Recording Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1

Ulrike Schwarz, Skywalker, photo by Jim Anderson

In our previous blog post A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom, we spoke to recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom about their relationship with sound and music, and the inspiration behind their new album Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1. Here, we discuss the extraordinary recording story behind this album which was recorded remotely during the pandemic. 

The album was recorded remotely in Stereo and 5.1 Surround Ultra High Resolution (384kHz/32bit) using Merging Technology Horus/Pyramix recording systems and the Merging+Clock U by grammy-nominated recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz with mixing engineer Jim Anderson, and mastering engineers Ulrike Schwarz and Morten Lindberg (immersive). The album was co-produced by Jane Ira Bloom and Ulrike Schwarz.

Mobile control room at Miya Masaoka’s home, Sonobus on the iPad Pro and Pyramix on a PC Audio Labs laptop with Acousta LE03 interface. Photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: This album was performed in real time connected remotely from your homes in NYC. Please can you tell us about the recording process? It seems to have been very successful. If there were elements of improvisation, how did you manage this unique process remotely? 

Ulrike: Once we had decided that this should be done in the highest possible recording quality that we could get, I set up my Merging Technologies Pyramix v12 recording system at Jane’s apartment. We set up the Neumann TLM 170 and Sanken CU-41 microphones in her office. Then I went to Alison’s house and set up my Pyramix v14. Through my main recording system at Alison’s I could run Jane’s remotely and connect them.

For the musicians to hear each other I had a second set of computers and interfaces. The microphone signals were split analog after the mic preamplifiers and went to the Pyramix systems (in 384kHz) and the Acousta LE03 interfaces (in 192kHz). The LE03 works in a very ‘broadcasty’ and analog way by providing an n-1 where each musician gets their own microphone signal analog (that means without any latency) and the other musicians feed with only the delay that the transmission and the communication program provides. As latency is created in samples a higher sampling frequency will effectively cut down latency. However, one needs a higher data transmission rate (better internet connection).

For communication we used the program Sonobus which Jane recorded her first album with Alison and Mark with. Jane was used to it, I wasn’t. I had to run a lot of tests to make this as fast, and with as little latency, as we could. In order to do this, I brought in high speed gaming routers. Jane and Alison had very good internet, however the weakest was Mark’s. Jane and Mark were so used to playing with each other that even a bigger latency works.

The experimental part of it was matching the internet to the speed that all the devices could take for the communication lines. The interesting part was to establish communication between the musicians and to get the latency down.

Jane: If you think about it, less on a technical level, just how many platforms we’re trying to use to communicate with each other. The musicians are using zoom with no sounds, just looking at each other to feel each other. Then we’re using this Sonobus platform to actually communicate sound and improvise with each other. 

Ulrike is trying to keep the latency as low as possible, but when you think about it you’re playing with jazz musicians who you’ve improvised with for a long time, there’s a lot of mysterious anticipation that you use. You almost make decisions before you hear them, people in sport know all about this. You make split second decisions, it’s a marvelous thing that your mind does when you make things up. 

So that’s all going on with all the technical clarity. At the other end of it is Ulrike’s recording, which is separate, which is another platform and time relationship. It is interesting all these different ways our ears are trying to reach out to try and find one another.

Ulrike: There were different computers for everything so that things wouldn’t slow down the oral communication. Zoom, although it was very out of time, was so important just to see that the other person was still there. I’ve done fifteen years in broadcasting, the process wasn’t new for me, but what was new was that I couldn’t demand a fixed analog line. The costs for booking a fixed internet rate were too much so we had to be more adventurous.

Allison Miller in her basement practice studio, photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: How did you manage the acoustics? Did you make any changes to the room?

Jane: Yes, I put a towel on my desk! 

Ulrike: We put jackets on the sofa! I am really amazed at Jane’s office. It is a very small room equipped with several microphones. That could have created some unwanted effects. But at Skywalker we spread the microphones fully and had wonderful results. It is fascinating how we were able to shut out that room and replace it with the big sound stage of Skywalker. Jane lives in a quiet apartment building. At Mark’s it was a little louder. He has some acoustic treatment in his room, but the bass is not as loud as the saxophone or drums, so his recording was the most difficult. Alison has her drum set setup in her basement room. The great thing was that she got to play her drums, they are so well tuned and set exactly how she wanted. 

Jane: When you asked what is special about these musicians, and why this recording, these musicians have a sound, a voice, on their instruments that is extraordinary. It is a testament to all the audio engineering that it captures it, however, try to remember that in the craziest space in the world if you don’t have a sound what’s the point. 

Mark has an extraordinary bass sound, Miya will make you want to cry when she’s expressing a single note on the koto, and Alison has an extraordinary sound on her own drums. Usually a drummer has to go to a studio and play somebody else’s drums, instead she is playing her own set and her own percussion instruments. 

Ulrike: Anything Alison wanted to pick up was there. With Mark we selected basses for a while, there was a freedom in the choice of weapons you usually don’t have in a studio. 

Jane: When you think about the strange concept of taking something from a small room and putting it into a palatial sound space, the core of what is at the center of that is a musician with a sound, and how important that is. That’s what is at the center of a recording, and that is what translates into the microphone that Ulrike is capturing with great technique and great skill, to then amplify in terms of its sonic space and how it’s perceived.

Miya Masaoka’s koto in Miya’s home, photo by Ulrike Schwarz.

Editor: This album was all mixed at Skywalker studios. Can you tell us why you chose that studio and the recording system used? Were there specific techniques in the mix to prepare the album for mastering?

Yes, we flew our Merging Technologies Pyramix v14, Horus system, and Clock U to Skywalker. We used my recording system not theirs. Jim and I love to work at Skywalker. The control room is set up in a way that whatever we mix we know it works. If it sounds good in there it will translate to every other system in the world. 

The most important thing with all these recordings in small single spaces is that Skywalker has this fantastic sound stage. We turned the big sound stage into a live chamber, and this is how all these instruments get this enormous space. They are fed into the live chamber, and re-recorded in some ways and then mixed with the original instruments, and that’s how they become so big and free. The room at Skywalker is where the silence comes from and the space that everybody lives in. 

Jane: We wish we could have played in that chamber so we did the next best thing.

Ulrike: We (Jim) mixed in stereo, 5.1 and 3D. I mastered stereo and 5.1, Morten Lindberg brought all masters together with his 3D mastering in order to make them correlate on all platforms. 

Coming back to the recording and the latencies, I had two systems running that had to be synced. I had Jane record her side of the Sonobus system, and I recorded the other side. I always knew what the latency was by comparing those two, and if any corrections needed to be made. Sometimes even they locked in to their latency and it sounds like they were standing together. This is because of their anticipation. So I only had changes for a few milliseconds to make it totally lock in, and only in very few places.

Jane: It still amazes me how we do it, it’s mysterious even to us. We are playing as if we are together.

Ulrike: Even on stage you don’t know. We had 8 milliseconds latency at our best. If you translate that into distance, 3 milliseconds is about a meter. On stage it is very easy to have ten feet distance, and bad monitoring, so in certain ways you heard more of each other than on stage, with less latency. So once we had a stable delay, it’s just like playing with someone on a bigger stage, but with a clean headphone system. 

Jane: There are two of us, there’s no place to hide in a duet, you either have a sound and an idea or you don’t. A lot is exposed. 

Ulrike: The same for recording techniques, if something went wrong it would be very exposed. Something either takes or it doesn’t. Some things were actually better than on stage, but without the feeling you’re in the same place. We tried to create that with the headphones and zoom, but in many ways it wasn’t that bad.

