The BSC: Manual Now Available

Manual CoverOkay, this is the official announcement: The BSC book/album, Manual, is available for order. Books ship by the end of the month, downloads hit your hard drives as soon as you order. There are 100 hardcovers available at the same price as the paperback ($20 for the book and music). Pre-orders have already eaten a good chunk of those, and it’s first come, first served. A lot of other information is available on the Bandcamp page. I’ll make one more announcement when the books are shipping, and then I’ll leave you all to enjoy the listening / reading or not. I hope it’s the former.

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

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.