Using AppleScripts with iTunes

AppleScript-icon.pngI write a lot about using AppleScripts with iTunes. Thanks to iTunes’ scriptability, it is possible to extend the app with numerous features and shortcuts. If not for Doug Adams, the master scripter and proprietor of Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes, I would spend a lot more time managing my iTunes library.

I often mention AppleScripts in my Ask the iTunes Guy column over at Macworld, since Doug’s scripts make a lot of seemingly complicated maneuvers a matter of a few mouse clicks. In this week’s column, which I just finished writing, I mention two AppleScripts, and I thought it would be useful to talk a bit about AppleScript and discuss how you use AppleScripts with iTunes.

AppleScript is a scripting language that Apple developed for the Macintosh operating system in the early 1990s. It was first available on System 7.1.1, and it offers a way to take advantage of system functions via AppleScripts, short programs that are much easier to write than full-fledged applications.

AppleScript works with much more than just the operating system: many Apple programs (the Finder, iTunes, iPhoto, Safari, Mail, etc.) and third-party applications (Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.) support AppleScript to some extent. But none more than iTunes.

AppleScript support can be limited—supporting a mere handful of commands—to complex. iTunes is one of those programs that offers in-depth scriptability, notably by providing access via AppleScript to the tags in your media files.

When you add AppleScripts to your ~/Library/iTunes/Scripts folder (that’s the Library folder in your home folder, the one with your house icon and your user name), they display in a Scripts menu in iTunes, and you can run them by choosing them. To access this folder, in the Finder, press the Option key, choose the Go menu, then choose Library. Next, find the iTunes folder there, and open it. If you have any AppleScripts, you’ll have a Scripts folder; if not, you’ll need to create one.

When you download any AppleScripts from Doug’s site, you place them in the above folder. Once they are in that folder, iTunes sees them. You’ll see a script icon in the menu bar, right before the Help menu.

Applescript

For some scripts, you select one or more tracks; for others, you select a playlist. After you’ve selected the items the script is to run on, you click the scroll icon and select the script’s name.

That’s all there is to it. Make sure to check out Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes to see what you can do with AppleScript, and don’t forget to donate to Doug Adams, who’s written hundreds of AppleScripts to help make iTunes better.

Essential Music: Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way

220px-Miles-davis-in-a-silent-way.jpgMiles Davis’ career spanned nearly five decades, and he was the engine for much change in jazz. From the early be-bop days through his later fusion, Miles covered just about every type of jazz (with the exception of that abomination called “smooth jazz”). From the early records on Prestige, through the seminal Kind of Blue (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), to later albums like Tutu (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), Miles embraced change.

The year 1969 was exceptionally fecund, with the recording of two radically different albums: In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. The former is a collection of slow, almost ambient improvisations; the latter uses a similar approach, but with a powerful rhythm section. Both feature electric instruments and develop Miles’ version of jazz fusion.

In a Silent Way (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) is just over 38 minutes and consists of two songs: Shhh/Peaceful and In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time. Recorded in one day, on February 18, 1969, about three hours of music was used to create these two tracks. With Teo Macero producing Miles for the first time, this record is partly the result of improvisations, partly the result of Macero’s work editing different sections together. For example, on Shhh/Peaceful, Macero took the first six minutes of the track and repeated them at the end, making a piece in three sections which, with this odd edit, works quite well.

While this record could be called fusion, it’s much more. There are electric keyboards, there’s a pulsing beat, but it doesn’t have the rhythmic drive that Bitches Brew shows. Shhh/Peaceful is more rhythmic; In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time shifts between sections that are almost ambient and parts that are more rhythmic. The music is simple, beautiful, and flows like waves.

The list of musicians on this album is one that looks like a hall of fame roster:

Miles Davis – trumpet
Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone
John McLaughlin – electric guitar
Chick Corea – electric piano
Herbie Hancock – electric piano
Joe Zawinul – organ
Dave Holland – double bass
Tony Williams – drums

This was the first album that John McLaughlin recorded with Miles, and his contributions are excellent, especially in the second section of Shhh/Peaceful. Wayne Shorter has a great sound and his solos are beautiful. The combination of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on electric piano, and Joe Zawinul on organ, gives a lush background to the soloists. And the rhythm section is tight.

