Sleeping to Music – Sleep Headphones and Accompanying Soundtracks for Slumber

Recently I had an idea to explore the market and technology of “sleep headphones” – that is, headphones designed to wear all night while the listener sleeps. As my readers know well, the ambient segment of my archive comprises over 60,000 ambient tracks from nearly 5,000 artists’ discographies. My bedroom is set up with a dedicated amplifier and a tablet wirelessly patched into my server on my home network which plays ambient music through a vintage pair of Advent One speakers my late father passed down to me for 10-12 hours each night while I sleep.

Unfortunately, as the albums must be played at a minimal volume for sleep, the environmental noise of rainfall, passing cars, and my furnace drown out much of the nuance and delicate sounds of the music. This is why I decided to explore an alternate solution.

A quick search on Amazon returns a product named as Amazon’s Choice for the category of “sleep headphones” – called MUSICOZY Sleep Headphones Bluetooth Headband Wireless Music Headband Headphones. The product has 12,698 ratings and an average of 4.3 stars and is priced at just $19.99. The headband is lightweight, breathable, pairs wirelessly over Bluetooth, and the lithium ion battery lasts for ten hours on a single charge.

I carefully read through the product details and was seriously considering clicking that big “buy” button, but I took some extra time to read through all of the customer reviews as well as the question-and-answer section from those who purchased the product. This revealed an undesirable property of the model – notably that the speakers emit a loud “low battery” warning every time they are in need of a charge. A few customers complained that this is jarring and wakes them up from a sound sleep.

So I searched Amazon again, and found something intriguing. I discovered a very similar model from a different manufacturer, called Perytong Bluetooth Sleep Headphones Wireless, Sports Headband Headphones. These were curiously also named as Amazon’s Choice, but this time for the nearly-identical category of “sleep+headphones” (that’s with a plus symbol between the search terms). This product has 39,919 ratings – more than three times that of the former model, and matches its average of 4.3 stars. Both devices offer Bluetooth pairing and a battery life of ten hours with an approximate two-hour re-charge time. This model was priced at $39.99 marked down to a deal price of just $19.99, and it is available in a variety of colors.

I carefully read through the question-and-answer section and other buyers confirmed that this model has no low battery warning sounds. I surmised that other customers had viewed and compared the same products that I had.

The most promising review came from a customer named Joshua B who said:

These headphones have become my go to for night listening and sleeping, for these reasons…

The headband feels lightweight and doesn’t heat up, even during summer nights with windows open.

As long as my head is on something soft like my pillow, the round, hard plastic speakers inside the headband do not get in the way or introduce much discomfort or pain. This makes side, back, or stomach sleeping and listening comfortable. I can turn to any side and the headband remains in reasonable position on my head, and speakers in reasonable position at my ears. I make small adjustments to the speaker positions, but this is not a hardship. If I’m on my side, sometimes I can feel one of the round speakers pressuring my ear. So far it hasn’t bothered me.

While both left and right speakers need to be adjusted/positioned within the headband each time I put it on, this is a minor inconvenience for comfortable listening without discomfort.

The battery life easily lasts all night and into the next morning. It lasts two nights. I find myself charging the headphones either once a day or once every two days, just to be sure they’re fully charged. Charging is fast.

The plug-in side of the USB-C cable is actually tucked into the back of the headband. I can easily locate it, pull it out, and plug in. Surprisingly, it’s not uncomfortable tucked back into the headband, while wearing. Do the plug and the two round, plastic speakers feel a little clunky? Yes they do. I envision this design being refined over time.

Conclusion:
Overall, this is my favorite sleeping headphone set. Battery life is great. Comfort is fine. Easily better experience than earbuds or a headphone form factor.

I did a bit of Googling outside of Amazon before finalizing my decision and found that the latter model was also the Editor’s Pick on Sleepopolis’ article showcasing the best Headphones for Sleeping. For under $20 it seemed like a safe bet.

They arrived just a few days later. Exploring the modest packaging and reviewing the included instruction guide, they seemed like a very straightforward product. No USB charging brick is included, but thankfully I had a spare. And evidently the headphones only accept a charge when used with the short charging cable included with the device. The product touts a lifetime warranty, while customer service is provided via a personal gmail account address included in the manual. Hopefully the manufacturer will be around long enough to honor it. (But hey – it was only $19.99.)

There were a few key functions to note. When the headband is fully charged, (in approximately two hours), the charging light on the front of the headband turns solid blue. To connect to Bluetooth, the user presses and holds the Play/Pause button. The headphones will enter pairing mode. Turn on the Bluetooth of your device and connect to the headphones. That was a snap.

Short press the minus button to advance to the next song. Long-hold the minus button to lower the volume. Short press the plus button to reverse one song. Long-hold the plus button to raise the volume. And long-pressing the center play/pause button powers the device on and off.

And yes – the headphones work with Bluetooth phone calls.

After a brief acclimation with the product I queued up a seven-hour-long album on my tablet and scanned through the tracks adjusting the volume to make sure I wouldn’t be disturbed by a spike in sound in the middle of the night. I found I was able to rest comfortably on my back or on my sides without any pressure from the speakers. The headband was fairly comfortable and breathable like the other reviewers had described.

Of course, these are not audiophile speakers by any stretch of the imagination. They’re just small, efficient speakers for yoga, workouts, or sleep. As most of the albums I’ll be playing in them will be minimal drones at a very low volume, the music isn’t going to be pushing the limits of the speakers, and I’ll be asleep for most of the listening sessions, so I am fine with that. Once again – they were under $20.

The music was enjoyable with the Perytong headphones I selected. I did notice that a lot of the subtle detail of the raindrops in the recording were lost with these speakers, but that was to be expected. It still sounded pleasant and relaxing which is just what I need to sleep.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of my excitement at acquiring new audio tech for my favorite genre coupled with the novelty experience of my first-listen, I remained awake for nearly the entire seven-hour duration of the album. But that was a consequence of my overactive mind and not a fault of the product. I just need to get accustomed to this new listening dynamic. In time I hope to experience a more restful sleep with them on. So far, I’m pleased with the purchase.

