masthead image

WRONG NOTES: a blog of ear reverence

Wrong Notes collects posts on music, art, culture and fun stuff. Also included: news about the Ear Reverends.

In Light Leaks

One of my photos was just published in Light Leaks.

It's actually not just my photo, but it's an Ear Reverends' photo. Not a photo of the Ear Reverends (that'd probably be a photo of me), but a photo from the Ear Reverends.

Maybe. Probably. We'll see. But, since it's probably so, I am holding off on posting the photo here, for now…

Light Leaks is fantastic magazine of "Low Fidelity Photography." It features work of photographers who work with plastic, toy, pinhole, and homemade cameras. If you enjoy fine art photography and/or like to immerse yourself in low fidelity / DIY alternative universes (to our otherwise big-brand digital society), then you'll buy this magazine now.

This current issue, Light Leaks 17: Ebb and Flow, is full of interesting photos—it's a quite cool collection. Totally coincidentally, there's also a feature on my friend / Vancouver, B.C. artist, Rachael Ashe, whose art (including altered books) I really enjoy and admire.

I used to be really into the Holga 35mm camera—it's the camera I used to take the picture that appears in the magazine. (See also, on this site: Sasquatch Crowd Panda Girl.) It had become my main camera, but it's this remarkably flimsy little thing, and it broke—on the first day of a visit to Paris. Fortunately, but of course, there's a Lomography store in Paris, which quickly enabled a Diana Mini (also 35mm) to enter my life. It's the primary camera I use these days, and I really love taking photos with it. It's more sturdy, too.

Anyway, my photo may be part of something in the future from the Ear Reverends. But, if you'd like to see it between now and then, or otherwise, you'll want to get yourself a copy of Ebb and Flow.

Your music library is the medium

Complaints about mp3s / file sharing hurting music sales always miss the elephant in the room: it's the music library that is now the medium, not the individual files.

I'll leave it to someone else to write about this in terms of the record industry, business models, how musicians make a living, etc. I feel it's worth my saying something about this topic because a lot of people, a lot of the time, are getting their recorded music only via digital files—and I think this is limiting our experience of music in a negative way. So, I think it might be useful if musicians say more about this—and I'll try to kick it off here.

The big deal about recorded music is that it's a constant invitation to deeply experience and explore a world beyond your immediate locale. Traditional music—which existed purely in "live" performances, was always immediately local. A lot of people heard the same music a lot of the time—the music of their own people and their place and their time.

Throughout history—actually, from prehistory, there were nevertheless amazing experiences people had, beyond what they knew locally, through the surprising performances of traveling musicians who carried with them old traditions as well as new tunes learned on the road.

(here's a clip from Tony Gatlif's amazing movie, Latcho Drom — this is such a great music film and expresses a lot about musical roads that connect across people, places and times:)

Through recordings, we have access to so much music from so many times and places. And, as much as the primary experience of music is always visceral and emotional, we almost always have access to text and information of all kinds (including film footage, as above), about the recorded music we hear—importantly, this often helps us hear more music / hear more in the music.

A Music Library

A "music library" is just one basic way to describe the music in our lives in terms of this world of information we have around what we hear. Our lives as music lovers are spent in the music libraries that we inherit from our families and teachers, that we share with our friends and lovers, and that we craft ourselves in and around our other daily activities.

One way to talk about record labels, record stores, radio stations, streaming music services, digital download sites, etc., is that each is itself a music library. Even as recording artists, we implicitly create libraries of our own music that tend to known as our "catalogs" of recordings.

Prior to the digital distribution of music, all of these different library creators / curators used various physical and/or analog broadcast media to share their libraries with others. And, the record album or radio show were important not simply as bags of random music tracks, but as collections where the collection itself had some kind of meaning.

If you collect LPs still, or regularly listen to radio shows still (I do both), you probably have a good sense that you get something else, beyond just listening to music, through these experiences. I think it's handy then to talk about that larger experience as "the medium." In this sense, LPs are a medium not because individual LPs hold audio tracks, but because they are part of how one creates a music library made up of audio, liner notes, the way you order your records on the shelf, what records you share with whom, how you know you want to listen to Elvis Presley's greatest hits on a sunny Saturday morning, etc.

