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Perfecting Sound Forever ~ A Review


Perfecting Sound Forever – The story of recorded music by Greg Milner

A wonderful impossibility?

If you have even a passing interest in Sound, Recorded Sound, Music and the technologies developed to both record and play sound back to us then you may well be enthralled by this book, as I was.

The book takes us through the main developments in recording and reproducing sound from Edison’s experiments with various formats of Cylinder and Disc, the equipment to record sound to them and that needed to reproduce the results for the public’s consumption. He guides us through the moment when the purely Acoustic model of Edison and the early pioneers gave way to Electric recording and reproduction, the invention of Magnetic tape, the development in studio of the use of tape and then multi-tracking. He takes us through the format wars of Long Player and Single, the competition between the Globo Conglomerates Columbia and RCA. All the time he somehow manages to keep this dry subject matter liquid and interesting, engaging and entertaining.

Throughout the book Milner assesses the various merits or failings in his and others eyes of formats and processes and the equipment used to reproduce sound. In fact, though the book traces all the temporal developments in sound technology throughout there is a deep discussion about what sound is to us human beings, how we perceive it, what it means, and so what makes for a successful recording.

For those of us who love to hear our music on records he dispels myth surrounding analog technologies and describes wonderfully the problems inherent with Cd audio, moving on finally to an assessment of compressed digital audio such as ACC and MP3. He takes us through studio technologies and practice, tape splicing/editing, the art of re-mixing and the art/science of mastering, and finally he describes the demise of the studio and the growth of what he calls ‘In The Box’ recording and editing, the relatively recent development of digital recoding via software like Logic and Pro Tools.

He answers questions that you may have, if you’re an obsessive like me, asked yourself for years. Like, why do I hear a quiet version of the intro to a song when I listen intently on my earphones to a vinyl record? It turns out that if the original cutting needle has too much energy in it’s lateral movement this can be transferred through the wall of the groove into the preceeding groove, thus creating an audible echo of what is ‘about’ to happen. Where else but a book like this would you get to hear about the natural harmonics of a valve and why when mixing desks converted to solid state circuitry the sound suffered through the lack of these natural elements of Analog recording.

Plain Speaking

He explains as plainly as anyone possibly could and in doing so has answered so many questions I had not managed to answer elsewhere before reading this book. Greg Milner is a ‘bit of a genius’ I think and the depth of work and effort he has put into this project, for it’s more than just a book, is obvious to all that read it.

The level of Technology vs. Storytelling within the book is set perfectly too. If you are already involved in the world of sound, it is interesting, entertaining and informative. I imagine that those who are not would find it accessible and relatively easy to understand given Greg Milner’s excellent powers of explanation, the text is clear as are his thoughts on the subject.

Reading this book was so enjoyable that I found myself delaying ending by finding something else to do rather than read it! Strange, but true.

I couldn’t praise it enough.

Thank you Mr. Milner

Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music (Hardcover)
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Granta Books (6 July 2009)
ISBN-10: 1862079420
ISBN-13: 978-1862079427

Available for between £10-£20 at many online Book Stores.

DJ Sounds From Uptown ~ Review


The Dancehall Sound Of Midnight Rock

Midnight Rocking

Just a short review of the latest release out of Roots records, a label which obviously has a good relationship with Nkumrah ‘Jah’ Thomas of the Midnight Rock record label, as much of their output has been licenced via him so far. They were sending me promotional cds a while back, and I have enjoyed all of their output to date, particularly the Anthony Johnson Cd and the U-Brown Cd, however I had to go and shell out for this one, which gives you an idea of how much I needed it… well it had two Early B tunes on which I didn’t yet have for starters, so I just had to get it, if only for those!

Even though there are tunes on here you will most likely have heard before, tunes like the Discomix of, ‘Entertainment’ – Triston Palmer, and ‘Bring the Sensie’ – Johnny Osbourne for example, you should find one or two you’ve not heard yet and all the songs are strong heavy classic Dancehall music. This is more early to Mid 80s Dancehall, so if that’s the sound you like (and it’s the era of Dancehall I prefer) then this Cd might be perfect for you.

