Thursday, May 25, 2006

Audible 2006

I used to use Audible.com to download episodse of Fresh Air in 2004. Grace recently heard an interview she wanted to hear again so I decided to see if I could still do it.

The answer is "yes, but I'd rather be dragged backwards through flaming bags of dog shit." More DRM -- whoopee! To download, they expect you to choose a portable device, and if you don't have one (I don't actualy own an iPod), it won't allow that. When you click on a purchased file link you get a small file with metadata. I wound up writing to tech support.

You have to download a whole separate app, with multiple pieces. You have to restart your browser. Firefox would no longer give me an "open with" dialog after I told it once that I wanted to examine the file with a text editor, so I had to save the file, find the little helper app, and drag-and-drop it. I then had to activate that app with my username and password.

There doesn't seem to be a provision to export the file so I can just open it in iTunes and burn it as a CD and give it to Grace and forget about the original. There's a "burn mode" that will do that but it wants to install a boatload of components and then make me reboot my PC. I'm running about a dozen apps on this PC: terminal windows, compile sessions, editing a dozen files. The machine already burns CDs in several different ways. Audible wants me to reboot so I can burn a CD?

Audible's program lets me move downloads to another folder -- but they are folders under Audible's control. I can import it into iTunes, but even though I told Audible twice that I want to use iTunes, I've got to launch it and import it, finding the file in Audible's space under "Program Files," not in my user directory. And did I mention all the dialogs are a hideous green? _That_ is one application that I'm scrubbing from my machine as soon as possible, and gritting my teeth hoping it doesn't leave crap in the registry or weird DLLs all over the place.

All to give my wife her episode of Fresh Air... for a download that cost three dollars. Talk about punishing people for trying to do things the right way. I want to respect rights-holders; really, I do. I actually pay for content. My iTunes folders contain, overwhelmingly, ripped CDs that are sitting on my shelf at home, a few downloads from the iTunes music store, and a lot of podcasts and CC-licensed content. Really, compared to many people I know with massive collections of MP3s, my honesty feels almost embarassing, as if maybe I'm just too old and too square to enjoy the great bounty of pirated content that I could simply reach out and grab.

But I'm not going to jump through ten minutes of hoops to stay legal. Audible should be catering to _customers_. It ought to be _easier_ to use music legally. Click, play, I'm done. iTunes already knows what to do with the files. I'm not thrilled about Apple's DRM but I will say that it is not too terribly onerous for the end-user. Requiring a separate "Audible Download Manager," more crap in my toolbar, more apps, more components installed, more reboots -- not the right way. Sorry, Audible -- no more of my business!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Destroyed Waveforms

So, this weekend I put some more effort into a recording setup at home. Using the PowerBook and an external FireWire drive, with the Snowbally now mounted on a stand a few feet away, I was able to get a pretty clean recording, without too much background noise -- not ideal, but acceptable.

Except for the little "glitch" problem -- this is not "ess" sibilance, pops, peaks, or other audio problems, but artifacts of data loss in the recording process.

I experimented with changing device buffer sizes. The default was 512. Going up to 4096 samples was a total disaster, but going back down to 128 did not get rid of the problem. It is some kind of problem with the streaming audio that results in buffers lost and repeated. This is not too noticeable in a section of silence, of course, but if I'm in the middle of a word and a previous buffer gets "pasted" into the stream of data it will cause a sudden spike as pieces of the waveform no longer connect smoothly -- essentially, D/A converter is asking the speaker or headphone driver to accelerate in a way that isn't physically possible. So you hear noise instead. Here's what the destroyed waveform looks like; the image shows a fraction of a second of 16 bit samples, 44.1 KHz, mono:



It isn't the Snowball microphone -- the PC records its output flawlessly. The PC is no good for recording, though, because I can't get it far enough away and its fan noise comes through terribly loudly on the recording. I'd need a sound-insulated vented case or some other arrangement for it, or I'd need to record in a different room from the PC, and I just don't have a good way to do that at home; no sound booth.