The Limit

So, what's going on with our shift to digital music libraries is not a matter of the audio on vinyl vs mp3s or other digital formats. What's going on is that the format of the library is no longer your record shelf, but it's the user interface of iTunes and the iPod. That is the big change that totally changes how people relate to music—specifically, how people hear music (the thing I am more concerned about) and how people buy music / pay musicians (which is also relevant, but a topic I am leaving for someone else to write about).

Put bluntly: the user interface for iTunes and the iPod—that is, how you interact with music through those interfaces, is optimized for mostly a superficial and disjointed experience of music. That's fine in the sense that it's perfectly fine to sometimes listen to music in a superficial or disjoint fashion. And, it's also fine in the sense that one can, with not much effort, be a bit better librarian than iTunes expects—it doesn't punish you much for trying.

But, given how readily we can create digital interfaces (e.g., web pages), it's stupid sad that we don't have digital music libraries that really blow our minds in terms of how deeply and widely they invite us to explore music.

An Ideal Scenario

In an ideal scenario, there would be digital music libraries / players / devices that provide an interface to music not just as a list of media files, but as webs of information, including videos, photos, art graphics, visualizations, info graphics, games, social network info, educational / informative text, creative writing, lyrics, alternate takes, live versions, cover versions, etc.

Every track itself shown as a cool interface to a lot of good stuff, not just a file!

In this kind-of scenario, imagining someone wants to share Come Together with me: they may send me a media file, or they may send me just a link into to the web of that song. But, with either, the library / player / device itself would give me not only audio, but also a window into a lot of other, related / extra stuff I could access. Some it, I would already have. Some of it, my friends would have. Some of it I could get for free. Some for one-off purchase. Some as part of a subscription, etc.

Ongoing, the library / player / device would always keep a view of that extra stuff very handy for me—even advertising it to me in some contexts. This kind-of library / player / device could, by design, highlight the compelling-ness of lots of stuff beyond the audio.

What's Next

Who wants to make me a better digital music library? I think that's the question we music lovers should ask more vocally. And, I think we music producers should keep pushing for people to build music library interfaces that support the works we want to release—that combine audio and video and images and text and, most importantly, links and collections and musical relationships.

There are both business and artistic potentials around the design of better music libraries. As I've said before, at some point, we musicians won't just need to release mp3s instead of CDs, we'll need to release our own players / libraries / devices.

Get beyond mp3: go lossless now!

Over the past few years, I've gotten more systematic about ripping my CD collection. And I've finally filled one hard drive—with lossless files, not mp3s.

I remember how, about 10 years back, I was doing the math to figure out how large a hard drive I would need to rip my entire CD collection. I don't recall the exact number, but let's approximate things and say it was something like this: 1,000 CDs turns into at 640 GB of .wav (or.aiff) files (that's 1000 CDs X 640 MB per CD).

At that time, 640 GB was seriously expensive and required multiple physical discs. But, today, one can buy a single 640 GB drive for only about $60. And, it's an even better deal (cost per GB) to get the now more common sizes in the 1+ TB range.

So, practically, a few years ago, we saw how quickly drive sizes were growing vs cost, and switched from ripping mp3s to ripping Apple Lossless (ALAC is the common acronym, with m4a being the common file extension). ALAC cuts the file size almost 50%, so the above equation ends up being more like 1,000 CDs turns into about 350 GB of m4a files.

The main point I want to get to is this: if you are ripping music from CDs, you should consider switching to a lossless format now—there's almost no reason why you'd want mp3s instead of a lossless format. If you already use iTunes and have a lot of drive space (or can afford larger drives), you can just flip a switch in iTunes, and all new CDs you rip will be ripped as lossless.

(In iTunes, it's Preferences / General / Import Settings and then switch to using Apple Lossless Encoder. That's it.)

And, one other point: if you buy digital files from online stores, please join me in pestering these stores to offer lossless versions, rather than mp3s, which are, in several ways, an inferior format, as I'll describe below.

