Poem: Stereophile Cuts an LP Page 5

In keeping with the documentary nature of the project, the running order of the LP was to be similar to that of an actual concert. The Griffes Poem, recorded with the tube figure-eight mics, would open Side One, followed by the Reinecke Sonata, which was made with the Milab cardioids. Side Two, which would be on a separate reel of tape, would feature the major work of the recital, the Prokofiev sonata, again recorded with the tube figure-eights. The procedure was the same for all movements. I showed Hugh where I felt the edit points between different takes should be; he would look at the score and listen and perhaps suggest a point slightly different; then he would rock'n'roll the tape across the Ampex's replay heads to determine the exact point where the flute or piano note started, and cut the tape diagonally at the point. That reel would then be put to one side while he found the corresponding point in the take to be joined to the first. The two cut tape ends were then joined together and we would listen through the splice to see how well the edit worked.

Not to my surprise, since I quickly noted what a meticulously accurate worker Hugh was, nearly all the edits were unnoticeable the first time, only a very few having to be reworked. In keeping with my discussion with Gary at the start of the sessions, I had tried to make use of as long passages as possible when working out the editing scheme, meaning that there were only a limited number of edits necessary, to eliminate passages with an occasional wrong note or with a particularly disturbing extraneous noise. I had quite deliberately decided that I would leave in the sounds of the musicians themselves. If a piano pedal occasionally creaked and the flute keys clattered in fast passages, well, that's what the listener would have heard if he or she had been present. These are human beings, not robots. Nevertheless, even with the minimal editing deemed necessary, it was 2:30pm by the time Hugh had assembled the Prokofiev for Side Two of the album.

No time for lunch. Hugh and I pressed on with assembling Side One. With mainly longer takes in the Reinecke and Griffes—something that visitors to The Mastering Lab commented on was Gary's and Brooks's ability to perform long passages without mistakes, while keeping the sense of musical flow—this was finished by 5pm, leaving just enough time before I had to leave for the airport to assemble the Schumann Romances and then to listen to both sides of the album all the way through.

I wasn't going to get my plane. Heard in context on the edited master tape, there were still one or two rough spots that had not shown up on the cassette copies that Richard and I had listened to, and additional edits were necessary. Hugh provided sterling service, however, and by 8pm all that was left was to make a safety DAT copy of the edited masters, this on a standard Sony DTC-1000ES, and analog cassette copies for the musicians and ourselves.

Tapes under my arm, I got to LAX at 10:30pm to find that America West had a late flight to Las Vegas, from where I could get an Albuquerque connection arriving at 4 in the morning. Sounded good to me. And so did the cassette copy of the master tapes that I listened to while sitting in McCarran Airport's departure lounge—surely the busiest in the world at 2am.

All that now remained was for the lacquers to be cut and the LPs pressed. I hope they reflect the sound of the tapes, for I do feel that Kavi captured the essence of the sound of that flute and that piano in USC's Hancock Auditorium. The flute is small and fragile, the piano warm with that harmonic richness characteristic of a good Steinway. The contrast between the two brings out the music's essential conflict between soloist and accompaniment, something that is always destroyed, in my opinion, by commercial recordings that focus on the solo instrument. (If the title page says "Flute Sonata," then surely the flute must be predominant, seems to be the thinking of many producers.) The stereo image seemed true to what a listener in about the third row back would hear, with the flute some 5' in front of the belly of the piano. Some listeners, of course, used to the upfront, direct presentation typical of a "real" record, may find this sound too reverberant; some will want a little more presence; some may want a "bigger" soundstage from our LP.

But having listened to the cassette copy on a number of systems as of the time of writing, I am happy that this is a recording that will sound better—ie, more natural, more realistic, more true to the original event—as the playback system gets better. And that's what high-end reproduction should be all about, in my opinion.—John Atkinson