Judy Spotheim: Seeing & Hearing The Light Page 3

Spotheim: Well, you could use a prism...

Scull: Say, Judy, you're not an old hippie too, are you?

Spotheim: [laughs] Nooooo...

Scull: Let me ask you—when we listen to our high-end systems, should we be listening for the re-creation of the absolute sound in a real space, or a faithful reproduction of the master tape? Or something else?

Spotheim: What the microphones picked up. It can sound very faithful, it can be very flattering....It depends on how the microphones were placed, their frequency response, how the tape was cut, and even what cutter head was eventually used. But don't ever think that you can hear at home what you hear in a concert hall! That's a lie. What you hear is what the microphones picked up.

Scull: Okay...

Spotheim: For example, take an opera singer in a concert hall or an opera house. Say a soprano wants to go from forte to mezzoforte. It could be a contralto, too, but I'm thinking soprano because the voice is very sharpened, if you know what I mean.

Scull: Mm-hmm...

Spotheim: Let's say she drops her voice from forte to mezzoforte, piano to mezzopiano, and then to piano pianissimo. By the end she may not be able to control it completely with her throat or her "resonance" box. So vocalists sometimes use a little trick. They move their heads slowly sideways or downward away from the microphone.

Scull: Ah-ha!

Spotheim: That, of course, lowers the pressure wave on the microphone. What you hear in the concert hall at that moment is a sound that you cannot pinpoint exactly where it is. It moves from left to right a bit, as if you recorded a vocal and mixed it a little bit out of phase. And listening to opera, I heard this phenomenon on my turntable and tonearm. Not that the voice physically moved from one speaker to the other! No, it was staying in one place, but you could hear the pressure on one microphone become a little bit less than on the other. Then it faded away or came back, depending on if the singer moved her head away or back. So when I heard that on La Luce, I said to myself, "Well, here I have it!"

Scull: Judy, you got it! Your love for music dates from early childhood?

Spotheim: Yes. When I was very little, I remember my first encounter with an LP. I was about 13 years old, I think. There was a crazy old lady who gave soirées—you know what is that?

Scull: Mais oui, Judee!

Spotheim: Just checking. There we would sit and listen, not more than 20 people at a time. She really didn't like inviting children because they were impatient with classical music. But I was lucky and she invited me. And that evening I heard for the first time Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave. That was followed by Maria Callas' first Columbia recording of Puccini heroines. I came home very late in the evening, moved to tears by her voice. That was the beginning of my love for opera. And I used to always hear my mother singing in the kitchen. She had a lyric soprano and would sing Brahms lieder, for example.

Scull: Your mother came from a musical background?

Spotheim: She came from a home in Russia that was very cultured. I remember the first time I heard her sing the Brahms "Wiegenlied," you know, the Lullaby...You know, this is painful for me to speak about even now. [pauses] It was in the afternoon and I was doing my homework for school. My mother was singing in the kitchen, washing the dishes or something, and I suddenly began to cry. And she came and asked me what was wrong. I was ashamed to tell her I was crying because she was singing so beautifully.

Anyhow, it was about then that I got my first "real" turntable and heard Verdi's Requiem conducted by Toscanini. Of course it was a mono RCA, but I remember my first encounter with it. I was in such a state of shock that for three days I refused food. And since then, of course, I've been hunting for records. [laughs] I remember once my mother and I were listening to music and talking about choral works, and she told me, "Ahh, you don't know what a chorus is until you've heard a live Russian choir in a church!"

Scull: Let me guess—you've heard plenty of live choral music since then?

Spotheim: Sure. Back when I was living with my husband in Geneva, the Don Cossack Choir performed in Victoria Hall. I really almost fainted when I heard that. Such massive voices, especially the lower registers, you know, the basso. The hall was really shaking! I was shivering when I heard that, and I finally knew exactly what my mother meant.