Something Special for Close Personal Friends of Al

I’m really upset with Pledgemusic because they know so very well that every few months, they shoot me an email saying, “Hey! Remember that thing you love? From way back in the day? Well check this sh*t out!” 

Pledgemusic is a direct-to-fan music platform, and their sole focus is raising funds for musicians. They don’t get their grubby hands into ownership or rights over the content, they encourage artists to contribute to charities as part of their projects, work with artists to offer all sorts of exclusive content to pledgers, and is accessible internationally to unite fans worldwide toward the creation of wonderful and unique musical items for the most rabid of a band’s fanatical followers.

Presently en route to my home is the Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 25th Anniversary DVD+3LP box set, which was my first encounter with Pledgemusic. But today, they popped up in my email saying… “Psssssst! Look at the thing!”

Now available for pre-order is something special for Close Personal Friends of Al Yankovic. Having grown up with every Al album from his self-titled debut to the present, my nerdcore childhood would never have been the same without him. And to celebrate his discography and 34 years of mandatory fun, Pledge has pulled out all the stops and created the ultimate Al treasure.

SQUEEZE BOX, as it is titled, contains all 14 studio albums plus a bonus Medium Rarities album of demos and rare tracks. All albums have been remastered and pressed on 150-gram vinyl. The set also includes a 100-page collector’s book of rare photos and memorabilia.

It is available in multiple levels of insanity, the highest of which includes a signed test pressing of your choice of any one of the original 14 studio albums, a Zoetrope-animated  turntable mat, retro-style “WEIRD Al” pennant, a magnetic build-your-own-Al, Commemorative t-shirt, and a CUSTOM PAIR OF WEIRD AL SOCKS!

And for $1500 they’ll ship you a signed test press of every one of the albums in the collection… though all 27 copies quickly sold out.

And, oh yeah, the entire set is packaged in a custom-created replica of Al’s signature accordion!

Shut up and take my money.

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The Final Countdown

A less-than-formal update this evening:

I’m so very excited! In all of my musical lit travels, there has been one rare great white which has always evaded me. There haven’t been any documented copies surfacing in the US in the 30-year history of the text, and copies worldwide seldom appear on the resale market at an affordable price.

It’s a book that everyone simply assumes I own, given my fascination with milestones of music culture. I’ve been stalking the rare book market for about 6 months in preparation for this purchase and was going to wait until June for my birthday, but I didn’t want to get stuck buying the $800+ copies if they were all that were left by the time I got around to it.

Tonight I set myself to the task, and quickly located a second (final) edition at a fair price but was dishearted to discover that the second edition was printed as a tiny pocket book while the first (and rarest) edition was famously a larger-than-life oversize text with anarchistic proclamations printed boldly across the cover.

It took a little hunting, but I was able to track down a first edition tonight. The entire sales entry was in German, which is likely the reason it hadn’t been snatched up yet. I didn’t hesitate for a second and bought it on the spot. 25-45 days for international shipping, but man, when it arrives I’m going to be one happy duck.

I’ll omit the title to send my readers into a massive upset of anticipation because you have nothing better to do than watch me buy sh*t that no one remembers.

Gold-plated no-prize to anyone who can guess what I’m on about.

Published in: on January 17, 2017 at 10:06 pm  Comments (2)  

Sports Headphones – A Diamond in the Rough

My latest entry prompted several headphone recommendation requests, and the first was resolved with great success so I will share it here for anyone interested in the same market.

A friend was interested in activewear headphones for use while exercising at the gym. Bluetooth was a key feature as they wished to pair the cans wirelessly with their iPod Touch. Her budget was $200. She wanted an on-ear style as IEMs inevitably fall out of her smaller-than-average ears.

I related to her my experience with Sennheiser behind-the-neck style on ear headphones and did some research to see what was available in Bluetooth in that format.

Sport behind the neck on-ear wireless headphones with Bluetooth technology is an incredibly tiny, tiny niche market. As such there is very little in the way of articles or features showcasing the best models. Matters are further complicated by the fact that behind-the-neck Bluetooth cans are not listed among all the other headphones on Amazon but instead are tucked away quietly under cell phone accessories.

But exploring that small category quickly revealed that there are very, very few models available with the behind-the-neck on-ear build and that most of those which qualify have only a handful of customer reviews on Amazon. The average cell phone accessory headphones are IEMs and have only 1-300 reviews, which did not instill any degree of confidence as to their quality.