Now, in case you're unfamiliar with the file formats and lossy vs lossless, let me explain a bit more:

Some Basics: Lossy vs Lossless

CDs store sound as digital information—when we want to get at that information on a computer, we see digital files that usually appear as wav or aiff format files. Basically, you can think of each track on a CD as being a wav file. And the large size of the wav files corresponds to the high quality of sound on a CD—they are big files (a 5 minute song is about 50 MB) because CD audio is pretty high quality audio. Generally, in this context, higher quality = more information = bigger file sizes.

When you get an mp3 file, you're getting a file where the sound quality has been reduced to make the file smaller (a 5 minute song can end-up around 6 MB—a lot smaller size!). High quality mp3s actually do a good job at sounding similar to the original sound by removing just the parts of the sound that humans tend not to notice. But, this kind of translation between CD and mp3 is called "lossy" because sound / information is always removed to make the file smaller.

Note that some lower-quality mp3s sound obviously lower quality. But, even with very high-quality mp3s, some people can hear the difference on some songs between an mp3 and an original CD. With the Ear Reverends, I've actually had several people tell me that the Err or Man CD sounds noticeably better than the mp3s, and I certainly hear differences that make me prefer the CD quality version over the mp3s.

With a "lossless" format like m4a, no sound or information is removed. Instead the file is made smaller only by using the file space more efficiently (to put it really simply). This is very similar to how ZIP files work, if you're familiar with those. Instead of removing parts of the sound, a lossless file removes only internal parts of the file that in no way alters the sound. The original 5 minute song / 50 MB wav file gets shrunk, with all of the audio fidelity preserved, to a m4a file that's about 25 MB.

Some Pros of Lossless Files / m4a

  • 100% true to fidelity of the CD
  • fitting an entire collection of music on a hard drive is do-able
  • m4a is easy to use in iTunes and on iPods
  • m4a is also supported by some open source music players and devices
  • you can burn a full-quality CD starting from m4a
  • you can transcode from m4a to other lossless formats at 100% true fidelity
  • several lossless formats support even higher quality audio, beyond CD quality (see below)
  • you can always transcode down to mp3 (or other lossy formats), and get the best lossy results

Some Cons of Lossless Files / m4a

  • lossless files are larger, so you can fit only 5-10 days of music on an iPod, which may be less than your complete library
  • lossless file formats are less universally supported than mp3s: almost everything supports mp3, not everything supports m4a
  • m4a is not a patent free / unencumbered format (see below)

"Free and open" formats

My original plan has been to use the "more open" Free Lossless Audio Codec / FLAC format. I like FLAC in every way, but, at this point, with much of my music listening happening via the iTunes / Airport Express / iPod universe, ALAC was just way more convenient to use.

Note that mp3 is also not a free format. But, both mp3 and m4a are widely used and are available at no cost to us, the so-called "consumers." However, if you are committed to using open / free formats for any reason, e.g., you already use ogg instead of mp3, then you should look to FLAC, rather than ALAC. Again, I think FLAC is awesome and I can totally recommend it. And I certainly will look to converting all my m4a to flac in the future of my dreams where there are many better music player / libraries than iTunes, that nevertheless support iPods, etc.

A couple tips

The hard drive I just filled is 250 GB (we bought it many years ago). I also backup that drive onto a couple other drives, one of which is always kept "offsite." You don't want to have to re-rip 1,000 CDs just because a hard drive crashes (which it will). So, keep a complete backup of all of your music files. For a couple hundred dollars, you can get two 1 TB drives, which would be enough for a 2,500+ CD collection and a complete backup.

Beyond CD Audio

Finally, it's worth mentioning that most of the music recorded today, when it's digitally processed, is done at a higher quality than CD audio. Technically, CD audio is 44k / 16 bit, and many people work at 96k / 24 bit (what I use), or higher.

This higher quality difference is most important during the digital tracking / mixing / multitrack summing / mastering portions of the recording process. It's not a difference that's easy to hear on a final stereo recording, like we find on a CD. For this reason, when we want to listen to music, it's not super important that we strive to replace our CDs with higher quality audio.

That said, higher quality audio is and will be an option for much of the music produced today and into the future. And, if you are interested in getting more fidelity out of the recorded music you listen to, at some point, you may want to get higher than CD audio quality files. Why not, right? Some artists and labels are already offering this—I / HereJam would certainly do so if there more demand for it.

