Friday 30 November 2012

iTunes 11

We have completed our initial evaluation of iTunes 11, and we can say that BitPerfect users are safe to download this version and use it with BitPerfect.  There may turn out to be some instances of unexpected behavior, but at the moment we have not encountered anything that is giving us any significant concerns.

UPDATE:  See the following posts:
Problems with iTunes 11?
Problems with Permissions Scan with iTunes 11

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Petition - We Want Our Music Back!

Please join BitPerfect in letting the music industry know we are fed up with dynamically compressed recordings, and that we want our music back!

BitPerfect Contest!

If you go to our FaceBook page and 'Like' us, there is a contest that we are offering for BitPerfect users.  I have a little Art Project I created for my listening room, comprising 15 portraits of prominent musicians past and present who have made important contributions to my own little world.  I call it my Wall Of Heroes.

I have found that many people are able to identify a majority of the faces on the wall, but nobody seems able to name them all.  Interestingly, the ones that trip people up are rarely the same!

So I posted them all on BitPerfect's FaceBook page, and have offered a modest little prize for the first person to correctly identify all 15.  Let's see how you get on!

British Airways send-up

For many years, British Airways ran a series of commercials featuring the famous Flower Duet from Delibes' opera Lakmé.  Here is a wonderful send-up, performed by Nicola Keen and Jan Handley (neither of whom are professional opera singers).  Keen wrote the words.

This will particularly appeal to those who, like me, have devoted substantial portions of their lives to the joys of business travel.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Stadium Arcadium - A Mirror To The Moon

Be honest, when you think of "double album", do you think "Oh yes, more music" or is it "Oh no, more filler"?  Yeah, me too.  But how often do the best double albums turn out to be the best albums, period?  Case in point...


Released in 2006, Stadium Arcadium was the ninth studio album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who started life as a high school band in 1983.  Twenty years of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll later, and you would think the Peppers would be all washed up.  2002's "By The Way" might well have encouraged you in that expectation.  But no, Stadium Arcadium is arguably the band's Magnum Opus.

Originally conceived as a three-album project, with releases every six months, the 38 tracks recorded in the studio were ultimately whittled down to 28 for release as one double album.  It makes you wonder how good the 10 abandoned cuts were; I would have real trouble trimming it down to 27.

What makes Stadium Arcadium so good, is that the Peppers borrow from all of their previous styles to, in essence, create a whole which in the context of their career output is truly greater than the sum of its parts.  It suggests that everything the band has done in the past was all leading to this.  There is a new found maturity in the lyrics, some quite exceptional musicianship from all four members, especially guitarist Frusciante who finally releases the shackles and stakes his place in the pantheon of guitar greats.  Flea, of course, is already there (in the Bass department).

So for all that, don't expect to be blown away from the first needle drop.  Like all the best albums, this one creeps up on you slowly.  It is a measure of the band's confidence that the music is stripped of all pretense and allowed to stand up for itself.  Each track is meticulously crafted in - at least by RHCP standards - an almost minimalist style, the occasional flash of unbridled virtuosity having to stand its ground in the context of the song.

Stadium Arcadium won the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Rock Album.

Interesting fact - Stadium Arcadium was recorded in Harry Houdini's old house.  The band members each insist that the house's benevolent ghosts were responsible for the exceptional spirit of creativity and absence of the destructive internecine quarrels that have marked their previous studio efforts.  Unfortunately, one distinctly malevolent ghost ended up crashing the party.  Vlado Meller's mastering for the CD release is grossly, grossly incompetent, being highly compressed and clipped.  A banner carrier for the dreaded "loudness wars".  At least the LP release was mastered by the great Steve Hoffman who really knows what he is doing.  Hopefully, one day, a re-mastered high-resolution Studio Master will be released.

Monday 19 November 2012


Call me unadventurous.  Call me a traditionalist.  Call me a BOF.  Whatever.  But my favourite opera is, without a moment's hesitation, Tosca.

For me, there is no single audio
recording of Tosca that does it justice.  I mean, would you ever buy an audio CD of a famous stage play?  So why is it that Opera recordings remain so popular in audio-only media?  For me, you really need to see the performance.  It is surely hard to fully appreciate it otherwise.  That is why I am here recommending a DVD (also available on Blu-ray). And why this one?  Well, actually, I have just finished watching a broadcast of this performance on the "HI-FI" cable channel in glorious HD on my Home Theatre.  Karita Mattila and Jonas Kaufman headline the cast under the baton of Fabio Luisi and the Bavarian State Opera.  And personally, I really enjoyed Juha Uusilato's romp as Scarpia.

