18 August 2009

Hunt for hifi VI: The final showdown – before the bell

Later today I will sit down and compare the Focal Diablo Utopia with the MBL 121 speakers side by side. I won't purchase the winner today, and if I didn't have such a rich history of financial recklessness I'd say I may never buy them. But having bought into my own justification pitch, I realize I might pull the trigger eventually. Age has at least taught me to take a few deep breaths before I take the plunge. This will probably be the final comparison between the two, as I doubt there are more insights to be had with additional listening beyond this point. It's decision time.

I'm both excited and worried about the outcome, however.

I'm excited because according to my google-fu there is no documentation of any comparison between these two, which is somewhat surprising considering that these are two of the finest standmounted speakers on the planet. Surely this shoot-out should have happened by now? I'm also excited because they both have very unique and distinguishing treble elements; Focal has their beryllium tweeter, now larger and with greater spectral range than ever, and MBL have their proprietary Radialstrahler thingamajig. I'm also excited because while their trebles might steal the show, they have both proven to have extremely tight and well controlled bass (see my notes on playing Autechre's "Surripere" in part IV of this series). A clear winner in that category had made the race uneven and thus removed any reason for excitement.

My worries, on the other hand, are more about the long-term relationship with the speaker I end up choosing. If I go with Focal, will I miss the stereo precision and eerie stage depth of the MBL's? After all, I listen to Steve Roach more than any other artist and his Immersion : One lived up to its name more over ze Germans than with the Diablo's. But then on the other hand, Focal has a very slight but not insignificant advantage in terms of resolution and they give the sounds a little extra meat on the sonic bones (both speakers totally outclass my current ones in this regard, though). But is that fleshy Focal sound true? And what about the overwhelmingly impressive 3D scenery from the MBL's – is it a gimmicky effect that is superfluous when applied to my main diet of electronic music? I guess what I'm really afraid of is to not have a clear winner, to desire the best of both worlds. If I buy speakers in this price range I shouldn't have to long for greener pastures.

I'm bracing myself for what may well be a rather depressing part VII of this series.

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10 August 2009

Hunt for hifi V: Justification

I stole this image somewhere in an attempt to illustrate what is generally an accepted costly hobby. This really is over the top though.

While it's easy to point out when audiophile excess has entered the land of absurdity, it's a bit more interesting to look at the conditions where purchasing high-end components makes sense. Since all of my recent hifi posts are basically just flow-of-consciousness ramblings, here's a list off the top of my head:

If you can hear the difference, it's there. Anyone can hear the difference between a €5.000 and a €10.000 speaker, and even between two of the same price class. This goes for CD players and amps too, and even, albeit to a lesser extent, interconnects and speaker cables. While increased budgets give diminishing returns (the last percent of any audio parameter is infinitely expensive to attain), you do generally get better sound for more money. Some people are just not as focused on Return On Investment and thus are willing to pay a lot more money for a little more hifi.

Different sound is not necessarily better sound, but if you prefer hearing what comes out of one speaker over another, then it's better to you. If the sound is grating, lifeless, muffled, unpleasantly coloured or whatever, then you might want something else. If that something else happens to be more expensive, then that's just the way it is.

Finer equipment should ideally let you hear more of your music (in terms of detail, texture, and so on) with less sound volume, less distortion and less unwanted side effects. This in turn means that a good system will save you from ear fatigue and let you listen for longer sessions. Hence the cost broken time per hour of use might not be so much worse with a pricey system.

Some argue that the recording equipment is much cheaper than what the record is played back on, indicating that this invalidates the whole point of a high-end system. But this is a retarded argument; Even with a poor recording there is no point in making the signal even shittier.

An hour a day for 10 years on a €15.000 system means over €4 per day. That's not a super cheap habit, but smoking a pack a day probably qualifies as a worse investment. Spending €30 in a bar each weekend, which is not exactly unheard of, would amount to around the same thing. It would also be roughly equivalent of buying one or two new console games each month. And really, if you hardly ever watch TV (honestly!), don't have a car, boat, summer home or cocaine & prostitute habit, then what's so bad about spending that sports bike money (or equivalent) on what you're really passionate about?

