Pono Review – Stereophile April 2015

I have waited for a reputable audio publication to offer an in-depth review of the Pono Music Player.

Hopefully you haven’t insulted your intelligence by placing any value in David Pogue’s Yahoo Tech hackneyed test of the Pono Music Player. (C’mon David you are head of Yahoo Tech and you don’t have a state of the art audio testing lab? Shame on you and Yahoo. Really Mr. Pogue, you were a former professional musician and Chicago’s Saturday in the Park is the high-resolution audio file to test Pono. Let’s not be L7.)

People who are seriously considering purchasing a Pono Music Player should read John Atkinson’s article, “Pono Pono Player” from the Stereophile magazine April 2015 issue.

What you will appreciate is the depth of Atkinson’s testing analysis and subsequent findings. He shares with the reader what he learned as a result of listening intently. I especially liked his interpretation of Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway To Heaven“. He has compelled me to buy Led Zeppelin IV Deluxe Edition.

Being a Pono Music Player enthusiast I am always interested in learning more about the dynamics of my device. I applaud John Atkinson’s well structured and balanced report.

If I may just quote two lines of his review:

Considered on it’s own merits, the Pono Player is a well-engineered, high-performance, portable player that is equally at home in a conventional high-end audio system, and is offered at a fair, affordable price. In combination with the Pono Music World app, it offers a plug’n’play gateway to high-quality music reproduction.

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Björk’s Immersive Audio Experience

Instagram/@klausbiesenbach

Björk stimulates my music technologist sensibilities with her innovative design complemented by intriguing uses of technology and sound.

I don’t know exactly who the MoMA audience is, to be honest, but I’ve been having an imaginary audience, which is sort of the average person who doesn’t listen to music that much. She goes on a weekend trip with her family to MoMA and discovers sound a little bit, and she thinks, Oh, I actually love this. Sound waves going through my body: It feels nice! I’m going to listen to some more music. – Björk, from a recent interview with Rob Runner of Fast Company Magazine 

The Björk MoMA Retrospective was architected by chief curator Klaus Biesenbach.

One particular technology immersion, among many in the exhibition is the centerpiece, “Songlines,” fascinates me greatly. It is a 40 minute sensory audio journey through Björk’s music and psyche. Visitors wear headphones (see more below about the specifics) connected to Bluetooth beacons, which find them through the space, cuing the proper songs and visuals. The technology was adapted by Volkswagen, a sponsor of the show, from a hands-free program it made to soundtrack driving.

Headphone audio pioneer Dysonics today announced that its Bluetooth-enabled motion sensor, RondoMotion, will be used for the immersive audio section of the Björk exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), March 8, 2015 – June 7, 2015.

RondoMotion is the world’s first wireless motion sensor for headphones. Björk is a retrospective that draws from more than 20 years of the artist’s daring and creative career, offering an experience of music in many layers, with instruments, a theatrical presentation, an immersive sound experience, a focused audio guide, and related visualizations.

RondoMotion attaches easily to any over-the-ear headphones, immersing listeners in a reactive, dynamic audio environment. Björk attendees will wear Bowers & Wilkins headphones equipped with a RondoMotion sensor, and will enter a 360 degree motion-tracked audio environment that syncs with striking visual elements as they move throughout the exhibit’s “Songlines” section.

Image: Justin Lane/EPA

“Accurately tracking listener head movement with RondoMotion allowed our team to create a new level of immersion and engagement for listeners experiencing the Björk ‘Songlines’ psychoacoustic augmented audio installation at MoMA,” said Björk “Songlines” project collaborator Andrew Melchior.

 

Oh Happy Day! Spotify and The Echo Nest Become One

Spotify made a friendly, strategic acquisition of their long time music intelligence metabase partner, The Echo Nest. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic to see these two music platform technology companies working more harmoniously to further their common music vision.

