FLAC

Lovers of the lossless file format will tell you there’s no other way to listen to music, but is it necessary?

Before we begin I have to define what FLAC is, along with it’s other lossless counterparts:

FLAC = Free Lossless Audio Codec (Open Source)
FLAC is a the most popular lossless file format. The file is compressed so it will reduce the original file size, (by about half,) but the difference in sound quality is minimal. It also allows you to add metadata, (cover art, track names etc.,) which is an advantage over other lossless formats. It plays on almost all media players except for Itunes.

WAV = Waveform Audio File (Windows)
Completely uncompressed, WAV is an exact copy of the source file so it will give you the highest audio quality possible. The downside is the files are very large and they don’t support metadata. As well, WAV will play on almost all media devices.

AIFF = Audio Interchange File Format (Apple)
AIFF is similar to WAV and also has no compression. The audio quality is identical to WAV and shares the title of ‘highest audio quality possible’. Once again, the files are quite large, but AIFF allows metadata. AIFF plays on virtually all devices as well.

Note: You can use VLC to play these file formats on all devices

All formats provide superior audio quality, so why do you hear more about FLAC? Honestly, I think it’s because it’s more fun to say.

Considering lossless vs. lossy, (Mp3 etc.,) the easiest comparison to make would be with photos. When you edit a large photo file you can make changes it to it, (colour, exposure, filters etc.) without reducing the overall picture quality. If you start with a small file then the edits you make will start to degrade picture quality very quickly leaving you with an ugly mess.

The same goes for audio files. Mp3 is fine for everyday listening, but as soon as you start adding pre-amps and equalizers, you’ll find your audio is not responding the way you would like it to. As well, any form of amplification takes a toll on audio quality, so if you’re going to play your music through a PA, lossless is recommended.
(This is why a professional DJ is hesitant to play your youtube song requests – even if you promise you’ll dance to them).

There are a few other reasons to choose lossless, even for everyday listening:

  1. If you’re listening to a classic album from a different era. It’s more enjoyable to hear the sounds the artist actually created for additional context.
    Ex. If you’re listening to Pet Sounds it should be in lossless, (and mono, but that’s a different argument).
  2. When you listen to music that avoids overly compressed sound as part of it’s musical style. Compression will block certain sounds together changing the soundscape, which may be the reason the album saw success in the first place.
    Ex. A heavily compressed version of For Emma Forever Ago,  likely would not have made it out that Wisconsin cabin to our ears.
  3. The production of the album is so good and interesting that replaying each song with different EQ variations can offer you endless musical experiences. Lossless will give you more space to experiment in the search for the perfect tone.
    Ex. Anything by Mark Linkous.

And of course, the last, and most important reason to choose lossless is:

If you’re obsessive about music quality, constantly adjusting knobs and fiddling with the EQ, you can rest easy knowing that this version of the song is as good as it can possibly be. It’s one less thing to worry about.

Above is the haunting opener off Mount Eerie’s latest album A Crow Looked at Me. With a minimalist soundscape that seems to trap the listener in the present moment, the track makes you hyper aware of the passing of time and how long each second can last if you pay attention.

Recorded alone in the empty bedroom of songwriter Elverum’s late wife, the album offers the kind of musical experience that demands FLAC.

And yes it’s a youtube video, but please find somewhere to listen in lossless – You won’t regret it.

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(Gimme) Fiction

gimme fiction

Storytelling is one of the most important advancements of mankind, made all the more powerful when we realized we didn’t need to tell the truth. Let’s face it, the cold, calculated world of truth and reason just can’t capture humanity – for that we need fiction.

All stories are fiction, whether true or not – as Nobokov said in his seminal essay Good Readers and Good Writers, “to call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth.” It wasn’t really the truth when you thought it and it won’t become true when you write it down. Honesty is a useless caveat that can set your writing back years.

Non-fiction is incredibly limiting as well, so it’s best served with a healthy dose of fantasy. Still, it’s useful to draw from your own life, and poetry about specific events will add ambiguity to your work while keeping it novel.

Cobain used short, cryptic lines with an emphasis on phonetics over syntax to create some of the most memorable verses in modern music. They were firmly rooted in his reality, but obscure and specific enough to keep them ambiguous.

However, drawing from reality is just a tool and it’s not a requirement to write great lyrics. With fictional poetry you can dive right into the heart of something that never happened and make small-scope commentary on the lives of people who don’t exist.

Below is “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” by Spoon(the home demo version off the deluxe 10th anniversary release of Gimme Fiction).

Listen as Britt Daniel sings of a desire to play Eddie Valentine in the play The Stranger Dance – A longing that will remain unfilled as the play, with it’s broken plot and three piece cast doesn’t exist outside of the pop song’s fictional universe.

Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll

I took a few months away from music – it wasn’t giving back to me the way it once had.

2 years slumming in Toronto had drained me. I was a tired, skinny, broke dirtbag who spent most of my limited mental energy convincing myself I still had enough cash left in my savings to keep smoking, (I did not).