If you work 12-hour days and then hit the gym and after that watch TV for three hours every day, there's just no time to listen to music. And an expensive system can't really be justified unless you actually listen to it. Unfortunately I find that personally I seldom sit down and just listen any more. It's like I have to do something else at the same time, which in effect relegates music to play the role of background noise. Now the million dollar question is whether this is because listening through my system doesn't excite me enough these days, or because I have some sort of ADD. It's probably a little of both, but I tell myself that if I buy the Focal or MBL speakers I'll change – I'll sit peacefully on the couch for hours on end, right in the sweet spot of course, reading fancy intellectual books while every now and then skippity-hopping around our vast music library using the Squeezebox remote, all while immersed in the highest of audio fidelity. This, of course, is the most delusional and self-betraying form of purchase justification. Damn it.

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05 August 2009

Hunt for hifi I: High-end fever

As a music aficionado I am concerned about sound quality, in the sense that I want to experience the music at its fullest potential, be it ultra minimalist ambient, goa trance, black metal or wall noise. Spending a fortune on hi-fi equipment will leave nothing for records, and to me it's clearly better to listen to a huge selection of great music on mediocre equipment than to listen to just a handful of records on great equipment. But there is a balance, of course – if the sound is too shitty you'll miss half of what's on the record no matter how many times you listen.

I willingly admit that a lot of my music may not be up to audiophile standards, and while my current setup has served me amazingly well over the past 8 or so years, I have reached a point where the experience of listening to music is burdened by thoughts of what might be – better bass, smoother high-ends, greater resolution, deeper soundstage and so on – in such a way that I find myself making exuses for the sound. "This has such beautiful shimmering highs" I tell myself, while well aware that my speakers are telling a different story. Simply put, the focus of my music listening has slowly but surely shifted towards what is not there.

In my many and long walks around the suburbs with my girlfriend, we often point out the most fantastic houses and mansions, jovially fantisizing about owning such a house. This daydreaming mindset is what I also slip into when reading reviews of absurdly esoteric hi-fi equipment, as well as when I visited the Stockholm high-end fair earlier this year. It's exciting hearing the worlds finest audio equipment, but I have accepted that anything within my budget would just leave me wanting more, so I'm not even envious as there's no point.

This year I was rather underwhelmed by what I heard. I was happy with this, because it made me feel content about my current equipment. There's no point in upgrading if there's no improvement to be had, right? When I reached a rig with a total cost of something like €100.000 that sounded downright bad, my audiophile pity was at an all time high. The very next room, however, shattered all illusions of my systems performance in the most brutal, heartbraking and mindboggling way concievable.

On display was the top-of-the-line CD transport, upsampler, DAC and master clock from British ultra-high-end company dCS. This system is prepostrously expensive, but it was not by any means the star of the room. Nor was the ASR Emitter II amplifier or the laughably expensive cables. What the room was about, and what outshone everything I've ever heard, were the Focal Diablo Utopia speakers:

I'm aware that you can't listen to a single component in a full system, but there is no DAC rig or amplifier in the cosmos that can make an average speaker do this.

I was nowhere near sweet-spot when listening; in fact, I was standing up, and in the back corner of all places. Yet the sound was just mindbogglingly good. Effectively showing how ridiculous the idea of a €20.000 CD transport is, while the dCS representative was still in the room, the demo was made with a Macbook Pro playing over USB to the DAC. The music was, as expected, nothing I care for. Yet I was completely spellbound by what I heard. Without spewing too much audiophile jargon, I can just say that anything they played, sounded like it was live in the room. For example, anything with voices sounded as though the singer(s) were RIGHT THERE, with realism much much greater than what I've heard speakers 15 times more expensive be capable of. The bass was impossibly tight and potent for the size of the speakers, but there was no sub-woofer in sight. I could go on, but this is long enough already.

Since that day, I have though about, abnd probably even spoken of, these speakers every single day. They are clearly out of my budget (€8.000 without the dedicated stands, which are €1.500 extra) – Saving up for them or doing a downpayment plan would take two years, at least. And it's not like they would blossom to their full potential with my old electronics, either. They were apparently in the same league as an €80.000 CD/DAC rig, so even if settling for a tenth of that the full system would be €20.000. So even if I'd bite the bullet and get the speakers, they'd be a bugatti with a moped engine for at least two years.

Suddenly sound better than I could even fantisize about is almost attainable – but just almost. So how the hell do I solve this? At the time of writing this, I don't know. I will be writing more about my thoughts on hifi and on how I try to find the cheapest possible path to sonic contentment, to hopefully entertain and/or inspire others. It might end with bankrupcy or with me selling all my records to go live in a cave. Or both. Stay tuned!

