Year-old AIM conversation

     I had this conversation with a friend over AIM about a year ago, and saved it. I just found it again a few days ago.

Me: I just had a great idea for a band

Me: and i need to tell someone

Them: Can I Join?

Me: It’s an idea to cash in on this crazy ‘Band as Concept-art’ revivalism

Me: so the band: ‘Point of purchase’

Me: the band plays on stage

Me: singer sets up merch table in front of stage

Me: and stands behind it selling merch while singing

Them: hahaha

Them: i like it

Me: all wear jumpsuits with creditcard logos or something equally ridiculous

Me: all dancable songs about commerce and how the audience should buy their merch

Me: there

Me: had to get that out of my brain

More Musical Steganography


(security) “Hiding a secret message within a larger one in such a way that others can not discern the presence or contents of the hidden message.”

     I recently looked into different types of code (program, morse) embedded in ‘popular’ music. In doing so, I found several mentions of an Aphex Twin song with image data embedded in the audio. Every single citation I found linked back to the same website (link), but unfortunately the link is dead. I HATE when people put up unique content and then can’t be bothered to leave it up. Don’t they realize that they’re not keeping their end of the bargain?! What if everyone did that? The internet would be RUINED!

     ANYWAY, I decided to replicate this guy’s findings and put up a site that shouldn’t disappear.


     Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) seems to have an odd fixation on his own face – the cover to the Windowlicker EP is a perfect example. It’s therefore not surprising that the hidden image appears to be a heavily altered self-portrait. The image is retrievable by viewing the logarithmic output of the second song on the ‘Windowlicker’ EP with a spectrograph program. The title of the song in question is purposefully unpronounceable, but I’ve grabbed the title off the back of the CD for easy replication below.


Retrieving the Face

     At about five minutes and 27 seconds in, the audio data that can be used to produce the face begins. I’ve isolated the portion of the audio that contains the ‘face’ data and posted a .wav file here. The easiest way to view the face that I’ve found is to download Spectrogram (Download), a piece of windows software made specifically for such viewing. Spectrogram isn’t freeware, but it does offer a free 10-day preview – long enough for our purposes. Here’s exactly how to do it.

  • Download Spectrogram and the ‘aphex.wav’ file above
  • Open Spectrogram (gram9.exe within the .zip file)
  • Hit F2 to open a new file
  • Select aphex.wav from wherever you saved it
  • Make sure ‘Freq Scale’ is set to log.
  • Press ‘OK.’

     This should playback the audio and simultaneously draw the face. If you’re skeptical about going through the hassle of actually viewing this yourself, let me assure you that looking at the images on this site and watching the translation happen in real time are two wholly separate experiences.


     Tweaking some of the other settings in the ‘scan file’ dialog can result in a clearer image. Here’s a close-up of my best effort:


     Almost all articles I found stressed the fact that you had to use either the original CD or a WAV file – they maintained that an MP3 would not work. I decided to encode an MP3 of the wav at 320 kBps and try to retrieve the image from that file. I’ve included the resultant image below – it’s an interesting visual assertion of the ‘lossy’ nature of the MP3 format.


     I didn’t have much luck retrieving the face on a mac running OSX, but then I didn’t really spend much time trying. I did download several programs from this collection of mac spectrum analyzers, and got a partial image using iSpectrum, so maybe start from there.

Reproducing the Effect

     The consensus seems to be that Mr. James used a program called Metasynth to put this together. Metasynth is native to Mac OS9 (Apparently an OSX version is on the way). I downloaded the demo and mucked around with it a bit but wasn’t able to easily reproduce technique. I had better luck on a windows machine using a shareware program called Coagula Light (Download). I first created a simple Bitmap image using paintbrush:


     I next opened Coagula Light and opened the paintbrush bitmap (Images must be in .bmp format for use with Coagula Light). Transforming an image into sound with Coagula is ridiculously simple, just click the ‘gears icon’ to process the image and select ‘Save Sound As…’ from the ‘File’ menu. You can download the wav file that corresponds to this image here.


     Finally, I opened the resultant wav file in Spectrogram the same way I opened the aphex file earlier. Here it is in stereo:


     Some sites recommend using a certain winamp visualization plugin (‘Tiny Fullscreen’) to examine these images. I’ve found that while the plug-in they specify does reproduce the images, the output is not logarithmic, so any imagery is vertically distorted.



     Five years ago (!!), I wrote this (fictional) article about entering Steve Malkmus’ conciousness, ala ‘Being John Malkovich.’ A few days ago I found this site, where someone has translated it into Japanese. Totally weird.

