Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 July 2014

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The Harman produced video “The Distortion of Sound” featured musicians, producers and engineers talking the importance of “emotion” in music. They all stressed that they make and enjoy music because it can connect people in both physically and emotionally. How many times have you felt your toe start to move with the rhythm of a dance track or been brought to tears when a sad song comes on the radio. Music does have the ability to move us in ways that few other arts can.

When I was playing my quick demo of AIX tracks at the event in NYC a few weeks ago, I played a minute of “Let Them In” performed by John Gorka and band. It’s a very thoughtful and sad song about soldiers that have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Even in the midst of that program and having played only 45 seconds of the track…it got to me. Here’s the lyric.

Let them in, Peter,
They are very tired
Give them couches where the angels sleep
And light those fires

Let them wake whole again
To brand new dawns
Fired with the sun
Not wartime’s bloody guns

May their peace be deep
Remember where the broken bodies lie
God knows how young they were
To have to die
God knows how young they were to have to die

Give them things they like
Let them make some noise
Give roadhouse bands, not golden harps
To these our boys

And let them love, Peter
‘Cause they’ve had no time
They should have trees and bird songs
And hills to climb

The taste of summer in a ripened pear
And girls sweet as meadow winds
With flowing hair

Tell them how they are missed
And say not to fear
It’s gonna be alright
With us down here

Let them in, Peter…

Instrumental music, music without lyrics, can tell a story too. Or, as is my preference, music can inspire for just being intellectually exciting and compositionally compelling. I wrote about my experience with the music of J.S. Bach and his first keyboard invention (click here to revisit it) a little over a year ago. The compositional genius that Bach demonstrated in virtually every work he ever wrote connects with my head and heart in a unique way.

Music is a direct connection between sound and the soul.

But it stands apart from technology. Yep, music is NOT dependent on high sampling rates or longer word lengths. Does having a great recording contribute to a more meaningful and more emotional experience? I think it does. If the artists that were interviewed in “The Distortion of Music” knew how far from their uncompressed, emotionally wrought singing and playing is when consumed by their fans, they would insist on changes in the status quo. But I don’t think they know that things can be different.

I got into trouble with a reader some months ago when I stated that I didn’t think that most artists have ever heard a REAL HD-Audio or Ultra HD-Audio track. The standard procedures and commercial demands of the “hit machine” (as Joni Mitchell called it) will never allow real world dynamic range to be delivered on a disc or download. The head of ASCAP, singer and songwriter Paul Williams, certainly hadn’t until he sat in my studio and heard what we produced together.

I got an email from a listener the other day that put a smile on my face. Here’s the best part:

“Mark,

We saw John Gorka this weekend at the New Bedford Folk Festival. I agree with you that he is terrific – great songs, great voice and a really nice humble human being! We bought his latest CD and upon listening to it, my wife (who is not terribly interested in sound) said to me that it sounded terrible and added “I guess we’ve been spoiled by that Blu-Ray”! Your recordings are that good!

Stay the course.”

I want to spoil the whole recording industry.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(7) Readers Comments

  1. Hi Mark,

    I think your post touches what I believe a crucial topic concerning HRA:

    “If the artists that were interviewed in “The Distortion of Music” knew how far from their uncompressed, emotionally wrought singing and playing is when consumed by their fans, they would insist on changes in the status quo. But I don’t think they know that things can be different.”

    If most artists know as little as consumers regarding HRA or the reality of their recording, which you believe they would insist on changing if they knew otherwise, isn’t this a prioritary question and problem? Beyond educationg consumers about HRA, demanding that record labels and studios not only to recognize certain standards, but also label their product correctly to justify the extra cost of HRA – or even the claim of their product being HRA as such -, firstly musicians have to be aware of what they are selling, and the possibilities that current technology offers their musical endeavours. It can’t be a matter simply delegated to studio technicians, if musicians could and should have the choice of the quality they want their work to be recorded and distributed with.

    If musicians knew of the bad practices of recording labels vs the possibilities offered by technology, as well as of the fraudulent nature of current HRA offerings and hype, I’m pretty sure they would also demand something different. I don’t know how you go about covering these aspects with the musicians that record with AIX records, but I’m sure it takes an effort to introduce them to HRA. I also don’t know what kind of business model you use when it comes to copyright, royalties, etc., but I’m convinced that the business models that are customary with most large labels are mostly abusive and give artists very little control of their work and the outcome, and that is also a situation that has no visible alternative. In other words, many musicians assume that that’t just the way things work in their business, and the same regarding recording technology, that’s just the way things are.

    Consumers have never seen accurate or even close to sufficient data and specs regarding recording techniques, gear, processing, etc. They just buy their music and expect it to sound good. Consumers buy their favorite artists regardless of sound quality, because they want to have all the albums, and they want to listen to all their favorite artists recordings. They end up settling for the recording quality offered to them, as that is something consumers have never been in the position to demand be better.

