Favorites of 2015

a0328152615_10recorded:

Janet Feder T H I S C L O S E (self-released / Bandcamp) LP

Jasmine Gufford Yellow Bell (Sonic Pieces, Germany) CD

Max Richter Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon, US) FLAC

Steve Hauschildt Where All Is Fled (Kranky, US) LP

Loscil Adrift (self-released) app

Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie Travels in Constants Vol 24 (self-released / Bandcamp)

Kate Burkart Save Me A Seat (Luckystar, US/self-released) CD

Bill Nelson Quiet Bells (Sonolux, UK) CD

Bersarin Quartet III (Denovali, Germany) FLAC

Christina Vantzou No3 (Kranky, US) 2xLP

Jóhann Jóhannsson with Hildur Guðnadóttir & Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe End Of Summer (Sonic Pieces, Germany) FLAC

Ryuichi Sakamoto Left Handed Dream (MIDI, Japan) DSD (reissue)

Hans-Joachim RoedeliusTape Archive 1973-1978 (Bureau B, Germany) 3xLP + CD box

printed:

David Gessner All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West (W.W. Norton and Company)

B. Lynn Ingram & Frances Malamud-Roam The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow (University of California Press)

Craig Childs The Secret Knowledge of Water : Discovering the Essence of the American Desert (Back Bay Books)

Stella Beratlis Alkali Sink (Sixteen Rivers Press)

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Recent Vinyl Intake

41nx38KzFCL._SX355_Angelo Badalamenti ‎Blue Velvet (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Varèse Sarabande US – Newbury Comics blue vinyl reissue)

Robbie Basho Visions Of The Country (Gnome Life Records US reissue)

Robbie Basho Art Of The Acoustic Steel String Guitar 6 & 12 (Gnome Life Records US reissue)

Christopher Bissonnette Essays In Idleness (Kranky US)

Tom Carter Long Time Underground (Three Lobed Recordings/ Divide By Zero US)

Alessandro Cortini ‎Sonno (Hospital Productions US)

James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg Ambsace (Paradise Of Bachelors US)

Giles, Giles And Fripp The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp (Cherry Red UK reissue)

Steve Hauschildt Where All Is Fled (Kranky US)

Keith Jarrett The Köln Concert (ECM Records US – Newbury Comics clear vinyl reissue)

Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge Full Moon (A&M US – used)

Arvo Pärt Passio (Et In Arcadia Ego/The Ajna Offensive US reissue)

Phase90 Infinitati (echospace [detroit])

Popol Vuh Letzte Tage – Letzte Nächte (Wah Wah Records Italy reissue)

Popol Vuh Das Hohelied Salomos (Wah Wah Records Italy reissue)

Red Temple Spirits Dancing To Restore An Eclipsed Moon (Mannequin US reissue)

Red Temple Spirits If Tomorrow I Where Leaving For Lhasa, I Wouldn’t Stay A Minute More… (Mannequin US reissue)

Max Richter From Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon US)

Max Richter / Vivaldi / Daniel Hope / Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin / André de Ridder Recomposed By Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (Deutsche Grammophon US)

Arthur Russell World Of Echo (Audika US reissue)

Stars Of The Lid Stars Of The Lid And Their Refinement Of The Decline (Kranky US reissue)

Scharpling And Wurster Rock, Rot & Rule (Stereolaffs/ Flannelgraph Records US reissue)

Sun City Girls Torch Of The Mystics (Abduction US reissue)

Teeth Of The Sea A Field In England: Re-Imagined (Rocket Recordings UK)

Laurence Vanay – Laurence Vanay (Lion Productions US reissue)

Vangelis L’Apocalypse Des Animaux (Polydor Japan – used)

Christina Vantzou No3 (Kranky US)

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Kate Burkart “Save Me A Seat”

My girlfriend’s new EP went on sale last Friday.

She began recording this awhile back, and since then she’s been dealing with a lot of things: a chronic myelogenous leukemia diagnosis, changing jobs, helping her son through college, and…being my girlfriend (never an easy job).

