Friday, 24 May 2013

Bits and Pieces

The question is: how did I get myself into such a *!*%#! muddle?  I suppose that being raised on a diet of vinyl discs doesn’t really prepare you for manipulating digital files, but all the same, this will take some remediation.  Those of a techno-phobic nature may prefer to look away now.

The story so far: many years ago I started ripping my CDs to my computer so that I could play them in Windows Media Player.  By default they stored themselves as 128 bit .WMA files and all was well.  I then acquired a Creative Zen MP3 player and using its proprietary software, was able to copy .WMA files directly to it and all continued to be well with the world.  Then it all started to go wrong: I bought a new computer and the darkness descended.

First, the Zen software refused to work in the new Windows 7 operating system which stopped me transferring files and then the Zen died.  In order to avoid the software compatibility problem in future I then opted to replace it with an Apple ipod Nano and the dreaded iTunes.  This is where the problems really began.  Every time I imported my .WMA files into iTunes (so as to sync to the ipod) a new copy file was made in 256 bit .M4A format.  This, in turn prompted Windows to see it as a new file and to automatically re-import it into Windows Media Player, thus doubling everything up.  AAARRGGHH!

In frustration, I deleted one or other of the copies, sometimes the .WMA files and sometimes the .M4A files.  This went on for several years.  Just to add to the confusion, I also downloaded albums from iTunes (.M4A) and Amazon (256 bit .MP3) and converted vinyl albums to 128 bit .MP3 files.  This brings me to today where my entire collection of several hundred albums and songs is split between various Windows and iTunes libraries and ripped to at least 3 different file formats.  Did I mention that my daughter also has an iTunes library on the same machine and we share files?  Blimey!  Technology eh?  This would never happen in the old days where you just bought an LP and put it on a shelf.

So, what to do?  I have decided to eschew both .WMA and .M4A files and use only .MP3 for ripping CDs.  This format can be read by both iTunes and Windows Media Player so no duplication.  Whilst laboriously re-ripping all my favourite albums I am also upgrading them to 256 bit as this seems to be the best compromise between quality and file size.  It also means that I can weed out both iTunes libraries of all the duplicated files and leave only the downloads.

Case solved, but what a palaver.  As a by-product of upgrading files from 128 to 256 bit it has become noticeable how the sound graduates from CD screech to LP warmness.  Perhaps LPs had the right idea from the word go – and you only needed a shelf.

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Musical Box

Until recently I had given the so-called Tribute Bands a very wide and slightly suspicious berth, yet there is no denying that they are becoming big business in some quarters of the industry.  I blame the Elvis impersonators, who started the ball rolling after the King’s demise and now most of the big bands from the 60s and 70s are represented by interlopers – Bjorn Again, The Australian Pink Floyd, The Bootleg Beatles, Dread Zeppelin and so on and on.  So, in the spirit of adventure, I went to see French Canadian Genesis Tribute Band, The Musical Box, perform the legendary ‘Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ show, allegedly perfect in every detail from costumes to back projection and lighting.

I never saw the original Gabriel line up play live, so this had a touch of the ‘never meet your heroes’ about it and having owned the studio album since the 70s and the live version on the later archive box set, I have always had a picture in my head of what the live show was like.  Actually seeing it performed was a strange experience as it both punctured my imagining and opened up a new view all at the same time.  In some respects it rather grounded my impression of it in reality, but in others it revealed its beauty in a live environment.  I actually got the shivers during ‘Hairless Heart’ and the achingly melancholic ‘Lamia’ where guitarist François Gagnon’s guitar replicated the soul of Steve Hackett in all its glory.

There is no doubt that members of The Musical Box have done their homework and the musical exposition was mightily impressive, to the point of virtually reproducing the studio album in all respects.  The tone of the instruments, including the 70s keyboard sounds, was spot on and the playing immaculate.  But it was Denis Gagné’s impersonation of Peter Gabriel that was key to the act.  Frankly, without his uncannily accurate Gabriel impersonation (including his flute playing), the whole illusion would’ve collapsed like a pack of cards.  If there was a weak link, it was ‘Tony Banks’ who didn’t quite nail some of his solos and rather glossed over some of my favourite bits, but this is nit-picking as playing a piece from such a well known band to their fans who know every nuance is probably a no-win situation.

Interestingly, they finished with a rendition of ‘The Musical Box’ from Nursery Cryme (complete with Old Man mask) and then ‘The Knife’ from Trespass as an encore and in many respects these were better, having a real atmosphere to them.  It left me feeling that I would’ve quite liked to have seen some of their other sets from around the ‘Foxtrot’ period, but perhaps another time.

As the rock genre moves across the generations, the great bands of the past are now lost to newcomers, so to reproduce live acts in this way may be viewed as a service to those who missed out, yet the average age of the audience was not reduced by curious youngsters, but remained solidly around the 50-something range.  It seems that as long as we original fans can still get out of a night, the future is secure for the Tributes, but beyond that?  Who knows.