Until recently, I have considered LaserVision video discs as a rather dubious medium for serious music reproduction. The only review I had read about it by a critical listener (Harry Pearson in The Absolute Sound) was I singularly unenthusiastic, and since I had not heard one myself, I was inclined to take his word for it.
As in any community bound tightly together by shared enthusiasms, the High End is regularly swept by tides of fashion. Some of the fads prove to be based on something of value, and outlast the initial burst: loudspeaker spikes and Tiptoes, for example, or the resurgence of tube designs, or making use of high-quality passive components. Other fads, particularly if not based on good engineering, fall by the wayside. (Does anyone still use a Tice Clock in their system? Or suspend their cables and interconnects on little acrylic bridges?)
A few nights ago, I listened to mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's recording of J.S. Bach's great solo cantata, "Ich habe genug" (It is enough), BWV 82 (Nonesuch 79692-2). Hunt Lieberson was one of those rare mezzos, like Janet Baker and Kathleen Ferrier before her, whose voice conveyed an innately spiritual sense of connection with something greater than the individual self. Especially when she sang softly, she was able to imbue her tone with a hallowed reverence that is easier to feel than describe in words. To the extent that anyone can communicate the "tender mercies" and sacred intimacies of life, love, and spirit, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson proved herself a master.
The August issue of Stereophile, number 247, is the very last to be produced out of the "City Different" in the "Land of Enchantment" (Santa Fe, New Mexico). Known for its energetic mix of Native American and Latino cultures, its geographic mix of high desert and mountains, its 300 days of clear blue, cerulean skies, its opera and chamber music seasons, and not forgetting that most important culinary question—"red or green"—the oldest established city in the US is not the first place that comes to mind in the magazine business. But, after publishing 39 issues of Stereophile out of rainy Pennsylvania since he founded the magazine in 1962, J. Gordon Holt fell in love with the Southwest and moved out here in 1978.
Just when you thought it was safe to put green paint around the edges of your CDs without ridicule, there's yet another CD tweak that's sure to bring howls of laughter from the skeptics: cryogenically freezing CDs. They won't be laughing for long, however, when they hear for themselves the sonic results of this process.
The future is rarely what anyone expects it to be. I still remember reading, as a child, predictions in Popular Science that everyone would have a personal helicopter by 1980. It never happened, though it sure seemed like a reasonable projection of events. Events, however, have their own agenda.
Almost 30 years ago, Columbia records issued a unique disc called The Art of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. Darlene sang and Jonathan played piano, and the jacket notes rhapsodized about the depth of feeling they brought to their duos, despite some imperfections of technique.
According to a recent newsletter sent to its regular contributors, our "competition"—The Absolute Sound—sees "controversy and confrontation" as the core of its editorial policy. By contrast, Stereophile sees as its modus schtickus an unflagging devotion to, and pursuit of, truth, reason, all of the eternal verities (including some you never heard of), and the intelligent exchange of informed ideas. In honor of all of the above-mentioned precepts (as well as some I didn't mention), this issue of Stereophile is largely devoted to the confrontation between knowledgeable writers for whom the widely proclaimed perfection of the Compact Disc remains a controversial issue.
The drive home from Montreal and the Salon Son & Image show is smooth and uneventful. The snow kindly stops just as John Atkinson and I climb into his Land Cruiser, the woman at Customs lets us into the US with little fanfare, and, there isn't much to set the heart racing. Every fifty or so miles, the highway's long dividing guardrail is punctuated by some enormous brown birda once majestic body that owned the sky is now slung awkwardly and pitifully over cold steel. It's sad that something so beautiful and strong can die so quietly. But quiet abounds out here. The sky seems to move nearly as fast as we do, clouds cling to tall mountains, and winds tug at the Cruiser's tires.
It's the voice that grabs you first, balanced preternaturally high in the mix. As the singer effortlessly projects the vocal line, imperceptibly grabbing breath without disturbing the long, meandering melody, you can't help but realize what a superb instrument she had. As the song's harmonies modulate their way to the dominant, the bass guitar stubbornly sticks to the tonic so that what would otherwise be a conventional chord progression is transformed into a yearning series of suspensions echoing the lyric's despair. As guitarist Tony Peluso hammers down on his power solo, his instrument so fuzzed and compressed that the very plectrum strokes are thrown forward as disconnected transients, it becomes evident that there are layers upon layers to the backing vocals, each carefully placed upon the others by a master orchestrator, each appropriately filling in the gaps in the harmonies without turning the mix to glutinous syrup.
Every once in a while, and particularly around the first of the year, news writers (of which I am one) get the urge to play oracle, laying our credibilities on the line by attempting to divine what the coming year will bring. Since I am writing this at the end of January, the chances of my miscalling my shots have already been reduced by a factor of 0.083. But there are still 11 months to go, and some possibility that a prediction or two may be wrong. Nonetheless, I shall intrepidly grab the bull by the horns, the crystal by the ball, and the opportunity of the moment to take an educated guess at what the rest of 1988 holds for audio.