Tag Archives: music

Why buy physical music? Because it is better!

When was the last time you considered buying a stereo? In fact, the term “stereo” just seems so dated. Most people these days listen to music on bluetooth headphones or speakers. But they are missing out on a lot. Or if they are listening to subscription streaming audio then maybe not. Let me explain.

Subscription-based music streaming services like Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music or Spotify use low encoding bit rates. Typically a compact disc is at 1411.2 kbit/s while Apple music is at 256 kbit/s. This means a compact disc is playing 5 times more information per second than the same song streamed from Apple Music. Spotify is only slightly better than Apple in this respect at 320 kbit/s. Only Tidal and Amazon Music HD gives CD equivalent encoding bit rates. But this would also mean fives times more bandwidth is used.

But what does this all mean? Well, if you are listening to your music on the standard issue Apple headphones this does not matter much, since the headphone cannot produce the dynamic frequency range of the audio. This is also true of bluetooth speakers which not only does not cover the spectrum but also does not produce stereophonic sound well.

Which is why I am talking about the Kenwood K-515 here.

Screenshot 2020-03-05 15.56.56

This is a stereo or a hi-fi.

While this is a current incarnation of the old-school system it does what stereos were supposed to do – reproduce high quality high fidelity sound. You will notice in this shot that the display says “bluetooth”. So this is not an old school hi-fi with some new trick up its sleeve.

As I said, the problem is, firstly, the source of the music. If you stream Apple Music on the K-515 it sounds pretty good, in fact, much better than on standard headphones (maybe not high end bluetooth headphones). But it will beat the bluetooth speaker hands down.

There is something about stereophonic sound created by two speakers. It has depth. It isn’t mono.

It gets better
But not only do we have stereo we can also play back more information. Playing a compact disc version side-by-side with a streamed version one will notice that the sound is also richer with the CD. The loss of information depth (if you will) means the “in between” sounds are lost. This why we should return to at least CDs. There was/is nothing wrong with CDs at all.

What went wrong with music was music piracy and then download purchase model. Yes, Napster made sharing music a whole lot easier. That started the decline. But Also, as a knee-jerk reaction, download purchase of music also meant people no longer bought albums, but individual tracks. In other words, sales of music moved towards singles. This lowered volume of sales thus hurting the artists.

How to view streaming in 2020
So, is streaming bad? I don’t think so. Whereas I used to visit the record stores regularly to see what was new and randomly discover music and artists I like, this did not happen once physical sales disappeared. That is, until subscription streaming.

With a subscription service it is now like having a listening booth in your house. But after I had bought the K-515 the quality of the recording began to matter again. Simply, I have now returned to buying CDs and records because they sound so much better. Occasionally I buy hi-resolution tracks online but nothing beats having a physical album.

When you buy an album you are buying more than just the music. You are buying the artwork, the additional relevant information, and the knowledge that it is yours forever. that is part of what music means. People spent a lot of time thinking about the cover art and design of the album. This is part of what music is about.

Apart from there being very little price difference between downloaded album and physical one you get nothing but the music with download. Someone is pocketing that money for so much less work. Physical albums, comparatively, are value for money.

I have not enjoyed listening to music in such a long time, all it took was an investment in the right equipment and an understanding why a good source and hardware are necessary.

Incidentally, that stereo cost the same as a “high-end” bluetooth speaker. So, why would I want to buy a (mono) speaker when I can have a stereo? None, whatsoever.

Back to basics with music – buy a “stereo” stereo

I believe we have forgotten the fundamentals of music.

Sound is three-dimensional, and embodied. We have not one but two ears for a reason. Sure, stereo headphones will produce stereo but not three-dimensional sound. The stereophonic sound remains the same even if you move your head to face any direction. Not so with live performances or speakers spaced apart.

