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John Cage

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We live in a silent century. Though no less powerful than their pre-millennial ancestors, our post-millennial innovations are mostly intangible; even when they do occupy physical space, they but wobble neighboring air particles and scarcely make a sound.

Compiling the "Sounds of the 21st Century" is a steep challenge, therefore, but one that legendary beatboxer Beardyman didn't shy from.

"There's an absence of sound rather than a defining sound," he tells Pay attention to the objects around you—the ones that are truly 21st century make next to no noise when we interact with them. The clatter of keyboards? 20th century. The din of car engines? 20th century. The cacophony of the city? Choose whichever century BC you like.

To create a track that begins to "encapsulate the mood of living in the future," as Beardyman puts it, you have to amplify the silent touches we make to interact with modern society. First and foremost, the tapping of fingers on smartphones. "That's all everyone does these days. That's [partly] the point of the video," he says.

In the song, Beardyman meshes beatboxing, phone-tapping, key-bashing, and other sounds in a glitchy track, which will be performed live on September 2 at the O2 Campus Party Europe opening party.

Beardyman presents "the sounds of the 21st century"

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Beacon reveals their honey soaked single “Bring You Back” from their upcoming LP The Ways We Separate. What distinguishes them from other R&B acts right now is rare uptempo pace that gives it a slight driving feel while keeping true heartfelt lyrics.

Autre Ne Veut has a more aggressive approach with plenty of classic sensual tricks from R&B fused in heavily with the Art of Noise feel people can’t seem to kick. What makes it sounds new is the spikes of instruments that squeal that reminisce of freak out jazz from the 80s mixing with some Peter Gabriel logic going for itself that I really adore.

Laurel Halo remixes John Cale, not going to try and describe this, all I know is that really liked it.

Throwing Snow always seems to have some great track suggestions on Soundcloud, he’s back at it by sharing this hypnotic cut from Anthony Naples.

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Lately I've been trying to rid my life of as many physical artifacts as possible. I'm with Merlin Mann on CDs:

Can't believe how quickly CDs went from something I hate storing to something I hate buying to something I hate merely existing.

Although I'd extend that line of thinking to DVDs as well. The death of physical media has some definite downsides, but after owning certain movies once on VHS, then on DVD, and finally on Blu-Ray, I think I'm now at peace with the idea of not owning any physical media ever again, if I can help it.

My current strategy of wishing my physical media collection into a cornfield involves shipping all our DVDs to Second Spin via media mail, and paying our nephew $1 per CD to rip our CD collection using Exact Audio Copy and LAME as a summer project. The point of this exercise is absolutely not piracy; I have no interest in keeping both digital and physical copies of the media I paid for the privilege of owningtemporarily licensing. Note that I didn't bother ripping any of the DVDs because I hardly ever watched them; mostly they just collected dust. But I continue to love music and listen to my music collection on a daily basis. I'll donate all the ripped CDs to some charity or library, and if I can't pull that off, I'll just destroy them outright. Stupid atoms!

CDs, unlike DVDs or even Blu-Rays, are considered reference quality. That is, the uncompressed digital audio data contained on a CD is a nearly perfect representation of the original studio master, for most reasonable people's interpretation of "perfect", at least back in 1980. So if you paid for a CD, you might be worried that ripping it to a compressed digital audio format would result in an inferior listening experience.

I'm not exactly an audiophile, but I like to think I have pretty good ears. I've recommended buying $200+ headphones and headphone amps for quite a while now. By the way: still a good investment! Go do it! Anyhow, previous research and my own experiments led me to write Getting the Best Bang for Your Byte seven years ago. I concluded that nobody could really hear the difference between a raw CD track and an MP3 using a decent encoder at a variable bit rate averaging around 160kbps. Any bit rate higher than that was just wasting space on your device and your bandwidth for no rational reason. So-called "high resolution audio" was recently thoroughly debunked for very similar reasons.

Articles last month revealed that musician Neil Young and Apple's Steve Jobs discussed offering digital music downloads of 'uncompromised studio quality'. Much of the press and user commentary was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of uncompressed 24 bit 192kHz downloads. 24/192 featured prominently in my own conversations with Mr. Young's group several months ago.

