Personal Collection or Archive?: A Closer Look at What Defines a Library

archive

I was recently contacted by Dan Gravell, founder and programmer of the server-based music management software, bliss. Bliss received praise from Andrew Everard of What Hi-Fi and their official website calls it a tool “for people who care about their music collection.” Dan posed several questions about my library, and about what differentiates an average personal music collection from a true archive. He suggested that my response might prove useful as a journal entry at Innerspace Labs, so I’m sharing my response for others who might ask the same questions about their own meticulous collections.

So let’s dive right in –

Regarding the difference between run-of-the-mill “playable” music libraries and what one might call an “archive,” there are a few primary factors which could differentiate the two. The first is one of practical function and intent. If a library is for personal use for playback alone it is most likely the former, whereas a consciously organized collection of significant size and scope which is representative of a particular period or culture and which sheds contextual light on that era might serve a greater, almost scholarly purpose as an archive. Uniformity of structure, organization, navigability, and accompanying supplemental metadata enhance a library such as this to greater usefulness than mere playback. And it appears that it is precisely this focus on consistency by which Dan has endeavored to empower users like me with his bliss project. Another important factor is the long-term sustainability of an archive, which I’ll touch upon momentarily.

Next Dan asked whether my source media is exclusively physical. My collection comprises only a few thousand LPs, with a significant focus on the history of electronic sound. This spans the gamut from early notable works of musique concrète to the Moog synthesizer novelty craze, all the way through the international movement of ambient electronic music. I’ve also a predilection for archival box sets, like the Voyager Golden Record 40th Anniversary set with companion hardcover book and the special release from The John Cage Trust, as well as the previously unreleased collection of Brian Eno’s installation music issued earlier this year on vinyl with a new essay by Eno. But the bulk of my library is digital. This is both for practical and financial reasons, as digital libraries are far easier to maintain. (I don’t blog about digital nearly as often, as 450,000 media files are nowhere near as fascinating as a handsome limited edition LP!)

Dan also inquired about my workflow, which is critical to any archive. Early on in the development of my library, (around 2002-3), I began ripping LPs with the following process:

Exclusive analog recordings are captured using a Denon DP-60L rosewood TT with an Ortofon 2M Red cart, powered by a McIntosh amplifier (later replaced with a vintage Yamaha unit), and are saved as lossless FLAC via an entry level Behringer U-Control UCA202 DAC. I previously utilized a Cambridge Audio DacMagic DAC but after it failed I opted for the Behringer and it has been more than sufficient for my needs. Audio is captured using Audacity on my Linux-based DAW and basic leveling and noise reduction are performed but I minimize post-processing to maintain as much of the original audio’s integrity as possible.

Dan specifically inquired as to where the library information was stored (barcodes, etc) and asked about my policies on which metadata are included. This is fairly straightforward, as nearly all of the vinyl recordings I ripped pre-date the use of barcodes or were limited private releases with only a catalog number, which I bracket as a suffix in the release folder path.

Polybagged LPs are stored vertically and organized by primary genre, then by artist, then chronologically by date of issue. Due to the entropic property of vinyl playback, discs are played once as needed to capture the recording and subsequent playback is performed using the digital files. I employed a dozen static local DB applications over the years for my records, but eventually migrated to a Discogs DB which increases accessibility while crate digging in the wild and provides real-time market value assessment for insurance purposes.

But honestly, I almost never need to perform the rip myself, as the filesharing ecosystem has refined itself to the point where even the most exclusive titles are available through these networks in lossless archival FLAC with complete release details. There has never been a better time to be alive as an audio archivist.

Once digitized to FLAC, my assets are organized with uniform file naming conventions with record label and artist parent folders and parenthetical date of issue prefixes for easy navigation. gMusicBrowser is my ideal playback software for accessing large libraries in a Linux environment. Release date and catalog numbers have been sufficient metadata identifiers, as subsequent release details are only a click or a tap away on Discogs. Occasionally I will include a contextual write-up in the release folder where warranted, like in the case of William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops 9LP + 5CD + DVD set as it related to the events of 9/11.