I made a complete recording of the Captain Gault story number two, "The Diamond Spy." It's a great story and the recording came out very well, with the exception of a few dozen of these bursts of noise. I'd almost be willing to ignore those, but in addition, in the 30-minute recording session I got two much longer sections that have constant noise, where a long section of a paragraph or two or three contains these glitches over and over, lasting up to a minute.

That means retakes, and more editing, and edits which don't sound as good, since the background sound has changed. This quickly turns something that takes a half-hour to record raw and another half hour to edit into a two- or three-hour project. I have enough problems waiting for cars to go by, waiting for churchbells to stop ringing, etc., than worrying about an audio recording which is randomly glitched at any time without warning. It makes me want to go back to an analog recording onto something with predictable characteristics, like casette tape.

Changing USB cables doesn't fix the problem. Using a different external FireWire hard drive (and different FireWire cable) doesn't fix the problem.

However, it does seem to be related to using both FireWire and USB. If I record only to the internal drive, I seem to get a glitch-free signal.

Very strange, but it gives me a possible workaround, although one that involves yet more tedium and manual moving of files.

Maybe I just need to stick in a bigger new internal hard drive, although it seems like a waste to put money into this laptop, which has a dim screen, is on its second keyboard, and won't run off of battery power or even retain the date and time!

I really need a new machine... but I don't want an Mactel machine; they are still being shaken out, and the "thermal grease" problem in the MacBook Pro machines has made me skittish about buying one (I've assembled computers before -- that is NOT how you use thermal grease!)

I just dropped $150 on a brand-new license for the PowerPC version of a program called DSP Quattro X, which is a very nice editing program that does common operations like saving and loading files much faster than Audacity or Sound Studio 3. And despite how much I gripe about the problems I've had with my PowerBook G4/400, which is now about seven years old, the original TiBook machines are the most attractively designed laptops I've ever seen or used, period. I don't want to give mine up!

Friday, May 19, 2006

USB Audio Options, Background Music

So, if the USB ports on my laptop still work, which I will test out this weekend, I will contemplate one or more of the following options:

- Try and get by with the Snowball; get things as quiet as possible, and ignore the noise.

- Get a headset USB mic, like the Plantronix .Audio 550 DSP, and just go with that (at $119, it might be worth trying).

- Get a headset mic, like the AKG C420 or the Crown CM-311A. Both of these use XLR connectors and require phantom power.

- I could also try my old Shure BG mic and see if I can get a reasonably noise-free signal out of it. That's a little more awkward for reading, but I have a stand and could probably work something out.

The conventional mics would require some form of mic preamp. The Snowball generated such a low audio signal that I never contemplated the need for a compressor, and in fact had to apply a lot of gain to the digital signal, but the headset mics or the Shure have a strong proximity effect (lots of low frequencies) and will probably need compression to avoid spiking whatever A/D converters I use. This implies at least some kind of compressor or limiter.

- There's a new ART Tube MP Project Series with USB, which is basically a standalone channel strip (without a compressor, but with a FET limiter) designed to work as a line in, mic pre, or DI in. It has variable impedance too, which you usually only see in quite pricey preamps and DIs, like the Summit Audio gear. If this thing actually sounds good it would be an amazing deal, and only costs $100. That could be my low-end preamp and A/D solution all in one. It seems to accept bus power, too!

- For the casette tape digitizing, which I was doing with the iMic, there is also an ART USB Phono Plus, which is basically a phono preamp with USB out. It does the RIAA EQ thing, but this can be turned off, which would supposedly let me run a casette deck into it. It's got to sound better than the iMic.

But, these pieces are both Made in China. Sigh. Is all the ART gear made in China?

Does there actually exist a USB interface, FireWire interface, USB or FireWire enabled mixer, or channel strip that is made in the U.S.? I would pay more, maybe even 100% more, for the same device... but that doesn't mean I could swing, say, a Summit Audio 2BA-221 at $630, or a Summit Audio TD100 DI for $400+, when I'd still need a FireWire or USB interface...

