Category Archives: music

Apple AirPods Are Absolutely Awesome!

The skeptical cardiologist  began using Apple products during his cardiology fellowship in 1984.  My first research was done on an Apple II and my first personal computer was an original Mac.

These days I am unabashedly and totally immersed in Apple stuff which I use at work, at home, on vacation and while exercising.

In the last year I have fallen in love with Apple AirPods.

Mauricio Pesce/Flikr

I use these bluetooth earphones for listening to music and podcasts and telephone conversations and I like them far better than anything I have previously stuck in or around my ears.

Apple AirPods are amazing.

Here are  a few things off the top of my head that I find amazing about them…

  1. They come in an incredibly slick little white case that serves as storage and charging dock and looks like a container of dental floss. You literally never run out of juice if you put your earphones back in the case when you are done and charge it occasionally.
  2. Pairing with my iPhone and my various Macs is a breeze. Once paired the device automatically plays music through the AirPods if they are in your ears and nearby.
  3. They sense when they are in your ears, give you a tone that they are working and start playing from your paired device on their own.
  4. If you double tap on one of them you can have it advance to next song, bring up Siri, or  stop playing.
  5. If you bring up Siri you can give complex commands like call the Eternal Fiancée or remind me  to bring in Jen’s new shoes package on the porch.
  6. They are so comfortable you don’t notice you are wearing them.
  7. What about appearance you may ask?
    The eternal fiancee’ with q-tip in right ear

    Well, when I first started wearing them the Eternal Fiancée made fun of me because, she said, it  looked like I had  q-tips in my ears. Four months later she borrowed mine to go on a run and decided to order her own the next day

  8. What about the sound you may ask? I think the sound is awesome. I’m a musician and a music fanatic but don’t consider myself an audiophile. I find the sound quality on these little things perfect for my needs and equivalent to any headphones I have used.  I spend a lot of time while listening to songs picking out individual instruments and these are great for that.
  9. What if you forget and leave the AirPods out and they become almost fully discharged. Have no fear, within 10 minutes they are fully charged in the case and ready to go-amazing.
  10. They can survive a washing machine/dryer assault (see below).

AirPods: The Cons

Due to my tendency to lose various components of the AirPods the EF has marked hers with a red dot of  nail polish

There are some downsides…

-Because they are so small and unobtrusive I forget about them and lose them easily. You can actually use the Find My iPhone Apple feature to have them make a sound and track them down but a few months ago I misplaced one so badly I had to replace it.

–One quick visit to my local Apple Genius Bar and 69$ later I had a new right AirPod.

-Early on in my AirPods experience I left them in my running shorts pocket and they went through an entire washing and drying experience….. and after a several  hour  period of dormancy they worked perfectly well!

Can you tell the difference between the dental floss case and the Apple AirPods case?

-The case is so small and unobtrusive it is very easy to forget. I have left it on treadmills innumerable times. One time I left it on an airplane….Another visit to Apple required.

I am not alone in my love of the AirPods.

I came across this review on The Verge by Vlad Savov (“‘The Verge’s resident Bulgarian, headphone and mobile reviewer”)

But when I look at the limits of what’s possible today — in terms of miniaturization of audio and wireless components — I can’t see a better combination of price, features, and performance than what’s offered by the AirPods. The price is fair and the compromises are acceptable. I make it my job to review (and enjoy) super heavy and expensive headphones that do amazing things with music, recreating and illuminating every minute detail of a recording. That makes me extremely picky about any products I listen to, and the thing the AirPods share with the giant cans built by the likes of Audeze and Focal is that they convey the sense and intent of the music. And the reason I now reach for the AirPods even when I’m at home, the unique thing that delights all their users, is their unrivalled ease of use

AirPodsRulingly Yours,

-ACP

N.B.  The AirPods greatness at unobtrusively staying in your ear was initially thought to be a design flaw. This writer at Business Insider recently noted that

Most earbuds have gummy tips, which create a “seal” around the inside of your ear that’s important for two reasons. First, it creates an environment where outside sound can’t leak in, so you can listen to your music without being interrupted by outside noises, like a subway car or people walking on the street. Second, by creating that ideal environment, your music will actually sound better, especially lower bass frequencies.
The AirPods break that design rule. Instead of having gummy tips, they have a hard plastic shell, like Apple’s wired earbuds, the EarPods. They don’t create a tight seal, and sit on the inside of my ears instead of totally plugging them up. This design lets outside sound leak in, which is annoying, but it actually helps the AirPods stay in my ears.
Totally wireless earbuds rely on their seal for more than just audio quality. They actually need that tight seal to stay securely in your ears. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting, walking, or running — all of the gummy-tipped wireless earbuds I’ve tried fit into my ears nicely for a couple of minutes, then start loosening up.
Eventually, the seal the earbuds created breaks, and one or both of them fall out of my ears. Because the AirPods don’t have to maintain a seal, they’re the only totally wireless headphones I can reliably keep in my ears for more than a few minutes at a time.

