The BSC: Manual Gets a Grant and Goes Deluxe

Manual Book Cover

UPDATE: Manual is shipping!

At the last possible moment, I received a grant from Year of the Writer to cover printing costs for the BSC book, Manual.

What this means is that a) all printing and paper will be of the highest quality! b) there will now be a limited amount of hardcover editions!!! c) despite these changes, the cost of the book/album will remain $20!!!!!

The only downside, really, is that the release will be delayed by a couple weeks.  I had originally hoped to be shipping books on October 31st, but we’re looking more towards mid-November, now.

While I’m on the subject of this book, might as well give some of the basic details:

The BSC—Manual

Music by the BSC (with Pauline Oliveros)
Book edited by Bhob Rainey with contributions from Damon Krukowski, Aaron P. Tate, Ben Hall, and Mike Bullock
3 tracks, 65’30”
Hardcover and Paperback with Lossless Download: 5.8125″ x 8.25″, 112 pages
Published by NO Books

Manual is a combination full-length album and book focusing on the music and improvisational practice of the BSC, an eight-member electroacoustic ensemble formed by saxophonist and composer Bhob Rainey in 2000. More than just music with copious liner notes, Manual examines the process of improvisation from both within and outside the BSC, encountering topics ranging from genealogy to architecture, the boundaries of sense to the benefits of failure, flows of energy to bouts of guilt. The intersection and unfolding of ideas is often complex, but the writing in Manual is earthy and comprehensible, keeping jargon to a minimum without sacrificing the depth of the subject matter. Manual is not a monument to the BSC but rather an appreciation of improvisation from the perspective of an especially prolific community.

The music portion of Manual consists of three extended improvisations covering a six-year period in the BSC’s history. The most recent piece, a vividly captured concert highlighting some of the more elegant aspects of the BSC’s unique musical lexicon, was recorded in 2009 and includes renowned composer Pauline Oliveros on accordion. The earliest piece was recorded in November 2003 at the end of The BSC’s only extended tour and contains some of the noisiest, most unhinged work the ensemble has ever released. 2007’s “23% Bicycle and/or Ribbons of the Natural Order”, recorded in Somerville, MA, provides a balance between the other two tracks, illustrating the BSC’s strong formal control amidst chaotic conflagrations of feedback, tape degeneration, and general instrumental instability. Stage plots and recording notes are included for each track.

The book portion of Manual contains contributions from five writers. Bhob Rainey (director and founder of the BSC) provides an introduction in which he engages with the book’s other contributors while reflecting on failure, adaptable dispositions, and the upside to being oblique. Damon Krukowski (musician, poet, half of Damon & Naomi, one-third of Galaxie 500, and one-fourth of Magic Hour) contributes a series of prose poems aimed at evoking certain effects the BSC’s music has on him. Aaron P. Tate (classicist at Cornell University whose areas include ancient and contemporary improvisation), through extensive research and interviews, pieces together and examines the BSC’s early history and rehearsal practices. Tate uses this information, along with recorded documentation, to approach the music with great insight from a dynamic, open-ended perspective. Ben Hall (percussionist, gospel archivist, and restaurateur) unravels ideas about genealogy, community, politics, and authority as they present themselves in the tradition from which the BSC emerges. And Mike Bullock (audio/visual artist and bassist for the BSC) develops two metaphors for evaluating music like that of the BSC, applying these metaphors to an analysis of the 2009 performance with Pauline Oliveros featured in this release.

The BSC is

Bhob Rainey: soprano saxophone, director
Mike Bullock: contrabass, amplification
James Coleman: theremin
Chris Cooper: guitar and electronics
Greg Kelley: trumpet
Vic Rawlings: amplified / prepared cello, open circuit electronics
Howard Stelzer: tapes
Liz Tonne: voice

Invective

“When one inveighs against someone, it must be done in an infinitely subtle manner, and its meaning must remain implicit.  The other should not at first notice that he is being insulted; only ofter a certain amount of reflection should he progressively realize that these words were not well intentioned, in such a way that his face, which was at first smiling, goes from white to red, and from red to purple, and then from purple to gray.  This is the highest level of the art of invective…

Avoid day-to-day language because it is exhausted quickly.  It is no match for literary language, whose indirect nature is rich in implicit meaning.”