Next Dan inquired about how my archive is accessed. I employ Sindre Mehus’ Subsonic personal server application on my Linux DAW to make all of my audio and music video film content accessible from my phone, tablet, or any web-enabled device. I use both the official Subsonic app and the independently-developed Ultrasonic fork by Óscar García Amor for remote access of my library, (about eight hours daily). You can see a short video walkthrough of the features of the app that I put together here:

To return to his initial question about what differentiates a playback collection from an archive, my own library incorporates a few key factors which might lend itself to the latter:

– lossless bit-perfect FLAC wherever possible
– index documentation
– a systematic process guide for new acquisitions
– a 76pp manual highlighting special collections and large libraries of the Collection
– disk mirroring in multiple physical locations for preservation and sustainability
– fire protection for further indestructibility
– routine disk operation tests to mitigate risk of data loss
– complete discographic record label chronologies suffixed with catalog numbers
– elementary data visualizations created using Gephi and Prezi web-based tools
– the use of TrueCrypt whole disk encryption to prevent unauthorized access
– and the active use of Subsonic and Ultrasonic for enhanced accessibility

And scale is another noteworthy factor in my circumstances. Just to cite one example, I’ve collected every LP and single issued by the electronic duo Underworld that I’ve been able to get my hands on, and the digital audio branch of my Underworld collection comprises 482 albums, EPs and singles, including 2850 tracks and DJ sessions totaling well over 385 hours of non-stop music, spanning 36 years of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith’s work in all of their many incarnations. This collection is uniformly tagged, organized into a network of categorical root folders, and substructured into chronological subfolders by date of release. And the complete record label collections are a definite differentiator from the majority of casual-listening libraries.

I understand that my archive is small compared to the 12-20 TB libraries of some more seasoned users, but I feel that discretion and selectivity are virtues of my personal collection so that I can focus on only the most exquisite and remarkable recordings of my principle genre foci.

So what about your own collections? Do you employ standardized uniform file naming conventions and organizational standards? Do you supplement your library with relevant documentation to add context to your media? Does your collection offer insight into a particular era or musical culture? And do you take measures to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the work? If so… you might just have an archive.

Supplemental Note:

A good friend was kind enough to offer his thoughts about what sets an archive apart from other collections, and his remark was too good not to share. He said –

I think another major difference between the average personal collection and an archive is retention and adaptation.

A casual listener or collector wouldn’t have the retention of a true archive. The individual may build some playlists or even some advanced structure for locating and listening to music, but there is a very good chance that after some time, that particular music will get buried by the newer, or the most current thing the user is listening to. The casual listener may not want the huge or growing library, so when they feel they have moved on, the music will be removed from their collection. I cannot see someone who is keeping an archive remove anything from their collection. So retaining the entire collection and not removing anything because they are bored with it would be a difference.

I also mentioned adaptation. This is a rather basic idea but would be rather important in the grand scheme of things. Lets say you have a collection of 100 songs, all with 4 points of meta data. You realize as you begin to add more songs to your collection, a 5th point of data is needed. A casual listener may leave those 100 songs in the current state they’re in, with the 4 points of data. The archivist would need to go back, and add that 5th point to all 100 songs, and the new ones. Add another zero to those numbers and that can be a daunting, but necessary task for the archivist.

I really appreciated his input!

An Echo of Nothing: Archival Recordings From the John Cage Trust

I am so honored to have received this historic collectible as a gift from a dear friend. This is a promotional copy of the new recording of Nurit Tilles’ superlative performance of John Cage’s classic Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-1948), commissioned in honor of Cage’s Centenary and produced in conjunction with the John Cage Trust. Commercial copies of this deluxe 3LP audiophile set were limited, (befittingly) to just 433 copies worldwide.

The performance was recorded March 21 – 23, 2011 on a Steinway Model-D Piano at The Fisher Center For The Performing Arts at Bard College under the supervision of creative directors Donna Wingate and Naomi Yang for the John Cage Trust. The set was released on September 5, 2012. Most critics agree that Sonatas and Interludes is the finest composition of Cage’s early period – his magnum opus for prepared piano, and this release serves as the definitive archival audiophile edition for collectors and lovers of Cage’s work.


The set includes a handsome heavy hard-shell slipcase containing a custom 10-page gatefold sleeve with metallic foil stamps and imprints, archival material, a 40-page color companion book with an introduction by Anthony B. Creamer III, as well as photographs and essays by Mark Swed and James Pritchett. The discs are pressed on 200-gram vinyl with archival audio at 45RPM. The packaging is exquisite and thoughtful and the set is a wonderful celebration of Cage’s 100
th anniversary.


