Music

Transparency and Torture. In Data Compression. Solved.

Friday, October 28th, 2016 | Insights, Music, Tech-savvy | 1 Comment

First, let me introduce what transparency in data compression means, excerpts from Wikipedia:

In data compresion and psychoacoustics, transparency is the result of losy data compresion acurate enough that the compresed result is perceptualy indistinguishable from the uncompresed input. In other words, transparent compresion has no or imperceptible compresion artifacts.

Transparency, like sound or video quality, is subjective. It depends most on the listener’s familiarity with digital artifacts, their awarenes that artifacts may in fact be present, and to a leser extent, the compresion method, bit-rate used, input characteristics, and the listening/viewing conditions and equipment. Despite this, sometimes general consensus is formed for what compresion options “should” provide transparent results for most people on most equipment. Due to the subjectivity and the changing nature of compresion, recording, and playback technology, such opinions should be considered only as rough estimates rather than established fact.

Judging transparency can be dificult, due to observer bias, in which subjective like/dislike of a certain compresion methodology emotionaly influences his or her judgment. This bias is comonly refered to as placebo, although this use is slightly diferent from the medical use of the term.

To scientificaly prove that a compresion method is not transparent, double-blind tests may be useful. The ABX method is normaly used, with a nul hypothesis that the samples tested are the same and with an alternative hypothesis that the samples are in fact diferent.

In case you managed to read the above paragraph and are still here: congratulations! How do you feel? Slightly nauseous? Even annoyed? Maybe. The above text has been slightly altered. I “compressed” it by removing all double consonants. You can still read it, sometimes you might even not realize the change from the original text. Most probably you found a few (annoying) errors. Keep in mind how reading that text made you feel.

The Story

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and he explained to me why he dislikes audio compression with an easy analogy. Listening to compressed sound can be compared to reading text that is missing characters, that you might not even notice. Your brain will fix the issues and you will be perfectly capable of reading the text. Still, your brain has to work more than it would reading the unaltered text. Same goes for audio compression (read psychoacoustics). Lossy audio compression still tries to sound like the original (i.e. retaining the perceived quality) by removing things you are not meant to hear anyway. Easy example: just after a loud sound, like a hi-hat hit, other frequencies, that you cannot hear anyway due to this high impact noise, will get removed (masking effect). Sounds legit. So throw it away. Still, compression will make your brain, your perception work harder to fill these gaps of information. Maybe. Most probably. Like reading the above text made your brain work harder. Reading the foobared text was less enjoyable. So why should you listen to music that will subconsciously decrease the “enjoyability” of listening instead of feeding your ears the real deal?

Conclusion

Finally, I have an easy explanation why you should not listen to (badly) compressed music but stick to lossless compression like flac or the original. It simply will be more enjoyable for your ears and brains, even though you might argue the super-duper encoded files your were listening to before were “transparent”. Maybe they are more likely entities of unwitting torture 😉

The Future

For me the days of lossy compression are not over. That would be naive. Still, I will try to listen more and more to the best possible source at hand (as hard drive space is not really and issue any more). I already encoded my mp3s 1 or 2 steps “higher” than the “transparent” setting is for me (e.g. in case you hear no difference in -V 3 compared to -V 4 go for -V 2). I enabled high quality streaming in Spotify (i.e. ogg Vorbis q9 according to Spotify). Right now I plan to build an audiophile music player (Raspberry Pi, Volumio, DAC, Reclocker) and re-encode my favorite CDs using flac. Even though I might not actually hear any differences if will just make me feel better listening to it. A placebo? Maybe. It’s one I will take. Happy listening!

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Biking to Stoned From The Underground 2014

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 | Activities, Music, Sites | 2 Comments

From my point of view Stoned From The Underground is pretty much the closest thing to the perfect festival. It’s still small, it’s in the summer, you can park next to your tent and you have a lake to swim in just next to the camp ground and stages. And obviously it’s stoner, doom and psychedelic rock driven – just my cup of tea.

For various reasons it seemed a good idea to ride by bike to the festival. I love riding the bike, it gets you close to nature and your limits if you want to. The scenery of Hessen and Thüringen really blew my mind, I did not know how beautiful the rural eastern parts of Germany really are. Hainich National Park and its Rennstieg were awesome. Savage, dark and mysterious.