The collective intelligence of The EchoNest combined with the discovery of Spotify looms significant for music listeners, record companies, and artists. TechCrunch sees this partnership as creating a “Facebook Connect for Music”. This will be accomplished with The Echo Nest API remaining in place and continuing to serve the need of developers and music companies who use it such as XBox Music, rdio, MOG (BeatsMusic) to name just a few.

Spotify seeks to be the music identity provider across the web and mobile the way Facebook has become a social identity provider.

Spotify and The Echo Nest have a long, mutually beneficial history together. Back in March 2012, the two integrated their APIs so that any Spotify app developer could tap into The Echo Nest’s music intelligence technology. In March 2013, Microsoft, Spotify, and The Echo Nest joined forces to create Mixshape, a visual tool that automatically sorts playlists based on the properties and moods of individual songs.

What excites me the most about this closer development synergy is how Spotify will evolve and ratchet up another layer or two. Music hacking thrives with increased dimensionality now that Spotify and The Echo Nest are one entity.

Jim Lucchese says The Echo Nest and Spotify both have “music hacker cultures. We move quickly. Our goal is to start pushing things that will have a real impact on the [Spotify] user experience as soon as possible. I think probably in the next three months you’ll start seeing things in Spotify based on what we did here today that will have a big impact on music fans.”

Improvements to Spotify’s radio algorithm, discovery suggestions, and more could come even sooner, Daniel Ek says. “I expect to see things that touch consumers really, really fast. You’ll start noticing improvements pretty much instantly.”

I expect further analysis and commentary as the industry processes this announcement. Man do I love this deal and what it will bring us all.

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Raspberry Pi and Music (Media Center) Technologies

We are on the brink of SXSW 2014 in Austin Texas. How I would love to attend that one day. Talk about your geek and music nirvana ;). SXSW 2014 will be the announcement site for Neil Young’s PONO high resolution music technologies. Can’t wait to write about that on March 11th which is the announcement day.

Speaking of computers, music and technology directions I have written a quick post about Raspberry Pi and Music (Media Center) technologies.

Raspberry Pi was released to the public as an Open Source Linux credit card sized computer on February 29, 2012. It celebrated its two year birthday yesterday, March 1, 2014. The technology initiative has grown substantially in that time frame. The latest estimate is that 2.5 million Raspberry Pi computers have been sold worldwide.

I liken Raspberry Pi to the Radio Shack, Popular Mechanics hobbyist crowd. Raspberry Pi is a raw, unfinished computer in comparison with say an Apple iPhone. In terms of finished goods Raspberry Pi has many exposed components. In order for you to fully engage yourself with Raspberry Pi and the software, peripherals, cables etc it’s best to posses an erector set mentality to persist with this experience. Raspberry Pi is playing a major role in the M2M: Internet of Things (iot) that is disrupting how we are reshaping the InterWeb.

My interest as a music technologist is specifically focused on the Raspberry Pi Media Center and Volumio (formerly known as the RaspyFi Project). The Raspberry Pi Media Center when connected to your Hi Def Television, WiFi and your cable Internet system becomes a powerful, self-programming solution for you to curate your own media programming. Volumio is an entirely new music system. It is designed to play all your music, whether is an Hi-Res file or a Web Radio, with the highest quality.

Once I get the Raspberry Pi Media Center I want to experiment with I will post again about what I am learning about this cool technology through my living room entertainment system.

Here are some resources that I have discovered to help you with Raspberry Pi, music and the technology.

O’Reilly Books

O’Reilly publishes the best technology books bar none ;). I am pleased to finally see a Raspberry Pi Cookbook available and written by Simon Monk.

Packt Publishing

A definitive source is the book, Raspberry Pi Media Center by Sam Nazarko. You also want to make sure you are browsing and keeping up with Raspbmc* at this Web site: http://www.raspbmc.com/about/

*Raspbmc is a minimal Linux distribution based on Debian that brings XBMC to your Raspberry Pi.