Now on to my promised Accompanying Soundtracks for Slumber. I took a quick look and put together a brief list of highlights. Forgive me – I can do much better when I have time to dedicate to the task. But at a quick glance…

There are a few noteworthy long-form sleep albums, including:

Max Richter’s Sleep (8 hours)
Robert Rich’s Somnium (7 hours) – this was the album I employed for my first-listen
and Perpetual – A Somnium Continuum (8 hours)

Larger catalogs and archives for ambient listening include:

Hearts of Space (1327+ broadcast library)
Ambient Music Guide Podcast series (55 mixes)
A Strangely Isolated Place (62 mixes)
Brian Eno (the ambient portion of his 410 major releases)
William Basinski (23 albums)
selections from 36 (22 albums)
Mathias Grassow (149 albums)
Robert Rich (72 albums)
Deuter (89 albums)
Klaus Wiese (100 albums)
Harold Budd (82 albums)
Steve Roach (162 albums)
Music For Sleep (29 albums)

As well as a few sleep album favorites – 

Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Panaiotis ‎– Deep Listening
The KLF – Chill Out
Jimmy Cauty – Space
This Is Not What Space Is About
This Is Not What Chill Out Is About
Peter Broderick – Float
Lawrence English – A Colour For Autumn
John Foxx – Cathedral Oceans Vols I-III
Moby – Calm. Sleep.
Tom Middleton – Sleep Better

And additional albums from artists including:

Stars of the Lid
A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Deaf Center
Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto
Marconi Union
Eluvium
The Album Leaf
Tapes and Topographies
Loscil
Liquid Mind
Jóhann Jóhannsson
Ólafur Arnalds
and Nils Frahm

To supplement and introduce new content into my library for sleep accompaniment, I compiled album data from various sources around the web. I’ll share a few of those chart and list sites below for my readers to join me on my journey of exploration for quality ambient soundscapes for sleep.

The first is Atmospheres and Landscapes: 600 Greatest Ambient Releases from data on RateYourMusic.com:
https://rateyourmusic.com/list/Carbon_Fields/atmospheres_and_landscapes__600_greatest_ambient_releases/

Then I found a second chart on the same site from a user named wilczur for 750+ Ambient Essential Albums Ranked: https://rateyourmusic.com/list/wilczur/%E2%80%A1-ambient-essentials-%E2%80%A1-650-albums-ranked/1/ 

Next I compiled a database showcasing highlights of ambient drone artists’ catalogs. Below is the introduction from the accompanying documentation I authored:

Methodology:

Artist names were sourced from music-map.com entering Stars of the Lid as the core artist value and pulling favorites from the most similar (proximate) artists in the cluster.

Each artist/composer was then run through rateyourmusic.com and all of their releases were then sorted from highest to lowest overall score from the userbase’s ratings.

Albums I’ve already exhausted from my own library were omitted so that the list would comprise new or lesser-experienced releases of the genre.

The resulting LPs were indexed for future listening.

From that list, I assembled a roster of examples of “bleak and haunting yet beautiful music, like the emptiness of a barren and gray wasteland (Ambient, Minimal, Drone).”

Then I constructed a chronological survey of Minimal Ambient Modern Classical Music from other articles around the Web.

For more quality content, I compiled ambient titles contributed by members of the SteveHoffman music forum at the links below:

Any ambient recommendations?
http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/any-ambient-recommendations.649771   
and 
Top Five Ambient: Your Choices?
http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/top-five-ambient-your-choices.457661/  

And I wrapped up my research refining various incarnations of an ambient music introductory guide I’d authored and shared with friends over the years. The present iteration of my Introduction to Ambient Music (Revised Edition) was incorporated into the book I published.

There are also a variety of sleep music streaming sites and apps, including:

headspace.com/sleep/sleep-music 
ambientsleepingpill.com 
calm.com/music (the same as meditationoasis.com)
http://www.ultimathule.info/listen.html 
sleepbot.com
and ambient-sounds.com

I’ve additionally bookmarked each of the generative music apps showcased at Brian Eno’s generativemusic.com but haven’t yet tried sleeping to them.

I’m definitely interested in continuing to expand my library of sleep music. I’m always interested in exploring more non-sequencer based, beatless ambient minimal tone poems such as Indo-Tibetan music for meditation, generative soundscapes, etc. I enjoy veteran minimalists like Harold Budd, Steve Roach, and Robert Rich who are regularly featured on transmissions of Hearts of Space. I have a complete HOS archive, as well as all the essential artist discographies, from Popol Vuh to Klaus Wiese, and their contemporaries like Music For Sleep and Stars of the Lid. 

I also have complete vinyl and digital archives of foundational ambient kosmische musik discographies such as those of Cluster and Harmonia and other forebearers of the genre. I’m looking for quality catalogs beyond the common threads. Neo-classical composers like Max Richter are welcome as well. As I mentioned the ambient segment of my library clocks in at over 60,000 recordings, but I’m always interested in new discoveries. I’m ideally looking for soundscapes for work and sleep to quiet an overactive mind. I invite my readers to share any music they find well-suited to sleep-listening, or if they find any value in the selections I’ve noted above.

Forgive me for any glaring omissions in my own offerings. Happy sleeping!

A Look at This Is What It Sounds Like: What The Music You Love Says About You

I’ve just read Susan Rogers’ new book, This Is What It Sounds Like: What The Music You Love Says About You. Special thanks to my librarian cousin for the recommendation! 🙂 

Rogers worked as a producer on albums from Prince’s Purple Rain to Barenaked Ladies before securing a doctorate in psychology from McGill University. Her research focuses on auditory memory, the perception of musical signals, and the influence of musical training on auditory development. The book is written in an accessible style to readily aid any music lover in discovering their unique “listener profile.” I’ll share my results from reading the text as an example of what you’ll find.

Rogers’ first evaluatory metric is Authenticity, characterized on a scale of “below-the-neck” to “above.” I found that I most often prefer cerebral music “from the neck up.”