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.

There are a few real problems with the audio quality and 'experience' of digitally distributed music today. 24/192 solves none of them. While everyone fixates on 24/192 as a magic bullet, we're not going to see any actual improvement.

The authors of LAME must have agreed with me, because the typical, standard, recommended, default way of encoding any old audio input to MP3 …

lame --preset standard "cd-track-raw.wav" "cd-track-encoded.mp3"

… now produces variable bit rate MP3 tracks at a bitrate of around 192kbps on average.


(Going down one level to the "medium" preset produces nearly exactly 160kbps average, my 2005 recommendation on the nose.)

Encoders have only gotten better since the good old days of 2005. Given the many orders of magnitude improvement in performance and storage since then, I'm totally comfortable with throwing an additional 32kbps in there, going from 160kbps average to 192kbps average just to be totally safe. That's still a miniscule file size compared to the enormous amount of data required for mythical, aurally perfect raw audio. For a particular 4 minute and 56 second music track, that'd be:

Uncompressed raw CD format51 mb
Lossless FLAC compression36 mb
LAME insane encoded MP3 (320kbps)11.6 mb
LAME standard encoded MP3 (192kbps avg)7.1 mb

Ripping to uncompressed audio is a non-starter. I don't care how much of an ultra audio quality nerd you are, spending 7× or 5× the bandwidth and storage for completely inaudible "quality" improvements is a dagger directly in the heart of this efficiency-loving nerd, at least. Maybe if you're planning to do a lot of remixing and manipulation it might make sense to retain the raw source audio, but for typical listening, never.

The difference between the 320kbps track and the 192kbps track is more rational to argue about. But it's still 1.6 times the size. Yes, we have tons more bandwidth and storage and power today, but storage space on your mobile device will never be free, nor will bandwidth or storage in the cloud, where I think most of this stuff should ultimately reside. And all other things being equal, wouldn't you rather be able to fit 200 songs on your device instead of 100? Wouldn't you rather be able to download 10 tracks in the same time instead of 5? Efficiency, that's where it's at. Particularly when people with dog's ears wouldn't even be able to hear the difference.

But Wait, I Have Dog Ears

Of course you do. On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Personally, I think you're a human being full of crap, but let's drop some science on this and see if you can prove it.


When someone tells me "Dudes, come on, let's steer clear of the worst song ever written!", I say challenge accepted. Behold The Great MP3 Bitrate Experiment!

As proposed on our very own Audio and Video Production Stack Exchange, we're going to do a blind test of the same 2 minute excerpt of a particular rock audio track at a few different bitrates, ranging from 128kbps CBR MP3 all the way up to raw uncompressed CD audio. Each sample was encoded (if necessary), then exported to WAV so they all have the same file size. Can you tell the difference between any of these audio samples using just your ears?

1. Listen to each two minute audio sample


2. Rate each sample for encoding quality

Once you've given each audio sample a listen – with only your ears please, not analysis softwarefill out this brief form and rate each audio sample from 1 to 5 on encoding quality, where one represents worst and five represents flawless.

Yes, it would be better to use a variety of different audio samples, like SoundExpert does, but I don't have time to do that. Anyway, if the difference in encoding bitrate quality is as profound as certain vocal elements of the community would have you believe it is, that difference should be audible in any music track. To those who might argue that I am trolling audiophiles into listening to one of the worst-slash-best rock songs of all time … over and over and over … to prove a point … I say, how dare you impugn my honor in this manner, sir. How dare you!

I wasn't comfortable making my generous TypePad hosts suffer through the bandwidth demands of multiple 16 megabyte audio samples, so this was a fun opportunity to exercise my long dormant Amazon S3 account, and test out Amazon's on-demand CloudFront CDN. I hope I'm not rubbing any copyright holders the wrong way with this test; I just used a song excerpt for science, man! I'll pull the files entirely after a few weeks just to be sure.

