Links: Music industry sexism, vinyl video game music, why do we want sound recording anyway?


I hate this tinnitus and hyperacusis so much. I’m working from home the next three days because the office is too loud. I AM LIVING YOUR MOST HORRIFYING NIGHTMARE, RECORD NERD. Rocknerd: We Get Hyperacusis So You Don’t Have To. Bah.

Links: Wikipedia supports fair use, film archiving, the joys of the B-side.


Followups: Facebook dumps virtual reality, Spotify eats Niland, Denuvo still rubbish.


Your cyberpunk present: DRMed pets in Second Life starve after corporate battle.


No, really: DRMed pets in Second Life starve after a corporate battle. (Yeah, Second Life is still around.) In an unlimited world of plenty, the very first thing is to recreate scarcity so you can become the rentier. Per Rock Paper Shotgun:

Virtual rabbits across Second Life [official site] will fall asleep on Saturday then never wake up, now that the their digital food supply has been shut down by a legal battle. The player-made and player-sold Ozimals brand of digirabbits are virtual pets that players breed and care for in the sandbox MMO, and even need to feed by buying DRM-protected virtual food. But they rely on servers. Waypoint reported earlier today that the seller of Ozimals and the Pufflings virtuabirds has received a legal threat he says he cannot afford to fight, so they’ve shut down. By Saturday, rabbits will run out of food and enter hibernation.

The rabbits aren’t dead, they’re sleeping. They simply can never wake up.

“For the rabbits!” Lennie shouted.
“For the rabbits,” George repeated.

A few people have a stash of virtual bunny food, to stave off the inevitable halting state of all cyberlagomorphs.

(Sorry, Ted Chiang already wrote the science fiction story.)

Ozimals has been the premier virtual pet brand (and aren’t those words 100% William Gibson) for a decade. Sooo cute!! They’ve had a few ups and downs and DMCA controversies, but their latest battle has done for them: Ozimals actually shut down in September last year, but the guy running it just decided to … keep using licensed designs without a licence! In the Game of DRMed Thrones, you can’t just take people’s stuff without fallout.

A commenter:

That guy coulda just sold rabbits; he coulda made them able to eat anything matching a publicly-defined “food” interface so there could be competition in the virtual rabbit nutrition market; but no, he wanted that delicious vendor-lockin revenue stream.

As Penny Arcade put it in 2008, the entire concept of virtual scarcity “is like having the ability to shape being from non-being at the subatomic level, and the first thing you decide to make is AIDS.”

“I’m sure there is some way to claim that bitcoin would solve this problem” — Paul Tomblin

It’s the buzz buzz buzz in the drum of the ear.


Obviously I’m just jealous of audiophiles because my tinnitus is being a frickin’ nightmare. It’s usually like having Metal Machine Music quietly playing in the background 24/7, but Wednesday I was calming down an upset small child who was yelling from a foot away for several minutes, and now it’s not only louder but certain frequency ranges are seriously uncomfortable. Not quite “pain” as such, but discomfort as attention-arresting as pain would be. I can’t listen to music. Doctor says it should be fine in a week or two probably. In the meantime, avoid sound. Yeah, great.

You’ll be pleased to know I won’t be letting that stop the down-the-pub let-me-tell-you-what pontifications on whatever annoys me about the music industry. In the meantime, here’s Wire.


Streaming links: Spotify, Netflix versus Android, the return of the undead Live365.


“So the FT called you a Dick?” — Sean Purdy
“Blockchain has made him Rich” — Steve VanDevender

Master Quality Authenticated — “high-resolution” audio with … lossy compression.


Master Quality Authenticated, or MQA, is an audacious innovation in the “high-resolution audio” field, in which record companies try to sell you your music again and audio equipment manufacturers try to sell you things that no human tested in the last century can hear.