The next chapter is on Realism. Here, I naturally gravitate toward the pole of highly-abstract musical properties.

Then she moves on to Familiarity vs Novelty. I generally prefer novel “art music.” Engaging with novel stimuli demands more cognitive effort and commitment than engaging with the routine. The greater the novelty, the heavier the cognitive load on the listener. Still, for Familiarity I enjoy the predictable properties of ambient and drone music to balance my taste for novelty. 

Next up was Melody. Rogers explains that the dimension of the Melodic Spectrum has three axes – melodic range (narrow vs wide), articulation (legato vs staccato), and complexity (simple vs complex). I prefer narrower melodic contours, as employed in minimalist compositions like Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi, and legato notes which float into one another like in many ethereal ambient compositions. Interestingly, I embrace both simple and complex works, from droning minimal soundscapes to the hypercomplexity of many pieces in the classical avant-garde. 

Chapter 5 explores Lyrics. On the lyrical spectrum, I am most affected by the stream-of-consciousness abstract and subjectless rapid-fire lyricism of wordsmiths like Karl Hyde or M Doughty where words’ semantic value takes a back seat to their rhythmic device. But one notable exception to this preference is the masterful songwriting prowess of Tom Waits. The dark, downtrodden visual worlds he paints with his lyrics are sombre, melancholic, vulnerable and hauntingly beautiful. 

Chapter 6 examines Rhythm, spanning from straight to syncopated. I enjoy metronomic rhythms like those of four-on-the-floor house music and the static linearity of minimalism. But I also have a proclivity for funk’s emphasis “on the one.”

The next chapter is on Timbre. My interest in timbre is all over the sonic spectrum, ranging from frail and intimate vocals to dehumanized electroacoustic synthesis. Timbre is a complex and nuanced property of music that greatly contributes to each of our unique listening profiles. 

Following Timbre, a chapter called Form and Function touches upon just a few of the near-infinite pool of decisions a record producer must resolve in order to make a great record. I developed a newer and greater appreciation for producers in the pop music sphere after reading it.

The final chapter wraps things up nicely revisiting the seven dimensions of your listener profile – the four musical dimensions of melody, lyrics, rhythm, and timbre, and the three aesthetic dimensions of authenticity, realism, and novelty and the factors which influence these aspects throughout our lives.

The one thing that is the most consistent throughout every chapter of this book is Rogers’ pure love of music. And that’s what made it a resonating and satisfying read. She’s inspired me to listen more consciously and attentively in an effort to rediscover and refine my listener profile.

I’ll close with my favorite quote from the book – “Oh! The crystal-clear fidelity of that mix! It was beyond anything I had ever heard before, and I remember thinking, I can tell what color socks the drummer is wearing!”

Dive in at https://www.thisiswhatitsoundslike.com/

Years of Searching for a Community of Peers – A Few Previously Unpublished Thoughts

Revisiting a few of my unpublished articles, notes, and remarks from the last six years, I felt a compulsion to record them once and for all for whatever the act might be worth. I’d also dusted off my bookmarks folder of all my favorite socio-cultural blogs only to find that every one of them had since been retired and stripped from the Web. That realization reinforces my resolve to document these thoughts and questions which still remain on my mind years after penning them and my search for a community to share these ideas.

Here they are…

Copyleftism, Open Culture, and the Future of Mass Media: A Brief (Immediate) History of Media Culture

03-12-2016 (prev. unpublished)

In the last decade, we’ve seen the growth of niche markets and the rise of user-generated content as Youtube and Netflix quickly replaced television in millions of households.

Similarly, annual revenues of subscription-based music streaming services are on the rise while physical media purchases continue their rapid decline, (excepting the niche used and new vinyl markets with yet another year of monumental growth.)

Subscription-based media access is quickly replacing broadcast packages, where for a fixed monthly fee consumers can access any media under the provider’s network of licenses (Spotify and Netflix are this year’s most active examples.)

And media streaming hardware is gaining popularity, as Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV are each vying for the public dollar.

In the 3rd quarter of 2014, mobile use hit critical mass, rivaling television use in hours-per-day.  The smartphone and the tablet were proudly dubbed, “America’s First Screen.”  This is a direct reflection of the way users get their news and information and consume their media in the digital age.

The democratization of music-making and filmmaking technologies has made user-generated content a critical element of our global culture.  At present, 300 hours of new user content is uploaded to YouTube every minute.  And, paired with social media, user content can have instant exposure to millions of potential viewers with little to no distribution expense.

More important still is the continued-growth of the Open Culture movement.  Wikipedia has become a global primary source of information and has spawned innumerable spin-off wikis of their own.  Creative Commons makes content shareable and relevant as users are free to copy, transform, and combine ideas instead of creators scrambling to secure their works under digital lock-and-key.

The GNU Project, Copyleftism, and Open Culture are growing and having a greater impact on the world with each passing day.  Many major universities have opened their digital doors, offering online course material completely free to the public, and an ever-increasing number of texts, films, and music albums are finding free and legal accessibility on the web.

What does the future hold for these cultures?  By what system will creators be compensated for their work in the digital age?  Will media conglomerates succeed in locking down content, further-extending the reach of traditional copyright?  Will the public passively accept forms of DRM as simply part of the digital territory?  What lasting-impact will increased media accessibility have on the global audience?

And what’s next?

The following short piece was composed as a conversation with myself fleshing out the undeniable conflict surrounding the future publication of my book on mass surveillance, digital privacy, free culture, filesharing, and its impact on previously-reining media distribution models.

This write up, concluding with an intimate conversation with a scholarly peer, helped me arrive at a very difficult conclusion about my work.

Free

09-03-2016 (prev. unpublished)

I find myself faced with a terrible and heartbreaking conundrum. I’ve written passionately about the subjects of filesharing and of digital privacy for some time now. And to speak of one without acknowledging the other does a great disservice and misrepresents the very real circumstance that we face as a global culture. So both must be addressed.

