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Links > Sites

Tools for Audio Geeks: Spek, a Free Spectrum Analyzer

Tonight, I’d like to give a major shout-out to the creators of Spek, a free spectrum analyzer I discovered recently, which has been extremely useful in the course of processing my music collection.

Why use a spectrum analyzer at all? Glad you asked.

The main benefit is you can physically see how the encode turned out — peaks, frequency cutoffs, bit rates, and other details can be checked with this tool. It can be somewhat nebulous on the details if you used VBR, but I generally find that’s not much of an issue considering being able to see a track’s audio spectrum provides a better look at the file anyway.

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Slam Poetry: “Hi, I’m a Slut”

Back in my university days, I jumped at the opportunity to be a volunteer for our showing of The Vagina Monologues. I loved the format of that performance and the way it engaged the audience, and I’ve been on the hunt ever since for similarly off-beat, hard-hitting content that gets dialogue started about important issues.

So, when I found this video by Savannah Brown in a friend’s FB feed today, I couldn’t resist posting it here. Her unpretentious, cut-to-the-bone style makes lingering points and delves deeply into our collective memory on the pathological sexualization, rampant objectification, and victim-blaming that goes on all too often as a feature of the social fabric in North America.

I’m also throwing in an older video she made called, “What Guys Look For In Girls.” The message, again, is too important to leave out:

Reading 2.0 and the Ultimate E-Book Toolkit (Calibre)

As a child of the original ‘Internet generation,’ I’ve long felt blessed and grateful for the transformations that have come about in the wake of the personal computing revolution. It’s changed the way we communicate, the way we share information, the way we store our things, and the way we think.

There’s always been something very beautiful about the intimate enmeshment of physical essence and technology. The tighter that bond becomes, the more we become able to transcend our own natural limits. If not also in name and appearance by this time, I’d argue we are at least the first cyborgs in spirit, augmenting our living bodies with tireless electronics and high-powered microprocessors, holding a universe-within-a-universe between our quivering fingertips.

Back in the day, a lot of people used to talk about device convergence, a point at which all (or most) user needs could be met by the capabilities of a single multi-purpose platform. There were numerous experiments tried and failed over the years to find that idealized, comfortable sense of mass appeal, ranging from the launch of WebTV to installing hard disks into game consoles, but despite all of this, the true killer app came only when the computing industry finally set its sights on the ordinary mobile cellular phone and said, “Let’s make this better.”

Ka-boom.

And so the second revolution of our generation began.

Nowadays, it’s almost abnormal to meet anyone on the streets who isn’t carting around a three-by-seven-inch smartphone (or tablet) with power and endurance rivaling that of many netbooks and lower-end laptops. With boosts in portability and battery life, more storage, multi-core processing, widespread open-source development, and easy cloud integration, the possibilities are endless. Much like the change in our own destiny, augmentation of our phones has hit a point where it’s transformed them into something entirely different, and made them part of a greater force in the realm of cultural design and social function.

And while we use these devices for a multitude of everyday tasks, one of the more subtle ones that’s taken hold is reading for business and pleasure. It’s long been obvious, ever since cyberspace gained mass appeal, that one of the more hotly debated issues would remain the divide between reading from physical media versus reading from digital. The e-book trend is in an upward swing, a lot of readers have traded in their cumbersome dead-tree-format for something that slips more easily into a data card, and these changes have many more questioning the direction in which these changes might take us.

First off, I don’t care much for the politics, and I’m not here to preach. The views on electronic reading are as varied and numerous as there are people who read. Some like to keep their distance and feel that e-readers are inferior and a betrayal of a wholesome pastime. Others strike varying shades of balance between the use of digital and physical formats. Still others are at a point where they’ve either swung firmly toward carrying out an eventual migration to digital or have already arrived there.

Personally, I’m flexible when it comes to my books. I have a lot of paper, in spite of everything else in my life being almost entirely digital. I also have a lot of books in digital format. So, whenever I want to indulge in a story, I go with what’s convenient and feels good that day.

The take-home lesson here is, “you do you.” Work with what makes you happy. Work with what you feel works best for the circumstances. The ONLY thing you need to care about at the end of the day is that what you’re doing keeps you reading and keeps you feeling joy from your pastime.

Books are a priceless tool to hone the intellect and give wings to our imaginations. There’s a lot we could do that’s far worse than consuming them regularly (and eagerly) in digital form.

On that note, I’m going to share one more tool that might be of interest to anyone who’s dipping their toes into the e-reading pool. Calibre is an e-book system that’s totally free, has no ads or spyware, and pretty much does everything you could ever ask for in an e-book software package. I’ve been using mine to convert between EPUB and PDF formats; as long as a user understands basic typography, this program is a dream to work with. Calibre makes it ridiculously easy to create output files that are re-flowed and set for the screen size of one’s reader.

Also, huge kudos go to Morri for gifting me with the old Blackberry Playbook that became my mobile library. I love so much of what we share, interest-wise and otherwise … and this BB made for such an awesome DIY hack, and even more fun after the fact. I can slip this thing into a purse or coat pocket and just run out the door, and not have to worry about carting around 50 pounds of books. (I know I’ve already thanked you profusely IRL, but credit is due in cyberspace too!)

So long story short … if you’re an avid reader, check out Calibre, it’s one of the few applications I’ve encountered that’s probably worth your time.

