Producing the Modern.

Since the 60’s, “jazz culture” has been in constant distress attempting to come to terms with the what trends would be considered a development of the genre; especially as so many new musicians challenged widely held conventions. Not surprisingly, the same long standing point of contention has also caused a rift in the philosophy of how to properly capture, record, and produce a jazz recording. Does the belief in natural/pure performance necessarily mean that the recordist must be completely minimalist in his approach. Does the mix stage of the production loose value? The attitude of a large majority of mix engineers reflects the ideology that the ideal jazz recording is a stark and true representation of the performance so as not to get in the way or alter the intended dynamics of the group. This, of course, varies quite considerably when considering the many different styles but is a widely held stereotype none-the-less. Compared to the pillars the of modern pop recording (such as the Lord-Alge brothers, Brendan O’Brien, and Andy Wallace) the jazz recordist may seem elementary in his/her mixing approach and must instead be a master of the tracking session primarily. However, this is simply wrong. What is not understood is the necessity of interpretation. The carefully crafted and fragile performance will loose all emotional intensity when translated onto loudspeakers without the skills of the engineer. This is what makes audio engineering a true art-form; the engineer who believes that a lack of production on a jazz record is always the best way to convey the artistry of the performance is acting on a pretentious thought process. Necessity must govern the recordists art. As Wagner states, “art is born out of necessity” and the recording process is its own form of communication. If the recording truly benefits from minimal mixing then that is what is appropriate. However, in the contemporary studio environment the performance may often benefit from an extensive mix; whether this “extensive” mix is subtle or aggressive is the actual question. Sweetening and trimming may involve considerable editing and processing but is not easily heard as a defining element of the recording. On the other hand, aggressive mix moves which can be audibly identified by the average listener are often reserved for pop music. With jazz in its current state the aggressive mix and use of modern recording techniques (such as full isolation during tracking) is becoming a more necessary element in the development of jazz in popular culture. Young audiences do not crave antiquity but appreciate culture through entertainment which invokes response/reaction; and recordings are the primary form of musical dissemination. How could the whispers of the quartet be expected to move the young listener unless they are amplified to stand next to the overbearing and often laughable trends of popular music today. The fear and bitterness that emanates from many traditionalists are the weaknesses that such a powerful music must overcome. If jazz hopes to survive as an influential art form, not only must the music advance but the production as well.


Bon Voyage Voyager 1

Voyager 1

Voyager 1

In honor of NASA’s Voyager I leaving our local little region of the Milky Way, you may know it as our solar system, I thought it would be apropos to lend our Earthbound ears to the Earthly sounds chosen to be placed on the real, and actual gold record(s) (designed by astrophysicist Carl Sagan) which Voyager(s) carries with it, now into interstellar space. I vaguely remember when the Voyager crafts (there are two) were launched in 1977 – an interesting little tid bit, Voyager I was launched after Voyager II – and their primary mission was to conduct close flybys of the gas giants that lay at the outer bounds of our solar system, and both of these spacecraft provided a veritable, and venerable, wealth of information on these ginormous planets that are still full of mystery to scientists. Following the completion of the primary mission(s), it was then off to the even greater unknown – interstellar space – and then each of these spacecraft will continue to broadcast their findings back to Earth, until their plutonium fuel is finally diminished (in about 10-15 years) at which point they will simply become drifting pieces of Earthly information; thus the gold records and the recordings on them. Without further ado, here are the recordings that are on board the Voyager spacecraft, may whoever finds either, or both, come in peace.

Voyager Golden Record

Voyager Golden Record

Scenes From Earth

Greetings From Earth

Sounds of Earth

»  Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
»  Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
»  Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
»  Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
»  Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
»  Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
»  “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
»  New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
»  Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
»  Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
»  Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
»  Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
»  Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
»  “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
»  Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
»  Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
»  Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
»  Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
»  Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
»  Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
»  Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early        Music Consort of London. 1:17
»  Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
»  Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
»  China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
»  India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
»  “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
»  Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

Okay, just as I was getting ready to click the publish button I find out that NASA’s Voyager Science Team has declared that Voyager I has not yet left the solar system, but it is still the farthest man made object from Earth, and is hurdling farther away at an approximate speed of over 38,000 MPH, so it is just a matter of time and distance before it crosses wherever that arbitrary and ambiguous demarcation line between interstellar space, and our solar system.  Bon Voyage Voyager I…

Patchwerk: control a real massive modular synth from your browser

In 1973, Media Lab associate professor Joe Paradiso was an undergraduate at Tufts University. It was a time, he says, when information and parts for DIY projects were scarce, and digital synthesizer production was on the rise. But, he decided to tackle creating a modular synth. Paradiso gathered information from manufacturers’ data sheets and hobbyist magazines he found in public libraries. He taught himself basic electronics, scrounged for parts from surplus stores and spent a decade and a half building modules and hacking consumer keyboards to create the synth, which he completed in the 1980s.

That synthesizer, probably the world’s largest with more than 125 modules, is now on display in the MIT Museum.  Through the magic of the interwebs, Joe has created a system that lets you control the synth through your browser!