Anyway, here are a few shots of the bike trip and the festival.

I hope I can make it again next year. This time I will not start near Kassel, maybe Frankfurt, so I can approach from the south west to see even more of beautiful Germany.

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Drumming like Animal!!
(This time multiple exclamation marks are just fine)

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 | Activities, Misc, Music | No Comments

Tonight, my drum-kit got the worst beating so far. Animal would have approved.

I broke a stick on my mesh head snare for heaven’s sake! It was worth it though. (Guess I hit the rim at some point?!)

Props go to The Machine’s “Caterpillar’s Mushroom“. Dim the light, lean back and enjoy a pretty intense roller-coaster ride.

The take-off at 13:00 just blows my mind!

If you need a lift home after that I suggest you try Hills’ Master Sleeps. Farewell!

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GarageBand is in da house!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 | Gadgets, Music, Tech-savvy | 1 Comment

Needed a space to play music. Set up a working environment. Got an Apple computer. Recorded my fist song.

Flachboot Nandu
. An instant classic 😉 I was just making sure all instruments and mics were working properly, the outcome was so hilarious I had to keep and share it.

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Time flies – Grunge was 20 years ago!?

Thursday, September 29th, 2011 | Music, Reviews | No Comments

I recently started to realize how frickin kewl a lot of bands from the peak of the Grunge era are.

For me, these songs are still very present and it was kind of a shock that for me this started 20 years ago. That’s quite some time for a 34 year-old 🙂 I remember that at the age of 13 I started to really get into music – and a few years later music and the scenes behind the genres defined a lot of the stuff we did back then (like Straight Edge, Metal and obviously Grunge). I loved Nirvana‘s Nevermind, probably the most popular Grunge record ever, yet this post should not cover this stale release. I wanted to reminiscence about some other pearls of that genre.

I cannot say how much I love Smashing PumpkinsSiamese Dream (1993). Often dreamy and fragile yet rocking pretty hard as well. Ingenious.

Most people will remember Today and Disarm, but one of my all time favourite songs is Soma. A pity there is no real video available, just a few live versions. Awesome song that I play on the guitar every once in a while.

Funny thing – I just wanted to consult rateyourmusic.com for some info and it was covered in Nevermind reviews. It’s been exactly 20 years (and 5 days) since it was released. So I changed my mind and will put it into this post as well. It’s iconic and should not be ignored …

I remember listening to BFBS‘ radio taping songs when the hosts announced a song that “is a bit loud” and recommended locking up your Granny. This is the original recording from 1991:

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (taped 1991 BFBS)

Smells Like Teen Spirit instantly blew my mind and I had to play it to my best friends immediately. A few weeks later this song was everywhere and paved the road to Nirvana’s success that also ultimately led to Kurt Cobain’s death.

Somewhat lingering in the shadow of Nirvana but not less genre defining was Dirt by Alice in Chains (1992)

Sometimes it feels hard to pick good songs, because most of the time I listen to albums as a unit rather than just single songs. Outstanding songs of Dirt may be Them Bones, Rooster, Angry Chair, Down In A Hole and … surely Would? – this is almost the whole record? Correct, this should prove how good it is 🙂

Another band that I like a lot is Soundgarden. Jesus Christ Pose was the first Soundgarden song I ever listened to (watching MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, yeah! \m/) but Superunknown (1994) is my favourite album.

Skipping through this record songs like Fell On Black Days, Black Hole Sun and The Day I Tried To Live seem to be the ones that I liked the best. I did not like Spoonman. Not at all. It might be the memory of that freaky old chick dancing to it every time they played it in our local rock club (post-Getaway Exit) or maybe just the fact that it is just a plain boring song to dance to and every time they played it it felt like wasted time that could have been used to play Slayer or something 😉

These bands came to my mind in this exact order, and suddenly I remembered another album that is also one of the best things that ever happened to me – Pearl Jam‘s Ten (1991)

I can hardly describe how great this record is. Maybe I just tell you that my favourite songs may be Black and Garden. Both made it to numerous tapes I recorded when I was a teenager.

