Answers Questioned: a Follow-up Post

Since this ended up kind of taking off, I wanted to take a moment to address some common questions I’ve been getting, along with discussions from the Reddit thread that was included at the end of my previous post.

I am super grateful that people seem to be finding this interesting at the very least, skeptics and believers alike. Even if all this blog does is help to create more active media consumers out of passive media consumers, then I will consider it a success. My last post is literally akin to the prologue of a story, so all the claims made in that post will be addressed as we go further along.

And yes, I did make some rather large claims in my last post. The fact is that I did indeed stumble across an ARG, but due to the labyrinthine nature of it, I am choosing to publish information about it in a deliberate, sequential order. The importance of this is paramount because many of my discoveries will lack the proper meaning and impact if certain information and context isn’t provided ahead of time. Embedded in this game are references to mythology, music history, occultism, cinema, theater, opera, literature, gaming and many others. This was far from the standard ARG format where someone tweets a mysterious code and everything is out in the open. This one was far more sneaky than that, and did an excellent job at incorporating itself into our non-alternate reality. I am also doing it this way because this will help to train your ears. If I were to just drop these albums without doing it in a specific order or providing the right context it would actually be doing a disservice to the music, because the ways in which we came about these items frames their contents in a specific light. By listening to these in a certain order, it trains your ears to pay attention to certain things, so when you do finally arrive at an album that is so mind blowingly different and beautiful, it lights up your brain if you have the right understanding of the musical language/leitmotifs and narrative elements in play.

My last post garnered a degree of skepticism that is 100% appropriate and understandable given its contents. Part of why I chose to finally speak up is to hear others’ feedback on these items, and because we are bound to miss details on our own. I welcome your critical eyes and ears. As long as your comments are respectful, I am eager to have a conversation about it.

Below are some of the questions and answers I have already provided:

Michael Judge commented on Jan 20th 2020:

Number one, if there’s a higher-quality version of LEON/THE LEON SUITES out there, can you direct us to it?
And number two, I’ve only heard a bit of this so far, but I can confirm that “Blackstar” and “Sue” are, at least in part, different performances. The album version of “Blackstar” has DB singing “AT the center of at all”; here it’s “IN the center of it all.” 
On “Sue,” the main ostinato is different between the single and album versions – on the single, it’s a piano playing a single repeated note (I believe an E), and on the album, it’s a guitar playing four Es and a C#.  Here, it’s the album version of the riff, but it’s played on a piano, and there’s additional guitar over the intro.
I’m guessing this version of “Sue” was a scrapped intermediate attempt – DB and band probably tried to ornament and overdub the original Maria Schneider version of “Sue” before deciding to rearrange and rerecord the song completely.

My Response:

Hey, you have good timing, I’m actually just now writing up a post about Outside & Leon in particular. As far as actual sound quality goes, the FLAC files shared in 2016 are still the best, but I have found others with slightly different mixing (some where his voice is mixed more behind the music than in front, odd things like that) that I will be showing, along with a vinyl rip of the Slinky Secrets bootleg, which is a supposed live rehearsal album, but much like The Trident Tapes, it does seem like it has better sound mixing than the versions available for free online. Your musical analysis of the difference between the different versions is really appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to write it out! And seriously good catch re: “At the center” vs “In the Center”. I didn’t even catch that one.

(Edit: it appears that the order at which Bowie repeats the phrase alternates throughout both this tape and the standard version, so what may appear to be a different vocal take, may not necessarily be the case)

Michael Judge commented:

An audio engineer/producer’s note on the sudden relative clarity in the middle of “Girl Loves Me”: I can nearly swear that what you’re hearing here is the alteration of some kind of bandpass filter.  Bandpasses are what they sound like: you select a certain frequency bandwidth, and they allow all the selected frequencies to pass through while cutting out all others.  They’re normally used either to tune an input (like a piece of music) to the frequency response of its output (like a set of speakers) – say, cutting out boomy sub-bass below 50Hz and hissy treble above 10kHz – or as a special effect to get that “old transistor radio” sound on vocals, guitars, whatever.

