And in the end…

After a brief discussion with a friend today comparing and contrasting the merits of print vs eBooks, I began to re-examine my obsession with record collecting (and with materialism of any form).  I’ve been grappling with both sides of the collectibility coin for years, but the end of a calendar year seems a fitting time to look back and reflect on exactly what I’m doing and at what cost.

My purchasing of printed books has become more selective and refined in the past year (as it has for much of the public with eBook sales still on the rise.)  Statistia.com forcasts that ePub sales will exceed those of printed books by 2017.  This has been my most active year ever for book purchases – the same year I built myself a virtually-departmentalized library of eBooks.

eBooks vs Print Chart

Similarly, my vinyl purchasing has become specialized as well.  2014 has been Innerspace’s most-active for both digital and vinyl acquisitions, with each directly inspiring activity in the other.

107 LPs (accounting for each of the discs in multi-disc box sets) were purchased in the last 5 months alone, making the second half of 2014 our busiest purchasing period in the history of the Innerspace Library.  Actual spending for album acquisition in 2014 (purchases between Jan 13 and Nov 26) totaled $1,140.30, including all spending for overseas shipping and other courier services, with a mean monthly expenditure of $103 for the 11 months of activity.  The vast majority of these purchases were special-edition, limited releases, and original-pressings of milestones from my favorite genres.

Comparatively, 4,138 of my digital album folders were added or modified in 2014, (though this number includes folders in which tag maintenance or restructuring occurred during the last calendar year.)  The increase in digital album “consumption” had a direct impact on my vinyl-ordering activity.

But increasingly, the reasons I’ve used to justify my LP purchases are being eroded by the changing landscape of the FLAC community.

And so I thought I’d take each head-on.

beethoven-with-headphones
CLAIM 1: Vinyl often features better mastering and production quality than their digital counterparts

The genres I collect, particularly avant-garde, modern classical, ambient, and experimental electronic music have an audiophile fan base dedicated to the digital preservation of these recordings.  Where once fans had to rely on pirate remastering work by Purple Chick and Dr. Ebbetts (among other legendary engineers), the democratization of recording technology has made home-archiving inexpensive and easy without having to chase down shiny black discs.

And for albums previously only available on wax, we have claim #2.

okeh1007side-bsleeve

CLAIM 2: You can’t find these recordings anywhere else

Thanks to archival technology, there has developed a large and well-networked community of collectors eager to share their rare vinyl recordings with the rest of the world.  The community has evolved to the point where vinyl-only issued and limited-press recordings are now readily available in the form of community-generated digital lossless archives.  While commercial networks like Spotify offer only a tiny fraction of these recordings (I think there are six) due to their limited commercial interest and costly rights negotiation, actual fans of the music have stepped up to the plate and made the albums available where a commercial market has not.

"Armand De Brignac" Champagne Party at the VIP Room

CLAIM 3: Supporting the artist

This is a moot argument in my specialized case and in the case of those like me.  99% of the albums I buy are used records pressed forty years ago.  The used market has little to no impact on composers and artists, (with a few special exceptions like that of Rodriguez).  One exempt title which comes to mind is Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes LP.  Yorke made headlines when …Boxes became the first album ever to be sold through a commercial torrent channel, demonstrating the viability of the sharing medium.  I saw my purchase of the deluxe LP as a contribution to a cause I supported.  But those two exceptions aside, I don’t think Ludwig or Karlheinz need my money that badly.

audiophile-main
CLAIM 4: It’s all about the experience

The experience is one of the outstanding merits of vinyl albums with which digital music cannot compete.  Selecting the album, removing it from its artful gatefold cover, dropping the needle, and so many other elements of the vinyl experience remind us of the value of music in an age of digital gluttony.  The experience is what still motivates me to purchase records, but with greater selectivity than before.

REAL FRIENDS HELP YOU MOVE RECORDS

With the erosion of the above arguments in vinyl’s favor, the reasons against collecting grow larger than ever.

REASON 1: They weigh a ton.

Ask anyone who’s been generous enough to help me move.  Collecting records requires the dedication of space and the enlistment of an army should you ever need to relocate them.  I know it’s part of vinyl’s charm – they are Objets d’art, but they’re admittedly a burden at the same time.

REASON 2: The stuff I’m after costs a fortune.

That $100 a month is over a grand at the end of the year that I could put toward living more comfortably and taking care of my beautiful partner.  I’m grateful that I am able to accommodate the limited disposable income I have for a fulfilling hobby and as a means of social interaction, but greater selectivity may yield a greater reward in the end.  Contrariwise, the only available digital resource for these vinyl-ripped and rare recordings is the file sharing community, which is 100% free.  And there isn’t much that can compare with free.