Before anything else, we must stress yet again: high-resolution audio makes zero difference at best and causes intermodulation distortion at worst, and even the golden ears advocating this stuff can’t tell the difference from CD quality in A/B/X testing. Hi-res audio is completely made-up bullshit, and anyone trying to sell it to end consumers is committing fraud. The only advantage of hi-res audio is that it tends not to have LOUDNESS WARS mixes.

(24-bit audio — or 32-bit float, just because they can — is routine in recording, because it gives lots more room to mess around or run things through several hundred filters. There’s still no excuse for marketing it at a premium at the far end.)

The goal of this new format is, of course, a rent-seeking monopoly on high-resolution streams for Meridian, the creators of MQA. It’s patented to the hilt, and anyone touching any aspect of it will be required to pay licensing fees every step of the way — unlike Ogg Vorbis or FLAC, which were never patented, or MP3, which is recently patent-free.

MQA offers high-resolution audio with lossy compression. As far as I can work out (corrections welcomed), they take a 24-bit 96kHz stream and compress it into a 16-bit 48kHz stream. All audio from 24kHz to 48kHz is lossily compressed as one frequency band, which is then encoded in the dither of the bottom 3 bits of the 16/48 stream, leaving it effectively a 13-bit stream. There is also another 8-bit 48kHz stream which contains lossily compressed difference between the original 24/96 stream and the 16/48 output stream.

Their secret sauce is better psychoacoustics, though there’s a curious absence of A/B/X test results. (They did get one reviewer literally claiming that “it sounds convincingly better than the normal, non-MQA’d 24bit/96kHz file” that it was created from — meaning that he found MQA’s defects appealing.) They say you can get away with lossy compression because there’s not much energy in the 24–48kHz frequency range. Of course, in strict psychoacoustic terms, you could “compress” it to a single byte containing a zero, because no human tested in the last century can reproducibly hear frequencies over 20kHz. But they claim they are doing this sincerely and have actual data in there and patented innovations and so forth. You wouldn’t be giving them all this money for nothing, after all.

An MQA stream can be packaged as a FLAC, and decoded by anything that can play FLAC (which is everything these days). You can then decode further parts of the stream depending on bandwidth. Of course, the bottom 3 bits contain high-frequency quantised white noise, leaving playback as effectively 13-bit rather than 16-bit — that is, MQA degrades the audio stream if you’re not playing it back with the patented MQA decoder.

MQA has somehow given journalists the idea that it can “deliver files with the size of a typical MP3 download or stream”, which is clearly not going to happen. The precise claim I can find in their own words is “hi-res recordings delivered at just 20% the size of traditional formats” without further numbers — but even the audiophiles willing to entertain the possibility of superhuman hearing ranges aren’t impressed with its efficiency or results:

Note that the original 24-bit signal is never recovered. MQA does not losslessly preserve the original 24-bit signal. For this reason MQA is not truly a lossless system. At best, the MQA system losslessly conveys 17-bits at 96 kHz. Unfortunately this very complicated process is less efficient than lossless FLAC compression of the 17-bit file. It is also only slightly smaller than a FLAC version of the original 24-bit signal. MQA does not make it easier to stream 96 kHz files. With a 96 kHz 18-bit input, FLAC compressed MQA requires higher data rates than FLAC compressed PCM while delivering lower quality than 18-bit losslessly compressed PCM. MQA also requires special mastering and special playback hardware. Conventional FLAC compression requires neither.

The Wikipedia article on MQA is champagne comedy, in which MQA tries to sell a 13-bit 48kHz stream with a couple of lossily compressed correction streams on top as high-resolution, and even other purveyors of audio woo call them out.

What Hi-Fi interview with Bob Stuart of Meridian, in which he inexplicably fails to detail the extensive A/B/X tests irrefutably demonstrating the superiority of MQA.

The RIAA is very into the idea of “Hi-Res MUSIC” — because they want you to buy your collection again — and is heavily pushing MQA in particular, for unclear reasons. RIAA Chief Technology Officer David Hughes says “If I’m in a car and I play an MQA file, it will sound better than an MP3”, as if absolutely anything since 1995 doesn’t sound better than an MP3, e.g. a FLAC in 16/44 CD quality.

