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Must-Hear Song of the Day: In Your Atmosphere (LA Song) by John Mayer

Poignant and raw and dripping with regret, this song breaks my heart into a million pieces every time I hear it.  So, on that note, enjoy! “I’d die if I saw you, I’d die if I didn’t see you…”

I promise I’ll pick a joyful song one of these days, but in the meantime I’ll be keeping Kleenex in the black.

-Benevolent Siren

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: “The Cave (Bookshop sessions)” by Mumford & Sons

A Grammy 2012 nominee for Record of the Year, Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” is a nuanced and engaging track that I can’t stop listening to. The banjo is fun and lends a kind of frenetic energy to the song, while Marcus Mumford’s satisfying growl puts delightful substance behind the lyrics. (I call it a growl mostly because his name sounds to me like a well-dressed British lion detective character from a kid’s book. Maybe I’ll write a kid’s book just so I can use that name.)

 

While you watch that, I’m going to go write chapter one of Marcus Mumford and the Case of the Jungle Bow-Tie Thief. …I’m still workshopping the title.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part II)

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

To read the first part of this post, visit The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I). As the title suggest, this playlist is the perfect soundtrack for taking action, taking chances and taking charge of your own destiny. Also, the songs are pretty catchy if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

8. “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked: This is the ultimate feel-good, do-your-own-thing, break-all-the-rules anthem. Plus it’s from a musical and thus a perfect sing-along. “Something has changed within me / Something is not the same / I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game / Too late for second guessing / Too late to go back to sleep / It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap / It’s time to try defying gravity / … / And you won’t bring me down” Aaand goosebumps. Yeah, obstacles, you WON’T bring me down. So there.

 

LIKE SO.

9. “I Woke Up In A Car” by Something Corporate: “Here I am, well here I am / … / I’ve never been so lost, I’ve never felt so much at home / Please write my folks and throw away my keys / I woke up in a car.” This song is about the freedom and clarity that can arise from aimlessness, which I definitely need to hear about at this juncture. Plus it’s really fun to dance to, and it’s impossible to worry when you’re dancing with the appropriate level of enthusiasm. (In case you’re wondering, the appropriate level of enthusiasm when dancing is AS ENTHUSIASTIC AS YOU CAN BE.)

 

10. “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine: In which Florence reminds me that you can’t really control what happens, so just get ready to roll with the punches and take chances. All you can do is open yourself up to the world and let the experiences wash over you. “And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t / So here’s to drinks in the dark, at the end of my rope / And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope / It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat / … / But what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen to me, yeah”

 

11. “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons: The Cave was nominated for Record Of The Year at the 2012 Grammys, and it’s easy to hear why—it’s hard to resist screaming along that “I’LL FIND STRENGTH IN PAIN” and “I WILL CHANGE MY WAYS!” Anthemic and singable, this song isn’t to be missed. “But I need freedom now and I need to know how to live my life as it’s meant to be…”

 

12. “Dancing with a Gun” by Jack’s Mannequin: Dancing with a gun sounds like a fairly dangerous pursuit, but no guts, no glory. Like all the songs in this collection, “Dancing with a Gun” urges the listener to bust out of the comfort zone and take action, however uncertain the outcome. “Sometimes we’re stuck, most times we’re drifting / But tonight let’s move / … / You’re dancing with a gun / Your hands are shaking / Just take another shot in the dark / Don’t keep your safety on…”

 

Ah, the open road.

13. “Boston” by Augustana: This one’s a little melodramatic, but fitting nonetheless. The protagonist of this piano-rock ditty seeks the comfort of anonymity and a fresh start, which is an appropriate theme for a Change Your Life playlist: “I think I’ll start a new life / I think I’ll start it over / where no one knows my name…” As a bonus, the song is lovely.

 

BONUS. “The Motto” by Drake feat. Lil Wayne: Drake didn’t really fit musically into this collection of songs, but I couldn’t resist throwing this song in as a bonus track. It’s a rap song, not a ballad or anthem, but it’s a good one to have in your back pocket when you need to put a little attitude in your step. I certainly do every now and then. Use in case of self-confidence emergency: “You only live once, that’s the motto / … / **** what anybody say / Can’t see ‘em ‘cause the money in the way” …WHAT’S UP. The bass line will have you feeling like a champion in no time. (If you’re interested, you can read more about how bass can affect your mood.)