Lowest cost option: get the Plantronics headset ($119), hoping that it doesn't sound too much like ass; do everything with my existing laptop; get another external hard drive for backup, such as a LaCie triple interface 250g for around $220. Everything backed up, I can record in the living room, total cost around $350. Maybe someone would like a lightly used Snowball.

If the USB inputs are shot, it would probably be cheaper to get a new laptop than to try to build up the setup with all-new FireWire gear, although the Edirol FA-66 (also made in China, sigh) might do a reasonable job with both conventional microphone in and my casette deck line in.

Anyway, moving on for now. I found a source for background music for _The Night Land_. There's a record label out of Minnesota called Dark Winter (online here that features a lot of dark ambient stuff, and best of all they make it available under a Creative Commons Attribution/Noncommercial/Sharealike license (by-nc-sa), which is the same license I am using for the Hodgson recordings! From what I've heard so far, it is ideal for background music for this project, so I'll see what I can do (the ideas are there; the free time is limited).

Audio Options

I don't have money to put into studio gear at the moment, but that doesn't stop me from going through the Sweetwater catalog like it was the 1918 Sears Wish Book.

I've determined that the crackling coming from the Snowball microphone does not seem to be in the mic; it is not present when I record using Audacity on my PC. I need to test it again on my PowerBook at home -- it is possible there was some kind of transient power problem, but I suspect the reason is that my PowerBook's USB ports have become flakey. This is very frustrating considering I just bought editing software to use for working on podcasts on my Mac, and it is the quietest solution I've got for recording. That machine must inevitably be replaced, but I am trying to keep it limping along a little bit longer.

Assuming that I will one day soon be able to put a little money into the home studio setup, the question becomes "what kind of setup?" Here are some ideas I'm considering, from small expense to large:

- A Plantronics USB headset microphone for recording podcasts. Untested, but should eliminate more background noise; audio quality unknown, but I'd settle for a little less accuracy in favor of less hum and rumble. If it made it so I could make a decent voice recording in a room with a noisy PC, or with other people in it, I'd be ecstatic.

- A Keil dynamic broadcast microphone with stand, shockmount, etc. This would require a preamp and A/D solution. Which leads me to:

- Some kind of A/D solution. I'm pretty much going to rule out USB interfaces at this point; they seem to be targeted at the (audio quality) low end. That leaves FireWire.

I'm considering an Edirol FA-66, a Focusrite Saffire, and other options.

What I really want is a consumer-grade RCA line in, for digitizing data _cleanly_ from a casette deck, two to four mic preamps that don't just sound OK, but excellent, a couple of balanced TRS inputs, a couple of unbalanced TS inputs, and two to four electric instrument DI inputs that again sound not just OK, but excellent.

This does not have to be a single-box solution. It would be nice if it could grow incrementally. One solution I'd seriously consider is to get a Mackie Onyx 1640 mixer with the FireWire option. To start with I could use the built-in mic preamps, but maybe later I could bypass them with separate rack items with separate rack-mount channel strips, and use a similar approach for DI inputs. I am scrutinizing the Mackie manual to determine whether this might be feasible.

I like the Mackie boards in general; they are rugged and flexible, but using the mic preamps as electric instrument inputs never sounded good, at least not on the previous models that I tested, and the preamps were adequate but not spectacular.

Pretty much any of these approaches is going to require a new computer, ultimately, but with some good planning maybe I can get my existing box to limp along a little bit longer, and not regret any particular hardware purchase along the way!

FOLLOWUP: While the reviews indicate that the Onyx mic preamps sound a bit better than the previous Mackie "XDR" preamps, it seems that the FireWire routing options for the Onyx mixers are rather limited: pre-fade, pre-effects only, and a single stereo return. That makes the FireWire card seem like a true after-thought instead of an integrated part of the design.

