10 Months Late

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1947-2016


It’s hard to believe that David Robert Jones, aka David Bowie’s surprising death is already 10 months ago.

Days before he passed he promoted a strange tangle of an album called Blackstar, complete with a new band, a new sound, and an ominous video about dying.

Then he died. I couldn’t listen to the album even though I was fascinated by it’s story.

McCaslin

Donny McCaslin

Our hero knew he had a fatal illness but shared it with almost no one. He hunted the New York nights for inspiration, finding it in Donny McCaslin, the saxophonist that Bowie always wanted to be. McCaslin had a progressive jazz combo that Bowie caught one night and immediately set up a meeting.

Walking into this jazz band’s practice space, Bowie opened up his notebook and proceeded to free jam song ideas and melodies with this band of guys he had never played with, much less met before!

It was all recorded, and it was so magical that it was almost released as the album! Can you imagine, the ultimate improv?


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But business and engineering interests prevailed so they set up recording sessions to properly render their ideas.

Like his previous album The Next Day, this was a secretive project. The result was completed and shipped as Blackstar just two days before he met his demise.

And it has sat on my Pono in hi-resolution for 10 months now.

Too painful to press play and accept that this was Bowie composing very concisely about his pending demise.

I say go for it. I did.

It was amazing. His whole career, his whole artistic essence, facing the end and needing to channel this into music. It’s utterly devastating.

He can do anything. Accepting his ultimate fear leaves him fearless.


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This might be his best album ever. I shit you not. It has no hits or singles. Nothing fashionable. Nothing I can scream out to you in small pieces.

It only is the most perfectly sad moment of music I’ve heard in quite some time.

 

The Danger of Perceptual Coding

Perceptual coding is responsible for data loss that is greatly misunderstood and perhaps even dangerous to society.

What is perceptual coding ? It’s a data compression concept used in audio, video, and streaming technologies.

 


 

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ZIP is a lossless compression like FLAC. To permanently reduce media size, MP3 and AAC use perceptual coding to determine importance of data and permanently reduce it.


 

Why does perceptual compression exist? Native media files tend to be large. In the 90’s it was difficult to move these files around because they were too large for the network speed and storage prices of the time. Extreme data compression was needed.

A CD might hold 10 songs at 40mb each for a total of 400mb. How to get that 40mb song file small enough to fit through a dial-up modem and play on the other side in real-time?

The answer was perceptual coding, the trick behind lossy compression. It has been used for decades in voice transmission compression. You have to go inside the audio data and start throwing sound away.

 


 

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PerceptualCoding.pdf


 

 

But what sounds can be thrown away? How do you go inside of a mixed piece of music and delete things? And how far can you go before people notice a quality drop?

Perceptual coding can’t do things like delete the 2nd guitar solo or reduce the backing vocals, that can only be done in the mix of the song.

Perceptual coding also can’t make the song acoustic or shorter in length, those can only be done in the mixing stage.

What perceptual coding does do is analyze the sounds in the song and prioritize them. The programmers determined which sounds are more important on the scale.

First it locates the lead sounds – the main instruments/voices in the material.

There might be 5 primary sound makers in your song, let’s say drums, bass, guitar, keys, and voice. Perceptual coding manages to quarantine those and only removes small amounts of their identifying data.

This allows a listener to quickly ID the melody, the lyric, the artist, and the song since these primary elements are only slightly degraded.

 


 

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But you can’t achieve 90% overall data reduction by only slightly degrading the material. Perceptual coding achieves the brunt of it’s loss from outside of the primary sounds.

This includes everything not inside the primary sound including the echoes and delays of the primary sounds. In fact all reverbs, delays and room sounds are attacked and removed. Other things outside the primary sound are timbre characteristics, breaths, string and instrument noise, room shape and activity, and soundstage timing cues. All of this is shorthanded to “the tone” and “the soundstage”.

By masking and/or deleting all kinds of sounds that they believe are unable to be reliably perceived* by listeners they achieve massive size decreases.

*What the smart DSP programmers behind perceptual coding understood is that while people can easily hear this loss in the music, most can’t identify it reliably and consistently using the same terminology, and good luck having any of this come out in the whacked-world of ABX listening tests.

If most can’t identify what is gone, but can identify the song and sing along, the codec is considered a success. And MP3 was and still is a huge success by those metrics.

