Known Johnson

October 14, 2005

Piecing the puzzle of King Crimson together

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:40 pm

I’ve been doing a lot of really intense listening to King Crimson lately, having just created a “Crimson family” Smart Playlist for my Ipod. Being the die-hard, geeky fan that I am (proven by the fact that I make a playlist just for this) I was really intrigued to find out that I have around 1100 songs that relate in some physical way to the band King Crimson – whether they be actually by the band itself or they are other projects involving members of the band (of which there are many – so many I’m not even close to having all of them, nor am I even trying,) and, of course, many live versions due to the many official bootlegs. That’s well over 8 gigabytes of music surrounding one loosely structured group of musicians. To put it another way, I have 66 CDs of strictly King Crimson content, meaning the band known in, what, 8 or 10 incarnations at this point, as well as some direct offshoots (the four ProjeKcts have 9 discs just by themselves!) – this does not include many of the peripheral groups and just-plain solo recordings of the band’s members. I’m simply stunned.

In revisiting King Crimson this week, I became fascinated again with the opening track off of their 1995 album, Thrak, one of my favorite albums of all time. What’s so intriguing about this track is that it’s essentially two songs in one – one in the left channel and one in the right. This incarnation of King Crimson is the “double trio” – basically, two small bands that work together. The rumored original intent for Thrak was to be an album comprised of songs that featured one band in one channel and the other in the other channel. Alas, that was not to be, and “VROOOM” is the only song that really worked out well this way (as far as I can tell – there may be elements of other songs on the album that work separately in each channel.) Thus, the two halves of “VROOOM” are markedly different when you isolate them – having distinctly different beats and such, but functioning together as a perfect whole. Instead of having to change the balance or remove an ear plug, I decided to create a mono track for each channel. You, gentle reader, benefit, as for a short time I’m offering the fruits of my two minutes of work. I’m even including the original song, edited to remove a slow build at the beginning, for comparison. For those wanting to keep really good notes, the “left channel mix” showcases guitarist Robert Fripp, Stick player Trey Gunn (who is mixed very low, unfortunately, but if you strain you can make out his parts from Fripp’s – just think about what a low-tuned guitar would sound like) and drummer Pat Mastelotto. The “right channel mix” is guitarist Adrian Belew, bassist Tony Levin (whose upright bass work can be heard in the bridge of the song in both channels,) and drummer Bill Bruford.

King Crimson: “Thrak (original)” (5.82 mb, 192kbps mp3)
King Crimson: “Thrak (left channel mix)” (5.82 mb, 192kbps mp3)
King Crimson: “Thrak (right channel mix)” (5.82 mb, 192kbps mp3)

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Fashion victim

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 5:33 pm

Come on. This cannot be a serious attempt at fashion design. This has to be the work of some guy who sat around with his buddies and drank (or, hey, smoked) a few too many Buds and went, “Dude, you know what would be totally awesome? If I pretended to be a designer and just covered a chick in nylon and put some old hats on her thighs.”

Under the nylon, dude!”

“Yeah, man!”

“Cover her head, too, dude!”

“Yeah, totally! And I’m going to leave a bunch of material at her shoulders like she normally carries some golf balls there.”

I shall remain blissfully fashion-ignorant, thank you.

October 13, 2005

Rush: R30 deluxe edition news

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:03 am

If you know me, you know I’m an unapologetically die-hard Rush fan, as is Alissa. I’ve known about their new DVD that celebrates their 30th anniversary with a show taped last year in Frankfurt, Germany, R30, but I’m very excited to see news of a “deluxe edition”. (Does anything not come out in “deluxe edition” anymore? But I digress . . . ) Included in this deluxe edition are two audio CDs of the show (which is great because I won’t have to rip my DVD to listen to the show) and “various goodies.” I’d assume the packaging will be more extravagant, too – and much better sound mixing than Rush In Rio. As incredible of a show that was, the sound was pretty muddled, unfortunately. Let’s hope those Germans don’t sing along with every song – including the instrumentals, which, I admit, is entertaining to hear on Rush In Rio, but I’d gladly give that up for crystal-clear sound.

What should be really fun is seeing the career-spanning documentary that includes footage from the way-back machine that Geddy says “are kind of painful to watch! Bad hair, bad glasses. You just kind of look in wonderment like, ‘Is that really me?'” Because one of the fun things about being a Rush fan is being able to look back at the various fashions the band fell victim to – robes in the 70s, skinny ties in the 80s, etc.

