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.
In the town where I grew up there were two places to buy records: a family-owned department store and the local Woolworth's, both long gone. The first record I ever bought, the 45rpm single of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," came from the former in 1965. I was 11 years old.
Even when Loudon Wainwright III (left in photo with Ramblin' Jack Elliot) was a young man he was writing autobiographical songs, and his old themes of family, sex, and death resonate more deeply on his new record, Older Than My Old Man Now. He usually performs solo, armed with just an acoustic guitar or a banjo, but most of his recordings present more heavily produced versions of LWIII's music. When I chatted with LWIII in late April I wanted to explore that dichotomy and how those transformations take place.
At a time when the heads of most record labels barely know how to play a record, let alone make one, Manfred Eicherowner, founder, and inspiration of ECM Records, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010has been intimately involved in the making of nearly 1200 of them. How many, though, can he actually remember working on?
"When I listen back to them, I know the story of every record," he says without a smile or a moment's hesitation. "There is never an easy record. Every record needs a lot of input and concentration and dedication and passion to be made, that's clear. Create an atmosphere that is a productive search for music, and when this is the case, you have very memorable records."
ARTURO DELMONI & NATHANIEL ROSEN: Music for a Glass Bead Game J.S. Bach: Two-Part Inventions 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13. Kodály: Duo for Violin & Cello. Giordani: Duetto II. Martinu: Duo for Violin & Cello. Handel: Passacaglia Arturo Delmoni, violin; Nathaniel Rosen, cello John Marks Records JMR 15 (CD). John Marks, prod.; Jerry Bruck, eng. DDD. TT: 62:34
Wandering through Tower Records the other night, I was struck by the amazing diversity of music available to us. There's music from every part of the globe, for every taste and interest, from "show-me-the-good-parts" compilations of classical highlights to obscure releases by unknown artists. There's music for the ecstatic, music for the angry, music for the straight, the gay, the bent, and the twisted. The subcategories replicate like rabbits, as if in a demographer's nightmare. Genus spawn species, which quickly mutates into subspecies, race, tribe: cult begets subcult.
In June 2007, I again recorded Minnesotan male choir Cantus live on location, this time in the glorious acoustic of Sauder Concert Hall at Goshen College, in Goshen, Indiana. The resultant CD, While You Are Alive (Cantus CTS-1208), is the eighth I have engineered of the group; it is a collection of 20th- and 21st-century works that explores, illuminates, and celebrates all stages of life, from birth to death.
Stereophile's seventh CD of Minnesotan male choir Cantus, called with delightful originality Cantus (CTS1207) and recorded at 88.2kHz with 24-bit resolution, is now available from our e-commerce page, for $16.95 plus S&H.
Why had a high-end hi-fi magazine felt the need to produce a classical LP when the thrust of real record companies in 1989 is almost exclusively toward CD and cassette? Why did the magazine's editors think they had a better chance than most experienced professional engineers in making a record with audiophile sound quality? Were they guilty of hubris in thinking that the many years between them spent practicing the profession of critic would qualify them as record producers?
The upbeat is the most magic moment in classical music making. Before the conductor brings down his baton for the downbeat, anything and everything are possible in the musical journey that is about to begin. And the upbeat to Mozart's sublime Clarinet Concerto that conductor Robert Bailey was about to give in London's Henry Wood Hall last November gave me an extra frisson—as producer of the recording sessions, I would have to pronounce instant judgment on everything I was about to hear.
In the Fall of 1989, Stereophile magazine released its first recording, of Gary Woodward and Brooks Smith playing flute sonatas by Prokofiev and Reinecke, and a work by American composer Griffes that gave the LP its title: Poem (footnote 1). The full story was published in the September 1989 issue (p.66). We wanted to offer our readers an LP of acoustic music made with the minimum of electronics and processing—the sounds of the instruments would be as true to reality as possible. The images of the instruments were also captured with a purist microphone technique so that, with even a halfway decent system, a true soundstage would be created between and behind the loudspeakers when the recording was played back.