Patchwerk lets you control a massive analog synthesizer from your browser, and streams the results back to you and everyone connected. The interface on this site is linked to a physical synth cabinet connected to the world’s largest homemade modular synth, currently housed at the MIT Museum. Turn a knob here, and Patchwerk will turn a motorized knob on the cabinet. If someone at the Museum grabs a knob, you’ll see it turn too.

Watch Joe describe the synth:

You can try out the synth right here (just enter your name, and switch to “control”), and you can find out more about it here.

If you don’t feel like playing with it, you can hear a live 24h stream of the synth right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(3/11/2012 Update:  Unfortunately though this link no longer works)

Touch Screens with Texture

Fat FingerOkay, this post has nothing really to do with sound, but it does have everything to do with technology.  I am a notorious late adopter of new technologies, I think the biggest reason may be due to me having plenty of  the “Show Me State” of Missouri’s blood in me (I’m naturally skeptical, and notoriously cynical), and maybe a little cheap too.  Let me give you some examples of my coming late to many a technology party.  I was one of the last of my friends, and maybe even one of the last humans, to upgrade to CD’s over cassettes.  My reason?  Well, I had a pretty extensive collection of cassettes, with several band’s complete set of studio albums.  The cost and thought of replacing it all was daunting.  Then, just as I was getting my CD library filled, the whole MP3/downloadable music thing began to take off, and . . . well . . . yes, I was among the last humans to adopt that tech too.  Cellphones?  Why yes, I was the last of my friends to join the cellular age, mostly due to their basically telling me that I “needed” to get one, because they were tired of not being able to reach me when I wasn’t home.  I was one of the last people to buy a laptop (that was mostly due to me being too cheap, and poor to justify the expense).  I was also pretty darn late to the “smartphone” thing too, and if it weren’t for a package deal that was offered when I upgraded, I still wouldn’t have a tablet either.  Which brings me to today’s post.

I have a love/hate relationship with my smartphone and tablet; for many quirky personality reasons; but one definite ergonomic reason – the touchscreen.  I don’t think I am alone in my general feelings about the still, if you stop to think about it, amazing technology that is a touchscreen.  How many times have you been tapping out a text, email, or tweet, click send, and then realize the number of typos in your message, or the dreaded, and remarkably dumb, auto-correct decided to “correct” a word that suddenly makes you message nonsensical, which then makes you feel dumb and mad, so you then quickly send a correction.  If the point of these smartphones and tablets are supposed to improve our efficiency, then these touchscreens, and the not so smart auto-correct, certainly erases a lot of that efficiency.  Sure there are smartphones and tablets with actual QWERTY keypads, but they either take away the screen size, and/or add weight and increase the size altogether, all of which kind of takes away from these technological marvels.  I mean the screens on smartphones are already small enough without shrinking it more for a keyboard, and no one wants to walk around with something as heavy as a brick in their pocket or purse.  So, it looked like we were stuck with either having to wait until we evolve tiny fingers, or just live with fat fingering, and then editing, every email, text, and tweet we want to send – until now.

Tactus Technology, based in California, has created and introduced a clear, flat screen, that actual keys “grow” out of it whenever you need the key pad at CES 2013 in Las Vegas (see video below):

Tactus Technology – CES 2013 from Tactus Technology Inc. on Vimeo.

This may be a technology that I just might adopt earlier than what is usual for me.

Read and watch this video from BBC News at CES 2013 in Las Vegas for more even more information.

IBM’s Watson Goes Blue

According to the Urban Dictionary, a definition of “Blue” is:  Material, used by a stand-up comedian, that is considered crude or obscene.

Watson Goes Blue

This isn’t some sort of Isaac Aismov “Robot Dreams” story, where a robot, or any other form artificial intelligence assumes control of something that it shouldn’t, or was never intended to control. Oh, no, no, this is nothing that dire at all.  It is actually a more funny story than that.  It is the story of IBM, and its amazing quiz show winning, artificial intelligence computer, called Watson.

For those who are not familiar with who/what Watson is, he/it is the direct descendant of IBM’s chess winning super computer, “Deep Blue,” though Watson is far more advanced in that it can understand questions asked of it verbally, and then answer said questions in natural language too.  It is so good at it, that it crushed two of the most successful contestants EVER on the quiz show Jeopardy over a three day tournament.  Basically Watson is one of the closest things we have to an actual “thinking” computer.

Now for the funny part.  In an effort to enable Watson to understand more aspects of the English language, the programmers fed Watson the Urban Dictionary, in its entirety.  The reason for this is because in everyday speaking most of us mere humans will throw a little slang in our speech, and the Watson programmers wanted Watson to be able to understand all aspects of English language, and then respond as naturally as a human would.  Makes sense right?  Well, just like when a child that learns a funny/dirty slang word that a parent would object to that child using, Watson took its new found Urban Dictionary learning a little too far, and could not separate when was the appropriate time to use any and all of those slang words.  In short, Watson developed a potty mouth, even using “bullshit” in response to a question.  While a parent can use any of a number of methods to reprimand their child for using naughty words, the programmers thought washing Watson’s mouth out with soap might do more damage than good, so they did what they thought best, and simply deleted the Urban Dictionary from Watson’s memory.  Insert slang response here.