Mp3 of the Week: 'Diary of a Lovesong'

A Perfect Circle – ‘Diary of a Lovesong’
From: Live MP3 (2000)


     I’d forgotten this combination of Ozzy’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ (verses) and The Cure’s ‘Lovesong’ (chorus) even existed until I found it on an old CD full of mp3’s. As you’ll recall from my 2003 Xmas mix, I’m a sucker for songs that are melded together. This is a live version – I’m pretty sure they never recorded this, but I could be wrong. See if you can pick out the tasteful improvisation that replaces the line ‘Diary of a Madman.’

Thrown-together Book Review: Not Even Wrong

     I recently finished reading ‘Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism,’ the latest book from former McSweeney’s contributor and Collins Library figurehead Paul Collins. ‘Not Even Wrong’ is a perfect melding of the styles of his previous two efforts – ‘Banvard’s Folly,’ which profiled thirteen forgotten scientists, inventors, and tinkerers in rich historical context; and ‘Sixpence House,’ an autobiographical work detailing Collins’ move to Hay-on-Wye, a town in England known for its booktrade-driven economy.


     ‘Not Even Wrong’ is another autobiographical work – the central narrative is the story of Collins and his wife dealing with the revelation that their son is autistic. Woven into the firsthand account of their slow adjustment to this situation are meticulously researched essays on a handful of topics related to the disease and its history. While ‘Sixpence House’ also frequently departed from its narrative to follow tangents presented by the wealth of printed matter on hand in Hay-on-Wye, similar departures are much more closely related to the central narrative in ‘Not even Wrong.’ Collins paints an engaging historical portrait of autism, exploring the possible connection to feral children, the scandalous evolution of treatment, and the link between the disease and isolationist pursuits (Mathematics, fine art) – touching on the fact that an impressive percentage of fathers of autistic children are… engineers. Highly Recommended. Woo.

     Also: Uncollected Paul Collins.

Robin Williams: Prince of Thieves

     In the past few years I’ve read in a number of places that Robin Williams is a flagrant comedy thief. What I’ve never come across are specific incidents of this occurring. So I decided to delve into the vast resource of usenet’s standup comedy newsgroups and see what I could dig up. Among the many permutations of ‘If Robin Williams is stealing your material, you’ve got bigger problems,’ I found lots of hearsay and references to a specific incidents, but none of the primary source information that I crave. I collect the ‘highlights’ here in the hopes that someone with more specifics (or better googling skills) will find this and get in touch with the details. Without further ado, the hearsay:

     “One of the things that I’ve learned from doing standup comedy is that Robin Williams steals jokes. That’s the worst fucking thing any comic could ever do to another comic. His joke stealing is so well-known that whenever he steps in a club, any experienced comedian ends their set immediately.”

     “My hatred for Mr. Williams goes back to my days in the mid-80s doing stand-up comedy. At the time, Robin was a big star in stand-up. But every big-time comedian that I worked with said the same thing about him … he was a comedy thief and everyone in comedy hated him. It was common knowledge that he would frequent comedy clubs, sit in the back and write down all the jokes that guys used that got laughs. Then he’d present them as his own “wacky improvisations” on television and garner all these accolades as being a comedy genius when NONE of his material was original, it was a hodgepodge of various young comedians best work. I used to hear stories about comedians who would get fired from clubs because they REFUSED to go on stage when Robin Williams would show up in the crowd. So…I was bred to hate the man.”

     “He has a bad reputation as a comedy thief. Tom Kinney, a San Francisco comedian of note, once did a bit about Doc Ellis. Doc Ellis is a pitcher who pitched a no-hitter while tripping on acid. Tom Kinney’s bit was very funny. So funny that Robin himself told him so as he was caught doing the exact same bit at “The Boarding House” in San Francisco by Tom Kinney himself not two hours after he had watched Tom.”

     “Robin stole material from practically everyone on the way up. Ask, Stephen Pearl, Jeremy Kramer, Gary Muledeer, Jeff Altman, Bill Kirkenbower, Joey Camen or anyone else that worked with him. This is not just me spouting, even in an Issue of Premire magazine they mentioned the fact that he was a joke thief. They mentioned a joke going around about a deli in new york that had a sandwich named after him..the Robin Williams..they give you a bun,but,you have to steal the meat.”

     “He doesn’t lurk here, but it has been proven time and time again that he has a habit of doing other people’s material. He even said so himself in an interview last year (LA Weekly?). He even had to settle a lawsuit about the title of his first album because it was a catchphrase of another San Francisco comic at the time. Good actor, bad thief.”