In addition, while their documents used to crow about how their gear was made in the U.S.A., I can no longer find information on where Mackie products are manufactured. Maybe I will go to Guitar Center in Canton this weekend and see if the Onyx mixers now say "Made in China." Also, some of the reviews I saw of the Onyx gear comments on loose screws, pots with inconsistent and non-linear behavior, and indifferent sheet-metal build quality. The Mackie mixers I owned previously were quite well-built and one even survived the collapse of a huge bookshelf directly on to the mixer itself resulting in only cosmetic damage. If they've become crap, I will have to reluctantly say "never again!"

Niggardly Tar Babies and Other Linguistic Stickiness

So, Tony Snow is in trouble for using the term "tar baby," as in, when asked to comment on the NSA surveillance program, "I don't want to hug the tar baby." And people are accusing him of using a racial slur.

"Tar baby" has come to us from the Br'er Rabbit story, where it is used to indicate a human figure made of tar, very sticky, which was used to trap Br'er Rabbit. This is the usage that Snow was referring to -- he didn't want to get "stuck" in that "trap."

The term has ALSO come to serve as a racial slur for blacks, and calling someone of color a "tar baby" would certainly be very offensive. But in this case Snow was not referring to a person at all, so I have to defend him -- he's actually right, and his comment was not racist. I am not one to defend this administration or anyone who speaks for them, but I have to sympathize with Snow -- if he has to remove that phrase from his repertoire, he is impoverishing his idiom.

Trying to ban every figure of speech or phrase that comes with a politically incorrect overtone is madness. We would get rid of "rule of thumb." We would get rid of "niggardly." You may remember the tempest over _that_ word. People, in some cases well-informed and well-educated people, seem to think the word "niggardly" has something to do with the word "nigger." It doesn't; different etymology, different meaning. It just sounds similar. Jumping up and down because someone uses "niggardly" to mean "stingy" just displays ignorance of the language.

Note to activist: save your outrage for something that actually makes sense! And learn to speak idiomatic English. It's an incredibly rich and allusive language, dickweeds!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Snowball Review

Posted on Sweetwater's site, with a few typo corrections.

Somewhat Disappointed

by Paul R. Potts , May 2006

I purchased this mic from Sweetwater.

I would like first to point out that while BLUE promotes itself as making mics in Latvia, this mic was made in China. BLUE's promotional images were actually doctored in Photoshop to remove the country of manufacture; their online company profile does not mention manufacture in China and the downloadable PDF file of the manual still claims it is made in Latvia. If country of manufacture is important to you, please take this into account. I have written to both BLUE and Sweetwater about this, but I have received no response from either.

In general, the mic functions pretty well; however, I have found that it is not really suited to the use I have put it for, which is recording myself for podcasts. This is true despite the sticker on the box that claims it is great for podcasting.

The omni setting picks up too much background noise from even a quiet room. For example, even in an empty office late at night, with the air-moving equipment off, the overhead fluourescent fixture can be heard quite noticeably, as can a quiet laptop placed 10 feet away, or traffic noise coming in from a roadway 100 yards from the building. The first cardioid setting is somewhat better in this regard, but in general this makes the mic less than ideal for podcast recording in a quiet room; in a noisier setting the problem would be greatly magnified.

It also seems to me that the mic has a fairly high level of self-noise that sounds like tape hiss, although I can't determine exactly how much in the recording environments I'm able to find.

In a quiet office I've set the mic on its included tripod, on a table in front of me, and am recording about 12-18 inches from the mic. Closer might be better, but I'm reading, so I need a little bit of space for my printed material. Even with the gain all the way up, the recorded audio is rather quiet, and needs to be punched up a lot to reach a reasonable level; this increases the level of background noise, and I found myself immediately having to try out all kinds of noise-reduction strategies just to get an audio recording with a tolerably low amount of noise. I have not found the best strategy here, but have wasted a lot of time.

I have not tried using the Snowball to record instruments or a live band. If you are considering using it for recording music, you might like the second cardioid setting, which adds some attenuation for recording loud sources. However, if you intend to record in stereo, you might find it very difficult to record from two of these at once, particularly when trying bring the resulting audio into phase. It would probably be much easier to use two conventional mics with a USB interface that provides a stereo signal out.

