February 7: Musicians who are missing in action

The internet is an endlessly fascinating place. It has made finding new wonderful musicians easy and immensely satisfying. I could not begin to name all of the musicians who have crossed my path, quite by accident, over the last decade or so.

The odd thing is that occasionally one of them (or two in this case) will go missing, leaving only the music that led me to them in the first place.

The first is Brendan Campbell. He may have had another record at some point, but the only one I know of is Burgers & Murders. I’m listening to Pleiades right now. This guy is so gone that he doesn’t even have a licensing deal with iTunes anymore. I found that out when I realized that none of his songs were on my iPhone. Had they not been downloaded to my MacMini years back that music would have been gone, maybe forever.

Brendan Campbell

The other musician is even more obscure. All John Danley left behind are a handful of videos. He was (is?) a wonderful finger-style player. From what I’ve been able to find he’s totally done with the whole music deal. The last reference I saw about him mentioned that he’d turned to a career in psychotherapy.

John Danley

A handful of years ago, he had a working website. What must have happened for him to let both his website’s eponymous domain and the site itself slip below the electrons of the internet? I just don’t get it. It’s just too easy and inexpensive to keep a website online to let one slip away. I actually mentioned Danley’s name to Will Ackerman a couple years back, along with a link to one of his videos. I had a kind of fantasy that Will might have recognized Danley’s talent and would want to set about using his industry connections to get him discovered, but Danley’s anonymity remains frustratingly intact.

How many more wonderful musicians am I doomed to find and lose? To put a tiny spin of optimism I could say I’m fortunate to have found Danley & Campbell at all, and that’s true. It’s always hard to keep from wanting more, I suppose.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Had I been willing to let this post wait until tomorrow I would have done a better job. For some reason tonight the WordPress desktop app will let me do everything but write a post.

The optimist would say how lucky I am to be able write what I have on my phone.

February 7: Musicians who are missing in action

February 2: Turntables, continued & concluded

Anyway, the days of Kuzma and Dynavector lasted as long as my days of a reviewer. Great tables, arms and cartridges (not to mention superb phono preamps) can give a careful listener a look within that little else can. Eventually, though I bought my first REGA Planar 3 and used it as a kind of everyman’s table reference. That second REGA served me well. Somehow, it ended up on the other side of the table when I got divorced. Also, I lost a good number of LPs (well over a thousand) and my beloved Magnepan MGIIIa to a flood of hot water caused by a plumbing leak, when there was no one around to simply turn off the damn water.

That was then and the is now and I have another REGA Planar 3. It was set up for me by none other than the legendary Brooks Berdan. If you’re interested you can read about it here. If you’re not, just know it’s a been a great table and I’m happy to be giving it some exercise during the transfer of my remaining LPs.

I am sentimental about this particular table but not about analog generally or LPs specifically. They are the technology I grew up with and while I find their miniature renaissance amusing, I am under no illusions that they create a corner on the market of musicality.

In the early 90s, it seemed like they might. Early CDs were abysmal for a number of reasons, most notably lousy DACs and misunderstandings about how digital recording changed and didn’t change the requirements of microphone placement. The truth is that things got better fast when it came to CDs. That said, a CD is not an LP and there is no reason to expect one to sound like the other. It’s rather like tubes which is, if I decide to go down that particular rabbit hole, a question with a longer answer for another blog post. I am not immune to nostalgia but I am when it comes to the mechanisms that deliver my music, I simply don’t care what device or technology brings me decent sound, I just want it. Thanks for reading. Tomorrow, no more turntables…I promise.

February 2: Turntables, continued & concluded

January 27: Audacity

2021 was apparently the first year that LP sales eclipsed CD sales in decades. It was a small surprise to me and more of a comment on the fact that CD sales are so minimal rather than LP sales being so strong. I am not especially enamored with the LP. It’s just that it’s the best playback method I know of, though it is badly flawed, and that’s before we start talking about the inevitable issue of LP wear. Ugh.

Still, today was an important day. I uploaded my first LP to my Mac. Audacity is both relatively good and totally free. That’s impressive in a day that finds every software company looking to maximize profits. I was stunned that on my very first effort I ended up having a playable side of a decently clean demo pressing of Dylan’s Street Legal. I chose that LP because it was in fair shape (I didn’t know how many times I would have to play it) and because I happen to have a CD of the same record right in front of me.

The initial results were hideous. The RIAA equalization on the front end of the A/D I used was (and I shall not slander the company who made it here), how shall I say this, marginal or worse. So, I climbed around behind my vintage Salamander Designs rack and took the analog feed from the record-out of my preamp just to see if my suspicions were correct.

