February 13, 2005

Lais - Douce Victime

Almost a year ago, I refused to buy Douce Victime by Flemish sirens Lais because it was on one of those shiny non-CD CDs that EMI puts out routinely. (I am currently refusing to buy the solo album from Kaizers Orkestra main man Janove Ottesen for the same reason, and am very worried about the forthcoming new Kate Bush album. Let's hope that, like Pink Floyd, she can use her clout within EMI to put a stop to that nonsense.) However, this has never been an absolute boycott - instead I consider ShinyDisks to be severely devalued by the playback problems they cause me and the need to (irony of ironies, all is irony) make backup copies immediately after buying them because the so-called copy protection technology breaks the error correction track and makes the disks much more damage-prone. If a CD like that gets marked down, I think about buying it again. Douce Victime is currently on sale, so I got it.

It's an interesting record. There's more material from the girls' extensive collection of the bleakest songs the Flemish tradition has to offer, plus another Jacques Brel piece, "Marieke". Once again, they create the impression of historical Flanders as a dismal place in which life was nasty, brutish and short, especially for orphaned girls without kith or kin. The trio's strident voices and dissonant harmonies (the first time I heard them, I needed some time to wrap my brain around the concept of what sounded like a Finnish vocal group singing in Dutch) give these songs the effect of an ice cold shower.
My favorite tracks, though, are the more upbeat ones like their cover version of a jem from my childhood: Herman van Veen's "Opzij", in which they go completely over the top with the vocals, breaking up their sweetly dissonant harmonies by singing in canon over a giddy country beat with ditto fiddles.
I'm not sure if I like the record's big production. Compared to their earlier work, it sounds wrong somehow. It's a Lais album, not the Alan Parson's project, and I'm not sure if engineer Andrew Powell (of APP and Kate Bush) has realised that.
Overall, I'm enjoying this one, and I'm a bit frustrated that I can't seem to find the record on Amazon US or Amazon UK. Amazon UK only has the girls' 1998 debut album with no cover art or track listing info. Order that one instead. Emmylou Harris wants you to.
They'll be playing in Groningen in less than a week. I found out just in time through seeing a poster for the concert in Vera when I was at a concert by the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, who, by the way, are also not to be missed.

Posted by rocr at 04:28 PM

October 05, 2004

Burn remasters

The Highway Star has a good feature on the remasters of Deep Purple's Burn album, criticising the choice of bonus tracks and recommending that buyers avoid the European pressing:

The European pressing of the remastered Burn is plagued by a Copy Control system that the record labels seem hell-bent on shoving down our throats. No, illegal copying of music is not endorsed, but manhandling the music that is the very livelihood of these companies is offensive, annoying and counterproductive. Throw the remastered Burn CD into your PC's CD-rom drive and it'll start up a mini media-player window (of sorts) which will only play back compressed versions of the music on the disc. Fine. Anyone should be able to live with this - that is, if the music hadn't been encoded at a measly 64 kbps! This postively ruins any listening experience as it makes the music sound like it came drifting in from a remote AM station broadcasting with stolen pre-WWII equipment. Yes, it's that bad.

The low quality of the pre-ripped files shows EMI Europe's lack of seriousness about the remaster program and their contempt for their consumer base. Fans buy remastered editions expecting the sound quality to be better than the original release. While Deep Purple's core audience consists of baby boomers who probably have CD players, their records are also bought by people now in their teens and early twenties, many of whom only play CDs (the ones that buy and play CDs at all are a highly desirable market within the youth demographic) on their computers*). If, when you sell a remastered CD to them, what they actually get for their € 19 is a much inferior sound quality than the original release, you have cheated a kid or a student out of their allowance, student loan or MacJob wages. Way to go, EMI!

My fear is that EMI will see any lack of interest in the remasters in Europe as evidence that buyers aren't interested in Deep Purple material after the Mark II era. Record companies have a habit of grabbing the wrong end of the stick when it comes to interpreting sales results. For example, the remastered editions of the second, third and fourth King Crimson albums were under-printed because Virgin concluded, based on low back catalogue sales of the previous editions of those albums, that few people would want to buy the remasters. It took them a while to find out that the reason people didn't buy the previous editions because they were waiting for those remasters, which had been in the pipeline for a year!

Back to the Deep Purple reissue. I disagree with Highway Star writer Rasmus Heide's criticism of the bonus tracks. I would not have opted for hissy, jangling rehearsal tracks instead of the remixes. I would have opted for leaving the rehearsal tracks and the remixes off the album, leaving only the original mix of "Coronarias Redig" as a semi-bonus track (it's available from a few other sources). On nearly all the remastered records that I discussed in last week's barrage, I found the bonus tracks eminently skippable, and this is also my opinion of the bonus tracks on Island's Richard Thompson reissues, and most of the bonus tracks on the previous Deep Purple remasters for that matter. Less is more when it comes to altering the running order or track selection of a classic album.