 

Well, that’s all the songs I have. Armed with this playlist and determination, I’m off into the great unknown to forge my path on this big blue orb. I’ll keep you posted.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I)

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

Sometimes you have to make a change, and for me that time is one week from now. I won’t go into details because I don’t really know the details yet, but suffice it to say I’m gearing up to make some major life changes (geographical and otherwise) and my future is totally open-ended. On the one hand, I know through and through that I need to shake things up and open myself to new experiences. On the other hand, change can be daunting and, if I’m totally honest, a little terrifying. I flip on a momentary basis between excitement and fear, and as the date approaches I’m finding the anticipation to be rather exhausting. Luckily, I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing that music flowing through my headphones can’t make a little easier, so I’ve combed through my library of tunes to find the gems that will help me navigate uncertain waters with optimism and joy and certainty that I’m doing the right thing. Without further ado, I give you The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I):

1. I’m Ready by Jack’s Mannequin: As the title suggests, this is a song about being READY. A strict interpretation indicates that the singer is ready to end a relationship, but this can also apply to making a change in general. I especially love the way this song starts, with the spoken line “And today was a day just like any other.” In a way, this reminds me of why I’m going for broke: I don’t want today, and the next day, and the next day to be just like any other. The rest of the lyrics are a mantra that I need to keep repeating until I believe it: “I’m ready / I’m ready to drop / I’m ready / I’m ready so don’t stop / Keep pushing, I’m ready to fall / Don’t stop, I’m already gone.”

2. No Such Thing by John Mayer: A common theme of this playlist is the assertion that one must forge his or her own path, ignoring preset notions of how to live your life and creating your own destiny. This theme is the core message of Mayer’s hit, with lyrics like “I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.” Amen, John!

3. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield: This song is a definitive call to action with the most upbeat melody you could hope to find. Singing along makes me feel like I’m on top of the world and I can’t wait to embrace whatever’s next. “Reaching for something in the distance / So close you can almost taste it / Release your inhibitions / Feel the rain on your skin / No one else can feel it for you / … / Live your life with arms wide open / Today is where your book begins / The rest is still unwritten.” In other words, uncertainty is an essential part of an adventurous existence and today is the first day of the rest of my life. If it rained more than twice a year in California, I’d be inspired to go feel it on my skin right now.

4. Live Like We’re Dying by Kris Allen: A little on the nose, but I’m not looking for lyrical subtlety here. Kris Allen has essentially the same message as Ms. Bedingfield, but he’s a little more morbid about it, citing mortality as motivation to live in a meaningful way. At the end of the day, can you think of any better motivation? This song will always give me a kick if I need one. Also, death is pretty scary, so it makes moving away seem a lot less scary by comparison. Key inspirational lyric: “So if your life flashed before you, what would you wish you would have done?” [Incidentally, another song with the same message is “Hey Hey Hey, We’re All Gonna Die” by Jack’s Mannequin, but I already have far too many Jack’s songs on this playlist. If you want a shortcut to perpetual inspiration, you can stop reading this now and just buy their three albums—I won’t take it personally. On that note, on to another one…]

5. People, Running by Jack’s Mannequin: “We are only chemical and skin barely strapped in for this air-conditioned drive / We are tired of waiting, still we stand in line / … / You drift in no direction so it seems / That we are just these people running around / And I am in no hurry to figure it out / … / I think we’re learning that the answers never come / … / Just watch the people run.” This lyrical commentary on the absurdity of human pursuits is very existentialist, which to me is a comforting belief system. If you accept the premise that everything is inherently meaningless, you can’t possibly get it wrong as long as you indulge your whims and desires; the lack of inherent meaning gives you freedom to create your own. So, in my interpretation of existentialism, the locus of control is placed firmly with the individual and calls for a rejection of external ideals and…Oops, I’m waxing philosophical. Back to the music.

6. Why Georgia by John Mayer: This track documents Mr. Mayer’s “quarter-life crisis,” to which I can relate whole-heartedly. “I am tempted to keep the car in drive and leave it all behind / Cause I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still-verdictless life / Am I living it right?” He perfectly captures the melancholy of monotony and reminds me that I’m not alone in my need to examine and take control of my life direction.

