Summer’s End and Latest Finds

Greeting, friends! The past several weeks have been brimming with excitement and activity, and I owe you all an update. Please pardon the informality of this post, as it will be more personal and reflective than structured or academic.

It’s been a month of investment in the resources I have neglected in my life. I’ve enjoyed exploring the sound of the aforementioned vintage amp which I finally put to use after all these years in storage and I’ll be empowering my existing gear by upgrading my DAC from a Behringer Ucontrol UCA202 to the Audioquest Dragonfly Red.

I’ve been forging and developing friendships with intellectual peers and with introverted and reclusive contacts of mine from as long as 16 years ago with whom I never took the time during those chaotic college years. I’ve found them to be brilliant and engaging ladies and gents with an incredible command of knowledge in my fields of interest. I’ve had some of the most inspiring conversations of my life with a handful of these friends, and it has filled a void where rewarding relationships were sorely lacking from my social development as an adult.

I’ve also been developing my virtual relationships with fascinating individuals in faraway cities and countries. These musical friendships have brought me joy and inspiration in the form of musical recommendations of works which would otherwise be off my radar. These are beautiful people who I am grateful to have in my life in any form, virtual or otherwise.

My writing has also reached a critical point in its development. I found a mentor and a publisher for my book, but after thoroughly exploring the consequences of publishing a work on subjects as controversial as mine, it quickly became evident that I must keep the work clandestine, or otherwise risk millions of dollars in litigation, or worse – national exile. (If anyone is interested in the details, please contact me directly, as I would still sincerely appreciate the input of my friends and peers.)

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My potential new home, should I publish my book – an outpost in the Arctic.

But on to the music!

The first LP is an unfortunate situation. I was at first thrilled to find that this summer, The Avalanches’ unparalleled debut record from 2000 had finally received a proper reissue, making the album accessible and affordable for everyone. My misfortune, however, began with my purchase of the record from a shop in the UK. It arrived damaged from international shipping, and the shop insisted that I ship the damaged copy back to them before they would dispatch a replacement copy. It cost me an additional $40 to return the item, (as I needed to insure the package less I risk losing both the album and the return shipping expense should the copy be lost in transit). Upon receipt of the return, the shop informed me that they hadn’t reserved me a replacement and that the album was sold out. They also refused to reimburse me for my return shipping expense. So now I have no album plus a $40 hole in my account. I’ve ordered a replacement from another seller Stateside and hope to receive it soon.

My misfortune aside, this album is a treasure for any listener interested in sampledelica and in music which pushes the boundaries of copyright. Since I Left You, which comprises an estimated 3,500 samples is, like all good sample-based music, a legal logistical nightmare.

While it is difficult to summarize the unique flavor of this debut, Christian Ward of NME accurately described it as, “a joyous, kaleidoscopic masterpiece of sun-kissed disco-pop.”
Whether you’re a purist who insists that The Original Australian Zomba Promo Mix is the only proper version or you’re just grateful that XL finally released an affordable reissue; Since I Left You is an undisputed classic of the sound of summer.

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My next acquisitions were, thankfully, much smoother transactions. I’d recently revisited my copy of the 50th Anniversary edition of John Cage’s SILENCE: Lectures & Writings and was greatly inspired. I owned copies of Indeterminacy, Variations IV, Sonatas and Interludes / A Book of Music, and various compilations, but when I spotted a newly-announced reissue of the legendary 1958 25-Year Retrospective Concert box set on vinyl, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and ordered a copy straight away.

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The musique concrète trend concluded beautifully with a visit to my favorite record shop from my old hometown. The owner knows precisely the sort of stuff I’m after, and many of my 20th-century avant-garde LPs are from his personal collection. The trip was most rewarding, as I took home two essential classics –

The World of Harry Partch (May, 1969)

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and A Panorama of Musique Concrete (DTL93090 1956)

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Also while I was in the shop, I spotted a collector’s dream on the shelf – an original 1970 copy of Rodriguez’ Cold Fact with the disc is astonishingly mint condition! It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but I sadly had to leave it behind. If you’d like the copy for your own, he’s listed it on his shop’s official Discogs page here.

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I’ve two more treasures pre-ordered for this fall –

The Orb’s 25th Anniversary concert performance of The Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 3 colored LP + concert DVD

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and Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas series complete box set

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Happy autumn, everyone! And thanks for tuning in!

Published in: on September 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Music for Spaceports

For the last two weeks, I’ve been listening again and again to the latest two promo albums from M.Ward’s ‘Recovered & Remastered’ series and the new 10 CD ‘X-Series’.

The first specimen I ingested was the monumental 10th Anniversary Overhaul of 4ORBIDDEN MISSION.

Ten years ago, M.Ward’s remix project was privately circulated and limited to an estimated 22 copies. Bootlegs eventually surfaced and were exchanged for large sums of money, but the originals seldom changed hands and the music was lost for a decade.

This new 2CD edition is unmixed, vastly superior in sound quality, and a fantastic overhaul of the original 4OM recording. The tracks have all been lovingly tweaked, with any quality issues finally resolved, providing a gorgeous listening experience. There was also a 3rd disc with the original 4OM which included a 54-minute mix of ‘Huge Ever Growing…’ This mix was only ever meant for that set. There is a possibility that this mix will also get the 10th Anniversary Overhaul treatment and appear somewhere in the future?

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The 40M Overhaul is brilliant, and if you’re a die-hard fan, you already know that you need this mix in your life.

But it was the second double-disc promo which intrigued me the most. The set arrived, like 4OM, in a modest cardboard 2CD sleeve, stamped with the title:

THIS IS NOT WHAT SPACE IS ABOUT
FULL-LENGTH UNMIXED 2CD
* PROMO USE ONLY *

As a tremendous fan of the original TINWSIA single CD promo, (cat# KLF MINUS-SIX), I couldn’t wait to survey this deluxe and expanded edition. I set aside some serious time for interstellar travel. No lights, minimal external stimuli, just me and my passive noise cancelling circumaural monitors.

