new pair of loudspeakers
By Beppe Colli
Oct. 1, 2006
Sad, but true: my faithful, trusted loudspeakers were on their way
out. After consulting a nice group of people who participate in an online
Forum for/by/about producers and engineers, and having the thing checked
by a trusted technician, it appeared that the culprit was a faulty crossover.
But since my loudspeakers were a bit on the old side anyway, and parts
proved to be a problem, I thought it was time for a change. So I decided
to have a look around.
Well... Reading about the death of hi-fi
is one thing, but seeing what's really available in town (population: 380.000+)
is a totally different experience: "Home-theatre" systems everywhere,
dealers who have no choice but to sell what they already have in their
shops, the only nice-sounding pair of (hi-fi) speakers I listened to being
in the neighborhood of (gasp!) 8.000 euros... Not to mention the proliferation
of those tiny speakers that one connects to a computer, or those portable
"personal players" that one fills with whole libraries of (downloaded
- and paid for?) sounds. In the end the good guys always win: a musician
friend of mine whose opinion I trust suggested to me that I check (and no,
I won't mention the brand and model) new studio monitors. They were really
good. I bought a pair.
See, I've always had a thing for studio
monitors, and that's what I use. So I arranged the proper placement in
my room, tried my favourite "pet sound" (mine is an overtone
coming from the bass drum skin that behaves like a resonant frequency in
the studio room where the actual recording took place; you can hear it
at about 2' 19" in The Joke, off High Tide's second album of the same
name, originally released in 1970), and off I went.
One thing that I have a lot of fun doing
as soon as I own a new stereo component is listening to a lot of records
all over again. (Did I notice that...? And how could I have missed that
nice bass part in...?) I also listened to the two albums released by Hatfield
And The North - and also to some stuff by National Health - just to say
goodbye to the recently deceased Pip Pyle, whose drum work is maybe at
its glorious best there.
Funny how listening to some old records makes one want to read some
old articles again, sometimes. In a folder in my computer I have some nice
files with some stuff written by Greil Marcus. Take his review of The Rolling
Stones' Let It Bleed LP, for instance, which originally appeared in 1969
in the issue # 49 of Rolling Stone. I really wonder how helpful it can
be in helping somebody who have never heard this album develop an appreciation
for it, or simply just an understanding. Many times, what writers appear
to really want to do is placing the work of a group in the larger scheme
of things - and in Marcus case, this happens quite masterfully (maybe even
more so in his review of the Stones' Sticky Fingers, which originally appeared
in the August 1971 issue of Creem). But having read the stories about the
group, the lyrics, the group's stance, their moral attitude... isn't there
something quite important that's missing?
In his piece called The Bangs/Meltzer/Tosches Juggernaut, which originally appeared at the
time of the theatrical release of Cameron Crowe's movie Almost Famous,
Simon Reynolds singled out the piece about The Pretender by (the recently
deceased US critic) Paul Nelson in the (quite famous, I'd say) Stranded
collection as a piece being entirely on the level of the lyrics. Which,
I'd say, is more or less the same thing one could say about (UK critic)
Simon Frith's contribution about The Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet
which appears in the same book. Sometimes it seems like - given the fact
that certain songs were practically everywhere, blaring out of every
radio and stereo (mono, perhaps?) - describing a song in detail appeared
as to be superfluous, almost. And yes, those where the days when, if
we're talking about "rock criticism", everybody was self-taught.
The (UK) magazine called Sound on Sound ("The UK's Biggest Selling
Music Recording Magazine", no less) has a nice (monthly?) feature
called Classic Tracks. I've read a few (one can also read all the magazine's
articles on its website, eight months after the issue in question has gone
on sale), and though they are quite diverse, I've found them to be for
the most part quite interesting, and a highly enjoyable read. One of the
best episodes being the one about I'm Not In Love, 10cc.'s 1975 worldwide
smash, especially for its discussion about the arrangement process and
their use of the studio and tape loops. (But Tony Visconti discussing his
use of those three microphones for David Bowie's vocals on "Heroes" ain't
The formula is quite simple: just interview
musicians and producers/engineers who had a part in creating, and recording,
a famous song. Just when you think you've obviously read it all already
- is there really anything new one can possibly hear about, say, Eric Clapton's
Layla? - here comes this piece (it's in the September 2006 issue) about
Tom Dowd's custom-made console: "(...) Well, he had his console faders
set up that way - they were actually reversed, with louder closer to you." Wow!
Never heard of that.
Due to one, or more, different possible reasons (lack of maturity?
editorial reasons? commercial considerations? different philosophies? ignorance,
plain and simple?) in the end what comes out of one's loudspeakers doesn't
seem to be that important when talking about music. Colourful biographies are what most music magazines
seem to really be about these days (and yes, when it comes to it most musicians
won't let us down). Sure, young people will be bored after just a few sentences
anyway. Yes, all those years spent watching videos must have had an effect
on writers and readers alike. But in the end, the sheer predictability
of those tales of sin and daring adventures can turn even the most interesting
musical career into a giant snoozefest. It goes without saying that discussing
one's lifestyle is a lot easier, and error-free (not to mention cheaper:
have you heard about the sinking retributions of writers, whatever their
trade?) than talking about music, which is a dangerous proposition anyway.
Having read about the re-release of John
Cale's "highly celebrated 1973 solo album, Paris 1919" I thought
about buying it - again! The presence of some unreleased tracks/versions/mixes/whatever
was quite tempting, but how would it sound? - a lot of digitally remastered
versions of old albums having harsh, brittle vocals, snares and cymbals,
plus an exaggerated volume level that's maybe intended to compete with
all those new releases. I happened to find one review of the album - quite
long and detailed, as things go nowadays. The problem was that - apart
from the fact that he never mentioned the sound of the remastered version
- the writer appeared to be on familiar terms with just one group from
the (distant) past (that's right, you guessed right): The Velvet Underground.
Funny thing, there was absolutely no mention of Paris 1919 producer Chris
Thomas, who certainly had no little merit in the record's (artistic) success;
nor of Procol Harum, the (at the time quite famous) group whose records
Chris Thomas produced, and whose distinctive musical style Paris 1919 definitely
recalls, not the Velvet Underground's.
I used my new monitors to listen to some new stuff I had on my table,
one CD I especially liked being the recent one by Rova, titled Totally
Spinning. It was in the middle of my listening sessions that I happened
to read a couple of reviews of said title. But what was written in those
reviews didn't match what I was hearing - at all! Looks like these guys
own some seriously faulty loudspeakers, right?
© Beppe Colli 2006
| Oct. 1, 2006