November 22, the release date, can’t come soon enough.

October 10, 2005

RandoMonday

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 12:17 pm

Cue up the Ipod (or whatever you losers who don’t have Ipods use,) hit “shuffle” and list:

  1. Pelican: “-” (this should be a bullet but shows up all screwy) The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw
  2. Bill Frisell: “The Beach” In Line
  3. Wilco: “Kicking Television” A Ghost Is Born bonus EP
  4. Grant Green: “Oleo (Alternate Version)” The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark
  5. Rush: “Natural Science (Live)” Rush In Rio
  6. Death Cab For Cutie: “Your Heart Is An Empty Room” Plans
  7. Sugar: “A Good Idea” Copper Blue
  8. Bill Frisell: “We Are Everywhere” The Intercontinentals
  9. The Pernice Brothers: “Pisshole In The Snow” Discover A Lovelier You
  10. Bill Bruford: “The Wooden Man Sings, And The Stone Woman Dances” Footloose And Fancy Free
  11. Brendan Benson: “Get It Together” The Alternative To Love

Free Greg Osby

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:40 am

Jazz fans might want to head over to saxophonist Greg Osby’s site, specifically his mp3 page where you can download a huge amount of professionally recorded official live recordings from him and his band – all mp3s, no DRM. My only complaint would be his use of 128kbps quality mp3s – that’s just a tad too low, especially for jazz. But free is free, so my complaint is rendered null and void.

October 7, 2005

Here we go again: Arrested Development in deep trouble

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:29 am

Hope you “enjoy(ed) . . . Monday’s episode. Chances are, everything after that will be dubbed ‘the lost episodes’ on the next DVD.” Seriously, people, what the hell do I have to do to get you to watch?

Morse code in Lost’s Dharma project symbol?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:55 am

For those as addicted to Lost as I am, this season has already offered up a huge number of weird things going on – no surprise there. (I’m not even going to try to begin explaining for those who haven’t caught up yet – you go Google Lost and do that yourself. Believe me, you’ll find plenty to help you.) What is a surprise is this “Dharma Initiative” symbol seems to contain a message. Some point out that it’s I Ching but, from what I see in the information presented on that site, there should be more to this for it to mean anything.

So maybe there’s more going on here. There are three rings of lines in an octagon shape around the inner part of the symbol. They’re not solid rings, however – some are long and others are two shorter lines. I kept looking at this and realized that it may actually be Morse code. Here’s the image:

The three rings break down like this:

Outer ring:
_ . . _ _ . . . . _ . .

Middle ring:
. . . . _ _ _ . . . . _

Inner Ring:
_ . . . . _ . . _ . . _

And here’s Morse code: http://www.babbage.demon.co.uk/morseabc.html

The problem is that there’s no way to tell whether you’re looking at, for example, “_” or “_ . .” – nor is there any guarantee that starting at the top and working your way around, then repeating for the next two rings, is actually the start of the message. It could start at the far left, or . . . ? (I did, however, rule out the possibility that the code is stacked – three rows of symbols for each face of the octagon – because there is no Morse that has six dots.)

I haven’t really done much looking on the many Lost sites since I figured this out last night, but I didn’t see anyone mention this on the ones that I did look at.

But who knows. It probably just says “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”

October 6, 2005

Getting her started early

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 6:05 am

Sox fan

Alissa’s family is from Chicago, and they’re rabid White Sox fans. So, with them reaching the playoffs, Alissa saw fit to don Amanda in the little uniform she got as a gift long before she was born – it didn’t matter what sex she was, she was going to be a proud White Sox fan no matter what.

October 5, 2005

Sony’s XCP copy protection

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:22 am

It’s been a while since I went on a copy-protection rant, so here’s a good ‘un to keep you satisfied.

I’m quickly growing completely furious with Sony and their insistence on burdening all of their new releases with copy protection. It used to be a simple annoyance that discs included this crap because it was easy to get around: on your Windows machine, hold down the Shift key or disable Autorun, and you won’t be bothered by the copy protection. Now, however, Sony has unveiled (well, not really – they don’t talk about it at all) a new scheme to keep the people who actually purchase the music from doing what they want with it: XCP, or eXtended Copy Protection. This isn’t actually new – reports on CD Freaks date back to mid 2002, but it’s suddenly been the standard on all Sony discs this year. The problem with XCP is that it prevents copying by corrupting the data that a CD-ROM drive would read, but that a regular CD player ignores, and instead offers you a special player that installs so that it can be played and ripped to protected Windows Media format files that can only be used in the small number of players that support the format – a format that all 27 million Ipods in the world cannot play. This has eliminated my interest in a growing number of Sony-related releases, a few of which are the Dave Matthews Band’s Stand Up, Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor, David Gray’s Life in Slow Motion, the Bad Plus’ Suspicious Activity (ironic title, eh?) and, just this week, Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine.