While this is a step beyond just moving from mp3 to m4a, it's actually a step that can happen with the same m4a (or flac) format: these lossless formats can support much higher quality audio. And, as with the changes in hard drive prices over the past 10 years, you can expect that you'll have more and more space to store higher quality audio. (As an example, the wav file version of Err or Man, which is about 70 minutes in length, is about 700 MB of files at CD audio quality, and about 2.2 GB at 96k / 24 bit. The m4a version would be about half those sizes: 350 MB / 1.1 GB.)

Conclustion: switch to lossless!

So, I hope, if you haven't already switched to using a lossless format, that you will make the change now. The time has come. I've realized, in talking with friends, that not enough people know that they can make the change so easily in iTunes. So, I thought I'd write about it here—please pass it along to others.

Also, again, please help me pester stores who sell mp3s, like Amazon and eMusic, to offer lossless files as well. And, while you're at it, ask them to make PDFs of the liner notes available with every album! (Yeah, that's a whole other post…)


Have you switched to lossless yet? Are you ready to switch now? If you aren't going to switch now, why not?

First draft of the first chapter of the first novel I started, then decided not to write

I'd started writing something I thought might become a novel. But, something else seems to be in the works that's, er, something else. Enjoy!


"Dick was the hardest!" Ron got it out in his exhale, so it had a gasp, a cough-hack-hickup-burp and the first hiss of his own laughter substituting for some or all of the words (depending on whether you were there or watching the video), which came out louder, one-by-one, as they expanded through the room with the smoke. The others in the room allowed the words to quickly curl through their ears and ollie straight into their brains. They always regretted when they missed Ron's jokes, so they all momentarily stared into the haze to picture his words, made of giant neon letters—and blinking, brighter and brighter.

Like the split second before the explosion, the void, a flash and then roar—they were now a room of animated insects bouncing off walls and each other with laughter and periodic bodily flailing:

Sam was hitting a pillow against his head, yelling: Dude! Dude! Dude!

Chris had grabbed his side as his laughter progressed from the ha-ha-has to something more like Alvin and the Chipmunks (all of them at once)—and his nose started running fulltime. And, then he quickly slid off his chair—almost completing a backflip, while reaching for his sweatshirt (or, as he often refers to it: his reusable organic hemp napkin dispenser).

Diana and Lisa were alternating rolling into each others laps and standing up and falling to the floor. Then they started flipping their long hairs over their faces (their own and each others). Diana started trying to pull her hair back to wipe away tears, when Lisa grabbed her hands and made them clap and started them both bouncing on their bench.

And the others, each in their own way, shouted their excitement in between laughing and finding ways to combine their bodies, extra clothes, furniture and the lefover bit of food into a big tie dye of jubilation.

Thomas gained enough composure to announce: "Ron, your's was waaay the best! No one can top that one!" And the game, that had emerged just a few minutes before, and lasted only a couple turns, was both officially and ceremoniously over.

Espin started doing his "tsha, tsha" thing, sounding like a bird call if used as a lullaby, though there was a kind-of Bushman's click in there as well—when he did it long enough, it ran like a broken record. But, he was just en route to the corner, where he had his didge. And, he was now fully devoted to getting into its sonic pocket.

Thomas grabbed his didge and joined in. And, Diane packed another bowl on the bong, and handed it to Ron.

They all knew the countdown had started, but their passengers were finally all on-board (as they called it, in their code-worded plans), and even as they could imagine all of the people who would be looking for them—and what might happen when they were caught, they were all about the trip—and all about it being their trip.

A small story of my life.

· · · good things come to those who click · · ·

Pretty much my favorite thing ever

This is it and I'm happy to (just now!) realize that it's available online.

From the world that once (and still!) could be sometimes, brought to you by Andy Kaufman (video):

The frustrated music buyer

This is a weird time to live in, if you love listening to recorded music, and want to have anything like that holy thing we used to call a "record collection."

What I gots is what I got

Of course, if you have LPs, you do still have a record collection. But, then you probably also have CDs, which is like another record collection.

Maybe, if you just have LPs and CDs (and the few odd cassettes), you can think of it all as your "record collection," and that's all nice and good.