Jane: If you think about the absence of the other during the pandemic, we haven’t been able to physically be with one another. Something happens, I’ve found over several years with remote recording – you find that your ears reach out even more to the person you’re playing with. It’s almost like hyper ultra-hearing. You’re so wanting to connect that it’s like your ears go into overdrive. 

There is something really interesting, neurologically, and emotionally going on about how tuned in you are to listening and responding this way.

Ulrike: It will be great when you get back together with them on stage, but there is still something in when you first played with Mark with bad zoom with bad delays, just the possibility to make music again was so overreaching. 

Jane: We were euphoric to play together again. 

Ulrike: It was a very interesting time, and thankfully music could still exist.

Merging Technology mobile Horus/Hapi AoIP setup with MT Clock – U. Powered by Essential Sound Products Eloquence Power chords.

In our previous blog post A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom we discussed Jane and Ulrike’s relationship with music and sound.

Listen to Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 on TIDAL or Qobuz.

Listen to our playlist Jane Ira Bloom in Playlists by Roon on your Roon Home Screen.

A conversation about sound with Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom

Jane Ira Bloom, picture by Brigitte Lacombe.

We had the pleasure of speaking to recording engineer Ulrike Schwarz and Jane Ira Bloom about their relationship with sound and music, and the inspiration behind their new album Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1. This album features award-winning saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, percussionist Allison Miller, koto player Miya Masaoka, and bassist Mark Helias. 

Editor: The music on Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 was inspired by the science photography of Berenice Abbott. Please can you tell us more about this inspiration and how it is reflected in the music? 

Jane: If you look at the photographs, even though they’re about scientific subjects, they are beautiful. Probably one of the biggest influences I had from looking at these images was the stark contrast of dark and light. If that translates to your ear to the idea of sound and silence having equal weight in your audio field, then that’s the music that I honed in on for this project. The other thing is, if you look at the images, they’re all about momentum and physics, and light waves and patterns of sound waves being visualized. Motion and flow of melodic lines is something that I’ve always been interested in. You’ll hear a little bit of that influence as a composer, translating the visual motion and flow into audio motion and flow.

Ulrike: I always thought that these patterns are usually in science books, or books we studied for acoustics, they look like interferences. Like the water drops and filters. They can also be interpreted like audio phenomenon. So that’s also an image I had in my head. That’s also why I thought that going at the highest possible recording resolution that we had would probably display this best.

Miya Masaoka, photo by Heike Liss

Editor: Did this particular music inspire your choice in musicians? Can you tell us more about your choice to use the traditional Japanese instrument Koto?

Jane: It’s really about the koto player Miya. Miya could play anything, and I’d be interested in playing duets with her. She happens to be a master performer on the koto, but it’s really the musicians and their improvisational minds. These are people I’ve collaborated with in the past, so I have a history with them. I know how they feel about improvising music together. Alison Miller is an amazing creative mind for creating sounds spontaneously. Miya is a master on her instrument so when I talk about sound and silence – that’s her thing. It’s all a part not only of the instruments they play, but also their musical imagination. 

Ulrike: I would say that none of the musicians played traditionally. Miya is not only playing Koto, she was doing things to her Koto I’d never heard before, and that were a little difficult to capture. Alison doesn’t just play drums, it was more percussion – it was really creating these sounds that go so far beyond traditional playing of the instrument, as Jane does. They didn’t just play their instruments – it went far beyond that.

Ulrike Schwarz

Editor: Sound quality is clearly important to you, and you have had the album encoded in MQA. Can you tell us more about this? 

Ulrike: The sheer data rate of what we recorded is not very consumer friendly. There are some people who buy native DSD and want an incredible data rate that doesn’t even get them anything. 

I’ve found that with encoding it into MQA when the consumer has an MQA ready system, it will unfold back into the 384khz in this case. But it is a file of 48kHz which is of course much more manageable which can be streamed and downloaded easily. For me it is a great way of transporting super high audio quality in a manageable means. 

I was acquainted with it when we mastered some other albums with Bob Ludwig – he always sent it over as MQA. Since we purchased this enormous clock, the Merging Technologies Clock U, which is true to ten parts of a billion, our clocking has improved, and I find the MQA works really well. Since then, every album I’ve done has been MQA and I really like it a lot.

Jane: From a listener’s perspective, listening to sound at this level of quality has a richness and a depth that’s so extraordinary for the ear. You don’t have to play a lot of notes when you have this kind of quality of sound to your ear, to listen and luxuriate in. It’s almost like a single note becomes a whole full course dinner. It’s like one note sounds absolutely breathtaking, and it’s because of this quality of sound. 

When people listen, they don’t even know why they feel the way they feel when they hear it, but there’s a whole emotional response to hearing music this way in this type of quality. People don’t even understand what they’re hearing, it’s just this incredible breadth of sound that can make a single note sound like a symphony. 

Ulrike: I think the emotional response is actually very interesting. As with the super high quality, you also respond well to the immersive sound when it comes at you in 3D. When you add the next level to surround, it becomes a very different story emotionally. 

Jane: For the artist, it is so euphoric. We’re used to hearing sound around us on stage, but for an artist to hear themselves in relation to other musicians coming back at them in a completely immersive way, that’s completely new and very intoxicating. That’s why it’s so emotional to hear music that you’ve made come back at you in this way.

Picturing The Invisible, cover art by Assen Semov

Editor: Sound is important, how do you view the link between sound quality and the music? Is it about communication, nuance or helping listeners understand or get involved in the music? Or something else?

Jane: It’s a wonderful collaboration of these two things that are operating at an extremely high level and ultimately become indistinguishable. It’s such a joy, and this is the essence of my collaboration with Ulrike. We’re trying to combine art and science together to create a unique emotional experience for the listener.

Ulrike: It’s so much joy when you get the chance to record people on that level. You think, this is what they can do musically, and I think about what I can do to capture this and bring all of this across. The joy of it is to get the chance to work with people on this level and then think about what I can do to make them communicate even better and create those soundscapes that I’m hearing, and then turn this into something that everyone just loves to listen to. 

Jane: This is the essence of producing, we’re imagining taking the music and its audio capture to the highest level we can imagine, and then some. That’s a creative decision. 

Ulrike: A recorded product is always different from a live performance. Jane is very good at cutting things down, which means it is good quality music. That makes the whole thing so joyful.

They are seasoned musicians who know what to do. They command the room, and don’t wait for me to say whether it’s a great take. In the end, the musicians make the composition come alive or not. We do not keep a take that is not special. 

Improvisers are spontaneous composers, it’s very different to interpreting in an orchestral sense. When you get used to having a sphere where you make things up, you wind up collaborating with people who have a feeling for this process – who make composition come out of the air. You make it up right in the moment, but it feels like you composed it. The lines between improvisation and composition get blurred, and that’s a skill that improvisers in the jazz tradition spend a whole lifetime and career developing. Alison, Miya, Mark, these are pros at the highest level at this process.

Allison Miller

Editor: You received a grant from the New York City Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theater for this project, can you tell us more about how this came about and any personal significance of this particular grant.

Jane: There’s no question in my mind that the ‘Women’s Fund’ was the key inspiration. Look at the powerful women involved in this project: Ulrike on the audio engineering side, Berenice Abbot legend in the photographic world as the inspiration, Alison an unbelievable improviser on drums and percussion, and Miya, a complete contemporary musician. These are women who really excel in their worlds. When Ulrike and I first talked about this, it just started making so much sense. Look at all this girl power, let’s face it! 

Ulrike: We did accept Jim Anderson, the mixing engineer, and Mark into our world as honorary members of our group. Morten Lindberg was also involved in turning it into Dolby. The fund was about the combination of all these wonderful women and our original plan to bring in the media aspect – before the pandemic hit it was all supposed to take place in a great room.