Surprisingly, there was one single product which is the diamond in the rough of this otherwise quiet market. The Kinivo BTH240 headphones have a 4-star average review from over 5,100 buyers who each sing its praises in great detail. The 240 series was apparently a significant improvement over the previous Kinivo model in several categories, including improved battery life, a sleeker new design, increased number of pairings, and an added micro USB charging port.

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The model is incredibly lightweight at only 73g, is foldable, and comes with a velveteen storage pouch. It works with the iPod Touch and a variety of other devices, and the battery is good for ten hours of active use. Users with smaller than average heads and ears expressed that they wear them with incredible comfort and that after 45 minutes of intense running the headphones hadn’t budged an inch. They are also incredibly resistant to sweat and are fantastically durable.

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And the price? The MSRP is $49.99 but Amazon offers the BTH240s in a variety of colors for only $24.99. My only gripe with these headphones was not the product itself but that, curiously, all colors were priced the same except for pink, (the color my friend was excited to find), which was not 24.99, nor the MSRP of $49.99, but THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS. eBay reflected the same price, and the only two sellers Google returned with a lower price were red-flagged by uBlock Origin as being less than trustworthy merchants. The fact that “lady tax” is still an issue in 2017 is appalling, but my friend will settle for the standard black model.

So if any of you are interested in a quality Bluetooth sport headphone, give these a try.

Published in: on January 7, 2017 at 2:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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New Year – New Gear

My favorite headphones for the past 5 years have been the Sennheiser HD-380 Pro series. I thoroughly tested them against the ATH-M50 (their closest competitor) and preferred the Sennheiser model in every category of comparison from comfort, design aesthetic, durability, transparency of audio signature, and portability. (The HD-380 Pros ship with a wonderful semi-hard shell travel case.) You can check out my original comparative review from 2011 here.

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After 5 years, I’ve replaced the earpads once, but the replacements are third-party aftermarkets and have already separated from the frame after only a few months. I’m considering investing in a new pair and am exploring alternative models.

In April of last year, I picked up a pair of AudioQuest Nighthawks – the company’s flagship headphone. Aesthetically they are absolutely brilliant and precisely the style I’m after. They wed both vintage and contemporary design with their liquid wood finish, biometric diamond-cubic butterfly latticework grills, and retro-style dual headband. (Check out my featured images and more design details from this entry to Innerspace.) But of course, what matters most with headphones is their sound signature, and I quickly found that while the Nighthawks deliver a punchy and powerful sound for live and rock recordings, that they were somewhat lackluster in their delivery of classical, ambient, and electroacoustic works.

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The features I most desire in a headphone are supraaural closed-back leather earcups, detachable cables, passive noise cancellation, and studio-style sound signatures which focus on transparency rather than colorization. These will primarily be used in my listening room and in bed, which are both low ambient noise environments. Comfort is another key factor as I do not want fatigue to distract from first-listens to subtle and nuanced recordings like ambient, space, and drone works. I’m eyeing the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 cabled headphones as a potential upgrade.

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But before I jump into a new pair, I’m going to hold off until I pick up the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red USB DAC. Universally acclaimed as the finest portable DAC at its price point, the device has been sold out from all licensed distributors twice since November of 2016, so I am just awaiting the next replenishment. I am hopeful that the Dragonfly Red will correct the somewhat disappointing (but fully understandable) performance of my Android cell phone, Chromebook, and my desktop in playback of FLAC and 320CBR audio from my server.

Stay tuned!

Coming Soon to Innerspace: The Time Machine

While this week’s post is not necessarily musical, it is perhaps my most exciting post to date, and I’m confident that many of my readers will share in my exhilaration.

2016 has been a monumentally nostalgic year, likely due to my age and as a bit of reactionary escapism from the seemingly endless barrage of tragedies which have befallen us this year. More so than ever before, I’ve been transforming my home into a palace of beloved objets d’art and memories of wonderful moments from decades (or even centuries) past. My reading has been largely cultural criticism, political revolutionary texts, and music manifestoes from my favorite periods in history, and similarly, my cinematic explorations have been a journey through cult classics from the silver screen to the present.

One classic film has always remained close to my heart – the 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. My father shared the film with me via a VHS copy he taped from a broadcast on AMC in the 1980s. I was captured by the regal Victorian style of the time traveler’s home. I quickly adopted red velvet draperies, antique wood furniture, and fringe-shaded oil lamps for my own personal style, and have been refining that decor for 20 years.