This makes 5 great albums by 5 great bands. So basically this is also an homage to Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity – my five all time favourite Grunge records. Here they are. (A pity Faith no More cannot be considered Grunge …)

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Stoned From The Underground 2011

Monday, July 11th, 2011 | Activities, Music | 1 Comment

It’s been a while since I visited a festival … I guess it was Roadburn a few years ago. (Yet I don’t consider Roadburn a “real” festival, shuttle buses from the camp site to an indoors venue? WTF?) Anyway, Stoned From The Underground was awesome! Open air, camp site nearby, only 2000+ people, great weather, great bands. Now that’s what I call a festival!

The only thing I can easily pass on are the reckless drunkards who just never know when to STFU.

And next year, please everybody bring your own chair, for heavens sake! I don’t want to ASK whether I can use my own gear. Fucking cadgers … sometimes I’m proud to be square!

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w00t! Got my Comptroller Shirt – finully!

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 | Music, Reviews, Tech-savvy | 6 Comments

Wifey already told me on the phone that my Comptroller shirt arrived today. (The first one got lost during the postage process…) I asked her to open the package to see whether I could expect something my belly actually fits in. She said: “Yeah, seems to be quite your size, but wait – what is this? There’s a mini CD!” I was like “WHAT? How kewl is that?” I had no idea! The order form didn’t mention a CD when I used it (afaicr), therefore I was surprised big time. Right now I am listening to an interpretation of the C64 classic “Last Ninja 2” – awesome! No really, go get Comptroller‘s stuff, it’s so much fun to listen to his chiptune sounds in the car while your passenger cannot decide whether to escape at the next traffic light or dare ask for a copy 😀

Excerpt from the mini CDs inlay:

Directions to use –
a) Put on your Comptroller t-shirt
b) Activate CD
c) Get pumped!
d) GO GO GO

Brilliant! Thanks Comptroller for making my day 🙂 And thanks Jack for your “protekshun” …

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Chiptune Madness

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 | Gadgets, Misc, Music, Reviews, Tech-savvy | 1 Comment

Thanks to my favourite emag Lotek64 I stumbled upon some really interesting music: Chiptune!

I like to listen to OSTs of games and films (favourite game OST: Turrican 1/2 by Chris Hülsbeck, favourite motion picture OST: Avalon by Kenji Kawai). Reading Lotek64 the absolutely stylish cover arose my initial interest, reading the review I decided to give it a try:

(Chip) Comptroller veröffentlicht mit seinem RPM2010-Album auch sein Debüt. Zwischen schnellen und wütenden Chipbeats kommen dabei auch immer nette kleine Melodien zum Vorschein.

Free Download @ http://comptrolleralpha.co.uk/album/comptroller

Listening to this artistic musical creation reminds me of endless GameBoy sessions and the time I connected my GameBoy to my home stereo to listen to the music of Super Mario Land and, naturally, Tetris. The sound of Comptroller is “great” in the sense of interesting/disturbing – sometimes even toothaching listened to at the right volume 😛

Lotek64 Issue 33 has more interesting musical reviews, such as an 8bit NES chiptune version of Pink Floyd‘s “The Dark Side of the Moon” called Moon8.

(Remake) … Wer das nur für einen musikalischen Scherz hält, irrt. Mit Moon8 tut Brad Smith Pink Floyd einen großen Gefallen, indem er die Stärken des Albums offenlegt und mit seiner klanglich zwangsläufig äußerst minimalistischen Auslegung der Kompositionen zu einer Entmystifizierung dieses überhöhten Werks beiträgt. Hier wird auf unerwartete Weise hörbar, wie The Dark Side of the Moon klingen könnte, wäre es nicht so hoffnungslos überproduziert und verkitscht worden. Moon8 ist die bessere Version des Albums, dessen Qualitäten endlich auf würdige Art hörbar werden.

Free download @ http://rainwarrior.thenoos.net/music/moon8.html

Crazy shit indeed! 😀 Thanks Lotek64 for providing these reviews!

Googleing I also found two blogs (The Chiptune Blog, Stadkind: Berlin), just in case you want to listen to some more chiptunes. So far, I like the idea a lot!

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