Apple Music has shown no signs of caring about even CD-quality streaming, let alone hi-res (despite collecting 24-bit masters for a few years now) and Spotify not much. Tidal has offered MQA on their hi-res tier since January this year, labeling it 24/96 even though it isn’t; there is as yet no data on whether either end user can tell the difference. A cloud of minor download and streaming services have been selling MQAs since last year.

Expect the labels to push this hard. Warner Music signed on last May, Universal in February and Sony and Merlin just this month. There’s a lack of visible product as yet, but Meridian did recruit the CEO of MQA from Warner.

It’s worth reiterating that convenience beats quality, every time. Spotify has become the record industry’s 2017 very best friend while pumping out everything as MP3 and Ogg. On modern pop music, people have trouble telling 16-bit sound from 8-bit sound.

But if you expect people not to call “hi-res audio” fraud: bring reproducible and third-party A/B/X testing or go home. That’s the bottom line and you know that’s the bottom line.

HT Peter Corlett. “Needs more blockchain though.”

Lester Bangs on Brian Eno.


Yesterday was Brian Eno’s 69th birthday. Lester Bangs interviews Brian Eno, apparently an unpublished interview. Mr Eno is a thoroughly delightful fellow.

I found this from looking at the Dangerous Minds article for Eno’s birthday and trying to track down the record sleeve at the top. A Google Image search on it and going to All Sizes turned up this blog post linking to it. The page has long since come down. A find, lurking in the Internet Archive, unindexed, waiting for a determined reader. Tracking down useful stuff lurking in the IA will be the future of humanities scholarship.

Here’s the documentary Dangerous Minds posted. It says 1994, they think it’s 1992. There’s a bit of German at the beginning and the rest is in English.

Bonus: how Brian Eno managed to pee in Marcel Duchamp’s urinal “Fountain”. Allegedly.


It appears to be a bootleg of a Peel Session of “Baby’s On Fire”. But surely a sleeve this obviously good must have been used elsewhere.

Links: a critic turned artist, the soothing power of noise, Kim Dotcom outdone, Herman’s Hermits.



The book got a paragraph in the Financial Times today! (Archive.) Apparently the print edition (which I didn’t manage to grab) rendered my name as “Robert Gerard”; correction tomorrow. Robert, David, must be the blokechain.

Soundtracks replaced with extruded substitute music product. If you’re lucky.


Back in the day, the discerning pop kid had to negotiate the hazard of off-licence hit compilations. You could buy the ones put out by the record companies, with ten or twelve hits as actually recorded by the bands … or you might find yourself with an off-brand rerecording, featuring session musicians re-rendering the works of the stars. Usual telltale was the cover having only the names of the songs, not the artists. I remember one hilariously terrible version of “Sexcrime” by the Eurythmics where the singers tried to sing the chopped-up vocal at the beginning in real time.

The kids of today can also experience this singular joy. A reader of A Journal of Musical Things noticed something amiss with his shiny new DVD of 1984 film Romancing the Stone:

We watched it and it was…off. It took us about 30 minutes before we put our finger on it and realized the musical score had been changed. Our copy didn’t even have the title song on it. We were sure it was a bootleg.

The issue: companies who had purchased the rights to 1980s movies, but without bothering to pay for the rights to the music. So they just … re-scored the movies with some extruded substitute music product!

This is actually standard practice. Other victims include When Harry Met Sally and WKRP in Cincinnati, whose DVD box buyers were not pleased.

It happens in other places, often killing a release. The 2010 video game Alan Wake ends each scene with a reasonably noteworthy piece of music — David Bowie, Nick Cave, Roy Orbison — and it’s about to be deleted because licenses for the music have run out, and they aren’t replacing the backing with extruded substitute music product. They’re trying to relicense the music, but with no time frame.

Games have been affected before, but usually it’s specifically music-based titles (particularly the Rock Band series). So hold onto those tapes, disks, recordings and downloads.