I read in the newspaper that tonight was going to be “An Avant-Garde Guitar Extravaganza”, so I thought I would start on Piano.
Mike Keneally gets down to business on a “legal bootleg” take that a fellow fan was kind enough to share with me. Even more amazingly, this is a live recording which has not been through any audio compression, only Shorten format lossless compression* to make the files smaller for download. It’s a long concert, with two sets, in which Keneally is joined by his friend Henry Kaiser; in the second set, which I haven’t got around to yet, Michael Manring gets involved, something else for me to look forward to. Still, Keneally is the main attraction, a big guy who attacks everything he does with an infectious enthusiasm.
This concert is from August 2000, just before the release of the Dancing album, and he plays several songs from that album in solo form, voice plus guitar or piano. One song is Live In Japan, a song about a wish to live in Japan, and an awful pun on the Live In Japan albums released by every other band during the 70’s. On acoustic guitar alone, Mike extends the middle section, and gets so involved in improvising that he almost forgets to start the second verse, then totally forgets the words by the time he gets there. “Never mind”, he says, “I’ll do another song”, before taking a few requests from the audience, one of which is for… the rest of Live In Japan. Polished and professional? No, not really. Fun? Hell, yes!
A long way from the Rush concerts last month, which were tightly scripted and choreographed with lighting and special effects. Geddy may have nearly forgotten the words at some point – understandable given the age of some material – but he had a couple of flat panels on stage as teleprompters. Yet Rush publicly take pride in controlling the music themselves, with help from some advanced technology, and there certainly was enough slack in the arrangements for things to go wrong on several occasions, with dropped notes leaving one or other of the guys down on the upbeat, or the other way round.
How would I respond to the same requirements? Would I even have the same requirements? The Rush way of using technology in music has evolved over more than two decades, not quite from scratch. Since they were able to learn from the experience of earlier bands like Yes, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, you might say the equipment was “second generation”. Because Rush already had instruments to play, however, their challenge was integrating technology with their existing working methods. It wasn’t always possible, of course, and some of Rush’s best work evolved directly from these limitations. Subdivisions – probably my all-time favourite Rush song – is split into musically discrete sections as Geddy switches instruments: intro and verses on synthesiser, including synth bass, then choruses on electric bass. The solo section is also “subdivided” in the same way, a plaintive synth solo followed by some liberating guitar from Alex, before the synth takes over, the walls close in and the yearning for escape is once again encased in glass.
* Normal “ZIP”-type compression relies on regular patterns in the data, something you rarely find in any audio (except silence), so special measures are required. The kind of compression used MiniDisc or MP3 format is “lossy”, because the encoder analyses the audio and uses our knowledge of psychoacoustics to leave components out, shrinking file sizes down to a tenth of the original (more or less, depending on the quality settings you use). This is still the most common way of encoding audio for use on the internet, but what if you don’t want lossy compression affecting your sound? This is why lossless audio compression schemes are becoming more popular, most notably FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Compression) and Shorten, both of which are free to use for encoding and decoding. The compression ratios these achieve are nowhere near as good as MP3 or ATRAC (MiniDisc), around 2:1, but the results speak for themselves: genuine CD quality with no loss of information across the audio spectrum.