We all know that women generally have better hearing than men and enjoy music at least as much as men do, but women are conspicuously absent from every segment of the high-end audio scene. The vast majority of high-end companies are owned by men, and any head count of female designers, retailers, reviewers, or consumers will yield a pitifully small number. High-end audio is a man's, man's, man's world.
Mark Levinson, born December 11, 1946, celebrates an important anniversary in 2002. Exactly 30 years ago he jogged onto the playing field of high-end audio, so early in the game that fans, then few and far between, could count the players on their fingers.
The high-fidelity industry seems a logical home for a jazz musician like Levinson, who once envisioned a career playing flugelhorn and double bass, but his voyage into audio was a detour that could be said to have begun at age 22, when he took a job working on a film about Joan Baez. "It was a joy to find people willing to pay me to do something," quips the trim, youthful 55-year-old, who is quick to recall his "nonexistent income as a musician."
I don't remember the year, but I remember the moment when I first became intensely curious about Roy DuNann. It must have been about 1975, right after I moved to Seattle. I bought a Sonny Rollins LP called Way Out West, took it home, cued it up on my Thorens turntable, dropped the tonearm, and suddenly I was in a room with Rollins and Shelly Manne and Ray Brown. It was a shipping room with records stacked on shelves all around the musicians, but I wouldn't know that until many years later.
There's one phrase a Ferrari dealer never hears from a potential customer: "Ferrari? What's a Ferrari?" Marques such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati are so embedded in mainstream culture that their dealers never have to introduce an unfamiliar but exorbitantly expensive set of wheels to their prospects.
In July 1877, Thomas Edison wrote that he was sure he would "be able to store up & reproduce at any future time the human voice perfectly," and the word phonograph soon began showing up in his lab notes. By the time Ivor Tiefenbrun stepped onto the audio industry soundstage, nearly a century had passed, and even discriminating listeners took the record player for granted. But Tiefenbrun had discerned sonic differences among players, and he knew that his LP12—he had built a prototype for personal use—was a superior performer. When people told him that turntables do no more than go 'round and 'round, he would rebut them by pointing out that speakers merely go in and out.
Madrigal's chief executive officer is known for working well into the night, but that's been a goal of his since boyhood. For many years he dreamed of becoming a professional guitarist, and even dropped out of Yale to satisfy a ravenous musical appetite. "Enough of trying to be a Renaissance man," Phil Muzio recalls thinking at the time. His aim was to be out there on the bandstand making music.
From the days of Les Paul's chum Mary Ford, through Amanda McBroom and Jennifer Warnes, right up to Patricia Barber, audiophiles have been fascinated, and sometimes obsessed, with female vocals. I nominate to membership in that select sorority another Patricia, in this case O'Callaghan, whose third CD has just been released worldwide by her new label, Teldec.
Even though she calls her new band, 4x4, a "small" group, it's a big band—almost too big for the stage of the Knitting Factory on the night of October 11, 2000, as it makes its first American appearance. Bley's piano is so far to stage left, she has to lean against the wall and stoop under a hanging monitor speaker to address the audience. Four music stands dominate the rest of the apron—her front line of tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, trumpet, and trombone stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the audience's view of Larry Goldings and his Hammond B3, drummer Billy Drummond, and bassist Steve Swallow, who stands 15' back and on a riser. If she'd showed up with her 17-piece band, they'd have had to have hung the horn sections from the rafters, like the sound system.
Who the heck is this guy? Is he David Johansen, the lipstick-wearing front man of the seminal glam-rock, proto-punk New York Dolls? Is he Buster Poindexter, the pompadoured and tuxedoed "Hot, Hot, Hot" soca stylist? Is he a lounge singer? A Latin artist? Johansen is all of the above, having achieved success in each incarnation.
It's been three years since the February 1997 issue, when I last talked with Klaus Heymann, founder and chairman of HHN, the parent company of the Naxos and Marco Polo labels. When I heard that he'd be in New York for a visit, I jumped at the chance for another interview.
Judy Spotheim, maker of the SpJ arm and the gorgeous La Luce turntable that I reviewed a while back for Stereophile (October 1998) and that has subsequently become one of my references for LP playback. She's an intelligent, well-read individual who has a penchant for asking me, "You didn't read that in the manual?!" Ahem. Although the following interview was taped on the phone from her home in the Netherlands, I hope to meet her sometime soon.
Todd Garfinkle, guiding light of M•A Recordings, travels the globe recording provocative music in unbelievably wonderful acoustic settings. Todd travels to exotic climes such as Macedonia and Southern Siberia to capture unique and beautiful traditional ethnic music and song. He records with only two omnidirectional microphones, the signals of which are fed into handmade recording equipment designed especially for his work. Kathleen and I caught up with him at St. Peter's on 20th Street, a popular recording venue in the West Village. After wrapping a session, Todd stopped by our loft, where we rolled some tape of our own...
Bo Christensen, who was the guiding light behind, first, Primare, then Bow Technologies, graduated as an architectnot surprising, considering his products' drop-dead-gorgeous looks. I talked with Bo while preparing my review of his Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD player (see Stereophile, August 1998, Vol.21 No.8), and started by asking him if his knowledge of electronics was self-taught.