The fact that you can hear the filter CHANGE means that somebody must’ve applied one in the first place, and the fact that it changes halfway through makes me think that this tape may well be an artifact of the mixing/mastering process for BLACKSTAR.  When mixing and mastering an album, it’s not unusual to produce demo versions that are never intended for mass consumption and that exist solely to, e.g., check the bass and treble content of an album as played back through a laptop or home stereo rather than gigantic pristine studio monitors.  So what we’re hearing may well be a mid-production test demo, hence the differences in certain tracks and the presence of stuff eventually cut from the record

u/ImAFutureGuitarHero posted:

Had a quick skim/listen to some parts of the full cassette rip you posted to MEGA, and here’s my two cents.

Judging by the audio itself, it honestly just sounds like a low quality copy of the original album + the extra tracks on the No Plan EP and the 2014 Parlophone single version of “Sue”, transferred to cassette. Whether this is the recording on the tape, the tape itself or the unit you’re playing it back on, I can’t tell for sure. About the fact that the audio is slower and therefore lower pitched, this is down to either that a) the tape was recorded slightly too fast and your tape deck is playing it back at “normal” speed, which makes the cassette slower than it was recorded at, or b) vice versa, where the cassette was recorded at a standard speed but your deck is playing back slow.

In terms of the cassette itself (going by the pictures) a lot of things strike me as being that this is an amateur bootleg/unofficial release:

  • The labels and inlay cards look very cheaply made, like they were made by using printer paper, or at best, cheap card stock.
  • The Blackstar logo and star “runes” on the front of the inlay card looks like it’s been stretched horizontally a bit, like it’s been scaled up unevenly.
  • The fonts used on the labels are very inconsistent:
  • On the front of the case’s inlay card the text “Special Extended Limited Edition 2017” is in a stencil-style font, possibly even “Stencil”.
  • On the label the title, side number and text under the reels looks like Times New Roman (or something similar).
  • The track listing on the inside of the inlay card looks like the Calibri font.All of these fonts are default ones that come with either Windows or Microsoft Word or the like. The font used for the text on a real release (i.e. the standard CD and vinyl issues) is from what I can tell a custom font called “Deja Vu” (which you can download here)
  • Speaking of the track listing, there are a couple of grammatical errors in there, the ones I can spot are the random quotation marks after Lazarus and the “I” in [When I Met You] not being capitalised (When i Met You).
  • Obviously the Hamilton logo doesn’t have anything to do with Blackstar, and it’s just been pasted on there edited to say “Blackstar” instead of “Hamilton” (original logo for reference)
  • Biggest giveaway that it’s not official that I can see is the fact that it mentions Dolby B noise reduction on it:
  • If it really was recorded for use with Dolby B enabled, the sound of the music would be really bright and sharp, which is obviously not the case.
  • The Dolby logo used on the cassette (the double D logo) looks very much like a quick Photoshop job, like someone typed “D” twice and flipped one of them to emulate the Dolby logo. The real Dolby logo is made up of either a single black rectangle with two “D” shapes at a mirror image of each other cut out of it, or the same but with a clean split down the middle. A quick Google search shows no results for a Dolby logo like the one on the pictures you posted.
  • AFAIK no professionally made pre-recorded cassettes are manufactured nowadays with Dolby B encoding, because there aren’t even any cassette players or decks manufactured today that have the means to play them with Dolby B (let alone the other types of Dolby NR that came out during the heyday of cassettes).

So all in all, a lot of signs are pointing to this being an unofficial release or amateur bootleg.