*). Not that this is only the case with youngsters. For a while, I was in the position of only being able to play CDs on my computer, and the DVD player I bought to replace my broken CD player has a lot of problems with Copy-Controled disks. And there's BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow who doesn't use a CD player, and he's older than me.

Posted by rocr at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 01, 2004

Sony blinks!

Via Boing Boing:

Engadget reports that Sony is going to stop releasing music on ShinyDisk:

Seems Sony is going through something of a change of heart recently: following its decision to support MP3 in its audio players comes news that, in Japan at least, Sony Music Entertainment is ditching copy-control CDs from November. They claim the reason is “an increase in awareness by music consumers”, which we assume is supposed to mean that they’ve succeeded in educating everyone that copying CDs is a bad thing. Dare we suggest that the truth is simply that they’re starting to see the light?

Posted by rocr at 08:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

ShinyDisk Watch: more about the Beastie Boys album

This rumor has been going around about the new Beastie Boys album that I blogged about earlier. The Register writes:

According to a recent thread at BugTraq, an executable file is automatically and silently installed on the user's machine when the CD is loaded. The file is said to be a driver that prevents users from ripping the CD (and perhaps others), and attacks both Windows boxen and Macs.

The infected CD is being distributed worldwide except in the USA and UK, which prevents us from giving a firsthand report. However, according to hearsay, we gather that the Windows version exploits the 'autorun' option, and that the Mac version affects the auto play option.

My experience with ShinyDisks is that they do attempt to install something; however, this is the first reputable source I've seen where it is claimed that what it installs is code that affects the way CDs are handled themselves. What I've seen suggested rather that the software that gets installed is a bunch of codecs and a skin for Windows Media Player to present the playback of the "pre-ripped" files (low-quality WMAs) that are present on the CD. Not that that didn't royally piss me off when I was first confronted with this almost a year ago.

But then, what do I know? I'll follow this issue closely and will mention it here when there's any credible confirmation or refutation of the "Beastie Boys virus" rumor.

(Also, I'm creating a special ShinyDisk Watch category for the Blog. I expect to write on this a lot.)

Update: Malicious driver confirmed! J. Alex Halderman of Princeton University writes an Analysis of the MediaMax CD3 Copy-Prevention System:

Windows has a feature called "autorun" that automatically starts programs from CDs when they are inserted into the computer. If a MediaMax-protected CD is placed in a PC that has autorun enabled, Windows runs a file called LaunchCD.exe located on the disc. This program provides access to the DRM-controlled encrypted content, but it also loads a special device driver into the system's memory. On Windows 2000/XP, this driver is called SbcpHid. The LaunchCD.exe program also presents an end user license agreement (EULA). If the user ever clicks Accept to agree to the terms of the license, the MediaMax driver is set to remains active even after the computer is rebooted. The driver examines each CD placed in the machine, and when it recognizes the protected title, it actively interferes with read operations on the audio content. Similar methods are used to protect the tracks on Windows 98/ME and Mac OSX systems.

This behavior can be verified by loading then disabling MediaMax according to the following instructions:
Start with a Windows 2000/XP system with empty CD drives.

Click the Start button and select Control Panel from the Start Menu.
Double-click on the System control panel icon.
Select the Hardware tab and click the Device Manager button.
Configure Device Manager by clicking "Show hidden devices" and "Devices by connection," both from the View menu.
Insert the Anthony Hamilton CD into the computer and allow the SunnComm software to start. If MediaMax has never been started before on the same computer, the SbcpHid driver should appear on the list for the first time. However, on some systems Windows needs to be rebooted before the driver becomes visible.

At this point you can attempt to copy tracks from the CD with applications like MusicMatch Jukebox or Windows Media Player. Copies made while the driver is active will sound badly garbled, as in this 9-second clip [10].

Next, follow these additional steps to disable MediaMax:
Select the SbcpHid driver from the Device Manager list and click "Properties" from the Action Menu.
Click the Driver tab and click the Stop button to disable the driver.
Set the Startup Type to "Disabled" using the dropdown list.

With the driver stopped, you can verify that the same applications copy every track successfully. Setting the Startup Type to disabled prevents MediaMax from restarting when the computer is rebooted. It will remain deactivated until LaunchCD.exe is allowed to run again.

Posted by rocr at 01:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

ShinyDisk watch: The Beastie Boys

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing reports that the new Beastie Boys record has copy protection, and responds to it in the same way that everyone else does when confronted with this technology:

... If the Beasties wanna treat me like a crook, I don't want to be their customer.