While it can be argued that an all-in-one unit player/speaker is located in a space it does not produce stereophonic sound very well. Firstly, the speakers are too close together. Whatever stereo sound you have it may as well be a single speaker. Secondly, today’s digital streaming music is less detailed and dynamic than the original recordings. The combination of these make for a flat and unenjoyable music experience.

It is a mistake to think playing music loud will make it more dynamic or detailed. If the data is missing detail (and therefore dynamic) no matter how good your equipment is, it will output only what it is input into it.

This means there are at least four factors which will determine how good the music will sound. These are 1) the recording equipment; 2) the amount of data preserved; 3) the processing unit or amp; and 4) the speakers.

I have a recording of Rachmaninoff playing his own Piano Concerto No. 2 but because it was recorded in the early 20th century the amount of detail is low. Similarly, the standard digitally streamed music is of a lower sample rate as well as bitrate. Both of these impact on what can be reproduced. Today while I have a decent stereo in the form of the Kenwood K-515 it still produces, in the eyes of an audiophile, well under the kind of sound that can be considered optimal or perfect. But then again, I am not spending thousands but hundreds of dollars here. For the price I paid that is good enough for me.

Buying a DSD recording of Norah Jones’s Don’t Know Why and playing that on the stereo made it so wonderful that I must say that it was value for money.

Regurgitator’s Pogogo Show – a review

The Song Formerly Known As was the first song that made me aware and like (love) Regurgitator. That was back in the late 90s. And my opinion of them has not changed since. They are what we like to call “big kids”. And this latest album – Regurgitator’s Pogogo Show (iTunes) is another example of their playfulness.

Regurgitator collaborated Australia’s national television and radio service, Australian Broadcasting Commission, to produce an album for children (perhaps for the first time in their careers) and one that is relatively children-friendly … for their standards. The iTunes blurb points out without exaggeration their style which traverses punk, pop, electro, rock, hip-hop and funk. Regurgitator often, if not always, do this on a single album (and sometimes in a single song) without missing a beat. The blurb continues with where the inspiration came from (a toned-downed kids show they did of their songs in 2013). Their music is regularly a pastiche of music history genres. And on this album they have not deviated from this successful formula.

The album is a 17-track monster, moving along dizzyingly from Zelda-inspired RPG music, to rap, acid jazz, punk, computer-game funk, guitar-driven punk, light Japanese Cornelius-like indies, crazy-Bob country, garageband, old-school gangsta-rap, Ramones-punk, RPG story, Miami Vice intro-ed hip-hop song, a ukulele song, Shonen Knife punk, Cuban rumba, and ending with a clearly Kraftwerk-inspired electronic track.

The Gurg (as they are known to fans) are as cheeky as ever, toying with sounds that only they can. Having not lost any humour with age they have blended various styles effortlessly to create an album not only will kids enjoy (elements of The Wriggles) but also something for the adults who ultimately fork out the money. While the lyrics are written for kids in mind a couple of tracks will draw more than a giggle from adults. Mr Butt and Farting Is a Part of Life placed towards the end of the album will educate children empathy and reality. A well thought-out album collaboration that not only highlights the quality of Australian music (especially music for children), Australian values, but also just how underrated and misunderstood Regurgitator are. And this can be considered their first foray into the mainstream music consciousness.

This is only an album Regurgitator can make. They have not returned to being children because they had never left. While the fortunes have not been with them it is perhaps time to revisit some of their older works. Recommended is Dirty Pop Fantasy (iTunes). Thoroughly postmodern in the positive sense of the word, they have created an album which introduces to the next generation a breadth and variety of music that no other band could pull off, all the while being entertaining.

All tracks, except for the last track (The Robots), are under three-minutes long as appropriate for a children’s album.

Rating: 4.8 out of 5.

