Cites & Insights 10:2 available

Cites & Insights 10:2 (February 2010) is now available.

The 32-page issue (PDF as usual, with individual articles available in HTML, using the links below) includes:

T&QT Perspective: Trends & Forecasts (pp. 1-16)

A heaping helping of trends, forecasts, ghosts of trends past--and deathspotting. (No, this roundup does not include the Midwinter LITA Top Tech Trends--or any other trendiness actually appearing in 2010. Maybe later.)

Perspective: Music, Silence & Metrics (pp. 16-25)

Are the loudness wars mushing up your music? Maybe so. I report on the problem with excessive dynamic compression, some steps being taken to identify and combat the desire of producers to MAKE IT ALL LOUD, and two sets of real-world metrics. If you ever really listen to music, you should care about this issue.

Offtopic Perspective: Mystery Collection Part 1 (pp. 25-32)

Notes on the first six discs in the 250-movie, 60-disc Mystery Collection, including half a dozen Bulldog Drummond flicks, three Dick Tracy--and eight Sherlock Holmes. Here's a mystery: Will I keep doing C&I long enough to review this entire set? That would take us into Volume 14...

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Thanks for Music, Silence & Metrics! I noticed the last few years that rock and its subgenres were getting louder, but thought maybe I was just getting *gasp!* old. (I just turned 30.) I'm relieved to see it's not just me, and that there's a movement to reverse this trend.

There is indeed a movement. Whether it will succeed or not is another question. And, unfortunately, it's not just rock--for some of us old geezers (more than twice your age), it's the fact that the loudness war seems to be mashing folk, pop, blues and jazz into similarly unpleasant form. A change from 14dB peak-to-average to 7dB peak-to-average (let's not even mention 3dB peak-to-average!) may not sound like much, but it's actually a quite substantial change--and never for the better.

I don't understand anything about this, so I'm going to ask something that I think I can understand:

are you comparing the original vinyl (analog) recording to a newly mastered digital cd?

or are you just making an observation about dynamic ranges in music?

if recording A is loud on the cd, and there is no other format to compare, then does any of this matter? if the artist intends for the recording to sound a certain way, then why should we complain?

unless the artists are complaining about the digital mastering.. then that's important. is that what's happening?

You might want to read the actual article.

The "loudness wars"--mostly since 1995 or thereabouts--involve compressing the dynamic range: Basically squashing the waveforms. It's most obvious when there are reissues--not necessarily of vinyl, sometimes of earlier CDs, either in compilations or for other reasons. It has nothing to do with digital except that compression is easier in the digital domain.

And the "loud" in question is all relative. It's not at all an issue that recordings peak at 0dB rather than, say, -8dB. The issue is that the internal dynamics of the music--the "spaces between the notes" that make instruments sound like what they are--get compressed down to the point where, for example, drum shots don't really sound like drums anymore. (Realistically, LOUD is no longer loud when everything's the same volume.) The sites mentioned in the article include a video/audio clip that very dramatically shows what happens, over three different reissues of the same song.

Some artists are concerned about dynamic compression; Bob Dylan, for example, is quite vocal about it. A lot of recording artists are half-deaf or really never listen to their recordings. Others may be unaware of the changes. (I wonder whether James Taylor realizes how much his most recent albums have become audio mush, and for me at least much less listenable and interesting than earlier albums, even when I like the songs and arrangements.)

Yes, in some cases artists probably do want everything to be equally loud all the time--thus a couple of bands that have absurdly low dynamic ranges (3dB or less). Their music is ALLNOISEALLTHETIMEALLLOUDWITHNONUANCE.

But, you know, if you don't care about this, then you don't care. But the article is a lot more than "an observation."

so now I *re*read it and it made more sense... most of what I listen to is in the car with the window down, compressed mp3s at 160 kbps (LAME)... so I don't notice this stuff at all....

Seemed like the earlier comment was suggesting that this stuff doesn't matter at all, and I think that's just wrong.

If you don't care, then maybe it doesn't matter to you. That's obviously your decision.

I would note that 160K MP3 can carry the full dynamic range of music; it's distorted (or, rather, loses some sound quality) in other ways--MP3 compression does not normally involve significant dynamic compression as such.