But listen to Ghost in the MP3 to hear an idea of what perceptual coding takes away from your music.

 


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The destruction of all of the natural movement, transients, and timing cues has a long lasting effect on our music, which has a long lasting effect on our psyche.

The things that perceptual coding deems unnecessary and inaudible are in fact the critical emotional elements of the music.

This amounts to a perceptual loss in all modern music and is the reason behind two trends: 1- robotic voices with fake instruments, and 2- hyper-fast switching of sounds from disparate sources with heavily active pan and audio limiter settings.

When your end result is forced to be artificial and limited in size and range, hip producers know to co-opt the weaknesses and make them strengths. The more artificial and huge you can sound the better.

No point in producing realism when there is none at the distribution.


 

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An approximation of lost data from this image after lossy compression.

Prince Does 24bit

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The genius of early Prince is finally available at full quality digital. Check out ponomusic’s Prince page for his first 8 albums at 24/192!

  1. For You – 24/192
  2. Prince – 24/192
  3. Dirty Mind – 24/192
  4. Controversy – 24/192
  5. 1999 – 24/192
  6. Purple Rain – 24/192
  7. Around The World In A Day – 24/192
  8. Parade – 24/192
  9. Sign o’ The Times
  10. Lovesexy
  11. Batman
  12. Graffiti Bridge
  13. Diamonds & Pearls
  14. Love Symbol
  15. Come
  16. The Black Album
  17. The Gold Experience
  18. Girl 6
  19. Chaos & Disorder
  20. Emancipation
  21. Crystal Ball
  22. Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic
  23. The Rainbow Children
  24. N.E.W.S.
  25. Musicology
  26. 3121
  27. Planet Earth
  28. Lotusflow3r
  29. 20Ten
  30. Art Official Age – 24/44
  31. Plectrumelectrum

Prices are a little high ($22 each LP) but you’ll never have to buy another copy again!

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24bit or Bust: Bill Withers & Led Zeppelin

They trickle out slowly but at least they are finally coming:  24bit versions of classic albums by classic artists, ready for purchase for under $20. This is the full-quality studio master for your library so don’t pass up these opportunities.

Two classic artists that have gone 24bit lately are Led Zeppelin and Bill Withers. Jimmy Page, guitarist and leader of Zep, has completed his remastering project where all 9 of the legendary band’s studio albums have been given the modern HD treatment.

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This includes versions with the original track list but remastered to 24/96, and a deluxe version of each record complete with outtakes, alternate versions, demos, and other rarities. The remasters come in under $20, the Deluxe versions are about $25 each, and you can even buy the whole catalog on vinyl, CD, or HD-digital download, with the physical media including the digital downloads. Very nice.


 

The Bill Withers albums didn’t receive any rare add-ons, but it sure is nice to see them at 24bit and most of them are under $15. Bill is a traditionalist, so his piano, his voice, his guitar, and the rest of the arrangement should sound very warm and intimate at 24bit. Real instruments, real voices, real soul.

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Check out PonoMusic for the Zeppelin and Bill Withers pages.

 

My HD Digital Audio Life Begins Soon

My new sexy little digital audio player (aka DAP) is arriving at the end of this month. I was an early supporter of PonoMusic and their PonoPlayer on kickstarter, so not only will I have one of the first Pono’s out in the wild, but I was extended a pretty awesome benefit as an early investor – free file quality upgrades for life!Three_Ponos_02_773

That means any purchases I make from the Ponomusic store are guaranteed to be the highest native resolution available. If this is not the case (say the artist puts out a new version at higher native resolution, or licensing changes and Pono gets access to a better version) Pono Inc. will offer me the choice of a free upgrade if I want the bigger files.

This is VERY cool, and a big part of why I signed up. Sadly I don’t believe this feature is going to be available for all customers, at least not at the base price. They should offer it – the “lifetime” digital version. If 32bit/384k audio is all the rage in 2030 it would be great to not have to purchase half my collection again.

They are also claiming they will launch their store with over 2 million HD songs from the 3 major record labels so we will see. Initially PonoMusic and HDTracks will be the go-to places for HD audio, but I think Apple, Sony, etc. will be moving into HD Audio in the next year.

