Second Toughest in the Infants… at LAST!

Why have one grail when you can have TWO? Followed up yesterday’s Kruder & Dorfmeister Sessions Remastered Edition with this treasure, also from Germany – an original press of Underworld’s Second Toughest in the Infants. This was the last of their vinyl-issued albums missing from my catalog of over 375 analog and digital albums, and it is so exciting to finally claim one for my own!

And, to top everything off, the seller threw in the classic “Rez / Cowgirl” single as a surprise gift!

Second Toughest was the incredible follow-up to the Underworld Mk 2 debut, Dubnobasswithmyheadman.  The record is equal-parts floor-stomping club anthems and cerebral, meditative headphone music.

Hyde’s stream-of-consciousness free form lyrical poetry deconstructs the objective properties of language and functions purely as a rhythmic device, complementing the subtle progression of Rick Smith’s atmospheric abstract techno.

This, like all of Underworld’s recordings, is a milestone for the ages.

Second Toughest

Published in: on May 5, 2015 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Incredible Grail, and Outstanding Good Fortune

Once in a while, for no particular reason, the stars in your world align and an outstanding bit of good fortune befalls you.   I was the recipient of just such a fortune this afternoon.

Every day I try to take a few minutes to explore potentially rewarding sounds that had somehow previously avoided my radar.  Often I’ll review the universally-acclaimed album charts for a given genre as an interest-of-the-week on rateyourmusic.com.   Sunday morning’s theme was the peak of the downtempo scene – late 1990s utlra-chilled choons filled with trip-hop rhythms, mellow minimal melodies,  jazz-infused horn riffs and the sparse and fragmented fills from a Fender Rhodes.

This was music generally associated with hip, urban cafes in the 90s and found widespread mainstream popularity through Ministry of Sound’s chillout compilations of the cool sounds of Ibiza.

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These compilations are fine if you just want an atmospheric bed of sound for your late night laptop adventures or for small gatherings, but none of these are particularly memorable.  I was on the hunt for an ultra-chilled tour de force – an anthemic masterpiece of critical acclaim.  That album, as I quickly learned, is Kruder & Dorfmeister’s K&D Sessions.

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Originally released in 1998, both the 4LP set and the double-CD versions of the album were issued exclusively in Germany.  The album has since become a holy grail for lovers of dub and downtempo classics.  I was disappointed to find that, bootlegs aside, the album only had one proper release 17 years ago.

But that’s when I stumbled upon wonderful news – it just so happened that the album was newly-remastered by Bernie Grundman for a special 5LP audiophile edition released in March of this year!

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Most of the major distribution channels were sold out, with sellers in the USA asking $110-$169 for copies of the album.  Thankfully, I was able to get my hands on a copy locally this afternoon for $15 and I couldn’t be happier.

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The audiophile edition also comes with a download code for a 24-bit digital archive of the remastered set.  What an incredible addition to my electronic music library!

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Dial the lights down low and let this do its thing.

The Personal, Portable Media Cloud

Recently, a new tech product has surfaced on the market – one that solves a very specific problem for a particular niche of media consumers.

There exists a digital media user base with larger-than-usual libraries. I’m speaking of anyone with multiple TB of media, whether it be audio, cinema and TV archives, CBR collections, ePub libraries, or any combination thereof.

Naturally for collections of this size, these consumers have a great passion for their media, and desire full-accessibility to their content at all times.

A percentage of these users have created a solution by holding-fast to their grandfathered-in unlimited cellular data plans, and use one of various dedicated home servers to make their data instantly accessible on any web-enabled device without any fear of data caps or throttling. (I am among these users.)

There remains however, a less-fortunate base of media consumers who don’t have the luxury of unlimited data or a dedicated server, (Subsonic or otherwise) to grant them the freedom they desire.

Which brings us to the solution of the personal, portable media cloud.

Seagate now manufactures a surprisingly small Wireless Plus Portable Hard Drive with its own built-in WiFi network and a 10 hr internal battery.

This device acts as your own personal (and portable) wireless network – on the road or off the grid, your media is always accessible, wirelessly to any device.

It is robust enough to stream up to 3 different HD movies to 3 different devices at the same time.

Use the Seagate Media App on any of your devices, or the codec-ready application of your choice. The Seagate Media App also works as a sync tool to backup your devices’ files to your portable HDD.

The 1.5 TB model is $155 and the 2TB edition is $197 – a small price to pay for the freedom it will bring. This product solves a very particular problem for a very small niche of users, but for those users it is exactly what they’ve been looking for.

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Published in: on May 2, 2015 at 7:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Philosophical Wax – Artistic Influence Comes Full-Circle

With the whole of my Saturday evening at my command I decided to delve deeper into the culture surrounding a yet-unread title on my bookshelf – The notorious Illuminatus! Trilogy.  Little did I know that the exploration would bring a number of my artistic and musical favorites full-circle in a sphere of related influence!