My Response:

This is a wonderful analysis, thank you for taking the time to lay out all your findings! I actually really appreciate having all those details laid out.
Regarding the quality of the audio on the tape, I am convinced it is on the recording itself and not from my tape player. When we first got it and were trying to figure out why it sounded so off, we played through a litany of different devices and it all came out consistently the same way. We used tape cleaner heads, canned air, the works. The conclusion was that there was no improving that we could do on the music coming out of this tape. Hundreds of cassette tapes later, I have yet to own any others that have this distinct distortion on it. Im not saying it’s not possible, but it would take some serious work to get that level of distortion from a modern tape recorder, and every other tape I own from that particular seller is not so warbled and distorted.

So that points to the fact that it was knowingly packaged and sold in this condition.

The question for me wasn’t whether or not it is official, because as you so articulately reasoned, it clearly is a bootleg, but rather, “why does this exist at all and who would make something like this?”

Out of all the tapes I own that have oddities about them, this one probably has the most plausible deniability about it. Every quirk on it DOES have a rational explanation. However it was by looking into this little broken tape here that I ended up discovering some other albums where I found even cooler stuff. Looking back from where I am now 3 years later, it seems like the clear jumping off point for my journey.

u/ABlankHoodie posted:

I only listen to Blackstar on one day a year (Jan 10th after spending the previous days listening to TND and the New York trilogy) and I still haven’t heard the No Plan EP (I have to save some Bowie music for the rest of my life) but I’ll definitely listen to the reworked Blackstar tracks after I listen to the proper one to compare.

My question is if the trident tapes is Bowie’s attempt at a secret new Ziggy album why wouldn’t he include the tracks from that era actually hidden from the public like “Black Hole Kids”,”Only One Paper Left”, and “Something Happens”. It’s also odd that he would consider “Tierd of My Life” part of the Ziggy era as I’m pretty sure it was recorded in the 60s and was forgotten until the scary monsters sessions (unlike something like The shadow man which he was messing with until 1970 at least).

It also makes me wonder how the official releases factor into this, especially the ones we saw in 2019 and all of the never before heard 60s tracks like Mother Grey and Goodbye 3d Joe (also I know this is a tangent but does anyone have a playlist of all of the new tracks from the conversation Piece Boxset? I thought someone like MT TVC15 would upload it as a big video like they did with the previous releases but that never happened and I still haven’t heard them).

I’m very intrigued by this and I’ll do my best to help out in whatever way I can. As much as I want this to be real (and there is precedent as its almost certain he leaked the Leon tapes and Toy) I’m still skeptical. I’m not saying that I don’t believe you, but are you sure that it really is him?

My Response:

Hey, thank you for checking it out and taking the time to write out your opinions. I completely understand any skepticism about this, and I’d agree that it would be kind of a stretch if it was just this tape and I didn’t also have an enormous pile of additional music to back up my claims here, (including a completely different Toy and multiple different Leon Suites). I was also skeptical at first, but it was by investigating this one inconsistency that I ended up in this deep rabbit hole, so it seemed like a good place to start… Am I sure it really is him? It’s impossible to say for sure. But the warmth, wit and personality that I have encountered from some of the items I’ve found over the past few years would suggest it.

Regarding the Trident Tapes album, (which is not the same as the Trident Outtakes boot), you’re right that it is missing other tracks from the technical Ziggy Era, however I see it as less of a “here’s a bunch of odds and ends that didn’t fit elsewhere” bootleg and more of a standalone album with a proper structure, consistent mastering and with honestly some really incredible versions of those songs. It’s hard to explain without having the album on hand, (any versions of these songs online that I have found* have not been the same as the ones featured on this vinyl) but I feel comfortable calling it a Ziggy album, because his vocals, his energy, and the balance of psychedelia and classic rock in the music just gives it the feel of some of the best music he made during the Ziggy years. The version of “Tired of My Life” also seems like it was recorded alongside the others, so it’s not the same as his 60’s version.

The official releases do factor into it, but in a distinctly different fashion and I plan on talking about those eventually.