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Listening to this expanded edition of Space was like settling in for a screening of 2001. Man has several rituals which must be performed to prepare himself for the journey which awaits him. Secure in my sleep chamber, I slowed my breathing and heart rate and engaged the auditory systems which initiated the listening sequence of Disc 1.

Looking back, my memory is foggy from that initial experience. There were so many sensations – moments of elation and of anticipation… but like all of the most gripping and affecting events of our lives, the exact moments blur into a vaporous and intangible haze. But it’s just as well – the incorporeal recollection is befitting of the ethereal magnificence of the recording, and enhances its metaphysical transportive effect.

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The printed insert from the TINWSIA 2CD

Upon the conclusion of Disc 1, I opened my eyes, slowly, and reacquainted my body with the sensations and properties of the physical world. I needed a cerebral and sensory palate cleanser after the first leg of the voyage, so I shook off the space dust and had a little walk about the house.

Thirty minutes later, I felt stable and tranquil enough to complete the mission. I returned to my listening pod and initiated Disc sequence 2. This time, the musical events seemed more tangible and distinctly formed. Perhaps Disc 2 was more eventful than the sparse drone openness of the introduction. Or perhaps the human mind simply requires a certain duration of preliminary exposure to adapt to a sensory foray of this nature. Whatever the case, I had a heightened sense of awareness and elucidation concurrent with the events of the second recording and I enjoyed it all the more for this revelation.

To describe the particular events of the album would be unproductive, as the very thing which makes the experience so fantastic is that so much of what transpires will be the conjurings of each listener’s own imagination. The soundstage is filled with curious and distant sounds, as well as familiar fragments from the original source recording. And every bit of it is a thrill.

There have been numerous attempts to re-envision milestone recordings of ambient music as a contemporary response to the vision of the original composer. There have been countless trance and ambient tributes to The Dark Side of the Moon, alternative, remixed, and reimagined scores for classic films like Blade Runner and Nosferatu, and (perhaps most notably), The Black Dog’s Music For Real Airports served as a modern interpretation of Eno’s seminal ambient masterpiece.

jimmy-cauty-spaceThe original Space LP (1990)

To speak concretely and critically of this recording, I can say with great certainty that it rivals not only M Ward’s original This Is Not What Space Is About mix, but that it more compellingly captures the essence of interstellar travel than did Cauty, himself in 1990 with Space. Do not misunderstand me – J. Cauty’s record is, in and of itself, a milestone of both the KLF’s legacy and of the history of ambient music as a whole. For its time, it was the best and defining realization of its genre. But the Full Length Unmixed 2CD Promo of This Is Not What Space Is About is the most effective fulfilment of Cauty’s vision. Every ambient music listener should cash in their worker units and buy a ticket for this incredible cosmic journey.

It’s one hell of a ride.

Some Love For My Neglected Albums

It happens to just about every collector – you reach a point where you realize you’ve acquired more albums than you’ll be able to listen to in your lifetime. Or, in the earlier stages, you may find yourself with hundreds of albums you’ve purchased… you know you’ve listened to for maybe for one initial spin… but then they were shelved as you refocused your energies on your next acquisitional conquest.

I’ve arrived at that realization several times over the past year, and in an effort to right that wrong I began a running list in Google Keep of albums I need to revisit or those deserving of a focused and dedicated first-listen. Unfortunately, the list quickly outgrew the app and became cumbersome to navigate, so this morning just after midnight I took a few hours to reconstruct the list as a uniformly-formatted spreadsheet for easier reference. All catalog numbers are noted beside each artist and title, and all entries are vinyl unless otherwise stated.

Below is a roster of the top 125 neglected albums and box sets that I’ve purchased but not taken the time to enjoy in 2016. My goal is to curb my investments in additional material for a while and to really dig into these classic titles that I already have.