-Liang Shiqiu – “Strike from the Side and Attack Obliquely” (from François Jullien, Detour and Access – Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece)

If There is a Heaven, This Guy is in it

In fact, it’s probably made of the same stuff.

Flaco Paco: January 11th, 2006 - February 24th, 2011

A couple years ago, it struck me quite definitively that Flaco Paco had brought nothing but joy into the world, and he did so in abundant quantities.  Paired with this (obvious but still profound) realization was the knowledge that, someday, Flaco Paco would be gone.  And so every morning that his bright, sonorous voice and bucking, haywire fluff greeted me, I was warmed not only by the overwhelming sweetness of this audio visual experience but also by the knowledge that he was still vitally present.  If there is anything that softens the sting of his passing, it is knowing that he was not taken for granted.  We were, quite happily, his attentive slaves all five years of his life.

It’s challenging to articulate the goodness Flaco Paco embodied.  It was not a self-sacrificing, saintly goodness; his very self was the source.  It was not the goodness of innocence; it increased with age and experience.  It resembled a gentle, artistic goodness – a healthy curiosity towards all things and beings coupled with the talent and willingness to put forth rich, personal expressions of his experience.  Even in the face of aggression (guinea pigs are generally sweet and passive, but there is still a pecking order that gets enforced), Flaco brought a positive, egalitarian spirit.  He was not one to meekly withdraw from conflict, but he never sought victory for himself, alone.

Flaco liked to sit as close to your face as possible. This position was known as "Fall Scarf".

The initial outcome of "Grooming"

A full appreciation of Flaco Paco required an experience of sound and motion at the very least, though a photo, like a painting that depicts energy and vectors of movement, can give one a sense of the incredible, unpredictable energy harnessed in that little creature.  Flaco was rarely not in motion, and that motion was rarely linear.  Sudden changes in direction and speed were to be expected.  Wild, twisting, yelping popcorns were not uncommon.  And with the majority of movement came song: rhythmic chutting, exuberant glisses, mumbling pure tones and the occasional ecstatic wheeking accompanied by an impossibly stretched out neck and upturned head, the combination of which was aptly known as Howling at the Moon.

Always one to make a cheerful entrance

Not that there weren’t moments of stillness and silence.  Now and then, one would find Flaco in a meditative pose, slightly hunched, eyes cast downwards, resembling a majestic bison.  And, just as his waking life was infused with presence, his sleeping life was one hundred percent sacked out slumber.  One could mistake a sleeping Flaco Paco for a hand puppet minus the hand.

Flaco in meditative hunch

Sacked out

As with the passing of all of our little guys, we have compiled a list of Flaco’s fundamental qualities, accomplishments, memorable moments and impossible quirks.  The list is long and still nowhere near exhaustive.  I only want to mention a couple, here, to try to at least obliquely get at the goodness he so deeply embedded within us.

Flaco’s passion seemed to be in the area where sculpture and architecture intersect.  Much time in a guinea pig’s life is spent in tunnels and pigloos and soft little sacks known as cuddle cups.  While the former are fairly unmaleable to a creature with a guinea pig’s means, a cuddle cup, when well-made, is an excellent combination of stiff and flexible, perfect for shaping to one’s whim.  The potential was not wasted on Flaco.  He would enter a cuddle cup with enormous vocal fanfare and twist his body while vigorously hammering out curves and corners with his head until he would achieve Escher-like arches that, by themselves, were miraculous, but were rocketed to the sublime when he placed himself, hair flaring incalculably high, in the most perfect position inside the artwork, both complementing and complicating the already unfathomable form he created.

Notice the intersection of verticality into the horizontal

Another angle hardly solves the connundrum

Later in Flaco’s life, we introduced a large, twisted strand of packing paper into his cage that became known as Paper Estates.  Of course, this puzzling set of rolling hills was perfect material for Flaco’s foray into landscape architecture.  He set about crashing through folds of paper, his vocalisations now compounded by industrious rustling, until there appeared an unforeseen logical sense to the landscape.  And, as with the cuddle cups, the final touch would be placing himself at what could only be identified in retrospect as the perfect location on the property.