Anyway, this one’s been a long time in the making, and hell, nobody wants to hear about the labor pains — they just want to see (or hear) the baby.

This one’s Kate’s baby, and I’m proud of her.

Here’s some links.

Bandcamp

iTunes

Amazon

Soundcloud

YouTube

kateburkart.com

Don Joyce (February 9, 1944 – July 22, 2015)

Don Joyce died last week. He was 71.

In 1980 I visited the then-nascent Greenworld Imports in Torrance, CA. I was working music retail, and dropped by Greenworld to pick an order for the Music Plus Long Beach location, where I was a buyer.

Greenworld was making a go at competing with east-coast monolith Jem Records, and importing vinyl and distributing U.S. independent labels was kind of like the wild west back then. The warehouse was little more than a smallish industrial garage space. I walked around with a little cart, depositing LPs into it.

“You need one of these,” said one of the guys.

He handed me a copy of Negativland’s self-titled first LP. The covers were handmade, with unique clip art on each jacket.

I bought three. Two for the store, and one for me.

I took the album home and played it. I played it again. And again. I liked it.

A year later I was working at Greenworld.

Seven years later: I was a confirmed Negativland fan. They’d put out three more albums. I’d moved to Sacramento. I was DJing at UC Davis’ KDVS. Negativland’s “Escape From Noise” had just been released; the band was playing a KDVS-sponsored show on campus. I hadn’t yet seen them live. I was working lights for the show, which, considering the UC Entertainment Council budget, pretty much meant I was plugging and unplugging a couple large spotlights about 20 yards from the stage as the whim struck me, doing my best to avoid being electrocuted.

Good times.

Don-Joyce-Composer-370x230Don Joyce, the newest member of Negativland, held down a substantial portion of the stage. He was seated at a large table with several broadcast cart machines in front of him, a mixer or two. He was surrounded by tall stacks of tapes.

All the sound emanating from the stage seemed to be centered around what Don was doing.

He had no sampler, or laptop. He was playing tapes (mostly spoken word, found sounds, and sound effects) the way someone would play an instrument — or mix an album — and it was masterful. From the expression on Don’s face, he might as well have been working a minimum-wage assembly line, or reading a book. But the sounds coming from his area of the stage were produced with the skill, nuance and grace of an orchestra conductor. His impassive countenance just made the scene more incongruous…and awe-inspiring.

Don didn’t play on that first Negativland album, or the second, or the third; he joined the band later after Negativland showed up at his Over The Edge show on KFPA in Berkeley sometime around 1985 (?). His showcase albums of that era were “Escape From Noise”, “Helter Stupid” and the “U2” EP. His work on the latter was so provocative that U2 sued the band for copyright infringement (Casey Kasem wasn’t too thrilled, either).

Over the past thirty years, Don was not only working with Negativland, but also doing that Over The Edge show almost every Thursday night on KPFA. The latter deserves a post (no, a book) of its own. There’s never been anything on the air like “Over The Edge.”

I met Don in 1988 at his studio (and home) in one of Oakland’s grittier neighborhoods. The place was packed with tables of old analog equipment, and smelled of years of cigarette smoke. His beloved cat, Miss Kitty, and girlfriend, Babs, were there. Don was shy. He broke the somewhat stilted mood by firing a cap gun, then waving it under his nose and inhaling the smoke. “Ahhh…” he cooed, as if enjoying the bouquet of a fine wine. Babs and I laughed. We talked about cats. He seemed as though he’d be more comfortable by himself then entertaining a fan.

I’ve thought a lot over the past couple days about Don, and why I liked what he did in the studio and onstage.

He had an enormous catalog of LPs and recordings from radio, TV, industrial training videos, and “found” audio. He coined the term culture jamming; I’m sure the ambiguity appealed to him — “jamming” as you would an undesirable radio signal, while also “jamming” as a band would.

Don had an uncanny — and seductive — knack for recontextualization. He could take any pop-culture subject matter and juxtapose snippets of sound by hand-editing them on 1/4 inch tape with a razor blade. The cuts and loops took hours to assemble. Or days. Or sometimes even weeks to put together a piece. He made the complex sound effortless. Any audio fodder, no matter how vapid, could instantly become entertaining and thought-provoking in Don’s hands.