So for the remainder of the summer, this is what I’ll be spinning…

A Winged Victory For The Sullen – A Winged Victory For The Sullen (Kranky,Kranky – KRANK 157, KRANK157)
Amon Düül II – Phallus Dei (Revisited Rec. – SPV 304181 LP)
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1972 – if11)
Archie Shepp – The Magic Of Ju-Ju (Impulse!, Universal Music – A-9154, B0016005-01)
Brian Eno – Lux (Warp Records – WARPLP231)
Cage, Varèse, Cowell, Ussachevsky, & others – Sounds of New Music (Folkways FX 6160)
Can – Ege Bamyasi (United Artists Records – UAS-29414)
Can – Future Days (United Artists Records – UA-LA213-F)
Can – Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit – SFRLP-135)
Can – Tago Mago (United Artists Records (2), United Artists Records (2) – UAS 29 211, UAS 29 211 X)
Charles Dodge – Earth’s Magnetic Field (Nonesuch – H-71250)
Charles Wuorinen – Time’s Encomium (Nonesuch – H-71225)
Cluster – Cluster II (Lilith ‎– LR335)
Cluster & Eno – Cluster & Eno (4 Men With Beards – 4M 141)
Duke Ellington And Count Basie – First Time! The Count Meets The Duke (Columbia – CL 1715)
Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong – The Duke Ellington – Louis Armstrong Years (Roulette – 9045-108)
Edgar Froese – Epsilon In Malaysian Pale (Virgin, Virgin – V 2040, v2040)
Eno – Another Green World (Island Records – ILPS 9351)
Eno – Moebius – Roedelius – After The Heat (4 Men With Beards – 4M163)
Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (Island Records – ILPS 9309)
Eno, Moebius, Roedelius, Plank -Begegnungen II (Sky Records – SKY 095)
Frank Zappa – Hot Rats (Bizarre Records,Reprise Records – RS 6356)
Fripp & Eno – Evening Star (Editions EG – EGS 103)
FSOL – Lifeforms 2CD (Astralwerks ‎– ASW 6113-2, Virgin ‎– 7243 8 39433 2 6)
George Harrison – Electronic Sound (Apple Records, Zapple – EAS-80696, ZAPPLE 02)
Harmonia – Complete Works Box Set – Deluxe (LPGRON150)
Harmonia – Complete Works Box Set – Documents 1975 (LPGRON150)
Harmonia – Complete Works Box Set – Live 1974 (LPGRON150)
Harmonia – Complete Works Box Set – Musik Von Harmonia (LPGRON150)
Harmonia & Eno – Complete Works Box Set – Tracks and Traces (LPGRON150)
Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles (Blue Note, Blue Note, Blue Note, Blue Note – ST-84175, 84175, B0022238-01, BST 84175)
Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygene (Polydor,Polydor – PD-1-6112, 2310 555)
John Carpenter – Lost Themes (Sacred Bones Records – SBR123LP)
John Carpenter – Lost Themes II (Sacred Bones Records ‎– SBR-150)
Karl Hyde – Edgeland (Universal – 3729832)
Klaus Schulze – “X” (Sechs Musikalische Biographien) (Brain, Brain – 0080.023-2, 0080.023)
Klaus Schulze – Body Love – Additions To The Original Soundtrack (Island Records – ILPS 19510)
Klaus Schulze – Body Love (Metronome, Metronome – 0060.047, 60.047)
Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht ‎(Brain 0001 077 , 1077)
Klaus Schulze – Mirage (Brain – 60.040)
Klaus Schulze – Timewind (Brain, Brain – brain 1075, 0001.075)
Klaus Schulze – Trancefer (Innovative Communication, Innovative Communication – KS 80 014, KS 80014)
Klaus Schulze, Pete Namlook – The Dark Side Of The Moog Vol. 1-4 (MIG – MIG 01382)
Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk (Crown Records- CR 0423-1)
Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk 2 (Crown Records – CR 0424-1)
Kraftwerk – Ralf & Florian (Vertigo – VEL-2006)
Louis and Bebe Barron – Forbidden Planet (Poppydisc, Rev-Ola – POPPYLP012)
Miles Davis – ‘Round About Midnight (Columbia – CS 8649)
Miles Davis – A Tribute To Jack Johnson (Columbia – KC 30455)
Miles Davis – Agharta (Columbia – PG 33967)
Miles Davis – Big Fun (Columbia – PG 32866)
Miles Davis – Birth Of The Cool (T-762)
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (Columbia – GP 26)
Miles Davis – Black Beauty / Miles Davis At Fillmore West (CBS/Sony – SOPJ 39-40)
Miles Davis – In A Silent Way (Columbia – CS 9875)
Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (CS 8163)
Miles Davis – Miles At The Fillmore (Music On Vinyl – MOVLP1051)
Miles Davis – Miles Davis (Prestige, Prestige, Prestige – PR 24001, P 24001, 24001)
Miles Davis – Miles Davis At Carnegie Hall (CL 1812)
Miles Davis – Milestones (PC 9428)
Miles Davis – Porgy And Bess (CS 8085)
Miles Davis – Sketches Of Spain (Columbia – CS 8271)
Miles Davis – Somethin’ Else (BLP 1595, 1595, B0020156-01)
Miles Davis – Workin’ And Steamin’ (Prestige – P 24034)
Miles Davis ‎– Miles At The Fillmore 6LP Box Set (Music On Vinyl ‎– MOVLP1051)
Miles Davis Quintet – Jazz Tracks – The Original Soundtrack Recording From “Frantic” (Columbia Special Products – JCL 1268)
Miles Davis Sextet – Jazz At The Plaza Vol. 1 (CBS – C 32470)
Morton Subotnick – Silver Apples Of The Moon(Nonesuch – H-71174)
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (Creation Records – crelp 060)
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV (FLAC)
Pink Floyd – Meddle (Harvest – SMAS-832)
Pink Floyd – Obscured By Clouds (Harvest – ST-11078)
Raymond Scott – Manhattan Research Inc. (Basta – 30-9045-1)
Robert Fripp – Exposure (EG ‎– EGLP 101)
Robert Fripp – God Save the Queen & Under Heavy Manners (FLAC)
Robert Fripp & Andy Summers – I Advance Masked (SP-4913)
Sigur Rós – () (XL Recordings ‎– xlcd611)
Sigur Rós ‎– Ágætis Byrjun (FatCat Records ‎– FATLP11)
Silver Apples – Silver Apples (Kapp Records – KS-3562)
St Germain – St Germain (Warner Music France, Parlophone – 0825646121984)
Stan Getz / Eddie Sauter – Focus (Verve Records – V6-8412)
Stereolab – Aluminum Tunes: Switched On Vol 3 3LP (Drag City ‎– DC159)
Stereolab – Dots & Loops (FLAC)
Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup (FLAC)
Steve Reich – The Desert Music (Nonesuch,Nonesuch – 79101, 9 79101-1 F)
Sun Ra – Space Is The Place (Blue Thumb Records, The Verve Music Group – BTS 41, 06007 53627631)
Sun Ra – Space Is The Place (Sutro Park – SP1004)
Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Research Arkestra – It’s After The End Of The World (Live At The Donaueschingen And Berlin Festivals) (MPS Records, BASF – 20748, BASF 20748)
Tangerine Dream – Alpha Centauri (Relativity – EMC 8066) 6LP In the Beginning… box set
Tangerine Dream – Atem (Relativity – EMC 8066) 6LP In the Beginning… box set
Tangerine Dream – Electronic Meditation (Relativity – EMC 8066) 6LP In the Beginning… box set
Tangerine Dream – Zeit (Relativity – EMC 8066) 6LP In the Beginning… box set
Terry Riley – Songs For The Ten Voices Of The Two Prophets (Kuckuck – KUCK 067)
The Black Dog – Music For Real Airports (Soma Quality Recordings – Soma TBD003)
The J.B.’s – Doing It To Death (People Records, People Records – PE 5603, 2391 087)
The Orb – Moonbuilding 2703 AD (Kompakt – KOMPAKT 330 SE)
The Orb Featuring David Gilmour – Metallic Spheres (Columbia – 886977604416)
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (Landgrab – GRAB001)
Throbbing Gristle – 20 Jazz Funk Greats (FLAC)
Tom Waits – Alice (Anti- – 86632-1)
Tom Waits – Big Time (Island Records – 90987-1)
Tom Waits – Blood Money (Anti- – 86629-1)
Tom Waits – Blue Valentine (Asylum Records – 6E-162)
Tom Waits – Bone Machine (Island Records- ILPS 9993)
Tom Waits – Closing Time (Asylum Records – SD5061)
Tom Waits – Foreign Affairs (Asylum Records – 7E-1117)
Tom Waits – Franks Wild Years (Island Records – ITW 3)
Tom Waits – Glitter And Doom Live (Anti- – 87053-1)
Tom Waits – Heartattack And Vine(Asylum Records – 6E-295)
Tom Waits – Mule Variations (Anti-, Epitaph – 86547-1, 86574-1)
Tom Waits – Nighthawks At The Diner (Asylum Records – 7E-2008)
Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards 7LP Box Set (Anti- – 86677-1)
Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (Island Records, Island Records – 7 90299-1, 90299-1)
Tom Waits – Real Gone (Anti- – 86678-1)
Tom Waits – Small Change (Asylum Records – 7E-1078)
Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones (Island Records – 90095-1)
Tom Waits – The Heart Of Saturday Night (Asylum Records – 7E-1015)
Tom Waits – Tom Waits Live Glitter And Doom Tour (Anti- – 87018-7)
Vangelis – Blade Runner (Audio Fidelity (3) – AFZLP 154)
Various – Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (Columbia Masterworks – MS 6566)
Various ‎– Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook 8CD Deluxe Box Set (Carpe Sonum Records ‎– SEIZE-I)
Walter Carlos – Sonic Seasonings (Columbia – KG 31234)
White Noise – An Electric Storm (FLAC)
William Basinski ‎– The Disintegration Loops 9LP+5CD+DVD Box Set (Temporary Residence Limited ‎– TRR194)
Zappa / Beefheart / Mothers – Bongo Fury (DiscReet – DS 2234)