Sadly, these subjects are strangely taboo in the economy of published works, as the acts are ostracized and demonized from the global conversation. It is inconsequential whether or not filesharing is a moral act, though there have been numerous examples in recent history demonstrating circumstances where they serve a far greater morality than the illegality of the act, itself.

It is understandable that anti-authoritarian reference texts by their very nature had to remain somewhat under-the-radar throughout history and in times of revolution. But in an age where subversive guides to filesharing and the protection of anonymity are a single Google query away, why does the world have to pretend that it is a secret anymore?

One might suppose that, if the establishment were to publicly acknowledge the actual frequency and simplicity of free media access, that the entire commercial market would crumble in a matter of days. Put simply, nothing can compete with “free.”

But in the age of mass surveillance, there has nonetheless been a tremendous clandestine tidal shift in the public conversation about any information unpopular with the powers that be. Society stubbornly ignores information which is readily and publicly accessible from any of thousands of sources which eliminate the relevance of commercial markets and services.

And this is the very conundrum I alluded to at the outset. In all likelihood, a book published outlining the simplicity and ease of filesharing and highlighting some of the greatest achievements in large, decentralized media library metamapping would be instantly struck down as a corrupt and evil text, and its author(s) would be punished to the fullest extent of the law for inciting anti-authoritarian thought and promoting illegal activities. The RIAA, international media conglomerates, and copyright troll organizations like Righthaven and Rightscorp Inc spend millions of dollars to make a public example of their accused infringers and a guide to its subversion would surely be rapidly extinguished.

There is also the dichotomy of the effect of sharing this sort of information to the public, itself. Those who wish to participate in filesharing already have the common sense to search for and educate themselves as to the best acquisition methods and means of protecting their anonymity without the need for a printed guide. (The internet already EXISTS.) So in fact, exposing this widely-practiced and incredibly simple activity to the public discourse may actually result in a net harm to the filesharing community.

The final factor of this puzzle is the nature of the format. The printed word, as beautiful, elegant, and surely powerful a thing as it is, is static and fixed upon the pages. Whereas discussions of emerging and ever-changing web technology are far better-suited to the dynamic and fluid environment of the net. Post-scarcity replicability, revisioning as networks and technologies rise and fall, zero cost distribution… each of these critically important factors make the internet – the very home of filesharing communities – the ideal means of disseminating related information. But as I’ve said – a simple Google search will yield all one needs to know. Numerous guides already exist – just none of them are acknowledged by the establishment.

The act of widely-publicizing the simplicity and commonality of filesharing might be enough to disrupt the status quo and inspire a global revolution of media consumption… I just don’t know if I’m ready to die (or disappear) for that cause.

Until 1987, (particularly before the passing of the DMCA), the publication of a work of this nature would have been plausible as I’d be protected under The Fairness Doctrine. My work would be justified as in the interest of public welfare and not as a malicious guide written to directly harm the media industries. However, the Doctrine was eliminated by the FCC in 1987. And the DMCA, (written by the RIAA and fellow industry giants), effectively eliminated any trace of that former protection, silencing this conversation and others like it from the public discourse. If the text were published today I would instantly become the target of countless litigations and would be sued in perpetuity. Most likely, my credit would be eliminated and my wages garnished by as much as 60%, destroying my livelihood in the US. My only course of action would be to flee the States and to seek asylum under a foreign government (or lack thereof), and to live out the remainder of my life in exile.

This isn’t just a statistical likelihood. Based on the legal actions of the media industries in their war on piracy, these lawsuits are a guaranteed and inevitable eventuality – precisely the reason that books of this nature do not exist in print, but are instead bound to quiet circulation in less-conspicuous digital environments.

And after constructing a spreadsheet and a library of over 130 books on related subject matter, I penned this note.

Untitled Note

08-27-2019 (prev. unpublished)

I’ve compiled 100+ books on the subjects of Free Culture, Open Culture, Copyleft, Creative Commons, The Post-Scarcity Digital Economy, Linux, and Pirate Culture from The Cathedral & The Bazaar to Galloway’s The Four

But the majority of these texts were published before 2010. I’ve pored over metadata on several sites and the only recent publication I’ve found is The Essential Guide To Intellectual Property by Aram Sinnreich; (I LOVED his book, The Piracy Crusade).

Surely the subject isn’t dead? Doesn’t the streaming service revolution, the struggle for artist compensation, and the ever-increasing consolidation of content distributors warrant further discussion of the matter?

Am I missing out on a wealth of analytical and philosophical texts about the digital economy?

As we enter the closing months of 2022, I’ll continue my search for a community where these ideas are actively discussed and debated. Perhaps one day I’ll find peers with whom to engage and further this discussion.

I welcome my readers’ ideas.

Announcement: I’ve published a book of my writings!

Friends, I’m honored to share that I am now a published author with my book available at the link below! This book comprises the first 12 years of my publications showcasing highlights of my Archive, as well as select previously unpublished works.

There were several breakthroughs which helped me accelerate the timeline of the project. First, I amassed 339 of my articles from 12 years of publishing online in just 5.5 hours. Second, I taught myself RegEx to batch process all formatting to clean up the raw text. Third, I discovered a free extension to format 1,388 images in under 2 minutes. Then I developed a process which permitted me to burn through 1,400 pages of material in just 2 hours.

Unfortunately, the remaining work seemed insurmountable. Due to a glitch in the conversion, I had to go sentence by sentence through the remaining 2,000 pages of text to correct all the missing paragraph breaks and all 1,388 mis-positioned images. I feared I might have to quit my job and devote my full attention to the project to complete it in any reasonable span of time, but I worked hard through May and into June and by June 15th I’d completed the reformatting of all 289 finally-selected articles. I tidied up the book and carefully analyzed the subsequent text and images so as not to create more problems in the process. There were a few minor anomalies I was unable to remove without compromising the remaining text, but nothing which impairs readability so I was able to move forward.

Thereafter I proactively researched and drafted a design brief to commission the cover artwork and to register the ISBN. The brief included a short author bio, a back-cover blurb, a summary of my business brand, my target audience, values to communicate in the cover design, stylistic preferences, output specs, and example images of books by competing authors in my field. This was a serious endeavor and I worked to ensure that every aspect of the project was handled as professionally as possible.