Dangerously thin and drowning in debt, my body was broken from playing guitar and general neglect. I ate like shit, substituting full meals for caffeine, cigarettes and refined sugar, (thankfully, I had a roommate who worked at Starbucks who could provide me with free coffee and expired baked goods).

I rarely slept before sunrise, trapped in an endless insomnia cycle that no amount of pot or melatonin could regulate. And to top it off, one of my teeth fell out (and no, I did not have dental insurance).

Perhaps I’m being melodramatic, things weren’t dire – I was mostly just sad. All was not lost, however and every bad situation can be turned around. I am lucky enough to be born in a country that allows me to move to the wonderful city of Calgary at a moment’s notice.

Calgary! What a city – you really can’t beat it. Every place has it’s charms, but if you want to be happy, healthy and stable there is no better spot. 6 months in the new west and I paid off my debt, quit smoking, gained 20 pounds and all of my teeth are now safely inside of my head.

Of course, there is nothing special about me that allowed this progression. I was surrounded by people who care about me who answered my call for help, however masked the invocation may have been.

Here’s an insufficient, but necessary roll call:
Mom and Dad – For letting me come home without asking why.
Valerie – My best friend in Toronto.
Sean – A fellow AB expat who understood why I had to leave.
Lindsay – She knows.

There are more of course, but to avoid gushing I’ll leave my gratitude unpublished, replaced instead with a boilerplate “thank you,” to be eventually supplemented with a proper, real life acknowledgement.

Work, as well can be cathartic. For the past few months I worked as a vaguely defined marketing professional in Telcomm – traveling around Alberta, living in hotels, while taking advantage of free trials at gyms in each city I visited along the way.

I worked and worked out, then hit repeat. I bought groceries, but little else, tacking all of my paycheck onto my debt until it was gone, (celebrating my red line finish with a trip to Seattle and a pair of Fluevogs).

Now, equipped with a sound mind and body, (and a new pair of boots,) I’m ready to head back to Toronto, because let’s be honest, it’s fine there – I’m just a baby.

I have an amazing band waiting for me and a new album fully written, aching for the contributions of a world class drummer and bassist, (stoked to see you Sean and Ally).

If I had a checklist then I have no doubt that I could accomplish everything I want out of life in Alberta. But, I don’t, so I’ll continue to stumble aimlessly, writing on each opportunity life affords me, in whatever medium calls out.

Above is The Killer’s indie rock anthem “Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll” –  the Sawdust version, which is much more glamorous, (although slightly less indie-rock and roll,) than it’s Hot Fuss predecessor.

Hated by the songwriter himself, but protected from cliché by it’s b-side status – when I hear GIRR, I want to to move across the country with nothing but a suitcase and a guitar, which is, I suppose, exactly what I’m going to do.

Fear 3 (Performer Anxiety)

Performer’s anxiety is the fear an artist feels when showing off their work.
Performer anxiety is the fear of talking to that artist after their show.

These fears all come together in a perfect storm of awkward social interaction immediately following a band’s set.

We all dread joining the queue of fans hovering at the stage, leaving us to mentally calculate where to place ourselves in the performer’s friendship hierarchy:

Well, I’m not going to congratulate them before their best friends do, but I’m sure I can get in there somewhere between their roommate and cousin.

Sometimes it’s perfect – The performer and audience member thank each other for their complementary roles in the evening’s event and both leave feeling enriched by the interaction.

Sometimes it’s a disaster – I have vivid memories of a band laughing in my face like lunatics when I talked to them after the show. I found out later they were all on mushrooms, but for some reason that information couldn’t wash out the memory.

If you’re an artist, know the performance doesn’t end after the last song. You should be present and engaging for at least the first 20 minutes after your set. In fact, that time is part of the performance and it’s one of life’s great opportunities to be charismatic!

It doesn’t matter if you thought you played like garbage – save those thoughts for later that night when you’re alone. There’s no sense in dwelling on the details of your show in a social scenario.

Self reflection requires isolation. You can’t reach any constructive resolutions when you’re surrounded by distractions, so every moment you spend replaying the errors of your show is a moment wasted. After the show is the time to present your best self and make people happy they came to see you.

Maybe the sound was off, maybe you had one to many drinks, maybe you stayed up every night that week smoking cigarettes and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and your voice was wrecked. It doesn’t matter – If you’re unhappy with your set, just pretend it went well and have a little fun.

The modern lyrical landscape of North America is full of free verse poems about social anxiety. Thankfully, every once and a while, one of them is exceptional. Above is The Eels “Things The Grandchildren Should Know,” simple, unpretentious and accessible.

Fear 2 (Looking Glass Self)

I had a dream last week with a machine that could show you how the world at large viewed your work. In reality, you can run your lyrics through different ideological lenses in search of perceived meaning, but you’re always just pretending to be the audience.

Empathy has it’s limits and you can never truly know how someone will view your work. You also will have a tendency to downplay any objections that paint you in an unfavorable light. The dream’s machine addresses those issues to give you a clear picture of how you’re being judged.