Jane: The music was originally written for 5, 6, 7 instrumentalists. We didn’t record a lot of the music that I composed and we had to hone down our ideas a lot.

Ulrike: There might be Picturing the Invisible: Focus 2 at some point!

Editor: How did you form your taste in sounds and music? Did anything change or influence your taste in music during childhood or since, such as music played in the home on hi-fi or a piano, starting a musical instrument, friends at Yale University, or training at Yale College of Music?

Jane: I can remember from my earliest moments of consciousness loving musical instruments. I was just fascinated with them, with sound and what they looked like, I don’t know why. In terms of my journey as a musician, I think the most interesting aspect of how I’ve shaped a sonic identity is that I’ve been very interested in the sounds of other instruments other than soprano saxophone. I’ve learnt a lot from vocalists, trumpet players, violin players, shakuhachi players. I’ve gotten inspiration for my ideas about sound from places other than my instrument, and I think that’s affected how I come up with the sound that I do. 

Editor: What system do you use for playback of music?

Jane: You’re going to laugh because I don’t have any of the high-end equipment Ulrike uses. I have a set of AKG headphones I’ve been using for years. I listen on my headphones. They are not the greatest, but when you get used to listening on something it’s like a standard of listening that you get used to.

Ulrike: We got her a really nice headphone amp! [I have old AKG headphones, I know them, they’re honest. I use them in the studio and at home.]

Ulrike: In my editing suite I have Wilson speakers, Wilson CUBs, and an Eclipse TD725sw subwoofer. When I’m working, I’m listening through the Pyramix and sometimes have our clock there as well to really see what’s going on. I have a selection of headphones. The amps are Benchmark ABH2 Mono blocks and HPA4 pre amplifier. My favorite headphones are actually B&W P5s, the small ones. I took them with me to the recordings, I like them very much for work. I have a selection of Sennheiser’s but in the field I prefer the P5. 

Downstairs we have set up our other studio. For work Jim prefers to have his old Meyer HD1s. He’s had them for 30 years and these are the speakers he trusts for mixing. For listening we have Wilson WATT Puppies, and a Mark Levinson system with a 23.5 amplifier and 26S pre amplifier. In the dining room we have the surround 7.1 system of Eclipse TD712z MK2 speakers, the TD725sw and a Marantz A/V unit. For our wedding party we dragged a couple of those speakers out on the deck and entertained. We exclusively power all units – remote or at home – with Essential Sound Products MusicCord cables and Power Distributors.

In our next blog post Recording Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1, we discuss the extraordinary recording story behind the album, recorded remotely during the pandemic. 

Listen to Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 on TIDAL or Qobuz.

Listen to our playlist Jane Ira Bloom in Playlists by Roon on your Roon Home Screen.

CanJam London

CanJam is the world’s premier headphone audio show with annual events in New York City, Singapore, Los Angeles, London, and Shanghai and is produced by Head-Fi.org, the world’s largest online audio community. 

Last weekend we attended CanJam London, our second CanJam this year after the Chicago event in June.

Located in the ballroom of Park Plaza, Westminster, the room was full of headphones and personal/portable audio brands showcasing their latest innovations amongst an excited crowd of audiophiles and music lovers. 

The show gave us the unique opportunity to showcase Roon to music fanatics looking for an immersive experience when listening to music through headphones, without compromising on sound quality. 

Our weekend started on Friday at the dCS Lina Lounge launch, where we got to experience firsthand the ideation behind the new dCS Lina headphone system while experiencing some captivating live music by Judie Jackson. 

Once set-up, we were then ready for a weekend full of demonstrations through our partner devices which included Audeze LCD-XC headphones, AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt and Red USB DACs, Chord Mojo 2 USB DAC, T+A HA200 headphone amplifier, and the dCS Lina system. There were also a range of Roon Ready and Roon Tested devices being demonstrated on other stands too, including iFi Audio Zen Stream, Naim Uniti Atom, Astell&Kern AK HC2, SP2000T, and Kann Max, and the Burson Audio Conductor 3XGT. 

Our specially curated playlist, CanJam London, was also a hit with the varied mix of artists and music on offer during the demonstrations. CanJam London is available in Playlists by Roon on your Roon Home Screen.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and having now ticked off Chicago and London, we’re looking forward to the next CanJam SoCal in California on September 17-18, 2022.

Get tickets


Roon Feature Spotlight: Focus

Roon is totally unique when compared to other music library and streaming software because it’s built for music lovers, by music lovers. We understand the unique challenges that accompany being an ardent seeker of sound, and we’ve removed them – to make your music experience more enjoyable.

Music oversaturation is real, and many reading this have likely experienced it. Too much of a good thing: the frustration of finding something fresh or forgotten to listen to, despite having a huge streaming library or digital music collection. Rather than sparking discovery and excitement, we play the same music, repeatedly.

And if you’re one of those people who have both a streaming and file-based collection, the problem is compounded. Finding a way to merge them that doesn’t resemble lifeless file-folder browsing or spreadsheets of miniature album art is an ordeal. We feel your pain.

Roon was created to cure those headaches and make traversing the web of sound exciting again. Our Focus tool relieves music saturation with interactive design and reveals the hidden connections vital to bringing music to life. In this article, we’ll show you several ways to use Focus to rediscover lost nuggets in your collection and curate new favorites more intentionally. 

Artist Focus: Classical Closeup

We’ll start by using Artist Focus to discover Classical Music. Several months ago, a customer in our Community Music section praised a Bach album by Martha Argerich and Mischa Maisky. I glanced at the album art, did a quick search, added it to my library, and reminded myself to listen to it closely. I did and enjoyed it. So naturally, I asked myself “… are there other recordings by Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich I might also enjoy?”

Here’s how I found an answer:

  • Go to the artist page
  • Open Focus (1)
  • Scroll to the right until reaching PERFORMERS
  • Expand the list
  • Select Mischa Maisky (2)

Then, let’s say I only want Argerich & Maisky main albums – not compilations or collections. Additionally, I want to see all my high-res and MQA options:

  • Go to the TYPE column
  • Click Main albums (3)
  • Then find the FORMAT column
  • Select CD Quality
  • Then, in the Focus parameters list, click CD Quality again. (4)

When it turns red, the focus parameter is inverted. Instead of showing CD Quality, it’s showing everything other than CD Quality. Additionally, no compilations or appearances are shown. 17 albums meet my Focus parameters. (5)

Album Focus: Producer Deep-Dive

Some producers are seemingly ubiquitous in a particular music genre, Glyn Johns is an example in my library. Recently I decided to revisit high-res Rock, Pop, and Blues albums produced by Glyn that I haven’t played in a few months. Using Album Focus I:

  • Selected Glyn Johns under PRODUCTION (1)
  • Clicked 44.1khz in the SAMPLE RATE column
  • Clicked it in the Focus Parameters list to invert the selection (2)
  • Chose Played in the last 3 Months under PLAYED IN THE LAST
  • Then clicked it a second time in the Focus Parameters list to invert it (3)
  • And that easily, I’m provided with a list of Glyn Johns produced albums by The Beatles, Stones, Who, and Zeppelin, in high-quality sound, that I haven’t played in 3 months! (4) Quality classic rock listening, activate!

Focus settings are super fun and easy to apply and adjust. No other music software feature I’ve used is so visually engaging or intuitive.

Track Focus: Ringing in the Years

Track Focus parameters utilize horizontal presentation, but otherwise, work the same as Artist and Album Focus.