The Magnetic Motor

I should have paid more attention in my high school science classes; which is really an odd thing to say about someone who was. is, and I hope always will be curious about how “things” work.  Not just how things mechanically work, but what are the scientific principles behind why things work.  As such, when I was a kid I was absolutely fascinated with the science of “things;” yet as an adolescent I became a very lazy student, and essentially ceased trying in school – shame on me.  Well, I know I am not the only person who has ever taken an educational slumber in their teen years, and I am not the last either, but when I stumbled upon the below video about an electric car that runs on what is called a magnetic motor, and thus doesn’t need a battery, I sure do wish I could revisit the teen me and give him a kick in the pants.

Now, I want to know more about the principles of magnetism, and how those principles can be applied in energy producing applications.  Sure, as a car guy, who loves the sound emitted through the exhaust notes of powerful cars, the whine of an electric car seems anti-climatic and lame in comparison; however I am also a realist, and realize that fossil fuels are finite in their availability, and that they do emit pollutants into the atmosphere.  So, I know there will have to be a viable, efficient, and abundant alternative that takes hold at some point, and after watching the above video, as well as just doing a cursory reading up on the magnetic motor, I can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t be that viable alternative?

Sadly, the above videos don’t do a very good job of explaining exactly how either of their “miracle” engines work, let alone their viability, but you have to admit that it is intriguing, that there could be a relatively simple, inexpensive, and almost limitless source of energy already available.  Is it viable, practical, and feasible?  Well, I did essentially take my teen years off educationally, so I am no scientist, but  I’d gladly trade the sound and the fury of the internal combustion engine for the dulcet whine of electric motors, if it meant saving me a little coin along the way.  Wouldn’t you?


Robots are cool right?  I mean until they go all “Terminator” or “Matrix” on us, but that is still a ways away – I hope.  Anyway, people have been working on, and promising a robotic future for us going as far back as Leonardo Da Vinci; and the below video highlights seven current, and really kind of remarkable robots . . . Hmm, maybe the Terminator, or the Matrix isn’t as far off as I thought.

I think the coolest one was the violin playing robot.  You gotta admit that is pretty impressive engineering there.


Science Confirms – Pop Music all Sounds the Same


I have never really been a fan of Pop music.  That isn’t to say that there has never been Pop songs that I  liked. Quite the contrary, there have been several Pop songs that I have found catchy, and enjoyable; but not nearly enough for me to go running out and buy the single, or album.  Why?  Well, at the risk of sounding completely snobish here, I find a lot to be desired in the artistic merits of most, if not all, Pop music.  Again, this isn’t to say that if one were to browse through my music library that every little piece of music there are bastions of high-brow musical masters.  Trust me there are plenty of low-brow clunkers in there.  I guess the simplest way to put my views on Pop music is that I don’t really find any real or great difference between one Pop song or another.  In short, Pop songs all, basically, sound the same to me.

Is it because I am just too old now, and thus a “square,” who just doesn’t get it?  Well, while I am old enough to be the father to many a Bieber “belieber,” and the Bieb’s himself; the fact that I have never, ever, bought, or asked my parents to buy, any Pop album, cassette, CD, MP3, or any other musical format, at any stage of my life, should debunk that belief.

Am I alone in my thinking?  Probably not; and as it turns out science has now confirmed my suspicion/belief that all Pop songs not only sound the same, but they are getting louder too.

According to an article from Reuters; researchers in Spain used what is known as the Million Song Dataset, which breaks down the audio and lyrical content of songs into data that can be put through analysis, to study Pop songs from 1955 through 2010.  The results?  Well, it does appear, after countless algorithmic analysis, that Pop songs have become louder and more musically bland “… in terms of chords, melodies, and types of sounds used.”

So, there you have it.  It is now a scientific fact that Pop music does, in fact, all sound the same . . .

Click here to read more about this.

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

Sorry, there’s no sound in this post, because in space, no one can hear you scream.

About two months ago NASA announced that it is working on a faster than light, warp drive engine; which surely must have elicited a very audible sound of rejoicing from Trekkies the world over.  NASA found that the energy requirements for such an engine weren’t as implausible as imagined, thus making such an engine very plausible indeed.  As a bit of a space nut myself, I thought that was very, very cool news.

Well, now comes reports from the land down under, here their scientists have finished doing their own research on the prospects of warp drive engines, and while they don’t refute NASA’s plausibility aspect, they have discovered some dire consequences of us warping the space time continuum.  In seems that our future Starship Enterprise would bring death and destruction with it to any star system it travels; not because it would be loaded with photon torpedoes, but because of what it would be dragging behind it in its wake.

The Aussie scientists contend that as our future missions to go where no one has gone before, our intrepid starship would accumulate a large amount of space debris that would get trapped in the warp field.  This isn’t a problem until the ship slows out of warp.  All of that debris would then continue to hurtle forward and rain death and destruction upon whatever planet (and the starship too) we are going to explore.  The longer the distance, the more the debris, the more hurtling destruction.

Sorry I had to through some Star Wars in there.

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