REASON 3: Accessibility and Organization

What I love most about our Digital Library is that it is meticulously organized and instantly indexable by multiple points of metadata.  With just a few clicks I can export charts and visualizations of library data for my annual reports.  And with 100% of the content on my home server, I can access any track wherever I go.  My unlimited data plan grants me uninhibited access to my content in FLAC without needing to transcode to stay below a corporate-determined threshold of data.  I take several TB of content to work each day, enjoy it on the walk there and back, and DJ my office for the 8 hours in between.

(Oh yes… and 13,000+ albums don’t take up any real estate on the shelf.)

And so…

Moving forward into the new year, I’m going to significantly pull the reins on my vinyl-buying impulses.  I might attempt to quantify my purchasing decisions with a 3-question qualifier before buying (as I’ve a fondness for doing things mathematically.)  There will still be incredible albums here, and there is no reason I can’t talk about a FLAC vinyl-rip and throw up a shot of the LP… (it’ll be our little secret.)

I welcome your thoughts.  Please feel free to share your support for or against this notion.  And I’ll see you in the new year.

Wolfgang Voigt – Lost in Königsforst

Wolfgang Voigt - GAS - Nah Und Fern 2LP
Through a wonderful stroke of good fortune, I am now honored to have claimed a copy of Nah Und Fern for my vinyl library.  A milestone compilation – both for Wolfgang Voigt, performing under his legendary moniker GAS, and for the incredible impact the recording had on my own musical experience.

GAS is ambient minimal techno in its purest form.  Voigt’s samples are ghostly sonic elements – formless and featureless.  There is no melody, no key, no pitch, and no progression for the listener to cling to.  Instead, the pieces, (all untitled), pulse steadily in place, with no discernible beginning or end.

Voigt, himself describes it as “GASeous music, caught by a bass drum just marching by, that streams, streams out through the underwood across the forest soil.”  The music of these projects were inspired by Voigt’s LSD experiences in the Königsforst forest near Köln.

There are four albums in the GAS project – Gas, Zauberberg, Königsforst and Pop.  Released between 1996 and 2000, the albums were later compiled into a 4CD box set titled Nah Und Fern in 2008 on the Kompakt label.

This limited vinyl release consists of four side-long edits, the first of which is exclusive to the LP.

GAS was my initiation into drone music, and led me on a rewarding path of discovery with albums like Jimmy Cauty’s Space, Robert Rich’s Somnium,  Black Swan’s vinyl-only releases, and later to Voigt’s own influences – namely Wagner and Schoenberg.  A delightful friend and ambient guru first played GAS for me in his bookshop, and the rest was history.

But Nah Und Fern does not come cheap, and I confess that I approached the purchase with some hesitation.  Thankfully all my doubts were vanquished when I learned that the gentleman who sold me his copy was a fellow member of the Youtube Vinyl Community!

Critics have called it many things – zero-gravity club music, tunes for lucid dreaming, underwater techno, or as Wire put it, “an outdoor rave, heard floating through the air from a neighbouring village.”  One thing is certain – this is drone music at its finest.

Published in: on December 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Underworld’s Dubnobass 20th Anniversary – Mini-Documentary

In celebration of Rick Smith and Karl Hyde’s 20th anniversary tour of their mk3 debut album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld has posted a 15-minute mini-documentary featuring new interview footage of the boys looking back on the album and its creation.

During the interview, Karl recalls one of his most memorable moments being when they were featured on the cover of Melody Maker magazine in 1994, “the rock paper that I bought as a little kid to read about my heroes!”

I was lucky enough to secure a copy of the original issue to frame in my studio along with my favorite signed prints and postcards from Tomato’s brilliant legacy of groundbreaking design.

For those curious about the write up but not mad enough to order a copy from the UK, you’re in luck – click the two images below for high-resolution archived scans of the cover and the original article.

underworld-on-the-cover-of-melody-maker-22nd-january-1994

push-interviews-underworld-22nd-december-1994And check out the mini-documentary, parts I and II below.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mike Doughty: Please Stop Making Music.

Sad news my friends. For nearly a decade Mike Doughty has spent his post-Soul Coughing era immersed in folksy-acoustic guitar dementia, collaborating with Dave Matthews, (I know… I know…) and essentially recording the same exact half-spoken melody with the same percussive 6-string strumming album after album.

soul-coughing-frontman-mike-doughty-releases-circles-an-album-of-the-bands-songs-as-he-meant-them-to-be You haven’t missed anything, and now, after his bottom-of-a-well ran dry, he’s taken to rehashing the Soul Coughing hits he’d previously sworn not to entertain since his going-clean.