Edit: wish I could give an extra upvote for that perfectly placed TM lyric

u/ABlankHoodie replied:

I’d definitely love to hear the trident tapes LP then to see what exactly is difference between those and the more commonly available versions. It wouldn’t hurt to scour every available internet upload of the songs as well to see if these are completely new mixes (or completely unheard recordings like you said) or just less common ones.

As someone who has in the past made fake Bowie albums out of unused (and sometimes modified/remixed) tracks, from what I can tell Trident Tapes seems like something made by a fan. A patchwork of songs that kind of (the only thing Rupert the Riley fits with is the laughing gnome) fit together. I think if bowie himself had made it he would’ve not only included some unheard material from the time period but he would’ve also included some songs that, while they may have originated in the Ziggy era, were things he had continued to tinker with over the years like he did with some of tracks on the Rykodisc reissues.

While it is possible Bowie spent some time in his retirement period making an ARG I’m not sure he would’ve had time to remix Blackstar. He was already busy making the album itself along with working on the Lazarus musical and demos for a potential follow up album. We know that Trent Reznor was able to access the stems of Blackstar to make a remix of I Can’t Give Everything Away so it’s possible the bootlegger got the stems the same way he did. Perhaps someone should try to contact Reznor about it as it could give us a lead? I can totally believe that somewhere along the line someone at the Bowie camp was involved with the bootleg but I’m just not sure it was David himself.

The other strange thing about these is the format. Bowie was saying people who bought vinyl in 2002 were crazy so would he really release an ARG on outdated formats? It seems a bit unlikely for him especially considering how involved he was with the internet.

I think if Bowie made an ARG around Blackstar or even his music in general he would’ve involved the internet in some way. Maybe the numbers at the end of the record groove or hidden somewhere else on the album (the designer confirmed that there were still things to find. Has anyone cut open the album sleeve or anything?) would lead to a strange website that would have some clues for where to look next.

I’m really looking forward to your future posts so we can dig into this more. Even if it is all fake it would still be fun to hear some fan remixes or something.

My Response:

OK so the good news is that, given the amount of engagement people seem to be having about the Trident Tapes, I will just go ahead and record a vinyl rip of it for comparison’s sake. If all people are able to find are the mediocre quality ones floating around, then this will be a good example and will provide a good baseline for quality when looking for items with a particular charge, so to speak. If what you are hearing sounds fan made, then we are not listening to the same album.

Bad news is that my vinyl player crapped out a few days ago and I’m still waiting on the new one to arrive. As soon as it gets here I will get that recording made and will post an entry about it. At the time when I discovered the vinyl, in an attempt to make an equivalent digital playlist for my phone, I scoured the internet for every download, every YouTube video, and even for the individual songs peppered throughout official albums. Every one was different and none of them even came close to whatever masters they were using on the vinyl. Times may have changed since then, but this was definitely the case in 2017.

I do agree with your point that there’s no way Bowie made a remix of his final album in his final days, and that this unofficial version is likely done by an independent group, however I am convinced that they do likely have connections to Bowie’s circles. 

You are sharp to notice the odd choice of format as well, and we’ve had multiple conversations about it on our own. Right now vinyl is pretty much the only physical media that people buy. I know there are plenty of us who still enjoy and purchase CDs, but on a large scale, records are once again on top. If you wanted to start filtering out music in a place where absolutely nobody would be looking, cassette tapes really would be the best way to assure that the only people buying them are interested in music enough to actually own a tape player at all in this day and age. It’s also ironic that he said those things in 2002 only to turn around and help revitalize Record Store Day a number of years later. 

Bowie’s words and actions often don’t line up in extremely telling ways. People tend to forget that Bowie is a self professed liar. He has literally been quoted as saying “my job is lying to you”. Part of how we’ve come to play this game so successfully is by digging into the things he has either downplayed or outright dismissed. You’d be amazed how much of an absolute troll and contrarian he could be. 