And You May Ask Yourself: Why is David Byrne So Awesome?

The skeptical cardiologist was a second year medical student when the Talking Heads released their debut album, Talking Heads 77. Along with Elvis Costello and The Clash, the Talking Heads kept my spirit alive between crushing sessions of memorizing microbiologic, biochemical and anatomic minutiae.

The band went on to a very successful and highly influential career. I followed them closely through 1985’s commercially successful album, Little Creatures, which features two of my favorite songs from the mid to late 1980s “And She Was” and “Road To Nowhere.”

 

David Byrne, the idiosyncratic songwriter and frontman for the
Talking Heads, is currently on a concert tour in support of his solo album American Utopia  

We caught his performance in St. Louis at the Peabody Opera House Friday night and I have one word to describe it: awesome!

Daniel Durcholz’s review for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a much better job of summing it up than I could. He wrote:

I’m impressed with the back strength of the keyboard player (upper right). To dance/walk with (I’m guessing) a 61 key synthesizer and play at the same time seems quite difficult.

an eye-popping, mind-blowing concert that was achieved without the aid of props, video screens, or even a conventional stage set. Byrne’s 11-piece band — each of them clad in a gray suit and barefoot, like Byrne himself — carried their instruments like members of a marching band, allowing them to dance and assemble in various formations.

Beaded curtains lined the sides and back of the stage, forming a boxlike space that the musicians could perform within, effortlessly exiting and entering as needed.

Several songs featured a bright light source mysteriously moving around the stage, casting gigantic, fascinating shadows. That is Byrne front and center with guitar. Sitting in the balcony gave good views of the three-dimensional movement and positioning of the players

The overall look and feel of the show was hyper-theatrical, yet utterly human at its core. There were no backing tracks, Byrne emphasized at one point. “Everything you hear is being played by these incredible musicians,” he said.

No stranger to innovation, Byrne reinvented the concert experience in the Talking Heads’ 1984 film “Stop Making Sense.” This current outing is, if anything, even more radical and engaging.

Stop Making Sense is considered by many to be the greatest concert film of all time ((although I’m sure the eternal fiancee’ would place The Last Waltz above SMS) )but I think a Jonathan Demme or Martin Scorcese film of David Byrne’s current concerts might claim that honor.

Until such film is released this performance of “Everybody’s Coming to My House” (arguably the best song on his new album) by Byrne and his band on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert will have to suffice.

The information available through the internet never ceases to amaze me. You can click here to see exactly what Byrne played Friday night complete with links to the songs and/or videos of the songs.

If you click on the 9th song on the setlist you will be taken to this iconic existential video:

So, if you ever liked the Talking Heads or just love good music try to catch David Byrne’s show..

You might find yourself singing along with him as the audience did last Friday night the following words:

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

And you may find yourself asking “Why is David Byrne so Awesome?”

Letting the days go By,

-ACP

h/t Lauren at http://www.allezgourmet.com for alerting me to Byrne’s St. Louis concert.

Joe’s Cafe: A Cornucopia of Visual and Musical Delights

The coolest music venue in St. Louis in my opinion is Joe’s Cafe.

Fortunately, for the skeptical cardiologist, the venue remains fairly obscure, even to music lover’s who reside in Saint Louis.

For example, last Thursday the Eternal Fiancee’ and I, along with Doug, the Guitarist of the Band of the skeptical cardiologist (GOBOSC) and his wife were able to sit within a couple of feet of Spencer Bohren as he played roots, blues, folk and Americana on a banjo, a lap steel or two, and an acoustic guitar.

Bohren, based out of New Orleans, also sang and told stories, often at the same time.

The GOBOSC and I, being musicians, appreciated the proximity which allowed us to observe closely what Bohren did with his non-finger-pick covered fingers and thumb.

You can watch a video of Bohren relating the history of a Blues song using five guitars here:

I’ve also seen Kinky Freidman at Joe’s. I’ve been a fan of Kinky’s since I heard “Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed” from his 1973 album Sold American. His wikipedia entry pretty accurately summarizes his career as follows:

American singer, songwriter, novelist, humorist, politician, and former columnist for Texas Monthly who styles himself in the mold of popular American satiristsWill Rogers and Mark Twain.[2] He was one of two independent candidates in the 2006 election for the office of Governor of Texas. Receiving 12.6% of the vote, Friedman placed fourth in the six-person race.

