Monday, January 28, 2008
Spinnin' wax. That's how I keep it real. So real that I really have a turntable and LPs. This brings up the age old question:
"Which is better, digital or analog?"
People have been killed for asking lesser questions. If you ask an audiophile this question he may attack you with an anti-static gun.
No! Don't anti-static the dog, her barking will be louder and clearer! (no dogs were de-static'd with an anti-static record cleaner in the making of this photo)
But seriously, which is better? Hell if I know, it's a matter of personal taste. I don't claim to be an expert, but I am a jerk with a computer and Internet connection so I'll just give my thoughts on the matter.
I'm probably the very last generation that even remembers vinyl when the options were vinyl, 8-track and cassette. I'm 32 and even had some records when I was growing up. I remember playing with my dad's Dual turntable and listening to his Beach Boys albums back in 1980 or so. Our family once had a behemoth late 70's white Buick with a wood grained 8-track player and velour merlot seats. It was a hand-me-down from my grandpa and I'd kill to have that car today.
Anyway, back to the point. There are those who will tell you that vinyl sounds smoother and more realistic, that this is "what music is supposed to sound like". They will claim that CDs sounds like ice picks scratching on concrete. Others will say that CDs don't pop, click and hiss and therefore they sound better.
Some choice albums!
I personally believe that the sound quality varies by the source material. On a similar priced system the same album on LP will sound better than CD, or the CD will sound better than its vinyl counterpart. I've heard it both ways and will explain.
Take for instance Duran Duran's Rio. The CD was made in the 80's back when the technology was new and it sounds flat and thin. The LP version sounds rich and thick with sound, the synth and guitar sound fantastic and the drums and cymbals sound more real. Also I picked up the LP at Jerry's Used Records in Pittsburgh for about $3, cleaned it up and it's now one of my prized LPs.
The same goes for Faith No More's "Epic", which came out in the very early 90's. The CD sounds like piss. The LP sounds great. My belief on this is that these albums were recorded for vinyl and just sound better on that medium. Perhaps the engineers who actually created the physical media just did it better, they were trained to make awesome records, not CDs... just a thought.
Let's get to the negatives with vinyl. My biggest gripe is that the quality varies by pressing, which means that two identical records can sound completely different. This sucks when you want to buy a new LP, which is why I no longer buy new ones. It's not a big deal if you find a Van Halen LP for $2 in a shop and it sounds like crap... oh well, find another one. But if you spend $40 on a new record and find out that it was made with no quality standards at all... that's infuriating.
An example of a great pressing and a great album!
Vinyl is a complete pain in the ass too. They pop and click and are generally unpredictable, but through all this comes the music and analog does have a unique sound of it's own. Real instruments sound more real! It's just a friggin nightmare to get there. Record players are no easy matter to deal with. Sure you can get them cheap on ebay these days, but then you need a phono preamp and a cartridge to even play them. These things can all add up in cost. Records take up a lot of room. I have several milk crates full of them shoved into my closet. One other problem is that the tracks on the inside of the album can often sound pretty scratchy. This is due to a variety of factors like tonearm alignment and whether the record was abused before.
CDs are smaller and when bought new don't pop and click, that is certainly a positive. They are recorded digitally and smashed onto a 700mb CD, which is pathetically small by today's standards. I think that they've gotten much better at making CDs since the mid-90's, so the newer ones sound pretty good. But again, this all depends on what kind of speakers and audio setup you have and how picky you want to be. CD players are a dime a dozen. CDs can be played in the car and they're pretty cheap these days. brand new ones can be found for under $10!
I love iPods, in fact I have my entire analog collection digitized and loaded on my iPod. I can listen to my iPod anywhere and therefore can bring my closet full of LPs in the car with me. I also have my entire CD collection from high school and college loaded on my trusty iPod.
In my lifetime I'll say that DVD is the most amazing invention that I've ever seen, followed by the iPod. The ability to bring movies and music with me anywhere at any time is a dream come true. Kids today must take this for granted. Heck, us old-timers didn't even have cell phones in college.
In this 100 year-old house everything gets covered with dust no matter how hard we clean.
Purists will complain that iPods use more compression than CDs and therefore sound like crap. Well, that's somewhat true. You can digitize your own music at higher bitrates which, in my opinion, makes them sounds more or less the same. I think that convenience wins out though. The iPod and computers are the way to go for everyday listening. You can't set up a turntable at work (usually). If you listen to an iPod with the cheap iPod headphones then it will sound bad. But if you run it into a high end stereo, or run your computer with a great audio card into a good stereo you'll get good sound. In my opinion.
In conclusion, every now and then (like today) I want to sit on the couch, put on an LP and rock the house. Since I'm on vacation and the wife's out today it's Mark's loud time. I'm playing a few LPs that sound rich, warm and vibrant. I'm cleaning them off with my record brush and zapping them with my red gun that makes a neat static sound through the speakers. This has a feeling of nostalgia for me too, and it's kind of cool. I like records, I like seeing the spinning LP and knowing that it's not digital for a change. Also the cymbals sound better.
Even the iPod is dusty!