This ARG most definitely has involved the internet, as it is where we’ve been able to look up and gather most of our information and clues pointing us where to go next. It is also the platform for the largest auction marketplaces in the world where we’ve been able to acquire these items. In the process of playing, we’ve encountered people role-playing as NPC characters who we’ve interacted with in proper RPG fashion. We also have discovered certain codes that we were able to plug into certain places that have given us results.

I agree, even if this is all some series of increasingly strange and unlikely coincidences, I still think it’s a cool story and was able to obtain music I didn’t know existed. 

u/dabeternity posted:

bootleg black star is 3.5% slower than the original, recording deck was really bad, however Sue is standing out so I re-uploaded it with noise removed, here

edit: well, I hate to spoil the mystery but I think this is the version of bootlegged Sue here

My Response:

That is nice of you to look into regarding the speed. I will note that this was actually recorded with a pretty decent tape deck, so all distortion and static is from the tape itself and not from the deck. Early on I tried getting rid of the noise and found it compromised the space, so I decided to leave it in. Also because it became pretty clear that the distortion was kind of tied to the overall presentation.

u/ap3ph05 replied:

After listening through, I’d say they’re different versions of the same 2014 Maria Schneider “Sue” in a similar way to how “Wild is the Wind” from the OG vinyl master of Station is decidedly NOT the same as the version on the 1984 RCA cd, which are both different from the unique Ryko and EMI cd remasters – but are all still the ‘same’ base song. Mastering and production tailored to suit the needs of a particular medium or release are always a factor.

On a similar note, that moment towards the bridge of “Girl Loves Me” when the audio suddenly pops out and clears up does suggest that some of the other hiss and distortion could be deliberately engineered. Might all still be the work of some bootlegger just having a laugh, but it feels like there’s an unusual amount of intent involved.

u/YorunoHotaru replied:

I’m not convinced with this clear bit on Girl Loves Me. I heard this “effect” a lot when I re-recorded and copied cassettes, and I call it a distortion. Compare it to the real effect of clearing up in Slip Away.

My Response:

I have yet to come across another tape in the wild with this specific distortion on it, but I don’t doubt that they exist.
We tried playing it on different decks, cleaning, etc, and came to the conclusion that there was no way to improve on the sound. This one is particularly tricky, because out of all the albums in my collection, this one probably has the loudest inconsistencies on it, but each one comes with a normal/rational explanation. However it was a jumping off point for me that led to discovering more and even more blatantly strange albums, so it seemed like a natural starting point.

I will be posting a Lazarus single on the 8th from the same manufacturer that is slightly less distorted, but has some interesting things in the lead out static.

u/YorunoHotaru posted:

So, I decided to check the info at Discogs. There are three editions like this, all made in Italy, two of them containing the ghost reprise of Sue, one banned for sales. Yours has the reprise and is not banned. But a user pointed out that the logo of your cassette is actually a Hamilton musical logo. It’s either a rather strange rabbit hole or simply a shameless bootleg. Can Tony Visconti be contacted about it via any media?

My Response:

You are certainly digging in the right direction! I have researched Tony and his connections, but have chosen not to bother him about this sort of thing yet. Perhaps if it picks up traction or something.

Edit: The way the whole thing has been set up, it’s become clear that even if they are involved, they may simply lie and say nothing weird is happening, and at this point I’m pretty confident in where I’m going with this that regardless of what Tony says I’m pushing forward with it. This is just the first one in an avalanche.

u/YorunoHotaru posted:

To continue with suspicious bootleg cassettes, have you checked out “I Am Me”? Also made in Italy like yours. It looks even more promising for a good conspiracy theory. (Someone in Italy must be having great fun making these).

My Response:

Yes, I own every Italian Bowie cassette from that particular maker. They are exceptionally good.

As the conversation continues to unfold, I may add snippets here if I feel they are especially pertinent.

Thank you for reading!