Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Digital only release only?

This interesting note I found on the Digital Music Web Log. It seems RadioHead is contemplating "Digital Only " releases. From what I gather hat means no packaging, cover art, liner notes at all.

This is the kind of music business B.S. that drives me nearly over the edge into insanity. Cover art has been a mainstay of the industry for years. For bands, it means visibility and recognition. I have had, in the past, been asked for advice by new recording artists about what they can do to pare down the budget. On idea (and a bad one) is to have very generic cover art. But, as I pointed out to them, it makes you invisible in a world filled with visual images.

Wht's this nonesense about "working best when we are not bothered by making mistakes"? What kind of B.S. is that? I understand that sometimes taking the pressure off an artist can produce some better results, but there are already many studio tricks for doing that.

One of the real problems with the music industry is its percieved glamour and unfortunately some artists actually buy into the "glamour". There isn't any glamour in the music business, It is hard work, it is showing up for studio sessions and reherrsals on time. It is being organized enough that expensive studiio time and professional time are not wasted beause of lateness of becuase someone forgot to arnage or do something.

Fans can be an unforgiving lot. I expect the artists I support to maintain a certain standard of performance. When they don't, I no longer support them and am quite vocal about it. With a so called strategy like Radiohead is implimenting you won't have fans for very much longer. Don't insult us.

Now where did this misguided idea come from. Well a little bit of sluething finds this at Digital Music News. The New York Philharmonic has already begun a series of "digital only" releases on iTunes.

The New York Philharmonic has announced with Deutsche Grammophon the release of upcoming performances of Mozart Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 as file download only from iTunes. (isn't it interesting to hear how it sounds with all the marketing garbage removed. You get a file only! an aac file. That's "lossy" compression!). This does nothing for the reputation of the orchestra as a recording orchestra but lots for Deutsche Grammophon's bottom line. No packaging! Between $8 and $10. By my calculations that is what a CD should go for.

The reason U.S. Orchestras do not record as much as they did in the past is the rising cost of musicians fees. Bluntly, the American Federation of Musicians has priced itself out of the recording market. Major recording labels like London, Philips and EMI have looked elsewhere to find orchestra's which the could afford. Understand, symphony muscians these days are not underpaid! Just U.S. Orchestra's contracts are undercut my European orchestras. So, to gain the market back they think they can provide the customer with less for same money. I doubt it.

I haven't said this here yet, but I will now. I will *not* purchase musci online in a lossy file format! If I were to purchase music online it would have to be at minimum CD-Audio quality or better in a format which I could immediately burn to premanent media.

Any classical music lover will tell you that the packaging is a much needed source of information about the music and the artist who plays the music. As you can see by the name of my blog, I have learned a great deal from what this band wishes to do away with. Good idea? Nonesense, its an excuse not to provide a basic resource to your fans and those who do not know your music.

What's with the double talk? Say what you mean!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Music Industry Facts FUD and Fiction

Over the next while I will be going systematically through what we call the "Music business" and decoding all the fictions, falsehoods and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) used in the industry to confuse and burr the lines where ever convenient. This is an easy project to start but a daunting one to complete because this has happened at almost every level. Nowhere is this absent.

Don't anyone think I do not love the music business, I have been a hi fidelity efficianado since I was a teenager. That teenager would rather have a high end audio system than a hot car hands down! These days I'm still as enthusiasic about good sound and great music, just a little more savvy and warry of things I read (especialy press reports).

If you've been reading my blog you will have seen "I'm confused: What exactly do you mean by label?" and "Perfect Digital Copies".

he Hijacking of Audio standard definitions

Who defines the standards you use on the Internet. Usualy sound quaility is divided like this with CD-Audio at the top as the higheset, then FM-Stero, then AM Radio, then acceptable for the human voice ie. Telephone.

Which of these is not like the other? Only one stands out as singularly different than the others. CD-Audio. CD-Audio is the only digital-only standard. All the other standards were set by the limits of the technology. CD-Audio was set by a group of hardware and media.

44.1 hz was sampling rate for CD-Audio, and that decided its frequency response limits. Digital Video had a 48 hz sampling rate and already incompatibilities are built into the new system. For what ever reasons, an arbitrary standard was set for home digital audio. The reasons for this are interesting but a subject for a later article. I won't go into them now.

