Perpetual Dawn: The Orb Has Arrived at Last!

It was Pledgemusic’s announcement which first alerted me to the monumental event which was pending in the summer of 2016. The Pledgemusic website reported that:

“On Friday 29th July 2016, electronic titans The Orb will perform their seminal debut album ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ in full for the first time ever, to mark its 25th anniversary.

For this very special sliver jubilee gig, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann will be joined on stage by the original cast of collaborators who helped create the magic on this influential, era-defining milestone, plus a special punk icon whose music heavily influenced The Orb.

Paul Cook of Sex Pistols fame will guest on drums and fellow punk legend, original Orb member and ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ co-writer Youth will join on bass.

Psychedelic-electronic-prog heroes Steve Hillage and partner Miquette Giraudy co-wrote ‘Supernova’ and ‘Backside Of The Moon’, and will also bring their mythical shamanistic magic to this special show.

If all that wasn’t coup enough fellow ‘Ultraworld’ contributors Andy Falconer, Tom Green and Hugh Vickers will also guest, whilst original Orb lighting wizard David Herman will transform Electric Brixton into a vintage fractal technical wonderland.

Amidst the late 80s fervor of acid house The Orb explored their own meandering tangent, drawing on hip hop sample culture, krautrock, kosmische, ambience and a wealth of unusual and unlikely sound sources. In doing so they pioneered a more horizontally-inclined alternative to the jacking trax emanating from discerning nightclubs’ main rooms.

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Following a limited number of prototype 12”s from early pre-Orb incarnations, ‘Ultraworld’ was The Orb’s first fully formed, double album realization of the sonic sculpture they’d been finessing, amidst a punk-schooled period of fertile, no-rules creativity.

The album was a critical and chart smash that soundtracked a generation. It still sounds amazing today and its influence on subsequent decades of dance music is immeasurable.”

It had already been a thrilling year – The Avalanches reissued their album, Since I Left You in the UK and Europe to the delight of fans the world over, the Ann Arbor label, Ghostly International reissued Telefon Tel Aviv’s ambient glitch epic Fahrenheit Fair Enough on sky blue wax, John Carpenter issued the second volume of his Lost Themes collection, electronic music veterans, Underworld released Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future to great critical acclaim, proving they still have every ounce of their musical prowess, Klaus Schulze and the late Pete Namlook released a box set of the first four volumes of their ambient Dark Side of the Moog series, and Brian Eno outdid himself for the hundredth time with the ethereal and meditative album, The Ship which had the astonishing ability to stop time with each play.

But it was the anticipation of this reunion of the icons of ambient house which captivated me for the remainder of the year. Sadly, there were delays with the production of the vinyl release. Many, many months passed with infrequent updates from the Live Here Now team. Eventually, the 3CD+DVD edition arrived in the States, but it was the triple blue vinyl edition I was really waiting to get my hand on. Thankfully, today – May 12, 2017 the long-awaited package arrived from the UK.

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The Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 was available exclusively from PledgeMusic or at The Orb show at the Royal Festival Hall in London on the 21st of April 2017. The CD edition also features interviews with Alex, Thomas, Youth, Paul Cook, Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy, all of whom participated in the event.

The 180g bright blue discs are housed in a heavy triple-gatefold jacket matching that of the CD+DVD release. The packaging and albums are of excellent quality all throughout, making this set well worth the wait.

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This is a wonderful treasure for any fan of The Orb, of chillout music, and for anyone who spent their college days on the backside of the moon. An exciting performance, expertly captured and mastered, documenting a real milestone event for all those involved.

If you buy only one tripped-out exclusive dub-inspired space music anniversary concert album reuniting a generation of the gods of ambient house this century… make it this one.

Salvador Dali RETURNS to Innerspace!

I’ve wonderful news, dear friends! Some of my long-time readers may recall that in August of 2012, due to financial struggles I had to part with a magnificent piece of music history – a rare copy of Salvador Dalí’s opéra-poème, Être Dieu. After discussing the piece with a fellow music lover, I revisited the market and as luck would have it, found what is likely the very copy I sold in 2012 available for purchase and at a very reasonable price. I wasted not a moment and placed my order, and today it arrived home safely!

For those not familiar with this ill-fated opera, the title translates to “Being God.” The six-part work features Dalí as God, Brigitte Bardot as an artichoke and Catherine the Great and Marilyn Monroe doing a striptease. (Because dadaism.)