A Summery version of Paper Estates with guest house and Barbeque

Paper Estates as brown egg with yolk

Like many great artists, Flaco turned deeply introspective in his final period.  After a lifetime of bold, decorous curves, he turned to flatness.  He also left out external materials and dealt primarily with his own body.  One would still hear the vocal fanfare that accompanied all of Flaco’s art making, but this time the fanfare was soundtrack to a saunter across the cage, ending in a definitive flop that would render his geometrically intricate body as flat as it could possibly be.

Part of the late works, "Flatso" series

But there may have been one more, secretive, final work by Flaco.  He suddenly became ill (listless and disinterested in food) late last Monday.  We took him to the vet and hand fed him for a couple days, in addition to purchasing every vegetable the guy was known to enjoy.  He maintained an interest in certain vegetables and still showed signs of curiosity and excitement, but by Thursday it seemed that his lethargy had increased.  We took him back to the vet, who, among other things, gave him an X-Ray.  The X-Ray revealed that Flaco had somehow reversed the order of his stomach and intestines and moved them to the opposite side of his body.  It was never clear that this was the cause of his illness, as other factors, like a gall bladder three times its normal size and a compromised liver, were revealed later that day, but it would turn out to be his last work.  He died among many admirers that afternoon.

Flaco used to lick your hand when he was done hanging with you, but he eventually figured out how to take your glasses off.

Just grab the arm with your teeth, and give it a big tug

Up until his last moments, Flaco continued to develop and express new ideas.  For instance, over the past two months, he embarked on a new set of explorations.  Since his recent partner, Mooncake, and he turned out to be tolerant of each other but not exactly soul mates, and since the sweet-faced Mooncake also turned out to be quite a tough, opinionated lady, we would make sure to give Flaco some alone time outside the cage.  Usually, this involved a small dish of special food (sprinkled with oatmeal, which was as close to crack for him as a food could get) set up on a soft pad on the wood floor in our main room.  It’s pretty normal for guinea pigs to stick to a soft pad when the alternative is a hard, slippery floor, but Flaco had been around long enough that he clearly wanted to see what lay beyond the safe, soft borders.  So, we let him explore.

Now, we live in a loft-style apartment with an open floor plan and high ceilings.  It’s a somewhat big, imposing space.  To see this little, brown, fluffy guy amble curiously through this environment, head looking side to side, even-paced like a seasoned tourist, toes gently clacking on the floor – this image had to be one of only a few potential images that purely conveyed this elusive sense of goodness.  A harmless herbivore, gentle even relative to his own species, ticking comfortably through a world too cold and too big to truly deserve him, just to know it a bit better, to get a deeper picture before his time was up; not oblivious but not garishly courageous – just wholly present, wholly expressive – this was almost too powerful to bear.

I tried to listen to Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues Op. 87 yesterday, but found the first prelude to be too painful.  The quiet, C major chords, so delicate and yet so enduring, written by a composer emotionally crushed by his environment, persistently evoked the image of Flaco traversing our wide floor, looking as content as I’ve ever seen him, a small but powerful representative of the love we inject into the indifferent universe in order to make living in it bearable, even beautiful.  That representative is sorely missed in this household.

Flaco depicted in "The Chair", the carrying position in which he was most comfortable: hind legs and butt in one hand, front paws hanging over the other.

After almost losing a toe that had been wrapped in his own hair, Flaco rests with his bandaged foot

The patch of hair just below his nose was brighter than anywhere else. Here, the sun tries to engage with its earthly counterpart.

Goodbye, you little miracle. And thank you.

Arena Ladridos

Chris Cogburn, Bonnie Jones, Bhob Rainey: Arena Ladridos – CD

Another Timbre

Order Now

Chris Cogburn – percussion
Bonnie Jones – electronics
Bhob Rainey – soprano saxophone

I am extremely pleased to announce that Arena Ladridos is now available. I love the music on this disc and would be happy knowing that you are spending time with it. So, if you order a copy from bhobrainey.com before December 21st, I will send an extra gift on Christmas Day – a kind of stocking stuffer to say thanks for all the listening.