What was significantly different about CD-Audio was its drastically improved dynamic range. The industry lost no time in advertising this along with its "totally silent background". Formerly, one of the biggest problems in recording was the background hiss introduced by metal oxide tapes. However, by the early 70's Dolby Labs had introduced a system of noise reduction which for all intents and purposes reduced tape hiss in professional studios to inaudible. Recordings were already silent. Good advertising ploy, but it was based on a failicy.

The indestructible CD. Vinyl recordings were delicate things, subject to wear with continued use, damage from dust, damage from scratches. As well the dynamic range of vinyl recordings was limited by the medium itself, but it was the fragility of vinyl and its suseptability to changes in the production quality of the vinyl itself which proved its downfall and the reason for which CD sales took off like a rocket in North America.

ust remember when you listen to your next CD, that an analogue master tape of the same recording session has more data and more information and more frequency response than a digital master made at the same session. You might also think about how it was possible to get you to accept the comparrison between two incompatible technologies without questioning it. Slight of hand, a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat -- it is the same thing. I'm not suggesting a conspiricy, just a convenient arrangements of the facts, an over simplification which has servered a very useful purpose -- the lowering of expectations on the part of the public.

By the way, I have lost my "fear of analogue" and am enjoying those recording just as much as my "pure digital" ones.

For more Music Industry double speak and gobledy-gook please read "The Music Industry vs. the People".

Cheers, and go to you loca CD retailer and browse the shelves, see what you find that you didn't know existed! Part of the fun is the hunt for what you've alwyas been looking for!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Perfect Digital Copies?

It is not the first time I have commented on this case because of the glaring technical falsehoods perpetrated by the RIAA, things that they proclaim as fact which can be shown not to be so. This is yet another one. In their affidavit "Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law In Opposition to Motion" they write about "perfect digital copies". I submit that the files in question in this case are not as they state. They may be digital, but they are not perfect copies by any means. They believe their own FUD.

One thing that has puzzled me through all the mess with the RIAA lawsuits is the claim that P2P networks are distributing "perfect digital copies" of copyright works. While I know that such copies are possible using imaging methods like Toast or EZ-CD Creator are possible, most of what the RIAA is claiming to be these perfect copies are really tracks which have been ripped or converted to MP3 file format.

One of the great advances in computer technology has been the ability to make large things smaller. Indeed, it was a necessity in order to make the transfer of data even possible. It is not much problem to send text over the internet or any computer network because the amounts of data is in the 100 or thousands, but not the 10 thousand or million, billion or trillion which files for multimedia would consume.

How do you compress something? First, remove all extra empty space you can, then throw away any data that is not needed. So far we have our data completely intact. This is good for text but we haven't even started on binary type files.

Next is to find a way to remove duplicated data, so instead of printing the letter R one hundred times you might say that R occurs 150 times then provide a map of where those spots are. Its more efficient than you think and the more R's there are the more efficient it gets.

It turns out that the last step is the hardest to accomplish. Data needs to be reconstructed exactly, not approximately. The most popular forms of compression used today do not use this method. The saving in space simply is not enough.

We are stuck with the last method, throwing some data away in hopes that it will not be missed or that it can be reconstructed by "guess" work. There are some great alogrithms out there, but they still throw away data and it sounds like it!

So, in compressing binary files, lossy compression became the norm. You no longer had a perfect copy, you had something that was nearly like the original. Most image file formats are lossilly compressed and that was the way it was with MP3 files. When the MPEG 1 Multimedia formats were being defined, layer three was the audio layer hence the term MP3.

There is no way in which one can reasonably consider an MP3 file a "perfect" copy of a track from a CD. This is Home Computer and Music industry FUD which has duped consumers into believing, for instance, that black is white. It plainly is not. How long has it been since you listened to some real music played live? What you hear with your own ears live is the only bench mark for comparrison, not what some advertising agency, music industry guru or home computer salse campaign tells you.

Read Introduction to audio measurements and terms and hear what a real audio engineer has to say about this. I will agree with Christopher Scott whole heartedly when he says
"In the author's opinion, one cannot speak of high-fidelity when including lossy compression."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Schubert's Last Piano Sonata; Sviatoslav Richter's Unique View

There are some pieces of music which I seem never to be finished with. The Schubert Sonata in B flat Deutsche 960 is one of them. I happened upon one of my many recordings of this work last week sometime and it set off a round of who plays what which way.