It should be a good time.

 

 

Published in: on July 23, 2016 at 1:16 am  Comments (1)  
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On the Merits and Caveats of Audio Formats and the Misconstrued Myths of Inferiority

 

SliderSliders on TL Audio VTC (1), Metway Studios by Jeremy Keith is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As audio formats have risen and fallen from favor, there have always been a segment of audiophiles there to fly the flag of their favorite format and to shun the supposed failures of those they oppose.

Truly, each format has its respective merits and caveats. The choice of one format over another is mostly preferential based upon one’s circumstances. The favor for portable digital formats is most often made for convenience, and those listening from their mobile devices while commuting are seldom concerned about the quality of the device’s internal DAC or of the lossy compression which leads other audiophiles to write their congresspersons in fits of anger and audio activism. Pragmatically speaking, (respectable fringe circumstances aside), portable listening environments, given the significant white noise and distraction of passersby, reduce the need for performative excellence in audio signal reproduction as much of the nuanced perfections of a given recording are lost in the chaotic shuffle of human transport.

CDs are a sufficient marriage of quality and convenience for many listeners. They lend an optimum sound quality for properly-mastered and mixed recordings, are a widely-supported format, and can readily be converted to lossless EAC or lossy MP3 for added portability.  They suffer the usual limitations of physical media – entropic decay, limited capacity forcing albums to restrict runtime, and jewel case hinges which are frustratingly breakable. Title availability is often limited to commercially-viable recordings, which may or may not be an issue depending on your genres of interest.

There appears to be a curious consensus that the many of the earliest discs (roughly 1981-1989) are inferior in their sound quality. Listeners often complain that these discs sound “tinny”, “bright”, or “thin”. However, a quick search reveals intriguing opposing views, suggesting that the supposed poor sound quality of early discs may be a myth after all. It is important not to mistake earlier, quietly-mastered CDs as inferior. Podunk from the quartertothree forum offers the following:

“…mastering techniques have changed a lot since the 80’s and early 90’s. The most significant change is the tendency of mastering engineers to apply a lot of compression or hard limiting to final mix, which greatly decreases the dynamic range of a recording but makes it sound really loud and punchy. Recordings from even the early 90’s sound much quieter than modern recordings because of this practice. The advantage to that kind of aggressive compression is that our ears initially percieve loud recordings as sounding generally better, bassier, punchier, etc. Also, a loud recording will reveal fewer of the weaknesses of a cheap cd player/receiver/etc, because you don’t have to turn it up until you start to hear the background noise from your system. The disadvantage to that sort of mastering is that listening to a recording with very little dynamic range is fatiguing, but at first blush, that is probably the #1 reason that a new CD would sound better than an old one: at the same volume level, a new one will sound much louder and punchier.”

Ethan Winer of Music Player Network agrees, stating that some early CDs were poor due to improper mastering, but that these are the exception rather than the norm. During the early days of CDs some engineers directly used …”master tapes meant for vinyl records, with treble added to counter the known high-frequency loss of LPs.” Alan Cross published an article on 10 of the Worst-Sounding CDs of All Time, which includes the terribly hissy My Aim is True by Elvis Costello. But you’ll find that each of the early albums on his list is an example of shoddy production work at the hands of the studio and not limitations of the format or its technology.