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In 2012 a rosewood Denon DP-60L vintage turntable became my pièce de résistance. 

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And in 2013, the film resurfaced in my life when I purchased a 1971 painting by a local artist celebrating the movie. It had been acquired directly by a reseller and comic collector when it was painted but was never owned or displayed until my discovery of the piece forty years later. And as luck would have it, there was an ornate decorative Victorian style frame its exact size sitting a few feet away in the same shop. I didn’t hesitate for a moment and took them both home.

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So when nostalgia crept back into my mind this winter, I went back to that fateful film and the fantastic journey of the time traveler. I began scouring eBay, Amazon, and other marketplaces for a brilliant piece of official merchandise to celebrate the film in my own home. I quickly discovered that there is actually very little in the way of official merch for this magnificent film. A seller on Amazon offers a low-res bootleg print of the theatrical poster, but a genuine copy will set you back $600 and there is nothing offered in between.

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But it was off the beaten path that I found the greatest treasure any Time Machine devotee could ask for. While there are two independently-engineered advanced model kits available in the $200 dollar range, both are far beyond my level of ability to assemble and paint. However, on a humble website named timemachinemodels.com, a gentleman designs and handcrafts several working models of the Machine with varying levels of complexity. His latest design is absolutely breathtaking, and he offered to build one for me once he’s settled into his new home.

The latest model, based on the design of the full-scale Machine has a solid walnut base, brass rails and ornaments, and velvet seat cushions. The dish is turned with a new style motor that is built into the hub of the dish and eliminates the need for an external bearing wheel, providing a smoother and quieter operation. The control lever which activates the motor and lights is removable and comes in its own tiny display box.

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And better still – The Invention is available in The Tantalus Box from the film to truly showcase the piece properly.

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Here is The Time Machine in action. (All images and video are property of TimeMachineModels.com.)

The project is estimated to take twelve weeks to craft from start to finish and will be a splendid tribute to the memory of my late father’s initiating me into the world of science fiction all those years ago.

But wait! I do have a musical connection to close this feature after all! In anticipation of the project, I’ve ordered an original pressing of the dramatic score to The Time Machine!

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[EDIT – UPDATE!] The original film poster inspired me to design a monochrome t-shirt of the graphic. My custom tee arrived recently in the post –

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These are indeed exciting times. Happy new year everyone.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Epic Hip House Anthem

Just arrived from the UK – after years of stalking this rarity it’s finally mine. Distributed in France in 1991, this is the limited edition picture disc of the most monumentally epic hip house / electro-thrash single ever to destroy a pair of speakers.

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It is complete with relentlessly thumping dance beats, over-the-top sampled cheeseball guitar riffs, and Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes screaming to the storm, “I WANNA SEE YOU SWEAT!” ad infinitum. Throw in the bizarre historical mythos of The KLF discovering the lost continent of America in the year 992 and you’ve got a ridiculous dance hit that only The KLF could concoct.

Don’t miss the insane video for the single – “America, What Time is Love?”

“This is what the KLF is about. Over and out.”

The sound of a kick drum… miles away… buried deep within the earth.

Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas Box 10LP +4CD set has just arrived. Of Voigt’s countless one-off side project monikers, it is his work as Gas which has gained the most critical acclaim. And for good reason – this is some of the finest dark ambient minimal techno you could ever hope to find. And after sixteen years of various abridged and modified reissues, Voigt has presented the albums Zauberberg, Königsforst, and Pop in their entirety, along with a bonus disc featuring “Tal 90”, (previously released in Various – Pop Ambient 2002) and “Oktember B” from the Oktember EP from 1999.

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The set is housed in a sturdy slipcase with embossed jackets for each release. The discs are contained in glossy black paper sleeves with GAS logo printed on both sides. The accompanying hardcover 12″ x 12″ art book with digital images of the Königsforst also contains four CDs of the music from the set.

Inspired by Voigt’s youthful LSD experiences in the Königsforst (a German forest situated near his hometown of Köln), served as the inspiration behind these releases. Voigt claimed that he wanted to “bring the forest to the disco, or vice-versa”.

Wikipedia offers an excellent description of the Gas sound:

Each album consisting of several long tracks of dense, hypnotic, atmospheric sound. All Gas material shares a characteristic sound, consisting of an ambient wash of drones and loops, usually accompanied by a repetitive four-on-the-floor kick drum underneath the multiple layers of music. Occasionally a song will just drift on its own ambience.