This time I decided to revisit 24-bit tracks from my Qobuz Library that were released in the 1990s. To do this I:

  • Expanded Focus and scrolled down to RELEASE DATE
  • Then clicked View more
  • On the Year window, I moved the left year indicator to 1991 (1) and the right one to 1999 (2)
  • My entire library of 47,159 tracks became focused on tracks released from 1991-1999 (3)
  • Next, I clicked 24bit under BIT DEPTH (4)
  • Then Qobuz Library under STORAGE (5)
  • And just like that, I had 617 tracks of 24-bit bliss courtesy of Track Focus (6)

With Focus, the possibilities for creating customized artist, album, track, or composition lists are limited only by your imagination, not uninspired technology. 

Focus Bonus Tips 

Bookmarks:

In the last example, I created a customized list of tracks. Now, I can use those results to create a bookmark. Here’s how:

  • With the Track focus still on the page, go to the top right-hand side of Roon and click the Bookmark tab. 
  • Then Add Bookmark.
  • Create a bookmark name, I chose Qobuz 24-bit ’90s  
  • Anytime I select that bookmark, I’ll see my Qobuz 24bit tracks from the ’90s. 

What’s even cooler, is when I add anything new to my Qobuz library that matches the parameters I used to build the Track Focus list, it’s automatically populated to the Qobuz 24-bit ’90s bookmark.

Playlists:

But what if I want to create a playlist with the ’90s Qobuz Track Focus, instead of a bookmark? No problem:

  • With the Qobuz 24-bit ’90s track focus still selected, I go to my play queue
  • Select all tracks
  • And click the red Remove from Queue button to tidy things up
  • Then I return to the Tracks page
  • Select everything on that page
  • Then click the ellipsis button at the top of the page
  • And Add to playlist
  • Click + New playlist
  • Type Qobuz 24-bit ’90s
  • Click Create

With a few simple steps, any Tracks Focus can become a bookmark or playlist. But be careful, you could spend an entire day making bookmarks and playlists. It’s pretty addictive.

With careful curation of your Roon Library, Focus becomes an oracle of exploration and discovery. For instance, instead of adding the top folder of your digital music files library consider adding a genre subfolder instead. Instantly your genre-themed music folders are poised for treasure hunting. Focus unlocks the connections that make music spellbinding. You’ll never waste time on aimless folder browsing again.

If you’d like to know more about a Roon Feature or have Roon tricks and tips to share, send me a message at our Roon Community. We’d love to see them and hear how Roon deepens your love of music!

What is Roon Used for?

It’s usually best to define something in terms of other things that your audience understands. In the case of Roon, that’s neither easy nor particularly helpful because there’s nothing quite like Roon. Rather than attempting to define it, let’s discuss what Roon is used for. This article will help you to approach Roon with appropriate expectations.

Augmented Reality

“…an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities…” – Wikipedia.

Roon’s flagship feature is an enhanced presentation of your digital music library, enriched with hyperlinked metadata, beautiful album art, lyrics, credits, reviews, artist bios, concert dates, and more. An “augmented reality” metadata overlay is what well over a hundred thousand Roon subscribers are paying for, and it’s Roon’s primary value proposition. This concept and its implications should be your main takeaway from this article.

Real world digital music libraries are typically collections of folders, sub-folders, and files scattered across multiple computers and drives. If present, embedded metadata may only be viewed statically. Navigating such libraries is like reading spreadsheets. At best, you’re scrolling through thousands of album cover icons, hoping to find something worth your time to play. As a result, you tend to play the same things over and over again. Sound familiar?

The designers of Roon were discontent with the spreadsheet paradigm for exploring digital music, so they set out to create a rich experience that encourages discovery and is more akin to handling physical media. They would have to solve two extraordinarily difficult problems to achieve this goal. The first was creating a cloud database with high-quality album art, plus licensed and crowd-sourced metadata for all the world’s music. This task will never be finished, but Roon Labs is making tremendous progress.

The second problem was identifying all tracks in each subscriber’s music library, matching them to records in that cloud database. Roon presents successfully identified tracks and albums with the best quality album art, reviews, lyrics, and detailed, hyperlinked credits, overriding incomplete or inaccurate metadata embedded in the files. Identifying every track is an impossible task, but subscribers who take the time to help the process along will have a richer experience with Roon.

Roon makes no changes to the files in your library. Yet, the view it presents is greatly enhanced with licensed and crowd-sourced metadata, creating a fresh and engaging experience that inspires music exploration and discovery.

Two Streaming Services

In addition to managing your library of files, Roon is used as a frontend for the TIDAL and Qobuz streaming services. Both provide free apps for navigating their music catalogs. So, what value does Roon add? Quite a lot, it turns out. Their catalogs are immense, with over seventy million tracks each; the tyranny of choice can be overwhelming. But as you expand your library with favorites from these services, Roon learns your preferences. Over time, Roon makes increasingly helpful recommendations based on your listening habits, enabling you to mine these massive catalogs for precious veins of content that you’ll enjoy. Roon treats the albums you add to your library from streaming services the same way it does local files, enriching them with its cloud metadata.

Your local library and streaming favorites create powerful jumping-off points to find new music. For example, Doug Sax was an extremely talented mastering engineer. Any album that he worked on will almost certainly sound fantastic. You won’t find mastering credits in iTunes or streaming apps, but this information is present for most albums in Roon’s cloud database. According to Roon, Doug Sax mastered 74 of the 2,350 albums in my music library. Not surprisingly, they are among my favorites. Naturally, I’d like to discover more albums that he mastered, and Roon makes this possible. When I click on “Doug Sax” under album credits, Roon reveals 1,091 albums mastered by him on TIDAL, sorted by popularity and ready for me to explore.

The same approach works for your favorite bass player or composer. Be aware that Roon makes no guarantees that their cloud database is 100% accurate or complete. Again, this is an impossible task for all of the world’s music. But the database is constantly improving, and what is there will enable you to discover music and artists in ways that were not possible before Roon.

One Library, One Environment

A Roon subscription is used to manage a single music library at a single physical location. Although this may change, for now, Roon’s domain is limited to one local area network, typically at your primary place of residence. Roon’s device discovery protocols do not traverse router interfaces, or in plain English, you generally can’t take Roon with you in the car, public transportation, on vacation, or to the office.

Each member of your household may create a Roon profile. Doing so is a good idea because it allows each person to have their own playback history, tags, playlists, and recommendations. However, if your streaming subscription is a family plan, keep in mind that you must choose one member’s streaming account to link with your Roon library. For example, I have to scroll through pages of my wife’s favorite Beegie Adair albums to find my Steely Dan and Infected Mushroom collections. We use personal tags to mitigate the issue. While helpful, creating tags requires discipline as albums are not automatically tagged to the profile of the person who added them. The same principle applies to music purchases from download services and CD rips.

One Interface, Three Presentations

Roon’s user interface is an OpenGL masterpiece that scales both in size and functionality to fit the device on which it runs. Call it responsive design, if you like. The presentation style across smartphones, tablets, and computers is consistent, regardless of the underlying operating system (a remarkable achievement).

Still, Roon excludes some functions that would be awkward to use on smaller screens. For example, DSP Presets may be recalled from the smartphone app, but you’ll need a tablet or computer to adjust specific parametric EQ points. And convolution filter sets may only be uploaded from a computer. Once you’re familiar with Roon’s control surface, you’ll be at home with it across all your devices. However, don’t be surprised to find a few minor differences in functionality as you move from one to the next.

The goal of Roon’s tabloid-like interface is to encourage exploration and discovery. As such, it intentionally eschews convenience features like voice commands in favor of a more engaged style of personal interaction.