Another factor to consider is that early 80s music itself is characteristically bright and tinny, further contributing to the perceived poor sound quality in comparison to post-loudness-war era recordings. Personally, I delight in the sound of early synth-pop albums and their characteristic brightness, and if I elect I can simply adjust the equalization to taste – far better than having to deal with the over-compressed dialed-up-to-eleven victims of the loudness war!

Cassettes rival other formats in two primary regards – their portability, and more importantly, the participatory factor of the mixtape – a cultural phenomenon which permitted the listener to contextualize and identify with their music and to share it with others. Music became far more socially interactive with the birth of the cassette. This also created an environment for DIY home recorded genres like punk and were critical to the development of independent music.  This, of course, continued with the democratization of CD burning technologies some years later.

Even as a devout record collector, it is important to state that the format’s allure is largely fetishist and a placebo effect. Young listeners born in the era of digital music enjoy discovering the retro format as it provides a tactile and real-time listening experience and it gives a (literally) substantial value to music they would otherwise perceive as common, elemental, and as plentiful as air and water. Gatefold artwork is often breathtaking and elegant. Sound quality is dependent on a combination of the source audio, the mastering process, the condition of the disc, and the playback equipment utilized. To various degrees of impact, the selection of tables, tonearms, cartridges, interconnects, preamps, power amps, and speakers each play a role in the resulting sound. However, the nostalgic “warmth” described by many vinyl lovers is simply a distortive property of the medium – a characteristic of playback altering the true audio signal of the artist, producer, and engineer, just as the crackles and pops of a well-worn and well-loved LP add a vitality and character to the music representing its history as a badge of honor, like the scratches and scars on the face of a dedicated soldier.

One important additional characteristic of the vinyl format is that there are tens of thousands of titles issued on LP which will never be made commercially available in a digital format. Thankfully, listeners have risen to this challenge and through online music journals and sites like Archive.org, have come together to digitize worlds of music which would never see the light of day without their efforts. In fact, the very same has been happening in the cassette community, both in the audio and video realms.

MP3 offers the convenience of compression and shareability and was the first widely successful non-physical format. They offered the same flexibility as mix tapes with the added bonus of storage tens of thousands of tracks on a small drive, plus the post-scarcity economic quality of being infinitely replicable at no cost to the user. There was a brief “dark age” of digital music in the early days of Napster with no bitrate standard and file exchange systems based on tracks instead of albums or discographic archives of artists or record labels, but this quickly passed as technology progressed to appease more discerning listeners who demanded standardization of formatting and v0 compression.

Still, some listeners prefer archival quality audio and have no use for single-track exchange networks. This is where archival lossless digital audio factors in. Private FLAC-based trackers offer an incredible value to users with meticulously-structured and uniformly-extracted FLAC+.CUE + .log packages for all available libraries. Complete discographic archives are instantly accessible whether showcasing a single artist or composer or an entire record label or musical theme. Finally, a format had arrived which offered a truly contextual listening experience, complete with catalog numbers and uniform metadata for well-organized archival libraries and with enhanced accessibility.

Best of all, these communities offer vastly larger libraries of content than commercial channels which focus only on licensed recordings. FLAC communities offer artist demos, developmental works in progress, live performances (whether sourced from soundboard or field), and an array of other non-commercial recordings not available to the public at any price.

Streaming services have grown incredibly popular of late, given their convenience and accessibility, though more discerning listeners collectively deride the technology as being painfully inadequate for their own listening needs. The disdain is three-fold.  Firstly, the services are limited to commercial recordings for which they can secure licensing, which instantly reduces the available catalog to a tiny fraction of the world of recorded music. Secondly, inferior lossy compression rates have turned many off from using these services.  Finally and perhaps most importantly, there is the principle behind the service’s greatest flaw – namely that listeners never own any of the music they hear on these services. There have already been instances of titles being remotely deleted from user libraries, hinting at the dangerous potential for media censorship at the hands of the content distributor. The EFF and other open culture organizations caution consumers that collectively relinquishing ownership of creative works is incredibly dangerous for a society.  Fortunately, a percentage of listeners still hold fast to the concept of personal libraries and elect to retain the public’s control of our art.

What is to come of these formats in the years ahead?  Vinyl will retain an audience of collectors who desire a tangible connection to their music and a lust for magnificent artwork. CDs will experience a nostalgic retro-renaissance as all things do approximately 20 years after their era. Cassette culture is already on the rise, albeit a niche, (though the same was said about vinyl just a few years ago). Each format excels in areas which appeal to their respective fan base. It will be interesting to see what transpires with non-physical digital audio. As storage cost continues to plummet, we’ve reached a threshold where compression and storage are non-issues. And as accessibility (in both legal and non-legal forms) continues to become refined and democratized, we may approach a day where every user can possess a personal copy of the Library of Congress, readily accessible for their perusal, research, and literacy. As open culture explains, this has the potential to usher in a new age of artistic enlightenment.

I hope I’m around to see that day.

 

Published in: on July 16, 2016 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Underworld: A Guided Tour

Underworld has been producing music, art, and film for nearly 40 years.With over 500 albums, EPs, and singles, newcomers to their work might find their catalog daunting. If you are just such a listener, this is for you.  So you know “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” from Trainspotting, but are wondering where to venture next.

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Many listeners might be inclined to snatch up one of their compilations or anthologies. In 1999 they released a 3CD Singles Box Set, but it is not an ideal entry point as it focuses too heavily on Darren Emerson’s contributions and is heavily saturated with alternate mixes which do not showcase the band’s true talents.

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The next compilation issued was in 2012. A Collection’s opening track is a strange choice – a song by High Contrast featuring Tiesto and Underworld, which few fans associate with Underworld. And track 03, “Bebop Hurry” is a collaboration between Karl Hyde and Brian Eno taken from the Underworld vs the Misterons’ Athens LP.