     “I remember watching Letterman last year and Ray Romano was on. Ray did a bit that he has been doing for a while about implanting phones in your head to make them more convenient. The next night Robin Williams was on the show and did the same bit word for word. Dave looked like Robin had dropped a turd into his coffee cup (Letterman produces Ray’s show).”

     [This was by far the most-discussed instance of Williams’ swiping that I found. There is apparently tape of Romano doing the bit on an HBO ‘Young Comics’ special 12 years before Robin did it on multiple late night talk shows (Letterman, and a year later, Leno) It’s important to note that it’s not the concept that’s being stolen here, it’s the whole bit – phrasing and all.]

     “Tonight on Leno I witnessed Robin Williams completely rip off a well known bit from Ray Romano. I know this is a Ramano bit and Robin used it almost to the word. The stolen set was the what if technology gets so bad that they start installing cell phones in are heads, call waiting on each ear, and faxes come out are asses. I know that I have seen Ray do that one before. I’ve been a Williams fan for years and never believed the stories that he was such a thief.I honestly thought that it was a case of sour grapes and this groups tendency to bitch and over analyze everything and anything. I have to say though after seeing Robin last night on national T.V. that I am no longer a sceptic but convicted that he is a thief. He did Raymonds act almost verbatim. I’ve been doing stand up for 3 years now. This really makes me want to
keep on plugging ahead. Can you spell ethics kids. Oh Fuck it.”

     “Robin paid I think at least 3 months of Steven Pearls rent because he used what was obvious to any LA comic, a few of Steven’s bits on the Tonight Show or another well known show. Steve says he was glad he got some money and that over the years he has heard exaggerated stories that he pushed Robin up against a wall and threatened him etc etc…. which apparently isnt true.”

     “It wasn’t pearl that slammed him.. it was one of wolfberg’s old buddies.. and just now my mind went blank… carl, who was at the door at the time had to break it up… robin went on the carson show… and I am pretty sure it was brenner who was guest hosting and told the story about how sometimes he’ll be on a rant or tangent..and stuff will pop out of his mouth.. and when it’s not his, he’s told about it in not so many words… he talked about how he was going to try to make it up to folks who told him that he screwed them cos he said something that was theirs on tv or radio. Fleischman called him on it once…”

     “Everybody mentions Robin Williams, but don’t forget that Tom Dreesen kicked his ass for stealing one of his bits. To my knowledge, Robin never stole from Tom again.”

     There’s a good article on joke thievery in the comedy world here. It discusses the touchy ethical questions implicit in the whole thing, as well as the ‘parallel evolution’ argument – that both performers devised the same bit independently of each other.

The article prints the following response to such a defense:

     “In comedy, there is such a thing as squatter’s rights,” says Mark Breslin, owner and president of Yuk Yuk’s. “If one comic gets there first, the bit is theirs. It doesn’t matter if you thought
of the joke completely on your own, if you know another guy is already doing the bit, you don’t do it.”

     The article also features a nugget of first-person testimony on Robin Williams from Swipee Steven Pearl:

     “Robin Williams has to be in the top three names when there’s a discussion of joke thievery,” says Pearl. “But, nah, I never touched him. I did hear that a guy had him up against a wall and that it got ugly. You’d know him, he’s been in movies, but ain’t no way I’m giving you his name. But Robin used to do my material. We’d work together and the next night I’d see or hear that he was doing one of my bits.”

“One, I remember I did at the Holy City Zoo in San Francisco around the time of that Sun City song. I used to do Sammy Davis Jr. saying: ‘Hey, I won’t play Sun City — unless I get the big room.’ Then, I hear Robin’s doing it. I confronted him and gave him s–t and he cut me a cheque right there for a thousand bucks. There were a few more cheques for substantial amounts of money that kept my rent paid for a while. When Robin would come back to the clubs, after he became really famous, some guys would refuse to go on stage till he left the room.”

     If all this dissection of the political side of the comedy world is interesting to you, you should check out the current issue of the New Yorker (‘The Humor Issue’), which features a great piece on the mechanics of starting out in stand-up via a profile of several young NYC comedians.

Update (via Email):

“Have you seen ‘The Aristocrats’?”

“The movie does a cut between Drew Cary and Robin telling the exact same version of the joke. The documentary makes no reference to this fact other than that. I already knew about the Robin Williams thing, so I kind of thought it was an inside joke as I was watching it. The rest of the audience, I suspect, had no idea.”