Don Joyce was obsessed with the trappings of marketing, advertising and celebrity. He used these things against themselves, distilling the sensory bombardment of modern media and adding a subtle — yet sharply merciless — satirical edge. The result was …. well, further sensory bombardment, fortified by the “force multiplier” of absurdity.

After U2 sued Negativland, I heard Don being interviewed on All Things Considered. The host mentioned something about how confusing Negativland’s cut-up pieces could be to listen to. I recall Don reassuring the host, saying something like (I’m paraphrasing) “confusion is a healthy state of mind. It means your brain is in a discriminating mode, and firing on all cylinders.”

Considering that Don often had the TV and radio playing at the same time in his house while he worked, he was an authority on such matters.

In an era when having an attention span increasingly seemed like a liability, we needed someone like Don. And we still do, more than ever. Don spoiled us. We’ll have the Negativland albums, and the Over The Edge airchecks, and that’s good. But it’s not going to be the same without him.

Don Joyce was a curator, editor, creator, and artist. He had the wisdom to tell the difference between wheat and chaff. He knew what mattered, and what didn’t — and could separate the banal from the seemingly important … and then make the banal matter. And make it entertaining.

He knew when to go too far, and just when to stop. Only this time, he stopped too soon.

don joyce

94 degrees and 40% humidity

Yes, it’s a good day to stay inside.photo

Geek Pulse DAC – Little or No QA or QC?

After shipping it back to LH Labs last week, I heard back about my Geek Pulse X DAC today:

Repair Technician Comments:
Resistors have been added for proper boot-up
Verified Main and MCU are both up to date
Passes all tests including AP test and listening test

Resistors, after all, not really being optional.

Or perhaps I should have upgraded the unit with the “resistors” perk back in January?

LH Labs apparently let at least one unit out the door without testing it. I wonder if there’s others.

I understand it’s a busy company, with a hectic shipping schedule, and the whole wild-west crowdfunding thing.

But before a piece of electronic equipment leaves the building, it should be tested. This is an unacceptably sloppy way of manufacturing and shipping merchandise.

Recent Vinyl Intake

801 801 Live (Polydor Japan LP – used)

Arovane Ve Palor (n5MD US 2xLP)

Sibylle Baier Colour Green (Orange Twin/American Dust LP)

Biosphere Microgravity (Biophon Norway 3xLP reissue)

F.S. Blumm Lichten (Audio Dregs US LP)

Harold Budd Bandits Of Stature (Darla US LP)

The Durutti Column The Return Of The Durutti Column (Factory Benelux LP – reissue)

Harmonia & Eno ’76 – Tracks And Traces (Grönland Records Germany LP)

Mark Isham Tibet (Windham Hill US – used)

Joy Division Closer (Rhino US LP – reissue)

Kronos Quartet Plays Music By Bryce Dessner Aheym (Anti US 2xLP)

Rachel’s Handwriting (Quarterstick US LP – used)

Yoshio Suzuki Touch Of Rain (JVC/Music Interior Japan LP – used)

Townes Van Zandt High, Low And In Between (Omnviore US LP – reissue)

Townes Van Zandt Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971-1972 (Omnivore US 3xLP)

Yellow Magic Orchestra YMO World Tour 1980 (Alfa Japan 3xLP – used)

Geek Pulse X DAC Arrives…and is Promptly Not Recognized By Laptop

I received my long-awaited, Indiegogo-backed Geek Pulse X DAC last week. Tonight I finally plugged it into my MacBook Pro and couldn’t get it to display as a device in the Sound preference panel.

Several reboots didn’t solve the problem, nor did swapping out the USB cable.

This doesn’t seem to be an isolated problem [registration required].

I’ve opened a support ticket and await further instructions.

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UPDATE 7/9/15

After trading emails and going through all the various hoops with customer service, I’ve been asked to send the unit back.