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 Unfortunately neither function well as introductory material, nor are they representative of their artistic style. Still, the other tracks on this compilation are the meat and potatoes of the band. The majority of their biggest hits are here, but for the sake of constricting it to a single disc, all of the tracks have been edited down to radio-friendly durations, sacrificing the ethereal and progressive characteristics which occupy the minutes which have been trimmed away. New listeners would benefit far more if they were to take in the tracks in their original form.

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That same year, a 3-disc collection was issued called, The Anthology: 1992 – 2012.  Interestingly, this set does not serve as an off-the-shelf hits collection but instead is comprised of b-sides and odd tracks which act as snapshots of the band’s development. This made it a rewarding purchase for fans who already owned all of their major LPs.  It also presents the content in a chronological setting. Disc 1 is material from their Mk 2 phase around the recording of their massive breakthrough hit album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman. Disc 2 showcases recordings from around the Second Toughest in the Infants and Beaucoup Fish era, including their non-album mega-hit, “Born Slippy (Nuxx)”.  The fan-favorite concert closer, “Moaner” is here as well.  Disc 3 offers more rarities like “The Hump”, “Minneapolis”, and “Why Why Why”, and includes a few uptempo selections from the series of non-radio, meditative EPs released exclusively via Underworldlive.com during the early 2000s.  

So without an easily-digestible compilation, how is a new listener to approach the band’s staggeringly large discography? Underworld is best experienced in album form. They are not a singles artist. Each record adds a contextual value to the tracks which each stand well as a packaged project of their own. My advice is to begin with Dubnobasswithmyheadman. The record marked the second incarnation of the band after its synthpop beginnings in the 80s (and a one-off garage punk single in ‘79). Dubnobass was incredibly progressive given the sound of techno and house in 1994. It contains eternal hits like “Cowgirl” and “Dark and Long”.

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If you like what you hear on this album,  explore their evolution into their next two records which complete the Darren Emerson trilogy before he parted from the group. These albums are Second Toughest in the Infants and Beaucoup Fish, best known for singles like “Pearls Girl”, “Cups”, “King of Snake”, and the aforementioned epic, “Moaner”. But it’s their more explorative tracks which reveal the most about the band. The opener to Second Toughest is “Juanita: Kiteless : To Dream of Love” – a monumental piece which engages the listener for over 16 minutes. And the mellow, downtempo rhythm and effect-laden vocals of “Winjer from Beaucoup Fish will never see radio airplay, but is a fantastic and atmospheric tune.

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This era concluded with Everything Everything Live: The Definitive Underworld Experience.  Pick up the DVD – it captures the incredible energy of the band performing live at the peak of their popularity in 2000.

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If you’re interested in going deeper to explore their more intimate and cerebral work, it began in 2002 with A Hundred Days Off.  Every track contributes something unique to the set. “Two Months Off” was the radio A-side but the deeper cuts are far more rewarding.

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At this point in their career, the duo embarked on a side project of web-only albums dubbed, “The Riverrun series”.  These include:

(2005) Lovely Broken Thing
(2005) Pizza for Eggs
(2006) I’m a Big Sister, and I’m a Girl, and I’m a Princess, and This is my Horse

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Filed under ambient techno and progressive trance, these artful projects reveal a more intimate and contemplative side of the band.  And a series of singles from this series offer even more experimental b-sides worthy of listening.

2007 marked their return to the commercial market with Oblivion With Bells. This album features the hit, “Beautiful Burnout” and the startlingly ambient “To Heal” which was redubbed “Capa Meets the Sun” for the film, Sunshine.

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The 2010 album, Barking is their least popular record. “Always Loved a Film” and “Bird 1” saw some airplay and there was an art film of video vignettes for each track. Not their most essential work, but even Underworld’s worst ain’t bad.

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For years thereafter there was silence. Rick released his first solo album, Bungalow with Stairs in 2010. Karl soon followed with his own solo debut, Edgeland in 2013. It was wonderful stuff. Then he surprised and delighted fans by releasing not just one but two collaborative albums with fellow genre-defining artist and producer Brian Eno in 2014. The artists had worked together a few years earlier as members of the improvisational concert project, This is Pure Scenius!  “DBF” from their first collaboration titled, Someday World was energetic and complex and instantly fascinating.  Their follow-up, High Life further refined the duo’s sound with an album full of brilliant tracks. As a dedicated fan of both gentlemen’s work, these records were a dream come true.

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In 2014, the band released a special anniversary edition box set of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, newly remastered and featuring all of the odds and ends from the era, some of which were issued on The Anthology. Another remastered box set appeared the following year, this time of Second Toughest in the Infants.  And further anniversary remasters are expected in the years ahead.

Then in 2016, Underworld released their first new album as a band in six years. It was an absolute triumph of a record, proving to the world that these aging ravers still had what it takes to produce rich and exciting new sounds nearly 40 years into their career. With each new listen to the album, Barbara Barbara We Face a Shining Future, it becomes more and more rewarding an experience.

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So there you have it – a brief tour through the catalog of Underworld. Of course, not everything worth sampling is mentioned above.  With 510 releases, as well as a library of short films, art installations, and publications for both print and web from their art collective, Tomato, it would be impossible to highlight them all. But hopefully, this guide will serve sufficiently as an introduction to their work.

Happy listening.

 

Best Soundtrack to the Worst Movie of All Time!

ATTENTION fellow MSTies! The moment I learned that this existed, I tracked down the tiny record label and snatched up a copy for myself!

Here’s the cover art for the red and black swirl vinyl limited edition soundtrack to the worst film ever made – MANOS: The Hands of Fate!

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Produced from the original 35mm soundtrack negative, restored to all its craptastic glory by Steve Addabbo at Shelter Island Sound in New York City; this is the definitive audio edition of MANOS!