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06 April 2009

I'm on myspace now

...and yeah, I'm a bit ashamed about it. Not enough to avoid posting this, but still. I have actually had the account for some time but never did anything with it. So over the weekend I made some half-hearted (at best) attempts att designing the thing, and put up some partial tracks I had lying around. I never finish anything and they're not really the second coming of Simon Posford, but whatever. OK, enough buildup:


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03 March 2009

Belgium part deux

I had my second DJ gig in Belgium this weekend, and it went fairly well – I played a lot darker and more demanding music this time and I was happy that so many seemed to appreciate it, but for some it was "too much" or they expected something more melodic.

A few minor technical mistakes are par for the course (I still don't have CD players at home, so I can't practice!) but what bugs me the most about my performance is that the buildup wasn't as linear as I'd wanted for the last hour or so. Some tracks seemed to sound much more powerful at home than on the dancefloor, but I'll do better next time.

There were lots of cameras around but I haven't found any pictures. There's a youtube clip where I'm present for all of three seconds, but there's none of my music in there. So, if anyone from the party reads this, feel free to link to photos in the comments!

Huge thanks to Kevin and Sanne for the great organizing effort and again to Joske & Caroline for their generous hospitality. There's got to be something in the Belgian tap water...

EDIT: Pictures here!

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14 August 2008

Black Metal Trance part V: Darkspace

When a black metal band lists Juno Reactor among only 4 visible friends in their MySpace profile you can probably conclude that they're somewhat more prone to electronic experimentation than the average band. This is indeed the case with Swiss trio Darkspace, who rely more on synthesizers than any of the bands mention previously in this series, and possible more than any in the genre. There are still guitars though, but most of the time they're played to sound like a monolith of jagged drone buzz, so blown out that you cannot possibly decipher riffs or even chords. It's just howling wall of reverbed black metal distortion.

The rhythm section in Darkspace is handled by a drum machine, which further emphasizes the cybernetic space-terror theme their name and sparse graphics implies. A drum machine also allows them to play faster than would have been possible otherwise, which they take advantage of quite often. Some pieces are so fast in fact that the drums too turn into a diffuse swarm of menacing drone, with only the vocals as any point of progressive or rhythmic reference. But the singer sounds as though he's a few solar systems off into the distance - sometimes it's hard to tell if he's still going at it or if you're hearing some weird overtones from the guitars.

As with the previous bands I've written about, Darkspace make some long songs. Even longer than any of the others actually, if you disqualify the ambient track off of Filosofem. Dark Space II starts of with one that clocks in at 23:41 for example. With samples from Stanley Kubrick's 2001, this is truly cyber black metal, sort of like if Satan existed in the form of the coldness of the universe, or dark matter or entropy or something like that.

Pictured above are their three albums in their normal versions from Avantgarde Music, but there are limited versions too (more on Discogs.com). I totally recommend that you get all three. Listening to them all in sequence, while certainly not for the faint of heart, is a monumental experience. It's all so amazingly hypnotising and mesmerising that you have no choice but to be sucked in past its event horizon, and be lost in the black hole that is Darkspace.

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Black Metal Trance part IV: The Ruins of Beverast

When listening to introvert and contemplative music I can't really escape the thought that it feels odd when it's made by a band rather than a single person. Weakling (see below) sort of get away with it since they have more of a desolate, post-war and somehow "open" sound, but Burzum clones that are multi-member bands will just never feel legit. With The Ruins Of Beverast we're on the safe side though, since it's just one guy playing guitars, bass, drums, synths, samplers and singing. I think he even mixed and mastered the whole thing himself, actually.

And speaking of mastering, again this epic/longform type of black metal seems to gravitate towards unorthodox sound ideals. The album pictured above, his second one called "Rain Upon the Impure" (link goes to the fantastic ultra-limited vinyl edition, check it out) is mixed and mastered lower in volume than any other metal record I've heard. I'm not sure how much of that is caused by studio ineptitude/fuckup and how much is intentional, but either way it works surprisingly well. Since pretty much the entire album has gone through a cavernous reverb and there is an enormous headroom in the mix, it is unusually lush for black metal. The high frequencies are gently rolled off too, so you can play this album very very loud. I could wish for a bit more hi-fi, but maybe I'm being picky.

Musically "Rain Upon the Impure" is sort of a less mathy and more mysterious Weakling. Even though Alexander (the man behind this) is a drummer, the beats are almost sloppy and often raw and simple, as well as hidden pretty deep down in the mix. But it all feels intentional and this album is a real masterpiece. Google for some reviews and you'll find plenty of people who agree - those that don't seem to complain that it isn't loud enough (well crank it up then, stupid) or they just don't appreciate this style of black metal.