According to this dream machine I am:

Pretentious
Insensitive
and…
Nonsensical.

I found that to be a fairly accurate description of my work – Or, at least an accurate picture of the fears present in my creative process, (the greatest fear, of course, is the fear of being boring – nothing is worse than that).

Doubt can be overwhelming for an artist and it’s easy to find justifications to leave your work as is to avoid the feeling. Still, you should play these internal objections out to the end, because it will result in better work. Fear is very valuable in the creative process and will assist your search for the exact right word to describe your feelings. Unfortunately, (and often ironically,) what you consider the perfect words are often the exact wrong words (le mots mauvais,) for someone else. 

This is beyond your control and you can only bend to the will of the looking glass self so much before your work becomes derivative. You know your own experience better than you could know anyone else’s, so insight into the self is typically more novel. Even if others find your work pretentious, insensitive and nonsensical, rest easy knowing it was exactly what you wanted it to be.

Above is the rainy day lullaby “You” by Good Morning. Let the soft, lo-fi tones and lazy guitar lull you to sleep, confident in the belief that you are fine and no one is secretly judging you. (If anything they’re just ignoring you).

 

 

Fear 1 (Sociophobia)

“it seemed as if the Internet was governed more by fear: the fear of unpopularity and uncoolness, the fear of missing out, the fear of being flamed or forgotten.”
― Jonathan Franzen, Purity

Art has some protection from societal criticism under freedom of expression, but, it’s not absolute. You’re always granted control over your artistic message, but people don’t have to like it. Many talented artists are vilified throughout their career – maybe you will be as well, that’s the risk you take when you put anything out into the world. Only time will tell which objections are valid and which are trivial.

It can be scary to deviate from the currently accepted social conversation. When an improper tweet can ruin your career, it’s terrifying to try to say anything that hasn’t been tested by previous artists. But, hopefully that fear doesn’t steal the edge from your work or push you into silence.

There will always be an ebb and flow for art criticism in society – sometimes puritans will have more power, and sometimes libertines will. If you plan to be an artist for your entire life you should decide how you feel about freedom of expression and be prepared to defend your stance. Or at the very least have a stance in your own mind and continually produce work that conforms to your true feelings.

Let go of the fear of societal condemnation, say what you want to say and take whatever praise or damnation critics have to throw at you. That fear is ruining your work and honestly, the world can only handle so many gossamer-thin creatives, all riding the same wave of whichever ideology is in vogue.

If you’re an unknown artist the stakes will be quite low anyways. Fearlessness will improve your work much faster than if you drench every artistic decision with anxiety.

Still, even as an artist you don’t need to be a staunch defender of artistic freedom. The idea is quite loose. An open market for creativity is beautiful, but you don’t have to defend artists that you find reprehensible just because you value freedom of expression.

If someone is making bad art you can tell them it’s bad. You don’t have to passively support bad art just because you believe in free speech. Reasonable dissension does not make you tyrannical and it doesn’t betray your belief in artistic freedom. The freedom to critique is just as valid as the freedom to create.

Be sure to criticize in good faith, and make sure that your criticism is thoughtfully written. If your critique is lazy or insincere then it’s going to come off as noise. It’s more beneficial to respond to bad art with good art, and fresh, honest prose is much more valuable than a regurgitated wall of text. The former will greatly improve your own work and will be a pleasurable experience for those who read it. Sadly, no one is going to read the latter, because no one really cares what you have to say unless you say it in an interesting way; (one of the unfortunate side effects of information overload).

Above is a rare demo of the stadium anthem “My Generation” by The Who – originally banned by BBC on the grounds that Townsend’s signature affectation may be offensive to people who stutter. Thankfully, the ban was not permanent.

Chorus Pedals

The 80’s were a difficult time for music. Digital recording was taking over causing guitar tones to sound thin and underwhelming. One strategy to battle wispy guitar tones was the heavy use of chorus – If your guitar signal left you feeling underwhelmed you could always add chorus to mimic multiple guitars in hopes of fattening up your tone.

The only problem was that chorus pedals sounded awful, (and they still do).

The correct way to use a chorus pedal is to place it at the end of your pedal board, after your overdrive pedals, in your amp’s effects loop, adding a short delay to your entire signal chain creating the impression of multiple instruments.

However, if you place your chorus pedal closer to the start of your signal chain, before your amp’s natural overdrive, the multiple guitar effect will meet the distortion and create one cohesive tone. The space created by the chorus’ short delay is filled in by the fat tone of the overdrive to the point where the delay is less pronounced. The downside is your signal can become muddy very quickly so this works best with a gentle chorus into a subtle overdrive.

I certainly prefer it, but then again I was barely alive in the 80’s – Maybe chorus was cool back then?

Listen above to hear Kurt Cobain ignore his amp’s effect’s loop and use chorus pedals to create an iconic, post-punk guitar tone.

Note: Don’t put your chorus before a fuzz pedal, it’s too much.