    It is in that same context that the deliberately fraudulent and innacurate HRA definition we have been offered by the industry will be – I believe – of little debate or concern to consumers, who have never been given any tools or information to influence the quality of the recordings they buy, let alone the ridiculous prices fraudulent quality standards pretend to justify. I believe that you have taken the right decision in introducing your own definition of Ulra HD Audio, and independently giving the consumer AND the musicians the opportunity to take advantage of the wonders that recording and digital technology offers today, as well as sufficiently labeled products priced accordingly to the production chain behind them and their end user quality. Offering something that didn’t previously exist on the market, with all the info that the consumer needs to understand the qualitative differences and correlative pricing of the products they buy, will in itself supplement the lack of knowledge and alternatives that contributes to perpetuate the status quo you mentioned.

    Pretty much the same way Benchmark Media has significantly and irreversibly raised the bar with their in my opinion absolutely revolutionary AHB2 Power Amp, and which offers an alternative that wasn’t there on the market before and that is a complete game changer for HRA audio and digital audio reproduction as such.
    Benchmark has single hadedly raised the bar and all major competitors have to respond in order to remain in competition. Many – like NAD, BelCanto, etc. – have resorted to including Bruno Putseys’ Hypex nCore class D Amp modules in their components, and that is certainly positive. Bruno Putseys’ (Hypex/Grimm Audio/Mola-Mola) nCore Amp has a similar performance to that of Benchmark AHB2, with the difference that it is a class D Amp, and that he sells the modules through Hypex electronics. (In my opinion the AHB2 offers more innovation, solutions and performance for a fraction of the cost of a pair of Mola-Mola’s Kaluga monoblocks, which cost less than the Hypex modules and are implemented to offer the very last bit of performance, which isn’t necessarily what other manufacturers will acheive and certainly not at the same price.)

    Good practices and transparent standards can be set de facto by equally good and transparent people, who want to do the right thing and offer the best they know possible. The rest of the market will simply just have to adapt to remain competitive. Maybe that’s a model to follow for independent record labels and recording services, who wish to change the current status quo for good and definitively leave behind what we have under false assumptions come to take for granted. I think addressing the musicians would be the best place to start, finally it is the musicians that will have to chose a label like AIX over others that are exploiting and offer a poor product to consumers. Maybe this can make musicians envision their art completely differently in relation to the market.

    Cheers!

    • I’m trying to cook up a campaign that will inform the musicians and artists…they are the ones with the power to change things (at least the most popular ones).

  2. I am still learning about HD Audio. I have been reading your emails faithfully for a few weeks now and wanted to say this one touched me. Not for HD audio but the fact of music and how meaningful it is. And the track you choose to sample I must find. Not to get into science and Theologhy but I once heard someone say in that realm (Dennis Prager I belief) that evolutionist have an explenation for everything, but music. (Loosely pharaphras) thanks for your daily emails. They are quite interesting to this newbie.

    • The John Gorka track is available on “They Gypsy Life” on my label.

  3. Another thoughtful and sage email – it’s 53 years since my first gig (in Liverpool!) and it’s great to be still learning so much from Mark! Thanks

  4. I have not searched for anything in music that emotion. No need to be a sad melody to sprout tears. I recently heard the last issue of recording Nicci Gilbert and the soul kittens and although I have heard several times, always excited. Like other recordings …. the subtle beginning of Canon Acoustica, Indian singing BNO moments … and many more … emotion uncompressed …

  5. The discussion of “high definition” reminds me of the definitions of HD video. CFR discusses HD video and implements by reference the ATSC standard. The latter discusses HD video and lists several digital resolutions (1080i, 720p, 480i, etc) but none of them are defined as HD. There is no legal standard for HD video per se in this country. I suspect that this is on purpose. DirecTV at one time was downrezzing HBO 1920×1080 to 1280×1080 to save bandwidth. The chipsets used in many circa 2005 HDTV sets expanded 480i SD video to fill the screen with no ability to display them normally. Salespersons either refused to acknowledge this or were too ignorant to notice it. Most new streaming HD gizmos today support 720p and 1080p, but not 1080i.

    The scheme adopted in 1996 and used by US broadcasters and cable carriers for audio is Dolby Digital, which presumably prohibits receiving uncompressed audio via normal broadcast and cable material.

    As noted, Apple will be going with 48kHz/24 bit. One wonders if the primary motivation was the size of files that could easily fit on an iPod or iPhone even with a relatively large storage space.

    To expect widespread knowledge and acceptance of better than CD quality audio in environment where manufacturers, vendors, and sales personnel do want they want and can get away with is asking too much.

    OTOH, I remember reading decades ago about how Elton John had about 5K albums (or so he said). Maybe the rich and famous will demand enough content for their expensive systems that the rest of us can have our pick and choose.

    But only the major artists will have complete control over the released digital product at the major labels, who may or may not be inclined to do what minor artists want.

    The disappearance of the CD as the primary distribution tool and the, thankfully, disappearance of a music video as a primary marketing tool will make it much easier for artists to control their own work, but they will still have to deal with music available from iTunes and Amazon downloads.

    But now many folks still listen to Pandora and Spotify, which reward artists very little, instead of buying music and many still listen on cheap ear buds, probably at too loud a volume.

    The times they are a-changing.

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