Ripping CDs for Fun

OK, maybe fun is not the right word, but over the last few years, I’ve been ‘digitally archiving’ a few items – it started with some old photo prints and negatives (that’s ongoing), and then I tackled my DVDs, and now I’m looking to sort my CD collection out (I think it’s ~400 discs).

So why do this? It’s a combination of convenience and sound quality really. I want to hear the music as I paid for it, but it’s a bit difficult to have all those CDs available around the house, and keep them away from the kids. Also, I have ripped all my CDs once, usually into iTunes, and over the years they’ve been in a smorgasbord of bit rates and formats, from 128kbps AAC and MP3, up to newer ones which are VBR ~256kbps AAC.

Now I’m doing this final rip to a lossless format, I can then simply transcode to whatever size/quality a target needs in the future, and enjoy that ‘CD quality’ of this master.

How am I doing this? For the rip, I’m using Exact Audio Copy which is a nice piece of freeware, and rips the audio from the disc using a variety of methods to try to make sure that what you get, as its name suggests, is an exact copy of the disc. It’ll then save this, with all the meta-data it looks up online as either .WAV files, or several other formats you can set up. I’m using the FLAC encoder, so it’s losslessly compressed, and is quite widely supported across players and platforms. This is also open source, so I should be able to play/convert it well into the future.

With even my lowly Windows machine, this takes only a few minutes per disc, including meta data tweaks I need for some of the non-English discs, so it’s more a case of just feeding the machine than anything else. As for size, FLAC, depending on settings, brings most of the CDs in at around 350MB, about half their native size, but obviously nowhere near the ~65MB AAC or MP3 would give you – alas the price you pay, but given disk space costs, it’s not a deal killer.

When at my PC, I tend to listen on my Sennheiser HD-555 headphones, via Foobar2000, which I find to be a nice, simple sound app. The hardware, for what it’s worth, is a Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCI Express card, which I find to sound better than the onboard Realtek codec, or the HDMI audio feed. On the Mac, it’s the built in Intel HD audio, which sounds acceptable, but the Creative card shows why there’s still a little more benefit in a separate sound card.

When not using the headphones, I have some ancient Sony SRS-Z750PC computer speakers which are fine for podcasts, background music and game effects, but aren’t great. In the future I may get a better set of speakers and even a separate amplifier for my computers, but that’ll have to wait a bit. (A real home music system for the living room is higher up the agenda!).

Is it worth the time? Actually, I think it has been – some of my very old rips always sounded a bit harsh, and going back to listening to the CD equivalent makes it all the more difficult to live with, and its been good to listen to all that music again.

New iPod ‘classic’ 80GB

I finally decided it was time to upgrade my 4.5 year old third generation iPod since Apple refreshed the lines last week. I plumped for the 80GB version of the new ‘iPod Classic’.

Yes, it is weird having a new product so much better than the one I have, but be called a ‘classic’. I suppose this means it’ll disappear after this. Anyway, here’s a comparison with my old one – it’s a similar footprint, bigger colour screen and it’s much thinner.

80gbipod

I put some pics on flickr! too [now removed]. I’ll add a mini review to Brightblack after a couple of weeks with it. So far, it’s great.

Stadium Arcadium

I’ve been a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan for quite a long time now – about 15 years I think. I’ve always liked their funkier work more than their mid tempo balladry. That is, I listen to ‘Mother’s Milk‘ and ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik‘ more than ‘Californication‘ and ‘By The Way‘, but I’m not slighting those albums either as they both have tracks in my top 50 most listened to.

I was intrigued though that the new release “Stadium Arcadium” would be a double album given that that usually sends the signal of a desperate record company realising they don’t have enough for a single decent outing.

I was also wondering whether they were following their previous two (very similar) releases, or whether they’d be trying something else.