Update from reader Zach:

There’s an interesting bit about joke thievery in Dick Cavett’s autobiography:

“I needed a joke about eating out in New York, and somehow I hit on the idea of a Chinese-German restaurant. The punch was, “The food is delicious. The only problem is, an hour later you’re hungry for power.” I told it to Rollins (Jack, Cavett and Woody Allen’s Manager), who howled and said I had a biggie there. That night was a smash, and from then on it never failed, even when everything else did. Three days later, I was flipping through the daily papers, and my joke leaped out at me from Earl Wilson’s column. Except it was attributed to Rip Taylor at the Copa.”

“Naively and furiously, I called Taylor and asked him to stop doing my line. He said, “Oh, did I say that?,” and laughed heartily at the joke. I didn’t realize that the witty things attributed to celebrities in those columns are rarely said by them. Often they are phoned in by a guy who gets a hundred dollars a week to plant funny sayings for that person, and when he doesn’t have any he steals them.”

“From that point on, my best jokes would appear in Earl Wilson or elsewhere, attributed to Pat Henry or Jackie Vernon or London Lee, and once even to Woody, who had himself been the victim of this pernicious practice.We both had a good laugh over his getting one of mine. But the situation continued to gall me, and I would look out over the audience at the club some nights wondering which was the creep who was making more than I was off my material.”

“The print thievery didn’t hurt as bad as seeing and hearing your joke on Laugh In, television’s Niagara Falls of plagiarism, or on the Red Skelton Show, which survived for a year on Woody’s best jokes, or in the mouth of some crap comic on the Ed Sullivan Show, where it would stand out like a jewel in his otherwise vimitorious act and get a hand.”

“Sometimes I would call Woody to report the latest theft of one his jokes. He finally asked me to stop, because, number one, it pained him and if he didn’t know about it he would feel better, and, number two, it didn’t matter because the crap comics would always be crap comics, and although it hurts to have your jokes stolen, something about you puts you forever in another category and world from them, or at least that is what you tell yourself. He was right.”

Fun with Photoshop

     T-shirts available soon:


Comic Art Magazine

     I’m currently obsessed with ‘Comic Art Magazine,’ primarily because it’s exactly what I always wanted The Comics Journal to be – historically minded, analytical, and in full color on glossy stock. To be fair, the interviews in Comics Journal are usually pretty great, and the monthly interview mp3’s are a favorite of mine. The editorial quality and production values of Comic Art, however, put the journal to shame.

     My favorite part of the magazine is a regular feature called ‘In the Studio,’ in which comics artists select several pages worth of artifacts from within their personal studios for reproduction. The selections usually include the artist’s originals, favorite bits of random printed matter, and selections from their own collections of original art, each captioned with a description of the item and its importance by the artists. Past installments have covered Daniel Clowes (Eightball, Ghost World), Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, Quimby the Mouse), Charles Burns (Skin Deep, Black Hole, The Believer), and in the current issue, Art Spiegelman (Maus, The New Yorker). Clicking each name in the previous sentance will open a two page preview of the article.

     In addition to these pieces on contemporary comics artists, each issue has featured several articles on comic art of days gone by – including great essays on Charles Schulz’ pre-peanuts work, Disney artist Carl Barks’ unique panel layout (Cool Dude alert!), and the myth that ‘The Yellow Kid’ was the first newspaper comic strip.

     The current issue features an Art Spiegelman cover that was rejected by the New Yorker. From the Spiegelman ‘In the Studio’ article:

     “It was originally presented as a cover for the New Yorker’s “Money Issue” last year, but at that point, [Editor] David Remnick’s repsonse was “This is about oil. It’s a money issue.” (Laughter)….”


     There’s a bit on the circumstances of Spiegelman leaving the New Yorker here, for you comic book gossip hounds.

     The current issue also features an extensive article on ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ creator Crockett Johnson’s comic work. The quarterly magazine is 80 pages in full color, with minimal advertising (Even the ads are good, mostly teasers from auction houses selling original artwork). It’s $9 ppd, and the issues have all been selling out, so act fast. You can see the tables of contents of the first 4 issues here.

Peep Mountain

     Chris Graves checks in with the following:

     “Since no one ever actually eats them, I had a feeling there must be a better use [for peeps]. Use a knife to cut a slit in the top. Add one minute, start. If you come across any easter sales… well, I don’t think time could be any better spent. Warning: peep volcano will erupt all over microwave: use caution.”


Soup in the mail

     I am looking for a person who lives in an area with a ‘Giant Eagle’ Supermarket. What I would like to do is send this person some money, and have them purchase the four limited edition Warhol-label Campbell’s Tomato soup cans, and ship them to me. I will then look at them occaisionally. Are you this person?


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