31 December 2008

That Just About Sums It Up

Following the Wikipedia links around intertwingularity, I visited Ted Nelson’s page.

Ted Nelson promotes four maxims: “most people are fools, most authority is malignant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong”.

But, Ted, some things aren’t wrong...

Meshuggah and Cynic (!!!) at Slim's on 4 Feb 2009

OH HELLZ YES. I just bought my ticket. Actually I bought 3 dinner tickets — the sound is better in the back where the foodz is.

Intent on decimating the boundaries of extreme music with their metric art, Sweden’s Meshuggah will be returning to North America in February on a 17-show headlining tour presented by MySpace Music. Direct support to Meshuggah will be provided by the legendary progressive metal band Cynic. Opening all shows will be technical progressive death metallers The Faceless from LA.

More on Digital Archival Storage

Bit Preservation: A Solved Problem?” by David Rosenthal discusses the problems with our current understanding of the reliability of data storage systems. He examines the (comical) claims of storage system vendors and of optimistic researchers, exposes the fact that the claims are meaningless and untestable, and proposes a new metric: “bit half-life”.

The most abstract model of a bit preservation system is as a black box, into which a string of bits S(0) is placed at time T(0) and from which at subsequent times T(i) a string of bits S(i) can be extracted. The system is successful if S(i) = S(0) for all i.

No real-world system can be perfect and eternal, so real systems will fail. The simplest model of these failures is analogous to the decay of radioactive atoms. Each bit in the string independently is subject to a random process that has a constant small probability per unit time of causing its value to flip. The time after which there is a 50% probability that a bit will flip is the “bit half-life”.


There is no escape from the problem that the size of the data collections to be preserved and the times for which they must be preserved mean that experimental confirmation that the technology chosen is up to the job is not economically feasible. Even if it was the results would not be available soon enough to be useful. What this argument demonstrates is that, far from bit preservation being a solved problem, it is in a very specific sense an unsolvable problem.

23 December 2008

Hardline Hardcore

The NYT has two stories right now about Muslim and Orthodox Jewish music: “Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book” and “Hanukkah Receives Kosher Pop Welcome”.

“I’m a Muslim and I’m 100-percent American,” Ms. DeWulf said, “so I can criticize my faith and my country. Rebellion? Punk? This is totally American.”


The novel’s Muslim characters include Rabeya, a riot girl who plays guitar onstage wearing a burqa and leads a group of men and women in prayer. There is also Fasiq, a pot-smoking skater, and Jehangir, a drunk.

Such acts — playing Western music, women leading prayer, men and women praying together, drinking, smoking — are considered haram, or forbidden, by millions of Muslims.


One band, the Kominas, wrote a song called “Suicide Bomb the Gap,” which became Muslim punk rock’s first anthem.

Sure, that makes tons of sense. PS: Grow the fuck up.

Matisyahu, who was born Matthew Miller, sings explicitly devotional songs about God, Moshiach (the Messiah) and Orthodox Jewish identity. By setting them to reggae, rock and hip-hop beats, and after working his way up the jam-band circuit, he also reaches listeners with their minds on more secular pursuits, like dancing and drugs. Simcha Levenberg, the M.C. who introduced him, drew big laughs with jokes about marijuana and LSD, although Matisyahu’s song “King Without a Crown” insisted, “If you’re trying to stay high, then you’re bound to be low.”

Man... kids these days.

Currently listening to: Lady Sovereign’s a free download.

Rip Your CDs... For a Weird Price

I’m in Minnesota to visit the fam for the holidays, so I get to read the local paper, the StarTribune.

In today’s paper, Randy Salas talks about digitizing his collection of 2,000 CDs. He used a service called iPodMeister, which takes as payment your actual CDs (!). In return, you get MP3s in various media and even a check. I guess they re-sell your CDs or something.

I can’t imagine giving up my original media (a) at all; or (b) for MP3s! A while back I did an A/B test of CDs with 256kiB/s (variable bit-rate) MP3s, and unfortunately, there really is a sound difference. Even the high bit-rate MP3s suffer noticeable sound loss (surprisingly, in at least one case, in the bass). (Gojira has some great bass playing.) I don’t subscribe to audiophile magical thinking, but the difference was really noticeable on good speakers. iPod earbuds won’t reveal the difference, but decent headphones or decent speakers will.

Lossy compression is dead! Storage is cheap. (When will emusic.com get the frickin’ message?)

Currently on newegg.com, 1TB drives are $120. If you figure roughly 10MB per minute of stereo audio in WAV format — we’ll use base 10 since the drive manufacturers do (Note 1 and Note 2) — you can get 80,000 minutes of music on that drive (figure 20% for filesystem overhead to be safe). At that point, even lossless compression seems like overkill. Granted, you'll need to get two drives (preferably from different manufacturers or at least different production batches), but $240 is a small price to pay for that much storage.

And it’s not economical to buy two 500GB disks, in case you were thinking of saving money: 500GB drives are $100. $240 is the current sweet spot for reliable storage. It so happens that that’s 1TB.

And as for the copyright concerns: you bought it, you own it, and can re-sell it. Whether or not you can keep the MP3s after you sell the original media, I don’t know. Ethically, it “feels” wrong to me; legally, I am told that maybe you can.