The John Cage Trust was established in 1993 as a not-for-profit institution whose mission is to gather together, organize, preserve, disseminate, and generally further the work of the late American composer.
It maintains sizeable collections of music, text, and visual art manuscripts. The Trust also houses extensive audio, video, and print libraries, which are continually expanding, including two piano preparation kits created and used by Cage for this composition, as well as a substantial permanent collection of his visual art works, which are made available for exhibitions worldwide. Save for a 2011 CD recording of Cage’s 1989 performance at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California titled, “How To Get Started,” this is the Trust’s lone public audio release.

From the official press statement:

“If the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 marked the end of the 19th century, then John Cage’s birth that year represented the start of a new one, musically speaking. Cage created hundreds of works and to my ears Sonatas and Interludes is one, more than any other, that will stand the test of time. Like a Merce Cunningham dance, there is something new to experience with each encounter of this magnificent piece. By my count, there are over 20 recordings of Sonatas and Interludes with each performer (and production and engineering team) bringing something new to the realization. However, this is the first recording of this seminal piece ever presented in a 45 rpm format for the audiophile. It is my hope that listeners will marvel at the breathtaking sonics of the recording, but more than that — the superlative performance by Nurit Tilles. When Laura Kuhn and I first discussed this project we immediately locked on Nurit. Her preparation and playing is nothing short of magnificent. And as wonderful is her playing, Nurit’s beautiful spirit comes through with verve in these grooves. A noted filmmaker said there is no history, only historians. This recording is historic.”
– Anthony B. Creamer III (Executive Producer of the set)

Creamer contributed to a discussion about the set on the Steve Hoffman forums where he remarked, “If you have first class playback equipment you will think there is a piano in the room.” His claim is no exaggeration. The care that went into the recording and mastering of this set is top notch and fitting for an archival work such as this. Forum user ScottM praised the quality of the extreme fidelity and wide dynamics of the release.

As Creamer mentions above, Sonatas and Interludes is likely the most recorded work in the Cage edifice. As such a listener might ask why we need another recording of these works? Amazon Vine Voice member, Scarecrow notes that each performer brings their own emotive world to these pieces. And the magnificent attention toward sonic quality and archival production makes this an unparalleled and definitive edition for Cage collectors.

For musicians interested in faithfully performing Sonatas & Interludes, Jesse Myers’ Piano Studio website offers a comprehensive performer’s guide to the prepared piano for this piece.

John Cage Sonatas And Interludes – Nurit Tilles Track Listing:

LP1

1. Sonata I

2. Sonata II

3. Sonata III

4. Sonata IV

5. First Interlude

6. Sonata V

7. Sonata VI

8. Sonata VII

LP2

1. Sonata VIII

2. Second Interlude

3. Third Interlude

4. Sonata IX

5. Sonata X

6. Sonata XI

LP3

1. Sonata XII

2. Fourth Interlude

3. Sonata XIII

4. Sonata XIV and XV Gemini (after the work by Richard Lippold)

5. Sonata XVI


Packaging fetishists will also enjoy this black-gloved unboxing feature produced by Acoustic Sounds in Salina, KS for the city’s own Quality Record Pressings who produced the LPs for this set.

I have two other vinyl recordings of Sonatas & Interludes in my library. The first was pressed in 1977 on Tomato Records and packaged with A Book Of Music (First Recording). The recording is of Joshua Pierce’s performance from July 26 & 27, 1975 on a Baldwin piano.

The second is featured on side B of disc 1 of The 25-Year Retrospective Concert Of The Music Of John Cage, recorded in performance at Town Hall, New York, May 15, 1958 issued by Italy’s Doxy label.

But unequivocally, this promotional copy of the John Cage Trust edition instantly became my favorite Cage artifact. It will be treasured and enjoyed for years to come.

A very special thank you to my dear friend for this generous and thoughtful gift!

The Sound of Homecoming: The Complete Collaborations of Harold Budd and John Foxx

2018 has been a year of great personal development and growth, and as such, I’ve found myself time and again seeking warm, familiar tonalities rather than venturing into the unfamiliar and novel territories I’d explored in the years prior. I found it comforting to revisit long-standing favorite composers who created a sense of returning home each time I revisited their catalogs. That is precisely what made this latest discovery such a joy for me at this point in my life.

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Harold Budd is unquestionably one of the foremost veterans in the field of ambient composition. His trademark soft-pedal technique is instantly captivating and calming, and while he may not be breaking any new ground in the genre, that’s not what his listeners are seeking. Budd commands a mastery of his craft seldom matched in his field, and he’s consistently delivered quality contemplative soundscapes for nearly fifty years.