Here’s a pretty and concise (if not totally accurate*) chart showing you the amount of audio data that the formats move:

Pono_Chart_Revised

Note that the blue box above is soon to become the standard for streaming, which is the low-end of the market. If you are storing the media you expect the highest quality possible

[*My issue with the chart is how it ignores bit depth change for sample rate promotion. If you understand what the “24-bit” part of that signal means, the jump from the blue box to the light yellow box, shown as a small jump on this chart, is actually much larger of an improvement to our ears because so much of it deals with timbre, spatial, room sound, overtones, decays – aka the hard to quantify but easy to recognize side of music and recording. The chart shows raw data bandwidth but nothing about sound accuracy and quality.  That said, it is titled “Music quality spectrum” which is misleading and probably applied by marketing people. But I also haven’t heard Pono yet, so maybe it is 5x better than CD!]

I am also developing a strategy for how to buy digital music again, and what exactly to seek in HD. My current idea is to buy 1 album/month, and to alternate between new (to me) and re-buying existing stuff that I only have at low-res mp3 or damaged vinyl. If I own it on CD I’ll probably just rip 16/44 WAVs again, since the jump in quality from 16/44 to 24/96 is not worth $20 to me.

imagesFor storage I plan on having several 64gb cards to swap in and out of the Pono, but how many albums per card, and how to organize those cards is still up in the air. It’s a new world!

The Pono Player is a new type of consumer device (at least in audio) – a portable digital device that performs at a very high level but focuses solely on it’s core task and does not include many other features. The Pono Player plays portable digital music at a very high quality level. It does not stream, in or out. It doesn’t have any cell, wifi, or bluetooth radios on board. It does not play games. It does not run a smartphone OS or multitask. It doesn’t even have an inline music store on the device.

It just plays music at the highest quality available for a <$500 device, from crappy mp3’s, to ripped CD’s, to super high def 24/192 flac files. It has headphone and line-out. It syncs through a cable to your computer for side-loading of tracks like the first iPods. In fact it reminds me alot of the early iPods except with vastly greater sound quality, which is why I refer to it as “iPod Pro”.

Once it’s in my hands I’ll post some pics and my version of a review, but I can’t wait to hit people with the sound of this thing, either in their headphones or over speakers. The power of music is strongest when the music is the purest and most accurate it can be, and hearing such things in the last 10 years has required that you know a music snob with lots of money invested in their system. Pono brings the pure audio to the portable masses, and I can’t wait!

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Music Hoarding Future

OK I’m doing some serious internet-style scientific research (aka asking friends) on the future of buying music, discussed in this post. Here’s a few ideas so far on the future of music product packaging:

Idea 1-  The “All of the Above” set — for $40 you buy the release and receive a vinyl record, a CD, and download codes for both HD and MP3 digital files. Nothing new here but it’s a nice spread of the existing formats and gives you redundancy and multiple formats for different locations, loaning out, etc..

Idea 2-  The “21st Century” set — for $30 you buy the release and receive a Blu-Ray disc and also download codes for all of the content. The disc contains the stereo mixes and 5.1 mixes (if available), and plays in a standard BluRay setup. The data portion of the disc contains the HD and MP3 versions of the stereo mix. The download codes are for those without a BluRay drive in their computer. This gives you a new format (5.1) and doesn’t include any vinyl or CD’s. The entire thing can also be sold w/o a disc (dl only) for $20.

Idea 3- The “Sponsor/Crowdfund” system — this isn’t a product per say, but a new twist on an ancient system for funding music. For maybe $100 you become a sponsor/superfan/investor/subscriber for the artist for a period of time, maybe 2 years. In that timeframe you receive a few things: their new musical output for nearly free (maybe just cost of materials and shipping, or free online); free tickets to any of their shows in your region (you will drink alot that night and the venue will make money); some usual fan club stuff like stickers, swag, and behind the scenes stuff, and a more personal relationship with the artist.

An artist would have fans that were invested in their art and it’s output, and the fans just wouldn’t renew if they weren’t feeling the value of that relationship. 10k facebook likes could be 1 million dollars, which would fund many mid-sized artists for 2 years and cover the shipped product, and doing 25 shows around the country has the potential for 400 fans per gig before you even show up.  Those people bring friends, the place is packed, everyone makes some money, and music lives on (and everyone gets laid that night :-)).