I did discover, due to the substantial page length of my manuscript, that it exceeds the maximum length for a printable paperback or hardcover by Amazon’s terms of service, so unfortunately this will be exclusively issued in the ebook format. But as I’ve incorporated hundreds of links to web content on sites like YouTube, perhaps it will function best as a digital edition. The only other way to get a printed version would be to issue the book in a series of volumes, but I’m not ready for that presently. At least as an ebook it made the design process markedly simpler to implement.

I encountered one last critical hurdle when I attempted to upload my finalized PDF using the PDF Upload button on Amazon’s Kindle Store. Tragically, the button returned a red “X” with no error message when I tried to upload my book. I contacted their support team and they explained that they only support simple PDFs without images or significant length.

They suggested I try their native ebook conversion utility, but it is only available for Windows and Mac users, and I use Linux. They offered to convert it for me manually on their end, and I similarly tried converting it locally using the popular Calibre application. Sadly, the .epub and .mobi outputs of the book compromised all formatting and it looked awful.

Undeterred and determined to succeed, I researched alternatives and successfully published through Google Books who support PDF with no conversion necessary. The book is live at last!

Publishing this book is a dream come true for me! This is particularly gratifying as my writings will remain long after I’ve left this earth for the whole world to enjoy and to continue inspiring rewarding listenership for years to come. 

Check out The Ghost of Madame Curie: Writings from Innerspace Labs at the link below!

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/James_Piazza_The_Ghost_of_Madame_Curie?id=8_J3EAAAQBAJ

Completing My Penguin Cafe Collection

I am so excited to have achieved a new musical milestone, having assembled a complete collection of all full-length studio releases issued in the vinyl format by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra and their later incarnation, The Penguin Cafe. This includes the first-ever vinyl edition of The Penguin Cafe’s 2011 debut, A Matter of Life, issued by Erased Tapes on May 6, 2022. 

I’ve previously written about my adoration of this fine ensemble back in 2017, where I summed up the beauty of their music thusly: 

The music of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra is tranquil, eclectic, and magically pastoral. The albums are classified as works of minimalism but are impressively dynamic recordings. Rich with subtly and understatedly intricate instrumentation, their music is a seamless and masterful blending of an impressive roster of genres, weaving together classical and contemporary elements. The result is magical and elegantly surreal. 

These records are stubbornly difficult to label or classify. Spanning a broad range of influences from classical to jazz, featuring middle eastern or perhaps Indian inspired drones, as well as Cajan, traditional folk melodies, African rhythms, and more, these elements blend seamlessly into marvelous soundscapes and musical vignettes reminiscent of Moondog’s symphoniques. 

There is a timeless serenity to these recordings, and I’m grateful that I was at last ready to let them into my life at a time when they served as a sensational complement to my headspace of late. 

From start to finish, The Penguin Cafe is a treasure of heady and engaging arrangements, and some of the most peaceful sounds you’ll ever hear. I really enjoyed an observation from a fellow listener named bpnicast who remarked, “The dispassionate, cerebral atmosphere here creates its own unique space that seems to slow time and demand hushed attention – an emotional connection achieved through stillness and abstraction.” 

That is precisely what I enjoy about these albums. It will be a pleasure to play them again and again and to share them with those who bring joy into my life.

Dark Ambient’s Terminus Void Returns with Origins Unknown

I’m thrilled to share the news of the release of Terminus Void’s second album, Origins Unknown. My readers will recall my recent artist spotlight showcasing his debut release, Interstellar. After encouraging the artist to send the album to Stephen Hill of the long-standing radio program, Hearts of Space, he followed my suggestion and was featured on PGM No. 1314, Stellar Quest! We couldn’t be more pleased to have exposure to a global audience of discerning space music listeners!

Given the incredible impact of Interstellar, I had great hope for his second effort. Thankfully, I couldn’t be more elated with the resulting recording. Origins is hauntingly epic, from the opening drones of “Discovery” to the concluding atmospheric majesty of the album’s finale, “Memories of Rain.” Fantastically transportive, the listener is suspended in a state of experiential cosmic serenity for the entirety of the listening journey. Origins is cinematic dark ambient space music at its finest.

With his second effort, Terminus Void brilliantly channels the otherworldly film score work of Vangelis with incredible adeptness and impressively artful proficiency. This is particularly evident with the aforementioned closing selection, complete with Bladerunneresque rainfall, soaring synths, and choral effects employed throughout the track. 

Origins Unknown was mastered in 24-bit hi-res audio, (unlike its predecessor, Interstellar which was mastered at 16-bit), and is officially available in lossless archival FLAC and WAV. Listeners are encouraged to secure the album at the best quality offered and to take it in using their finest listening equipment so that none of the subtly nuanced spatial qualities are lost on this exceptional recording. This is an album that, like Interstellar, rewards dedicated and attentive listening.

The album’s namesake track is masterfully alienesque, brimming with lavish extraterrestrial vitality but sufficiently understated so as not to disrupt the shadowy, spectral quality of the album as a whole. 

“Dark Outpost” paints a vividly ethereal tenebrous expanse – truly an effective soundscape for dark ambient voyages. And surprising cinematic elements are introduced to heighten the excitement of the album-length saga.

Each track effectively adds its own unique properties to the crepuscular ambient odyssey that is Origins Unknown. Nothing is extraneous, wasted, or omitted, making for a most-satisfying musical venture from start to finish. Origins is a triumphant successor to Terminus Void’s debut, and reinforces that he is a potent and compelling figure in the dark ambient scene today.

Check out Terminus Void on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon and other online distributors. Or visit https://terminusvoid.com/

Artist Showcase: Terminus Void

I am honored to have the unique privilege of showcasing an emerging and impactful ambient artist operating under the moniker, Terminus Void, who is about to release his second full-length space music album, Origins Unknown. Origins follows the composer’s self-released debut album, Interstellar from 2021 issued in the middle of the global pandemic. The album’s transportive interstellar journey serves as a brilliant offering of experiential escapism to transcend the anxieties and troubles of the modern world.