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Professor Thomas Dolby – Johns Hopkins University’s First Homewood Professor of the Arts

Business is adapting readily to digital communications. The academic world has also evolved to support the demand for this specialized type of workforce by creating new curriculums and programs centered around digital media. As a result, the practical relevance of the digital domain has fortified the need for professionals and thought leaders trained in different disciplines of digital business operations. Some notable courses offered by esteemed institutions such as the Harvard Business School focus on digital communications, online marketing, digital journalism, and the economics of online businesses.

One such thought leader is a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) a person who helps a company drive growth by converting traditional “analog” businesses to digital ones, and oversees operations in the rapidly changing digital sectors like mobile applications, social media and related applications, virtual goods, as well as “wild” web-based information management and marketing.[1]According to a study by Gartner, it’s predicted that 25% of businesses will have created and filled the Chief Digital Officer title by 2015.[5]

When it comes to the arts, film, music and technology it is a comfort to see that academia is investing in the future of enhancing digital arts and technology sector. I first wrote about the significance of this topic when I discovered that Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre had contributed $70 million towards the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation

Next week, Thomas Dolby will be named the Johns Hopkins University’s first Homewood Professor of the Arts. This  position will enable him to help create a new center that will serve as an incubator for technology in the arts. In my mind’s eye I see Professor Thomas Dolby as the Chief Digital Officer for this major initiative that will embrace sound on film.

The center will be housed in two projects totaling about $35 million and being jointly overseen by Hopkins, the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Maryland Film Festival. The former Parkway Theatre at 5 W. North Ave. is undergoing a $17 million renovation and will become a three-screen, 600-seat theater. Just down the street, an Art Deco building at 10 E. North Ave. is being converted into classrooms and office space at a price of $18 million.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/music/midnight-sun-blog/bs-ae-hopkins-dolby-20140228,0,4292987.story#ixzz2uiNQq5iS

 

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The Animated Picture Disc – Plastic Infinite by Sculpture

The next dimension of the picture disc has been achieved. Embrace and feel the sensory titillation of Plastic Infinite from the Opto-musical agglomerate known as Sculpture. It will envelop you in an audio/visual immersive experience. In the day we would say about an experience like this, “Let’s go trip out to the Plastic Infinite” 😉

The preferred listening+ method is to witness the engineered result of Plastic Infinite as follows.  You will have to play the 7″ EP on your turntable and view with either a strobe @25 flashes per second or a video camera @25fps, very high shutter speed, progressive.

I presently don’t have these options at my disposal but I believe my son can help me here so I will get with him when we have a copy of the second pressing as their first pressing of Plastic Infinite has sold out!

Thankfully Sculpture has made a music video of Plastic Infinite. I have watched it in jaw dropping wonder several times now. I love the Numark turntable it’s playing upon, I want that for my audio system. Hey Now!

Sculpture the Opto-musical agglomerate is Dan Hayhurst: (media devices, electronic instruments) and Reuben Sutherland: (video zoetrope turntable, animation, optix).

Their technique uses zoetrope.

A zoetrope is a drum shaped optical toy that makes a series of drawings appear to move. The drum sits on a stand upon which it can be spun. Its sides are pierced with a regular pattern of slits. The drawings, the number of which corresponds to the number of slits, are printed onto a strip of paper which is placed inside the drum. These drawings differ only slightly from one another and follow a logical sequence.

The drum is spun and the viewer watches the images through the slits where they appear to move. The zoetrope is an optical toy that can be enjoyed by several people at the same time.

It was invented by W. G. Horner in 1834, and later developed by Milton Bradley who patented it in the USA in 1867.

See more at: http://www.museumofchildhood.org.uk/collections/optical-toys/zoetrope/#sthash.yzsUDDXq.dpuf

So much attention is being focused on the Plastic Infinite recording which is Side A, we are overlooking Slot Hum on Side B. Give it an audio spin https://soundcloud.com/tapebox/slot-hum

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Steven Wilson’s Software Instrument – Ghostwriter

Steven Wilson makes another innovative contribution to digital music production by introducing his own software instrument, Ghostwriter. Co-produced by Steven Wilson and Doug Rogers from the world’s leading software instrument company EastWest. This music software solution is designed for music, film, games, and TV composers. Ghostwriter can be ordered directly from East/West SoundsOnline. It is packaged on a Western Digital USB3 (with USB2 compatibility) hard drive (Available at no extra charge!! ($70 value) until 1/31/14).