At 81 years of age, Harold Budd has shown no sign of slowing down. He’s collaborated with numerous artists, including Brian Eno, Robin Guthrie, The Cocteau Twins, Clive Wright, Eraldo Bernocchi, Bill Nelson, Andy Partridge, Daniel Lentz, Fila Brazilla, & U2. Budd retired briefly in 2005 but quickly returned to composition and released ten more albums and this magnificent new acquisition in the years that followed. I’d always wanted a vinyl keepsake of Budd’s music, but much of his catalog was limited to compact disc, including the Budd Box seven-disc set. That what made this discovery an exciting addition to my library.

From the original VinylFactory announcement in September:

Translucence, Drift Music and Nighthawks are being released on limited edition 3xLP by Demon Music for the first time.

Translucence / Drift Music is a 2003 double studio album from ex-Ultravox frontman John Foxx and ambient composer Harold Budd. Minimalist composer Ruben Garcia joined the duo to feature on their third album Nighthawks.

The triple vinyl package also features artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, the graphic designer who created the Grammy-winning art for David Bowie’s Blackstar.

This box set features the complete Budd/Foxx recordings – seminal collaborations of the ambient genre. Nighthawks is dedicated to Garcia, who sadly passed away in 2013. At the announcement of the box set, Popmatters.com noted that, at the album’s 142-minute runtime, you’re going to need a lot of candles. They called the set, “lovely and provocative” with occasional chromatics and discord. “The City Stops for Snow” was described as “painting a picture of urban stillness” with its interplay of tiny overtones over top the many sustains and echoes.

This is the first time these recordings have been available on vinyl, and Demon Records did an exquisite job. The discs are 180g heavyweight vinyl, housed in a rigid slipcase. This release also comes with a limited print signed by John Foxx.

Harold Budd & John Foxx - Translucence Drift Music Nighthawks Box Set

Rateyourmusic user, dvd offered some valuable insight about the impact of this music on the listener:

It is very strange: after I listen I find it really difficult to recall any more specific details of the music itself. … The music is so transparent, like there is nothing to grab onto, and it just sort of drifts in and out on the edge of consciousness on its own. Maybe this is not a bad thing for ambient music, and likely part of what the creators were going for based on the title(s). For all its subtleties, the music still feels like it has some power over my mental state, as if it puts me in sort of a weird trance: something that’s vaguely serene and beautiful.

Paste Magazine shared similar remarks about the tranquil calm of this set, calling it “almost unbearably beautiful.” The impressionistic nature of the soundscapes was described as evoking images of “silhouettes of birds cutting across an early evening sky or slowly floating on a quiet, still body of water” and “tramping through a blanket of white on a quiet boulevard.” This is precisely the sort of contemplative music which brings me that feeling of homecoming.

I discovered Budd’s compositions early in my musical journey, initially through his collaborations with Brian Eno. The Pearl and The Plateaux of Mirror were albums I instantly knew I needed to have on vinyl, and they were followed shortly thereafter by an original pressing of his critically-acclaimed collaboration with Cocteau Twins for The Moon and The Melodies. But other than the aforementioned titles and a pressing of The Serpent in Quicksilver, I’d never been able to find a release on vinyl that truly felt like it celebrated and showcased Budd’s best work. And sadly the Budd Box has only been issued on CD. So imagine my excitement at discovering this recently-issued collection of the complete Budd & Foxx recordings!

Mike Powell of Pitchfork fittingly described Harold Budd’s characteristic sound as existing “in that misty place between ambient, new age, and minimalist composition, where everything is gentle and nothing lasts for long.” Powell described Budd’s quietly recognizable style as “intimate and intuitive; fragile but warm; seductive but just a little bit mysterious, like the soft tinkling of a presence in the next room.”

But perhaps the most fitting description comes from the set’s designer Jonathan Barnbrook who explains:

These are pieces that I return to again and again. Separate from his (John Foxx) more electronic work, they have a humanity and serenity that only comes with a great musician working in collaboration with others greats in an empathetic, understanding style. The music has a delicate, reflective quality – of human beings that have lived life and realise the beauty of it all, the joy and the suffering. They ask us to stop and consider, and that despite it all we should never desire to change a moment of it.

