It's the first rule of being a stereophile: sound quality is serious business. Simon Gibson, one of the engineers at Abbey Road Studios who worked on EMI's new Signature Collection of hybrid SACD/CDs, knows the drill: remaster and change the sound of a much-loved classical recording from the label's glorious back catalog and you risk becoming a target of blogs and forums. Gibson's aware that the more hallowed the recording, the more quickly knives come out at the mention of remastering.
For audiophiles, the acoustic of the Bayreuth Festspielhause in Germany, home of the annual festival of Richard Wagner's operas, vies with Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and Vienna's Musikverein as one of the most fabled for recording as well as listening. As a participant in the Music Critics of North America 2012 institute at the Festival, I had the opportunity to not only explore the venue from a near-ideal seat in Row 25 Center, but to also visit the fabled "covered pit" from which many of the greatest Wagner conductors of the last 136 years have led exalted performances.
"Rarely, if ever, can this densely written sonata have been presented so lucidly with each note precisely in place...the dramatic and lyrical aspects were never slighted or taken for granted." —Peter G. Davis, writing in the New York Times about Robert Silverman's New York debut in 1978, when he performed the Liszt B-Minor Piano Sonata in Alice Tully Hall.
Just in time for the New Year, Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records has released the first-ever DSD (Direct-Stream-Digital) download of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra's recording of Mahler's Symphony No.1. Recorded live in Davies Symphony Hall in September 2001, shortly after 9/11, and first released as a hybrid SACD in 2003, the recording is one of the only four Mahler symphonies in SFSO's complete Mahler cycle that were recorded directly to DSD.
The Mahler 1 files, available in four formats, are all derived directly from San Francisco Symphony's master, not from a copy of the SACD. The formats include two DSD formats: DFF and DSF. For those whose computer playback software or DACs are not equipped to play DSD files, 24/96 and 16/44.1 PCM files in WAV format are also available.
Big bands died out back in the 1950s, right? They went away when the jitterbug faded and folks began dancing to music other than swing? And then real jazz fans departed when the bebop soloists came along and made big-band players look clumsy and quaint?
Iván Fischer, founder and conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has performed with many major orchestras and recorded for a number of major labels, most significantly with Philips, from 1995 to 2004. Fischer/BFO made the first multichannel orchestral recording for SACD, which Philips used as a demonstration disc for their first SACD players. I still treasure that disc—it demonstrates many of the advantages of the medium with a wide and varied program—but it has never been commercially released.
Whistling ductwork, whirring fans, murmuring pipesalong with being jazz's most storied location, a living shrine to the memories of Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and so many others, Manhattan's Village Vanguard, on Seventh Avenue South, was, on this winter's night, the Das Boot of jazz. In every corner, every stairwell, every square foot of available backstage space, some kind of furnace machinery audibly ground, banged, and/or wheezed away.
For the musically prolific, releasing too many records too close together can be problematic or worse. Just because you can make a record every week in your home studio doesn't mean you should. The impulse to commit every golden thought and performance to tape without self-editing or even pausing to reflect screams narcissism run amok. Asking listenerseven dedicated fansto then buy and spend time listening to half-baked nonsense that might have become something, given more time and care, is a sure career destroyer. There's truth in the old saw about building demand, avoiding saturation, and creating a hunger among the listening public. Most critical of all, despite downloads, piracy, and Lady Gaga's pointy hats and eggshell entrances, the old Hollywoodism still applies: while spontaneity may sound like a radical idea, you're only as good as your last album.
Let's say you're lucky enough, or just plain old enough, to have bought a copy of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood on January 12, 1966. Let's say you're lucky enough or just plain smart enough to have held on to it and kept it in perfect shape for the past 47 years. And let's say it was one of the first 500 copies, which the author signed. If so, congratulations: For once in your life, even the smuggest collector can't claim that his copy of a book is "better" or more valuable than yours.
Stereo Review, the world's most popular audio magazine during most of its time on Earth, was a common target of derision from the hobby's so-called high-end press, not least of all from me. We criticized its nerdy, boring prose, its uniformly positive reviews, and, most of all, its shameless pimping of the notions that measurements reveal all there is to know about a component, and that all competently engineered components sound equally fine.
For an artform in which sound is everything, popular music has been blessed with strangely little poetry: There may be no other genre where high-mindedness falls with such a thud. Leonard Cohen remains the most striking exception, not just for the genuine seriousness of his music or the adulation of his audience, but for the ability of the former to survive the latter.