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.

Banana Headphone Stand 12-25-11

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.

Beethoven Headphone Stand sm

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.

EG-8-Static-Image-Sound-Louder

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.

ifGOp

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.

Results of the Innerspace Labs’ Music Discovery Survey

The results are in for the Innerspace Labs Music Discovery Survey!  A huge thank-you to all who offered their input.

I created the survey out of a personal curiosity.  Sadly, I have very little contact with the general public outside of the few members of my digital publishing team at the office, and I wanted to know what impact the web has had on the ways listeners discover new sounds.

I suspected listeners utilized multiple media resources in their musical explorations and that certainly proved to be the case.  Contributors cited an average of 6.44 sources for new music data.  The majority of the music sources I offered as options for the survey were widely-used, save for rateyourmusic.com, music subreddits, Gnoosic, and Usenet groups which each accounted for fewer than 3% of users’ musical resources.  I found this particularly interesting as I visit RYM frequently as my primary ratings and review aggregator and find its information invaluable when researching artists and genres.

Survey Tablepsd

As expected, Youtube ranked as users’ most-used resource when sampling new sounds.  I was surprised, however, to find that radio, motion pictures, television, or other forms of mass media were the third-highest ranked information resource, right behind user’s own friends.  While I only see ~3 new films annually, and have no exposure to television or radio, it still appears that mass media is still a significant part of most people’s lives.

Spotify and other streaming services were the next-highest ranked source, accounting for 10% of listeners’ discoveries.  While they are not a viable source for non-commercial or analog-only recordings, they still offer an incredible convenience for quick-and-easy personalized radio stations and there is no shortage of articles proclaiming streaming the new standard for mass media.

Crate digging was another significant source, as were vinyl Facebook communities and private music forums.  I’m curious whether this is representative of the public at large or just for Innerspace readers, but it is exciting nonetheless.

I was similarly please by the results for music lit and other periodicals, which accounted for more than 5% of musical discovery.  While 5% doesn’t sound significant on the surface, bear in mind that users cited an average of 6-7 sources for new music, so I’m considering 5% a threshold for this survey.

Other sources of note are independent music blogs and local music performances, both of which were a delight to see still holding their own in the survey.  After attending the latest concert at my local university, I will certainly be visiting their music library for further research into works by their professors.

I’m also curious to see if torrenting will grow in popularity for general music research in the years ahead.  Personally, torrenting is a critical step in my music purchasing process.  I’ve yet to find a better system, whether for surveying the catalog of an artist or to compare various masters before investing my hard-earned cash.

I consider the survey a success as its certainly given me a better understanding of how users find new music.  Thanks once again to everyone who contributed!

How Innerspace Readers Discover New Music

Last Change to Add Your Voice to the Innerspace Music Discovery Survey!

A huge thank-you to all who’ve participated in The Innerspace Music Discovery Survey!  I need just a few more contributors before I begin my write-up, so if you haven’t answered the single-question survey yet – now’s the time!

It takes about 1 minute, and the results will be published in an upcoming article.  Add your vote now and tell us how YOU discover new music!

Click here to answer the single-question survey before it closes!

musicstreamingservices

Hearkening Back to 4AD

This evening I found myself feeling emotionally and intellectually nostalgic for 1984-1994 ethereal wave / jangle-pop / neo-psychedelia / slowcore / art punk music which I’d only superficially explored in my college days.

This was music I emotionally-associate with the new-found independence and freedom (before the crushing reality of student loan debt sank in.)

As I’m never one to take on a task lightly, I charged full-speed to RYM, building custom charts of heroin-inspired jangle-pop and dreamy drone music of the late eighties and early nineties.

I consider these years sacred, before the industry latched on to the budding “alternative” rock scene and everything went to hell. These are the years before grunge hit full-swing, before megastars like Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, and Gavin Rossdale were featured every three songs on every commercial radio station in the US.

The free-form college rock scene was instead dominated by unlikely and reclusive rockers like J Spaceman and Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins.

Now armed with a roster of essential recordings, I’ll begin compiling the necessary albums for what will fill many evenings with the music from artists such as:

Spacemen 3
Spiritualized
Belly
Cocteau Twins
Curve
Galaxy 500
The Jesus & Mary Chain
Lush
Medicine
My Bloody Valentine
Sisters of Mercy
Slowdive
Sparklehorse
Suicide
The Church
Throwing Muses

…and a score of other essential artists of the dreamy early-alternative and pre-grunge scene.