From the composer’s official one-sheet press release:

Interstellar

The debut album by Terminus Void, Interstellar, is a dark ethereal journey to the deepest reaches of interstellar space with emotional and cinematic undertones.

Interstellar is an immersion for the senses, a gentle glide across an ambient wave of deep undulating bass and atmospheric chords. Haunting instrumentals and an ensemble of choral voices and ancient heraldic horns carry you deeper still on your inward journey. Interstellar is an auditory odyssey of humankind’s journey into the cosmic unknown.

About the Composer

1983 would be a monumental moment when J. Ronald Smith, an American electronic music Composer based in Seattle,Washington, was introduced to the nationally syndicated broadcast, Hearts of Space, created by Stephen Hill. Smith was awe inspired by music composers such as Michael Stearns, Brian Eno, Steve Roach and Evángelos Papathanassíou of Vangelis. Hill’s early broadcasts of these electronic music pioneers instilled a passion for Smith and opened a window of possibilities for him in this new experimental genre of music. In 2021, Smith founded Terminus Void to share this passion that has been nearly 40 years in the making.

I had the pleasure of engaging a dialog with the composer and he shared some of his insights and inspirations for his music project. He said that Interstellar was an enormous learning curve which he has honed and refined for the follow-up Origins Unknown album. But by no means does this suggest that Interstellar is in any way amateur or primitive. Contrarily, Smith demonstrates a magnificent proficiency in ambient soundscape composition from the very first track on his debut.

After only a few communications with Smith, it was instantly apparent that he is no dilettante by any stretch of the imagination. Smith expertly incorporates his penchant for the sciences into his musical efforts. When detailing the inspiration for Origins Unknown, he explained that the title track was inspired from Louis & Bebe Barron’s pioneering works featured in the 1956 film, Forbidden Planet. On this track, Smith incorporated into the baseline modified audible wave instrument recordings from the Juno spacecraft as it passed through the magnetosphere of the Jovian moon, Ganymede on June 7, 2021.

Smith’s passions for science and space exploration have been lifelong. Over twenty years ago, he constructed a radio telescope from a satellite TV antenna, microwave amplifier and a HAM radio receiver. This fact provides a glimpse of the artist’s technical proficiency and celestial-focused scientific intellect, and reveals that the idea to process these auditory frequencies into music had been there for some time. He was kind enough to expound his compositional methodology thusly:

In preparing my second album, I did take into account the interview of BeBe Barron from 1997 by Eric Chasalow. Specifically, her and Louie’s interpretation of Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics as applied to music. I was impressed by the unpredictability and randomness of the electronic notes as they developed and processed the various pitches of the circuits. It was their freeform approach to these new “space sounds” that conducted the purposeful manipulation of circuits to ultimately “self-create” electronic notes. Their musical pioneering is inspiration enough, but then to apply a composition around those sounds that is both enjoyable and exciting in its strangeness, its beauty, and its soothing cosmological feel on the ear is the inspired approach I strive to attain. Like them I feel I am discovering new sounds to manipulate and self-create from the randomness of quite literally, thousands of possibilities of today’s modern synthesizer equipment along with the new discoveries in the astronomical sciences.

As one example, I took the following recording from the Juno spacecraft (https://youtu.be/_09R6jIo74U), slowed the audio and tempo down over 1000% and reprocessed it multiple times using crystallizers, flangers, shimmer modulators, echos and of course massive reverb. In the spirit of Bebe and Louie Barron’s works, the end result is an auditory experience that took on a life of its own. This was then utilized as the central focus of the track as I developed the rest of the piece with traditional and VTS synthesizers.

As Smith mentioned in his artist Bio, the Hearts of Space radio program was an incalculably influential force on his decision to begin creating his own soundworlds. He outlined this inspiration, touched upon some of the equipment he utilized to craft his music, and detailed what he desired to achieve through his composition. Smith explained:

I again can not stress enough the effect Stephen Hill’s broadcasts had as the primary influence for a lifetime’s passion of ambient space music. I was seventeen in the Winter of 1983 when I first experienced HOS. It was ’Transmission’ 11, “Innerspace Realms”. I can only describe the experience as a mind-awakening journey. Regrettably, it wasn’t until this past year that I dedicated myself to my passion as a composer. However, these past few years have given way to introspection. I felt the time was right to step into an auditory space I can share with others and offer a momentary interlude from everyday life.

The goal of my music is to take the listener on a journey by telling an emotional story within each track and expand on that theme through the album as a whole. Many of the themes center on mankind’s sense of exploration and wonder; on one’s hopes and dreams of the future, fears of the unknown and ultimately overcome and carry on.  

The debut album, Interstellar was an introductory sampling of that journey and I feel the second album, entitled, Origins Unknown will exemplify this even more as it will be more auditory focused with a natural sense of organic flow. As for the sound of Terminus Void, I have incorporated  a variety of synthesizers, VSTs, and filters. Some of the more prominent acoustic voices you will hear include the Sequential Prophet 6 and OB6, Moog Sub 37, Roland Jupiter 8 and VP03 along with the Arturia CS-80 V3. 

Following a dedicated listening session with Interstellar, I encouraged Smith to send a promotional copy to Stephen Hill, remarking that his music would sit brilliantly well alongside space music veterans like Steve Roach and Robert Rich. And Interstellar‘s selections, “Lost In Time” and “Arrival Home” capture a serene luxuriance reminiscent of Vangelis’ timeless score for the film, Blade Runner. While ambient music is notoriously difficult to articulate, I’ll do my best to highlight what I enjoyed of Smith’s work with the hope that I can inspire my readers and fellow ambient music lovers to explore this exceptional work.

I should call attention to a difference in the mixing of the material offered on the official Terminus Void YouTube channel and the content on his final albums. Smith explains that, as an incentive to his YouTube subscribers, he uses the channel to publish pre- album release tracks and that they are published as they are composed and recorded. He notes that these are non-mastered tracks and in some instances they are different from the final production in terms of length or tonality. For the truest Terminus Void experience, listeners should seek out and purchase the final mixes.