Some of my frustration with this product is doubtless because of my inexperience trying to record podcasts without a full-blown studio, although I've done a modest amount of studio recording and live sound with conventional microphones without too much trouble. If you are typical podcaster, you probably don't have a recording booth available; you may not even have a nice quiet room. If this is your situation, the Snowball will disappoint you. I am considering getting rid of this mic and purchasing a headset mic or broadcast-style dynamic mic instead, even if an external audio interface is required. Although it is nice to have a built-in USB interface, which combined with a laptop makes my recording setup very portable, it just is not quite the right tool for the job I'm trying to do.

Thomas Dolby

I went with Isaac and my friend Art and his girlfriend Yong Mi to the Thomas Dolby show in Royal Oak. It was a rainy night; I had offered Art and Yong Mi tickets in exchange for him driving. I'm glad we did, what with the combination of construction and wet roads. We stopped for dinner at the IHOP. I think that's the first time I've been to an IHOP in at least 25 years.

The show was a lot of fun. The venue was pretty small, with no reserved seating, but it was not very crowded, so we had a good view of the stage, and probably could have wedged our way up to the front to shake Dolby's hand, had we been so inclined. T. D. said that this was his first performance in the area in 18 or 19 years! He also said he had not released new material in 15 years, which I suppose is true -- time flies by! Although the crowd was not screaming, rock-star excited (are there any bands or individual stars that still inspire screaming excitement these days?) they were decently enthusiastic.

I became a Dolby fan way back in the early days of MTV with the release of "She Blinded Me with Science." Although I quickly became sick of that single, which is perhaps his silliest song ever, I found a lot to like in his other material, and I started tracking down and collecting T. D. vinyl. I had a copy of the British release of _Golden Age of Wireless_, which had a couple of songs not on the American release -- "Liepzig" and "Urges." I spent endless hours trying to puzzle out his lyrics, which when I finally found them printed, turned out to be rather different than my guesses, and sometimes in French or German!

I had the "Dolby's Cube" remixes. I started finding releases from people he worked with -- the single "Build Me a Bridge" by Adele Bertei, who sang backup on _The Flat Earth_, and Lene Lovich's album _Stateless_ -- somewhere I have a casette of the King Biscuit Flour Hour show where Lovich performs "New Toy." I eventualy tracked down a CD of _Aliens Ate My Buick_, although I could only find a Japanese import. In fact, not only has T. D. not released new material in some time, but several of his albums seem to be out of print. So the only CDs he had for sale at the show were _Golden Age of Wireless_ and the collection _Retrospectacle_.

As far as I can recall, which isn't very far these days, his major album releases were as follows:

_Golden Age of Wireless_

_The Flat Earth_ (perhaps his best album)

_The Gate to the Minds' Eye_ (instrumental techno for computer animation)

_Astronauts and Heretics_

_Aliens Ate My Buick_

I may be missing one. Not a huge amount of material. But Dolby is also a sideman and producer -- I believe he actually played keyboards on Foreigner 4. He has worked on a couple of silicon valley startups; I don't know the details, but Yong Mi says he had something to do with polyphonic ring-tones.

Anyway, back to the show. He opened with "Leipzig," a little-known song, and did a number of songs from _Golden Age_. Standouts were "Wind Power," which he introduced with audio generated from satellite observations of sunspots, and "One of Our Submarines." For one song, "Budapest by Blimp," he lowered his keyboard and sat down to play, giving a bit of the ambience of a lounge jazz song. His last song was "She Blinded Me with Science," but we got one quick encore out of him -- "Airhead," which is kind of a silly song.

Dolby was never a terribly strong singer live, and this show was late in the tour, so his voice was a bit fried, but he was enthusiastic, and gregarious -- he spoke to us at length between songs. He is an interesting songwriter. He seems very drawn to jazz; his stuff is more harmonically interesting than most pop. He also loves gear and the fun you can have playing with a synthesizer, and seems to love to use the studio as an instrument. His albums always seemed to be a couple of years ahead of their time, and has aged well; his lyrics are oblique and not particularly topical, but give more of a wash of meanings.