There's good use of samples throughout this album, both spoken phrases (I really must find out where the womans voice is from!) and more far-out stuff like opera vocals. This is opressive, bleak and subterranean, yet vast, bombastic and with an ominous momentum.

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13 August 2008

Black Metal Trance part III: Weakling

While Burzum achieved a lot by simple means, his music can sometimes become too simple. Mood, sound and structure can get you very far, but add complexity to the mix and the music can become truly mindboggling, as well as hold up better to repeat listenings. Among the literally uncountable bands that have been influenced by Burzum, I find Weakling to be the best by far (do click that link, it gives an excellent summary of the bands history). Perhaps Weakling's greatness is because they weren't a clone, and to be honest they were only marginally influenced by the norwegian.

Unfortunately that's all in the past tense, because they split before their only album "Dead As Dreams" was released. But holy shitlord what an album! It's 76 minutes long, but only contains 5 tracks. And that's 5 tracks of relentless fucking metal, no filler 20 minutes of dull thuds. It has tormented, howled vocals and a kaleidoscopic sense of progression that makes other "progressive metal" bands' 7-minute tracks seem like toddler lullabies. I've describled "Dead As Dreams" as a black vortex in the past, and that's pretty much what it is. It's not chaos though, it's extremely well arranged, which makes one wonder how the hell they could rehearse this stuff considering the track lengths.

Very rarely do they get close to any sort of rock groove - instead they steer their despair-drenched black metal juggernaut through mathy rythms and majestic riffs, pounding you into a barbwire-clad trance. There's not a dull moment on here, and even though the production is a bit on the thin side this is an album I keep coming back to. One of my most captivating listening experiences in recent years was listening to this start to finish (as it should be enjoyed) lying perfectly still on a bed, eyes closed. It worked like a sensory deprivation tank, where I completely lost contact with all senses apart from my hearing. Trippy.

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Black Metal Trance part II: Burzum

If you're familiar with Burzum you can skip this post as it's mainly directed to people who are new to the genre.

I wasn't really sure if I should bring up Burzum here at all - not because of his unfortunate political ideas, but rather because he must be the most discussed black metal artist ever. A quick googling gives something like 3,4 million hits...

But it's only fair to bring him up, because he pretty much invented the hypnotic black metal genre, and was also very important for making the use of synths accepted in a genre where keyboards are somehow considered homosexual, but wearing tight leather pants and chainmail isn't.

While the production quality of his albums is rather dreadful, it sort of compliments the music. Unfortunately this is not the case with 99% of all other poorly recorded/mixed/mastered black metal records, but this is the rare exception, and as we will see later in this series it's a bit of a common theme for the depressive/hypnotic/epic style of black metal that I'm trying to cover.

My favourite Burzum album is Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, which has no weak tracks and also sets the bar for album progression. The first track is the slowest and most restrained one, but this is where he establishes the mood and the hypnotic, monotonous arrangement style. Over the next two he increases the energy but keeps the ultra dense mood, and then wraps it up with the epic ambient track.

The other one I'd have to recommend is Filosofem. This one isn't as strong as a whole for me, and the progression is somewhat plagued by having the even longer ambient track as the penultimate one rather than just putting it last again. But this is still fucking fantastic, and the first four tracks certainly rival Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.

Burzum is an almost essential startingpoint for this type of music, regardless of wether you like these albums or not. The reason is that you cannot possibly explore black metal without running into references to Burzum, and these two albums in particular. Having heard them will make thousands of record reviews easier to understand, and might get you hooked on the style too.

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Black Metal Trance part I: Prologue

Looking at my musical preferences throughout the years, one of many recurring themes is intensely energetic music with a majestic and euphoric, yet introvert and melacholic mood. That may sound like an oxymoron, but imagine being flown out from earth through the solar system. You would likely be in extatic awe of its unfathomable size and majesty, yet at the same time taken aback when realizing your relative insignificance and the fragility of our world. This particular blend of emotions, mindfuckery and aesthetic/philosophical direction has manifested itself in my record collection mainly in the form of goa trance. My first contact with these themes was through another genre though - thrash metal. More specifically, Helloween's Walls of Jericho, which I bought at the age of 8. I think in particular "How Many Tears" managed to tune my neurons to these settings.

For the longest time I turned my back on the lust for metal after having sold off nearly all such records in 1994, when I had fallen in love with electronic music. The need slowly crept up on me and finally caught up properly in 2003, when I started to tentatively point my nose in the metal direction again. It has taken me very long to fully realize, but what I always seek in metal is the majestic hypnotism I can also find in goa trance, only painted with a different sonic palette. I'm not interested in "rocking out", nor do I have the knowledge needed to appreciate the finer details of guitar technique. This combined with an intense distaste for musical cheese quite quickly took me to black metal, which contains a surprising width and has proven to be a hotbed for experimental, far-out metal. In a series of posts I will highlight some of the black metal records that best satiate my lust for awe-inspiring sonic hypnotism.