Check out the pre-mastered version of the title track from Terminus Void’s debut LP, Interstellar below.

I’ll offer a brief examination of Interstellar

“Interstellar” is the title track and lead single for the album. Beatless, though grounded with a few anchoring bass tones, we embark into the inky-black depths of space. There is an elegant timelessness to the piece, just as the absence of day and night in an extraterrestrial journey removes our perception of its passage. The work is brimming with anticipatory excitement of the voyage that lies ahead. It is a perfectly-fitting opener to the album. This serves as an exquisite introductory selection to the artist’s oeuvre.

“Distant World” opens with haunting spectral dissonant tonalities. The sparsely-placed heavenly and alienesque timbres suggest that this may serve as a science-fiction anthem for a yet-unnamed cinematic masterpiece. We are entering a world unknown.

“Arrival Home” features majestically suspended chords and a lone synthesized disembodied vocal. Its seraphic and gossamer quality truly marks our celestial homecoming.

“Beyond Static Tolerance” introduces a fixed low-frequency sequencer pattern beneath the drifting fleeting choral tones occupying the upper register of the spectrum. The track evokes feelings of isolation and suspense as the traveler awaits the climax of their cosmic journey. Expertly-mixed NASA communication samples appear toward the end of selection enhancing the experience.

“Darkness” is dark ambient music at its most superlative. And clocking in at over eleven minutes as the album’s longest track, it rewards careful attention in your finest circumaural headphones. At times I wondered whether futurist role-players might find this album useful to enhance the atmosphere during their gaming sessions. “Darkness” especially might lend itself to such an effort. The best ambient music functions well in both dedicated conscious and background listening, and “Darkness” works fantastically in an array of listening environments and conditions.

“Nothing In The Way” returns the listener to a rhythmic territory with a classic synthesizer pattern and soaring minimalistic melodies. The deep-voiced narration element dramatically complements the suspenseful quality of Interstellar. Whether intended to inspire feelings of weightlessness or timelessness, the theme of space travel is masterfully executed here and throughout the album.

“Lost In Time” is steady and rhythmic, but maintains the empyrean thematics employed consistently in all of Smith’s work. The track conveys a gaze toward the heavens, inviting the listener one final time to leave terra firma behind.

“Distant World – (Epilog Mix)” closes Interstellar. The alien landscapes are carved and charted to remain in our memory long after the album session concludes. The traveler’s odyssey is complete.

Terminus Void’s 2021 debut album, Interstellar

There are countless metaphors for the spacetime journeys offered to us by ambient space music artists like those showcased on Hearts of Space, and all of them are actively employed in each weekly segment of the show, now at over 1,300 episodes and counting. It is so exciting to discover a new musician who himself professes to draw inspiration from those very transmissions, and who successfully crafts soundworlds on par with the greatest veterans of the genre. What Terminus Void succeeds at accomplishing with his transportive music is to highlight the certitude that these impressioned interstellar journeys are, in truth, journeys within. As I said, I encouraged Smith to send his work to Stephen Hill, and hopefully he’ll find new fellow sonic travelers through playback on a future transmission of the program. 

On February 10, 2022, Smith posted a pre-mastered demo of the title track from his upcoming second album, Origins Unknown to YouTube. It is a superb specimen of dark ambient space music, richly-organic, rewardingly nuanced, and introduces the listener to a vast and intricate world of cosmic exploration.

Of the track, YouTuber, Paradigm writes: 

“I love those hidden gems where, once slowed, become something else entirely. Good job! It really encapsulates the beauty, strangeness, and terror that outer space has to offer.”

Tune in to the new demo here:

What I found most captivating about Terminus Void’s ambient style is its balance of classical sophistication and cinematic intrigue. It’s that property which inspires me to return to these songs again and again.

I was absolutely delighted to experience this music. The compositions are magnificently meditative, and certainly reward careful headphone listening. Terminus Void is otherworldly cosmic space music, and it’s the subtle and slowly-unfolding properties which make the works so enjoyable. These are intimately ethereal, transcendent, and heavenly soundscapes. Highly recommended!

Terminus Void’s music is now available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon and other online distributors. Or visit https://terminusvoid.com/.

I’ll close with a personal comment from Smith, who concluded a letter with a touching statement about my work as an archivist. I believe it sheds some fantastic light on the mark of his character. Smith remarked:

It has been a pleasure speaking to you over these past few emails and I look forward to staying in touch and reading more from your blogs. I find your collections not only fascinating but also they are an equally important preservation of the cultural arts for future generations of listeners.  And, most importantly, they connect people, as evident in this conversation, in a world that seems to be separating us from one another on a daily basis. Your timing is brilliant!

Thank you, J, for the kind words and for the important music like yours that we need in the world today.

Watch https://terminusvoid.com for an official announcement of the release of Origins Unknown slated for release this April.

UPDATE: I’m delighted to share, after I recommended that J Ronald Smith send his album along with my article to Stephen Hill of Hearts of Space, that he did so and Hill generously featured Terminus Void on PGM No. 1314, Stellar Quest! We couldn’t be more pleased to have exposure to a global audience of discerning space music listeners!

Brian Eno Collection Milestone to End 2021

I’ve made it an astonishingly productive end of the year at Innerspace Labs with one of my most beloved collections!

Recently, I took a trip to my old home town and dropped by a local record shop which had posted some of their latest vinyl arrivals to social media. Among the titles my keen eye spotted My Squelchy Life – one of the few albums missing from my Brian Eno vinyl collection. I didn’t pass up on the opportunity and added it to my library.  

This however, required that I restage and reshoot my photo of the updated collection, which takes exhaustive hours of work to implement. I spent a few days updating my related collection documents and staging the new photo. Then, as my silly luck would have it, the very next day I picked up five more of his albums that I was missing from another shop, and then found myself with a decision to make. 