7. I’m Movin’ On by Rascal Flatts: Self-explanatory: “I’m movin’ on / At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me / And I know there’s no guarantees, but I’m not alone / There comes a time in everyone’s life / When all you can see are the years passing by / And I have made up my mind that those days are gone.” I can’t listen to this song without getting emotional, but I’m not afraid of a few tears. Or, okay, a lot of tears.

 

I’m already a bit of  an emotional wreck putting this together, and I’m only half done, so it’s time for an intermission. If you’re still in one piece and ready for the rest, continue with Part II of the Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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Live vs. Headphones (A selection of tracks)

There are many ways to experience music. Historically, I’ve found two of the most emotionally arresting of these ways to be live and via headphones. As I explained in Tuesday’s post, each offers distinct advantages; some songs are more powerful with the pulsing electricity of a crowd backing them up, while others benefit from the intimacy of the artist singing right into your ear. I’ll run through a few of my favorite songs and let you know whether to snap up concert tickets or pop on some ‘phones to hear them at their best. (Make sure to choose headphones with good bass; if you’re wondering why, read my post about why bass is important).

 

Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine is a captivating performer. Photo from F+TM's official web site.

Howl by Florence + The Machine: LIVE Florence Welch’s vocals are exquisite in any setting, but she is a truly enchanting performer. I saw her in 2010 at the Wiltern in LA and was mesmerized by her stage presence and spellbinding, emotional delivery. The difference between the recorded and live renditions of her songs was most stark in “Howl,” a visceral and animalistic track that evokes wild passion. It’s a sight to behold when this song pours out of Ms. Welch with an intensity that’s a little scary in the best possible way. 

Baba O’Riley by The Who: HEADPHONES This was a tough call, since this song is so amazing and epic that it blows me away no matter how I listen to it. I was lucky enough to see The Who play the HP Pavilion in San Jose in 2006, and they’re still legendary rock stars. Still, the magic and energy of the live setting (and accompanying light show) couldn’t quite compare to the overwhelming sensory overload that takes place when I close my eyes and fall into this song through a good pair of headphones. Just try getting one-on-one with this song without getting goosebumps.

“MFEO Pt. 1 – Made for Each Other / Pt. 2 – You Can Breathe” by Jack’s Mannequin: LIVE I was already in love with Jack’s Mannequin’s first album, Everything in Transit, before I ever saw the band live. The obsession didn’t set in, however, until the first time I saw them in 2007. “MFEO” was a completely overwhelming experience; the lyrics took on an entirely new meaning in the context of a live show. And maybe we were made for each other // And maybe, just maybe // the world will look like this forever… meant that I might get that feeling over and over, the feeling that everything was perfect and wonderful and utterly, painfully beautiful. It wasn’t a love song about a girl; it was a love song about music, about the crowd, about the ecstasy of a couple hundred people worshiping at the rock pulpit together in a room. If you’ve never seen Jack’s Mannequin live, I recommend it as highly as I could recommend anything.

Black Balloon by the Goo Goo Dolls: HEADPHONES “Black Balloon,” which tells a story of love and drug addiction, breaks my heart every time it plays on my headphones. The Goo Goo Dolls put on a decent show, but by now they’ve performed this hit so many times that it’s lost a little bit of emotional authenticity in the live rendition. It’s clear that they’re bona fide rock stars, and with that title comes an aura that enhances their “bigger” songs (see the next paragraph) but detracts from their most heartfelt offerings.

Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls: LIVE The rock-star vibe that takes away from “Black Balloon” serves to pump up sing-along-friendly radio hits like “Slide”. I had a blast dancing and singing along when this song filled the Greek Theater in Berkeley on a Friday night in 2007, riding the energy the band brought to the venue.

 

I invite you to play “Live vs. Headphones” whenever you get the chance to compare. No matter how you listen, I wish you frequent and joyful musical experiences.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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5 Differences between Live Music and Using Headphones

Visual elements can enhance or detract from live music. Oooh, pretty lights... so green...

It’s happened plenty of times before: I’ll buy concert tickets months in advance, my expectations directly proportional to the price of the tickets, only to wish I could have just heard the tunes on a good pair of headphones when the show was over. On the other hand, I can look back at a few live music events as peak life experiences and never quite recapture the excitement without the pulsing energy of a jazzed crowd. When it comes down to it, live music and the stuff that comes through your headphones is fundamentally different. Here are 5 key distinctions between the live and headphone experience.