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Only $18 from a crazy tiny label called ShiptoShore PhonoCo in Brooklyn, the MANOS soundtrack LP is the ultimate cult keepsake for any vinyl collector who grew up with MST3K.  Order your copy here!

It’s so wonderful to see the great care taken to restore and re-release this bizarre 1966 cult film, written, directed by, and starring a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas.

The film remained largely unknown for nearly 30 years until it was featured on what became one of the most beloved episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in 1993. And after the original 16 mm work print was discovered in California in 2011, a Kickstarter project led to the production of a vastly superior Blu-Ray edition and this terrible soundtrack!

BUT WAIT — THERE’S MORE!

The HD restored Soundtrack of Fate is available in its entirety in multiple formats on Bandcamp for any price you like via a Creative Commons license! The site accepts donations to the restoration project, and in addition to the soundtrack offers special edition posters and t-shirts as well as the restored Blu-Ray release of this bafflingly awful film!

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Visit their official Bandcamp page and name your price for the score to this stinking cinematic suppository.

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“The Master will approve!”

Celebrating my Birthday as Only an Insane Fanatic Can

Today I celebrate my fast-approaching birthday with the album which, as a teen, revealed to me that a world existed outside of top 40 radio pop, and whose album art directly inspired my pursuit of a design degree.

Shamelessly celebrating as only a design fanatic can… with a shrine of custom-printed tees, buttons, concert memorabilia, the original UK LP, the 20th Anniversary deluxe edition, the WaxTrax US compact disc, and the custom album art skin for my new Chromebook which arrived today.

Thank you, Underworld for sticking with me for 20 beautiful years.

 

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Tune in with me this evening – I’m spinning the Super Deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition.  Cheers!

Daydreams of Exile – An Exploration of Dub Techno

This weekend’s musical exploration began, and it so often does, with a single catalyst. That agent was the arrival of the latest addition to The much-hailed KLF Recovered & Remastered series, titled The KLF Remix Project (Part One).  This limited edition promotional comp features an assortment of delicious deep cuts and rare and exclusive mixes breathing new life into the long-deleted KLF catalog.

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One of my favorite selections from the comp is a surprising remix of “Me Ru Con” – an acapella track from The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu’s 1987 What The Fuck’s Going On? LP.  This is the album The KLF are pictured burning on their follow-up album, Who Killed The Jams?  The Remix Project compilation presents Steve Rowlands’ “Me Ru Con (WTF Mix)” which transforms the unassuming and humble recording into an ethereal mix of radio signals, steel drums, and atmospheric beats.  The mix really gets you grooving and stirs all sorts of nostalgia for the legacy of the band.  If you have the opportunity, pick up this comp (as you should all titles from the series).  It does a fantastic job of filling the void left by the absence of the KLF.  And for a remix comp the collection functions extraordinarily well as a cohesive piece – consistent with all of the releases in this fantastic series.  The Remix album is packed with dark ambient dub and dub techno beats and fueled my aforementioned muse resulting in this weekend’s discoveries.

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Yearning for more dub techno greatness, I turned to my own archive and performed a search for genre values including “dub” + “techno”.  Surprisingly, there were a number of discographic archives from artists whose names were familiar but whose body of work had escaped me. Several online sources indicated that one of the resulting artists – Basic Channel were universally heralded as the founding fathers of the subgenre in Berlin in the early 1990s.  Basic Channel is Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald, who appeared in my library under the alias, Rhythm & Sound.  Ernestus owns the Hard Wax store in Berlin and together, the duo has released numerous minimal dub 12-inch singles as Basic Channel, Cyrus, Round One/Two/Three/Four/Five and other aliases.  This is an ideal starting place to familiarize yourself with the genre.

Finnish electronic musician and producer Sasu Ripatti creates dub techno albums as Vladislav Delay, and interestingly intersected with Basic Channel member Moritz von Oswald where he provided percussion for a series of LPs released as The Moritz Von Oswald Trio between 2009 and 2012.

Oswald also collaborated briefly with Thomas Fehlmann as Schizophrenia.  They issued on lone split single – a self-titled track on the b-side of Sun Electric’s “Monolith” in 1995, but the track is a stand-out classic.  And listen close – the single samples Ash Ra Tempel’s “Sunrain”, the opening track from New Age of Earth from 1976.

Andy Stott is another dub techno artist from Manchester.  His work began around 2005, but his most critically-acclaimed recording is his 2012 LP,  Luxury Problems, receiving awards from both Resident Advisor and from Pitchfork Media.

Digging further into my library I discovered Canadian electronica musician Scott Montieth’s work as Deadbeat as well as his collaboration with Paul St. Hilaire from 2014 titled The Infinity Dub Sessions.

Also well-represented in my collection was Rod Modell and Stephen Hitchell’s catalog performing as cv313 on the Echospace label.  Modell’s solo project under the moniker Deepchord is also fantastic, particularly his releases from the series  of “Deepchord Presents Echospace” albums produced with  Souldubsounds owner Steven Hitchell (aka. Soultek).  Discogs notes that these recordings were “produced using nothing but vintage analog equipment, Roland Space Echo, Echoplex, Korg tape delay, vintage signal processors, noise generators, Sequential Circuits 8 bit samplers & numerous analog synthesizers” featuring an array of “sounds, static, tones and field recordings, including paranormal activity captured and recorded in Chicago & Detroit.”

Fluxion is another figure worth exploring in this category.  A pseudonym of Konstantinos Soublis (aka K. Soublis), Fluxion is an electronic music producer from Athens Greece.  The artist’s profile states that his music “has a characteristic of slowly evolving parts and contemplating elements which form lengthy musical pieces. His sounds are heavily processed to a point where the origin of a sound has little to do with the end result.”  – soundscapes in which a listener may lose him/herself.

Berlin artists Robert Henke and Gerhard Behles performing as Monolake are also noteworthy, if not for their catalog perhaps for the fact that together they founded the Ableton music software company, responsible for instrument and sample libraries used by countless musicians over the last 15 years.