Also, because you want them to succeed and make more music for you before your subscription expires, the artist is invigorated by this direct correlation between output and revenue and the fans demand excellence. A really amazing release where the artist pushes farther and better than before would up their capital immediately. Lazy and misguided artists would find their capital dwindling.

 

Each of these have pros and cons but I thought it would be fun to start thinking about such things.

 

2MERICA’S Top Network

Done a lot of video in the last couple years and have a few more ideas in the cooker for both the 2MERICA and Ezraz projects. Here’s the list of the video yayas we’ve posted as designed for musical and visual enjoyment.

 

Videos From 2MERICA’s 1st LP Record Profits:

Record Profits

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“Indy Day” … “thinkin’ bout cashin’ in usin’ all these song lines”

“Green Screen” … “episode’s out the window, tracking’s well defined”

“Scribbling” … “contemplate what Sartre said” [featuring paintings by Jaimeson Lowell]

“Male Performance Issues” … remember the gapneck (minor key does not make it a rollerskating song)

“Night Talk @ The Mansion” … we are tonight’s soundtrack

“Zeestro” … he’s the maestro

 

 Videos From 2MERICA’s 2nd LP Sensors&Switches&Buttons:

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“Regina” … “fakin’ neutral glares cannot hide you”

“Extraordinary Rendition” … “this problem is hard – c’mon, join the party”

“Boom Seattle” … “there’s sparkles everywhere” [featuring paintings by Jaimeson Lowell]

“Alfie” … “look at this place see how it’s changed”

“Who’s Feeling Who?” … “my little sugar triangles who’s feelin who?”

“Tha Cop(s)” … “all this lying all this trying”

“The New Guest Who…” … “eww, it’s much worse than I thought”

 

Videos From 2MERICA’s 3rd LP Scherzo Elskorpion (unreleased):

Mass Entertainment EP

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“Never Met Tomorrow” … “never know who to follow, never met tomorrow”

“Mass Entertainment” … “we are all instruments playing our part”

“The Blood & The Sweat” … my life is the mess only I can clean

The Curious Case of W. Axl Rose

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It’s been 4 1/2 years, seemingly the right time to revisit something you might have dismissed,  you know, 4 1/2 years ago.

I dismissed this Axl Rose character, thinking for some unspecified reason that he was no longer the powerfully-voiced fighting machine that blew all other rock vocalists off the stage in the late 80’s.

Maybe it was drugs, women, insanity, or some cool rockstar mix of all three that had derailed him, I told myself. After all, Slash is just so cool! All that hair and those beautiful guitars! He was somehow more responsible for the classic GNR in my head. This was bullshit of course, I realize now.

Why this reversal? I finally listened to Chinese Democracy.

Played the whole record, loudly, from top to bottom. Finally. This record’s story and the characters behind it annoyed me so much it took me over 4 years to simply listen to the damn thing.

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13,000 Records Lovingly Washed and Saved


Sound of the City: Last Night 13,000 Norton Records Were Lovingly Washed and Saved By Adoring Fans of the Label

Here’s a great story about a small record label in Brooklyn that was flooded by Hurricane Sandy. They decided to save their rare vinyl inventory with an army of volunteer record lovers, rubber gloves, and lots of dish soap.

The pollution-filled salt water from a nearby canal rose over 10 feet and made easy work of album covers and the rest of their warehouse. Everything electronic was ruined. Everything organic-based was rotted and stained.

Vinyl albums can hold out a bit longer, but mold and mildew will eventually grow in the grooves so it was decided if they were going to save the records, they needed to act fast.

Well done, Norton. So many things a storm destroys can be replaced and some of it wasn’t loved much in the first place. But in this case seeing thousands of rare and obscure pressings lay to rot would have been a sad event, given the wonders of dish soap on records.

 

 

Record Review: Funkadelic – Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On

[originally published on WFNK.com on October 1, 1999]

funkadelic-ontheverge_1024x1024 Album Review by Coffee

Funkadelic, in my opinion is the GREATEST “black rock band” of all time. But let us put that in perspective. I am using the words- black, rock and band there. Obviously, almost every member in Parliament and Funkadelic was/is African American. And I use the term ‘rock’ somewhat specifically because I am targeting harder edged material when I am citing rock music.