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Having read Malaclypse the Younger’s Principia Discordia, (a wonderful bit of counter-cultural madness), I already had a fundamental (mis)understanding of the lunacy that is Discordianism.  But in my readings, there were multiple references to its earlier incarnation – the social revolutionaries known as The Situationist International.

For those unfamiliar with the group, their philosophy is, for the most part, summarized thusly:

[Situationism] is derived primarily from anti-authoritarian Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism.  Overall, situationist theory represented an attempt to synthesize this diverse field of theoretical disciplines into a modern and comprehensive critique of mid-20th century advanced capitalism.

Essential to situationist theory was the concept of the spectacle, best-illustrated in Guy Debord’s 1967 book and found-footage film – each titled, La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle).

The Spectacle is a criticism of advanced Capitalism, where real-life experiences are replaced with the commodified consumerist culture of living through one’s possessions.  The Situationists viewed this passive consumption as damaging to the quality of human life for both individuals and society.  Instead of living vicariously through one’s purchases and property, the Situationists sought to create situations – moments of life deliberately constructed for the purpose of reawakening and pursuing authentic desires, experiencing the feeling of life and adventure, and the liberation of everyday life.

The film, The Society of the Spectacle (1973) is available in its entirety, dubbed Fr subbed Eng here:

And only a few years later, the film Network (1976) would similarly address the societal dangers of mass media.

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This philosophy was clearly an influence on the hippie art scene of the 1960 with their staging of nearly-spontaneous Happenings.  I was honored to attend the first Happening of the season in Buffalo for an impromptu performance of Terry Riley’s In C with participation from children in the audience.

Tracking the influence back even further (and then again, to the present) I learned of the French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou known as Lettrisme (Lettrism) and his concept of Hypergraphics in 1954.

Here is an Orson Welles Interview featuring Isidore Isou and Lettrist poetry – rich with Dadaist influence.

In 1958, Columbia Records issued the very first recordings of Letterist poetry – Maurice Lemaître presente le lettrisme.

This poetry adds another level of historical context to the performance I attended by composer Ethan Hayden at the University at Buffalo this past January.  While there was likely a Situationist influence on his work, “…ce dangereux supplément…” (2015) for solo voice (with optional electronics & video), Hayden’s piece is phonetically and linguistically more refined (though equally absurd!) both in its content and his delivery.  While I absolutely recognize the importance of Isidore Isou’s philosophy and his primitivist poems, Hayden has a far-greater command of language (or perhaps of nonsense?) and I look forward to his future performances.

And in 2007 to celebrate the life of Isou, The End of the Age of Divinity was published in his honor.  The book is available for free below.

http://antisystemic.org/SW/TheEndOfTheAgeOfDivinity-Enkutatach409.pdf

Once again coming full-circle to more recent artistic movements, Lettrism brought me to aforementioned Lettrist hypergraphical art, pictured below.

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While I am by no means a scholar of art history, the influence here is clear as day on the 1990s typographic art of David Carson (famed for his work in Raygun Magazine and for Nine Inch Nails) and on Karl Hyde and John Warwicker’s Tomato art collective, which created the deconstructivist typographical art for Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

The work of David Carson…

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and of Tomato…

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Art of this nature is rooted in the cut-up technique first employed by the Dadaists in the 1920 and again in the late 1950s and early 1960s by William S. Burroughs.  But it was the audio incarnation of cut-up that I first encountered in music culture, from the earliest (and quite literal) tape cut-ups of musique concrete, to the resurfacing of the method by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Eno, and others, to the explosion of sampledelica culture in 1980s and 90s hip-hop and turntablism.

And around the same time, the radical and subversive art of culture jamming was born.  The term, coined in 1984, refers to any form of guerilla communication, such as the vandalist works by The Billboard Liberation Front and the illegal-art sample-based music of Negativland.

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All of this brought me back, yet again full-circle to The KLF.  The documentary, On the Passage of a few People through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International 1956-1972 contains flashes of the phrase,

“The Time for Art is Over.”

This very notion was later reiterated by Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond of the KLF in the K Foundation’s cryptic adverts appearing in UK national newspapers in 1993.  The first ad proclaimed,

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The Situationist documentary is available on Youtube in 3 parts.

It is only now that I realize that John Higgs’ endlessly fascinating book, THE KLF: Chaos, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds directly referenced the Situationists, the Discordians, Alan Moore and “Ideaspace”, and Robert Anton Wilson – all of the key figures I am now exploring.

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Incredible discoveries are waiting to be made every day, and quiet Saturday evenings, like yesterday’s, are gleaming with potential for magic just like this. I’ve now a week ahead of me and a century of exciting new art to explore.