Now … pick up a book and read, dammit!  :)

<3

Auditory Flashbacks: Cauda Pavonis, Adversus, Flesh Field, Aesthetic Perfection, Aïboforcen, Aeon Sable, The Birthday Massacre, Battery, and Qntal

After more than ten hours of hard work, the Links page is finally up to date, along with a slew of new additions to the music section. Artists beginning with letters A through F are complete, with each entry researched prior to listing in order to make the most useful resources available to readers who are interested in exploring further. In cases where an artist has retired or gone on hiatus, I’ve tried to link to resources that offer the most complete overview of their musical works.

Now that that’s finished, ON TO THE MUSIC!

Starting off tonight’s round of offerings is the awesome, driving sound of the one and only Cauda Pavonis:

Next up, we have the ultimate graveyard serenade: Adversus’ Seelenwinter. The song is an old favourite of mine, and seeing the video hits even harder than anything before.

Those voices, those melodies … they’re eight blissful, soaring minutes of pure lovelorn flight. I adore every part of it. Studio version here. Frankly, though, I think this one works much better live.

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On the Death of David Bowie

There’s “passing away with style,” and then there’s “I’m going for one more encore, and I’m not just going to love this, I’m gonna strike the boldest dot imaginable on the exclamation point that is my life.”

When I heard about David Bowie’s death, I partly expected to hear about him doing something notable or dramatic on the way out — ain’t that just like him.

The end is near, the odds are tangibly impossible, and even as the world comes crashing down around his ears, here he is on set casting a music video, singing with that same sweet, silvery passion that’s defined so many of his life’s other accomplishments.

Not florid prose nor mournful discourse nor simple wonder can properly describe the inspiration and beauty in such a gesture. Lyrics here. Links to the Canadian and American Cancer Societies as well, because why not contribute?

Now, if you haven’t clicked PLAY on the above video, you’d better turn off everything else around you right now, and load it up.

And don’t forget the encore …

May you be well remembered, and remembered well in all the ages to come.

Reclaiming Old Tech for Music

I was browsing Slashdot earlier today when I came across a really cool article showing how Toolbox Bodensee e.V. took a bunch of old floppy drives, added a controller with a piano interface, mounted the lot on a board with 3D printed hardware, and turned their strange marriage of parts into an entirely new kind of instrument.

Here we go …

… and it only gets weirder from here.

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Financial Corruption and Value Dilution in Higher Education

I’d been browsing through the news recently for a collection of articles to share on a rather broad topic: the influence of moneyed interests on the educational system. This is a longstanding interest of mine, having grown up during a time when a year in university cost about $1,200, and having watched tuition rates and living costs balloon exponentially ever since. But what shocked me into getting the links to this post up that much sooner is this emerging story from the US:

“The Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday said it brought fraud charges against ITT Educational Services Inc. and two of its top executives, alleging they misled investors about the looming financial impact of two badly-performing student-loan programs on the for-profit educator. […] ITT formed the student-loan programs to provide off-balance-sheet loans for ITT’s students in the wake of the financial crisis, when the market for private student loans dried up and for-profit schools created new ways to help students pay their tuition bills.”

source: Wall Street Journal

Let us further expand on the dialogue surrounding money in education for the benefit of those who haven’t been as immersed in the debate:

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Auditory Flashbacks: Helium Vola

For those who haven’t heard of them before, today’s post is going to give some examples of the amazing work that’s been created over the years by Helium Vola. Based in Germany, active since 2001, and headed up by composer Ernst Horn who also holds considerable renown for his other work under Deine Lakaien and Qntal, Helium Vola mixes the haunting intonations of numerous dead languages with the effervescent melodies of its ongoing electronic, neo-medieval, and neo-classical explorations.

While the overall atmosphere of most of their work is markedly ethereal in nature and has long found its greatest strengths in that style, it hasn’t stopped the band from branching out in other ways, as can easily be noticed over time. This has resulted in certain tracks giving an utterly chaotic feeling at times, periodically lapsing into wide variations of melody and tempo, producing rather unexpected results that can tend to be a strong hit or miss to the listener. This is more prevalent in their recent albums than the older ones, seeming to come and go at whim on certain tracks, suggesting both an ongoing, ephemeral sort of experimentation, and perhaps unexpectedly tapping into a listener’s more visceral reaction. There are times one wonders what’s suddenly transpired, when all of a sudden the song weaves back into its original tone and tempo, that much stronger for the juxtaposition.

This is something that’s highly subjective, to say the least. You’ll have to listen for yourself and decide.

Also, while Helium Vola’s work tends not to be first thing that springs to mind whenever one thinks of the word ‘dance,’ the raw, organic, fluid emotions expressed in these songs and their quietly restless rhythms bring a special contribution to the table, and when one is immersed in the soaring vocals and fluttering tones of certain songs, it’s not long before one feels the sensual wisps of temptation pulling at the mind to sway and drift in unison, to speak melody through motion, to aspire to dreams that fly as high.

On a personal level, I’ve found this a very rare experience to discover in any musical artist, and I find myself wishing we had something — anything — like it in Canada. Alongside bands like Qntal, Ataraxia, and others (who will be discussed in future posts), I’ve noticed HV falls into a very specific niche even within the gothic subculture where their particular style seems much more widely recognized. I find it odd they’re not more well known given the obviously dark direction in which their music leans, but either way, it doesn’t really matter so much as the fact I feel better off for having experienced their work, and I’d like to offer the same to my readers. It took years of exploring before I found them, and that was largely by accident.

Without further ado, let us take a brief journey through time.

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