I had forgotten about the Kinkster since reading one of his (18) detective novels a few decades ago; I figured he had retired from the music business. To my surprise one day last year, I received an email from Joe’s Cafe indicating he would be playing there on an upcoming Thursday night.

I don’t usually allow semi-celebrities to have their pictures taken with me but since I love Kinky Freidman, I made an exception for him

Bill Christman, Impresario And Connoisseur Of Signs

Joe’s Cafe is the brain child of Bill Christman, a one time sign painter, now fine artist, and lover of good live music.

Bill decides who will perform, and introduces the acts, always with a quirky sense of humor, but a stern warning that we audience members should be listening when the artist is performing, and not talking or playing on iphones.

Bill Christman (right) introducing band. I forget why he had the arab headgear and why the man is playing the trumpet on the left. It’s always interesting at Joe’s Cafe!

Christman’s studio, Ars Populi sits next to Joe’s Cafe. According to the RFT:

Christman quit the sign-painting business more than two decades ago in order to devote himself full-time to fine art — Ars Populi doubles as his studio — and today St. Louisans can find his handiwork all over town, perhaps most famously at Beatnik Bob’s Museum of Mirth, Mystery & Mayhem inside the City Museum. His homage to bohemia, Joe’s Café, is the stuff of legend in Christman’s Skinker-Debaliviere neighborhood and beyond; its sporadic schedule of music events and invite-only policy have combined to create a speakeasy vibe that — improbable as it might seem in this day and age — is uncontrived and genuine.

Arrive early to Joe’s Cafe for the best seats (although there are no “bad” seats-some do require a climb up a wooden ladder to the balcony) so you can wander through the wonder of the back yard.

The view from the balcony is quite good. Be aware, however, that the only air conditioner in the place will be blowing cold air directly on you if you sit in these particular seats. Up in the balcony you may feel sufficiently distant to chat with your friends during the performance but please don’t. Music is King at Joe’s! Go to a bar (?TGI Friday’s)  if you want to chat with your friends when musicians are playing nearby.

Words are insufficient to describe what one encounters either inside or outside Joe’s Cafe, so let’s savor some snapshots of both.

First, some relatively random shots from outside:

It has been said of the interior:

at Joe’s, you enter another dimension, a place lit by red neon and dusty yellow incandescent marquee bulbs

The Eternal Fiancee’ describes the decoration as “the interior of Joe’s Cafe is the reality of what TGI Friday’s does a bad job of imitating.”

Spencer Bohren playing one of his lap steel guitars and singing Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” (Ring them bells for the time that flies For the child that cries When innocence dies) a mere meter away from my table. The popcorn on the table is the only food or beverage one can purchase at Joe’s and it costs one (or two) bucks.

If you end up going to Joe’s Cafe be sure and tell them the skeptical cardiologist sent you. And please, don’t tell your friends and neighbors how cool it is.

Sonically Yours,

-ACP

N.B. Here’s the info Joe’s Cafe emails provide about performances.

Here’s the Joe’s Mostly Official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/stlouisjoescafe/
which often has better information than these emails.

Joe’s is a BYOB, BYOF music club.
Admission: $10
Doors open around 7:00
Music starts at 8:00
Alcohol consumption ends at 10:15
Recycle your own stuff
Smoking outside only
Park on Des Peres Ave. Thou shalt not annoy our neighbors.

 

Nonskeptical Musical Thoughts On Dick Dale and the Dead While Running For Longevity

Since determining that running would lower my cardiovascular risk and that it was actually good for my wonky knees (running is associated with a lower risk of ostearthritis or hip replacement, see here), I’ve been trying to do it regularly.

It has become therapeutic in many ways, aiding sleep and reducing stress levels. And, unlike my bike riding adventures, I have yet to fall and injure myself running and I don’t get dirty looks for not wearing a helmet.

I’ve even contemplated running 5 kilometers,  although not as part of any formal exhibition: just a personal , private goal. To this end I have for the first time recently run 4 kilometers.

Listening to music during these longer runs greatly helps the time pass and sometimes I am able to find songs which fit my running cadence, albeit not through any systematic analysis but through mere serendipity. I let my entire musical collection (nicely streamed by Apple music) be my running playlist and this ranges from the Talking Heads to Thelonius Monk to Bach.

This morning’s run (the second time I reached 4K) I was aided by two songs: one by the king of surf guitar, the other by the kings of psychedelic jam rock.