They were.

Once I was taking the data from this line-level source, one side of the LP came in at a shade over 62MB. Not bad, certainly much better than a FLAC file will alter. I judged the resulting AAC file to sound pretty Ok, in fact significantly better than I had hoped. I’ll do some more careful listening tomorrow before considering uploading the LP side using FLAC. If I use AAC all of my LPs would occupy only about 55GB, which would leave me plenty of room for extra storage mischief (read, the acquisition of more music in digital, CD and LP formats).

The Audacity UI looks like it’s from twenty years ago but it is relatively simple in operation and very well executed. The folks who developed it knew (and know) exactly what they’re doing and exactly what they’re up against. I have to remind myself that none of what I’m doing was anticipated by the originators of any of the technology employed during the creation of the source material. This ability to move analog to digital in this way is all a manifestation of software developers adapting to what came long before in an effort to preserve music that was acquired many years before the technology was anticipated to be able to move it around.

How often does that work out in favor if the music lover / consumer?

In other words, the future of music, at least insofar as how we can store it, would seem to be in good programming hands, as of this writing.

More, as ever, later. Thanks for reading.

Tonight’s writing soundtrack is Richard Thompson’s (Guitar, Vocal) 1967-1976. Yup, even the CD is costly today ($25 at Amazon) but you should have it anyway.

Any lover of guitar must…

January 27: Audacity

January 25: The pCloud plan, etc.

The other day I mentioned that I had dropped $50 on a year’s worth of pCloud’s 500GB storage plan.

At the time I was waiting.

Right now, I’m still waiting.

Files are being uploaded at what can charitably be called a leisurely pace. There are 80GB still to go and the estimate for completion is 5 days and change. All of that is Ok if far slower than I would have expected. But, if pCloud is choking on the compressed digital stuff I’m a little concerned that uploading the FLAC files of hundreds of LPs could necessitate a digital Heimlich Maneuver.

I’m going to start slow, however, when it comes to the LPs. In fact, I’m going to upload just one LP. The first upload will be of an AAC file and the second will be FLAC of the same LP. Then, I’m going to listen to both, and I’m going to be cruel. If I don’t find a significant difference I’m going to do the rest of my LP collection via AAC and I won’t look back. You see, I’ve decided if this all works I will probably end up keeping all of my LPs.

That’s not a difficult decision. I love my old Per Madsen rack. It just stands there, not bothering anyone holding hundreds of LPs and CDs (sans jewel cases, of course). Even if were to start buying LPs again regularly, and I find that doubtful, I would be unlikely to buy all that many. Who knows, maybe a handful a year? I may even institute a One In, One Out policy as I do with new shirts. That would work for a while since I have a good number of duplicate LPs and some I will never play. I can pretty much promise the second (and maybe the first) copy I own of Pat Metheny’s Chautauqua is on its way out, one way or the other.

The music management process feels good, if a little tedious like the upload speed of pCloud. I’m actually looking forward to playing every one of the LPs. Some of those guys haven’t been spun in a good long while. They’re all fairly clean but should a dirty one find its way onto the REGA’s glass platter my trusty Nitty Gritty record cleaner is right where I left it on the top shelf of my closet. I’ve got a nice collection of good quality poly sleeves for both LP and CD, too. My guess is I’ve got enough LP sleeves for all of the possible acquisitions I might make from now until the end of my LP spinning days. CD sleeves are another matter. I have less than one pack of 100 left, and I’m using them for my jewel case elimination project. And, the company that sells them keeps pushing their availability date back month by month, with the last being November of last year. My optimism is waning and I’m not aware of a suitable substitute.

Who knows? The ones I have may be the last of their kind, as everything is eventually.

Tonight’s writing soundtrack is Giant of Illinois from Andrew Bird’s 2014 record, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of… It’s an odd, personal and evocative song I find myself listening to again and again.

January 25: The pCloud plan, etc.

January 12: A fresh air

I’m writing early today for two reasons. One’s not so pleasant. I woke up with a bit of stomach upset. This has kept me indoors and forced me to move my hike to the late afternoon, or more likely tomorrow.

Annoying.

The other reason is a bittersweet one. I have brought a new computer into my small livery of Macs. It took me a while to decide on another MacBook Air. Part of the delay was caused by me not quite being able to face reality. You see, my previous MacBook Air, or what I have been calling my new computer is now 11 years old. The nice folks at Apple must have heard it was still running strong so they decided to force my hand by disallowing further upgrades of the Safari browser. That, among other things, made it difficult to access and use the WordPress UI and dodgy sites like Wikipedia.

Well, that’s a pisser.

My old new MacBook Air; not quite ready for retirement.

