Thursday, March 18, 2010

Influences

I own three Box Tops songs, one Big Star song, and no Alex Chilton solo material at all. I no longer own the one related song that I liked at its actual time of release (another Box Tops song, 'Sweet Cream Ladies Forward March'). The others I came upon later when purchasing compilations.

So why did Alex Chilton's death register on my Richter scale? Respect. What Chilton and Big Star did was remarkable not so much for the material itself as for how unusual it was for the time and how it presaged decades of indie pop to come. In the early 70s, other than Big Star only Badfinger and the Raspberries were making power pop records of any note, and those two bands were working with influential labels (although Badfinger's never really did do right by them).

None of those three acts did much for me because I was exploring what seemed more challenging territory like prog, krautrock, and jazz/rock fusion. And now? Most of that stuff is long since banished from my collection, and much of what I love about new music can be found in the roots of the Velvets, Iggy, and yes, Big Star.

I'll leave the Alex tributes to my fellow bloggers and to Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AMG. For now...a little video footage from a time long ago.



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The above space was going to be devoted to a few lines about the newly-released Runaways biopic. I don't own any of their music, and never have. But they were gate-crashers, as important in their way as Big Star was in theirs.

I'll let Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle say what needs to be said.

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Fun post from the Cedar's own Princess the other day. Welcome back! Hi, I'm Veronica...just been keeping your spot warm. And say, a couple of seconds: I'm with you on Grouper, and I'll be curious as to your opinion of the Big Pink/A Place to Bury Strangers show. They were in SF last week and I was tempted to make the trek, but I was concerned it would interfere with my Ovaltine Hour. (Personal opinion: Big Pink is on the right track, while APTBS is already there. Their recent release was a quantum leap.)

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Blog verité: I just this minute received in the mail a vintage 1994 Ryko CD, 'Fireproof' by That Petrol Emotion.


In small print at the bottom of the tray card: 'The green CD jewel box is a trademark of Rykodisc.' The wording should have been amended to include loose hub spokes, of which there were characteristically several in this package. My recollection is that Ryko 30-count CD boxes were the heaviest and the noisiest in the business.

Oh, and the CD had a saw cut on its case spine, indicating it was a promotional copy. I wonder if this was a long-overdue mailing from Retail Jane?

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Mama E Dub's most recent post included the following question directed at this reporter: 'Will you please explain the difference between types of downloads and the relative qualities thereof, e.g. MPEG, AAC, MP3 or 4? Bit rate? What does it all mean? What does it all matter?'

Oh, dear. I fear I could make the most hardened insomniac drop right off with my typical response. Perhaps the best thing would be to devote a full post on the subject with a health hazard warning at the top; e.g. 'Do not read while operating heavy machinery.'

In short: MPEG and MP4 refer to video compression standards, which I know little about. AAC and MP3 are the two most popular audio compression standards. AAC is Apple-specific: it's the download standard for iTunes and the playback one for iPods. MP3 is the standard most commonly found in the rest of the marketplace (and it, too, is playable on iPods).

The key to the quality of both is bit rate. A friend of mine offers this definition on his website: 'The bit rate of a coded audio file is the number of bits (0's and 1's, in binary terms) that are required to store one second of audio. An mp3 encoded at 128kbps requires 128,000 or so bits to store 1 second of audio. Higher bit rates generally mean better sound quality and a closer representation of the original sound.'

So: the higher the bit rate the better the sound, but also the larger the file...hence reduced song storage capacity on a portable player. The importance of bit rate is entirely user-dependent. If you desire maximum song storage and are willing to trade sound quality to get it, a 128kbps bit rate is okay. Few commercial sites use that anymore, though; 192 and 256 are far more common. 320 is the highest 'lossy' bit rate, and it is generally achieved by ripping CDs and setting the compression software accordingly.

There are endless debates about pros and cons of various standards and bit rates. There are some more exotic compression codecs out there, most notably FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple etc.). These are also generally arrived at via CD ripping; the appeal is that the process knocks a CD songfile down in size by about 40% while retaining the entirety of the original's sound spectrum, and enables users to recreate an original CD's contents when burning from lossless files.

Really, I could go on and on. I'm a bit nuts, myself: all of my music is ALAC files, and as there are over 50,000 of 'em I'm currently using 1.16TB of space to hold everything. On the rear burner is this idea that I should reprocess everything to 320, but I can't get up much of a head of steam for such a CPU-overloading time-waster.

Sheesh. And this is what passes for brevity in my world.

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Finally, a word about the recent lovers' spat on these pages.

I'm still digesting the rebuke, but I have more or less arrived here: this wall is not mine to graffiti with impunity; it is owned and maintained by a good, longtime friend. I pledge to respect and abide by whatever guidelines this entails. I would only ask this of my benefactor: Please do not fling about hifalutin terms and opinions linking, say, 'shlock' with 'Sinatra' and expect to go unchallenged.
Lots of love, V.