My sunburn itches. But I’ll get it together soon, I promise. In the meantime, permit me to tread water by reminding you that I can be stalked on Twitter and Facebook. And for those who insist on getting their RSS on, I encourage you to go RSS yourself.
“Why don’t you guys just listen to the music?”
This is the first DSD shootout I’ve seen chronicled online, with units ranging from $850 to $13,000.
As I gear up for my first real vacation in longer than I’d care (or are barely able) to remember, posts are going to slow down for a bit.
Here’s some recent links of interest:
This repost in Analog Planet looked like it could’ve been written yesterday– until I got to the part about buying LPs at Tower Records.
A site devoted to the late artist (and Brian Eno collaborator) Peter Schmidt.
“Nick Drake’s Mom Recorded An Album Back in the ’50s, And Here It Is”
Joe Boyd is putting together a tribute to Nick Drake. The version of “Which Will” by Vashti Bunyan is guaranteed to be worth the price of admission.
I’m gonna start this with some blustery, self-involved credentials. Okay? Good. I’ve been buying, downloading and playing high-resolution digital music files since about 2009, when I bought a PS Audio PerfectWave DAC. Earlier this year I decided there was no turning back, and began ripping LPs to 24/96 via “needle drops” on an old M-Audio Firewire 410. I hardly ever listen to MP3s or AACs at home, and have taken to listening to 24/96 FLACs on my iPad via FLAC Player while on BART. I barely play CDs anymore, either – it’s pretty much all high-resolution digital or vinyl.
Yet, somehow, I’m always wanting more. It’s a kind of sickness. I doubt DSD is the cure, but it might be a quick fix – “fix” as in a short-term solution to addiction.
The advent of the DSD format is becoming 2013’s big digital music development. Neil Young’s Pono might be fighting for attention as well (who knows, Pono might be DSD?), and I’m willing to split my allegiances, depending on how (and when) the latter is implemented. Other than a glimpse of the Pono hardware unit on David Letterman, and some repeated, rambling references in Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace autobio, though, Pono might just as well be considered vaporware at this point.
So let’s talk DSD.
I haven’t heard it. Nearly everyone who has, though, and has written about it, has raved about the quality. One of my favorite local hi-fi stores, Music Lovers, hosted an extensive demo of the format this past weekend. I spend so much time commuting to San Francisco during the week that it’s hard to get me across the Bay during the weekends, so I decided against attending. Now I’m kind of regretting it.
At the Music Lovers event the hardware and associated system were crazy expensive, of course, and the listeners (I assume) about as discriminating and high-falutin’ as they come in audiophile circles. The folks running the demos at stores and hardware conventions seem to have all sorts of mysterious, high-level access to native DSD files sourced from original masters. How? Dunno, but the consensus seems to be that this is the format that stereo snobs have been waiting for.
There aren’t many sensibly-priced DACs that can process DSD at this point. And there’s not a whole lot of music available on the format. Ripping to DSD isn’t anywhere near as easy as just converting a CD to FLAC or AIF or WAV, either.
But, given the increasing choices in hardware and music, as well as some improved marketing muscle, will DSD finally pry iPhone/iPod users from their MP3s and crappy earbuds? Not anytime soon. But DSD could very well give jaded sound-quality buffs and audiophilia nervosa cases– finally– a good reason to buy all their favorite music over again.
Kevin Ayers 1944-2013
Kevin Ayers passed away in his sleep on February 18th. He was 68 years old.
MOJO has posted a sincerely touching and thoughtful remembrance.
My closest encounter with Kevin was in 1993 at a solo acoustic show at the much-missed Club Komotion in San Francisco. There was a seemingly bottomless glass of (I think) sherry on the stool next to him, and as night progressed he became quite…relaxed. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to forgive him when he forgot the words to “Lady Rachel”.
The mood in the room– essentially a long, narrow, dusty, warehouse-storefront rehearsal space/studio with tattered couches and 2×4-and-plywood risers– was happy. You got the sense the audience knew this wasn’t the sort of thing that would happen again (or be forgotten!), and everyone appreciated that.
Keith Kenniff “Branches” LP (Village Green, UK)
This 2011 release was just issued on LP for the first time. It appeared in my mailbox today.
It was a good day.
Keith Kenniff has put his name to a lot of enjoyable music…three of my favorite releases over the past few years, actually: Helios Ayres and Unleft, and The Last Survivor score, among others.
Branches doesn’t disappoint – it exemplifies many of the pleasing elements I’ve come to expect from him.
Keith bases many of his compositions around what sounds like music-box-inspired sequences, yet the oft-electronic spines of the songs never come across as mechanized. There’s a hazy yet crystalline gauze overlaying the melodies that invokes something intangibly, achingly sweet. Kenniff has a singular talent for making electronic rhythms positively organic, and his command of computer-generated textures is inspiringly human.
His more classically-based compositions sometimes have a pianistic Glassworks vibe to them, albeit with more of a cinematic scope. Sometimes these remind me of a humbler take on the quieter pieces on Henry Skoff-Torgue’s Le Prince Apatride album, or the combination of whimsy and thoughtfullness distinguished by Roedelius’ Jardin Au Fou. (And yes, Max Richter comes to mind, but one of my resolutions this year was to stop comparing everything I like that doesn’t have drums or guitar to Max Richter. Maybe I should just put him in the journospeak hall of fame, or something).
Kenniff makes much of his music available via CD-resolution FLAC on his Unseen Music site. Used vinyl copies of his catalog can go for exceedingly high prices on Discogs; CDs seem to fetch slightly more sensible amounts. He scores spots for Facebook, Apple and Google, among others. One gets the feeling this pays the bills.