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11 January 2007

( )

This was written thursday the 11th, but couldn't be published until now since my server was grumpy.

Despite my reasonably strong affection for logic, reason and cold objectivity, I absolutely love being swept far, far away by music. A purely emotional trip, detached from all notions of the real world, with the neurotransmitters going off like an arsonist in a fireworks factory. These trips don't necessarily have to go into heavenly bliss, because the actual trip (or escape?) is more important than the journeys final destination. When I manage to create these moments for myself, I often think that I should write about them, or more specifically, write about the music that makes it happen. So today I thought I'd start with a bang, because this one is hard to top:

Sigur Rós - ()

If I had to pick 3 records out of the way over three thousand I own, this one is in. And it's even more than a one-in-a-thousand record, it's just so totally and utterly amazing, everything so unbelievably perfect. This damn well HAS to be one of the best albums ever recorded. In fact, listening to it now, the mood so mindbogglingly fitting, I can't think of anything better. Track 7 nearly brings tears to my eyes, and then when track 8 hits... I literally cannot breathe.

I was listening to this while writing, and cranking the volume up to insane levels for the unfathomably majestic track 8. I was going to get the fix of all fixes, that rush I craved so badly, the one that the entire album had been building towards. And then, sitting there with the proverbial needle in the arm, right when it was about to blast me into a supernova, my headphones furiously blasting the final notes building ut to the climax into my ears, a colleague snaps me right out of it by waving her arm in front of my face. She's trying to signal that I need to lower the goddamn volume in my headphones.

The emotional brutality of being ripped out of the music at that exact second is undescribable. Intellectually I know she was right, because the volume was most likely well into levels that can kill small mammals. But still, that moment totally destroyed my day. I'm downright aggressive now, towards pretty much everything. My replies to people have turned bitter and cynical, and I can't concentrate on my work. And to extend the junkie allegory even further, my dependency on this fix isn't the problem - it's the people that prevent me from getting it. Any fucker who gets between me and my music during the remainder of today is in deep, deep trouble.


28 November 2006

At the dawn of a new enlightenment

In recent years, starting with a significant boost in 2002, I have been becoming increasingly outspoken about my disdain for faith and religion. I come from a secular family and Sweden is one of the least religious countries in the world, so faith was never really on the agenda for me, but with the advent of the web and the information about other countries that it brings has made me think about religion more and more.

My standpoint is that of the hardline atheists; I believe that religion is detrimental to both the individual and to our entire society, regardless of whether the person of faith is a fundamentalist or not. I have long planned to write a posting here, elaborating about my thoughts on this, but I feel that it's no longer necessary - It's been done so many times by people far more eloquent than myself. Instead, I will hereby predict the imminent dawn of a new enlightenment. An almost ridicilously bold statement perhaps, but mark my words, there is something monumental happening all around us right now.

I will not delve into theories about how the increased exposure of fundamentalist religion in recent years has aggrevated atheists, because I'm not very convinced that it's true, and I also find that such theories takes attention away from the matters at hand - namely that faith is dying, and it's dying fast.

But before I present my arguments, I will make some excuses and reservations. I know that at some point in this article, I will need a paragraph to serve as a disclaimer of sort, and I might just as well do it now, so here goes: Religion as a phenomenon will never die. There will always, as long as there are humans, be superstition and faith. There has always been, and there is good scientific evidence that we are genetically prone to such beliefs. I will also make no claims that the impending decline of faith and religion will automagically resolve the worls conflicts, because although those are often spawned under the flag of religious dogma, the problem is rooted even deeper within our instincts. In fact, what I suggest is happening to the global intellect right now might not make the world a better place at all in the short term - but that does not mean that it's not happening.

To reiterate, my prediction is that faith and religion will become marginalised in the coming years. How many years would be depending on your definition of "marginalised" and "religion", as well as what population you're talking about, and although I'll willingly admit that I'm not informed enough to make a solid prediction, I'd say that the majority of the worlds leaders (presidents/prime ministers/dictators) will be outspoken atheists in 20 years. That's a shot-from-the-hip guesstimate, but I stand by it none the less. I don't even think I'm being all that optimistic.