Many (inequal) Playback Systems

Roon may be able to send music to most devices in your home, but be aware that not all devices in the Roon ecosystem are equal. If you’re purchasing a networked audio component for use with Roon, focus on those certified as Roon Ready. These offer the most complete integrations. For example, when you change the volume on the device, that change is accurately reflected on all Roon control apps. The reverse is also true; changes made via Roon are displayed correctly on the device. Clicking “Play” in Roon causes the device to switch to the Roon input. These are little things, but they make the experience friendlier, especially for non-technical family members and guests.

Roon offers limited support for devices that do not speak its native RAAT (Roon Advanced Audio Transport) protocol. Examples include Google Chromecast, SONOS®, Apple AirPlay, Logitech Squeezebox, and Signalyst NAA (Network Audio Adapters). Bluetooth, DLNA, DTS PlayFi, and Denon HEOS are not supported by Roon. Still, systems with standard digital audio inputs, like S/PDIF and USB, may be integrated with Roon by adding relatively expensive bridge devices. While Roon can control a wide variety of devices, adapting as many as possible to use Roon’s native RAAT protocol will result in the best experience and fewest surprises for you and other household members.

Summary

Roon is used to present an enhanced abstract view of your music library, enriched with cloud metadata and art. It enables each household member to discover and play the music they enjoy to devices of varying capabilities throughout the home.

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A Celebration of Jazz – Contemporary Jazz

In our previous blog post A Celebration of Jazz – A Global Journey we explored a variety of regional jazz scenes. We continue our blog series to celebrate International Jazz Day with an exploration of the contemporary jazz scene. For International Women’s Day we created our playlist Women in Jazz to celebrate the women leading the way today. We explore the international contemporary jazz scene further in our playlists Expansive Jazz and Contemporary ECM. 

Kokoroko

Expansive Jazz

Explore the expansive and experimental sounds of the genre-bending contemporary jazz scene where a new generation of artists are continuously reinventing the sound of jazz. 

It has been a strong start to the year with contemporary jazz releases. We feature new releases from Bassist Derrick Hodge, Kokoroko, Immanuel Wilkins, Sons of Kemet, Ebi Soda, Kamasi Washington, Julius Rodriguez, and Ezra Collective along with some strong leaders in the genre – Robert Glasper’s supergroup R&R = Now and Christian Scott.

The London-based Afrobeat band Kokoroko have released two stand out tracks in their new debut album Could We Be More. In this playlist we feature Something’s Going On with its influences of psychedelic jazz and funk combining African roots and London sounds. In our playlist Sarah Pick’s we feature We Give Thanks, written with the idea of recapturing the energy you get when you get to the end of shows.

Another highlight is Brighton-based jazz quintet Ebi Soda’s Chandler from their new album Honk if You’re Sad which combines psychedelia, dissonance, hip hop, jazz, and electronic music. Chandler features their truly unique sound combined with guest trumpet and flugelhorn player Yazz Ahmed playing an ambient melody.

Oded Tzur

Contemporary ECM

German label ECM has, since 1969, been one of the most influential labels for jazz and classical music. ECM soon became known as the ‘gold standard for sound, presence and pressing’, applying precision and focus to improvised music. We’ve put together some of the more recent jazz masterpieces from their catalog. 

We open with Noam from Saxophonist Oded Tzur’s Isabela. Tzur’s background in the Tel Aviv jazz scene of the 2000’s, included a variety of musical training. An interest in Indian classical music plays into Tzur’s interest in the relationship between ancient and modern musical traditions. Throughout the album, Tzur uses a raga, a melodic framework for improvisation similar to a Chalan in Indian Classical Music.

We highlight Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen twice, with The Circle from his new album Opening, and again with the fantastic The Tunnel from The Other Side. The Tord Gustavsen Trio are known for exploring Scandinavian hymns, jazz, and choral music in their work. In Opening, they explore Norwegian classical and Scandinavian folk songs whilst introducing the artistry of their new bassist Steinar Raknes.

The stand out track comes from Danish guitarist Jakob Bro with his new trio featuring Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen and Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy. There is a sense of a dignified slowness – a solemnity characteristic of ECM recordings.

Elina Duni

Women in Jazz

A celebration of the women paving the way in the contemporary jazz scene, including Grammy award-winning Esperanza Spalding, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and harpist Brandee Younger.

A highlight of this playlist are the rich vocals of Swiss-Albanian singer Elina Duni. Born into an artistic family in Tirana, Duni began singing at a young age, later settling in Geneva, Switzerland where she discovered jazz alongside her classical piano training. We feature the hauntingly sad Meu Amor from Duni’s solo project Partir where she accompanies herself on guitar. Partir, meaning departure, features songs sung in nine different languages reflecting on movement and her own departure from her homeland. 

Leading the way in the international contemporary jazz scene are five times Grammy-Award winning American jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, Yazmin Lacey, and jazz harpist Brandee Younger.

From Norway, we have bassist and singer Ellen Andrea-Wang with Fjord Ferry from her album Diving. Andrea-Wang’s genre-defying style features in Fjord Ferry with her prominent bass fused with ethereal vocals.

To learn more about how to explore Jazz in Roon, revisit last year’s blog piece A New Way to Discover Jazz from our Founder and CEO Enno Vandermeer. All of our playlists are available in Playlists by Roon on your Roon home page.

A Celebration of Jazz – A Global Journey

To celebrate International Jazz Day we would like to introduce you to our jazz playlists in Roon. Through this jazz blog series we hope to showcase the variety of sounds and styles in jazz, and introduce you to the unique ways in which cultures and music traditions are incorporated into jazz. First, we explore the unique sounds coming from different countries and cities with our playlists Icelandic Jazz, Kenyan Jazz, South African Jazz, Cuban Jazz, London Jazz Explosion, and Mountain Jazz.

Icelandic Jazz

Agnar Már Magnússon

Here we explore Icelandic jazz, with its unique combination of influences from Afro-American jazz to Scandinavian jazz and Icelandic folk influences.

To understand the history of jazz in Iceland, it is important to recognise the impact which music had as part of diplomatic relations between the US and Iceland in the 1950s in a time when black artists such as Dizzy Gillepsie and Thelonious Monk held great fame. 

During the cold war, Iceland had a policy banning black soldiers from the Keflavik US air base. Opera singers were allowed to come to Iceland, but jazz musicians were limited both in performance and on the radio. Nevertheless, Afro-American jazz had a huge influence on Icelandic jazz musicians over the years, likely in part due to the American air base present from World War II.

Iceland is geographically closer to the US and the UK, yet culturally aligned with Scandinavia. This unique blend of cultures has produced an interesting and varied sound amongst Icelandic jazz musicians who cover a variety of jazz sub-genres.

Our playlist features contemporary Icelandic musicians, many appearing over the years at the increasingly popular Reykjavik Jazz Festival. We feature Gunnar Gunnarson’s melodic chamber jazz, an example of the mixed influences found in Icelandic jazz from Icelandic folk music, classical music, and jazz. Another highlight is pianist-composer Agnar Már Magnússon who draws on the openness of Icelandic folk music and nature for inspiration.

Nduduzo Makhathini 

South African Jazz

Building on South Africa’s rich and unique musical traditions a new generation of jazz artists are flourishing with a fresh expansive sound. Leading the way are Nduduzo Makhathini, the first South African to be signed onto Blue Note records, keyboardist/singer Thandi Ntuli, and trombonist/singer Siya Makuzeni.

To understand the contemporary jazz scene in South Africa it is important to first understand the historical influences which bred genres such as Cape jazz and Soweto blues. 

African-American jazz started to reach South Africa in the early 20th Century. During the 1960s and 1970s South African jazz was internationally acclaimed, with its unique blend of township dance music with hard bop and free jazz. Artists such as the Jazz Epistles and the Blue Notes produced their own bebop.