In any case, copyright law as it currently stands is on the wrong side of physics and economics (we are nowhere near the limits of information density right now!). Reality is going to keep punching copyright maximalists in the guts for a long time.

18 December 2008

Gary Brawer and Crew Come Through Again

These guys continually RULE. A couple years back I had them deck out my black Gibson SG Special with Seymour Duncan pickups (Jazz neck, JB bridge) with push-pull pots to control coil tapping. They did a great job on that and it sounds just like you would hope.

So I brought in my homebrew Frankenstrat. It had a JB in the bridge position, but it was a neck JB, or something — the poles didn't line up with the strings and it sounded like poop. I knew I wanted an active pickup to improve my Vernon Reid/James Hetfield wannabe sound — that “all frequency ranges louder than all the others” EQ — but I didn’t know how to get that. I told them what I wanted, and they came up with the EMG 60. (Gary said, “It came to me in a dream.”)

Despite my constant whining to them “is it ready”, they were cool with me. Allen, who wrangles customers (and who also plays with the Mermen), is a sweet guy and a pro.

The guitar sounds perfect (I’ll post some sound files when I get back from The Black Tundra). It’s bright, but not at all thin, with a “quick” response. Perfect clarity for complex chords even with ultra distortion. Yes, Virginia, E major 9 belongs in thrash metal.

07 December 2008

Cool New Tech/Prog Metal Band: Terminal Function

They are Swedish, so I guess it’s okay that they crib from Meshuggah a bit. Who would complain anyway! And check out their hilariously nerdy web site, complete with emulated Unix-like shell prompt!

I got their album Measuring the Abstract from emusic.com. A new favorite! Has elements of Meshuggah, Cynic, and Between the Buried and Me. Vocals are cookie monster, clean, and robot/vocoder (an obvious nod to the unforgettable Cynic).

Currently listening to: “Dissolving Soul Fragments”

And here they are playing mouth-guitar in their car. NERDS:

06 December 2008

More Fun With Synthetic Modes

I really dig the whole-tone scale:

C – D – E – F# – G# – A# – C

I’ve found it’s handy to stick a perfect fifth in, as well:

C – D – E – F# – G – G# – A# – C

01 December 2008

30 November 2008

Allan Holdsworth

On the 16th (that’s two weeks ago to you and me, Russ), a hearty gang of peeps and I went to Yoshi’s to see Allan Holdsworth with Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Johnson. Obviously it was great of course as you’d expect, but it was also verrah interestoing. Wackerman made what I thought was a strange mistake at the end of his first solo, apparently getting a bar ahead of the rest of the band! He had to do a loud snare count-off to get people back in synch, and then he was visibly upset. Holdsworth just gave him an eyebrow. It was cool, though; everyone was doing very well. On his next solo he was flawless and thus happy again.

Al lent me his Holdsworth instructional DVD which I highly recommend. It's a great in-studio concert with that same band, mixed in which Allan talking about the tunes and about his own personal music theory lessons. (The disc has an iPod-grade movie as a file as well as a PDF of the lesson booklet! Sweet.) Holdsworth claims that it’s best to figure out by yourself how chords and scales work, in your own way, but he also admits that you end up with personal terminology that nobody else understands. So in these lessons he has to translate his terms into standard terms, and it kind of gets in the way. There are two reasons to learn music theory, (1) to understand how stuff works and (2) to communicate your ideas to others, and a homebrew theory does not work for (2). It’s also more effort to achieve (1).

Although I disagree with his approach, I can’t argue with results, and the results are total fusion goodness.

One cool thing from the video is he spends some time on synthetic scales, including this weird one:

E – F# – G – A♭ – B♭ – C – C# – D – E

It’s surprisingly flexible, including a straightforward (ha ha) use as a sort of bi-tonal blues (E and B♭ major blues; C# and G minor blues).

Currently listening to: The grinding of my laptop’s cooling fan

New Toy: DigiTech JamMan

I finally decided to get a looper, so yesterday I did a little reconnaissance. I went to Rocker Guitars knowing, as always, that I was in for a punch in the gut or two. (The Yelp reviews, both positive and negative, are accurate in my experience: Rocker is goat-asses that sell very nice gear.) All they had for delays/loops was a Visual Sound H20 ($189) and another thingie that I don’t remember but which also cost about 3 times as much as it should. The H20 makes a beautiful thick chorus and the delay is also decent (but short). I tried it out on a nice Strat into, of course, a Matchless. Great pedal, but not what I was looking for.

When I asked the salesdude if he ever gets anything with tap tempo and recording features, he snarled, “NEVAR. You’ll have to go to Guitar Center for that!”

I guess they hate making money. So, today I went to Oud Area and picked up a DigiTech JamMan. The first one was dead on arrival, so I had to drive back and return it. The second one works, nicely! It has all these terrible, non-analog, non-elitist features like a 1GB Compact Flash card, tap tempo, overdubbing, and what-have-you.

Also yesterday, I brought my Frankenstrat into Gary Brawer’s shop (their blog is also awesome) for a setup and a much-needed pickup replacement. (It had a neck Duncan JB in the bridge position, so the 6th and 1st strings sounded like fresh lutefisk.) I’m getting an EMG 85 in there, and it will rule. Gary Brawer always does awesome work. Joe Satriani was there, picking up two guitars, and his cell phone ring tone was the obligatory shred-rock noodle. Awesome!