Listening #113 Page 2

Stranger still, Peter and May suggest that the temporal-energy disruptions imposed by photography can be reversed for a given subject by following these simple steps: Locate a photograph of the subject taken when he or she was relatively young, seal it in a plastic bag, and place that bag in the freezer. Do the same with a more contemporary photograph of that person. Problem solved.

Empiricism aside, and with all due respect to the Belts, I'm deeply skeptical of those theories. Even if we assume that the act of photography has some sort of quantum-level effect on energy patterns that is beyond our present understanding, I fail to see how the process differs at all from the manner in which visible light bounces off a person—of any age—and strikes any number of other photoreactive surfaces in the vicinity, including retinas, heliographic plates, and certain kinds of mud. If that phenomenon really creates an audible disruption, I should think there aren't enough freezers in the world to deal with it.

It is for that reason, and not because I am closed-minded, or afraid of having my soul trapped next to that of Clarence Birdseye, that I have declined to perform this experiment on myself. Instead, I tried it on Mikey.

One morning, I downloaded two photographs of Michael Fremer—one taken when he was a very young man with a great bramble of hair, another taken within the past year or so—and printed them separately on my inkjet printer. When I was certain that they were dry, I put each in its own Hefty ziplock bag and placed both in the freezer, next to a large slab of venison (also bagged) given to me six years ago by an acquaintance who hunts deer. I waited a few hours. Then, around lunchtime, I called Mikey.

AD: Mikey, it's Art.

MF: Artie. Howareya?

AD: Good, considering. [There followed a moment or two of idle banter.] So lemme ask: Have you listened to your system yet today?

MF: Yeah, I've been playing music in the background most of the morning.

AD: How does it sound?

MF: Really great. This system—

AD: Does it sound unusually great? Any greater than it did, say, yesterday?

MF: No. I mean . . . no. No different than it has been, which is really good. Why?

AD: Because I put your picture in my freezer. Of course.

MF: Oh.

The strange get going
Here's a list of things I won't do in my quest for better music at home:

• I won't chant anything, especially if it's in a foreign language and I don't know what the words mean.

• I won't alter my clothing or go naked.

• I won't remove or even rearrange any of the records, books, photographs, artwork, furniture, or window dressings in my room. I like things just the way they are, thank you.

A common thread runs through all three of those things: I won't substantially alter my life or my home in order to suit my playback gear. That has been domestic audio's credo since its earliest days: A music system should suit the listener, and not the other way around. Doing it any other way is stupid.

But we all have our limits, don't we? John Atkinson once said he didn't care to live in a world in which [fill in name of anomalous tweak] can change the sound. I don't mind living in a world in which P.W.B. Cream Electret has an audible effect, but I'm enduringly unenthusiastic about a world in which putting a picture of my dog in the freezer will make it easier for her to hear the UPS man.

We all have our limits, and we all have our prejudices. If you tell me that running my hand under the cold-water tap for one second will make music sound better to me, then I'll probably try it: What the hell, right? But if you tell me that sticking my hand in the fire for one second will have the same effect, I won't do it. I'm prejudiced against that sort of thing. I'm also prejudiced against wasting more than a few seconds of my time at a stretch. When I get up in the morning, I will look for my underpants in my underpants drawer, in total disregard of the unlikely but distantly possible notion that my underpants might be on the roof: There, too, may exist forces for which I have no current understanding, but neither do I foresee, in the time on Earth left to me, ample opportunity for investigation.

Yet I'm at least mildly interested in living in a world in which I have more control over my reflexive perceptions. Here's why: For as long as I've been an audio enthusiast, I've tolerated those countless, inevitable times when, for no apparent reason, and in response to no conscious change, my system just plain sounded like shit. And it has seemed to me that the better the gear, the moodier my system became in that regard. But ever since that first morning when I smeared some P.W.B. cream on my outlet strip—some three weeks ago as I write these concluding thoughts—my music system has sounded consistently fine every single time I've used it, day or night, weekday or weekend, healthy or ill. That's pretty much a first.

I don't doubt for a second that there is more to our world than I or anyone else has imagined. Peter and May Belt—who will send samples of Rainbow Electret Foil and Cream Electret, free of any charge, to anyone who writes to requesting them—may have a handle on all, some, or none of those mysteries, but I admire their bravery for putting their ideas on the line, often for nothing in return. And I do, indeed, believe that at least some of their ideas have enhanced my ability to enjoy recorded music. That's the key.

Hurry up please its time
I have purchased and, from time to time, accepted review samples of new LP reissues from a number of sources, including Analogue Productions, Audio Fidelity, Chesky Records, Cisco Records, Classic Records, DCC, Friday Music, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, Rolling Thunder, Speakers Corner Records, Sundazed Records, Three Men With Beards, Vinyl Passion, and the back-catalog reissue departments of various larger labels, such as EMI, Sony/Legacy, Sony/WEA, and Universal. Most have had their ups and downs, and some listeners will perhaps find that one or two come closer than the rest to offering the music for which they consistently care.

For me, the German company Speakers Corner has been the most reliable of the bunch. Their records have sounded consistently good, with not a single surface defect in any of the several dozen reissues from them in my collection—something I can't say about all of their competitors. Speakers Corner also trumps much of their competition by scanning, color-correcting, and reproducing the original cover graphics with care. Most important, of the 500-odd titles they've reissued to date—I had not remembered they had done so many!—there have been relatively few Speakers Corner titles that don't interest me, musically, and over 50 that I consider indispensable. Those are the landmark Decca stereo classical recordings—the SXL series—that Speakers Corner began reissuing in 1993.

At the start of 2012, and after a number of years with no new Decca reissues, Kai Seemann of Speakers Corner announced what will be their last wave of Decca classical titles. All are being done by Decca's own mastering engineer, the celebrated Tony Hawkins (who remastered all but two of Speakers Corner's previous Decca titles). And, as with all other Speakers Corner LPs, these new/old Deccas are 100% analog, without digital delay between the signal and the cutting head—another claim that many of the other reissue houses listed above can't make.

The first of the last is the well-loved recording by Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty (the complete ballet). Spread over three LPs, the set offers the flawless orchestral sound for which Ansermet was known, presented on similarly flawless vinyl. While I've never owned or heard an original copy, the reissue provides the classic Decca sound in fine measure, with characteristic warmth, clarity, drama, and depth. If you already own Ansermet's Nutcracker and Swan Lake, either as originals or from the first wave of Decca reissues from Speakers Corner, you need this one to round out your collection.

Kal Rubinson's picture


It seems to me that your list includes both tweaks as well as rationally understandable accessories/tools and a couple that fall in between.  Why would you put record cleaning devices in there?   I would think they are essential.

es347's picture

What happened when you put the magic emoluent on Mr. Happy? Was there a noticeable improvement? Better or worse? Dealing with some dude named Peter Belt, I'd expect to see some sort of anatomical constraint device..