During apartheid, black musicians were forced to go underground or perform behind screens to white audiences. Many unique South African genres such as Kwela, mbaqanga and marabi emerged during this time from the influences of American ragtime and dixieland combined with African trance-like rhythm, the pennywhistle, and combining guitar with brass. 

Forced to emerge underground, these genres such as marabi were often not recorded. As with speakeasies in the prohibition era in America, marabi sounds were designed to draw people into the bars or ‘shebeens’. Paul Simon’s Graceland brought attention to marabi in 1986.

Our playlist focuses on the new generation of South African jazz artists emerging with a new fresh sound, combining traditional elements with an experimental sound. 

We open with Keleketla!’s International Love affair from Keleketla!, meaning “response” in Sepedi. Using a call and response style this genre-defying song is a ‘celebration of our need to come together as one and the healing power of music.’ It is an international collaboration featuring musicians from South Africa, Nigeria, UK and USA. The album was recorded in Soweto and mixed in London. 

Another highlight is internationally renowned Nduduzo Makhathini. Makhathini grew up in the hillscapes of umGungundlovu, surrounded by music and ritual practices. Influenced by the church and South African jazz giants such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Makhathini is conscious that South African jazz should retain its unique sounds.

Lisa Uduor-Noah

Kenyan Jazz

Explore the rich variety of sounds coming from Kenya’s jazz musicians, from the new generation pushing the boundaries of jazz to Mzee Ngala, the founder of the popular kenyan genre bango which combines jazz and Kenyan traditional music. 

Kenya has a relatively small but exciting emerging jazz scene. In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, artists are blending contemporary jazz with traditional local music. 

We open the playlist with Lisa Oduor-Noah, a Kenyan singer who grew up surrounded by a variety of musical styles from Lingala to R&B and blues. Michael Ongaro brings a distinct sound on guitar and flute, fusing jazz, folk and classical traditions. 

Kato Change embraces a variety of influences, from flamenco, blues and rock to African traditions. We feature African Woman from his debut album The Change Experience. Inspired by videos of musicians on YouTube, Kato Change taught himself guitar. Change is part of a global community of musical exchange via platforms such as YouTube, something which has influenced his sound.

Sons of Kemet

London Jazz Explosion

Explore the thriving London jazz scene with this contemporary jazz playlist. Multi-genre and multi-cultural influences are brought together by an emerging scene of collaborative young, fresh artists. 

Shabaka Hutchings has established himself as a core member of the London jazz scene. His group Sons of Kemet draws on influences from the diverse sounds of London’s club culture from house, grime, and jungle, to dub. 

As part of the Caribbean diaspora, Hutchings wants to recreate the jubilant community celebration of music as he experienced with the calypso and soca music of Barbados’ Carnival. Here we feature My Queen is Anna Julia Cooper from Your Queen Is a Reptile, blending funky tuba bass lines from Theon Cross with Hutchings on the saxophone.

Theon Cross features again with deep bass lines on Activate with Moses Boyd Exodus and saxophonist Nubya Garcia.

Other highlights include Ill Considered, Tom Green Septet, Misha Mullov Abbado, and also featured on our Women in Jazz playlist are Yazz Ahmed, Yazmin Lacey and Zara McFarlane.

David Virelles, photo by John Rogers

Cuban Jazz

Explore the variety and richness of Cuban jazz. From traditional influences of Afro-Cuban mambo, cha-cha and salsa, to timba and songo bands Havana D’Primera and Los Van Van, Rumba from Changüí de Guantánamo to genre-bending artist Daymé Arocena.

Highlights include Yissy Garcia and Afro-Cuban pianist-composer David Virelles. We feature Virelles’ Bodas de Oro from his album Igbó Alákọrin, a Yoruba phrase meaning The Singer’s Grove. This album champions the roots and singers from Santiago de Cuba.

Along with Daymé Arocena, composer and drummer Yissy Garcia is leading the way in this new generation of Cuban jazz artists. Known for her versatility, Garcia combines tradition and experimentation in a powerful way, fusing latin jazz, electronics and traditional Cuban music.

Last year we had the privilege of speaking to Daymé Arocena about Cuba’s rich musical history, challenges, and her music in our two-part blog Daymé Arocena: Cuban Music Breakout. Part 1 and Daymé Arocena: Music Roots & Creative Process. Part 2..

Trygve Seim, photo by Antonio Armentano

Mountain Jazz

Mountain Jazz is a selection of the finest tracks from the jazz traditions of the Nordics. Transparent, floating, dreamy and with a constant undercurrent of folk music and dramatic scenery. 

Norway has a proud jazz tradition, from Jan Garbarek’s breakthrough in the 1970s to the fresh sounds of experimental jazz band Pixel and trio Gurls – all featured in this playlist.

Many of the leading contemporary Norwegian jazz recordings come from ECM, introducing many of these artists such as Tord Gustavsen and Mathias Eick to an international audience.

Highlights include Trygve Seim’s beautiful Sol’s Song from Helsinki Songs, and jazz violinist Ola Kvernberg’s Liarbird.

Our next blog post A Celebration of Jazz – Contemporary Jazz will explore our contemporary jazz playlists Expansive Jazz, Women in Jazz, and Contemporary ECM.

To learn more about how to explore Jazz in Roon, revisit last year’s blog piece A New Way to Discover Jazz from our Founder and CEO Enno Vandermeer. 

All of our playlists are available in Playlists by Roon on your Roon home page.

Weekend Playlists

As we described in our post Playlists in Roon, this year our music team started curating more playlists available only in Roon. Our playlists cover a range of genres, seasons, artist profiles, and sounds from around the world. We’ve created a selection of lifestyle playlists for the weekend: Uncorked, Hazy, Pour Over, Sauté, and EDM Party. 

Album cover – Shina Williams & his African Percussionists: African Dances

Uncorked

To accompany your evening drinks, Uncorked is our expansive playlist of afrobeat, disco-funk, electronic pop and jazz funk. Highlights include Nu Guinea, Terrace Martin and iconic 70s Nigerian artist Shina Williams with his fusion of afrobeat, electronics, boogie and disco.

The playlist opens with Quantic, a pseudonym for British producer, DJ and musician Will Holland. Taking its inspiration from Holland’s global travels and move across the Atlantic to New York, Atlantic Oscillations brings out dance oriented sounds with Holland’s world-renowned sound, blending house, disco, soul and jazz.

Lagos-based Shina Williams’ Agboju Logun is the highlight of this playlist. First released on Phonodisk in 1979 on the African Dances album, then in 1984 as an alternative mix on Earthworks, Rough Trade. The track became an Afro disco classic with its innovative fusion of afrobeat, electronics, boogie and disco. 

Williams brought together the best of Nigeria’s percussionists stating “I want to show the whole wide world that Africa is alive with modern musicians to reckon with anywhere”. The album gained little international attention until the 1984 album release. 

We continue with Afrobeat fusion from the Canadian group The Souljazz Orchestra who blend soul, jazz, funk, Afrobeat and Latin-American styles, and Marumo’s, a collaboration of South African blind musicians with Khomo Tsaka Deile Kae, a funk rock setting of a pastoral story of a herder boy who loses his father’s cattle.

Other highlights include French house-electronic duo Polo & Pan and Italian funk, disco, electronic, world music producer duo Nu Guinea (now Nu Genea) from Naples. Nu Guinea draws on 70s and 80s Neopolitan artists such as Tullio de Piscopo’s fusion of jazz, funk, disco and African rhythms. We feature Ddoje Facce from their album Nuovo Napoli which reflects this sound as well as the Neopolitan music scene and local dialect.

Kerala Dust, photo by Orhan Olgar

Hazy

Begin your evening with Hazy, a downtempo playlist of atmospheric favorites. Explore the diversity of sound from deep house to bands such as Kerala Dust who combine influences of psychedelic rock, blues and techno. 