Dick Dale and Miserlou

Although, Dick Dale was huge in the early sixties, he did not register on my musical radar until  I watched Pulp Fiction and in its dazzling opening scene and  was jolted by Dale’s staccato machine gun guitar riffs alternating with his plaintive trumpet solo on  “Miserlou“.

I immediately strapped on my Strat and began trying to emulate his unique playing style.

Here’s Dick and the Del-Tones performing their version for the movie “A Swinging’ Affair”

This version contains none of the rhythmic power and electrifying guitar attack of the single and the band appears to be on tranquilizers. To make matters worse, Dick  doesn’t play that magical melodic moaning trumpet solo which contrasts so brilliantly with the pile-driving reverb-drenched guitar riffs on the original version.

You can see some of the power of the left-handed Dale in this live performance of Miserlou from 1995 but alas, no trumpet solo.

Dick Dale, remarkably, is still touring and playing well at age 80.

As fortune would have it the beats per
minute of this song is 173 which fits my preferred running speed stride cadence perfectly.

The Other One (Not Cryptical Envelopment)

The next song to aid me on my run was a live performance from the Grateful Dead’s 1972 European Tour  which is 36 minutes long.

I was slow to revere the Dead but when I first listened to their live album Europe ’72 I was hooked. Instead of studying in college, I spent way too many hours playing Sugar Magnolia (and Blue Sky, et al..)  thereafter.

The Other One highlights their free and wild improvisational style. While running I could focus on what Keith Godchaux was doing on the piano and that takes me to a psychic place in which I feel no pain.

Please excuse my hubris but I am convinced that I could have done a good job as the Dead keyboardist.  It’s probably a good thing I never got that gig, however, as it carries a very high mortality rate (not to mention that I’m a much better cardiologist than keyboardist.)

As Billboard pointed out in its obituary on the last keyboardist, Vince Welnick (who committed suicide by slitting his throat at age 55 in 2006):

Welnick was the last in a long line of Grateful Dead keyboardists, several of whom died prematurely, leading some of the group’s fans to conclude that the position came with a curse.

Welnick had replaced Brent Mydland, who died of a drug overdose in 1990. Mydland succeeded Keith Godchaux, who died in a car crash shortly after leaving the band. And Godchaux had replaced the band’s original keyboard player, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who died at 27 in 1973.

Last week a very good Grateful Dead documentary (Long Strange Trip) was released on Netflix. I’ve been somewhat mesmerized by what I’ve watched so far.  For example, at one point, Phil Lesh reveals that Jerry Garcia asked him to join the band as their bassist even though he had never played the instrument. (If only he had asked me!)

Strangetrippingly Yours

-ACP

N.B. Miserlou is a very old folk song with a scale that sounds exotic to Western ears: the double harmonic scale

per Wikipedia

The song’s oriental melody has been so popular for so long that many people, from Morocco to Iraq, claim it to be a folk song from their own country. In fact, in the realm of Middle Eastern music, the song is a very simplistic one, since it is little more than going up and down the Hijaz Kar or double harmonic scale (E-F-G#-A-B-C-D#). It still remains a well known Greek, Klezmer, and Arab folk song.

 

 

 

Running For Longevity: From A-Punk to Aba Daba Honeymoon

About two years ago I wrote about a study that found that any amount of leisure-time running was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease which  made me reconsider my usual advice to patients on exercise:

As part of a prospective longitudinal cohort study at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, Lee, et al. looked at data from a group of 55,137 adults on whom they had information on running or jogging activity during the previous 3 months.
Those individuals who described themselves as having done any running in the last 3 months had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 45% lower cardiovascular mortality.

Amazingly, it didn’t matter how much you ran.

Those who ran <51 minutes per week did just as well as those who ran >176 minutes per week.

At the time I felt the study was not definitive, but food for thought. Evidently, it got me thinking so much that I began running regularly (despite my previous dislike of running).

Music and the Tempo of Running

During my runs I listen to music on my iPhone, either through Apple Music or songs that I have purchased.

Today, after deciding Leonard Cohen’s Live in Dublin (although awesome, and one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard) was not motivating enough, I hit the first song on my iPhone: A-punk by Vampire Weekend.

A-Punk is one of my favorite songs released in the last decade. It’s very upbeat.. perfect for a running accompaniment. The opening guitar riff is simple, fast and catchy. It’s simple enough that I can play it on guitar but, so fast that my fingers fatigue quickly.  The bridge portion features a wonderfully fast and complicated bass line with punchy drums and an overlying synth flute melody. You can watch a video of it here:

As I ran I realized that the tempo of A-Punk was perfectly suited to my preferred running speed of 6.1 MPH. You’re probably wondering what the tempo of A-Punk is. It’s likely that the only time song tempo comes up in general conversation is when talking about CPR and the need to compress the sternum at 100 beats per minute, the alleged tempo of The Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive (it’s actually 104 BPM.)