UPDATE 7/15/15

The unit was, apparently, not tested before shipping.

Ryuichi Sakamoto “Left Handed Dream” on 5.6 DSD

00109014.1421596444.8577origYMO founder Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Left Handed Dream was released on SHM-CD in Japan last January. The two-CD reissue package contains a disk of previously-unreleased instrumental mixes that are, alone, worth the rather steep price of the imported package. This album has been a favorite of mine since its release in 1981; I still listen to it two or four times a year.

Left Handed Dream is now available as a DSD file from Ototoy in Japan (unlike e-onkyo, Ototoy sells downloads to overseas customers). Choices: 24/192 FLAC, ALAC, WAV or 320kbps AAC, 2.8 DSD and 5.6 DSD; the DSD packages include a folder of 320kbps MP3s.

Yesterday I purchased the 5.6 DSD files. About ten minutes after I paid, I received an email link to a .zip file. It took about an hour to download the 7.7 gig file from Ototoy, about five minutes to unzip it, then another five minutes to transfer it to my server.

But it was worth it.

This is an amazing record. It was recorded roughly around the time of YMO’s landmark BGM and Technodelic albums. Chronologically, it also falls between the avant-dub of Sakamoto’s solo 1980 B-2 Unit masterpiece and the breakout moody/melodic Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence score in 1983. Left Handed Dream captures a very busy Mr. Sakamoto during his most inventive period.

The album blends traditional Japanese melodies with minimalist electronic pop, then bundles everything with an experimental bent and a psychedelic sensibility not seen on any of Sakamoto’s solo work since. The more accessible side might be due, in part, by the co-production/mix by Robin Scott (pictured right, below; remember M’s “Pop Musik”?). Other guests include YMO’s Yukihiro Takahashi (drums) and Haruomi Hosono (bass, percussion), as well as Adrian Belew (below left), who adds his trademark otherworldly guitar solos to a couple tracks, most notably the wonderful “Tell ‘Em To Me.”

LHDbackcoverThe DSD mastering of this thirty-four year old recording is excellent. Sakamoto’s Japanese-language vocals sound as though they’re being whispered into your ear. The drums have real definition and SNAP. The woozy, reverb-y roar of the keyboards in “Tell ‘Em” seems unstoppable. Track two, サルとユキとゴミのこども (“Monkey and Snow and Trash of Children”?) is a thing of beauty; the DSD mastering lends a clean edge to the prowling keyboards and percussion that I’ve never heard before, and there’s a slight and very pleasing flange on the drums that wasn’t previously evident. You can now hear Hari Hosono’s pick on the strings of his bass. The atmospherics drifting upon the upper regions of “The Garden of Poppies” catch serious air. “Living In The Dark” belies its title with light, soaring melodies and a lilting refrain.

The album sounds new, better than ever.

Included in the download is a beautiful 15-page color PDF detailing all the original jacket artwork, photos, and liner notes. More download services need to demand this kind of bonus from labels. No, you can’t hold it in your hands or roll joints on it (unless you print it out on heavy stock, which is tempting, yeah) But it makes the package complete.

Is the DSD version of Left Handed Dream worth 5400 yen (about $43.50)?

Let’s do some calculating. I’ve bought this album on Japanese LP, Dutch LP, Japanese CD and Japanese SHM-CD over the years. This DSD file means I’ve purchased the same album five times. Yes, it’s a kind of sickness.

I may be ill, but Ryu is the cure, and after blasting this one on the Pono and my home system, I’m suffering no buyer’s remorse.
sakamotoLHD

Keeping Score

Don't call me Newsletter, Shirley

Don’t call me Newsletter, Shirley

I buy stuff.

Often I’ll post reviews of the things I buy.

When I buy something, I figure it’s a vote for that product or service, right? That purchase is nearly always the result of lots of research and comparisons. It’s part of the fun.

A prime factor in that decision: have I purchased from this company before? Was that process pleasant? Was there anything resembling an acceptable level of communication and responsiveness?

There are some products I will no longer vote for due to bad experiences.