Recorded in Austin and Marfa, TX, and inspired by the gorgeous desolation of the high plains desert, this is music of exquisite, simmering beauty.

In 2010, after years of friendship and musical intersections frequently revolving around Austin’s No Idea Festival, Chris Cogburn brought this trio together for concerts in Texas and Mexico, supported by the Meet the Composer Foundation and USArtists International. Arena Ladridos (roughly, “Barking Sand”) captures the intensity, intimacy, and adventurousness of these strong-minded musicians as they methodically bleed this music into existence.

Nmperign + Dörner/Beins Lossless Download

“In 2000, Greg Kelley and Bhob Rainey made their first trip to Europe as Nmperign. One stop was Kule in Berlin, where they played a show and stayed for five days in the apartment building that, at that time, held Axel Dörner and Andrea Neumann. The plans for the Thanks, Cash tour with Axel and Andrea were hatched at this time, but there was also an informal quartet session with Axel and Burkhard Beins that produced a series of song-like pieces that were unlike anything these musicians had done previously. Twisted Village released the music on LP, which sold out rather quickly. Still, the album is continually regarded as a seminal EAI recording, and so it is presented here, beautifully remastered in its original, full-resolution format.”

Selected Occasions of Handsome Deceit

The 1-sided LP from Nmperign and Jake Meginsky is now available as a hi-res (88.2k/24-bit – more on that, later), lossless download or as an mp3, aac, ogg, what-have-you.  All LP orders from http://bhobrainey.net/music/lossless will receive a free download code.  I’ve sent download codes for all previous orders I have on record, but if you bought the LP from me in person, I probably need a reminder.  I’ve got a pretty good memory, but it’s lazy sometimes.

You’ll gradually see more stuff from me in this format – in fact, some other recent releases are also available as lossless downloads.  I’ll post about the whole process when I feel there is a critical mass of new and old releases (which is not to say that you shouldn’t check out what’s up there now – these are some of my personal favorite, previously OOP releases).

The savvy among you may have noticed that the host for this endeavor is Bandcamp.  I’ve had a hell of a hard time bringing myself to use Bandcamp, not because of the service, which I think is flat-out awesome, but because it’s called Bandcamp.  I got over it.  In fact, I could have easily used a subdomain of my main web site to remove “bandcamp” from the url, but I opted to just leave it there all awkward and stupid-ironic and trivializing because a) I think what Bandcamp does is THAT good; b) I think the music can handle it.

All that being said, let’s take a second and talk about 88.2k/24-bit.  There’s so much crap about digital sound quality and its various parameters that people are hearing stuff that just isn’t there.  So here’s a super fast lesson in sample rate and bit depth, specifically in how they relate to your home listening enjoyment (recording and mixing introduce some more complex variables, so not everything here applies in the same way).

88.2k means that there are 88,200 samples per second in this file.  This number is known as the sample rate.  CDs (and pretty much all commercially available and internet-ally shared mp3s) use 44,100 samples per second.  BluRay can output 192,000 samples per second.  Intuitively, you probably think that more samples per second equals better-sounding audio.  You’re kind of right, but the question is, what gets better?  The answer is: more high frequencies are reproduced with higher sample rates.  A sample rate of 44,100 can only reproduce frequencies up to 22,050hz.  A sample rate of 88,200 reproduces frequencies up to 44,100hz.  If you’re slick, you probably already figured out that the highest frequency that can be reproduced digitally is equal to half of the sample rate.  If you know how frequency works, you might also realize that even though 44,100 seems pretty huge compared to 22,050, it’s only one octave higher.  You may also know that the typical range of human hearing is 20-20,000hz (and not too many people over the age of 1 really hear up to 20,000hz).  There is a whole field of study called psychoacoustics that deals with, among other things, how frequencies above the range of a person’s hearing still affect perception.  Still, 44,100hz is pretty high, don’t you think?