He had a stripped-down setup using Logic Audio running on a Mac, triggered mainly, it seemed, by an M-Audio box that gave him a number of samples for each track; for a couple of songs he "built them up from scratch," as he put it, which really meant laying down several lines and getting them looping with Logic as a live sequencer. That was pretty fun to watch. He had a projection screen and a guy mixing video live as well, and the video content was nice, although it was sometimes very strange to see a Dolby perhaps over twenty-five years younger on the screen with the Dolby of today! He also wore a "head-cam," which gave us a Dolby's-eye view of his performance, as the video guy mixed it in. That was kind of intriguing for a gear-head like me.

I recognized most of what I saw, but there are two pieces of gear that I am still baffled by. He claims to be on the net a lot, so maybe I will ask him what they were!

T. D., if you read this -- release some new material! And we'd like to see you again. Don't make us wait another 18 or 19 years!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Morgellons Disease

This has been circulating: articles about and links to a supposedly new infectious disease with bizarre symptoms that include variously colored fibers emerging from the skin, sometimes in colors including red, black, white, green, and blue.

Having studied the "proof" on offer at the Morgellons Research Foundation site here I would like to pre-emptively offer my opinion: this will turn out to be a hoax. The "fibers" are most likely carpet fibers. The "patients" are delusional people who have self-inflicted skin injuries.

I'm willing to be proven wrong, but that's my take on it for now!

The Assholes are Winning

I had 40 spam messages this weekend. My filtering software is virtually useless.

Besides just trashing my Wiki front pages now, it appears a whole bunch of interior pages are getting randomly erased. They are versioned, and so the old info is there, but even if/when I get the thing locked down (which removes the whole point of having a public Wiki), I'll have to try and figure out which version I want and revert a lot of pages.

The assholes are winning! I'm rapidly losing patience.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Crackling Snowball

I'm having some trouble with my podcast recordings: some recordings, but not others, contain periodic bursts of noise (crackles). For example, I recorded _The Night Land_ chapter 1 in two parts, and then chapter 2 in two parts, on the same night, under the same conditions, in the same room. The second, third, and fourth files recorded that night have strange bursts of crackles, maybe a brief crackle every fifteen seconds to two minutes.

It isn't distortion from overloaded audio. It occurs even when I'm not speaking. Dammit! That text in particular is quite tricky to read, and took me hours, and I don't get a lot of time to work on it. It sounds terrible, but the idea of having to re-record the whole files makes me want to abandon this project altogether. I guess for now I am going to go ahead and use those files, but it sounds terrible, and I don't have a good way to clean up the noise in the file itself.

Is it the microphone? The software? The cables? The external FireWire dive? The laptop? The cable? I don't know. Why did it just start on one particular session, and again on the next session too? I'm going to try again with different recording software, but this is quite discouraging...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Night Land Chapter 5

I recorded a brief introduction to _The Night Land_ and uploaded it along with the two parts of chapter 5 of the book. In it I briefly discuss the world of the Night Land and some of the philosophy that seems to underpin the work.

There's a web site out there all about _The Night Land_:

http://www.thenightland.co.uk

I mention this in my audio notes about the book. It has a bunch of neat maps, some beautiful artwork, and a number of articles on the book and on Hodgson. There is also a lot of fan fiction, some of which seems to be quite good. I think the pieces by Richard Wright are by the same Richard Wright that wrote the Golden Age trilogy, which I quite enjoyed.

I also refer readers to Project Gutenberg -- the entire text is freely available. For those who would like to read it in print, I give a shout out to the five-volume Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson from Night Shade Books. _The Night Land_ is volume 4. Volume 5 does not seem to be out yet -- I am guessing that it is in progress and it is taking a while because the editor is trying to make sure this collection really is definitive and contains everything whatsoever of interest that Hodgson wrote (although now that I've heard there is some Hodgson poetry out there, I am curious if the editor will include any). It should contain _The Dream of X_, which is a condensed version of _The Night Land_, and I'm looking forward to reading that, to see what changed.