TheQuietus published a wonderful interview with John Foxx at the launch of this box set. His remarks revealed much about the albums’ composition and his thoughts about their collaboration. Foxx stated that he, “especially wanted to extend the harmonics of the piano strings resonance and sonic decay and use that as a live, real-time expansion of the sound.“ He went so far as to call Budd “a modern-day Satie.”

And describing the production process, Foxx said:

We also used another completely unique property of recording – reversed time. By reversing sounds and recording reverbs, then playing them forward and applying further layers of reverberation, you can enrich the already extended harmonics. You also have the miracle of reverberations moving simultaneously forward and backwards in time, and a truly complex interplay and texture going on between them. We took all this layering and multiplying as far as we possibly could, while still observing the delicacy and emotional tone of the pieces. All you have to do is listen and feel.

Allmusic.com summarized Budd’s sound as “distinctively dreamy, often extraordinary and occasionally ominous” and likens his technique to that of Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Budd’s slowly morphing reverberant and shimmering atmospherics certainly have an impressionistic quality, and the parallels drawn to these greats are not inapt.

To those who might precipitously dismiss these works as simple new age music, I’d offer this closing remark from The Brighton Festival’s Guy Morley who said, “I think the impact of Harold is yet to be realised. Tonally, Harold has always come from a very deep and instinctive place. You don’t need a degree in composition. Its simplicity belies its originality.”

By any measure, this box set is a fantastic keepsake for anyone who enjoys the godfathers of ambient music.

Tracklist:

LP 1 / Translucence

1.Subtext
2.Spoken Roses
3.Momentary Architecture
4.Adult
5. Long Light
6. A Change In The Weather
7. Here And Now
8. Almost Overlooked
9. Implicit
10. Raindust
11.Missing Person
12. You Again

LP 2 / Drift Music

1. Sunlit Silhouette
2. The Other Room
3. Some Way Through All The Cities
4. Stepping Sideways
5 A Delicate Romance
6. Linger
7. Curtains Blowing
8. Weather Patterns
9. Coming Into Focus
10. After All This Time
11. Someone Almost There
12. Resonant Frequency
13. Avenue Of Trees
14. Underwater Flowers
15. Arriving

LP 3 / Nighthawks

1. Down A Windy Street
2. Now That I’ve Forgotten You
3. The Invisible Man
4. Fugitive Desire
5. From Then To Now
6. When The City Stops For Snow
7. The Shadow Of Her Former Self
8. Music For Swimmers
9. Lovedust
10. Nighthawks

The Voyager Golden Record 40th Anniversary Edition – A Gift to the Cosmos

On September 20, 2016, a Kickstarter project was launched in celebration of the Voyager Golden Record. The response was tremendous. 10,768 backers pledged $1,363,037 to help bring this project to life. And Ozma Records met their goal – shipping the result of the project to its contributors on September 5th, 2017 – 40 years to the day of the original 1977 Voyager launch.

Ozma Records did a magnificent job in producing the first-ever “Earthling edition” of this historic gift to the cosmos. The Voyager Interstellar Record may be the last vestige of our civilization after we are gone forever, and this 40th Anniversary Edition is a wonderful tribute to humanity and our place in the universe.

Original concept illustration for the set:

Concept 1

Audio Tracklisting:

  1. Greeting from Kurt Waldheim, Secretary-General of the United Nations
  2.  Greetings in 55 Languages
  3. United Nations Greetings/Whale Songs
  4. The Sounds of Earth
  5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047: I. Allegro (Johann Sebastian Bach) – Munich Bach Orchestra/Karl Richter
  6. Ketawang: Puspåwårnå (Kinds of Flowers) – Pura Paku Alaman Palace Orchestra/K.R.T. Wasitodipuro
  7. Cengunmé – Mahi musicians of Benin
  8. Alima Song – Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest
  9. Barnumbirr (Morning Star) and Moikoi Song – Tom Djawa, Mudpo, and Waliparu
  10. El Cascabel (Lorenzo Barcelata) – Antonio Maciel and Los Aguilillas with Mariachi México de Pepe Villa/Rafael Carrión
  11. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
  12. Mariuamangɨ – Pranis Pandang and Kumbui of the Nyaura Clan
  13. Sokaku-Reibo (Depicting the Cranes in Their Nest) – Goro Yamaguchi
  14. Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: III. Gavotte en Rondeau (Johann Sebastian Bach) – Arthur Grumiaux
  15. The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), K. 620, Act II: Hell’s Vengeance Boils in My Heart (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) – Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Wolfgang Sawallisch
  16. Chakrulo – Georgian State Merited Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance/Anzor Kavsadze
  17. Roncadoras and Drums – Musicians from Ancash
  18. Melancholy Blues (Marty Bloom/Walter Melrose) – Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven
  19. Muğam – Kamil Jalilov
  20. The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), Part II—The Sacrifice: VI. Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One) (Igor Stravinsky) – Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
  21. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II: Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C Major, BWV 870 (Johann Sebastian Bach) – Glenn Gould
  22. Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67: I. Allegro Con Brio (Ludwig Van Beethoven) – Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
  23. Izlel e Delyu Haydutin – Valya Balkanska
  24. Navajo Night Chant, Yeibichai Dance – Ambrose Roan Horse, Chester Roan, and Tom Roan
  25. The Fairie Round (Anthony Holborne) – Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow
  26. Naranaratana Kookokoo (The Cry of the Megapode Bird) – Maniasinimae and Taumaetarau Chieftain Tribe of Oloha and Palasu’u Village Community in Small Malaita
  27. Wedding Song – Young girl of Huancavelica
  28. Liu Shui (Flowing Streams) – Guan Pinghu
  29. Bhairavi: Jaat Kahan Ho – Kesarbai Kerkar
  30. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground – Blind Willie Johnson
  31. String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Opus 130: V. Cavatina (Ludwig Van Beethoven) – Budapest String Quartet

Each Voyager Golden Record 40th Anniversary Edition vinyl box set includes a high-quality enamel pin of the Golden Record diagram and a custom turntable slipmat featuring NASA/JPL-Caltech’s heliocentric view of the Voyager spacecrafts’ trajectories across the solar system!

Concept illustration for the box set extras:

slipmat.artprint.pin

From the official Kickstarter page:

The Voyager Golden Record contains the story of Earth expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth’s greatest music from myriad cultures and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet — birds, a train, a baby’s cry — are collaged into a lovely audio poem called Sounds of Earth. There are spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and one whale language, and more than one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are.  (To hear those greetings and Sounds of Earth and see a handful of the images, visit NASA/JPL-Caltech’s Voyager site!)

Concept illustrations for the tip-on jackets:

jacket 1jacket 2jacket 3

An exquisitely-designed objet d’art, this limited edition Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition vinyl box set was available exclusively through this Kickstarter. It was described as “the ultimate album package of the ultimate album package.”

Exploded concept graphic of the vinyl edition:

exploding graphic.jpg
True to the Kickstarter’s proposed description, the cloth-covered box with gold foil inlay houses three, heavyweight translucent gold vinyl LPs protected by poly-lined paper sleeves. The LPs contain all of the same magnificent music, greetings, and sounds as contained on the original Voyager Golden Record – nearly two hours of audio. The LPs slip into old style tip-on, black ink and gold foil jackets. And accompanying the music is a beautifully-designed hardbound book of captivating images from the original interstellar message, glorious photos of the planets returned to Earth from the Voyager probes, compelling essays, and ephemera from the project’s history.

Concept illustrations for the companion book:

book 1book 2book 3

The set also features a plastic digital download card with a code to access all of the audio in MP3 or FLAC format. A lithograph of the iconic Golden Record cover diagram, printed with gold metallic ink on archival paper, high-quality enamel pin of that same diagram, and a custom turntable slipmat featuring NASA/JPL-Caltech’s heliocentric view of the Voyager spacecrafts’ trajectories across the solar system complete the box set.

Concept image of the lithograph:

lithograph
Incredible attention was paid to ensuring that the audio content was the best it could be. Timothy Ferris, the original producer of the Golden Record, worked with the production team to remaster the audio for vinyl, drawing from the highest-quality sources available.

Below are actual photos of the completed box set which just arrived at my doorstep.

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Of the 8,815 backers who pledged enough for the vinyl set, I received copy #00018. (I wasted no time pledging the moment this release was announced!)

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The set is of exceptional quality – you can feel in your hands how impressively sturdy the whole package is.

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Here is the final version of the slipmat.

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And the beautiful hardcover book brings the breathtaking photographs from the record to life…

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The discs, dust jackets, and sleeves are just as impressive as the extras. No corners were cut on this production project.

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And finally – the enamel pin. I’ll wear it proudly!