So what makes me believe this? First and foremost there is the fact that the existence of god cannot be proven, and that there is no scientific evidence, what so ever, that indicates that any supernatural being or force has made even the slightest alteration to our universe in the history of its existence. And if anyone by any chance would feel inclined to object to this assertion, please do us both a favour and make sure you understand the concept of the scientific method first. That said, if you indeed can prove the existence of god, I'd be absolutely thrilled to hear about it. For I strive to know truth, not to reassure myself that I'm right.

Now that bit about scientific proof just convinces me that there is no god, so what about the rest of the world? Why am I so confident people will start to loosen their attachment to the concept of faith? For one thing, I believe truth will prevail, and the non-existence of god is, by all definitions of the word, truth. And secondly, and here comes my main thesis in this little article, is that throughout the history of civilisation mankind has become increasingly skeptical concerning religion (albeit at an agonizingly slow pace). With the modern means of communication (not just the web; I'm also thinking of things like satellite television) ideas spread faster than ever. With this follows that erroneous theories and scams get debunked faster than ever, too. This is the category religion falls into. If you were in an isolated village under a certain religion with little means of communicating with the outside world, you may never get your beliefs tested or questioned. Now compare that with our online lives of today; draw it out as a graph and you see where the future inevitably puts us.

The increase in information availability is what feeds this intellectual evolution, and if we again imagine it as a graph, I think it's fairly logical to assume that it's exponential rather than a straight line. I feel as though we're now, at the end of 2006, hitting the magic 45 degree point of this curve, because suddenly atheism is everywhere. Not a single day goes by without anti-faith and anti-religion links are posted on sites like Digg and Reddit, as well as many, many others. And unlike just a few years ago, the overwhelming majority of comments on these sites are in favour of the ideas put forth in the articles. Richard Dawkins is becoming a mainstream idol in the US, which would have been a prepostrous claim just a single year ago, when even the cant-we-all-get-along agnostics could get called out as hell-condemned heathens. Now they're no longer called heathens, because the pendulum has swung to the other side - now they're being called out as blind apologetics, oblivious to the damage religion inflicts on the collective intellect.

Ironically, what I've written here is not solid, indisputable evidence - to play the devils advocate I could perhaps claim to have faith in this idea. But I'll rather see it as an observation of a trend and a conclusion based on the facts at hand.

If I'm right, and rest assuerd that I would absolutely love for that to be the case, we are about to see people change their stance all around us. People will, slowly but certainly, make the transition from perhaps-there-is-a-greater-force-but-I'm-not-really-religious agnosticism to there-is-no-god atheism and eventually, I would hope, to a point where they can and do intellectually and proactively argue against faith of any kind, and with argument and facts make a good case for why mankind is better off trusting scientific proof and logic, without superstition and imaginary friends in the sky.


06 September 2006

Dissecting Black Metal part I: Religion

This posting has been due for 9 months now. I've avoided posting anything else as a way to force myself to finish this one, but that just resulted in no posts at all. So from here on I will probably post on a wider mix of topics rather that sticking to one at a time. Anyway, on to the main event:

Black Metal is religious music - often it's just a facade or image, but looking past the more commercial bands you will find people that are wholeheartedly dedicated to the worship of Satan, something they attempt to express through music. The flavours of satanism within this genre are many, as there is no established path like protestantism and catholicism within christianity. Sure there are organisations like the Church Of Satan, but that's like the kindergarden of religion, it's feeble nonsense. Instead, most "serious" black metal satanists appear to cook up their own beliefs, perhaps shared with band members and the record label, but not necessarily so. Among the more fanatic bands, publications from Ixaxaar and similar seem to be popular, but while I haven't read these things, I can't help thinking that it looks very much like a gloomier take on new-age. I mean, sorcery? Witches? Magic?

But the real problem here isn't that grown men think they can learn to cast spells from a book they bought on the internet - that bit is just sort of harmlessly cute. The problem is that any acknowledgement of Satan also acknowledges christianity, and thus also God and Jesus Christ as being the son of God. This isn't too impressive for a genre who largely proclaims itself to be anti-christian, now is it? Some bands have realised the paradox in this standpoint and have instead embraced christianity as the religion of opression and fear that it can rightfully be said to be. The Swedish band Funeral Mist even sport christian crosses in their band photos and frequently quote the bible in their lyrics. So if you're all for the oppression of mankind, this totally makes sense. But they don't quite follow through with it; their band logo contains both an inverted cross and a pentagram. And lyrics like "Shine through me Satan" (Track 3, ""Holy Poison", on their album Salvation) gives the impression that they can't quite make up their mind. So even the more ideologically advanced bands adhere to a flawed logic; In fact, I have yet to come a cross a band whose standpoint appears waterproof.