My copy of volume 4 was not properly glued -- the back part of the binding was not glued down fully into the cover and kept peeling back. I got a long paintbrush and a bottle of Uhu paper glue and managed to paste down the binding better, pressing it under a heavy suitcase until the glue dried. I don't necessarily recommend this for repairing a valuable volume -- I don't really know what I'm doing -- but it seems to be holding up pretty well so far. Despite this repair, this particular volume just doesn't feel as well-bound as the others, and creaks and cracks with handling. I think it might be because the spine is slightly too wide for the pages it is containing, which means that when the pages are spread open the binding is pulled away from the cover. In any case it is still a very beautfiful volume -- I love the silver stamping on the covers, and it has not actually fallen apart, so I'm not too disappointed; I just obsess about things.

Chapter 5 of _The Night Land_ recounts how our hero decides to leave the great Redoubt and go forth to hunt for Naani. It also recounts the destruction of the Youths and their capture into the House of Silence. The language inspired me to post-process my voice -- I am lowering the pitch (slowing it down) to 86% of the original speed, adding a light flange effect, and then also adding some background sounds generated by the Flow program by Karlheinz Essl.

I like the results -- I think it somehow captures something of the strange dark mood of _The Night Land_. It also serves the purpose of slowing down the reader/listener, forcing him or her to pay closer attention to the language. Hodgson's sentences are so convoluted that slowing down really is imperative, whether reading or listening. The sound effects give something of the sense of strangeness of the landscape.

I don't think I can record the entire book, and even if I did I am not sure anyone would want to listen to it. I have not even finished reading it, and the later chapters become very wordy. The story becomes a kind of idealized romance, and while the action is still interesting, the interactions between our hero and his true love make a modern reader grit his teeth. I'm not sure I could make it through reading example after example where the hero refers to her tiny, dainty feet, or how she was a slight and slender Maid, or her impudent naughtiness in disobeying him. It reminds me of a joke by Douglas Adams from one of the Hitchhiker books:

The first part of each song would tell how there once went forth from the City of Vassillian a party of five sage princes with four horses. The princes, who are of course brave, noble and wise, travel widely in distant lands, fight giant ogres, pursue exotic philosophies, take tea with weird gods and rescue beautiful monsters from ravening princesses before finally announcing that they have achieved enlightenment and that their wanderings are therefore accomplished.

The second, and much longer, part of each song would tell of all their bickerings about which one of them is going to have to walk back.


_The Night Land_ is kind of like that. At one point our hero and his Maid spend something like seven pages arguing over who is going to get to use the our hero's cloak to keep warm when sleeping. It goes on and on -- she insists he wear it, he insists she wear it, and finally -- gasp! -- they cuddle together for warmth and both sleep under the cloak, although we assured that she retains her maidenhood and this is only right and virtuous and does not imply anything improper whatsoever is going on between them.

About this point you start to wish that something less than virtuous _would_ take place between them it it would become a Different Kind of Story, just to relieve the tedium.

He calls her at various points his Babe, his Slave, his Own. He even whacks her (lovingly, I suppose) to try to correct her behavior on a couple of occasions. If this was a Gor book, a consensual S&M subtext would make the book more interesting, but here it just makes me wince. It makes me want to rewrite the second half from her perspective; I'm not sure that she looks up at him with quite the hero-worship that he imagines she does.

It is still quite a beautiful and fascinating book, and it isn't quite fair to condemn Hodgson for his somewhat weird idealism regarding romance; this book is almost a hundred years old, and things are different. In a way it's almost sweet.