I’ve only had the CDs for a couple of days – listening to them in a hotel room in Hong Kong, and on my iPod coming back to Tokyo – and so far my fears don’t hold – both CDs are well worth listening to. RHCP seem to have tried to do a few more funky tracks here, as well as the more soulful recent stylings on this outing, but again the star is the John Frusciante on guitar. It’s more like a compendium of tracks from their whole history stylistically, and although the lyrics are somewhat cleaner than they used to be, some are just as nonsensical.

Pick up a copy – it’s a great summer set.

Takarazuka

Takarazuka is a theatre group, (though now almost a style of theatre in itself) which takes it’s name from it’s town of origin – Takarazuka – in Hyogo Prefecture. What differentiates Takarazuka, is that all of the roles are played by women. Stylistically, you might say it’s very ‘fairy-tale princess’ driven – lots of big frilly dresses, sequins and generally over-the-top performances. It also commands fanatical following from a mainly female fan base.

The production I went to see was the rather famous “Berusaiyu no Bara” (‘The Rose of Versailles’), allegedly based on some of the life of Marie Antoinette.

When you enter the Takarazuka theatre in Tokyo’s Yurakucho area, it’s all in theme – huge chandeliers, bentos being sold and adverts for every other production and TV show the actresses will be in. The first thing that will strike you is that not only will all the roles be played by women, but 99.9% of the audience are women too. I exchanged nods with the couple of other men in the cafeteria, both of whom were being led by their wives, and who were already making in-roads into some beers.

Since I’m probably only going to do this once, I was really pleased we got seats in the second row, although this is also kind of risky, as you see just how much make-up can be applied to human skin before it cracks.

To me, Takarazuka seems to have become one of those things where you don’t go and see a play/musical for the story-line, you go to see it for what it is – Takarazuka. The story-line was just pointless (really, Marie Antoinette as a nice fluffy person?), the costumes were huge and the general production values were about the same as most amateur dramatics shows; even the dancing was average, but then I must admit, it can’t be easy dancing in huge ballroom dresses which must’ve weighed more than I do. However, the producers know their audience, and they play to them 100%. I suspect that less than 5% of the audience were at their first Takarazuka – I suspect for many it’s a very regular thing.

Though I could follow most of the plot quite easily, I did get one bit wrong – I thought when Marie as a child speaks to her doll ‘Stefan’, I thought she was alluding to another character we were yet to see. Nope, she was indeed just chatting to her doll, though I was correct in my belief that Stefan would get a bigger role, and he makes another triumphant appearance just before Marie’s death. Don’t worry though, the plot really isn’t important here.

What it does well is it’s complete fairy-tale nature and melodramatic over acting. The famous death scene in the second half goes on and on for a few minutes. Poor Andre takes about ten bullets before he (she) finally slumps over a Parisian bridge (which wobbled as he/she did so, though whether that was due to poor construction or just the weight of the over-acting is difficult to say).

At this point I didn’t know whether to laugh or not, it was hilarious, but the woman next to me had her handkerchief out and was crying … AndoooreeeeeOsukaaaaa!

Like many of these kind of things, after you get over the ‘What the hell is going on?’ feeling from the first five minutes, and suspend disbelief a bit, you do actually start liking it, but just when you’re comfortable with the format, something odd happens.

Antoinette is executed, then her ghost ascends to heaven (unlikely but anyway), then, the stage is full of a lit stair case with can-can dancers coming down it… it’s hard to see where the plot goes then as there is a ten minute set of dance numbers featuring flamenco and more contemporary numbers.

In summary then, it is what it is, and it is worth doing just once, as long as you treat it as a musical revue, rather than a serious dramatic or musical production, as it likely isn’t. It is though something that is just as Japanese as Kabuki is (and that being an all male cast), and really should be on any ‘to do’ list that has Kabuki on it. It’s probably the biggest piece of ‘cosplay’ (costume play) going.

And yes, I did nod off for a minute or two during one of the slower ‘plot explanation’ scenes, and was woken by women in big dresses spinning around not five metres from me!