The interesting thing here is not just that Sony has rolled out this copy protection scheme but they’ve done it at the same time as promoting DualDiscs of almost every title that has a corresponding XCP-laden “CD” release (because any disc that will not perform in a player displaying a CD- or DVD-logo is not legally a Compact Disc and cannot legally be promoted as such.) Who owns the rights to DualDisc technology? Why it’s Sony! If I haven’t made myself clear, allow me to expand on this: Sony is offering copy-protected discs that it knows the public doesn’t want. Doing a search on any of the artists I mention above paired with copy protection will yield many complaints registered on music forums and blogs – people do not appreciate being told how to use their music. So Sony has seen to it to release DualDiscs the same day as the copy-protected discs come out. Thus far, only Sony has invested, in the US at least, in copy protection, and they are also the sole users of their own DualDisc technology.

And what is a “DualDisc,” you ask? Basically, it’s a CD and a DVD bonded together on one disc. The CD side plays audio, and the DVD side can contain videos or a hi-resolution DVD-audio program of the music. Except in order to put these two formats together, the thickness of the plastic layer must be thinned in order for it to fit into most CD players. In doing this, Sony has violated its own rules about what legally constitutes a CD and a DVD, and many medium- and higher-end players will not recognize these discs because of the exacting standards to which they’re constructed. The result is another disc format that may or may not play, depending on your player of choice.

Now, if you haven’t connected the dots already, let me do so for you: only Sony uses DualDiscs, and they own the rights to it, but they’d like to “share” this technology with all of the labels. The other labels, however, have not shown much interest – they’d rather not pay Sony for anything they don’t have to, basically, and they don’t see it as necessary thing anyway. Sony’s pretty smart, I have to give them that – they know that people don’t want copy-protected music, so buyers are going to seek out an alternative. Why not offer them DualDiscs that suspiciously do not feature copy protection, right? Sony needs sales of DualDiscs to skyrocket so other labels will think buyers want the piddling extras that the DVD side offers . . . so they’ve made the only other option a copy-protected disc that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of buyers. Essentially, Sony has ensured that DualDisc succeeds, but not because it’s a superior format – it’s only because people don’t want copy protection. That’s not much of a measure of success, is it?

And believe me, if/when DualDisc takes off, the copy-protected audio discs will disappear – and copy-protection will suddenly rear its head on the DualDiscs. Guaranteed.

The music you buy is yours. You own a license to it when you purchase the music, whether it be a CD or a DualDisc, or even a download from ITunes or Emusic*. Neither Sony, nor any label, has the right to tell you how you can use that music as long as you use it for your own personal use. That’s the law. But Sony’s taking that right away from you. As consumers, our only option is to simply not respond- don’t buy from them at all. The only better way to send a message to the labels that support infringing your rights is significantly more annoying for the buyer: buy titles and take them back as defective – because that’s what they are – and do so as many times as you possibly can. Unfortunately, the artists will be hurt either way – but maybe it’ll help convince them to jump ship from these backstabbing labels to ones that both support the artist and the listener.

UPDATE:While out to pick up the new live Iron Maiden album, Death on the Road, I checked out the new Fiona Apple album (yeah, I know, interesting pairing of interests.) It turns out that Sony did not crapify this new album with copy protection! I can’t imagine what logic Sony applies to who gets CP’d and who does not, but I’m figuring maybe in this case they knew they had a steep hill to climb to woo buyers who downloaded the leaked Jon Brion-led album into forking over money for something they kinda-sorta already have. $9.99 at Best Buy, folks. Run out and buy it – it’s a stunner.

*Regarding Emusic: a great solution for those of you who don’t like to limit yourselves to what player you can listen to your music on – the Itunes store is Ipod only, Rhapsody and most of the others are specifically anti-Ipod. Emusic offers subscriptions for 40-90 downloads per month for a very reasonable price – $9.99-$19.99. The downloads are 192kbps mp3s with no DRM (because the mp3 format does not support protection.) What’s more, Emusic specializes in indie and jazz. They offer 50 free downloads just for signing up, and you can cancel if you feel like you’ve wasted your money somehow. I haven’t signed up yet, but I have a feeling I may just do this very soon.