We open with Kerala Dust, formed in London in 2016 and now based in Berlin. Kerala dust blends electronic music with traditional and experimental songwriting, drawing on influences from Tom Waits to CAN and The Velvet Underground. 

Ninze follows with their experimental Ketapop sound, mixing downtempo atmospheric sounds with melancholy melodies. 

A highlight of this playlist is Palomita from the Ouïe imprint release Endup from NU, a Germany-based production outfit. Palomita moves from a mid tempo vibe to a Latin dance influence. 

We feature Modir from Seb Wildblood, co-founder of London club night and label Church. Modir, from his first album and first release on his own label SW Foreign Parts features Wildblood’s hazy organic sound. Wildblood states “This track has a really warm & nostalgic feel for me. It was made using a Juno 106, TR909 & Field Recording sampled at home. Móðir translates to Mother in Icelandic, so shouts to my mum on this one.”

Another highlight is Sueño en Paraguay from Argentine producer Chancha Vía Circuito, known for his fusion of electronic music and cumbia – a complex blend of traditional Latin American rhythms.

Tomberlin, photo by Ebru Yildiz

Pour Over

Enjoy your morning coffee with our mellow selection of indie artists. We feature Iron & Wine’s new melancholic release Calm on the Valley, from an unearthed album of lost recordings Archive Series Volume No.5: Tallahassee recorded in the late 90’s. 

Tomberlin brings the sound of the influences of her first pandemic winter in New York on idkwntht (“I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This”), exploring themes of connection and disconnection with guest vocals from Told Slant’s Felix Walworth.

A highlight of this playlist is the moody soft vocals of Adrienne Lenker, lead singer of Big Thief. This song explores the transitions in the natural world, and the importance of embracing change.

We highlight Adrienne Lenker again with her track Heavy Focus from her solo album songs. Lenker recorded songs early in the pandemic, alone in a one-room cabin in the woods. Heavy Focus reveals a folksy sound with honest lyrics, encouraging the listener to focus in.

Another highlight is Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun’s cover of Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind from her album Leave me Breathless, an album full of unique re-interpretations and covers. 

Arooj Aftab, photo by Blythe Thomas

Sauté

Sauté provides an uplifting yet mellow selection for cooking or eating. We begin with Brazilian singer-songwriter Leo Middea who brings together influences of samba, bossa, and soul.

We follow with funk from Swedish duo Duoya, Gustav Horneij and Dimitrios Karatzios, disco vibes from Jungle, and retro-soul from Durand Jones & The Indications with Love Will Work it Out from Private Space. Private Space pulls on classic soul and themes of longing for post-pandemic connection.

Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised, songwriter Aaron Frazer features in our playlist with his retro soulful sound both as co-lead singer of Durand Jones & The Indications and on his debut solo album Introducing… with Ride with Me. 

The highlight of this playlist is Grammy award-winning Pakistani-born, New York-based, vocalist Arooj Aftab. Aftab blends jazz, trance, and traditional Pakistani classical music for her unique and mesmerizing sound. Here we feature Mohabbat, Aftab’s stripped down version of a famous ghazal and song originally written by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri.

R3HAB by weraveyou

EDM Party, by Noris Onea.

Get ready for the weekend with our high energy EDM party mix from our Senior Technical Support Specialist Noris Onea. Noris tells us about his playlist:

Right from the start of the playlist, we kick off with several well known Big-room House artists such as Armin van Buuren, Dimitri Vegas, R3HAB and David Guetta with their highly energetic tracks. Later on we dive into Tiësto, Avicii, and Martin Garrix.

As we progress through the playlist, we have some notable mentions from Electro House, Progressive House, Trap, Club and Deep House music to keep the blood pumping through your veins and your subwoofers vibrating.

The playlist contains a few really unique tracks, such as Dimitri Vegas’ “Opa”, which features a Greek Zorba theme, New World Sound’s “Flute” which features a flute-heavy EDM beat, German DJ Tujamo’s down-and-dirty “Who”, and of course plenty of DJ remixes such as RL Grime’s “Satisfaction”, Coldplay’s “Paradise”, and Major Lazer + MOSKA’s “Despacito”.

This playlist has also been optimized for track-to-track transitions, so if you just hit play (or shuffle, it is up to you!) you’re sure to have a great experience from start to finish. This is one playlist where the DJ can “Save My Night”, as mentioned in the intro track from the playlist and keep the memories alive for the following “Years”!

Listen to Uncorked, Hazy, Pour Over, Sauté, and EDM Party in Playlists in Roon on your Roon Home Page.

44 Days in ’91

Music flashpoints are an exceedingly rare phenomenon. Even when considering a mainstream genre like Rock you can count these transformational convulsions on a single hand. Some of the reason for their scarcity comes from the difficulty involved in packing all the necessary ingredients into a single coalescent moment. The required elements are a creative environment that has gone stale, the sudden emergence of a new sound, a large audience, and a means for reaching them.

Historically, television has exploited those moments more effectively than any competing medium. A few examples spring instantly to mind: Elvis‘ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, The Beatles‘ first Sullivan performance… and the day in 1991 that Nirvana‘s Smells Like Teen Spirit broke on MTV. 

Those who experienced that debut in real-time remember it vividly. ‘Everything will be different now…’, the screen seemed to convey with mysterious certainty. A new era had sprung to life before our eyes.

I was at the top of the rock world… then next thing I know it’s ‘Hey Joe’s Crab Shack, it’s great to be here!!’ Really, it was that fast, man. Nirvana murdered my career, and everyone else’s. Everything that came before was over.

Sebastian Bach, Lead Singer of Skid Row

The Long Winter of Hair Metal

If you weren’t of a certain age in the early 1990s, it may be difficult to understand the dominance that MTV enjoyed when it came to defining music trends. It was the most powerful visual platform music had ever seen. The problem was that it had become a wasteland of cheesy sound-alike hair bands. The programing had slowly devolved into a relentless parade of awful music and vapid videos filled with men in makeup, hairspray drenched teased hair, scantily clad women, spandex, studded leather, pointy guitars, and musical cliché. It had been that way for what felt like a lifetime, with no end in sight.

Then suddenly, in the waning days of the summer of 1991, seven landmark albums were released within 44 days of each other; with startling immediacy Rock was reborn!

  • Metallica – Metallica (The Black Album), August 12, 1991
  • Pearl Jam – Ten, August 27, 1991
  • Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II, September 17, 1991
  • Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik, September 24, 1991
  • Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger, September 24, 1991
  • Nirvana – Nevermind, September 24, 1991

An interview scene from the recent SXSW premiere of the Ronnie James Dio documentary Dio: Dreamers Never Die captured the moment perfectly. Veteran Rock-radio DJ, and former host of VH1’s Metal Mania, Eddie Trunk, recounted how the program director of WDHA, ‘The Rock of New Jersey’, walked into the booth minutes before the start of his show. Trunk was told to put all the Metal discs on the console in a cardboard box. After doing so, he was handed Nirvana’s Nevermind.; “This is what we play now,” the program director said as he walked away. Trunk recalled that he had never seen a moment like that in Rock music before or since. 

Sebastian Bach of Skid Row displayed self-effacing humor after the film screening as he shared a memory of that period. “We had just released an album and were huge! I was at the top of the rock world… then next thing I know it’s ‘Hey Joe’s Crab Shack, it’s great to be here!!’ Really, it was that fast, man. Nirvana murdered my career, and everyone else’s. Everything that came before was over.” 

But Nirvana didn’t do all of this single-handedly; it was a unique joint effort from a truly unlikely confederacy of albums.