The great thing I think about the Dancehall era was that the music contained the same urgent forward marching energy as Ska had. Roots music had to a large extent got a bit tired and repetitive over the years preceeding the Dancehall explosion and you can feel the energy pour out your speakers when listening to this Cd, that and the tension and stress that went with Jamaican Ghetto living in the 1980s when few more places were as dangerous as the streets of Kingston.

I’ve got it on in the car right now and it’s great for driving along to, it’s a great release and gets my vote!

Here are the tunes –

Phillip Frazer –  Morning Mr. Officer
Michael Palmer – Robbery
Ranking Toyan – Praise Him
Jah Thomas – Midnight Blue(s)
Early B – Pedestrain
Phillip Frazer – Them A Gun Man
Singie Singie – Respect The Elder
Barry Brown and the Roots Radics – Girlfirend
Al Campbell – Dancehall Style
Anthony Johnson – Loving A Woman
Triston Palmer – Entertainment
Bobby Melody – Ram The Session
Michael Palmer – Ghetto Dance
Early B – Read Up Your Bible
Jah Thomas and Ranking Toyan – Black A Feh Me Beauty
Johnny Osbourne – Bring The Sensie

Mumford and Sons ~ Sigh No More ~ A Review


Being a review of Mumford and Sons album – Sigh No More.

Folk I hear you say? Folk I say. But I’m not quite sure what they’d say and on listening to it I’m worried about what you might say.

Any band with a Banjo played within it, albeit a fashion Banjo with electric guitar body surrounding the more traditional round bit (otherwise known as the ‘head’) runs the risk of someone calling them a folk outfit, combo or other olde waye of describin’ yee olde poppe music groupe! So I’m going to do it, it is by this benchmark that they shall be judged. Though the ‘Folk’ label would normally kill stone dead  anything for the ‘under 25 years of age’ on mere utterance, this album is in the album charts, it’s on Tesco’s ‘record racks’ and is obviously doing well enough to generate some forward motion in this freebie downloading ipod laden world; where goodness only knows how any popular musician makes a living crust from doing what they do. They have obviously taken great care to avoid calling themselves Folk and have probably taken contracts out on anyone who has even got within 50 years of calling them folk, but blimey …. folk they are.

Truth is I bought this for my wife because she saw the T.V. ad and liked the tune ‘Winter Winds’, it’s catchy enough, nothing special, but a fair first offering album wise, and getting a fair play on BBC Radio 2 particularly. Perhaps I expect too much because I’m always wanting to and expecting to hear a spark of genius in new music and yet how can a band formed only 3 years ago in 2007 be expected to be the next big boys on the block. The album is a good listen, nicely if simply arranged, well recorded and with some songs that positively shine out into the abyss of ‘oh God I’ve heard it all before so many times’, but it just lacks that last dash of spice, that moment of magic, that sound of tomorrow like you never heard it in yesteryear.

There is a lyrical simplicity to what they do that I really engaged with, offering some innocent words alongside the music takes guts and risks to write and to stand by these words in front of a Mic is admirable. In some places however obscure references I feel disguise the lack of connection the lyricist and singer is making, or rather not making with the listener, instead of being directly poetical, they just end up sounding obscure for obscurities sake. Yet, the pure innocence of some of the words really works.

A song like ‘I gave you all‘ with it’s lines ~
How can you say that your truth is better than ours?
Shoulder to shoulder, now brother, we carry no arms
The blind man sleeps in the doorway, his home
If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won

Doesn’t to my mind work, on paper particularly it just looks pretentious and meaningless in the main, however, when they sing in the song ‘Awake My Soul’ which for me is the stand out tune on the album ~

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes
I struggle to find any truth in your lies
And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know
This weakness I feel I must finally show

Actually rather simply I just admire any writer who has the self belief to put the word woozy into a lyric… writing songs isn’t easy you know. To write something a little transcendant you pay by giving a piece of yourself away and that means risking that on seeing the innards of you any critic can pull your guts about and leave you exposed. It’s moments like these that create the condition of Writer’s Block you know!

Navvies?

It’s a little disconcerting that they look in some of their promo like someone’s idea of what 18th cent. Tinkers who might have just popped their head out the Caravan door to see if the hedgehog was roasting nicely might look like, I dont know why I find it so tedious that there seems to be an unwritten uniform of clothing to every genre of music making. It’s as if the record companies are worried that we’re too stupid to work out what we’re listening to unless we have some Dreadlocks to look at, or some Black Spikey Hair and Nose-ring to indicate the correct listening attitude.