It is Sviatoslav Richter's playing in this case stands out. He may be the greatest Schubert interperter of all time. That isn't to say that others do not play the work well, its just that Richter has some sort of affinity for this composer which illudes most others.

This particular recording, on the French Le Chant du Monde label catalogue number PR 254 032, dates from September 24, 1974 in front of a live audience as was Richter's custom. He preferred recording live rather than in the colder studio atmosphere. But there is nothing to distinguish this from the best studio recording save a cough or two from the audience, and those just between movements. Obviously the audience knew how special this performance was. Richter's tempo in the first movement can only be described as glacial. Digging through all of the half dozen or so recordings of this work I have non play it this slow nor dare take the frist movement repeat. Richter does both and the audience responds with rapt silent attention.

Schubert stands apart as a symphonist and writer of extended insturmental works in that his writing first and foremost comes from melody and depends on it for to agreater extent than other composers, for its extended development of musical ideas.

His more than 650 lieder or songs written his short 30 some years are quite remarkable for their melodic inventiveness and in the way they treat the singer's and accompanist's relationship to the words.

Schubert extened this approach even to his longer insturmental works. For example, Beethoven's developmental structures are frequently rhythmic and motivic (eg. the first notes of the 5th Symphony spell the entirety of the symphony. He uses almost no other material.) Schubert, on the other hand spins out his melody and in just a subtle turn of a single phrase or harmony can lead his listener of player on the excursion down another path in the road each time it re-occurs.

Schubert uses his rhythmic accompniment to propell the movement along and turn up the emotional temperature. Notice the first time you hear the first theme, the accompniment is two notes to each one of melody roughly, the second time there are three, and the thrid time in its grandest statement four notes to each one of melody. So the listener has the sense of increasing tempo where there is none.

This is one of the trickiest things the performer has to contend with. The impulse to increase tempo is nearly irresistable. Indeed, many a student has struggled to keep theis movement in a stable tempo. Richter, of course, suceedes admirably and thus revealing the tension built into the structure of this movement.

Schuberts' use of melodic development necesssarilly makes for a longer work. One might think too long. However, in the hands of a master craftsman and musician like Richter nothing seems to long.

The first movenent of the B flat Sonata are a case in point. Where Beethoven took a few bars at most to make a beginning statement, Schubert takes 18 bars to begin, then takes a breath and continues his first statement. So Schubert the song-smithe, is still so, even in a purely instrumental form. Four pages of typset score pass before just the exposition of the sonata is finished. Then the question of the first movement repeats hits the peroformer squarely. To follow the repeat or not? This is a long movement to begin with, adding the repeat of what is essentially the first half of the movment even more daunting.

Many perfomers today choose not to follow the repeat. However, this, I think, changes the whole architecture of the movement and the ones following.

By architecture I mean the classic A | B form of the baroque dances as seen in the suites of Bach, in which each dance moved from a tonal centre on the Tonic to end in the Dominant key. The in the B sectiion, the tonal movement was from Dominant back to Tonic. Two equal parts balancing each other organicly the way a leaf is when you fold it and find the one half approxamately mirrors the other. As well, each section was marked with repeats giving the performer the option of repeaing a section with some personal performance differences.

As long as the first movement repeat is honoured in the Schubert Sonata, architecture remains intact. A bar count reveals that what ended up in the 19th Century Sonata (in the theory text books at least) as the exposition, is almost exactly half as long as the resst of the first movement. So taking the repeat makes the movent a balanced whole. Without the repeat, the movement is over 300 bars long and with it almost 500.

Richter takes this repeat. It makes this movement alone as long as the rest of the Sonata movements put together. Richter does not disspoint in the second half of the movement and the listener is completely convinced.

The remarkable thing about Richter's playing is that he is able to sustain the slow tempo and keep the listener engaged in the world he and Schubert create together.

I don't have anohter recording where the first movement repeat is honoured. Only Richter is brave enough to risk it. He does this in live recordings no less. No second chances, no retakes. Possibly even more remarkable is the hushed silence from the Prague audience that night.

This is, perhaps, the last work for solo piano Schubert wrote. Written mere weeks before his death. Within the space of about a month Schubert penned his last three great Sonatas. This was the last and perhaps it is his impending death which result in the storm clouds that seem to alway loom in the distance in this work and may explain the brooding nature of the following one.

