Nick Drake documentaries

technology

Knowing that I'm a fan, David tipped me off to a documentary about Nick Drake on Radio 2 that aired on Saturday night. Everyone must be going Nick Drake-crazy at the moment, because this was immediately followed by another documentary on BBC4. Of the two, I preferred the TV version, if only because it didn't have Brad Pitt telling us that he was Brad Pitt every five minutes, and mis-pronouncing 'Stratford-upon-Avon'1.

I didn't know a lot about Nick's life, so it was fascinating to hear interviews with his family and the musicians who worked with him. On the radio documentary, they featured Norah Jones singing one of his songs, 'Day is Done', and then we heard Nick's own version. All I can say is that it totally vindicated the musicians' opinion of him, and demonstrated just what a talented performer he was; Norah's version sounded utterly bland and forgettable, whereas his was mesmerising and fresh.

I had no idea that his mother — Molly — was also a singer-songwriter. In the TV documentary, his sister Gabrielle played an old home recording of Molly singing one of her compositions. The family resemblance in musical style was spooky — you could hear future echoes of her son in her voice and delivery, like noticing the line of a jaw or similar eyes. It goes without saying that it's a tragedy he didn't live to see the popularity of his own music. His sister talked rather movingly about the many letters she gets from fans, who say that his music has helped them through extremely difficult periods of their life. She said that these would have meant more to Nick than anything else.

1 stratford upon avon. Ugh.

XeTeX allows you to use Unicode encoded text files, so that accents, curly quotes, mdashes and exotic characters like ™ can just be entered as they are without any extra markup. You can use other language scripts without any trouble — I marvelled at typeset Hindi in the screenshots on the site. It allows you to access Apple's ATSUI system, so that you can use the lovely ligatures and swirly decorations available with fonts like Zapfino, as well as text shadowing and coloured text or backgrounds. All that decoration doesn't necessarily make for good typesetting, but it's nice to have the choice. Including image files is also pleasantly simple, and it seems to be able to cope with the native Mac OS X image formats like PNG and JPG.

If you're familiar with TeX, it's certainly worth a look. There isn't any documentation as such, but if you look at the sample files available on the download page, you can get a reasonable grasp of the basic features. I might be able to save you some of the frustration I experienced by telling you that not all of the fonts on the system support all of the features. For example, I found by experimentation that you can only specify a colour for a font if it supports the more advanced features of ATSUI. An approximate way of finding these fonts is to look at the font palette in Cocoa applications. Select the font you are interested in, then click the gear icon at the bottom of the palette and select 'Typography...'. If the window says 'No typographic features in this font', you won't be able to access features like coloured text, though you can still use the basic font in your text.

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