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From OzmaRecords.com:

It was a gift from humanity to the cosmos. But it is also a gift to humanity. The record embodies a sense of possibility and hope. And it’s as relevant now as it was in 1977. Perhaps even more so.

The Voyager Interstellar Record is a reminder of what we can achieve when we are at our best—and that our future really is up to all of us.

 

Published in: on September 9, 2017 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)

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But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

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Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.

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But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.

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For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

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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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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The Department of Records – A True Piece of Internet History

Over the past several months I’ve taken a considerable interest in Copyright Reform, Fair Use, Free Culture, and the fight for Internet Freedom.  I purchased a copy of Prof. Lawrence Lessig’s cornerstone text, Free Culture and have been reading papers on the subject at every opportunity.

This returned my attention to one of the most prophetic and cautionary pieces ever written on collective freedom – John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.  Written during the infancy of the internet in 1996 by the co-founder of The Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Declaration warned readers to be ever-vigilant, warning that the governments of the industrial world would continuously work to erode and destroy the liberties afforded to us by the world wide web.  At the time of its drafting, Bill Clinton had just signed the Telecommunications Reform Act into law – an act which perpetuated the merging of the largest corporations in the communications industry  granting them even greater control of information than ever before.

Barlow has the distinction of being the only person to be inducted into both The Internet Hall of Fame and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  And his short but incredibly relevant paper is a pivotal piece of internet history.  That’s why I am so honored to have claimed this latest addition to my library.

While poring over the EFF’s deep links, I came upon an article from December of 2014 describing a special limited release from The Department of Records.  DOR’s homepage describes its mission, “to preserve cultural artifacts for the collective memory in both the physical and digital worlds.”  And the first historical work for their catalog is a recording of John Perry Barlow reading his Declaration.

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This special vinyl edition was limited to just 500 copies worldwide and distributed directly by DOR.  The 180g album sports a smart minimalist black cover with the title of the work embossed at the center of the jacket.

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The gatefold sleeve contains a transcript of the original document and information about the three recordings on the album.

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Side A Track 1 features A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace as spoken by John Perry Barlow

Side B Track 1 is A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (ft. John Perry Barlow) by Dražen Bošnjak 

Side B Track 2 is an Instrumental version of A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace by Dražen Bošnjak.

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DOR kindly offers the album’s contents free to all courtesy of The Internet Archive.

When I discovered that DOR still had copies remaining for sale, I purchased it for my own archive without a moment’s hesitation.  It instantly became the most significant artifact of my cultural custodianship.

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You can watch the recording session below.  Tune in for an incredible moment of our culture’s history.

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Recollection GRM – Classics of Musique Concrete

A friend from one of the vinyl communities I frequent kindly recommended that I explore the Austrian Recollection GRM sublabel – a series of reissues of records and archival recordings from Groupe De Recherches Musicales, produced by Peter Rehberg in coordination with Christian Zanési & François Bonnet at GRM under the parent label, Editions Mego. They contain fantastic specimens of experimental electronic / Musique Concrète and certainly right up my alley.

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I compiled a complete v0 label archive last night in order to survey their recordings and was surprised to find that a few of the albums are reissues of another favorite sublabel of mine – France’s Philips Prospective 21c siecle. (Certainly indicative of their quality!)

Here is the Discogs index, featuring recordings from Bernard Parmegiani, Iannis Xenakis, Jean-Claude Risset, Pierre Schaeffer and others.

And as my friend kindly noted, this is the only way you’ll find Luc Ferrari’s “Presque Rien” in its entirety in a vinyl format.

Thanks my man for tuning me in!

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Collectors and Sellers – Your Discogs Wish Is Granted!

Quite recently I came upon an announcement from Andreas Dahl on Reddit about the latest revision of an Android mobile app for Discogs.com which he’d independently developed.  I’d tried a few of the unofficial Discogs apps in the past but had really found little use for them.  Still, I was curious and downloaded his app – Discographer, to check it out.  I am thrilled that I did! The official Discogs app is still in beta on the iOS platform and Android users have not yet received an official release, but I can say with great confidence that the need for such an app has been 100% fulfilled by Dahl’s independent project.

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The app was initially released in September of 2015 and Dahl has steadily been improving the app, actively responding to the input from his user base.  As of February 14, 2016 the app has reached version 1.3.4 and is stable and fully-functional.  I’ll outline a few of the features below.