On that shortlist is the name SONY, due to an consistent track record of producing products that stopped working shortly after purchase. More details in an upcoming post.

Here’s two other, more recent substandard experiences:

Double Helix cables

I ordered a Molecule Extreme 18aw custom cable for a pair of Mr. Speakers Alpha Prime headphones on January 1st, 2015. At the time of ordering, I noted the turnaround was 8 to 12 weeks.

I amended the order on January 19th, and assumed it might put me back to the start of the queue.

On April 23rd, over 3 months later, I’d heard nothing, so I sent a polite inquiry.

“Should be done in another week, approximately. Thanks for your patience.”

Fast forward to May 19th, nearly a month later. I emailed and asked again about an ETA.

Reply: “Just started it so the build is coming along. Hopefully tomorrow.”

Today is May 27th. Nothing has arrived, no shipping confirmation seems to be forthcoming.

So we’re looking at close to five months for delivery — after a 3-month window was stated — with terse, one-line replies to polite questions.

As customer service goes, I think the best description might be “indifferent.”

I’m generally a pretty patient person. Until I’m not. I assume DH is pretty much a one-man shop. I have experience with doing that sort of work, and if I blew two delivery deadlines, I wouldn’t treat my customers in such a perfunctory manner.

LH Labs

On December 15th, 2014, I pledged $1999 to the Geek Pulse X + Audeze LCD-XC Indiegogo campaign.

I received the Audeze headphones very shortly thereafter, and I love them. However, details about delivery of the Pulse X DAC have been less than scant. There’s a shipping status page that’s supposed to be updated twice a month, but isn’t. Email updates have been sent to backers sporadically, with the Pulse X model rarely mentioned. The Geek Pulse Indiegogo comments page is full of pissed-off people who report their requests for status and ETAs are ignored.

Meanwhile, LH Labs keeps adding perks and upgrades, and early funders (some from as far back as 2013) have nothing, or are finally receiving their units now.

I know this is crowdfunding, not mailorder. I know product development and supply chains are moving targets. I also know that LH Labs is horrible about communication, with many facets of its customer service just plain broken — LH even admits as such, repeatedly, in their updates. Other than such token mentions, backer concerns are rarely addressed, and the tone of the email updates from LH is often coy and condescending.

Once it has your money, LH Labs is more concerned with adding perks and adding models instead of providing helpful information and actually delivering the promised units to early backers. It’s especially galling to receive repeated messages asking me to refer my friends and colleagues to LH’s products. Seriously?

The perception is that LH Labs takes its Indiegogo backers for granted. For me, that perception is reality, and now I regret giving money to the Geek Wave digital player campaign, as well.

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UPDATE (June 2, 2015):

When nothing had shown up (the cable or a shipping confirmation) by today, I emailed Double Helix again and asked for an update. I received this reply two weeks after the second estimate had stated “hopefully tomorrow”:

Testing it right now. I’ll send you a shipping confirmation later. Very sorry for the delay, huge & labor-intensive orders this quarter monopolized a lot of our production time.

As for LH Labs and their Geek Pulse X DAC: no delivery and no news. Last update was that all units would be delivered by the first week of June.

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UPDATE (June 3, 2015):

Got a shipping notification from Double Helix today.

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UPDATE (June 5, 2015):

Email from LH Labs today regarding Geek Pulse status:

Pulse X will be completed next week and begin shipping to those of you who are waiting.

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UPDATE (June 16, 2015)

The Double Helix headphone cable showed up on June 8th.

LH Labs sent an email on June 5th claiming that the last batch of Geek Pulse X DACs would be “completed next week and begin shipping to those who are waiting”. As of today there has been no shipping notification or merchandise received. The shipping status page still reads “66% shipped” as it has for weeks.

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UPDATE (July 7, 2015)

LH Labs delivered the Geek Pulse X at some point last week while I was on vacation.

UPDATE (July 7, 2015, 9:30pm)

Following unboxing it, plugging it in and attempting to set it up, The Geek Pulse X isn’t recognized as a device in the Sound prefs panel of my laptop. Support ticket opened with LH Labs.

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