Here’s his latest video – a thoroughly post-modern ironic mimic of his former hit, “Super Bon Bon,” stripped of the energy, edginess, and the jazzy funk of the original.

The album comes complete with typographical cover art which was hip and artful back when XTC did it for their album, Go 2 in 1978.

Mike-Doughty--Circles-Super-Bon-Bon-Sleepless-album-cover

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Cue the contrived low-budget filters, green screens, slow-mo footage of random objects in motion, and lifeless audio.

Sorry Mike. You were a whole lot better on drugs.

Published in: on November 15, 2014 at 1:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Top 550 Artists and Composers of 2014

An incredibly productive Saturday indeed!  I was introduced this week to the web-based presentation software, Prezi and set myself a challenge -

I would take my first-ever exercise in data visualization (created using Excel and my first attempt at using the Gephi software tool), import it into Prezi, animate it with an audio bed and narration, and work out how to manually export it to a shareable video for Innerspace Labs.

In just over 6 hours I drafted a script, recorded and segmented it to function in the presentation, taught myself the software, and did a bit of post-production to tidy things up.

Below is the result of this project.  (Best-viewed in fullscreen.)

Published in: on November 2, 2014 at 12:23 am  Comments (1)  
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Classical Deutsche Grammophon Endulgence

Another magnificent day for music!

In the waiting room at an appointment today, the radio was tuned to the classical station and I really enjoyed a piano sonata by Beethoven.  Admittedly a laymen when it comes to classical, I was bitten by the bug and decided to investigate further.  Given my limited knowledge of the genre, I set my sights on the tried-and-true Deutsche Grammophon label and popped into my local antique shop to see what I could find.

It was my lucky day!  Waiting for me on their shelves were 8 volumes of the Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven Bicentennial Collection!  Featuring the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, each volume is packaged in a sturdy box set slipcase – each containing five discs and a book packed with information that I will thoroughly enjoy drinking in!

Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven Bicentennial Collection

Each of the volumes was magnificently well cared-for – the discs shined and appeared barely-played.  And for $1 per disc I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

I followed up the purchase with a call to The Bop Shop in Rochester, NY which should be able to supply me with the remaining volumes.  And just my luck – November is planned to be a half-0ff sale on their massive classical library, so I’m planning another trip before Christmas!

 

 

RETROMANIA: Pop Culture’s Addition to Its Own Past (a Review)

Retromania Simon Reynolds

Music critic Simon Reynolds is perhaps best-known for his coining of the term, “post-rock.”  He is also regarded for his incorporation of critical theory in his analysis of music.  His 2011 book, Retromania was my first encounter with his writing.

“I recently read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania and it was so spot-on as far as our current attitude to music and its history. For my money he’s one of the most intelligent music writers in the last two decades”
— DJ Food

Retromania turned out to be much more than a critical examination of popular culture’s fascination with its past.  It was a revealing study of my own approach to culture, trends, styles, and music.  And I’m certain that I wasn’t alone in this discovery.  Like most readers who made the personal decision to read 500 pages of cultural analysis by a music critic, it demonstrates the emerging and growing demographic of cultural curators.

Brian Eno noticed the rise of the curator and grasped its implications way ahead of the pack. In 1991, reviewing a book on hypertext for Artforum, he proclaimed: Curatorship is arguably the big new job of our times: it is the task of re-evaluating, filtering, digesting, and connecting together. In an age saturated with new artifacts and information, it is perhaps the curator, the connection maker, who is the new storyteller, the meta-author.’

The new century is rich with metadata and globally-accessible archives of content from all cultures and eras.  Youtube alone adds 100 hours of new video content every minute, and the emergence of music streaming services have only further-accelerated the accessibility of media, old and new alike.  This raises perhaps one of the biggest questions of our era: can culture survive in conditions of limitlessness?

Chapter 4: The Rise of the Rock Curator was the first glimpse into my own rationale as a cultural custodian.  It begins with the New Musical Express’ weekly column in the early 1980s – ”Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer.”  Several rock groups of the decade presented their music with a kind of invisible reading-and-movie-watching list attached, conveyed through literary references within their lyrics of images depicted on their album jackets.  (Sgt. Peppers is perhaps the best-known example of this execution.)

Reynolds writes that “being a Throbbing Gristle or Coil fan was like enrolling in a university course of cultural extremism, the music virtually coming with footnotes and a ‘Further Reading’ section attached.”