After the first movement, which is somewhat disturbing at times with the low ominous rumble of the left hand trills at he end of the first subject, and the dramatic 1st ending Schubert supplied for the repeat (Richter manages to make this bars fit in without sounding as if it were just tacked on at the last moment), The second movement begins on an even more troubling accompnying note.

In Schubert's Lieder, the accompnyment frequently supplies part of the scene in which the singer finds himself. For Instance Die Forrelle (The Trout) one hears the singer (a fisherman) talking about the trout in the stream as he prepares his hook and in the piano accompnyment the pianist supplies the babbling brook at in each bar, a leap out of the water by the doomed trout.

In the second movement, the melody is a solemn song, with the accompnyment limping along behind the melody with its octave leaps beginning on the pickup to the beat. Such a sparse accompnyment is troubling to say the least and it foreshadows a movement from Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. The most disturbing scene in the whole suite,
Le Gibet, a corpse hangs from a gallows sillouhetted by a blood red setting sun. Certainlly if it was impossible for Schubert to foresee this, we in this milenium, with hindsight, cannot escape it. Schubert himslef was only weeks from death himself when he wrote these notes.

After such a bleak, but beautiful, slow movement a cheerful scherzo is a welcome releif. Richter's fleet fingers make easy work of it. But even here shadows appear. The trio section of the scherzo is a syncopated minor key look into a slightly grotesque world, howeer breif.

(You can find all Gaspard de la Nuit in a translation by Michael Benedict by clicking on the link.)

The last movement begins with one of those most puzzling of dynamic markings composers use in their scorees. The first notes, octaces in both hands marked Forté the Piano. (ƒp). What did Schubert mean by this? Some believe that it was a natural sound produced by the pianos of Schubert's day where a note struck and held would naturally have the sound of forté then piano immediatlely after. But how does one replicate this on a modern instrument? Or, did Schubert want something more elaborite, where the pianist strikes the octave and releases it only half way so the hammer hits the string again but at only half velocity because only half the action was able to reset before the key was struck again?

Since we no longer use the kind of instruments which Schubert used and our modern concert grand pianos are substantially different instruments, what is the correct way to deal with this? We will probably never know. And in the long run, its affect on a perfomance is minimal as long as the performace is otherwise up to par. It's an interesting academic puzzle but not one by which a perfomance lives or dies.

One might easily pass this recording by in the music shop, so dull and utterly uninteresing is the cover. Don't hesitate! Buy it and where ever you happen to live, remember to support and shop at your local Classical Music Retailer!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

If Online Sales Aren't good, obviously its because of Piracy ... NOT

I was alerted to this article which appeared in the Vancouver Sun recently, at Canada.com by reading Michael Geist's most excelent Blog. This Blog stands with Pamela Jones Groklaw as probably the best Blogs in the blogosphere.

Aparently Canadians are not buying enough music online, therefore we must be stealling it! or so says Graham Henderson of the Canadian Recording Industry Assosciation.

So Canadians, per capita are not paying for music from online retailers. So Says the Canadian Recording Industry Association. I have no doubt that this is true, but I disagree with Grahamm Henderson's interpertaion of these figures. I'd say that Canadians are showing considerable savvy by *NOT* buying music online. The MP3 format by its own definition (the formal MPEG 1 Sound layer MP3) is a lossy form of compression which cannot deliver even the sound quality of an ordinary CD.

Statistics are interesting things. Basically you cannot argue with a statistic. It is what is. What you can comment and even disagree with is;

  1. The Method of data collection
  2. The wording of the questions (open ended questions are bad survey questions, so are ambiguous one.)
  3. Interperttion of what the numbers you have acquired mean.

In this case, what is in doubt is the Canadian Music Industry's interpertaion of the data. The argument is this: Canadians are purchasing less music from online downloading stores than their american and european counterparts. Therefor they must be stealing it by illegal means.

Of course when I lay it out in that wat, without a fancy press report, you can immediately see the flaw in logic. You have no way of knowing what those consumers did with their money instead of spending it on downloadable music.

I didn't pay for mp3 files and never will for one reason; its substandard merchandise. I choose to believe that my fellow Canadians have also seem mp3 for what it is, a format sadly lacking in quality and the terms and conditions of sale of unacceptable.

This if Music Industry FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.) There is no one in the high tech industry who can touch the music buseinss in spewing FUD. They have been doing it for longer than the high tech industry has existed.