But, you're probably like me, where you've also got iTunes filled with lots of music files. They call it a "music library," but having been a librarian for a collection of recorded music, I can tell you that that's pretty much like calling the boxes of books you moved 12 times after college, but only unpacked when it was time to repack them for another move, and then finally took them all to Goodwill in the middle of the night (still packed in boxes), a "book library."

So, there's a general lack of cohesion to our music collections divided between the antediluvian physical formats and the invisible boxes of invisible files on our opaque computers.

Then, there's that other digital music. Can we stake a viable claim of "ours" to any of the music we have, that lives in the "cloud" of web services? If you know you can click this little link to hear my "Break in the jam," how do you translate that knowledge into something like "I have this song in my record collection?"

Where I gonna get it, if I gonna wants it

When I was a kid and first began buying cassettes and LPs, there was a pretty direct line from the cash I earned doing yard work to the expansion of my music collection. That line went: a couple bucks in my pocket, bus fare, Rhino Records in Westwood, bus fare to get back home with a stack of beautiful, slightly used, vinyl. And, then on the turntable they went round and round as I stared at LP covers, read liner notes, and began traveling to South Saturn with Jimi Hendrix.

And, it wasn't like I had to choose between different versions / remasters / reissues / formats of Marquee Moon: I could only get it as an LP, so that's what I wanted, and that's was the only interface I had when I wanted to play that album over 100 times a day. If the record ended and I was on the bed, I had to get up and realize that I now too seemed to remember how the darkness doubled, and recall how lightning struck itself. I had been listening to the record, but I was hearing something else.

I was thinking about Betty Davis and found out that Light in the Attic has released her other two albums (I already have the first two). eMusic has 3 out of 4 Betty Davis albums, so I just bought one from eMusic. But, ugh, I forgot: you get no liner notes with your eMusic purchase. These Light in the Attic releases have great liner notes with the CD.

So, now what? Maybe I'll buy the CD? Maybe I'll try to forget about Betty Davis . . . yeah, like that's ever going to happen.

Oh, did I mention the Internet. It tells me things I used to only dream of knowing about Mott the Hoople and all of their recordings that I now can wonder whether I should try to own someday.

Who's dat man? I dunno

Then there's that "me" that seems to make an appearance in every scene of this story. I can't afford to buy all the music I want, but I can afford a lot more of it than when I was 13 years old. Plus, some of what I got when I was 13, I still have. And, when I was 14, and 22, and 33 1/3 and last week. Next week, maybe more: I know there's stuff calling my name at Sonic Boom.

And, there's that impostor music library I can monitor on my computer, that has 45 days of music waiting for me, of which I seem to listen to an inordinate amount of Al Green—who gets my lizard brain (PUSH PLAY! HEAR MUSIC! LOVE IT! NOW!) at "Let's Stay Together" before I can scroll even to Albert Ayler—my apologies then are so many, from Ali Akbar Khan all the way to Zubi Zuva, all of whom I keep wanting to, but have not quite been getting around to, listen to, as much as I'd like.

So, am I a victim or somehow a co-creator of this weird paradox between the potentials of listening to so much music and the difficulty in finding again that gorgeous thing in my life that, when I was 15, I thought would just always be there for me: my record collection?

Did I make it go away with my casual embrace of digital music and the iPods and computers and Airfoil and all those websites, night after night, a different one almost every time—god, so many, I can't remember their names, but just that cheap thrill of a new partner who offers to fulfill my lust, but, next thing I know, it's like there's nothing to listen to, like I've woke up and found myself inside a tunnel out on the highway, with only an AM radio, and nothing but static interrupted by the occasional tantalization—a half of phrase lick right into my ear from The Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love," and I so know what that feels like, again.

In the moment, I always dream I can go home and find my record collection. And, I've got a record of hits from 1957—I think it was my Dad's—has a red cover. And I know that a "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On" is going to make me love music so much, and I'll go buy more records with my allowance next week, because I think I've saved enough for Los Angeles, and "The Unheard Music" is ahead of me.

End of the month cat playing a theremin post

February is the month that always ends with me wondering why I always need a couple more days to get things done this month.

Oh well.

Oooh, here's a video of a cat playing a theremin!

(via Laughing Squid)

 <  1 2 3 4 >  Last »

nearby posts:




. . . the new music player is very coming soon and such . . .