A classic escape route used by satanists when these types of arguments against Satan come up, is to redefine was Satan really is. It could be that Satan is just a word that represents the "true nature of man" (which then allows them to cunningly shift the debate over to the definition of what that is), or that Satan represents the antithesis of religion, that he (?) is some sort of anarchist, that he's the chaos that will prevail over the structure that religion tries to impose upon us. But if that is the case, then why call it Satan? Why the inverted crosses and pentagrams? The answer is obviously the same as for the cause of all forms of teenage rebellion; It's the result of a strife for identity in combination with a feeling of being an outsider. Combine this with a fascination with religion and it all comes together.

Ironically, a lot of the religious aesthetics of Black Metal are derived from the catholic church, the very same which also serves as the arch nemesis for many black metallers. Catholicisms strict dogmas and authoritarian hierarchy is frowned upon (to say the least), while at the same time, Black Metal often deals with lyrical and ideological concepts that revolve around Satan using them (the artists) as his tools, hence essentially adopting the very same structures and logic as catholicism. How can anyone keep a straight face while bashing christianity for abstructing free thought, while at the same time preaching total submission to Satan? All you get is a "my god is stronger than yours", sand-box level argument that lacks any trace of intelligence and reasoning. If the Black Metal crowd was really so intellectually superior as they try to claim, you'd think that surely they could squash christianity with logic. But since their whole faith is founded on the existence of christianity, they can't shoot it down. But then again, where would they go if they had done away with their enemy? Christianity is a necessity for Black Metal to exist. It's a symbiosis.

The few bands who try to solve these problems intellectually are either badmouthed for not being "true" to the ideals of black metal or compose such ridicilously complex lyrics that noone can really decipher any real meaning from them. Complexity for the sake of complexity (or obscurity) won't solve anything, kids.

Then there are the black metal bands who distance themselves from devil worship alltogether, and instead focus on the core ideas and values that often manifest themselves in satanism; a hatred for humanity. But I'll deal with these fellows in another post.


06 December 2005

Dissecting Black Metal: Prologue

One of many musical genres that I enjoy is Black Metal. There's something inherently fascinating about such an extreme type of music and its most dedicated followers and practitioners. It's a genre that pushes the boundaries of music, while still remaining less abstract and artsy than the noise music movement or other forms of extremist exeperimental electronica - If you've ever wondered how far music can be pushed while still being music, the answer may very well be found in Black Metal. But at the same time it's a tremendously conservative genre with constant internal battles over what's "true" [to roots/ideals], and what constitutes "real" Black Metal. All this springs from the fact that Black Metallers are usually extremely idealistic, both aesthetically and ideologically.

Black Metal is satanic music, in the sense that it lyrically deals with topics often centered around satanism and the ideological consequences of adhering to such theological beliefs. This is one of the most interesting parts about the genre, since this focal point gives it the incentive and drive to explore mankinds darkest emotions through music, while at the same time, it's creating huge intellectual obstacles. The more deviant and extreme an ideology or religion is, the harder it is to keep its logic from leaking. And Black Metal, in the sense that it can be viewed as an ideology, is arguably one of the most extreme there is.

So while I follow certain Black Metal bands, buy records and truly embrace the music, I am also put off by the stupidity and immaturity in the scene. I intend to write several pieces on Black Metal over the coming days or weeks, tackling it from different angles as I go along. It will be very scrutinizing, unapologetic and harsh - just like the music itself.


26 November 2005

Senile at 26

Today there was a record fair here in Stockholm, and as usual I went. I had low expectations regarding actual records, but planned to spend plenty on protective plastic sleeves for vinyls and other assorted "spare parts". I did find a few records too, but nothing overly exciting. Now to the senility bit - I packed my 25 spare "disco sleeves" and 300 12" plastic sleeves into my record bag and all the spare CD cases etc in two plastic bags. Somehow, while looking through the remaining stands, I managed to completely forget about the two plastic bags. I mean they weren't even in the same cosmos as my mind any longer - it wasn't until I had been home a good hour and a half and long since unpacked everything that it struck me. Now how the hell did that happen? I could live with having forgotten them for, say a minute or ten, but 90? Like when I sat in the subway waiting for the train to take me home, I spent at least five minutes looking through everything I'd bought, and yet the two missing bags didn't even cross my mind.

