Bon Iver at AIR Studios

Sometimes when you just sit and think about it, it’s crazy how fast time flies. The Justin Vernon and S. Carey live session (performing an intimate stripped down dueling piano set as Bon Iver) was posted on YouTube nearly 10 years ago, but to me it seems like yesterday.

I got into collecting music in junior high and I distinctly remember the first cassette tape I ever purchased: Soundgarden’s Superunknown. There was a local hardware store in my adopted hometown of Grande Cache and on the second level upstairs there was a collection of tapes and CDs. I used all of my allowance that week and brought it home and tossed it into my ghetto blaster. Pure bliss. This particular tape was lost in time, replaced with a CD, and eventually nostalgia kicked in and I wound up finding an inexpensive copy on eBay to replace the cassette.

Over the years since that first purchase, there has always been a place in my heart – or on a bookshelf – for physical media: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, audio cassette, CD, LP. In this day and age with the prevalence of streaming, my partner and I try to stay aligned to the past, to what came before us. This generally translates to lots of trips to used/thrift stores or Edmonton Public Library sales, building up our own personal library with older gems.

Now to the topic at hand: Bon Iver at AIR Studios. This particular video doesn’t have a physical release. We don’t subscribe to streaming services, however we do rip all of our CDs to FLAC and load them onto a Plex Media Server for personal use. Side note: the Plexamp v3 player is the absolute best. Rewind back to 2012, I recall wanting to put the five tracks from the AIR Studios session on my iPod. I can’t remember exactly what I used to grab the audio stream, but I only wound up compressing them to 192 Kbps MP3 files. During the pandemic, I slowly re-ripped our entire collection to FLAC, trashing the old MP3 files. This was a holdout that I wanted to fix. So I did that this weekend by starting over from scratch.

The first step was grabbing the audio stream. I remember reading about youtube-dl as the de facto utility to do this, but I recall it having some issues that resulted in Github removing the project files. Much to my delight, it is still available and it was just what I needed. Installing was a breeze:

sudo curl -L -o /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl

sudo chmod a+rx /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl

By default, it grabs the highest quality video and audio stream, so I simply ran the command with the YouTube URL and voila, good to go. I then proceeded to use ffmpeg to convert the audio stream to a WAV file:

ffmpeg -i "Bon Iver at AIR Studios (4AD_Jagjaguwar Session)-A9Tp5fl18Ho.mkv" "Bon Iver at AIR Studios (4AD_Jagjaguwar Session)-A9Tp5fl18Ho.wav"

Splitting the audio into five separate tracks was easy with the wavbreaker software. Scrolled through the file and identified the natural breaks between the songs, right-clicked and selected “Add Track Break”, rinse and repeat.

I let wavbreaker do its thing and then I compressed the split WAV files into FLAC using the command line.

flac --best *.wav

Adding the metadata (track titles, album name, genre, artist, etc.) was easy enough with Winamp, a piece of software that I don’t use as frequently as before, but one of the first things I install when I upgrade my OS. I use Picard for larger projects.

Finally, the digital audio package was complete, but it was missing some cover art. I screengrabbed a still from the YouTube video and after some minor clean-up and cropping, the addition of a B&W Selenium Tone, some grain, a blue #0d364e border screened over top, a clean Interstate font, I came out with something I am very happy with:

And that’s it! Now I can enjoy an upgraded experience of listening to my favourite Bon Iver non-album whenever I choose.



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