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.
When Cantus's artistic coordinator (and Stereophile reader) Erick Lichte phoned me in the summer of 2000 about my recording this Minnesotan male-voice choir, it didn't occur to me that I was entering a long-term relationship. But just as sure as 16-bit digital is not sufficient for long-term musical satisfaction, my first Cantus CD led to a second, and now a third. (All available from this website). For Deep River, I traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the city has spent millions of dollars to transform the downtown high school into a gloriously warm-sounding, state-of-the-art performing arts center.
Let's start with some music—three discs I recently have been using to evaluate equipment as well as listen to for enjoyment. They are as contrasting in style as one could hope for, but all on an enviably high musical plane. (Space considerations compel brevity approaching that necessary to sell screenplays to producers at cocktail parties, footnote 1)
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.
"Where can you go in the world anymore where you can be in any kind of atmosphere other than the post-media, post-consumer world that we live in now—one that's available and that's musically rich? So it's very attractive in that way."
And I used to think our annual "Records To Die For" issue was difficult. Whew! When it came down to choosing the 40 most influential rock/pop, jazz, and classical records of the past 40 years, during which this magazine has been the most honest and enjoyable source of high-end audio journalism, my initial list contained more than 200 choices. A painful paring-down process ensued, with input from every member of the Stereophile staff.
The fundamental object of the invention is to provide...the listener a realistic impression that the intelligence is being communicated to him over two acoustic paths in the same manner as he experiences in listening to everyday acoustic intercourse....—Blumlein, et al, British Patent #394,325, issued June 14, 1933
I don't know who originated the idea of "desert island" recordings. I do know that for many years there was a BBC radio program in the UK that asked celebrities to list their choices. While reading quite a few of those lists, I had the sneaking suspicion that the respondents either hadn't entered fully into the spirit of the task, or were tailoring their choices with a view to what the radio or reading audience would think. (Interior monologue: "I am an anorak-wearing viola da gamba player. Hmmm. Birth of the Cool had better be on my list. London Calling, too, just to be safe.")
It's the grain elevators that break the monotony of driving across the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle. As you pass one, another one appears on the horizon. Thus you know you're making progress, despite the fact that the landscape remains unchanged.
As I sit down to write a year's-end musical retrospective, I feel that the old column-writing joke between Stereophile editor John Atkinson and myself about first needing a subject and, second, needing it to make sense, will not be a problem this time out. For me, the music and almost everything else about 2001 have been dwarfed in importance by the mayhem wreaked on New York on September 11.