 

  1. Technical perfection. Live music is almost never “perfect” the way a recording can be. Auto-tune is a fickle mistress, and it’s painful when an artist can’t deliver the goods live. On the other hand, as Dave Grohl explained following his controversial Grammy speech, little flaws can add authenticity and excitement to a performance. Personally, I’ll happily forgive a few missed notes if the artist is a passionate and energetic performer.
  2. Personal space. Boy howdy, can this one make a difference. Whether you’re fighting it out in a mosh pit, perching on the edge of a stadium seat or reclining on a blanket in the grass, you will invariably have neighbors in a live music environment. Whether or not they act neighborly is up to pure chance–I’ve personally had to elbow my fair share of bubble-violators, which can certainly detract from the magic of the evening. On the other hand, the crowd can create an electricity and energy that headphone listening can’t hope to match. Whether the adjacent masses help or hurt the experience is up to the crowd-sorting fates to decide.
  3. Intimacy. As #2 suggests, there’s plenty of (often unsolicited) physical intimacy to be found at a concert. Aural and emotional intimacy, though, is hard to attain when throngs of people around you are chatting over the music or singing along off-key. By contrast, a pair of noise-reducing headphones can isolate the sound to the point where the whole outside world melts away, and all that’s left is you and the artist playing right into your ear. That’s the kind of intimacy I’m talking about: no distractions, no extraneous noise, no intrusions. And you’re better able to get it with a pair of ‘phones.
  4. Visual aids. Unless you’re prone to using the visualizer option with iTunes or watching music videos, your typical headphone experience will be strictly auditory in nature. This leaves you free to close your eyes and supply your own visual elements, or to concentrate only on how the sounds hit you. At a concert, with light shows or pyrotechnics or even just the band, the visual spectacle can have a big impact on your experience. Whether the production is distracting or engaging depends entirely on the show.
  5. The element of surprise. When you select your favorite track on your MP3 player, you know exactly what’s about to come through your headphones. A familiar album or playlist can act as an aural security blanket or change agent that you can perfect and select for your particular mood and musical needs. Live music has the element of surprise; instead of being in control of your experience, you’re along for the ride.

 

Coming soon: I compare the experience of hearing a few of my favorite songs live to the recorded versions in one of my favorite games, “Live vs. Headphones“–with some unexpected results.

-Benevolent Siren

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What the 2012 Grammys Taught Me

Not only were the 2012 Grammys a grab-bag of entertaining and/or boring and/or cringe-inducing moments, they were also a learning experience for me. Choice nuggets of wisdom:

 

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver reluctantly accepts the Grammy for Best New Artist. Also, the BS Award for Most Delusional Hairstyle.

 

What did you learn? Feel free to share.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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Welcome to Integrated Systems Europe (ISE 2012)

Showing off the Digital Drive PLUS at ISE 2012...

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I landed in Amsterdam a few days prior to ISE 2012. I felt confident I was mentally and physically prepared following the exquisite chaos called CES. But how would it go down with the added stress of frigid weather and jet lag?

I can report I was pleasantly surprised by the civility of it all.

The show itself was substantially smaller than CES. There were 40,869 registered attendees over the course of three days. The 825 ISE exhibitors occupied 11 halls of the Amsterdam RAI. These numbers are the highest in the history of the show, with the exhibitor total increasing 15% from 2011.

ISE, which started in 2004, is Europe’s largest tradeshow for the professional AV and electronic systems industry. It’s a kind of meeting place for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers from all over the world. The manufacturers can show off their latest technologies and distributors and retailers can see what’s available for their customers and consumers.

The show itself feels like a cool combination of a professional dress code and relaxed energy. It is truly international, representing companies from all over the globe.

The Standout Trend

There was "live" entertainment available in every hall.

The number one trend at ISE was digital signage. It was everywhere. In fact, ISE kicked off with the Digital Signage Conference (DiSCO). One of the topics covered was the potential for digital signage to help brick and mortar retailers compete with e-commerce websites by allowing them to reflect the new ways in which consumers are shopping. This includes providing the ability to allow shoppers to serve themselves, access products not on shelves, and obtain detailed product information.