According to Steven Wilson:  For the first time ever this makes some of my signature sounds available to other musicians, as well as replications of recognizable classic sounds originally created by other producers and engineers. These sounds can be used as part of the fabric of complex music productions, or as the basis for cinematic soundtrack-based music, providing a ready-made selection of sonic building blocks.

Mainly I’ve tried to create sounds that you won’t find in any other software instrument or sample library, but in addition more straightforward raw drum, bass and guitar sounds are included, which can be manipulated via the powerful Ghostwriter instrument interface (which includes an amp simulator, SSL EQ, 2 compressors, echoplex tape delay, a powerful reverb, filter and envelope stages) to create your own unique sounds.

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The Echo Nest – The Intelligent Music Metabase Architecture

The Echo Nest continues to enhance its leadership role as the open music metabase architecture. The software engineering team is total genius. I urge you to read their latest blog post, The Future of Music Genres Is Here. Everything you thought you understood about genres of music will be blown away as you take the jump to light speed.

I have developed an appreciation for music subgenres (e.g. Main genre:Blues, subgenre: Blues Rock, Country Blues, Rhythm & Blues)  the past couple of years. Now I am able to explore and listen to 800+ music genres.

The Echo Nest approach to genres is trend-aware because their intelligent music metabase listens, analyzes, then delineates the granularity of the genre/subgenre being heard.

This is superior to the static hierarchical metabase that Gracenote supplies. I am very curious to test beatsMUSIC next week to see if they hitched their wagon to Gracenote or The Echo Nest metabase. Gracenote will make their cloud music solution “closed and fixed” vs. “open and dynamic” as The Echo Nest allows.

To get a better “visual interactive” feel for the Open Genre API Methods try playing with this “proof of concept” demonstration. I almost want to call it Mother Popcorn a.l.a. James Brown ;). Try it and you’ll see why I am thinking like that…

1) Music Popcorn

ZimZamZim – Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Last August I made a contribution to the Arthur Brown Pledge Music Project. I was motivated by a commitment to technology and the modern day artist’s never ending quest to create, innovate and entertain.

Arthur Brown was the first artist to use a drum machine live back in 1973 with his band Kingdom ComeThe Crazy World of Arthur Brown is again in the forefront of music technology innovation with Arthur Brown’s Psycho -sonic Thought Control Headgear. It was premiered to UK audiences on stage at the Hard Rock Hell Festival on 28th November 2013.

Arthur Brown explains the technology, ‘In relation to music, the headgear will first deal with triggering sounds by thought. It will not just trigger sounds that are preset. It will create sounds in real time just as a Theremin does, or as do the voices of a human choir. Then it will develop to include body energies. Next will come the energy of feeling. Then the sexual energies will begin to be accessed. After that, the energies of the spirit and soul will become instigators of sound. Eventually, the energies of the whole human being will be used.’

Arthur Brown’s ZimZamZim project on audio CD reached my front door step from England yesterday.

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I am excited by what Arthur Brown is accomplishing. Bear with me as I digest the music, presentation etc. I plan to get back to you with an updated perspective.

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Jaron Lanier To Lecture at Sacred Heart University

I greatly admire and respect Jaron Lanier. I am jubilant to learn that he is conducting a lecture in our backyard next month, I must attend. I last blogged about him in 2010, Jaron Lanier – Visionary Musician

Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Jaron Lanier will lecture on “Who Owns the Future” at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut on October 9th at 7 p.m. This presentation is associated with the 50th Anniversary Lecture Series on Libraries: The Future is Open – Or is it? It is sponsored by the Ryan Matura Library and will take place at the Schine Auditorium.

His latest book, “Who Owns The Future?”, will be available for purchase and signing after his lecture.