I also count among these artists American Analog Set for their whisper-core indie music which came after the heyday of the shoegaze genre.

Spacemen 3 so adequately summarized the entire scene – “Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To.”

spiritualized_3

The Best Concert of 2015

Tonight I was privileged enough to be in attendance at a small but incredibly exciting musical event in Buffalo, NY.

At 7pm my beloved musical cohort and I braved the maddened event parking at the local university, and worked our way past the velvet ropes and bustling crowds who apparently were awaiting a performance by The Decemberists. We continued down a nondescript narrow corridor to an intimate black box theater – the locale for the REAL excitement of the evening.

Black Box 2015 was presented by The Lejaren Hiller Computer Music Studios at The University at Buffalo. The annual multi-channel electroacoustic event was hosted by the Studio’s director, Professor Lippe. Lippe’s compositions have received numerous international prizes, and he studied under composers including Boulez, Stockhausen, and Xenakis – some of the most prominent figures of 20th century electronic sound.

Below is a brief summary of the featured works of the evening.

Lippe’s Ivocean (1978) was created using early analog synthesizers (Moog IIIP, Buchla, et al.), using these instruments to craft new timbres which still sound exciting and undated nearly 40 years after their recording.

Maggie Payne’s Crystal (1982) consists of muti-tracked shimmering tones which slowly washed over and around the theater much in the same way that light plays upon a crystalline prism.

Gayle Young’s Avalon Shorelines (2015) is a multi-channel soundscape which uses recordings of the titular waterfront toward the construction of an elaborate and multi-dimensional sonic landscape. Field recordings of crashing waves were accompanied by her performance on an Amaranth – an instrument of her invention played with two bows and reminiscent of a Japanese koto. The instrument produced a range of sounds all of which conjured images of a steel ship groaning and rollocking against the waves of an angry sea.

Brett Masteller’s electro-acoustic work, Trio of Duets was a modern drone piece built from instrumental sound samples, enveloping the theater in an impenetrable fog somewhere between high-volume broadcast static and moving through a gale in slow motion.

John Chowning’s Phoné (1981) was an exciting experience. Chowning is best-known for having discovered the FM synthesis algorithm in 1967, which allowed for the synthesis of simple but rich sounding timbres. The sounds experienced in Phoné calls to memory many of the pivotal recordings of electronic sound. There are skittering, playful melodic fragments, sudden bursts of white noise, and microtonal runs much like those employed by Stockhausen, Subotnick, Louis and Bebe Barron, Perrey & Kingsley, and Beaver & Krause during the 1960s and 70s. There is even a delightful and mischievous touch of Raymond Scott a la his adverts for the Bendix Corporation.

But the crowd-favorite of the evening was the Ethan Hayden’s “…ce dangereux supplément…” (2015), a dynamic and engaging piece for live and recorded voices. Hayden stepped up to a podium with several sheets of what appeared to be a random spilling of pronunciation symbols and odd scribblings. They were, in fact, intricate experimental notation in the classic form of musique concrete. For the next eight minutes, he stood, wearing a headset microphone, and produced a captivating performance of furious jabberwock-speech, tongue clicks, grunts and pops. Both his energy and skill were truly mesmerizing, and for nearly ten minutes he made an incredible amount of noise without once venturing near what anyone could call a coherent sound. His performance ended with thunderous applause – surely one to be remembered.

I spoke briefly with each of the performers about their work and was excited to learn that much of the professors’ sound catalogs are available to the public at the University library. I’m planning the first of many visits this summer for further research.

My readers should also take note that Hayden published a book on Sigur Rós’s ( ) for the famous +33⅓ series in August of 2014. I’ll certainly be securing a copy for my library.


Gayle Young’s Amaranth

The Illectrik Hoax – Waking up from a Lifelong Retromusical Hibernation

I’m feeling incredibly inspired.  It’d been a week of stagnation; I’d looked at my record collection and had said to myself, “wow… I’ve successfully built an autobiographical library of the greatest examples of each niche genre I love – downtempo electronic, avant-garde jazz, the Berlin School… and many others.  But NOW what do I do?

With the purchase of Underworld’s 20th anniversary deluxe edition of their masterwork, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, I’d come full circle to the album which first-inspired my life-long musical journey.  But something was missing.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman 20th Anniversary Edition

The 20th Anniversary Box Set of Dubnobasswithmyheadman

The majority of my knowledge of electronic music focuses on early revolutionaries of the genre – the tinkerers and innovators of monstrous noise machines.  I’ve archived classic milestones from the grating clamor of Luigi Russolo to the soothing sounds of 20th century ambient music, concluding with Basinski’s soundtrack to 9/11.