That’s the cerebral take on digital signage. The sensorial take is the mind-blowing picture clarity and endless number of LED screens dominating the halls of RAI. There were single screen behemoths towering overhead, as well as smaller screens interacting seamlessly to create any number of awesome effects.

One of my personal favorites was a bit more understated, but really cool. These screens featured “live bands” playing in a sushi lounge located in the center of one show hall. Each member of the band had his or her own screen towering over the lunch tables. There were four screens in all playing simultaneously. The bands members were probably filmed separately, but they actually look like they are interacting with each other in each of their respective screens. You really feel like you’re watching a live show.

The European Aesthetic

A minimalist at heart, I felt a connection to the European aesthetic. There weren’t a lot of bright colors or flashy designs. And it was easy to see why as I looked up into apartment windows while walking through the city. They almost look bare compared to living space in the United States.

The fully invisible wall speaker complete with signature by Dave Santos, one of our sales aficionados.

For the most part, the walls were consistently white or off-white. And there seemed to be only one or two pieces of furniture or artwork. The industrial design and colors of most of the audio products reflected this aesthetic. It’s no wonder that our MicroVee and MiniVee are so popular in Europe. Most of the design is focused on hiding audio components. I saw the embodiment of this idea with a “fully invisible wall” speaker. It was quite literally a wall of sound. It’s also not surprising that our distributors in the United Kingdom are creating some pretty cool custom designs focusing on installing the SC IW (1250) In-wall subwoofer into the floor and other hidden locations.

Overall, the show was fantastic. It was fascinating to see what is happening outside of the United States. ISE showcased some of the major differences in the domestic and international markets. However, both markets are clearly utilizing incredible technology to fill consumer needs and demands.

A typical Dutch snack is the “Hollandse Nieuwe” or raw herring from the North Sea. It’s an acquired taste.

A Special Message to the People of Amsterdam

Thank you for your gracious hospitality. Thank you for delicious cheese and chocolate. I secretly believe these are your two major food groups, although I cannot prove this. I found your city to be absolutely delightful, but please consider holding ISE during the summer next year.

To all the bikers who jingled their bells as I wandered into their lane, unaware I was grossly violating local etiquette: In my humble opinion, your bike lanes look very similar to your pedestrian sidewalks. It was an honest mistake.

 A Tribute to Amsterdam in Trivia:

  • Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, as well as the largest city.
  • The name Amsterdam is derived from the city’s origins: it grew around a dam in the river called Amstel.
  • There are approximately 747,290 people living in Amsterdam proper and 2,158,592 living in the metropolitan area.
  • It is impossible to know for sure, but city authorities say there are well over 600,000 bikes in Amsterdam.
  • There are165 canals in Amsterdam, with a combined length of 60 miles.
  • There are 1,281 bridges in Amsterdam, many of which can open to let ships pass. In fact, “The bridge was open” is a popular excuse for arriving late to school or work.
  • Amsterdam has 6,800 16th, 17th and 18th century buildings.
  • Amsterdam is also known as the “Venice of the North” due to its many canals.
  • The Amsterdam zoo, Artis, was founded in 1838. It is the oldest zoo in Europe and the third oldest zoo in the world.
  • Established four centuries ago, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is regarded as the oldest stock exchange in the world.

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The Perfect Hump Day Playlist

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

It’s Hump Day! Are you dragging? Need some RADICAL TUNES to pump you up and get you through the rest of the week? Here’s a list of jams that are currently putting a pep in my proverbial step.

 

  1. “Big Machine” by the Goo Goo Dolls
  2. “People, Running” by Jack’s Mannequin
  3. “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
  4. “Paradise” by Coldplay
  5. “Baba O’Riley” by The Who
  6. “Mad Season” by Matchbox Twenty
  7. “This Love” by Maroon 5
  8. “Shake it Out” by Florence + the Machine
  9. “Ooh La La” by Goldfrapp
  10. “Sail” by AWOLNATION
  11. “Sing Out” by The Grand Magnolias

And if you need a new pair of in-ear headphones to rock out at work, there’s a 2-for-1 sale on vPulse at Velodyne.com in celebration of Valentine’s Day with promo code BEMYVELODYNE (1 per household; see promotion details). Because if there’s one thing I love more than music, it’s free stuff.

 

-Benevolent Siren

 

Admin note: This promotion is no longer in effect. Please visit Velodyne.com to learn about current promotions.

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