So why use a sample rate of 88,200 when it basically doubles the file size and only reproduces more frequencies that people can’t hear?  Well, a lot of instruments produce overtones well beyond 20,000hz, and it wouldn’t be too hard to argue that these frequencies help us perceive both the timbre of the instrument and its location in space.  Also, in order to limit frequencies to half the sample rate, digital software and hardware use really steep lowpass filters to cut off frequencies above the halfway point (which is called the Nyquist Frequency, by the way).  It’s okay if you don’t know what a lowpass filter is.  What you might want to know, though, is that a really good, steep lowpass filter is hard to get right and that it can have side-effects like “pre-ringing” on the audio in the audible range.  If you push that filter’s cutoff point well out of the range of human hearing, you pretty much eliminate the audibility of these side-effects.

So, do all of your CDs and 44,100 sample rate mp3s sound like crap, now?  No, they don’t.  Chill out.  If the music moves you, it moves you.  Enjoy life and don’t worry too much about this stuff.

By the way, I’m being a little simplistic, here.  If you want to really know what’s going on with this sample rate business, you might want to check out this paper by Dan Lavry, who totally knows what he’s talking about.

Okay, on to that 24-bit thing.  The bit depth basically describes the resolution of a single sample.  CDs and stuff derived from  them (like all your iTunes files) use 16 bits.  Most modern commercial stuff like DVDs and BluRay use 24 bits.  Again, you’re all, “Bigger is better”, and I’m all, “Yeah, but what gets better?”  The answer is: the dynamic range.  24-bit and 16-bit files both have the same maximum volume, but 24-bit files will reproduce softer sounds than 16-bit files – way softer sounds.  Sounds that you probably don’t hear at all.  16 bits will give you a dynamic range of 96db, which, trust me, is HUGE.  24 bits give you 144db, which is GARGANTUAN.  I haven’t heard any music that actually needs more than 96db of dynamic range, but the thing is, to prevent this tiny little zipper-noise distortion that you’ll pretty much never hear, you need to “dither” 16 bit files, which means that you add a little bit of ultra-quiet noise.  Technically, you might want to dither a 24 bit file, but that’s kind of ridiculous.  So, the advantage of 24 bits over 16 bits (in the final, delivered format – remember that recording and mixing have other variables) is basically an extremely-slightly-perceptible increase in dynamic range without any highly-unlikely-to-be-perceived dither noise.

So, should you get the 88.2k/24-bit version?  Yes, if you are playing the file back on a system that handles sample rates of 88.2k and bit depths of 24, or if you want the best possible version of this particular track and have the software to convert it into other formats that are practical for your set up.  Does it sound better?  Yes, because of the aforementioned effects of “bigger numbers” and also because there were no destructive processes applied to convert it to smaller sample rates and bit depths.  Should you convert all your 44,100 files up to something higher?  No way!  Every sample rate conversion process, up or down, is in some sense destructive.  Will the other versions of this track sound crappy?  No, they sound great!  Would you just chill and enjoy the music, please?

What about mp3s and their buddies aac and ogg?  Look, I don’t have all the time in the world, here, but let me just say that when someone tells me that mp3s “sound like crap” I think to myself, “That person is not exactly correct”.  The main thing that makes these types of compressed files sound better or worse is the bit rate.  A bit rate of 64kbps will very likely sound like crap.  128kbps will sound alright.  256kbps on a lot of material will sound pretty darn good.  As you go higher, you get diminishing returns in terms of quality.  One thing that does sound like crap, for sure, is an iPod connected to a stereo via a “Y” cable coming out of the headphone jack.  The little guy just wasn’t made to do that kind of thing.  Your computer’s headphone output in the same circumstances is also likely to disappoint.  If you give your iPod a fancy present like this http://www.eu.onkyo.com/products/ND-S1.html and connect it to your A/V receiver that you use to watch The Dark Knight over and over again (it’s not that good, people), or, if you use a nice USB or firewire audio interface with your computer, you’ll probably feel a little less sour about mp3s and the like.

Maybe that’s enough for now.  Please enjoy this lovely release in whatever format you like, and don’t neglect to share.