Newsletter November 2000

High-resolution graphics downloads have proved popular, so we have extended our library. You now have a choice of several deleted 12" covers for the kitchen wall, and a copy of the oil painting of Sarah Jane Morris that’s on her home page.

Continuing the progress through Bronski Beat’s lively early history in the mid-eighties, we present the inside production story on Age Of Consent, the groundbreaking album of 1984 that helped propel the gay rights movement in the UK. With our new more-music policy, you can check out several tracks. You can now sing along while reading and chewing gum.

As we said in last month’s Newsletter, we’re expanding the audio on the site. There are so many compromises involved, to do with both technology and copyright, that we thought it helpful to spell them out so that regular human beings can understand. The Stereo Society is no nerd zone.

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A new dial-up phone modem (56K, or 56 kilobits per second, is the standard installation) can transmit information at less than one-twenty-fifth the speed needed for a digital CD recording. In practice, because of crackly phone lines and net congestion (so much information, so little space), its capability is worse than a thirtieth. Despite this, the sound can give you the musical experience, but there is a noticeable drop in quality when we supply stereo to your modem instead of mono.

Since stereo has two channels (left and right) to mono’s one, mono has more information per channel and therefore better quality through your modem. Unfortunately, when you collapse a stereo track to mono by combining left and right, you do more than just take away the feeling of spaciousness. You change the musical balance. Anything that was in the middle of the stereo image increases in volume to be twice as loud (er 3 dB higher). If such issues keep you awake at night, you can read the simple technical explanation (no algebra or rocket science credentials required for admission) on our site.

In the distant past, when UK radio broadcast in mono only, good studio folks in the US used to laugh when Brits did a ‘mono-compatible’ mix for that other antique the 7" single. For this format only, we changed the instrumental balance so that the musical effect would be similar to what we intended when the venerable BBC played it on its AM channels. Thankfully, these contortions became unnecessary around the time that CDs kicked in and the BBC discovered FM (VHF to them). After that, we mixed for maximum stereo effect just as the US had been doing for years. Recordings sounded bigger.

Then, internet audio nuked us back to the Stone Age. To get the best sound you had to provide mono, and for some time the prevailing modem speed was half that of today’s standard, a miserable 28.8K. When our current 56K speed arrived, stereo at the same quality was possible, but that quality was compromised compared with the same feed in mono. We now have a simple choice between a clearer sound which doesn’t always correspond to the music, losing spaciousness and depth, and a lower quality sound which has the right music.

If you have read our prejudices this far, you will know which way we are jumping. We have opted to provide you with stereo streaming at a slightly lower sonic quality. The producer of much of this music (bless his little pointy golden ears) insists that you don’t sacrifice the music on the altar of technical sound.

To satisfy your insatiable curiosity, we provide comparative versions of the Bronski Beat track Love And Money so that you can hear the difference for yourself (assuming you have a fast enough modem). On the same page, we also provide a handy E mail form so that you can roar your appreciation or yell violent disagreement. Even if you are mild-mannered and civilized, we’d like to read what you think.

The dial-up internet connection is at its limit. You won’t get any better down a regular phone line. Theoretically, such connections cannot even sustain their 56K label (and, of course, they don’t, despite the claims of computer manufacturers). You will only hear better internet audio when you connect through ‘broadband’, which is capable in principle of sustaining streaming video at TV quality and better. Broadband can be delivered via a cable connection, piggybacking on a conventional phone line (DSL), or via satellite (which also needs a phone connection, since you can hear it but it can’t hear you). Although at the moment you can barely listen at 56K without hiccups due to net congestion, when bigger wires are installed the interruptions will reduce. That’s when copyright becomes an issue.

Right now, the streaming audio you hear is enough to enjoy music, but you won’t get the charge of the CD (or record) if you played it on a system that can give you a sun tan when you turn it up (our preferred listening machine). Eventually, broadband streaming might do this for you. The question of how you pay for your music experience, and therefore provide for the artist giving you more, is the big issue. Online MP3 music file swapping through Napster, Gnutella and the rest of them is a side issue.

When you can get prime-quality cuts through the internet, we will have to figure out how to pay for them so that the artist is compensated and continues to do things that interest you. The major record companies are at least a generation behind figuring it out. We haven’t yet, either, because it will depend on financial services at least as accessible to everyone as are credit cards (and you can’t always get these plastic passports if you are suspect, ie you are young, intermittently employed, or live in Bed-Stuy or South Central).

So until the big business decides where it’s going and how we might comply (we are not at the negotiating table, so we just watch with morbid curiosity), we are providing mono streaming for your listening pleasure if you connect at 28.8K, stereo if you are 56K (the same audio quality as mono at 28.8), and for now broadband stereo (ie deluxe up to 112K) for you ISDN1, ISDN2, DSL and cable modem early adopters. Please note that older streaming audio is not presented in these formats, but will be progressively updated.We figure that if you like the music, you’ll buy the CD since it sound much better and you can control playback a good deal more conveniently (if it skips, it’s your player’s fault). You are also free to put your personal finger marks on its fabulous 16-page, full-color booklet.

We also stream audio from other copyright holders, when it illuminates something we’re talking about. We are not entitled to sell or give away their music, but we want you to hear it. Providing streaming audio is similar in principle to playing a recording in a store. However, if we deliver the highest quality, we’ll get lynched, and also wipe out our own income if it’s worth your effort for you to tape it rather than buy it.

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