Music Commentary

Hidden Tracks

Recently I picked up a copy of "Songs In the Key Of X" which was a complilation of tracks inspired by the X-Files. Inside the cover there was a somewhat obsure reference: "Nick Cave and the Dirty Three remind you that 0 is also a number". A few years ago I'd heard about hidden tracks being encoded in the 0 track of CDs but not really though much of it; this line however reminded me of that. On older CD players, the track was reached by starting the CD, and either backing up a track to 0, or "rewinding" as far as one could go; many players however had some logic to prevent this otherwise odd action and so made the hidden tracks inaccessible. When I ripped the CD to MP3 as per my listening wont, only the regular track listing appeared. None of the custom track list settings in Audiograbber seemed to reveal the full, expected list. However, clicking on the first track did show that it started about 9 minutes into the CD which is a little unusual. I reset the sector to 0 and tried again but the Dell laptop I was using at the time just gave ASPI errors. When I tried again using a Pioneer DVD-RW with on Pentium 4 system with an Intel chipset, the initial track ripped easily. I then found that it was in fact two tracks -- the first was a joint effort of Nick Cave and the Dirty Three called "Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Rivertentum", and the second a version of the X-Files theme done in the Dirty Three's inimical style. I then divided the WAV rip into two, and encoded it to MP3. All in all, a fairly easy operation once I knew the CD had it.

The concept of the hidden track has been going for a while. I remember hearing about some artists putting hidden tracks at the end of tape, or beyond the leadout on vinyl records. In both cases, this is the equivalent of the track 0 as both take advantage of oddities in the way the media was designed and used to add a bit more to a recording. In the case of the CD, the unlisted track after a long lead out is, to put it mildly, irritating. It's not that rare -- The Pet Shop Boy's "Very", Alanis Morisette's "Jagged Little Pill", Sarah McLachlan's "Falling to Ecstacy", Oasis's "Heathen Chemistry" amongst others -- all use this technique. Regardless of whether you listen to shuffle or album play, any unmarked tracks that are separated from the last listed track by silence (upwards to 20 minutes in some cases) will get played; it takes an overactive person with a remote control or a need to hear something other than silence to miss these. There is simply no point in doing this -- in fact, when I rip CDs to MP3, any tracks I find that do this, I just edit out all the silence and simply put the bonus as another track to the archive so it gets indexed and played normally. This takes time, plus I then have to try to find out what the name of the track really is as "Untitled" or "Bonus" gets dull very fast. I want to listen to the music rather than spend my time scrabbling around with different techniques that allow me to that; I do wish musicians would get past the "Cool Easter Egg!" syndrome and simply make music people want to -- and can -- listen to. It's a bit like the infamous Easter Eggs on DVD but that's another discussion. Another variation is mastering the CD normally but simply leaving tracks out of the listing. This is minor by comparison, but there's still the issue of what the track is called.

There's really no sense of satisfaction or self-aggrandizement from figuring out how to get to track 0, more a sense of irritation for it being so utterly unnecessary. What really bugs me about the track 0 issue is that I have no idea which CDs in my large collection have this. Audiograbber does not automatically tell me that track 0 exists, so I normally assume it doesn't. As the Nick Cave and Dirty Three tracks are worth listening to, I can't even write this off as saying "Bah, the substandard dross is hidden; let it stay so"; there'll be the urge to try to locate other CDs in the collection with the same mastering quirk. The internet does help here though:" is a good index of hidden tracks and how to find them. Fortunately very few of the CDs I own seem to have entries there.

So, a plea to anyone mastering CDs -- please don't do this, no more hidden tracks. Your listeners will appreciate it.

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Copy Protected CD Rant
Creating CDs on the Amiga
Hidden Tracks On CD
Surround Sound Music on the PC

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