Every time I add a title to this collection, I’ve needed to update my spreadsheets for the discographic chronology, update my 55-page process guide to make sure nothing is overlooked, gather the LPs from their various filing locations and box sets, sort them in order of release date, un-polybag all releases to reduce camera glare, stage the shot, photograph them, then post-process to correct lens distortion, perspective, white balance, and other properties, update the collection photo in all of my archival documents, then publish and share the results to social media before re-polybagging and re-filing all titles.

As such, to reduce the workload, I took it upon myself to perform an itemized audit of the nearly 200 releases in Eno’s catalog to build as complete a library as possible of the artist and producer’s works issued in the vinyl format before photographing them again. After inventorying his discography and checking the complete release history of every album to see whether each was issued on vinyl, I then checked the resulting set against my own library to see what I was missing and which had the potential to be secured from various marketplaces around the web. Finally, as Eno has collaborated with hundreds of other artists, I examined the tracklist and liner notes for all missing releases to determine how essential each would be for my library, primarily based on how significant Eno’s role was for each given release.

Once I had a final list of missing titles, I secured mint sealed copies of each qualifying release at the lowest price with international shipping for all items and, as of the end of 2021, have satisfactorily constructed as complete a library of Eno’s work on wax as I’m going to be able to build. With that stage of the project complete, I set myself to the task of staging and re-photographing the collection once again, post-processed the raw images and updated all related documents. 

In addition to the dozens of art prints, books, lithographs, 409 digital releases, and other miscellanea I’ve acquired, I’ve now successfully built a sizable library of most major releases issued in the vinyl format by the artist. The vinyl portion of my Eno library now comprises 49 of his best-loved works totaling 77 discs of content, including the highly sought-after Music For Installations 9LP limited edition box set.

It’s a labor of love.

Published in: on December 24, 2021 at 1:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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Thoughts on My Research to Close Out the Year

“If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research.” — Wilson Mizner

Friends, I’ve been working on writing a book, and I’d like your insight. For the last several years, I’ve been compiling and constructing a vast library of materials on a range of interrelated subjects. These include but are not limited to the following: 

Privacy Rights, Copyright Reform, Copyleft, Open-Source, Creative Commons, Consumer Culture, Propaganda, Social Engineering, Gift Economics, various forms of Anarchism, Digital Abundance, Kopimism, the Access to Knowledge Movement, Mutual Aid, the Moral Economy, Antimarketism, the Free Culture Movement, Open Culture and Remix Culture, the Open Content Project, Free Music Philosophy, File-Sharing (a consumer gift system), Post-scarcity Economics / Digital Abundance, the Information Society / Knowledge Economy, Digital Rights, Crypto-Anarchism / Cypherpunks, as well as Mass-Surveillance and its Impacts on Journalism. 

I’ve constructed a library of several hundred books, essays, documentary films, articles, periodicals, and other resources, and then organized the content with a network of spreadsheets, folder systems, and a notebook of rich-formatted documents linking directly to all content cited in my archive. My organizational strategies have proven useful to aid me in navigating the material. 

I’ve employed a master spreadsheet to track which content I have in physical or digital formats, which ones I’ve consumed and which I have yet to explore, and I’ve used Google Books to dynamically extract critical content I’ve highlighted from those texts into a series of documents with cited excerpts for future reference. I endeavored to secure digital counterparts for all physical materials where available to facilitate content extraction and to automate progress tracking.

This research is supplemental to the work I perform managing my own media library. During the pandemic I produced a media workbook on the cloud comprising over 200 spreadsheets dynamically organizing over 26,000 of my favorite albums and published a year-end survey of metrics from 13,000 albums representing the top 1% of the artists in my archive. Perhaps I can incorporate some of those infographics and analytics into related areas of my research on the aforementioned topics and themes.

Early on in the project, I found myself disheartened that the majority of the published material on these subjects trailed off after the first decade of the new millennium, with little content examining the critical new era where streaming digital media has become the norm. Perhaps to that end I might be the one to write a book to fill that void. I just fear that my efforts as a cultural custodian are rendered moot in this age of on-demand content and that there will be no one left with any interest in my work. There are also the socio-political aspects of the subject matter which might be unwise to publish and associate with my name, so I’ve considered employing a nom de plume. I’d appreciate the insight and perspectives of my readers regarding these considerations. Is this content still relevant? Is it safe? Is there an audience who might find my work to be of merit?

I’ll continue to curate and refine my notes on these materials in the years ahead. It’ll be an engaging and enlightening journey.

Published in: on December 5, 2021 at 7:51 am  Leave a Comment  

“This Is A Journey Into Sound”

Just dropping in for a quick collection update – My holy trinity of 1987. The two singles were featured prominently on mash-up culture mixes and retrospective surveys of early hip hop / dance music. The full-length LP is the rare debut album by The KLF, (Kings of the Low Frequencies / Kopyright Liberation Front), then performing as The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, and would be impossible to release in today’s litigious music market.

They faced similar challenges in August of 1987, when The Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society ordered The JAMs to recall and destroy all unsold copies of the record. The JAMs made a bonfire in the Swedish countryside and burnt the LPs.

Pictured:

  • Eric B. & Rakim ‎– “Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness – The Coldcut Remix)”
  • The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu (The KLF) ‎– 1987 What The F***’s Going On?
  • Bomb The Bass ‎– “Beat Dis (Extended Dis)”

Interestingly, both “Beat Dis” and “Seven Minutes” contain samples of “Train Sequence” by Geoffrey Sumner (1958) and “Pump That Bass” by Original Concept (1986). And all three of these releases were first issued in 1987. Furthermore, M | A | R | R | S’ hit, “Pump Up The Volume,” also released in ’87, shares its namesake titular sample with the Coldcut “Seven Minutes” mix, each lifting the spoken-word vocal from Eric B. and Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul” from their debut Paid In Full LP released earlier that same year. Whosampled dot com cites no fewer than 437 songs that went on to sample the classic hip hop track.

The Coldcut Remix is filed under Hip-Hop, “Beat Dis” is House/Breaks, and 1987 is Leftfield/Plunderphonics. Each is a milestone in the history of DJ culture.

#keepthisfrequencyclear