This leaves me upset in several different ways; First, for practically tossing the money away - not that it was all that expensive, but it's so totally unnecessary. Secondly, how on EARTH could I be stupid enough to forget them? I fucking hate it when I don't have control over myself, and I must obviouslt have been totally lost for a long period of time there. It feels extremely unpleasant knowing that my mind can just disconnect like that without me noticing. And third, I'm also very upset that fucking noone noticed! Couldn't someone have seen me leaving the bags somewhere? I bet some fucktard did see it, and then snatched the bags right after I left.

I need to smash something to pieces now.


22 November 2005

MRI scanner TV commercials?

This is driving me crazy, and I must know. Please please post a comment if you have any idea. To the question:

Why on earth is Philips doing TV advertising for their new MRI scanner? It's not exactly something the average homeowner decides he needs to the garage or toolshed, now is it? Or are people going to be clearing out their pool rooms now, to have some beers and a brain scan with their mates friday night? And of all the channels they air it on, why OH WHY did they chose Eurosport? I'd be very grateful if anyone could exmplain this to me, because it makes absolutely zero fucking sense.


post recycling: is the DJ obsolete?

Here's a posting on the topic of automatic track mixing using software, from the PsyNews forum:

[...]beyond the very basics of beatmatching, you'll need a human...

There are so many aspects to take into account. Like song selection - sure you can have a database of all the tracks with different info on their characteristics that would let you auto-generate fairly decent tracklists, but there will be no innovation or creativity and the song selection will still be controlled by variables in the data set by a human being. So it's basically just more work, with no real benefit.

Then there is crowd interaction - both in terms of stage appearance (although that's not necessarily the most important part of DJ'ing) and where to take the set - if the crowd isn't up to the craziness you're playing - tone it down. If they want it harder - push up the BPM and pick another route with the set. Doing this with computer-generated mixing would be very difficult, since you'd need to send some crowd appreciation paramter live to the software. And how would you do that? Sounds like a job for... a human being.

Some variations of mixing technique could be hard-coded into the program, but when to chose them and how to apply them would be very hard to get right. A program might flag two tracks as incompatible due to their respective key modes or sound styles, but a gifted DJ could work around such things.

But maybe what you were going for was something like an automated mixer? So that there is still a human on stage (or wherever) selecting the tracks, but that just the actual mixing is handled by some piece of technology? In a way we are already there with some of the DJ tools available. But even though this may be a progress in some respects, the DJ will be more limited in terms of mixing technique, which I find to be a very negative thing.

An auto-mixing program will make a crappy DJ suck less, but will cripple a good DJ. Making mediocricy prevail isn't much of a step forward I think, just look at what happened with the software revolution in music production - now everyone can have a "studio" and make music, and unfortunately they do. A DJ that needs a mixing software isn't one I'd like to hear. Not everyone should be a DJ.


post recycling: mission statement

Since the risk of me losing interest in this blog is overwhelming, I thought I could at least fill it with something before I give up. So I thought I'd dig up old forum postings I've made on various topics and stick them in here as an archive, sort of. It could also be neat to have a backup in case some of these forum sites go belly-up, which they inevitably will do. Now I'm not saying this will be very interesting for any of you imaginary readers, but that's your problem anyway.


21 November 2005


This is my second attempt at a blog. The first one, created in the spring of 2003, got a single test posting before I abandoned it. I'm too much of a realist to expect this to go any better, but I'll give it a shot at least.

I'll try to stick to english here - it's a tough choice since I enjoy writing nonsensical word-play stuff in swedish, but my utopian dream to write insightful bits about music sort of requires english to reach any sort of audience at all.

But I still need to go against those good intentions in this very first post and mention some swedish word-play stuff; My girlfriend and I have, as do most couples I guess, a lot of internal jokes and weird twists to our communication. One thing we do is speak poor english on purpose. It could perhaps have originated as a parody of stale swedish middle-aged businessmen, but today it's just linguistic doodling - adding swedish conjugations to english words, switching all but a word or two in a sentence to english or just messing with the grammar or spelling. Anyway, to the story - while at the post office (to pick up my new scanner), my girlfriend reminded me that I need to drag her out of bed early tomorrow morning since she has an important phone call to make, and it needs to be done early. The swedish word for drag in this context is "släpa", so when my mental auto-pilot anglified the response to "Yes, tomorrow I will släp you up", it probably didn't sound right to the other people waiting in line.

The title of the blog, "paroxysmal discharge", is taken from a track by Aube on Evocation. The record is made entirely out of processed signals from an electroencephalogram, and since this is a blog for random noise from my brain, I thought it was quiet fitting.