For instance, The Temptations are probably one of the greatest soul groups of all-time. True, they may have had some more agressive and psychedelic spurts here and there. But the Temps are known for their squeaky clean and rhythmic doo-wop over anything else that they ever created. So let us consider the career of Funkadelic as a funk-rock band just for reference.

Like their siamese sister band, Parliament, Funkadelic has had an illustrious and colorful career in changing the concept of black music. George Clinton played with legions of musicians, so I won’t even try to name every Funkadelic member. Here is the general list of artists who appeared on the album at hand, “Standing On the Verge Of Getting It On.” Praise thee-

funkadelic-standingGary Bronson: Drums
Ron Brylowski: Guitar
Eddie Hazel: Guitar
Jimmy Calhoun: Bass
George Clinton: Vocals/Album Producer
Raymond Davis: Vocals
R. Tiki Fulwood: Percussion, Vocals
Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins: Vocals
Tyrone Lampkin: Drums
Cordell Mosson: Bass, Vocals
Leon Patillo: Piano
Gary Shider: Guitar, Vocals
Grady Thomas: Vocals
Bernie Worrell: Keyboards, Vocals

Standing On the Verge Breakdown-

Intro- Some of the funniest first few seconds that I have ever heard on a record begin side One and Side Two of this album. My translation of intro 1: Our world can bite us in the ass if we don’t watch it! Check yourself and correct yourself. For Side two intro: Like peas of pod we’ll fit together until I introduce to you the cosmic highway to my mind.

Track 1: Red Hot Mama

– An Eddie Hazel guitar signature song and one of Funkadelic’s most successful singles ever. They hit the mark on this one. It is great when psychedelia sounds clean and cohesive like this. You can hear the layers working one another just as easily as they disappear into a sonic stew. If ever there was a funky song by P-Funk (without proclaiming funk’s name first), this is it. The story is of a fast woman from swamp country. She claims super diva status with her sexuality. You can sense brothers copping a jive talking session about it on the avenue.

Track 2: Alice In My Fantasies

-Wow. The thought of a blaxploitation version of “Alice In Wonderland” with this Hendrix-esquian echo funk sure sounds good to me. This song is on fire with acid headed freedom eruptions throughout. It is obvious that The Red Hot Chili Peppers were inspired by tracks like this ahead-of-its time motivator.

Track 3: I’ll Stay

-This R&B is sensual ebb and flow. It’s graceful romance deserves as much recogntion and cred as anything put out by the Temps or the Tops. Let Bernie W. and the rest take your head out to play with this smooth and slow jam. Making love music has never been so greasy and out of this world at the same time.

Track 4: Sexy Ways

-Disco dancefloor-doowop pick up lines in the groove. The funk has grabbed the soul of a thousand booties. The lust continues. Go ahead guys, do the first date thing- buy a flower, open her door and offer your coat in times of need. Then pop this track on in the den if you want her to know what you’ve really been thinking about.

standing_fullinsideTrack 5: Standing On the Verge of Getting It On

-The optimism and good intentions are offered here with absolute freedom. I have always thought that this song sounds like a more adventurous James Brown. This classic is still performed by Parliament-Funkadelic at concerts. If you can’t loosen up to this ode to the people, then your ass is in a coma. The harmonizing of the vocals and the lyrics see to symbolize the need for unsion and acceptance that is inherent to human nature. The funk is an aura of emotion that makes standing together part of the whole routine. It is not ironic that one of P-Funk’s most contagious groove has such an invitational message.

Track 6, Jimmy’s Got A Little Bit of Bitch In Him

-Hendrix is played on and quoted in this satirical look at his fashion sense and zoned out character. Jimi doesn’t take it too seriously watching P-Funk shows from up above. Parliament-Funkadelic’s attire and personality make Jimi look like Nat King Cole. Ok maybe that is a bit severe…

Track 7, Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts

George Clinton preaches spoken word funk over one of Eddie Hazel’s soul-searching psychedelic journeys that transcend emotion.

This is my 2nd favorite Funk album EVER. If you don’t own it- buy it now. Do not pass F, give up $15 or so and read those outrageous Sir Lleb liner notes when you open the merchandise. Check out the album artwork and vote for a virtual reality event to mirror its vision.

Peace and Funk,
Coffee

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