still pooping taiwan

Put da needle on da rekkid...
Home is a good place to be. Even though I’m back around the same unfinished things that have been bugging me for months: the perennially unfinished backyard, the shower that needs new grout, the unpainted walls and unfurnished front room. Yes, it’s all here and all still calling to be completed. For the long term projects at least, it looks as if they’ll have to remain unfinished for the next month or so. Talking to Sharaun the other night, I realized that I’ll be away from work-proper for the entire month of May. Two and a half weeks in Taiwan again, then one day at home before leaving for another two days in Oregon, then a week off while my sister-in-law and her husband are in town. And poof! The month of May is gone.

When I was a kid, my cousin Nathan introduced me to U2 and Depeche Mode, funnily enough – he also introduced me to music in “compact disc” form at the same time. Anyway, I became a die hard Depeche Mode fan… collecting all the cassettes I could find at the local mall’s Camelot. Remember that “frequent buyers” card they’d stamp each time you bought a cassette? I think I got my Ah-Ha or Pet Shop Boys or Wang Chung tape that way, y’know, the 10th one is free or something. Yeah, my head was fried on tunes even at that age. Wow, I apologize for getting off track – but there’s something good about that – it’s writing for writing’s sake! It’s feeling free to follow my thoughts as I go. Back to the story. Today I was sitting around hacking up a bunch of MP3s with Audacity so I could import some nifty new ringtones into my phone, and I was browsing the collection for good songs to splice and dice. I fired up Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration and eventually came to the closer, “But Not Tonight.” I tell you, something incredibly meaningful from my youth is associated with this song. I can’t remember specifically what it is, but just the first few strains of the tune are enough to elicit chills and nearly stir up tears.

Ben and I were talking the other day about open source and free software, and how we’re all proud of our legal machines. However, and it sounds stupid now, I had never really thought about a piece of software that I use on all my machines, and the fact that it includes pirated warez. I’m talking about the K-Lite Codec Pack, which contains several key codecs for all sorts of file types. I use it for DivX and Xvid movies, and all sorts of other junk. Come to find out, it ain’t good y’all. So, I promptly uninstalled it and went looking for an open-source alternative. As usual, SourceForge did not disappoint, offering up the Gordian Knot Codec Pack, which contains everything I need. I am writing about codecs, what’s wrong with me?

For some more semi-tech talk, a couple things. First off, I think it’s totally awesome, and pioneering actually, that the Grateful Dead has started to sell their famous Dick’s Picks and From the Vault series of CDs as digital downloads. For years, the Dead allowed tapers to freely record their shows, offering special tickets for the tapers section. Free distribution of these recordings was also encouraged, although everyone knows that exchanging tunes for money is bad karma. Trading of tapes and eventually DATs or MDs was done in large tents at the show, where people were always in search of an upgrade to their favorite shows (because 10th generation tapes sound like ass compared to sweet, sweet binary cloning). Anyway, you can currently buy all the CDs in MP3 or the lossless, and open-source (again, pioneering) FLAC format. To me, this is the future of music: compressed, lossless online sales for reasonable prices. And when I say reasonable, I mean we get to subtract all the costs that go into a physical disc: manufacturing, packaging, transport, storage, etc. We pay for raw music, right off the soundboard or out of Pro Tools.

Soon, I think we’ll start to see more and more bands offer their music this way – at least, if their big corporate contracts have expired and they are free to do with their art what they will. I mean, who needs packaging? A sweet animated Flash experience or interactive online event is way more cool than glossy inserts. If you think about it for more than a little, you can actually visualize a world in which record labels and contracts are not nearly as important as they are now. At least, as a mode of distribution. Conceivably, you could record and “release” your efforts online without any middle-men. No contract, no percentage to someone else’s pocket. I realize that labels are currently still important as PR machines and the deep-pockets behind payola-funded radio play lists. But there is a hint here of a new paradigm in music publishing and distribution. Homogenized radio is dying, and digital music is reaching an adoption rate where Marketing 101 tells us it will begin to drive a secondary wave of goods and services. Perhaps, with good marketing and some initial investors, you could circumvent the majors altogether. Problem is: you gotta be good. The internet, the global audience, is the A&R man of the new century – we decide what’s good. Hey, I think we just cured another symptom of the majors. So, c’mon expired-contract open-minded artists… let’s do this thang.

And, because it fits really well here, considering the context – I’ve been busy listening to the new, and freshly-leaked, Nine Inch Nails album, which comes out in a few weeks. I like it. I like it more than that double album I bought in college and hardly listened to, and consequently can’t remember the name of right now. Anyway, some songs are very good, some are OK. Oh, and the contextually relevant bit of this rambling? Seems that Mr. Reznor has released one of the album’s tracks via the NIN website as a GarageBand2.0 file. What that means, essentially, is that he’s released the source multi-track recordings – just like a producer would get before mixing down a final track. He’s encouraging fans to “… create remixes, experiment, embellish or destroy what’s there.” What an awesome idea. At least there are some musicians out there who are embracing this age of everything-on-demand, no-secrets digital freedom.

On a completely unrelated note, caught this story via Slashdot over the weekend. The part that really caught my eye was the statement: “They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.” Things like this always intrigue me, and I must admit that it’s not always for the most noble of reasons. Somewhere in me, I have this secret wish that some long-lost Christian writings would come up that really through a wrench into modern Christian dogma. No, I’m not rooting for some discovery that would completely deflate billions of peoples’ believes and values – I’m just talking about something that might force people who are staunchly set in their ways to think outside the box and perhaps view their religion in a different way. And I don’t mean things like the Dead Sea Scrolls or Nag Hammadi texts, which stubborn believers can easily write off as offshoot-group documents which simply aren’t part of the Biblical canon. With the whole process of canonization having effectively relegated any non-canon writings to irrelevance; something like an early version of on of the New Testament gospels, maybe on rife with all sorts of Gnostic ideas, would be an awesome rock in the pond. Some small evil imp in the back of my brain would really love to see some self-important, card-carrying Southern Baptist have to chew on a lost verse of John in which Jesus says, “Verily I say unto you, women can speak the word of God as well as a man.”

Holy crap this turned into a long entry… I hope I didn’t blow my week’s wad in one shot. Stay with me, we’ll see what we can come up with. Actually, I haven’t written an entry this easily in a long time, maybe my near week off last week did some good for my writer’s block or something.


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