October 3, 2005

Latest and greatest

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:36 pm

(Attempt #2, #1 having been unceremoniously dumped by a really annoying trait in the build of Firefox that I had – one click to see something on another tab and poof! – 20 minutes of writing disappears. Better luck this time.)

There have been some fantastic new releases the past few weeks, and I think they deserve a little attention (since I’ve been lax on my Overlooked Alternatives duties, and, in fact, may not return to doing them for Blogcritics because, frankly, I’m just sick of the general bad writing and bad critiquing going on over there lately. I know, I know, if I’m not a part of the solution, I’m part of the problem. Well, true as that may be, I just don’t feel like dealing much with Blogcritics right now. So consider yourself lucky to be one of the few visitors (average something like 80 or so per day) who stumble upon my little contribution to the mass uselessness we call the internet.)

King’s X: Ogre Tones – Yeah, I groan a little at the title too, but don’t let that dissuade you from checking out what I’m happy to report is the best thing the band has done since 1996’s Ear Candy. I think it’s safe to assume that it’s no coincidence that this album is much more focused, tight, and fun than anything since EC – it’s also the first album since that one to feature a producer. As much as I like bands calling all the shots, sometimes it’s clear that bands need a little direction with their sound, lest they drift off into unsuccessful experimentation (Please Come Home, Mr. Bulbous and Manic Moonlight both suffer from this) and just plain bad decisions (like commercially releasing Black Like Sunday, an album of songs that date back to the mid-80s that made it glaringly obvious why they were abandoned back then.) The catchy melodies and unusual, for metal, harmonizing that helped them make their mark are back – albeit to a lesser extent than on, say, the first four King’s X albums. Bassist Doug Pinnick’s voice is in top form here, but it’s nice to hear a song lead by guitarist Ty Tabor again – a staple of the band’s albums that had slowly disappeared as they aged. While not perfect – “Sooner or Later” simply drags on and on, and “Goldilox (Reprise)” is an unnecessary remake of the classic from their first album, and the one-note joke “instrumental” “Bam” is completely pointless – what does work nearly ranks up there with the band’s best material. “If” should be a tremendous, rousing success in a live context, and this album should stand the test of time quite well with fans.

Brad Mehldau Trio: Day is Done – I was left slightly disappointed with pianist Mehldau’s previous studio album, Anything Goes, more because it wasn’t the step forward from his previous album, Largo (an album consisting mostly of originals,) than because it was actually a disappointing listen. I was hoping to hear more new material from Mehldau, as his ability to take on standards is well-established from his previous outings. I can’t say that Day is Done offers that much new material but it does focus on more “new standards” than he’s done lately. The centerpiece is undoubtedly Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” which becomes virtually unrecognizable in Mehldau’s hands. Mehldau’s take on Nick Drakes’ “Day is Done” is a refreshing change of pace – the pianist lays back and lets his band members take the spotlight. The tune is propelled by Larry Grenadier’s beautiful but aggressive bass taking the melody, while Mehldau hints around him with sparse chordings. Elsewhere, such as on yet another welcome Radiohead cover in the form of “Knives Out,” new drummer Jeff Ballard displays a fluid and flexible finesse that he uses to reign in a nearly out-of-control performance – and as any jazz fan knows, the music is most exciting when it sounds like the players are just barely keeping ahead of themselves. Day is Done is truly an exciting album full of moments like this.

Jenny Scheinman: 12 Songs – Man, does Bill Frisell know how to pick his musicians or what? Scheinman has been accompanying Frisell on numerous outings the past few years as his violinist of choice. 12 Songs makes it obvious why. Frisell sits in on the entire album, making the whole affair harken back to the early 90s before Frisell embarked on his mission to redefine Americana, but it’s clearly led by Scheinman’s gorgeous sense of melody. This is less jazz than it is a very refined country, something that, like the best of Frisell’s late 90s work, could easily be heard as the soundtrack to midwest.

Bruce Cockburn: Speechless – A collection of instrumental works from throughout his career this may be, but unless you own all the albums they come from there’s likely to be a lot of new material to enjoy here (aside from the handful of brand new tracks that accompany them.) Think of this as the counterpart to 2002’s excellent retrospective, Anything Anytime Anywhere. Cockburn can’t help that his well-deserved reputation as one of the most inciteful and talented lyricist in music overshadows his guitar playing, but the mostly acoustic Speechless allows his talent to make the case for itself.

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