Seven Albums

Metallica‘s eponymous album was first, accompanied by a series of darkly themed videos beginning with the nightmare hell-ride, Enter SandmanThe band had previously enjoyed a committed cult following, but all that changed after The Black Album. They made the hair metal bands that preceded them look ridiculous. Their breed of metal was pulverizing, ominous, and entirely unlike the sound that had saturated the airwaves for years on end. And it was suddenly mainstream; one had the feeling that something was stirring. 

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/ysw33p1clm4kb
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/197137267

Pearl Jam‘s Ten was branded “grunge” but there’s a substantial classic-rock aesthetic to their sound. The spirit of Hendrix, Page, and other late ’60s / early ’70’s guitar heroes can clearly be felt. Eddie Vedder’s words resonated with a whole new generation of listeners looking for deeper subject matter to identify with. Their video for Even Flow captured the raw energy of the new sound and scene.

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0884977724745
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/195069318

Guns N’ Roses rewarded fans who had patiently waited for a follow-up to their debut Appetite for Destruction with two full-length releases, Use You Illusion I & II. G&R wasn’t new to the scene. They were frequent fixtures on MTV and rock radio who withstood the sea change thanks to their skill at cranking out pure unadulterated Rock. Use Your Illusion I & II debuted at the Number 1 and 2 slots of Billboard’s Album Chart. Several songs from the record morphed into some of the most cinematic, and expensive, rock videos to ever appear on MTV. 

Use Your Illusion I
Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0072064244152
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/629051

Use Your Illusion II
Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/b5huv2vxfiqcc
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/89413071

September 24, 1991, delivered a devastating triumvirate of albums whose combined impact, and individual merits, are unlikely to be repeated. 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood, Sugar, Sex, Majik sees the funk-rock tribe expand their sonic horizons thanks to production from Rick Rubin. The video releases for Breaking the GirlGive It Away, and Under the Bridge are surreal scenes plucked straight from an Orange Sunshine fueled reverie. They played music with a warrior’s intensity, the RHCP were the only band who sounded like that.    

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0093624932147
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/288404

Soundgarden was always too singular sonically to fit comfortably under the “grunge” banner. On Badmotorfinger, their eclectic influences and musicianship are on full display. Full of inventive arrangements, unusual time signatures, and sludgy guitar heaviness – the album cuts its own trail across the musical landscape of that summer. The crazed neon desert visuals of Jesus Christ Pose proved too controversial for MTV, earning a ban from the network. MTV hasn’t played the video in its entirety to this day.

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0060255722974
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/67019132

Nirvana‘s Nevermind struck the final deadly blow. I don’t know if I’ll ever see another album redirect the arc of rock music the way that one did. No doubt, the six albums that preceded it had done their work in weakening the target; but Nirvana’s heavy sonic attack and subject matter recalled punk’s go-to-hell abandon with delirious ferocity. But it was the imagery of their videos that proved lethal. 

Qobuz: https://open.qobuz.com/album/0060253749865
TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/77610756

The final nail: Smells Like Teen Spirit

On September 10th, 1991, Nevermind‘s first video Smells Like Teen Spirit exploded before an unprepared audience. Everything in that 4 minutes and 39 seconds was the mirror opposite of the soul-sucking drek we had endured in the long winter of Hair-Metal. The only makeup and spandex seen were buried in the greenish mire that obscured the Anarchy Cheerleaders thrashing in the foreground. Nirvana wore striped shirts, torn jeans, doc martens, and converse, with guitars slung low and set to destroy. Kobain with hair in his face tearing away at the guitar, Novoselic head down, driving the bass, Grohl a hurricane of blurred arms and bass drumming. The kids rocking out in the video were representative of the musical liberation we all felt. Everything that had previously assailed us musically was swept away in its aftermath.

In celebration of these records, we’ve built 44 Days in ’91; a playlist featuring the heaviest tracks from these albums. Together again, just as they were on MTV and the airwaves in the days that followed. You can find it on your Home Page in Roon.

If you were a member of Hair Nation who was sad to see those earlier Metal bands go, we want to hear your side of the story. Head over to Roon Community and submit your favorite metal songs of the mid-’80s to early ’90s to our thread entitled Glam-Metal: Roon Listeners’ Playlist. We’ll compile the best and share a playlist of your favorites. 

Improving how you search for music in Roon

I’d like to fill you all in on what’s been happening with search in Roon, what we have done in our latest release to make things better, and a little bit of what we have planned for the future.

Before I get started, one piece of background: we feel strongly that it’s best for the product to present a single, clear answer to a search query that blends both library and streaming content without putting them into separate “silos” as some other products do. This allows Roon to give a single set of answers to a query without forcing the user to pick apart, disambiguate, or dig deeper based on where the results are coming from. You’re not searching your library OR searching TIDAL, you’re just searching and getting results. It’s a simpler and better experience.

Thus, Roon has to independently search your library, held within the Roon Core, and streaming content, held within cloud services, and then merge the results together. This merging problem is a tricky one. You don’t often see interleaved results from multiple search engines, and there’s a good reason for that; the fact that we hadn’t completely cracked it had left Roon’s search experience in an unacceptable state.

A bit over a year ago, we decided that not only did this have to be fixed, but that search was a “forever problem” – not something that we could fix once and forget about. It requires continual care and feeding and dedicated staff who think about search and only search, so we hired a search specialist and about a year ago and we got to work tackling search with fresh eyes.

We released the auto-complete feature earlier this year, and in building that, gained a detailed understanding of exactly how and why our existing search engine was getting things wrong. That allowed us to kick off the “big project”: an overhaul of Roon’s search infrastructure end to end.

We began by analyzing hundreds of complaints and reports from the Roon community to understand what the problems were. We used your feedback to build test cases and validate our work. Separately, we analyzed anonymized data from our servers to understand what real-world search queries looked like.

As we dug deeper, we figured out that one of the major problems is that the search engine used for the Roon library just worked too differently from the search engine used for streaming content. The two search engines computed and scored results according to different principles, each established during different eras of Roon’s product development.

The library algorithm generally returned results that were too noisy and numerous, and in a significant number of cases, noise from the library drowned out more accurate streaming results. This was especially painful for people with large libraries.

Another problem that we found is that queries for classical music just look different from queries for other content, and Roon’s search engine was behaving particularly badly with some of these queries.

We decided that in general, our approach to cloud-based search was sane (if in need of some tweaks), and the approach to library search was, quite simply, wrong.

Thus, the library search engine required a complete, ground-up rewrite. Since the most mature search technology is cloud-based and Roon’s library is not, we ended up building an embedded search engine that implements the same ideas as cloud-based engines like ElasticSearch, but in a way that lets it run inside of the Roon Core.

We also built a model that can distinguish classical and non-classical search queries prior to performing a search, so that we can tweak various parts of the search process to produce more appropriate results for classical or non-classical queries. Alongside this, we updated the user interface to give more priority to composers and compositions when a classical search is detected, which should save classical users a bit of scrolling.

Then, we had to come up with a new approach to merging library and cloud results. This required a fair amount of consideration, but we ended up landing on a really neat (and as far as we know, novel) approach for making consistent scores for search results that came from different search engines, and we’ve implemented it in Roon.

Finally, we spent months testing this stuff amongst ourselves, then with increasingly larger groups of users, until it was clear that people were feeling improvement. During this process, we iterated on all parts of the system.

I’m confident that the major and structural issues with Roon’s search engine have been addressed. I’m also sure that for the foreseeable future, people will sometimes run into searches that they don’t feel are working right. Search is a “forever problem”, right?

Now that the bulky work is done, we will be able to iterate with the Roon community more rapidly as feedback comes in, and we intend to continue improving search indefinitely.