The Welcome Panel

The Welcome Panel displays a quick-reference summary of Discogs general statistics.  This includes the total number of releases and catalog percentages of its Most Popular Genres, Styles, and Formats.

Your Collection

Android users have been waiting for a quality and fully-functional mobile means of accessing their album collections.  Discographer’s Collection feature is the solution we’ve been waiting for.  From this menu, you can view your collection as a graphical grid of album covers with artists and titles, or as a list with album cover thumbnails.  A quick menu option beside each entry lets users remove titles, move them to subfolders, add to their seller inventory, and view the artist/label page.  You can also dynamically sort your collection by a wide range of criteria – title, artist, year, format, label, Cat #, newest added, rating, or by a specific collection field such as notes or condition.  Combined with the search function, this makes navigating large collections of thousands of titles a breeze.  I was also happy to see a Manage Folders option to browse and modify the sub-categorization of my collection.  This feature was missing from other independent Discogs apps I’d tried in the past.

TIP: For sellers with particularly large inventories, if you’ve indexed the location of the titles in your library using the Notes field of your Discogs Collection, this app can tell you exactly where to retrieve the album for sale and provides every possible piece of data about your copy, right in the palm of your hand!

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Vinyl Hub Integration

A most welcome feature, Discographer includes Vinyl Hub’s searchable Google map of user-contributed record stores worldwide.  From within Discographer you can search the globe, tap to call, and open stores’ addresses in Google maps – excellent for the traveling vinyl hound.  For advanced features like the Vinyl Hub forum, there is a View on Vinyl Hub button.  This integration adds excellent value, encapsulating all your album shopping needs into one fantastic app.

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The Search Feature

The Main Menu’s search function puts all of Discogs.com’s powerful search capabilities in a single, easy-to-use panel.  And as with all of the app’s other functions, Andreas Dahl has done an outstanding job of building every menu into an impressively mobile-friendly layout.  The search feature lets the user easily search by Release, Master, Artist, Label, and Stores without the frustrating interface of a drop down menu or having to open a secondary search config settings cog.  Just tap the arrows at the upper left and right of your screen and the search heading will change to indicate the category of your search query.

Best of all, the search menu includes a camera function so that the user can snapshot album barcodes, making collection-building an absolute snap!

User Summary Panel

Once logged in to your Discogs account, Discographer will display a complete summary of your profile.  Everything is here, from contact info to collection stats to recent activity and Discogs recommendations.  

In earlier versions there was difficulty logging in to a user’s account from multiple mobile devices, but as of the latest release this has been resolved with a pair of in-app security codes which you will be prompted to enter on the second device at login.  This gives users increased accessibility while protecting the security of their account.

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Album Summary Panel

The album summary panel is a stand-out feature of incredible value to Discogs.com users. Below the album art, the panel is divided into a series of organized sections. The first presents all the basic info you’ll need to verify you’ve accessed the correct pressing – the album cover art, title, artist, label and catalog #, release date, genre and style. The next pane displays info about the user’s copy of the album, including rating and condition, folder, and notes.  This is followed by a summary of Discogs suggested pricing based on various states of condition quality, (a fantastic quick-reference for crate diggers in the wild!), and below that, a list of copies currently for sale in the Discogs marketplace.  Further panels provide track listing and album credits, Discogs catalog numbers, and barcode and matrix information.  There are also buttons to view the release on Discogs.com, to share the entry, and to explore user reviews.

Every feature offered from the desktop Discogs.com website appears to be fully accessible from this app, and its clean and well-organized interface make finding the information you need easier than ever from your tablet or smartphone.

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The Marketplace

The Marketplace menu is divided into three primary screens with a navigator at the top of each.  The first details all of your Orders, including all related communications and details.  The next screen contains Purchases, and the last a mobile-friendly Inventory of all titles you have listed for sale in the Discogs Marketplace.  A search panel is featured at the top of each of these menus, so any title you need to recall is only a few taps away.

Additional Features

The Main Menu also includes buttons to browse the marketplace, view and modify your Wantlist, and to build public Lists. If there are any other features you’d like to see integrated into this wonderful app, please contact the developer.  Dahl has done an outstanding job and been great at responding to community feedback and requests.  I absolutely recommend supporting future developments by purchasing the ad-free version for just $2 from the Settings menu of the app.

It’s all right, Discogs team.  You don’t have to worry about developing an official app for the Android platform.  Dahl has got us covered!

Download Discographer here!

Published in: on February 14, 2016 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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