The Case of the Ruinous RFI

In the fall of 2013, I happened upon a set of classic Sherlock Holmes radio broadcasts in a second-hand record shop which instantly sparked a curiosity within me. I’d never previously read the novels or heard any of the radio programs, and wanted to properly initiate myself into the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Amusingly, I was also oblivious to the then-recent television dramatization starring a one, Benedict Cumberbatch. (Still entirely off my radar.)

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And so, I did what any man would do in my position – I tracked down a copy of the mammoth Annotated Sherlock Holmes single-volume first edition hardcover in its oversize slipcase. It is, perhaps, a coffee table book, in that it is nearly the size of a coffee table. The treasure of a book is fully-illustrated and complete with annotated notes and maps of the where the stories take place.

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My search continued with the acquisition of several classic radio dramas –

The Mercury Theater’s The Immortal Sherlock Holmes from September 25th, 1938

CBS Radio Mystery Theater – The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 83 CD set (1939-1947)

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and The BBC’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 79 CD set (1989-1998)

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Also, for audiobook fans, you can take your pick from either the 2001 Alec Reid Recordings’ 60 CD Edition read by John Telfer, or the more recent (and certainly more manageable) MP3 CD of the 2014 Audie Award Winning Brilliance Audio Heirloom Collection as read by Simon Vance.

Brilliance Audoibooks

While I’m a tremendous fan of old time radio and I absolutely recognize the cultural significance of Basil Rathbone’s performances as Holmes, I found the BBC radio dramas from the 80s and 90s more my style and happily forked over 4.67GB of my hard-earned private tracker ratio for all 79 discs of the series.

Much to my dismay I found that the lady or gent who so kindly ripped this massive library of CDs to share them with the world neglected to account for the subtle but stubbornly-persistent RFI interference his PC was generating which had apparently transferred onto every minute of the catalog.

I searched high and low in all corners of every tracker on the net, but to no avail. It appeared that this gentleman’s rip is the de-facto source audio for every circulating copy of the Holmes radio dramas.

EMI RFI

I even attempted to screen out the noise via Audacity. I tried noise reduction filters, limiting, leveling, and repairing the waveform. Sadly, the pulsing static persistently penetrated every part of their performance.

Over the past two years I’ve repeatedly tried to listen to and enjoy A Study in Scarlet, but could not make it through 30 minutes without closing the file in frustration. A keen ear is a curse in a circumstance like this.

Still there is a happy ending to my tale of woe – This morning I played the Scarlet episode for my girlfriend and she posed an interesting (though likely obvious) question –

“Have you tried playing any of the other of the 79 discs?”

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So… funny story… it appears that, disc 1 aside, the remaining discs are entirely RFI-free. In two years, it had never occurred to me to expand the size of my survey set.

And so concludes the Case of the Ruinous RFI. I am looking forward to spend my spring in the company of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson.

20th Century Electronic & Avant-Garde vinyl collection

Keeping the Topsters.net trend going!

Here in all its glory is my 20th Century Electronic & Avant-Garde vinyl collection (plus all my super-cheesy Moog records for good measure.)

The hand-down killer of this entire list is the 3LP set of Raymond Scott‘s Manhattan Research Inc. issued by Basta in Holland.  Click to view it big, big, BIG!

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The Innerspace Hot 100

Although the site has been up for some time, Topsters.net has seen a massive surge of activity recently, as the site’s personalized top album lists went viral across several Facebook vinyl communities this week.

I was happily swept up by the craze, and this afternoon assembled The Innerspace Hot 100!

These are the first 100 LPs I’d grab in a fire… followed by another 100 LPs… and so on.

And if you dig even half of the records on this chart… we’ll get along swimmingly.

I’ve reduced the image here for mobile compatibility, but double-tap/click the image below to view it in its full-res glory.

All of these albums are highly recommended!

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Published in: on April 22, 2015 at 8:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The New Headphone Stand Has Arrived!

Last week I started to think that I could do better than the $9 wire banana hanger I was using for my Sennheiser monitors.

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Then I had a wonderful idea.  It took about an hour of searching eBay to find one just the right size for the task, but in the end, it worked out beautifully.

Transitional classical-to-romantic elegance with a touch of bittersweet post-modern irony (given the figure I selected).  I couldn’t be happier with the result.

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Published in: on April 20, 2015 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ignore The Sunday Times – Today’s Young Artists are doing Great Things

A headline surfaced in my news feed today – an article from The Sunday Times in the UK proclaiming, “Modern pop is rubbish, says Damon.”  The Blur front man says music stars of the ‘selfie generation’ should sing about politics, not just chant platitudes.