Être Dieu suffered an astonishingly tragic history. It was originally published in an extremely rare 3LP box set by DCD, a small Spanish label with only 28 other releases to its name. It was re-released in a 3CD box published by German label Eurostar who subsequently went out of business, and there are few-to-no known performances of the work. Worse still, Dalí painted “Self-Portrait” (1972) to mark the composition of the opera, but the painting was auctioned by the United States Customs Service after being seized after Colombian drug lords tried to use the painting to launder money. (Salvador seriously couldn’t get a break!)

But a few copies of Eurostar’s deluxe edition survived. This edition is packaged in a blue velvet box set with a metallic gold engraving of Dalí’s signature, as well as a 326-page book containing scans of the original handwritten script, notes, and libretto in English, French, German & Spanish.

While Dalí, himself experienced great misfortune with this work, I am happy to report that good luck has come at last with its return to the Innerspace library.

Special thanks to the fellow listener out there who planted the seed of desire for me to reclaim this lost objet d’art!

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Published in: on February 28, 2017 at 5:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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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.

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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Is anyone else getting rid of their physical media altogether?

Now that I’ve purchased my first home, it seems a great time to shed some dead weight from my material possessions. My top 3000 LPs will stay – I’ve got them neatly shelved and organized in my office. I enjoy the ritual of interacting with the medium and nothing beats gatefold artwork. But everything else – cassettes, VHS, CDs, and DVDs, all seemed pointless to keep anymore.

Today I boxed up hundreds of CDs and traded them at a local Disc Exchange for 25 cents each. The cash I made was well worth the space it freed up on my bookshelves for music literature. (Most of the reference texts I enjoy I much prefer to read in a physical format than as an ebook.)

Of my ~750 CDs I kept only a handful from artists who really shaped my listening in the 90s. I kept several 20-bit remasters of classic jazz LPs and several debut singles like Reznor’s HALO 1 Down in It, Manson’s Get Your Gunn single and the Live at the Snakepit bootleg, and the 1989 Caroline Records debut single by White Zombie, Make Them Die Slowly. But other than a handful of cassette and CD promos, it really seemed time to let the rest go.

Honestly they will function more as interesting artifacts and conversation pieces rather than as a medium for audio/video playback.

I also spotted a large box of my fiance’s home-taped VHS tapes today. I offered to have her top 5 tapes converted to AVI and the rest we can dump.

Still, I confess – I’m keeping bargain bin VHS copies of cult classics including Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, YOG: Monster From Space, and the Pee-Wee Christmas Special… this is the shit I’m going to force my grandkids to watch someday.

So what about the rest of you digitally-savvy ladies and gents? Do you still hold onto physical media?

Published in: on October 10, 2015 at 9:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Moving to the Cloud

The time has come my friends.  On Jan 13th, 2011 I replaced my text-based Excel record  database with an OrangeCD visual db.  After 3.5 years of extracting data from web-based services, publishing quarterly reports and backing up to an external disk every month, I’ve finally smartened-up and made the move to the cloud.

When I first made the transition from text to a visual db, I thoroughly tested and evaluated each of the prominent softwares of the time.  True to form, I went through the same process with the three biggest online systems this week before setting my catalog free.

FIRST UP – RateYourMusic.com.

Your RYM profile consists of an avatar, a brief profile description, and your top 5-10 favorite composers/artists.  Supported formats are limited to CD, LP, and cassette.  The service does not appear to support official releases of electronic files.

RYM - Collection

RYM – Collection View

RYM permits users to add pressings missing from the db, with a simple preset interface for labels, artists, etc.  The site has a strict upload policy stating that album art images must be from your personal copies, (understandable for reasons of copyright but a frustrating complication just the same.)  Artist pages are accompanied by a profile and a sidebar of related user-generated lists.

RYM - List Browse

RYM – List Browse

RYM - Chart Browse

RYM – Chart Browse

The real power of the site is not collection management, but user-constructed lists and user-sourced album rankings for any search term, artist or genre you enter.  And surprisingly, RYM is not just for music.  The list tools have categories for books, films, games, and more.

User lists are a breeze and are fun to build.  To try this feature out I created a list of films inspired by the writings of Philip K Dick.

https://rateyourmusic.com/list/innerspaceboy/philip_k_dick_inspired_filmography/

At present, RYM includes just under 1 million artists and 2.8 million releases.  Building an RYM collection of my top 300 LPs took 3 evenings (roughly 100 titles per night) plus a handful of manual submissions for rare albums not already in the RYM database.

THE NEXT CONTENDER – MyRecordList.com

MyRecordList recently premiered on the scene boasting that it could provide analytics that discogs.com could not.  I was intrigued so I gave it a try.