Scarpia is the ultimate villain.  A good Scarpia all but twirls his moustache and ties Tosca to the railway tracks, and the part is a superbly written vehicle for the Bass voice.  It is a role for the operatic Basso to both ham it up and strut his chops.  And, despite your protests to the contrary, Tosca really is an Opera demanding an over-the-top melodramatic performance.

If you want an audio-only version, what would I recommend?  My personal choice is the Decca recording featuring Pavarotti, Freni, and Milnes, with Nicola Rescigno conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra back in 1972, before Pavarotti rose to prominence as an international superstar.  There are many worthy others.

But do yourself a favour and watch a high-quality performance, such as the one I've recommended here.  And if you're clever, you can even track down snippets of most of it on YouTube.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Phil Collins' 1976 Mistress

"If Genesis were Phil Collins' wife, Brand X is his mistress."

The Jazz-Fusion movement of the 70's is best known for the giants - Mahavishnu, Colloseum, Chick
Corea, Weather Report, extending, towards its boundaries, to include the likes of Jeff Beck and Miles Davis.  Apparently lost in the euphoria was Brand X, perhaps because it was seen - very unfairly - as Phil Collins' side-project.  Here Phil teams up with bassist Percy Jones, Guitarist John Goodsall, and Keyboardist Robin Lumley, and together they lay down what is surely one of the core oevres of the Jazz-Fusion movement, "Unorthodox Behaviour".

At first listen, what comes across is perhaps that unfair assessment that this is a Phil Collins pet project.  Phil's drumming never fails to underpin and propel the music with his familiar cymbal-driven style.  But what emerges after a while is that Collins drumming is truly at the service of the music, punctuating it, propelling it, clarifying it, anchoring it.

The second thing that emerges is "Ooooh, that Bass!".  Percy Jones' fretless meanderings are thoughtful, original, provocative, and oh so tasty.  Also, if your system has really, really, REALLY accurate and deep bass, he plays with a quite extraordinary presence (Bose Wave radio owners need not apply).

Where Collins and Jones provide a kitchen sink with an essentially funk and rhythm oriented core, the third thing that emerges are all the tunes, the melodic structures, and the weird harmonic progressions that seem somehow so natural.  Guitarist Goodsall and keyboardist Lumley counterpoint the rhythmic foundation with melody, fine tonal textures, and no small amount of virtuosity, while avoiding the excesses of self-indulgence that often mar (or sanctify - according to your preference) Jazz-Fusion.

At the end of the day, Unorthodox Behaviour is nobody's vanity project.  It is a fundamentally collaborative affair.  This line-up played at Ronnie Scott's club in London just before Unorthodox Behaviour was released, and I was there.  I bought the album on the day of its release.  To this day, it remains a staple of my collection.  It is playing as I write this.  Percy Jones' opening statement on Nuclear Burn is just an absolute classic ... if you can play this, you've got bass chops!

If you have never heard Unorthodox Behaviour, do yourself a favour - try to find yourself a copy.

Monday 5 November 2012

The Rite of Spring - a 20th Century Collossus

Let me state it up-front right away.  Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, premiered in 1913, is my favorite piece of classical music, bar none.  It is also, without peer, the single most influential piece of music ever composed.  By anyone.  Ever.  Here is a nice little primer, a YouTube video featuring interviews with members of the London Symphony Orchestra:
Stravinsky takes the organized concept of composed orchestral music as understood at the turn of the 20th Century and throws it out the window.  He asks instruments to play outside of their normal register.  He features unexpected instruments in prominent roles.  Melodies are strained and atonal.  Likewise the harmonies – in fact tonal dissonance is core to the piece.  There is no tonal key.  Pre-conceived ideas of rhythm are chewed up and spat out.   Hardly a bar goes by without a syncopated element.  The time signatures vary wildly – at times changing every single bar.  Odd-beat meters abound – there is even one bar with eleven pounding beats to it (you won’t miss it!).