The article addressed today’s youth culture, and pictured Taylor Swift as the spokeswoman of their generation.  But The Times and Damon have got it all wrong.

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Pop is relatively inconsequential – like the loudmouth in the room at a party carrying on to hear himself speak… no one cares and he is forgotten when the moment has passed.

I’ve spoken with a number of musicians from what the article dubs, “the selfie generation” and the term honestly doesn’t apply.  Nor does the term from a previous but similar article which called them “the Belieber generation.”  These kids don’t revere teen pop stars as anything relevant outside of the tiny bubble that is pop music.  They are interested in more socially and culturally significant concepts, like the role of technology in their lives and the globalization of culture.  Or any number of other values of relevance ranging from widely-demographic to simply personal.  Because that’s what the youth culture is – individual, creative people, not a swarm of mindless bodies jumping up and down to whoever Disney tells them to worship.

Certainly – Taylor Swift and Bieber were massively popular.  It’s an inevitability because they were designed to be popular – saccharine-sweet over-simplified melodies repeated ad nauseum, super-saturating every mass-media market  in the world.  But outside of those irritatingly-loud broadcast spheres, in the minds of growing teens forming their own values and opinions about the world around them, those media outlets matter less and less every day.  They blare on at full-volume 24/7, desperately begging consumers to buy their associated merchandise, but kids quickly grow out of that infinitesimal world and move on to something bigger and far more important in their lives.

In 100 years, music history won’t droll on about Bieber or Britney, any more than they would about  Frankie Avalon or Ricky Nelson.  Momentary teen pop sensations are irrelevant in the grand scheme.  Instead, they will teach the incredible impact of Cage and Glass the way they do today about Bach and Beethoven.  Rock’s brief but vibrant life will be summarized by Dylan and The Beatles.  Other than a handful of household names, the whole of teen pop will be forgotten, just as it is when it is recycled, again and again, every three to five years.

I have a lot more faith in “the selfie generation.”  They’re doing great things musically – you just have to listen to them.

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Highlights of John Cage and Morton Feldman – Exquisite Examples of Dynamic Range

This weekend’s research proved to be incredibly valuable, resulting in two wonderful musical discoveries.  And it began with The S.E.M. Ensemble.

From semensemble.org:

The S.E.M. Ensemble was founded in 1970 when Petr Kotik organized a group of musicians of the fellows at the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, SUNY/Buffalo. The first S.E.M. Ensemble concert was presented in Buffalo at the Domus Theater and included works by Cornelius Cardew, John Cage, Petr Kotik and Rudolf Komorous.

In 1992, the SEM chamber ensemble was expanded into The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble with a debut concert at Carnegie Hall, presenting the first complete performance of Atlas Eclipticalis by John Cage (all 86 instruments).  The concert was an internationally celebrated event, lauded by audiences and critics from across the United States, Europe and Japan.

S.E.M. Ensemble

But another property unique to this performance makes it a must-own for all lovers of exceptional music.

For the last several years, DR-loudness-war.info has been crowd-sourcing a massive database mapping the dynamic range, (that is, the range from the quietest to the loudest sounds occurring in piece of music) for over 77,000 albums.  This database was created as a reaction to the Loudness War – the trend of record labels cutting off all the “highs” and “lows” of an album so that the entire album can be as loud as possible.

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Skrillex’s “Kyoto” – This is what the loudness war looks like.

It is this very recording – the S.E.M. Ensemble’s Concert for Piano & Orchestra, which tops the chart for dynamic range. In fact, the album holds both the #1 and #2 positions among all 77,522 recordings presently cataloged – one for the original CD release and the other for the subsequent digital download.

The recording is unlike any other musical experience I’ve had with my listening equipment.  The sound stage is open and well-defined and really gives the listener the feeling of a live modern classical performance.  My setup has a very neutral or transparent delivery which is well-suited to the more “academic” recordings I enjoy such as Berlin School electronic, drone and ambient musics.  I can say with certainty that this recording is a brilliant match for my setup and makes for a thrilling experience, both for its critical acoustic properties as well as for the cerebral pleasures it arouses in the listener.

While reviewing the Dynamic Range Database’s other highest-ranked recordings, I took note of Morton Feldman’s Late Piano Works Vol.3 performed by Steffen Schleiermacher.  AllMusic contributor, Blair Sanderson called the album “sublime”, speaking of the spaciousness and quietude of Feldman’s composition and of the incredible sensitivity and control with which Schleiermacher presents the featured selections.

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Feldman’s later piano works make for excellent study music, or simply a soundtrack for an evening of quiet reflection.  The Database is certainly correct – this is a wonderfully pensive and subtle recording which is sadly (and quite literally) drowned out by more modern victims of the Loudness War.  Put this on, turn down the lights, and awaken your senses to the subtle nuances of audiophilic delight.

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