In reality Mr. Henderson has no idea, nor has he proof that instead of buying music they are stealing it. How dare he assume that! How dare he tell us what to do with our money. He talks like the industry is entitled to be profitable.

Piracy has been the excuse the Music Industry has fallen back on everytime there is a slump in sales. The truth is that slumps in sales are more likely to be the result of poor leadership, and lack of quality product the customers want to buy. It is no good simply throwing releases onto the market. The music buying public is crafyt that way, they refuse to purchase what they donn't like. Mr. Henderson would be well advise to look in his own backyard and figure out why his customers have deserted him.

In Canada, my guess is that it is lack of variety. You cannot expect Canadian comsumers sit next door to the one of the biggest markets int eh world, see the variety and not want the same for themselves. I would guess that those who wish to purchase music online have done so, and just may have done it through non-Canadian sources. I remember when I wouldn't buy an Angel recording, I imported a copy from the U.K. The reason, crappy quailyt vinyl.

I have news for the Industry. No industry has a right to a particular market nor do they have the right to tell consumers what they want. Profit is the result of selling goods to people who want them. There is no right to be profitable. They must compete in the world as they find it. We should not, and must not create a market especially so that the dinosaurs can surivive. Mr. Henderson, your business model has been judged and found wanting. Nothing can change that!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The RIAA Throws In The Towel: A Chink In The Armour?

Chink in the armour indeed! But is this only wishful thinking? its possible, however, I hope for the best.

For a long time I have known that there is an underlying problem in the upper echalons of the businesss world. It is that they are completely disconnected with the advances in technology. They are not technophobes by any means. Their power and positions have enabled them to simply bypass it. They have "left the details" to others for so long they no longer know what "the details"are.

Steve Jobs (read the interview in Rolling Stone)had to explain this in detail to them, to get them to understand that the word "burn" in conjunction wiht making a CD meant to write data to the blank media and not to steal or hurt someone else. The lack of basic technical understanding on the part of someone they call a Vice President was truly alarming. He knew less than a highschool computer technologies student would be expected to know. I would have recomended a basic computer literacy program for hiim.

Since before the dawm of the age of Personal Computing this has been evident. If they have any expertise at all it may be in accounting or legal issues. If the other cases are based on this kind of flimsy evidence this whole case could come tumbing down under them. It is a house of cards.

The reason they cling to their outmoded business model is that they cannot see that it is dead and gone. The keep on showing a basic lack of understanding of their own product. The value of what they do isn't in the so called Intelecual Property at all. It is in their packaging for it. People buy music on CD because it is convenient. It is packaged attractively and in the case of classical music and jazz, the packaging includes interesting details on the music, the musicians, the recording methods etc. This fact has escaped them.

The reason that print publishing can still publish public domain works like those of Bach and Beethoven certaily isn't in the Intelectual Property, but in the typesetting, the professional printing and the binding of the works. A Pianist or Piano student doesn't often photo copy a Beethoven Piano Sonata primarily because photocopies are not as good as a printed one, photocopies come as loose pages. Having a bound, easy to read copy which they can put their own editorial markings in has value.

So, the packaging and mass marketing of music has the same kind of value to the consumer. Downloading, purchasing blank media and writing that to CD, then making what ever container you want takes time and costs money. I, for one, do not want to do this. I can, but I would much rather buy a copy from my local retailer. If they started to do things that promoted this kind of value added philosophy they wouldn't be so scared of what has happened since the first CD's were produced.

The popularity of CDs in North America took the industry completely off guard. I expected it. It was obvious that everyone in North America wanted someething like this. Poor vinyl quality here primed that market. In Europe, where the quality of vinyl was much higher, CD sales took nearly a decade to replace LP's where this change in North Ameria took barely 5 years. EMI nearly missed it completely -- being late to pick up on a new tehcology -- just like they were last to start producing vinyl LP's.

One feels like a parent trying to take a childs favorite old thread-bare blanket from the child and encountering screams of dissmay over the loss of something that has lost its usefullness and the uttter frustration in trying to communicate the the blanket is being replaced by something better than the old thread bare one. For reasons which escape the parent, the child stil clings to the old thread bare one, even though it no longer keeps the child warm. Most children eventualy give up the old one and accept the new, if this isn't the case a parent is worried about the child's mental health --- and justly so. We should be worried aobut the music industries mental health, very worried.