Indeed, most of the time there is no clear musical progression in a Gas track, as Voigt seems to be more interested in exploring depth of the stereo field, utilizing subtle shifts in sound. Because music under the Gas alias lacks any trace of orthodox melody or chord change many would not describe it as musical. However, the sources of Voigt’s samples are often of musical origin, encapsulating “old pop record stuff” as well as classical music such as Richard Wagner and Arnold Schoenberg.

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It also notes that critics have described Gas music as, “similar to hearing a band playing very far away, underwater, or from behind walls.” By any measure, this is a milestone ambient box set and an essential piece of any ambient record collection.

Introductory Nomenclature

Just arrived from Ann Arbor’s Ghostly International label – the sky blue limited edition reissue of Telefon Tel Aviv’s majestic debut, Fahrenheit Fair Enough. Fahrenheit was originally issued by Chicago’s Hefty Records, and fit smashingly alongside their other downtempo and IDM recordings.

Ghostly International is home to Tycho, Gold Panda, Com Truise, and other crafters of what Sundae Club playfully dubbed “Technostalgic Tunes”. And Fahrenheit is no exception. Here, Telefon Tel Aviv expertly weaves together sparse melodic fragments and the occasional jazzy licks with intricately complex abstract glitch patterns. What results is a marriage of the warm, nostalgic instrumentation one would expect from a band like Boards of Canada seamlessly fused with the atonal mechanical rhythmic constructions of Richard D. James. It is a wonderfully satisfying record which warrants repeated listenings both active and subliminal.

This limited edition release also includes a digital download which features additional Archive ’99 material capturing more of the best sounds the artist has to offer.

A review from the BBC called the album, “Gorgeous, yet completely devoid of cliché… a quiet, unpretentious beauty of a record.” Fahrenheit Fair Enough is certainly some of the finest downtempo IDM music released this year.

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Electronic Love

I’ve just received the most WONDERFUL Christmas gift from one of my oldest and dearest friends. If every you’ve asked yourself, “what is the perfect gift for the audiophile who has everything?” this is precisely the sort of gift you should consider.

This is the Electronic Love Blueprint: A History of Electronic Music by the Dorothy design collective – an electrical schematic of a theremin mapping 200 inventors, innovators, artists, composers spanning the entire history of recorded sound. Key pioneers featured include Léon Theremin, Bob Moog, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin.

It loosely groups genres, from the obscure Musique Concrète (Pierre Schaeffer) to the better known Krautrock (Kraftwerk, Can, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Faust, Cluster, Harmonia and Amon Düül II) Synthpop (Gary Numan, Human League, Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Pet Shop Boys) and Electronica (New Order, The Prodigy, Massive Attack, LCD Sound System and Daft Punk). There are also references to the experimental BBC Radiophonic Workshop and favourite innovating record labels Mute and Warp.

This metallic silver screen print on 120gsm Keaykolour Royal Blue uncoated paper measures 60 x 80cm and will be the pride of my listening room.

I’ve ordered a UK frame and can’t wait to display it!

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Worthwhile Dilemmas

Today I am delighted to have become the proud owner of a deck of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s infamous Oblique Strategies cards.

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Subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas, these decks were first published in 1975 and are currently in their fifth edition. Each card offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists and musicians overcome mental blocks by encouraging lateral approaches to their creative works. The cards feature instructions such as:

  • Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them
  • Towards the insignificant
  • Give way to your worst impulse
  • Tape your mouth
  • Do something boring
  • Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
  • Work at a different speed

 

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Personal photo of my newly-received deck

 

The letterpress printed cards are housed in a black box with gold reflective lettering. There was also a limited edition of 500 boxes in burgundy rather than black issued in 2013.

While early editions command hundreds or even thousands of dollars on eBay, (there are at present two autographed first edition decks listed for $2,499.00 and $3,299.00 respectively), I was very pleased to find decks of the latest edition available from www.enoshop.co.uk for about $46 including shipping to the United States. It really is a small price to pay for such an influential and inspirational cultural artifact.

 

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Autographed and numbered first edition deck from 1975 currently for sale on eBay

 

Brian Eno has been one of the most instrumental figures in my creative development. I’ve been following his visual works, his music, multimedia installation pieces, and his philosophy for the entirety of my adult life. In 2009, I created an infographic of his work as a writer, artist, and producer titled, Enography (The Grand Unified Theory of Contemporary Music). It really is a privilege to finally have claimed one of these decks for my own.

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