As the decade progressed, this curatorial baton was passed from the artists to their fan-base, who began, (whether consciously or unconsciously) to compile not just their favorite artist’s records, but the films, novels, and art which inspired their recordings.

The book goes on to explore the nature of collector-culture in the digital age and touches upon both the decisively retro action of record collecting and the inherent merits and dysfunctions associated with the activity, as well as the hoarding habits of media collection with respect to digital music.

But it was in a chapter on the 60s’ embrace of revivalism that I found the greatest revelation regarding my own bizarre fascination with music, art, and culture of the past.  Reynolds writes -

Remember the Pop Boutique store in central London with its slogan ‘Don’t follow fashion. Buy something that’s already out of date’? Just as vintage can have an undercurrent of recalcitrance towards fashion, similarly it is possible for rock nostalgia to contain dissident potential. If Time has become annexed by capitalism’s cynical cycles of product shifting, one way to resist that is to reject temporality altogether. The revivalist does this by fixating on one era and saying: ‘Here I make my stand.’ By fixing identity to the absolute and abiding supremacy of one sound and one style, the revivalist says, ‘ This is me.’

Retromania is a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read.  In a simple skimming of the book’s index, I found what was effectively a list of the contents of my own studio.  The book examines:

Pierre Henry’s Le voile d’Orphée I et II
Varese’s Poème électronique
Perrey & Kingsley’s The In Sound From Way Out!
Bell Telephone Laboratories
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop
The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center
Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research Inc
The City of Tomorrow (1924)
Blade Runner
The Philips Prospective 21e Siècle label
The 1956 Ideal Home Exhibition
1958 World’s Fair in Brussels
Metropolis
Amazing Stories
Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970

Disney’s Tomorrowland
Einstürzende Neubauten
The Winstons’ Amen Break
Negativland
Public Image Ltd.
The Black Dog
Stereolab
Plunderphonics
2 Many DJs
24 Hour Party People
William Basinski
Steinski
Pop Will Eat Itself
Throbbing Gristle
Eno & Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
iPod Therefore I Am

Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children
The Avalanches’ Since I Left You
fifties revivalism
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Hauntology Exhibition at the Berkley Art Museum
The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
The KLF / Justified Ancients of Mu Mu
DJ Shadow’s monumental Endtroducing LP
The glo-fi / chillwave / hypnagogic pop scene

and much, much more!

The Pinnacle of 90s Geek Rock – They Might Be Giants Classic Albums on Vinyl!

Milestones of teenage rock nostalgia, They Might Be Giants’ early albums were beautifully random and absurd rock records which spoke directly to the freaks and geeks of the late 80s and early 90s.  Dadaist lyrics, a Dial-a-Song service, bizarre subject matter and a bit of art rock sophistication all made They Might Be Giants alt music of choice for a nerd culture in the midst of the angry grunge era.

Don't Let's Start

This weirdly wonderful and unapologetically happy music was complemented by their even stranger music videos.  “Don’t Let’s Start” and “Ana Ng” were hit videos on MTV in 1987-89.  Devoid of self-serious pretension, They Might Be Giants embraced oddity and silliness while simultaneously sneaking in moments of sombre artistic genius.  Lyrics like, “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful” were woven effortlessly into otherwise nonsensical context.

Fortunately, They Might Be Giants did not die at 27 of a drug overdose.  They did not find god and start a religious crusade.  Nor did they end up with their own reality show as no-longer-relevant 40-somethings with too much money for their own good.

TMBG 2040 World Tour

Instead, they’ve pressed on through the decades, releasing 96 albums and singles, appealing to younger and younger audiences each year.

And John and John have not forgotten the children who grew up with them (many of whom now have children of their own.)  They have begun to re-issue the earliest albums of their catalog on vinyl for these life-long fans, some of which have not previously been available in the format.

Asbestos Records, an independent record label based in Stratford, Connecticut has recently pressed Factory Showroom, John Henry, and Apollo 18 after the band issued a Facebook poll asking their fans which albums they wanted on wax.  Surely more titles are to come, like the classic self-titled “pink album” and their best-selling Flood.

Asbestos Records

My copies of the new Asbestos pressings have just arrived at my door, pictured below beside my German original press of Flood and the Bar None first pressing of the pink album.

Special thanks to the Johns for all the great musical memories!

They Might Be Giants LPs

The History of Modern Ambient Music: Part 2 – 1993-2014

The conclusion to my 2-part Ambient Milestones series is now published on YouTube!  The exciting final element to the feature arrived in the post just a few days ago and I am delighted to share it with you all.

Or click here for the HD version.

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