Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Beatles In Mono

I am resisted acquiring the set since its release in 2009, arguing the stereo set is good enough and it is not that inexpensive. After all, it was just another ploy by the marketing guys to extract more hard earned money from the average consumer. But, last week, in a moment of fiduciary irresponsibility (the kids are still studying), I relented and bought it. Printed in Japan.

The mono sound jumps out. The mono sound is clear and tight, with a punch which creates excitement in the music that engages every sense of one's being. The boys are having fun, and I am having fun. That's entertainment.

The old CDs for the first four albums are also mono but unremastered. There is a loss of clarity. The new remastered stereo albums are a significant improvement over the unremastered in terms of definition, but the remastered mono stands out on clarity, tightness and punch. Ringo has never sung so well before, with his drumming a significant contributor to the songs and not a mere last minute addendum.

The brilliancy of the mono over the stereo is therefore the definition as well as the tightness of sound which ensues as one. Stereo, the new technology of the late sixties and early seventies, is an attempt at polarisation with a view to creating a greater "soundstage" at home (as if in a concert hall) - and this could be the manufacturers' way of doubling their sales by selling two speakers at one go rather than one by one. This could be related to increasing affluence where houses and homes get bigger and there is more space in the living room for the income earner to relax and enjoy after a hard day's work in the office.

The stereo tries to create an artificiality of sound through their separation to create an illusion of space. Some instrumental sounds are placed on the left and some on the right, with yet the key ones such as main vocal and drums would be placed in the centre to provide a centrality to the sound right in front of the listener - on the assumption that the listener sits comfortably in the centre in a large armchair. To enhance the illusion - and the ideal - some hifi freaks even suggest drawing the curtains and listening in the dark in order to create space.

The attempt to separate sound goes even further into the quadraphonic (4.0) and the 5.1 for the home theatre (with centre and subwoofer) all now is the rage as people imagine that sound could be given more space through separation and alienation.

Cohesion in sound and the creating of sound can take a more destructive path when the idolised Beatles each could not stand each other anymore (probably because increasing wealth has created increasing intolerance for others' idiosyncrasy) that they are quite happy to each go their own separate ways - and pursue their "solo" careers which, in my mind, though fairly successful were not as brilliant as the Beatles as a group. Each had their own peculiarity which were accentuated to the extent of being a bore, whereas the Beatles as a group was a much more considered attempt at creating good and enjoyable songs for the enjoyment of the public, by paring down on the outrageous and keeping things to the centre of an infinite variations.

The Beatles in mono, therefore, is a brilliant act and piece of work which combines the best of the group and of what is good in sound technology. Listening to The Beatles in mono is an enlightening experience, which shows how the simple and sharing and working together can be good and beautiful. Much better than the dominant of a member over the group or the pursuit of their solo careers.

The Beatles in mono could be a lesson for Malaysia, on how keeping the nation together is such a critically important thing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Middle East Turmoil & High Oil Prices

I was struck by this simple juxtaposition: As the people in the Middle East become unhappy because of the difficulties of earning a good living and high cost of living, Iran, with the help of Venezuela, Iraq, Algeria, Angola and Libya, fought against the Saudi's efforts to increase output by 1.5 m bpd and soft the price of oil in Vienna on June 9. Apparently, the opposition comes from those without the capacity to pump more and are thus unlikely to benefit from the scheme. Saudi has the capacity and it can unilaterally do it and gain extra revenue, while helping to bring down the price of oil.

This is quite interesting. That governments do see a difference in the budget and the welfare of the people. The Middle East is in a position to try to lower the price of oil and in effect reduce some inflationary pressures from high commodity prices and hence the cost of living. If their region is in turmoil as people take to the streets, lessening retail prices may help to cool those pressures on the ground.

But this is not going to happen. Governments need a good budget to spend and they do not appear to be spending in a way that will directly benefit the people. The people can suffer and it is none of the business of the governments - so long as the governments can be elected or re-elected into power through strong party membership that takes care only of party members. The people can take to the streets and the governments are quite happy to shoot their own people - just to stay in power.

All this is interesting only if my assumptions are correct. Some may argue that the general uproar in the Middle East is a product of technology and that people are taking to the streets because they now know that can congregate in the streets at the same time. I would not confuse the means with the ends.

There could be another argument that says that people are simply fed up with the same old people in governments and they want new faces with fresh ideas, and they are making these protests with great distress to the physical body as well as the mental anguish and hence no amount of cheap prices will help to quell that unrest. This must be really tough then.

The upshot of all these is that the problem in the Middle East is something that the Middle East itself can solve, by itself. Whether it will or not depends on how cohesive the Middle East communities are among themselves, or they are simply bitter enemies among themselves to the bitter end. If they are enemies, then they are ripe for manipulation from outside the region, and there is great incentive for causing unrest especially when the control of resources is concerned.

There is a lack of intellectual leadership in solving the Middle East problem. If the Middle East is uniquely different from the West, it should strive to exert its own uniqueness and identity. If not, then, the Middle East is no different from anywhere in the world, where sectarianism seems to rule the day with the inability to see the sameness in all human beings to the chief cause of trouble. There could even be animosity among brothers. If this is the case, the problem is pure greed and the scramble for power. We just need one or two evil men (and women).