One of the better-known German sound projects of the genre is Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner’s catalog performing as Porter Ricks (whose name is based on a character from the series, Flipper).  Their sound is described as “a project that lies between clubs and art.”

In fact, Köner also works as a multimedia installation artist and gained critical acclaim for his digital opera, The Futurist Manifesto.

It’s really wonderful to have a music library as a resource for genre explorations like this.  And extra special thanks to those behind the KLF Recovered & Remastered series for the quality tunes which inspired this latest journey.

A Tour of the Listening Room!

My birthday is fast-approaching, and as you would suspect, I am impossible to shop for.  Despite this challenge, my fiance has successfully surprised and delighted me with her creative gifts more and more with each passing year.

This year I had more than once wondered aloud how much I would love a 2-row record bin to flip through my collection record store style.  But, as other household expenses have always taken precedence, I’d never gone ahead and ordered one.

But yesterday, my fiance with her thrifty eagle eye spotted a wood-framed beer cooler roadside with a large rectangular aluminum-lined cavity that, as luck would have it, measures precisely wide enough for two deep rows of polybagged LPs!  It even has an additional shelf underneath for oversize box sets!

It’s been so long since I’ve done a video, and this new acquisition seemed the perfect opportunity for an updated tour of my listening room.

Note: I neglected to mention in the video – Underworld’s quintessential album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman is not missing from the collection I present – it is framed on the wall opposite the Eno • Hyde Someday World art print!

A few of the unmentioned items featured include:

Atop the Bookshelf:
William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops Box Set
Cyril Ritchard Reads Alice in Wonderland + Facsimile Clothbound HC of the first edition
Tangerine Dream – In the Beginning…
Tom Waits – Orphans
Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman Super Deluxe Anniversary Ed.
Underworld – Barking Super Deluxe Ed.
20 Years of Jethro Tull: The Definitive Collection
The Motown Story: The First Decade
Miles Davis at the Fillmore Box Set
Harmonia – Complete Works

Atop the Jazz/20th Century Avant-Garde/Funk & Soul/Blues/ and Proto Electronic Shelf:
Klaus Schulze + Pete Namlook – The Dark Side of the Moog Vol I-IV
Music From Some Guys in Space (Fan-Made Box Set)
FAX +49-69/45046 / Carpe Sonum – Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute to Pete Namlook
Lemon Jelly – lemonjelly.ky
Lemon Jelly – Lost Horizons
Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95 DVD box
The KLF Recovered & Remastered Collection (with new titles I’ll be featuring soon!)
and the Buckner & Garcia – “Pac-Man Fever” square pic disc

As for the contents of the record bin; I think I covered each of these in the vid… but let me know if you’re wondering about any titles in particular!

Thanks so much for watching and extra-special thanks to my dear fiance for doing the impossible year after year!

 

Published in: on June 4, 2016 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  
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The Rise of the Collective Market

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Over the course of the last decade, we have seen a significant transition of power – the stranglehold of the market loosening from the hand of the corporate gatekeepers as they are largely replaced by more efficient systems built by the citizens of the internet.

These markets crowd-source the knowledge of community members who are proficient in a particular field of interest, who develop databases, forums for discussion, and flat-hierarchal markets in which to distribute goods far more effectively than by previous corporate models.

For example; Abebooks and Alibris each do a magnificent job of empowering consumers and booksellers alike, by creating an easily navigable flat structure marketplace where bookshops large and small can offer their titles to a global community without any additional overhead.  This creates a buyer’s market where millions of titles are available at impressively low prices.

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Discogs is another successful user-supported market.  The site’s users construct and maintain a detailed database and thriving marketplace of millions of music titles ranging from Billboard chart toppers to incredibly rare test pressings.  By adhering to a core, (and greatly facilitated) organizational structure of data submission, the site is able to crowd-source a vast and well-organized database.  The site also automates personal collection appraisals based on market history, right down to the condition of each item.  The site even offers catalog submissions via UPC scanning to make library building a snap.  And its marketplace is empowering for record sellers great and small as well as for music consumers the world over.  Like other online markets, there are significant cycles of inflation, but regulation likewise occurs naturally.

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Etsy offers a market for artisanal creative projects.  And Audiogon is a community to help educate users about pro audio gear with both a forum and a trade-and-sell market of its own.  For every need that arises, knowledgeable users in the community establish a market specializing in that service.  This is a core tenant of the cooperative nature of the internet community.

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As with any eBusiness construct, several key advantages separate these ideal virtual markets from the antiquated corporate retail brick-and-mortar chain stores which came before them.  Firstly, their operating overhead is minimal to non-existent, whereas physical stores must constantly grapple with expenses like construction, maintenance, electricity and heat, staffing expenses, and insurance.  And the physical limitations of a building cripple a store front’s merchandise selection which is often restricted further by the distributors with which the corporation has aligned itself.

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By stark contrast, online markets shed all of the restrictions of physical space.  Most of these markets are user-supported so little staffing is required, and buyers can purchase any of millions of available products from other users anywhere in the world without corporate loyalty to a particular supplier.

These independent markets are far superior to their predecessors in every way, disseminating operating expenses and rendering the monopolistic behemoths obsolete and irrelevant.  And as digital media rises to overtake the physical goods market, this obsolescence will only exponentially increase.

We are witnessing the end of the gatekeeper era.  The Net has given rise to a new and better model of distribution –  marketplaces which empower buyers and sellers alike.  These markets, built upon fundamental automation structures and cooperative operation far more effectively serve the interests of the community.

As John Perry Barlow famously declared in his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace to the governments of the world:

Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.  Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project.  You cannot.  It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions…

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces…

You are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace.  These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

The century-long corporate dominance of our marketplaces is at its end.  Together we have built something better which works for all of us.

We have won.