This is one of Miles Davis’ finest albums, yet it seems that, these days, not too many people know about it. It’s a very accessible album, especially now that this type of long, spacy jamming has become a part of the musical landscape. In many ways, this is similar to the way the Grateful Dead would jam around Dark Star or Playing in the Band.

So if you don’t have this album, I strongly recommend it. If you do own it, then you may need to get The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store). This 3 1/2 hour set includes all the music recorded during this famous day, as well as the final album versions of the two tracks. If you like the music on the album, you’ll love the rest of the jamming from that day.

Some Great Mono Recordings

I wrote an article for the latest issue of The Loop Magazine about the pleasures of listening to mono recordings. Not just records pressed in one track, but more specifically those made at the dawn of the stereo era, when mono mixes were still the first end products of sound engineers. In many cases, the stereo mixes of the same records sound contrived, full of effects; the mono mixes sound more honest, closer to what the artists wanted the music to sound like.

The following is a selection of some great mono recordings. Some are mono mixes of records you may know in stereo, others are just good quality mono recordings, so you can hear how real one track can sound. (You can listen to sound samples on Amazon or the iTunes Store, using the links below, to hear some of what I’m discussing.)

The best place to start is with three box sets released in recent years, focusing on three great artists and their original mono recordings in newly remastered versions.

Bob-Dylan-original-mono-150x150.jpg

Bob Dylan – The Original Mono Recordings (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) includes the original mono mixes of Dylan’s first eight albums, including such essential discs as Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. There are many differences between the mono and stereo mixes, notably in panning effects (having instruments mostly or entirely on one channel). As the liner notes to this set point out, these are the albums “as most people heard them, as they were expected to be heard, as and most often they were meant to be heard: in mono.”

An I mention in my article, Desolation Row, from the 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited, is one of the most marked examples of a difference between the two mixes. The mono mix has Dylan’s voice front and center, with the acoustic guitar behind him. But in stereo, that guitar is set mostly on the right channel, and stands out both in volume and in position, distracting a bit from Dylan’s poetry, especially when heard on headphones.

miles-davis-original-mono-recordings-150x150.jpg

A recent box set of Miles Davis – The Original Mono Recordings (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) shows how Miles’ first nine Columbia albums sound in their original mixes. His first album for the label boasted “Guaranteed High Fidelity in ‘360’ Hemispheric Sound.” Several paragraphs in the liner notes discuss the recording and manufacturing process, including the mention of “strategically placed wide-range microphones.” Recording engineer George Avakian said, “Mono featured less audio trickery and fewer audio distractions so you can actually hear the musical conversation between Miles and the other musicians as it occurred in the studio.”

As I wrote in my article, “Around 3 minutes into the song, when Coltrane’s sax takes a solo, the mono mix has a cool, smooth sound; the stereo mix feels harsher, with reverb and artificial space trying to fill the stereo soundscape. The mono sounds real; the stereo sounds contrived.”

rubber_sou174f04919ba911c69f88f6.jpg

Finally, a good example of the difference between mono and stereo mixes can be heard on The Beatles in Mono. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) Because of the many panning effects – for example, the voice is on the right channel and the drums on the left channel – the early Beatles stereo mixes sound like gimmicks designed to highlight two-channel audio. Not all of their stereo mixes have these panning effects, but many of them do, and the punch of the early Beatles songs comes through much better in mono.

Some other albums worth hearing in mono.

If you like jazz, you are most likely familiar with The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out. Take Five, the third track on the album, is one of the best known jazz tracks of all time. With just two chords, in a 5/4 time signature, it’s an unexpected hit. The track starts with drums on the left, piano on the right, and the bass and solo instruments mostly in the center. But listen to the mono version: there’s none of that panning trickery to distract you from the music. The musicians are playing together, not on separate channels. The drums and piano are less prominent, but they should be. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, arguably the pop group’s best album, produced by Brian Wilson, but strongly influenced by Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” This isn’t my favorite music, but hearing the difference between the two mixes is eye- or ear-opening. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store)

Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released in mono in 1967. While their early psychedelic music sounds like it was written for panning stereo effects, the mono mix actually sounds more psychedelic. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) Listen to Astronomy Domine or Interstellar Overdrive to hear how the lush sound of early Pink Floyd sounds in mono. You may not find this preferable, but it’s interesting.