You'll get no argument from me that the old standby of 128kbps constant bit rate encoding is not adequate for most music, even today, and you should be able to hear that in this test. But I also maintain that virtually nobody can reliably tell the difference between a 160kbps variable bit rate MP3 and the raw CD audio, much less 192kbps. If you'd like to prove me wrong, this is your big chance. Like the announcer in Smash TV, I say good luck – you're gonna need it.

So which is it – are you a dog or a man? Give the samples a listen, then rate them. I'll post the results of this experiment in a few days.

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A woman visiting from Japan was shot and injured when a police officer’s gun accidentally discharged, sending a bullet through the floor and into the living room where she was sleeping. Police were searching an apartment at 3003 Clarendon Rd. in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood on March 29 when the shot was fired. Here, police escorted the victim. (See related article.) (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal)

Fire officials rescued a woman who fell through the floor of her Revolutionary War-era Staten Island home and into a well buried underneath on March 23. (Rod Morata for The Wall Street Journal)

Firefighters faced a three-alarm blaze on March 28 on the upper floors of a 21-story apartment building at 89 Columbia St. on the Lower East Side. A Fire Department spokesman told the Associated Press that no one was seriously injured. (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal )

Potato latkes with sour cream and three caviars at Kutsher’s TriBeCa, 186 Franklin St. between Greenwich and Hudson streets (See related article.) (Byron Smith for The Wall Street Journal)

A firetruck collided with a car at the intersection of Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn on March 27, injuring three firefighters and three civilians. (Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal)

Sasha Fire Gypsy performed at the Coney Island Gala at Webster Hall on March 24. (See related article.) (Astrid Stawiarz for The Wall Street Journal)

Ben Brown performed the ‘Rhythm & Bliss’ massage on Kim Wylie at bliss 49. Mr. Brown created the treatment, which involves a massage that goes to the beat of a selected playlist. (See related article.) (Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal)

The Wren Old Fashioned, served on the rocks with Old Overholt, Punt e Mes vermouth, cherry liqueur and orange bitters at The Wren, 344 Bowery at Great Jones Street. (See related article.) (Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal )

Six people were injured after a car hit a van carrying senior citizens on Colonial Road near 78th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on March 27. (Rod Morata for The Wall Street Journal)

Allegra Chapman played ‘Winter Music’ by John Cage on a Yamaha Disklavier piano, accompanied remotely by Luna Inaba in Japan and Hojoon Kim in California, at the Juilliard School in Manhattan, on March 26. (Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal)

The Bistro burger, an 8-ounce burger with American cheese and bacon, at Corner Bistro, 47-18 Vernon Blvd. in Long Island City. (See related article.) (Lauren Lancaster for The Wall Street Journal )

Dickie Landry played a solo saxophone concert in and around the John Chamberlain sculptures at the Guggenheim Museum on March. 26. (Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal)

Sushi chefs Daehyun Kin, left, and Kyoungjin Choi prepared fish before the lunch crowd arrived at Zutto, at 77 Hudson St. (See related article.) (Byron Smith for The Wall Street Journal)

Students from the St. Nicholas William Spyropoulos Greek American Day School in Flushing carried Greek flags during the annual Greek Independence Day parade along 5th Avenue in Manhattan on March 25. (See related article.) (Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal)

Kent Tritle directed the choir of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at a rehearsal on March 22. (See related article.) (Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal)

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[RSS Readers: See post to listen to audio]
The common misconception about 4/4 material mainly house and techno is that its waaaaay too repetitive, my reply to that is usually “oh really? i’m sorry, sooo you just listen to John Cage and experimental chamber music that doesn’t repeat one same note?”. If I share a 7 minute to 12 minute song to someone that doesn’t DJ there will be blank stares, that won’t change probably if you only listen to the radio.

Most of the long songs are made that long are that way because you’ll have time to mix them together, mostly a DJ tool for good DJs. Usually these producers are also DJs and have been for a long time so during song writing they prepare tracks that way. The actual meat and potatoes of these kind of songs usually last shorter than a pop song on the radio, its that opportunity to play it with another song together is why these tracks are that way….or there is just a great journey/sequence within the building up to something hypnotic to dance too.

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