Way back when in the 80’s Japan was one of those bands that transcended genres. Not rock, punk or progessive. Certainly not pop. But there just wasn’t a category for thoughtful, complex, internationally influenced music. Who can forget Sylvian’s collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto on Forbidden Colours?
Japan, the band are long gone, but the individual members were talented enough to all stand on their own merits and offer their own style and value. David Sylvian has been the most prolific; I won’t bore you with his long discography – you can google that if you like, but this time I’m talking about Japan’s ex-drummer, Steve Jansen.
Jansen has released a couple of albums under his own name, but this is a new collaboration with a group of internationally renowned musicians in a new band called Exit North. While everyone contributes deeply to this fine piece of music, the notable player has to be Thomas Feiner. He has the most astonishingly expressive and powerful voice that I have ever heard.
Feiner first featured on Steve Jansen’s seminal triple album Slope. His contribution on that was so powerful, his songs almost stood apart worthy of an album in themselves; even given the magnificent Playground Martyrs featuring former bandmate David Sylvian on vocals, which was a truly beautiful if dissapointingly short track.
Its nice to see something that I championed 18 months ago now become a reality. Spark headphones had a great idea, but needed serious funding to bring it to market. Many would simply shrug their shoulders and move on. Some things are maybe not to be.
But not Spark. They decided to get the funding without the banks or other formal channels taking away control from their business, just for bringing it to market. Spark went down the crowd-funding route. Crowd-funding is where ordinary people – the people in the street like you or me – can invest in an idea they think is great and just put in whatever money they feel comfortable with. Its that simple.
Crowd-funding in online and purely social-media driven technology. Most campaigns are run for a short period with a specific target in mind. If that goal isn’t reached, you get your money back. So its a great low risk strategy. But one that’s really satisfying to see come to market. Many crowd-funded businesses offer an incentive, such as shares or you get the items you invested in at preferential rates. But all offer the satisfaction of putting one over on the banks and the suits.
And that can’t be bad, can it?
Take a look around you. Notice how you’re seeing an awful lot of people walking round wearing headphones?
Maybe you’ve got a big collection of CD’s and discovered no one seems to be selling high quality CD players and transports any more. That’s because we’re in the middle of the next digital revolution. It started with CD way back in the eighties. If you listened to the marketing hype instead of the music, you’d have believed CD was the new age – the future of music. Ten minutes of comparison with the vinyl it was replacing would have told you otherwise.
But the marketing men dragged the hifi manufacturers out of their analogue world and into the bright LEDs of digital. It was a triumph of convenience over quality. But it was never going to last. There had to be something better than that compressed, clinical, plastic sound. And its arrived. Its called Digital Streaming.
What is Digital Streaming?
Digital Streaming is about serving digitally-stored music, converting it and sending it to your computer or handheld device, such as a smartphone or tablet or to your hifi. Where its stored though isn’t important; its getting it ready to be listened to it that’s the tricky part. The music can be streamed from online services like Spotify, Tidal, or Apple’s new incarnation of iTunes, now called Apple Music.
But maybe you’d prefer to buy downloads from the many excellent new sites like HDTracks or if you’re not fussy about quality, even Amazon and keep your music local on a hard drive or SSD – or even a USB memory stick. You can do that too.
Digital music can offer simple, low quality MP3 files up to top original studio quality content – sometimes direct from the studio master tapes – stored in FLAC format offering the potential to hear music just as the artists themselves did when they recorded it. Yes, it really can be that good.
Re-engineer your CD collection
All this sounds great, you may be thinking, but many people have made a huge investment in CDs over the years. Digital Streaming is the solution for this, too. By ripping – a process where a CD or other musical format is converted to a digital music file – all the music you know and love can be replayed as digital streaming media. It can also be “upscaled”, a process where hidden musical detail can often be recovered to let you hear more from your old music. The good news is that converting your old music this way needn’t cost you a penny. You probably already have the tools to hand already.
Once you have your music files stored, you’ll need a way to move it around. A decent broadband or mobile connection (3G, 4G), a home wifi or Ethernet network will do. Now, you need the right steaming devices and you’re ready to listen to music like you’ve never heard it before – or at least, approaching how it used to sound on vinyl. OK, I accept that some may say vinyl will never be beaten – but that’s a whole different topic!