After signing up on the site I clicked the link to import a CSV.  I tried exporting raw text from rateyourmusic.com and with a little tweaking (artist columns needed to be merged from FIRSTNAME LASTNAME to a single column), and some quick column re-assignment I successfully constructed  an importable CSV.  The resulting set only contained artist, title, format and year values, so I clicked the big red “DELETE ALL” button and started again – this time from MyRecordList’s preferred import method – Discogs.com.

MyRecordList Collection

MyRecordList Collection

While Discogs lacks support for importing CSVs, its export feature is solid.  MyRecordList wisely incorporated a direct “Import from Discogs” feature so the upload was seamless.  However the result was a clunkily-constructed and sluggish visual interface with a few display variables and absolutely no support for album cover syncing. There is an “automated” lookup tool to find album art, but the process is manual and handles only one album at a time, each prompting the user for input.

But on to the analytics that the site so boldly advertised.  Clicking the large “Your Stats” button I was presented with an over-simplified summary of my test-library, again consisting of my top 300 LPs.

MyRecordList Stats

MyRecordList Stats

None of the tables could be viewed as charts or graphs, and the only infographic the site offered was a pie chart of my library’s formats.

This was thoroughly disappointing, though hardly unexpected.  Any of these metrics are easily determinable from within the discogs.com site, simply by exporting a CSV into Excel or a similar application.

Discogs offers far more information, sorting functions, a community forum, up-to-the-minute sales history, archival organizational standards, and has already established itself as the premier marketplace for used and new vinyl, so there is little reason to look to another site for more, (excepting, of course, contacting labels directly for upcoming releases.)

Simply put, myrecordlist.com is clunky, slow and offers nothing that can’t be achived quicker and more easily on already-established mainstays like discogs.  And I quickly grew tired of seeing their loading screen every time I navigated to another page or view.

MyRecordList Constant Loading Screen

You’ll be seeing a lot of this.

But there was a clear upside to the experiment – rebuilding my database on discogs.com – something I’d been meaning to do for several years.  And building the test library of 300 LPs was easier on Discogs than on the two previous sites.  I completed the task in just 3 hours (three times faster than with the RYM interface.)

 The clear winner – Discogs.com

Discogs contains data for 3.3 million artists – more than three times that of RYM, and has approximately 5 million releases. And unlike the other two sites, Discogs supports 23 languages for worldwide accessibility.

Discogs - Collection - Text w Statistics

Discogs – Collection – Text View w Statistics

For those still clinging to their locally-hosted databases – consider the following advantages of Discogs:

– Eliminates the hassle of local backups to external drives and the paranoia of data loss.

– Offers the same album information you would otherwise have retrieved online for your locally-stored catalog

– Exports easily to a CSV should you require it

– Share your collection with users on the largest and most popular music cataloging site on the web

– Features an active discussion forum

– Discussion groups based on any topic you can imagine (or start your own.)

– High regulatory standards of organization

Discogs - Groups

Discogs – Groups

And lastly, Discogs supports more audio formats that you can dream of.  Sure, they have over 3 million standard 33 1/3 LPs, 1.6 million CDs, and about a million 7” singles, but they also have shellac, flexi-disc, acetate, FLAC, floppy disk, memory stick, Betamax, Edison disc, Ambisonic, Selectavision and one – (count ‘em… ONE) entry for a Bulgarian limited edition 2-track stereo 30 ips RMG Studio Master reel-to-reel.

After 3.5 years of creating extra work for myself, I’ve now embraced the future of music database management.

 

The Ultimate Avant Garde Collectible from Salvador Dali

I have wonderful news!  After bringing my broken Denon DP-60L to a hi-fi guru I learned that the tonearm is NOT broken – all I need is a new cartridge!  I need to raise the funds for it, so I am offering for sale an incredible collectible for fans of the weird.

This jawdropping collectible is a brand new copy of Salvador Dali’s lost opera, Etre Dieu – a rare velvet bound 3 disc set with a 326 page book. The opera is a six-part work and features Dali as God, Brigitte Bardot as an artichoke and Catherine the Great and Marilyn Monroe doing a striptease.  The book contains notes and libretto in English, French, German & Spanish.

It doesn’t get much more avant garde than this!

I have just opened the shrinkwrap on this treasure which was released on a German label 20 years ago just before they disappeared.  It is long out of print.  The last two copies that sold on the internet went for over $100 each. The discs have never been played. I’m only asking $60 for this mint copy.

These photos are the actual copy you will receive.

Message me to make it yours and to help make my turntable work again!  Thank you.

UPDATE!  The item has been sold and a cartridge is on its way!  Stay tuned, I’ll report in 2 weeks when the turntable is back in action!

Published in: on August 28, 2012 at 11:53 am  Comments (2)  
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