Posts from the Is it meant to sound like that? Category

…and I made this to entertain you.

A little bit of housekeeping:

  • When I started this blog, I kept it loosely anonymous in an effort to keep casual readers from confusing what I write here with what my boss thinks. Since I now work for myself, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but let me be very clear: the ideas expressed here are and always have been my own personal thoughts and opinions and not anybody else’s. Ok. Enough disclaimers: in case you didn’t already know, it was me all along.
  • I’ve recovered all the old posts from a backup. Posts should be at the same URLs so your bookmarks and links should work again, but a few images have disappeared. Please bear with me while I track them down.
  • The email subscription list did not restore from the backup. If you used to get posts by email, you’ll have to subscribe again. You can do that at the bottom of any page.
  • If I’ve done this right, existing RSS subscribers should get new posts. I might not have done this right, though, so just in case, the feed url is:


As you might, by now, have heard, Alex Ross has a new book. It’s called Listen To This, and the cover makes your eyes go funny.

The chapter on music technology (“Infernal Machines”) might just be the only sensible thing I’ve ever read on the subject. He avoids the temptation to make overblown pronouncements about the future of recording, pointing out that the same things get said every time anybody threatens to change anything. It should be required reading for anybody who plans to…

a) …proclaim that a new format is indistinguishable from a live performance.

b) …proclaim that the old format was much warmer and more lifelike.

c) …proclaim that technology has ruined music.

d) …proclaim that technology will save music.

e) …bore me senseless in meetings with simplistic and nostalgic nonsense about how fantastic everything was before my generation came along.

The rest of the book is about music, and it’s just the kind of scholarly and engaging enterprise that you might expect from Alex’s work. If you like his blog, you’ll love it.

You can buy it in hardcover from Amazon or get the audiobook (with musical examples) from iTunes.

You can probably download some sort of newfangled ebook too, although I recommend getting the hardcover. People with superior aesthetic sensibilities will know that words this good can only be appreciated in an analog format. The paper pages are warmer and more lifelike than the Kindle which, along with its Satanic bedfellow the iPad, are conspiring to destroy publishing as we know it! Damn you, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos!! There is pulp on your hands!!! In ten years, there will be no books and it will all be your fault!!!! Mark my hysterical words!!!!!

Ok. That’s enough.

Last week, I posted a challenge to listen to two pairs of audio samples, and answer two simple questions about them. If you haven’t tried it yet, you might like to check it out before you read the answers.

Six months ago, I did a similar experiment to see if people could tell the difference between compressed an uncompressed audio. Although the results didn’t suggest that anybody could tell difference, it had one key flaw: it’s impossible to prove that nobody can do something. Without testing all the people all the time, you might miss somebody, and that somebody might be working for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

This time, I approached the problem from the opposite direction: is it possible for people to think they’re hearing differences that don’t exist, and are these false perceptions vulnerable to suggestion? (more…)

Yesterday, the New York Times published a piece entitled In Mobile Age, Sound Quality Steps Back. Apparently, compressed audio “is sucking the life out of music”1. A decrease in consumer spending on hifi equipment is cited as further evidence of the decline. Technology, once again, is the enemy of art.

By the time I saw this, I was already half way through writing a piece on how the unspoken assumptions behind news coverage can be misleading, but clearly the only mature way to address this fallacy is with a side-by-side review of two top-selling consumer audio products: the 32GB iPod Touch and a 1910 Victrola VV-XI.

Why these two products?


“I realized that there has to be a problem with education—any form of formal education. I collected enough evidence that once you get a theory in your head, you can no longer understand how people can operate without it. And you look at practitioners, lecture them on how to do their business, and live under the illusion that they owe you their lives. Without your theories and your learning they will never go anywhere.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This comes from an economics book subtitled “Can Mathematical Theories Destroy the Financial Markets?”. You can read the quote in context here. He’s not talking about music, but Nassim Taleb’s work is all about the limitations of academic theories, and it got me thinking. (more…)

The first single from Renée Fleming’s rock covers album Dark Hope is out today, but according to Decca I’m not allowed to make fun of it yet. It’s like it’s Christmas morning and I’m not allowed to open any presents.

Luckily for them, I just stumbled upon this. 86 orchestral versions of rock songs and weird classical remixes for the low, low price of $11.99. Don’t say “cheap”. It’s “great value”.

Should orchestras start their own labels? Is that easy? Are CDs going to disappear? Will downloads replace them?

Somehow, Classic FM’s Arts Daily podcast managed to go all the way to the Association of British Orchestras’ conference, track down people that know the answers to these questions* and still end up with nothing close to a useful (or even coherent) conclusion. God only knows what they actually said. It sounds like there are about seven edit points in every sentence.

* Jonathan Gruber, former VP of New Media at Universal Classics & Jazz and current head of the new media consulting firm Ulysses Arts; Chaz Jenkins, head of LSO Live; and James Inverne, editor of Gramophone magazine.

Here’s an awesome but fairly creepy idea from Japan:

AKB48 is a girl group with 48 members. They’re terrible performers, but very successful. Why? Size confers a few advantages:

1) A band this big clearly doesn’t need everybody to show up for every gig. They can tour three places at once and still have somebody perform at their resident gig every day. (more…)