Sunday, July 13, 2014

Compression vs. Compression, and Bullshit vs. Bullshit

I just got done watching a “film” that is making its way around the internet, and holy hell, I couldn’t bite my tongue on this one.

One of my peeves is gross dishonesty – along with that being phoniness, pretentiousness, posing, and other such ego driven positioning. In this “film”, many of the “Stars” who said their piece were slamming mp3, “compression”, and streaming. Funny, the person who I agreed mostly with was Snoop Dogg. Ok, first, it’s beyond obvious that most of them don’t know the difference between file compression and audio compression. One guy indignantly stating, “Compression removes up to 90% of the overall sound”. Holy HELL. NO IT DOESN’T! Converting a wav file to mp3 removes 90% of the DIGITAL INFORMATION, and does not in any way affect the sound. Now, if you take an mp3 and mp3 it again, then yes, the sound will suffer – but full wav to mp3 – no audible difference. On audio compression, yes, there are those producers and/or “Artists” who like to compress stuff into oblivion, and yes, the sound does suffer – overcompression will give you a soggy sound, and even distortion at some point – but again – audio compression being a whole different process from file compression. You see, here we have pretentiousness – driven once again, by the sad, pathetic human ego.

Also in this “Film”, there was a guy bashing “Streaming” music – in the way that the sound is also suffering. Well, NO, streaming by itself will not deteriorate the quality of the music. Some radio stations will use a compressor (the audio kind) to further compress the music – to the point where it sounds soggy, but that’s been going on since the beginning of time – nothing new in relation to the inception of digital reproduction. One of the great things about digital reproduction is that when you hear something on the radio, or on the internet, or on your portable digital music player, what is being transferred is digital information, not raw, analog sound. So, the player will read the digital information, change it back into sound, and send THAT to the speakers to be transformed back into sound waves, the result being that the music itself will be fully intact. Different story with analog sound – which deteriorates with every transfer – from the original multi track tape to the “half track”, then to the vinyl - and your transistor radio. By the time it got to the vinyl, you had tape hiss that you could actually hear, and you had deterioration of the whole recording, not to mention the hissing and popping. With digital players, they decipher digital information, change it into sound, and send it to the speakers (what speakers you play it back on is a whole ‘nother – save that for another time). I don’t hear any of these hotshots mentioning THAT – ya know why, because they are not listening with their ears, they’re listening with their ego; no research, no educating, no fact checking, just Polly Want A Crackering what they hear - or find on the internet.. If you do an A/B test between vinyl and CD, you might argue that you like the vinyl better – because the hissing and popping will be a nostalgic thing – taking you back to childhood and teenage years where your memories were sweet and full of new experiences, but the difference in quality is inarguable. When CDs first came out, I couldn’t believe what I could hear, that I never heard on the vinyl copies – the attack of a guitar, the snares actually hitting the bottom head of the drum, the ultra highs of a ride cymbal, the texture of a voice, etc. – none of which was even audible on vinyl – the physical structure of vinyl making it physically impossible to reproduce those highs. So, you got people who will bash digital reproduction – especially mp3, while gushing over vinyl – again, listening to what some guru said, and not with their own ears. Note: Huge difference between, “I like this better”, and, actual quality of a recording, or of music. This brings me to my next point.
Anyone who knows me knows that I generally hate most new music – most music that was recorded after about 1985. I don’t hate it solely because it’s new, I hate it because the quality of the music itself is mostly horrid – regardless of the recording medium. You got singers who, on a good day, might hit half the notes they’re trying to sing, and, you got an “Artist” on the stage with a guitar strapped around his or her neck – while not even being able to tune it, much less play it. Singers who are doing nothing more than talking in some sort of musical form, not to mention the ones who sound like they have a golf ball lodged in their throat. You got the players who learned one or two “riffs”, and play it over every chord change. And, worst of all, you got guys and girls standing on the stage (accurately known as “Posers”) with guitars that never get played, ukuleles, and six string banjos, thinking that it makes them cool and hip. You got the ukulele craze – where these people think that an ukulele is a small guitar with 4 strings on it (blasphemy). So, you have people in the music business who are trying to impress people with bullshit, most of whom cannot hit half the notes they try to sing, and who can barely play their instrument, if they can play it at all. Add to that, the studio “Producers” who have no ability to recognize or understand music, but who have managed to get into the position of even being IN a damn studio. These are people who throw around words and terms such as, “Target audience”, “Marketing skills”, “Dynamics” (which they have no idea what that even means), “eq that out” (also having no idea the meaning of), and other such hipster bullshit that they think will make people believe they know what the hell they’re doing.

Some of my favorite bands and artists are: Creedence, Eagles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pure Prairie League, Poco, Emmylou Harris, Earl Scruggs, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and most anything that Grady Martin, Pete Drake, Charlie McCoy, and/or Ray Flacke played on. Most or all of these people recorded on tape based systems, some on tube amplified equipment. Some of it was 8 track (not talking about the player you had in your car in the early 70s), some even 4 track. Most didn’t have the luxury of using all kinds of contraptions to “enhance” the music – they couldn’t loop, they didn’t think to eq out all the lows out of one track, and eq out the highs on another and meld them together, which does nothing but create some kind of illusion. They didn’t have ping ponging effects – that mostly make the instrument sound like a Martian played it. The studio engineers from those days seemed to know what all those faders and knobs did – they used them as tools – and not as toys – the way many modern “Studio engineers” do. Today you got the “Wall of Sound”, which distracts the listener from the story, the beat, the melody. You got mindless, structureless crap, along with mindless guitar scales, and steel guitars also playing mindless scales – but you got expensive hype that will make teenagers swoon. Never mind using the instruments to draw the listener in, never mind playing the instrument – as opposed to doing math – which is precisely what using mindless scales is. With all of this, you got people in the business bashing digital reproduction, while fawning all over their vinyl records. On the other hand, you get those who use digital technology to the other extreme – also not knowing the why or what – I’ll get into that another time. You got self proclaimed “Sound Technicians” who will never understand things such as signal flow, input signal, output signal, clipping; presence, and who, for crying out loud, I cannot figure out what the hell they’re listing to when they are behind a sound board. The stuff is usually way too loud, guitars either blaring or buried, vocals – also either blaring or buried. You got the guys who will mute channels, then when the guitar player starts his solo, the sound guy forgets to unmute that channel, until the guitar solo is almost finished. You got the soundguys who are endlessly tweaking knobs and faders all through the performance – doing so with no rhyme or reason, other than to give the appearance that he’s doing something. Most monitors are either inaudible, or blaring, with horrible tone, usually accompanied by squealing, wooing, and thundering. These are guys who have no idea how sound waves behave, what generates them, how they are generated, and how to control them – and most of all – WHEN they need to be controlled. These are the same guys who pretend to know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to digital vs. analog, audio compression vs. file compression, and heart & soul driven music vs. ego driven music.

One of the reasons I go on these rants is because I hate bullshit with a vengeance. I hate hipster BS, I detest posers, and I hate anything that is driven by the pathetic human ego. The sad thing about life is that bullshit does open a lot of doors for the phony and the pretentious. More often than not, though, the innovators, the originals, the ones who do what they do because they think it’s the right thing to do, they are the ones who will be revered in the long run. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, while bullshit may open doors, once you get through the door, you better have something of substance. This doesn’t mean that just because a person does something for 20 or 30 years, that he is “successful”, it just means he got lucky enough to get by on his BS for all those years.

One of my favorite quotes: “Few are those who see with their own eyes, and feel with their own hearts”. - Albert Einstein -

I had to mp3 this piece, but the general idea is there.