The Rite calls out to be played with a primal ferocity for which nothing written previously could have prepared the first performers.  It is anarchic music, yet it absolutely demands the greatest skill from the conductor to keep the marshaled forces in place.  He must conduct like a lion tamer, in a cage with a hungry, bad-tempered lion.  The best performances teeter on the edge.  Virtuoso-level skill is demanded across the entire orchestra (well, maybe not from the triangle player … I can say this, having played triangle once in a performance of the Rite).  Individual players are called upon to produce outburst after outburst with confidence and total commitment.  Anything less will sound disjointed, timid, and unconvincing.  Famously, at its 1913 premiere in Paris, a riot broke out!

The Rite of Spring is probably the single most frequently-played and widely-recorded piece of orchestral music in existence.  I have totally lost track of how many recordings there are.  I have many of them in my collection, but there are well over 100 that I have never even heard.  You could spend your entire life doing nothing but tracking down recorded performances of The Rite.  How, then, to pick a recommended recording?

All I can offer is my own opinion.  An opinion that could conceivably have changed by the time you read this!  Regrettably, it is an opinion that does not lend itself to the world of Computer Audio.  Your mileage may vary, but here we go anyway:  The best recording of The Rite of Spring was made by Leonard Bernstein, conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958.  Stravinsky himself is reliably reported to have exclaimed “Wow!” upon hearing it.  Trouble is, it is not available on CD.  And the LP is long out of print.  My own LP was bought for me as a birthday gift by my son who found it on E-Bay, part of a boxed set issued by Time Life back in the 1970’s (The 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time).  Also, if you know what you are doing, it is possible to track down a well-recorded vinyl rip which can be downloaded from the nether regions of the internet in 24/96 format.  It sounds great on my high-end system.

For those of you intrigued enough to want to learn more, here is an absolutely top-drawer performance on YouTube, featuring the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra performing live in the famous Concertgebouw concert hall:

This is a dynamic and precise rendition, captured in 720p with some very fine videography (the focus on the long shots excepted).  Despite appearing to have escaped from Orwell’s 1984, and despite spending long periods of time with his head buried deep in the score, conductor Jaap van Zweden extracts a disciplined yet ferocious performance from his mostly young players.  Really, there is not much to complain about here.  Quite spectacular!

Doing a quick Google search, there appears to be a hybrid SACD released by Exton featuring this orchestra/conductor combo, although I suspect it is a studio recording.  I will try to see if I can get hold of it.
Everybody needs a copy of The Rite in their record collection.  Let us know which is your favourite.

Saturday 3 November 2012

John Corigliano

In the world of classical music, you typically need to die before your music gets taken too seriously.  Kind of a bummer from a reputation-building perspective.  I guess once you're dead, your oevre is sort of set in stone, and you can't go about upsetting the pronouncements of the 'experts' by releasing a confounding new work.

Having said that, one very much living composer, whose work does gain a grudging degree of respect, is the American composer John Corigliano.  I am a huge fan of his Symphony No 1, written in the late eighties in response to the then-emerging AIDS crisis which was striking down many of his musician friends.  At the time, Corigliano was composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and such was the reception afforded it that the CSO recorded the work under the baton of Daniel Barenboim.  It has also been recorded by the National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin, coupled with the slightly more popular work "Of Rage and Remembrance", but the CSO version is the one to own.

Symphony No 1 swings seamlessly between passages of rage, serenity, helplessness, and nostalgia as it weaves a musical AIDS quilt in remembrance of three particular musician friends around whom the work is structured.  One particularly effective device is an off-stage piano playing a transcription of Albeniz' Tango in D which in the CSO recording emerges ghost-like behind a curtain of shimmering strings.  Unusually, for a major work of the last century, Corigliano manages to express both modernity and originality without being derivative of the Rite Of Spring which towers so massively over the compositional landscape of the 20th Century.  The composition has received numerous awards and accolades.  I am hoping that I will one day be able to catch a live performance, which is not an unreasonable ambition as the piece does get performed quite widely.

In the meantime, the CSO/Barenboim recording on Erato is finely done.  Barenboim conducts with passion and precision - the latter is always his calling card - and the off-stage piano is gorgeously captured.  It was recognized at the 1991 Grammys with the award for Best Classical Recording. What a pity there is no hi-res version available for download (as far as I know).

Try and find this recording, it is a piece which I am sure will eventually find its way onto the standard repertoire - I hope you enjoy it.