No, I don’t have any micro brewery stickers on my new Mac…yet. It’s Space Gray, fast, silent and seems just dandy so far. It and my other (can’t quite say old) MacBook Air have helped solidify an evolution of sorts when it comes to how I use computers. There was a time when I stuffed my Macs full of everything; photos, files, music. In fact, in my office is an even older MacMini with a 1TB SSD. It’s full of music and photos and pretty much everything you can imagine. But lately, really since I bought my old-new MacBook Air, I’ve reversed that process. I have a paid subscription to Flickr so most of my photos live there. The Word docs of my books exist on various computers and GoogleDrive and in a host of email accounts. Word files are neat since they’re so small. Storing them is really no problem.

Music presents the biggest challenge and you know I’m not done figuring it out. Every CD I own has been uploaded to the MacMini but how long will I have access to them? The Mini’s ancient OS is getting more hampered by the passage of time every day. It’s only a matter of time, but that’s a worry for another day. For now, it makes it impossible to bring myself to selling off my CDs, which I would really like to do.

So, I have no plans to activate and authorize my iTunes account on my new computer, let alone store any music on it. My iPhone is right here and so is much of my music and everything on the MacMini via Home Sharing is available so long as I’m on my home WiFi.

No, no access to my LPs but that, too, is a subject for another time.

If things follow the plan, there really won’t be much stored locally on my new MacBook Air but I still intend to get a lot of use out it, as I have all of my Macs going back so many years. Most have been great computers, though there were exceptions like a Graphite iMac that liked to power down whenever it wanted and its replacement, a G4 tower that decided powering up wasn’t all that important.

The Macs I’ve owned since have been universally good, but they, like their owner, get old, do less and eventually get put out to pasture. My worst Apple disappointment had to be my iPhone 8. What a great phone, until it unceremoniously failed to work one morning. It sits, still, on my CD shelf; now a very expensive paperweight, but let’s not focus on the negative.

My other MacBook Air is now renamed the Bedtime Surfer, since I anticipate it will spend most of the rest of its days under my bed, waiting for me to use it in those minutes before I put out the lights.

I only wish it had room for a few more beer stickers.

Oh yeah, today’s writing soundtrack is Sometimes Just the Sky by Mary Chapin Carpenter. I’ve heard her name spoken for years but never really listened to her music until recently.

This record makes me realize I’ve been missing something special.

January 12: A fresh air

January 4: Storing (my) music

It used to be easy, kind of anyway.

In my life I’ve stored music on LP, CDs and cassettes. 8-track? Nope, I never went down that rabbit hole, not even in the bad old days of Madman Muntz. Cassettes are miserable. They suffer from nasty compression (though some like a more compressed sound) but, worse, even commercial cassettes were prone to stretching and print-through. I did have an early fondness for making my own cassettes from radio broadcasts of classical and jazz back in the 70s. Some of them sounded Ok, especially when they were new. I found a cache of them in the basement of my parents house when they died back in 2008. I thought, for a brief moment, about trying to play one of them but quickly thought better of it…another rabbit hole avoided.

Me? I choose bigger and better rabbits holes like LP, CD and now digital music. LPs used to rule my world like dinosaurs. It was very difficult to listen to CDs when you have easy access to a quality LP playback system and good LPs. But, CDs got better and at a fairly rapid rate. Digital music is hurtling forward in quality. Even everyday bluetooth (especially later versions). Technologies like Qualcomm’s aptX will just keep on coming. Now, just as a brief reality check even aptX taps out at the limits of commercial CD (16 bit / 44.1 kHz) which is good but even better is sure to follow. This reality causes my enthusiasm for LPs to hold steady if not lose a little steam. Hey, as luscious as LPs are to hold, play and listen to I don’t like the feeling of emphasizing the medium over the music.

Good LPs, those pressed from virgin vinyl are extremely durable. I have records from the 70s that have been played thousands of times that still sound fantastic. The records themselves will certainly last well over a century (absent another flood). Until recently I’m not sure the same could be said of CD. Some early CDs suffered from fatal de-lamination. I have no doubt that the materials will be stable for the same century plus. The encouraging recent development I referred to earlier was the sudden increase in the availability of new one-box CD players. For a while it was looking like buyers would have to settle for a DVD player (until those went the way of the dinosaur) or a more elaborate and expensive two-box (transport/DAC) solution. I haven’t heard any of the new CD players but I’m sure they’re all good to excellent. Everyone has access to superb chips today and that’s a win for everyone. My suspicion is that most two-box solutions from smaller companies use chip sets that are inferior to those used by the big boys. That’s just how it is when it is comes to digital. If you can’t buy in quantity you have to get by on less.