Tracks

  1. Fanfare Intro (0:34)
  2. Pogogo Show Theme (2:24)
  3. Favourite Song (2:05)
  4. I Don’t Wanna Dog (2:21)
  5. Games on My Computer (1:46)
  6. Pillow Fight (0:57)
  7. The Morning Theme (1:01)
  8. Pigeon Riding on a Motorcycle (2:34)
  9. Party Party Party! (1:34)
  10. The Box (2:23)
  11. Ghost Cat (1:55)
  12. Pogogo Show Story Time (2:09)
  13. Mr Butt (1:12)
  14. Farting Is a Part of Life (1:38)
  15. Best Friends Forever (2:15)
  16. Curumbo! (1:06)
  17. The Robots (7:05)

On Music

1.
We are surrounded by culture, that is, we are surrounded by people. In various ways we express ourselves, and we recognise these expressions. We express ourselves because we recognise others will recognise our expression. Communication is a vicious or un-vicious circle, depending on who you ask. And music is but one of the many ways of expressing ourselves as human beings.

2.
I wasn’t born in the eighth-century. I wasn’t even born in the 19th century. My time is the late-twentieth-century. I heard disco. I heard new wave. I heard pop. I listened to post-punk. I clubbed. I read Smash Hits and Face. I even read iD and watched a bit of Top of the Pops. I didn’t have complete control of my musical environment. I took in what was there. This was what was there.

Musical “taste” is different for everyone. No two people have the exact same music experience. Like everything else, we must necessarily see things differently. My favourite song can only come from what I have heard. We can try to have as wide a music experience as possible but we can never have the entire music experience. It isn’t even worth trying, unless you do so as a professional. I cannot imagine the knowledge of someone like Ryuichi Sakamoto or Mozart. My knowledge of music is limited to pleasure.

3.
As I said, my Top 10 songs can only come from what I have heard, what I know. And sometimes it is not worth expanding your knowledge.

Think of your musical knowledge as objects filling a room. At some point not much more can fit into it. We loathe to throw these things out. They “do the job”. They bring joy and sometimes sadness. Anger even. They belong to the history of me, the owner of this room.

Sometimes someone asks you to listen to this or that. But I already have the love songs to remind me of long past romances and present loves (plural because love is not for one but many: wife, child, parents). The newly introduced song, without sounding cold, means nothing to me. It reminds me of no one (except for the introducer) and no time except (for the present). But that song must mean everything to that introducer. And that song is all that matters. That is his or her song.

My room is filled. That person’s room may not be. He or she may be only starting to fill theirs. And yet others like you may also have filled rooms like yours. Finding people with similar rooms is a near impossible and almost futile task.

4.
Sometimes I would like to take out a particular song and play it. But why I chose that song to play is never clear. But once it starts it would bring back memories of the past, of people, places, and time. The associations are specific to me. It is immediately clear in the sense that I enjoy those memories, but would require much explanation to all others who do not have privileged access. That is the meaning of being me, and the meaning of others.

5.
Temptation by New Order.

Forty years have passed. But the days I would listen to this song are vivid to me, at least the general atmosphere, light, feelings. Joy. Discovery. Freedom. It is by no means a great song, but it reminds of all those things mentioned and more. It reminds of my friend to whom I had played it and it please me that he liked it too. That feeling is all that matters and mattered. And as I listen to it now as I write this, those same feelings return.

I will stress again this point – it doesn’t matter who has heard or likes the song, only what it means to you. The link to the past is so important that everything else matters not. Perhaps if you take that link away the song will no longer have that power over me.

In some ways it would be a mental assault. Reality would be changed in a way which would hurt greater than perhaps physical pain. This point I cannot confirm but only imagine to be so. Even imagining this now is painful and it has not even happened. Such is the intensity of music, and of experience in general.

Interpretation and Prediction

The past is now part of my future. The present is well out of hand. (Ian Curtis, Joy Division, Heart and Soul)

Even this is projection in both directions. The past is interpreted while the future is predicted. In projecting the link between past and future, control is lost in the present. Dejection and pointlessness sets in. The point is there is no “link” without the present. And that there is always control in the form of projection.

No Nukes 2012 – Kraftwerk in Tokyo, 7 July.