The gentle and unassuming nature of Keith Kenniff’s music is appealing beyond words. This is someone whose story (and work) seems publicist-ready, yet the music benefits from an appropriately low-key approach. Unseen Music, indeed.
Somehow, overall, it just seems right.
Buy Keith Kenniff titles via Forced Exposure
2012 re-revisited: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Last weekend Headphone Commute posted a thoughtful reminder about how wonderful Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Copenhagen Dreams is: melancholy, neo-classical film music at its finest. Like some of Keith Kenniff’s work– The Last Survivor comes to mind– Copenhagen possesses a touch of Satie and breaths of Roedelius and Richter. Lovely.
Mu-ziq “Somerset Avenue Tracks (1992 – 1995)” 2xLP
[updated 2/18/13 12:13PT – my post above makes this title appear to be a Boomkat exclusive; it’s not. It can be ordered directly from the Planet Mu label]
That’s so 2012
Since self-importance is timeless, and I’m really trying to move on, honest: here’s some of what I liked best about last year.
Deepchord Presents Echospace – Silent World soundtrack 3xLP (Echospace)
Field Music – Plumb LP (Memphis Industries)
Nils Frahm – Wintermusik LP (Erased Tapes) (reissue)
Alexander Turnquist – Like Sunburned Snowflakes 12″ (VHF)
Burnt Friedman – Zokuhen LP (Nonplace)
Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm – Stare 10″ (Erased Tapes)
Daniel Bjarnason and Ben Frost – Solaris soundtrack LP (Bedroom Community)
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works II 3xLP (1972) (reissue)
Helios – Moiety FLAC (Unseen)
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Copenhagen Dreams soundtrack LP (NTOV)
An Introduction – Interests, Conflicts, and Conflicts of Interest
Welcome, and thanks for visiting.
On the occasion of my first post here, I’d like to get a bit heavy, if I may.
A significant portion of life involves conflict, minor and otherwise– without it we’d be boring, blissed-out protoplasm. How people handle such conflict often determines their quality of life; those who respond to conflict with grace and graciousness seem to have the inside track. Part of the key to happiness (or, at least, contentment) might be figuring out how those people do it.
Why the philosophizing? Bear with me. For a brief time in 2011 I had a radio show called, somewhat portentously (and, possibly, pretentiously), “Grace and Conflict.”
Evidently I think about this stuff a lot.
Internal conflict can certainly be a great motivator where creativity and art are concerned, sure. Brian Eno once opined that culture is “everything we don’t have to do.” I like that. Conflict’s unavoidable, but culture is an optional diversion– one which often springs from conflict.
Folks’ interests don’t necessarily define them, but they’re a big part of what make us human– by drawing a distinction between the definitions of “survival” and “living.”
There are conflicts.
And there are interests.
Sometimes the two blur. When that happens, all you can do is hang a lantern on it (or, when in Hollywood, or in media mergers, it’s called SYNERGY).
Enough introductory navelgazing. For my first post I’d like to mention two releases I like very much– one quite recent, and one from 2010:
Melissa Phillips Fits & Starts
This late-2012 release from Pt. Richmond, California resident Melissa is a true diamond in the rough Bay-area music scene. No overdubs, no Auto-Tune, recorded live-in-the-studio by Melissa’s sweetheart (and guitarist) James DePrato, Fits & Starts is the EP you need to hear in 2013. Call it folk-rock, call it Americana, call it what you will– this is acoustic-based singer-songwriter material that blows right past trends and fashions and is gonna be around for a long, long time.
Fits & Starts is distinguished by many fine elements, but the first things I hear are Melissa’s clear soprano voice and super strong songs (“On the Verge” and “Your Heavy Heart” are my personal faves). Anyone who seeks sincere, thoughtful, emotive songwriting, effectively natural production and heartfelt, talented playing is going to find Fits & Starts’ six songs hard to put down. It was written to be performed live and Melissa makes the songs live and breathe onstage, too.
Full disclosure: Melissa is a good friend of my girlfriend and myself. Speaking of the former:
Kate Burkart Faith To Fall
My sweetheart Kate spent a good portion of 2008 through 2010 working on writing and recording Faith To Fall’s all-original songs. The album was released digitally and on CD in May, 2010.
Kate’s producer, Jerry Becker (Train co-writer/guitarist) half-kiddingly called Faith To Fall “soft rock,” during the tracking sessions, but that doesn’t do it justice. Kate loves Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Lisa Germano and Emmylou Harris and, while those influences might be discernible, the album is Kate’s own. My favorite songs are “Shades of Gray,” “Witness”, “The High Road” and the title track.
Many of the songs detail the breakup of Kate’s previous band, but the dramatic tableau is more Shoot Out The Lights than Rumors, if you know what I’m saying. There’s a directness in Kate’s lyrical approach and a focused momentum to the pacing and arrangements that’s irresistible. It’s obvious from Kate’s writing and singing that she’s lived these songs. If you’re into a bittersweet, sincerely singer-songwriterly take on Americana and folk-rock, tinged with country melancholia, you’re going to love Faith To Fall.
There’s also a commercially unavailable instrumental CD version of the album (created for synchronization possibilities) and 24/96 pre-mastered digital files of the original vocal recording. If you’re interested in hearing these, email me.
Kate’s beginning work on a new EP with producer James DePrato; watch this space for developments.
Kate’s Reverb Nation page (coming soon)
Both Kate’s and Melissa’s CDs are also available on Amazon (if you insist).