The early Rolling Stones albums were released in mono, and there’s some confusion as to when they stopped mixing for mono and started producing “fold down” mono mixes; this is the process of simply taking the existing stereo mix and making a single track version of it by copying it to a mono tape. The consensus seems to be that all the albums up to the 1968 Aftermath were original mono mixes, but some think that Sympathy for the Devil, on the 1968 Beggars Banquet (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store), was originally mixed in mono. It’s interesting to compare that song on the two versions; the hard-to-find mono mix has less stereo trickery with the drums and percussion centered and Jagger’s voice is more prominent. And No Expectations, in mono, has much more of the old blues sound they’re trying to emulate. I’d love to see a box set of early Stones albums in their original mono mixes.

And let me mention a few notable classical recordings in mono that sound great. There’s not the same issue of mono vs. stereo mixes, but with classical music it’s much more about microphone placement and mixing down from what was often three-track recordings.

Glenn Gould’s groundbreaking 1955 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations features excellent piano sound. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) Wilhelm Kempff’s recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, made between 1951 and 1956 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), have wonderful sound as well. The Vegh Quartet recording of Beethoven’s string quartets in 1952, and the sound of this set is excellent. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) Nathan Milstein’s recording of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin is another fine recording with great presence and clear sound. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store)

There are hundreds of excellent mono recordings of jazz and classical music from the pre-stereo era, and it would be a shame to miss out on them just because they’re in mono. Have a listen to some one-track music, and you may find that two tracks isn’t always better.

Read this article to learn how to rip CDs in mono using iTunes.

Re-Ripping CDs with iTunes

You may occasionally want to re-rip one or more CDs that you own. One of the most common reasons for this is to rip CDs at a higher bit rate than you did back when disk space was more limited.

Wen you do this, you may want to ensure that you don’t lose metadata for the existing files. Not just the names of the tracks, albums and artists, but also information like play counts, artwork and ratings. If you do this carefully, you can ensure that when you re-rip CDs, you keep all the metadata.

The first thing you should know is that, if you rip a CD, and you already have the tracks in your iTunes library, iTunes will alert you to this, asking if you want to replace the existing tracks:

003.png

This is, in fact, what you want to do when re-ripping CDs. When iTunes replaces existing tracks, it only replaces the music. It retains all the other metadata, and it keeps the tracks in any playlists you’ve created. (If you re-rip and add the tracks to your iTunes library anew, then delete the old ones, these tracks will no longer be in playlists, though they will be in smart playlists.) But iTunes can only replace existing tracks if all the metadata matches.

So if you want to re-rip a CD, and have iTunes replace the music, you need to ensure that all the tags – the ones you can change – are the same. These are Name, Album, Artist, Genre, Year, Disc Number, Composer, Grouping, Album Artist and Comments. If any of these are different – if there’s even a comma or different capitalization – iTunes will think the track is different.

When you insert the CD, and examine it in iTunes, you can check the tags, comparing them to the existing files. You can correct any differences manually, or you can use Doug Adams’ Copy Tag Info Tracks to Tracks AppleScript. Read the information on Doug’s site to find out how to use this script.

I find it best to rip CDs by dragging their tracks to a “Temp” playlist; this lets me examine the tracks without having to find them in my iTunes library. If you want to re-rip CDs, I recommend making another playlist with their tracks, then checking that playlist after you rip each CD. You should see the tracks have been replaced. So, if you had tracks at 128 kbps, and you’re re-ripping them at 256 kbps, you’ll see the new bit rate in the playlist.

If you follow this procedure when re-ripping CDs, you’ll find that you save a lot of time: not only do you not have to manually update tags, but you also retain all the metadata that you can’t edit.

In Praise of Mono Recordings

I sit at my desk, listening to Miles Davis playing “‘Round Midnight,” from his 1957 album ‘Round About Midnight. The sound is crystal clear, with each instrument balanced against the rhythm section, as Miles shares the lead with John Coltrane on tenor sax. I’m listening to the original mono mix of this album, and it sounds like the musicians are in my room.

miles-midnight.jpg

Around three minutes into the song, when Coltrane’s sax takes a solo, the mono mix has a cool, smooth sound; the stereo mix feels harsher, with reverb and artificial space trying to fill the stereo soundscape. The mono sounds real; the stereo sounds contrived.

Read the rest of this article in The Loop Magazine.