So, both CDs and LPs are archive quality. But both formats take up space and it’s starting to annoy me. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about where that annoyance is taking me.

By the way, it hit 64 today with 70 on tap for tomorrow. I like the sound (and feel) of that!

January 4: Storing (my) music

January 2: Quality, music & nostalgia

2020 was a year that I started to try to get a handle on my music collection. Years ago I lost over 2,000 treasured LPs in a flood. The insurance company first offered me $1 per record and ended up paying me $3 each. Still, that pretty much took out my collection save for the few hundred that escaped the hot, ravaging waters of the broken pipe.

A few of the survivors and my beloved Per Madsen Rack.

I would include a photo of my CDs, but they’re just so boring looking. Yesterday I wrote about Paul Simon’s disdain for contemporary music and I alluded to my music collection. I find that the more I write the more music I listen to. The listening is different, for the most part, than when I worked in and wrote about the high end audio industry. It is more of an accompaniment or a soundtrack. I no longer have a system, though I can still play LPs and CDs and hear them in free space. When the music or my brain demands it I listen on headphones, either wired or bluetooth. This is all heading toward how I intend to manage and grow my collection without as much physical mass to manage. The idea of using FLAC and dumping what’s left of my LPs onto a bunch of really big (an well backed up) hard drive is appealing. So is buying most (but not all of my music digitally through either iTunes or Bandcamp. I can’t quite wrest myself from the appeal of the physical so when I bought Deep Sea Diver’s new record I bought the LP from Bandcamp and it arrived signed by Jessica Dobson herself. Plus, Bandcamp tends to pay musicians a high percentage than iTunes.

C’mon, Jessica sent me Xs and Os…How do you pass that up?

It’s cool, but it’s also pretty damn physical. There may come a day where my enjoyment of buying and listening to records goes away altogether but I am not quite there yet. Digital and digital storage is just so convenient and it usually sounds fairly good. There’s a good chance one of the few benefits of aging will be the fact that my ability to discern good sound from bad sound will continue to decline. If I end up being happy to listen to a portable radio that’ll be just fine. My hearing already rolls off above 14kHz so I’m on my way!

Enough preamble. The word of the day is nostalgia. And my question is this: If you like something that happens to be old is your appreciation inherently possessed with nostalgia? What do we say when what’s old is really good let alone possible better than what’s new? Say we’re talking about Van Halen’s 1978 eponymously titled record or Steely Dan’s Katy Lied from 1975. Yup, I grew up with both. Still, each record is still fantastic by any measure. Do I have to admit that some of my appreciation for either work is dripping in nostalgia? Think about it and let me know. More tomorrow. I’m trying to keep the daily posts between 300-400 words. Wish me luck…

January 2: Quality, music & nostalgia

January 1, 2022

Seriously, I have to write more already?

Overnight I realized that this whole one year journal idea meant writing on something like a schedule, like other writers do. I read that Shelby Foote started each day writing 500 words, using a quill pen no less. I think I realized this in the back of my mind. As some of you might know, I finished my second novel, Cottonwood, a month or so back. I’m now waiting for my faithful formatter and cover artist to be available so I can get the book up on Amazon where it’s sure to make big bucks. I have a handful of ideas for my next book and I figured that writing everyday would keep me sharp in case any of those ideas suddenly grew from acorn to seedling. That fit in nicely with the one-year countdown to the end of my job at the law firm. Anyway, here I am on the first day of the year. To paraphrase Joe Friday, it’s breezy and cool in Los Angeles today. The high is supposed to hit 57…a tad chilly for me.

A while back I heard an interview with Paul Simon. In it, he was asked what music he was listening to these days. He mentioned that he’d been listening to the Elvis station (disappointed), along with B.B. King and Sinatra. He went on to say that he didn’t really listen to any contemporary music. I thought to myself, what the hell and I’m not totally surprised. Paul Simon’s a somewhat prickly old guy but I would emphasize old more the prickly. It struck me that he had either lost the energy he once had to sift through the crap that is most of everything to find the contemporary music that had worth or that he was simply more comfortable with music that was contemporaneous with his early life and what came before it. That gets me to the word nostalgic. I’ve been thinking about the word off and on and I’ll have more to say about it later. Anyway, I’m glad I haven’t thrown in the towel when it comes to contemporary music. There is some very good new music out there. Is it harder to find than it was in days gone by? I suppose that’s possible, but so what? If you love music you have to take the time to seek it out.

Drop by tomorrow if you’d like to hear more about my efforts to simultaneously organize, preserve and grow my music collection.

January 1, 2022