The instrumentation which consists of: piano, vocals (lots of good close harmonies), guitars, banjo, strings, percussion, points all the time at an acoustic ancestry, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, The Waterboys in particular, the Levellers, Bluegrass, The Pogues and so on, you get the idea.. oh and the Men They Couldn’t hang, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mumford and Sons don’t get the gig this year for Paddy’s Day at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire… you get the idea?

I think really that I’ve written enough to give you an idea of what this might be like, without wasting too much time on what, for me, is a listenable debut album, but one that doesn’t warrant very much in depth thought. A bit like the music and the lyrics of ‘Sigh No More’.

Tracklisting:

  1. Sigh No More
  2. The Cave
  3. Winter Winds
  4. Roll Away Your Stone
  5. White Blank Page
  6. I Gave You All
  7. Little Lion Man
  8. Timshel
  9. Thistle & Weeds
  10. Awake My Soul
  11. Dust bowl Dance
  12. After The Storm

Junior Dan ~ Reggae Road Map Lp Review.


Best Reggae Lp in years?

Rarely comes an Lp that I would buy on spec, but this was one….  and it arrived yesterday. It sounds like it should be  a great album, indeed many are saying that it is.. With an eclectic choice of instrumentation, Dan himself at the helm, the mystical sound we can expect from him and the help in it’s Mixing of Damon Albarn’s (of Blur) re-mixing studio it looks on paper like it ticks the right boxes and should make the grade, but… I don’t think it does, not by a thousand miles.

Junior Dan, well known for 70’s massive Roots tunes like ‘Look Out For The Devil’ (re-issued as a 10″ by Honest Jons Records) has just recently put out Reggae Road Map a full L.p. on his own Hi-Try label. Artwork, sleevenotes and insert all put together by Dan himself, this Lp intially shone out as a effort in a  wilderness that normally only gives birth to  quick snapshots of an artists all too prolific (and thus poorer quality) career. Four of the tunes I understand were recorded at the Black Ark and have been kept ‘under wraps’ since.

BUT the album is an absolute mess.

Rarely do you hear a combined round of applause from the self appointed Reggae cognocenti, but that’s what is happening out there. Various message boards and ‘chat-rooms’ ring with praises for what many are calling the best Reggae album for years, but I can’t understand why, has anyone actually listened to it???

The noise floor on it, tape hiss you might like to call it, is incredibly intrusive, seperation in the mix all but non existant, it is muddy, EQ’d poorly, weak, and worst of all just lacks overall from a distinct paucity of any musical or solid lyrical focus. In my opinion it’s a really bad lp,… and I was so excited!

The Tascam Porta One

The Lp has all of the frequency range of a microphone under 50 meters of sea water and it sounds like they recorded to eighth of an inch tape on a 4 track Tascam Portastudio, remixed through an old Pioneer graphic EQ to B.A.S.F.  normal Ferric Oxide C60 tape and then mastered to a cowpat via a knitting needle and empty bean tin stuck to the speaker cone of an old ghetto Blaster. All I can say is, by the sound of this Lp, Albarn’s re-mix studio must be in his old teenager’s sock ridden bedroom and if I was clutching some multitrack tape or data on a hardisk that needed remixing, I’d run in the opposite direction from wherever that studio is located just in case!

Frankly it sounded like it was remixed in a Gorilla’s studio by a primate and not … well you get the gag!

By all means tell me I’m wrong, tell me it’s a work of genius and Dan was only trying to ape Lee Perry’s recording technics in his approximation of Perry’s and the Black Ark’s aural landscape and to match the sound of the four or so tunes on the L.P. originally recorded there, please tell me I’m wrong about this album, I need you to convince me that I’m not upset that I spent some of the very little money I have available these days to buy records on this one!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Junior Dan’s stuff, or at least the little I have heard of it, just not this. It’s a real pity too, a missed opportunity because he obviously cares massively about what he does.

Sorry Junior, I mean no disrespect, I just don’t like this Lp at all.

Go and buy his previously released and first tune on revive 7″ single ‘House Is Not A Home’, it’s definately worth having, and I’m glad I bought that one at least!