This afternoon I recorded a reading of Chapter 1, which is often condemned, because it takes place in Hodgson's past. It is interesting, though -- Hodgson models his hero on his own idealized self (he was a bodybuilder). It is a brief and flowery romantic tale, but it is also more than that -- the events of chapter 1 prefigure much of what goes on in the later story set in the distant future. I have a feeling that Hodgson had in mind the various interpretations of the Bible where events from the Old Testament are shown to prefigure events in the New Testament. It is easy to just ignore it because it is flowery romance, but it deserves study. I'll get Chapter 1 edited and completed at some point and perhaps introduce it, and then consider whether I want to continue from there.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Carnacki 1

I've uploaded the first Carnacki story, The Gateway of the Monster. (The actual order depends on whether you count the order published, the order written, or the order they appeared in one of the various anthologies... in any case, going by the first published anthology, "The Gateway of the Monster" is number one. "The Thing Invisible" was, I think, written first, but it is longer and not quite so engaging.

This time I normalized the audio with peaks at 0 dB instead of -3, and that seems to have worked OK without resulting in clipping. If I can, I will go back and normalize the others to the same level. This might result in some degradation of audio quality (well, not that there was all that much "audio quality" to begin with -- even in the quietest room I can find, there is still a surprisingly high level of background noise on the recording; I still don't know where it is all coming from).

I don't have a copy of the original edited audio file before normalizing once (because of my very limited hard disk space). I am attaching a spare FireWire 160G drive to give me a little more space to work with for editing; maybe I can use the internal hard drive just for recording the raw audio and do everything else on the external drive, and save all revisions. The finished files are quite small (on the order or 10 megabytes) but the raw AIFFs are generally at least 10 times bigger. This gets into the whole "how do you back up a hard drive" dilemma, and the problem of maintaining a backup plan for a number of loose drives!

I have an experimental version of a small excerpt from _The Night Land_. When I'm satisfied with that I'll make it available as well.

After that, another Gault -- those are relatively easy and quick to read.

If you are downloading these, drop me a line and tell me what you think. Would you rather hear more Carnacki? More Gault? More of the standalones? A dramatization? Would you rather I never recorded another word?

Monday, May 01, 2006

More Podcasts

Here is the URL for my podcast on Apple's music store. If you have iTunes installed, this should take you directly to my podcast page. Note: I need some artwork!

If you want to download the files directly, here is a very basic index page that links directly to the audio files on thepottshouse.org.

And here is the link to the RSS feed (the XML file). If you don't use iTunes, or if you want to bypass the music store, you can use this URL to subscribe directly. To do it with iTunes you use the "Subscribe to Podcast..." command located under the Advanced menu. Just enter the URL. If you have some other tool that reads Podcast RSS feeds, you should be able to use that same URL.

I have recorded and uploaded two more stories. I have found a quieter spot to record, at least for now, so the audio quality is a bit better. One story is the first of the Captain Gault stories, about a smuggler, and the other is a standalone nautical horror/science fiction story.

Coming soon: another Carnacki story -- one of the best ones -- "The Gateway of the Monster." I did the read-through, and it needs an editing pass. Editing actually takes longer than the reading, especially when the story doesn't flow well verbally and I have to keep starting sentences over.

Hodgson's prose is often written as though it were spoken -- Carnacki is, on paper, the narrator, speaking out loud to an audience -- and you can imagine it being spoken, with little digresions and turns of phrase that "look" like speech. But when you go to actually speak it out loud, you realize that quite a few of his sentences are exceedingly awkward in the mouth, almost tongue-twisters.

Then there's _The Night Land_. This makes no attempt to sound like spoken language. The text is very dense and written in a flowery, faux-archaic style, with very long sentences with lots of semi-colons; to make it coherent to the ear, and avoid having these sentences turn into a meaningless jumble, I have to to read them very slowly. I've taken a stab at recording some fragments of it. It's a big novel; I'd imagine that a reading might require something like 40 or 50 hours. If I can pick a nice excerpt that conveys something of the flavor of the writing, I'll give that a shot. It is really moving and beautiful, but just may not be suitable for audio, or maybe it just needs a different reader.

Happy May Day!