A-Punk’s tempo turned out to be 175 BPM. If you are not inclined to count the actual beats in a minute to determine the tempo of a song, you can enter the song into this site to get the number or download a smart phone app for the purpose.

Oddly enough, the next song on my alphabetical listing of songs, Hoagy Carmichael’s version of Aba Daba Honeymoon, also had a screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-8-45-44-amtempo (174 BPM) perfectly suited to my running speed. (The song after that was my old band Whistling Cadaver attempting to play the medley at the end of Abbey Road at our 30 year high school reunion in 2002-not good for running to, but immensely entertaining).

Monetizing Music For Running

Having observed that the tempo of certain songs matched perfectly to my running tempo, I wondered if there were any advantages to selecting such songs. Would I run faster or longer or with less discomfort or less injuries?

The web site run2rhythm would certainly like me to believe that screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-45-42-amrunning to the right tempo song will improve my performance. This site claims that “the wrong musical playlists can be detrimental to your training as they will not provide any synchronization between the body, the music and the mind. The body is almost always out of sync with the music.”

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-03-39-amRun2rhythm provides a chart of the BPM that corresponds to different running speeds and sells playlists starting at $3.99 corresponding to specific tempos. These are playlists by unknown artists created for run2rhythm and the samples were not inspiring to me.

Here’s an example:screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-05-39-am

 

 

Is Music a Legal Drug For Athletes?

It turns out that there is a body of scientific literature related to music and exercise, and the vast majority of it seems to come from one man,  Dr Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University in London, an expert on the effects of music on exercise.  In his 2010 book, Inside Sport Psychology, he claims that listening to music while running can boost performance by up to 15%.

In media articles on the topic he is often quoted as saying “Music is a legal drug for athletes.”

However, in a 2012 review article he is more circumspect, concluding:

Music is now rarely viewed in a manner akin to the ‘vitamin model’ described by Sloboda (2008) wherein one can ascribe immutable effects to a specific musical selection for all listeners and at all times. The beneficial consequences of music use stem from an interaction between elements of the musical stimulus itself and factors relating to the traits and experiences of the listener, and aspects of the exercise environment and task. In particular, the role of music is dependent on when it is introduced in relation to the task and the intensity of the exercise undertaken. In closing, the evidence presented in this review demonstrates that music has a consistent and measurable effect on the psychological state and behaviour of exercise participants

Creating Your Own Tempo Playlist

The research on music and exercise suggests that songs with inspirational themes (apparently, “Gonna Fly Now,” the Rocky theme, is the most popular workout song of all time) are more effective performance enhancers. Also, self-selection of songs works better.

For me, running while listening allows me to focus on nuances of instrumentation, timing  and lyrics that otherwise I would not pay attention to. It is essential, then, to have songs that are worthy of such close listening.

I wondered if anyone has compiled lists of songs of a certain BPM that were originals and good songs.  Sure enough, the folks at jog.fm have exactly such a function.  My search for songs with tempo of 175 BPM yielded A-Punk and hundreds of other songs, screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-10-58-amincluding some I like (thumbs down for Footloose and Wonderwall (which is really 1/2 of 175 BPM or  88 BPM), thumbs up for Dancing With Myself).

You will note that my preferred tempo of 175 BPM corresponds to a much faster running speed than my preferred 6.1 MPH. This may have to do with my short legs or my running style. It makes sense to count the number of steps you take per minute at your optimal speed rather than rely on charts or averages.

Achieving the Right Dose of Exercise

Whatever you listen to while running, walking, cycling or hopping, hopefully it will assist you to achieve the dose of exercise per week that results in improved cardiovascular outcomes.

This chart from recent European guidelines on lifestyle for prevention of disease describes different intensities of aerobic exercise:

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-10-18-34-am
If you engage in vigorous exercise such as running or jogging, cycling fast or singles tennis, you only need to achieve 75 minutes per week. Moderate exercise such as walking or elliptical work-outs requires 150 minutes/week.

As a result of switching to running, I’ve cut down my total exercise time per week by half leaving me more time to create music!

Readers – feel free to share your favorite workout songs and let me know what tempo works best for you.

Synchronously Yours,

-ACP

Yikes! This is a silly video. I’m not sure I can run to the song anymore.