Note that the only thing that this DRM is doing here is pissing off the honest fans who want open CDs; the DRM on the CD didn't stop my source from making me a set of MP3s. In other words, if you plan on listening to the new disc on your iPod or laptop, you're better off downloading a copy made by a cracker and posted on Kazaa -- if you buy it in a shop, you're going to have to go through the lawbreaking rigamarole of breaking the DRM yourself.

In an update, Cory passes along a comment:

Update: Ian sez, "Hi, I'm not sure who posted re: Beastie Boys copy protection, but I just spoke with Mike D and their management and they wanted me to pass along that a) This is all territories except the US and UK -- US and UK discs do not have this protection on them; b) All EMI CDs are treated this way, theirs isn't receiving special treatment; c) They would have preferred not to have the copy protection, but weren't allowed to differ from EMI policy."

I'm pretty sure that c) is bunk. The copy protection has been the norm for EMI since the second half of 2003, but I recently bought the European edition of the remastered version of Pink Floyd's The Final Cut with a copyright date of 2004, and it's unprotected. Apparently, the guys from Pink Floyd, even now that Roger Waters is no longer talking to the others, still have enough clout to prevent Copy Control technology that, in addition to the concerns Cory raises, also harms playability and degrade the sound. Over at Virgin records, Peter Gabriel also succesfully resisted the use of Copy Control on his remaster series, so it can be done.

Beastie Boys fans on the European continent are well advised to get the UK edition from a mail order supplier (so that if it turns out to be a ShinyDisk after all, they can return it as defective).

(Just by way of a reminder: the UK-based Campaign for Digital Rights have all the info on what Copy Control technologies actually do, and it's from a reference in one of their articles (can't remember which though) that I got the idea of calling CCT "CD"s ShinyDisks.)

Posted by rocr at 04:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 17, 2004

At least it makes my purchasing decisions easier

Flemish vocal goddesses Lais have released a new album. Unfortunately, what it's released on is a shiny disk that may or may not cause music to be played if it is placed in a CD player. So I'll wait for it to either go to mid-price or be released on CD. Instead, I bought the new Finntroll album Nattfödwhich had also just arrived in the shops. It plays in anything! And it's quite alright even if it's not as good as Jaktens Tid.

Seriously, I've had so many playback problems with the last batch of CDs that I bought that had so-called copy control technology on them that I'm losing patience with them even as cheap reissues of albums I already know to be essential. I won't boycott them outright, but it's a huge strike against any album if it's unplayable in my discman or computer.

Posted by rocr at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2004

Bothered by "Copy-protected" (i.e. broken) CDs?

Everything you need to know about them can be found at UK Campaign for Digital Rights.

Posted by rocr at 12:10 AM

March 01, 2004

Lines join in faint discord as the Stormwatch brews

Currently listening to: Stormwatch and A by Jethro Tull. These are the remastered editions. Both bear the logo of hate but I bought them anyway, because they are still very attractive to me as a long-standing Tullie overall.
Buyer Beware though: both albums had tracking errors on my Diskman. The DVD player can cope with them fine.

Stormwatch is the last of a trio of folky-sounding albums, but it's much darker than its predecessors. Ian Anderson played much of the bass guitarhimself and I love his angular approach to the instrument. It doesn't sound like any other bassist I know. All the other instrumental playing is excellent. However, the record is let down by the songwriting, which doesn't have the fluency of Tull's best efforts.

A, which I already had an original release CD of, is a much more interesting album musically. The arrival of three new musicians gave the group more of an edge, and the sound was unmistakably fresh and new. The apocalyptic tone of "Protect and Survive" and "Fylingdale Flyer" fit the mood of the time very well, and these songs still stand today. Unlike Stormwatch, A has no bonus tracks, but instead has a bonus DVD containing the long-unavailable "Slipstream" video.
What's annoying about all concert recordings from Tull is Anderson's tendency to a) tinker with the recording in the studio, re-doing much of the vocals, and b) in the case of videos, the misguided urge to make them "more than just a concert registration", which leads to the interpolation of staged video fragments, recordings from other sources and the use of cheesy effects. Living With The Past was marred by this, but the problem, if anything, was worse with Slipstream, where the concert footage is rudely interrupted by a music video set to "Sweet Dream" off the Bursting Out album, and another one of the then-current band performing a cheesy mime act to "Too Old to Rock'n'Roll, Too Young To Die", recorded five years earlier by a different line-up of the group. On the up side, the concert footage itself is excellent, and one other video, for "Fylingdale Flyer" is actually moderately interesting. The package as a whole is more than satisfying.

Posted by rocr at 12:11 AM | Comments (2)