But I’d really lost touch with modern music, instead obsessing over the rich and vibrant sounds of 1969-1973.  Thankfully, a siren sound lured me to the official website of DJ Food in the last few weeks, and, on a whim, I compiled an archive of his 35 Solid Steel Radio shows, and with the entire weekend ahead of me pledged to dedicate some serious listening time to these programs.

Solid Steel Radio

These would be the first “modern” recordings I’d heard since the dream pop halcyon revival of the late 90s and first years of the new millennium.  And with the opening minutes of the very first set, my ears piqued and I was swept away.

His “A Weird World Reader” mix is described as a trip through the recent EP ‘One Man’s Weird Is Another Man’s World’ featuring tracks, samples and influences that make it what it is.  The first track is a 17 minute tour de force collaboration with The Amorphous Androgynous – a track called, “The Illectrik Hoax.”  10 minutes passed in a single breath and as the track concluded and I returned to the physical world, I leapt from my listening chair.  Locating my girlfriend and fellow music junkie, I fit my studio monitors firmly upon her ears and cued the track up a second time.  Her eyes closed and her head began to groove with the rhythm.  I paused the track asking what she thought, but her only response was a whine of discontent translating to, “play more!”

A Weird World Reader

The wonderfully weird “Weird World Reader”

Minutes later I had the full album playing in my studio and was absolutely enamored by the mysterious, sci-fi soundscapes of the record.  Best-absorbed in its entirety from start to finish – this is a concept record of infectious rhythms and strange sounds which successfully transport the listener to the “Weird World” Food alluded to in the Reader mix.  Long before the end of the album, I’d searched Discogs.com for a copy and phoned my local shop to order one for my library.

The Search Engine is a 4LP set of 45RPM discs housed in a magnificent quad-gatefold sleeve.  True to DJ Food’s usual form, it features eye-popping artwork that is best-viewed in its proper 12″ format.

Search Engine 1

Search Engine 2

Search Engine 3

Search Engine 4

Search Engine 5

Discogs classifies the record as “Abstract, Breakbeat, Broken Beat, Downtempo, Experimental, Hip Hop, Leftfield music.” – effectively a mishmash of all my very favorite words.  Thank you, DJ Food for breaking me of my pretentious retomusical fanaticism, and for initiating me into the music of the now.

UPDATE: New findings reveal that the 17-minute mix is exclusive to the 2012 Record Store Day smokey psychedelic vinyl edition, limited to 1500 copies worldwide.  I’ve just tracked down a sealed copy and it’s on its way to me now.

Here’s the complete track – “The Illectrik Hoax (A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Mix by the Amorphous Androgynous.)”

RSD Edition AA Single

Highlighting a Classic but Effective Discovery Tool

I’m a tremendous fan of music recommendation systems, and love to put them to the test.

Pandora’s song-characteristic matching system is intriguing, but I wanted to highlight one of the first examples of a music recommendation engine that I can recall. Marek Gibney’s Music-Map was the earliest incarnation of his Gnod (Global Network of Discovery) engine. Enter an artist and it will visually cluster related artists in an animated plain-text cloud.

Music Map

Give it a try!

Gnod.com went on to expand and now includes recommendation systems for art, film, and literature, but where it really shines is its fantastic visual product mapping system for users shopping for smartphones, tablets, and other devices.

Tablet Chart

I’ll be giving the literature engine a try this evening for classic dystopian fiction and for music non-fiction.

While I usually swear by rating aggregation systems like metacritic and rateyourmusic, Marek’s project has a simple yet effective interface and the interactive cell phone and hard drive maps are impressively useful.

Have at it!

Published in: on March 26, 2015 at 9:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Shortest and Easiest Music Survey Ever… for SCIENCE!

I’m putting together a piece on music and technology where I’ll discuss the various ways listeners discover new music.  To help gather info, I’ve put together a fun and easy one-question survey asking How Do You Discover New Tunes?

Slide the sliders for each of the methods you use for a total of 100% of your musical discoveries.  Give it a try and please – share it on your social media networks – the more users that take the poll, the better the quality of the info I’ll compile!

Take The Innerspace Music Discovery Survey!

Published in: on March 22, 2015 at 3:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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