As January 1, 2000 approaches, and the MP3 whirlpool continues to swirl, one simple fact has made me feel as if I'm stuck at the starting line of the entire download controversy: The sound quality of MP3 has yet to improve above that of the average radio broadcast. Until that changes, I'm merely curious—as opposed to being in the I-want-to-know-it-all-now frenzy that is my usual m.o. when to comes to anything that promises music you can't get anywhere else.
Ask most professional symphony musicians for their views concerning recording sessions, and you might be greeted with seemingly nonchalant and cavalier responses. You will probably be told that although recording can be quite lucrative, it is almost always an exercise in futility. If you press further, and inquire as to why these "artists" display such negative attitudes, they would treat you to both a lecture concerning the shortcomings and gross musical distortions usually involved in the recording process, and to a tirade on the incompetence and arrogance of many recording engineers and producers. And once you have opened this can of worms, you will undoubtedly be told about the frustrations of having to deal with inaccurate and distorted representations of their art at the hands of the musically inept.
Damned rock stars! Those useless black voids of overweening ego who spend their days wallowing in unfulfilling, sybaritic cycles of mass adoration, endless wealth, and meaningless sex with hard bodieswhat do they add to the greater good, to the advancement of human understanding, to the furtherance of art? In most cases, the answer is: Nothing. Zip, zilch, zot.
"What's that noise?" Bob Harley and I looked at each other in puzzlement. We thought we'd debugged the heck out of the recording setup, but there, audible in the headphones above the sound of Robert Silverman softly stroking the piano keys in the second Scherzo of Schumann's "Concerto Without Orchestra" sonata, was an intermittent crackling sound. It was almost as if the God of Vinyl was making sure there would be sufficient surface noise on our live recording to endow it with the Official Seal of Audiophile Approval. Bob tiptoed out of the vestry where we'd set up our temporary control room and peeked through a window into the church, where a rapt audience was sitting as appropriately quiet as church mice.
A few conductors have perhaps equaled Georg Solti in their conducting of Richard Wagner's baton-breaking Der Ring des NibelungenKarl Böhm, Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Keilberth, and Reginald Goodall have all had coherent visions of the work which they were able to translate effectively to disc. But no one has ever equaled what Solti, producer John Culshaw, and what looks increasingly like a hitherto unsuspected golden age of Wagner singers, together accomplished: what is still the recording art's crowning achievement.
No artist in the history of sound recordings has a more confused recorded legacy than Elvis Presley. Thanks to several generations' worth of ruthless avarice by his label, the constant machinations and eventual fire sale by his manager, Col. Tom Parker, and his own pathetic sloth, due in part by a 20-year addiction to prescription drugs, Elvis's recorded catalog is an absolute disaster: cut and pasted, issued and reissued as both budget and full-priced collections, exploited beyond all recognition. Keeping track of Elvis's catalog is one of, if not the most, labyrinthine discography in rock 'n' roll history. When all the foreign issues and reissues of his work are taken into account, it is, (speaking from recent experience) an endeavor which severely tasks the human capacity for tedium.
Wes Phillips on the Sessions
One of the enduring myths of audiophilia is that of the recording as a true and honest picture of a musical event—a sonic "snapshot" that captures a unique moment of time the way a photograph captures the light of a day long since past.
The genesis of this project goes back nearly 17 years, when my wife, Joan, and I moved into a brownstone floorthrough in Brooklyn. As we were about to sign the lease, our soon-to-be landlord said, "Oh, one more thing: your upstairs neighbor is a musician." This did not exactly discourage us from signing the lease, however, and soon I began to see a steady stream of musicians trudging up the stairs outside our apartment: Oliver Lake, Sonny Rollins, Pheeroan akLaff, Bob Moses, Marty Ehrlich, and a whole bunch of other people I was reading about in the jazz press. Just who was this guy?
I'm a great fan of the musical theater: musicals, operetta, and opera, more-or-less in that order. A typical summer vacation for my wife and me involves driving from Toronto to the East Coast, stopping off to see musicals (and some plays) at places like the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, , and the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, ME. The Glimmerglass summer opera festival, near Cooperstown, NY, is not far from the route we usually take, but I never thought of visiting it because my impression has been that they specialize in performances of modern and obscure operas, which are not quite our cup of tea.
My discovery of the fact that Glimmerglass has greatly expanded the range of its offerings came about through sheer serendipity. . .
In order to get in the right mindset for the Dallas Wind Symphony's first ever Christmas CD, Horns for the Holidays, from Reference Recordings and recording engineer Keith O. Johnson, you have to understand something about Dallas.
Before I even turn on the recorder, Willie Nile is telling me his theory of how the granite under Manhattan Island conducts electricity, which accounts for the perceptible charge that many people feel makes New York City so special. It's also what draws artists like flies, none more passionate than singer-songwriter Nile, who's personally contributed a few volts during his years in NYC.
"You see that empty space?" says Willie Nile, motioning toward a lot between buildings on Bleecker Street, an impish Irish grin flickering across his face. "They haven't built anything there yet because Anna Wintour lives around the corner. And that red-brick house over there, the one with the white door? That's where Dylan lived. I used to see Bob around the neighborhood now and again."
Many of David Wilson's highly acclaimed, long out-of-print recordings are poised to make old and new generations of audiophiles very happy. On August 1, the first two of a selected batch of Wilson Audiophile Recordings will return to circulation as high-resolution (176.4kHz/24-bit), CD-quality, and MP3 downloads. Distributed by Naxos via a host of mass-market and hi-res digital music stores, including Chandos' "The Classical Shoppe," eClassical24bit, HDMusic, HDTracks, HiResAudio, Linn Records, Onkyo, and Qobuz24bit, the first titles in the series are Recital, James B. Welch's disc of four centuries of organ music, and Beethoven and Enescu Sonatas, performed by violinist David Abel and pianist Julie Steinberg, this magazine's "Recording of the Month" for February 1984.
As a musician who has studied of all forms of acoustic and electric keyboard instruments, I have played the gamut of keyboards, from gems to disasters. I think the most significant keyboard developments of the 20th century were the Hammond organ, the Fender Rhodes electric piano, and the Moog synthesizer. These instruments were notable not for their ability to replicate the sound of acoustic instruments, but for the new timbres and textures possible with them, which have since become permanent parts of our musical vocabulary. I have now played an instrument that may prove one of the most significant keyboard designs of the 21st century: the Yamaha AvantGrand N3.