As I type this I'm listening to "Are You Normal" by the amazing Ned's Atomic Dustbin. I bought this record in England and it's worth every penny (or pence) and sounds way better than the CD. Am I normal? No. But I'm ok with that.
More on affordable turntable setups and home theater to come... making noise is my only hobby and it's good to sit home and not stare at a computer for once...
Thursday, January 17, 2008
It was one year ago today that we started production on Westinghouse. Quite a bit has changed since then. Pictured above is us filming at The George Westinghouse Museum in Wilmerding. Today the museum has merged with the Senator John Heinz History Center in downtown Pittsburgh. The artifacts will be on display this fall from what I understand.
Ed Reis, who is pointing at the Westinghouse Roaster, is now the Westinghouse Historian at the Heinz History Center, which is a fantastic place to visit. I recommend you check it out if you're visiting Pittsburgh.
It was a cold and snowy day back then on January 17th, 2007. It's a cold and snowy day today on January 17th, 2008 too. The big difference is that I'm DONE with the film (sort of). We're still authoring the DVD, but that's another story.
Pictured above are the "Westinghouse Twins" as they were called. The Laundromat and the clothes dryer. These are featured in the final cut of the film.
So how did this thing come together in a year...? Well, a lot of work. After I met Ed Reis in late 2006 we agreed to do the film together. I did some preliminary research and coordination, got the budget approved, etc... We filmed for a few days at the museum and also filmed the George Westinghouse Memorial in Oakland. I started writing the film in about February of 2007 after reading the Westinghouse biography by Henry Prout.
I photographed and scanned and acquired all kinds of pictures, articles and footage, literally thousands of images. Editing began in February, I write and edit at the same time so that the script follows what images and footage are available. And after a year of writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing, filming, interviewing and coffee drinking I'm finally done. I hope to post more about the process in the coming weeks as we get near the release date of April 8th!
I watched the DVD last night to make sure that the encoding looks as close to HD as it can, and it does. Every shot was inspected and it looks and sounds great. My eyes felt like they were on fire by the time I was done. I'm taking a few weeks off very soon to do all the housework I've neglected over the past year. I'll wake up in the morning, get a cup of coffee and play Xbox. I'll win Bionic Commando again on my NES. I'm going to walk the dog every day and get outside away from computers. Walking the dog doesn't involve pixels and compression ratios...
Sure, Stella loooks cute. But what she's really thinking is "Feed me or I'll rip your arm off and eat it"
Westinghouse can be pre-ordered now at major websites like Amazon.
You can view the trailer HERE.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The documentary film on George Westinghouse, his legacy, companies, partnership with Nikola Tesla and battle with Thomas Edison is finally done. After more than a year of pre-production, writing, collecting, photographing, videotaping, editing and post-production the HD film is ready for the world.
My office looks like a bomb hit it. There are papers, hard drives, tapes and notebooks strewn about the barren landscape. I've lost a few pounds, my eyes hurt and I'm generally tired at looking at computer screens (which is why I haven't blogged in a month).
Done! (so tired...)
The film was nearly complete in November. I had recorded the narration with Carol Lee Espy and had a "more or less" complete edit done. We had received a tremendous amount of interest from the engineering community and from Westinghouse employees. I was fortunate to convince Inecom to extend my budget a bit and decided to record some additional interviews to round out the film. Especially later in the film when the focus shifts to what happened to all the Westinghouse companies. I thought this was best described in their own words and it came out great. Descriptive, positive and full of pride. I owe many thanks to Jim Sutherland and Ed Reis and the SURE group.
I recorded this final batch of interviews around December 1st that totalled 10 hours, and gave myself three weeks to complete the editing of the film. For anyone considering getting into filmmaking this is NOT the way to do this. Fortunately I'd been through this before, and fuelled by coffee and French onion soup I went to work. I digitized everything, ran out of drive space, bumped terabytes of data to external drives while keeping clips I wanted, took notes of the best takes and then worked them all back into the edit. The total drive space used is close to 12 terabytes.
Pictured about are just some of the 1TB hard drives used for file backups. The main drive is a 6 terabyte Raid striped for HD playback.
After that I trimmed any narration parts that seemed redundant and tweeked the interviews (removing "uhhhs" and "ummms") and reworked the pictures and footage around them. I filmed the WABTEC Corporation in Wilmerding, received some shots from Westinghouse Electric Company (they build nuclear power plants today) and filmed a bunch of last minute insert shots like the extreme close up of the light bulb turning on (which can be seen as the first shot on the trailer HERE)
Pictured above is Stella who missed me while I was busy editing... After watching the film again and again and again I took a break through Christmas and then came back and polished it up by color correcting and really finishing the edit. After new year's I've been working with Doug and Jay on the final audio mixing and DVD mastering. Now it looks like we're about done. It looks good, sounds good and I think tells a fun and exciting story that hasn't been told before.
The DVD is scheduled to be release on April 7th, 2008. You can pre-order it from sites like Amazon or pick it up in stores. I know there will be some release events and some stuff going on in Pittsburgh (which is of course where the Westinghouse companies were based, and some still are). I hope to keep everyone informed of the release news. I'm going to go continue cleaning my office now.
The official website is www.WestinghouseFilm.com