

7. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day
consuming only things that are good for you.

6. Glibido: All talk and no action.

5. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when
they come at you rapidly. [This one is my personal favorite, KG]

4. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after
you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

3. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into
your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

2. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in
the fruit you’re eating.

And the #1 pick:

1. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.


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