Southern All Stars Live 3

It seems every other post here is about the Southern All Stars. Well, on December 30th (2005), we went to see them again at the Yokohama Arena, and again, they were absolutely fantastic. So, from having never seen them before, in the the second half of 2005, we saw them three times, each time in different settings: Rock in Japan Festival, the Tokyo Dome, and now at the Yokohama Arena.

Whilst the songs for the latter two were pretty similar, it was great (again) seeing them in a smaller venue, and from a different angle, to really appreciate the live show, and really, there aren’t many bands nowadays who can keep a place moving for three hours solid.

The question then might be why we saw two stadium gigs in a months, and the answer is because we applied for both dates in a kind of raffle, and their tickets sell out within a day usually, and so we were really pleased we actually got allotted two sets of tickets. Also, as I understand it, they often do their live shows at the end of the year.

Southern All Stars Live

OK, I admit this is a bit late, but last week (Dec. 1st), we went to the Tokyo Dome to see Southern All Stars live, and really, it was probably the best live gig I’ve seen – ever.

Almost three hours of continuous music, by probably Japan’s best band. Complete with an amazing light show, screens, dancers, fireworks and balloons big enough to be out of ‘The Prisoner‘, the whole night was just amazing.

For me, it was great that they included a lot of my favourite songs, including the single ‘Bohbo No.5’, complete with hilarious animations running around the back screens, ‘Rock and Roll Superman’, and ‘Yellow Man’, which is the first time I’d seen that live, and it really is a great live track. That made up for a lack of ‘Manpi no G-spot’ in the set though!

Compared to the previous live show at ‘Rock in Japan’, and despite it’s length and the size of the hall, this seemed a little bit more ‘for the fans’, with Kuwata, the lead singer, showing why he’s not only a good vocalist, but also a consumate showman, chatting with the crowd and generally setting the mood. It also let the band put some stunning visuals on some moving video walls, from patterns, to animations to photos, illustrating each song, and doing some of their slower, more melodic songs.

Fortunately for us, we’ll see them *again* on Dec. 30th in Yokohama, but it seems that generally, it’s really hard to get tickets, because they don’t tour that often anymore – indeed Kuwata lamented that at 49 and a smoker, he’s not sure how much longer he can do it (Though as he runs around the stage dressed as a schoolboy, you’d never guess his age!).

For those who have no idea who these people are, I really recommend buying or renting the new double CD “Killer Street”, which is a combination of some reworked old songs, and a lot of new tracks.

Personally, I’ve been really impressed with them, and it’s great to see a band who can put tens of thousands of fans in an arena and do a long, fantastic show. Roll on Dec. 30th!

Rock in Japan ’05

Just a week after 3 days at the Fuji Rock Festival, yesterday we headed out to Ibaraki for a day at the Rock in Japan festival, mainly to check out the Southern All Stars who put on an absolutely fantastic gig. If you haven’t heard or seen them, they really are worth a trip.

No full pics, but take a look at the flickr! stream. It was very hot and sunny though, which made a change. I’ll tack a full review onto the Fuji Rock one if I ever finish it.

AirTunes

Last week I bought myself an Apple Airport Express. It’s a fairly regular wireless 802.11b/g access point amongst other wireless functions, it’s very small, stylish box, and, being from Apple costs a bit more than other slightly less well designed rival products.

The only wireless product I own right now is my PSP. So now I can get game downloads on my PSP! Great! Hang on, I could do that from hotspots around Tokyo anyway. So why?

Actually, both of the above, but also because of Airtunes. Airtunes is an extension of iTunes which basically pumps out a stream to Airport Express which then pumps it out through it’s small optical/3.5mm jack socket on one of it’s sides and from there into the back of my stereo. The benefit is that in my apartment there’s a wall mounted network port just behind my TV / stereo which my Airport Express is wired into. Thus, I can send my huge iTunes library to my stereo for almost 10 days of continuous songs!