Issue 101

Happy Musical New Year!

Happy Musical New Year!

Frank Doris

Numbers have been on my mind lately: 97, 98, 99, 100 and now Issue 101. Yet I’d been completely nearsighted about the fact that 2020, just around the corner, is also the start of a new decade. (My family, who knows how my mind doesn't work...er, works, would not be surprised at this.) Naturally, this new beginning prompts us to look back at where we’ve traveled in life until now, and where might be going.

In the audio world, who knows what future tech and the work of clever designers might bring? After all, look how far we’ve gotten at the end of 2019: hi-res audio, a vinyl renaissance, access to millions of songs via streaming and other media, the growth of live performance, wireless music delivery and much more. Where might technologies like graphene speakers, quantum computing, superconductivity and others lead us? Why not work towards the goal of a practical direct brain/music interface?

In 2020 technology will continue to bring us closer to the music than ever before. We also have a rich heritage to draw from, and the journey’s far from over. Those thoughts should fill us with excitement and happiness.

In this issue: new to these pages, Robert Heiblim gives us an insider’s perspective on the evolution of hi-res audio. John Seetoo wraps up his interview with live sound pioneer John Meyer. J.I. Agnew takes a fond look at cassette tape. Dan Schwartz tells us about a very special microphone. Alón Sagee recounts a sublime moment in music listening. Don Kaplan gives us a fascinating historical look at "Queen of the Salons" Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay. Tom Gibbs reviews The Later Years, a monumental new post-Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd box set.

Anne E. Johnson covers the careers of jazz legend Hugh Masekela and pop powerhouse Tina Turner. Bob Wood is in and out and back in the broadcast booth at WAMS and WARM. Professor Larry Schenbeck looks at the songs of Beethoven and innovator Leoš Janáček. Rich Isaacs contributes part one of the mighty Gentle Giant story. I interview James Lee Stanley, a musical survivor worthy of wider recognition. Our audio-visual department features cartoonist James Whitworth going through a phase, domestic harmony in the Audio Anthropology recording studio and a starry finale.

Domestic Harmony

Domestic Harmony

Domestic Harmony

Frank Doris

Les Paul and Mary Ford in their native habitat. Audio Engineering, May 1953

John Meyer Interview, Part Three

John Meyer Interview, Part Three

John Meyer Interview, Part Three

John Seetoo

To recap from Part One (Issue 99) and Part Two (Issue 100): John Meyer is a pioneer in the field of sound reinforcement. Meyer Sound equipment is used by a who’s who of artists, in touring productions like Cirque de Soleil and in concert halls and theaters around the world. Meyer began his professional career in 1967, worked with the Grateful Dead on their famous Wall of Sound and continues to innovate today. John Meyer graciously took the time to share some of his insights with John Seetoo for Copper.

John Seetoo: Let’s talk about the use of alternative materials for loudspeaker drivers. Larry Hartke (of musical instrument amplifier company Hartke) created the first commercial aluminum cone drivers for bass amplifier speaker cabinets; other manufacturers have used Kevlar, polymer and other materials. Meyer Sound still uses paper cones, if I understand correctly. Is that still your preference for sound quality and overall performance or are there other materials that Meyer Sound is planning to put into production?

John Meyer: Well, we’ve done a lot of research on cone materials. We have materials engineers and several chemists on staff. And we’ve tried working with graphite materials and all kinds of things. What we use is treated paper, that is, not just raw paper, like paper towels. Our paper is a highly treated material in terms of stability, treated with minerals and other agents to give us the characteristics we want. Paper has a nice quality in that it’s self-damping.

Metal cones tend to break up into [unwanted distortion] modes. On the other hand, a lot of people like aluminum domes on the front of speakers because they would break up and create the harmonics typical of a guitar amp speaker.

You have to be very careful with metals because they’re very brittle and they can make a lot of noise — additional noise [not present in the original signal]. Which may be what someone’s looking for if it’s a guitar speaker. Also, the paper we developed is very robust. Paper is really designed to bend, the fibers are designed to flex and will last a long time when properly treated for weather protection, and treated so bugs won’t eat it.

We’re always looking at materials, but so far, paper has turned out to be very beneficial. It doesn’t seem very “techie” to most people because it’s so common, but cellulose is the basis of some very high-tech materials, not just for loudspeaker drivers but in more and more other applications as we discover new ways of working with it.

JS: What do you think was the most frustrating and challenging sound reinforcement problem that Meyer Sound has ever faced, and how did you finally resolve it?

JM: I think that the hardest problem we had was to try and get the sound [of our loudspeakers] to project hundreds of meters out and not be broken up and affected by wind noise. I think we spent five years working on our LEO flagship line array system, experimenting with it, building newer types of horns to try and make sure that the sound was smooth out there in the far field. That was an unknown challenge for us.

We weren’t certain we could even find a solution. Some things are open-ended. You can put a lot of work into it a problem and not find an answer. So that was really exciting because in the end it gave us the results we wanted, and it in our opinion and that of others, the LEO still holds up today as the best far-throw speaker out there.

JS: On that same theme: you have worked with countless artists like Metallica, Ed Sheeran, Steve Miller and many others, as well as theatrical productions like Cirque De Soleil and Broadway hit shows. Are there any particular artists or shows that you recall as anticipating to be problematic, only to be surprised at the end result? Conversely, any that you thought would be a cinch only to become stumped due to logistics, rigging, politics or other circumstances that forced you to make less than optimal compromises or that you would do differently now?

JM: All shows are very demanding. This is an artist’s life’s work we’re dealing with. If they go on the stage and they don’t do well for whatever reason, it’s not a great scene. There’s a lot at stake.

One of the expressions we use is that you don’t think about anything else when you’re doing these shows. From when you’re starting to load in until you load out, there’s very little thinking about politics or anything extraneous. These are complicated shows and demand total attention. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of elements, from the video to the bathrooms, everything required to make the experience work. So these are high stress shows, especially for the artists. And what about the fans out there? Are they in a good mood? Or are they in a bad mood because parking was bad, or something else? There are an endless amount of little details that make these shows what they are from a production perspective. All artists get a little bit stressed with so much at stake.

JS: Congratulations on Meyer Sound Labs’ 40th anniversary. Retrospectively, what do you think your top three achievements have been and that you are most proud of, and what do you see as the company’s direction for the next two decades?

JM: Well I think in the beginning building the HD-1 loudspeaker was a real monument because it demonstrated that we could build a speaker that had linear phase [response] – which was really exciting because that had not been achieved up to that point. The HD-1 was very well behaved and the numbers showed it. Then, our LEO was a really great product, for the reasons I gave earlier.

Today, I think our ULTRA X40 compact point source loudspeaker is really interesting because people think it has a “hi-fi” sound. We put into it everything we’ve learned about how to make high quality sound work for both accurate low-level vocal reproduction and powerful projection, all stuffed in this little box. People love it. We sold far more already than we expected. People recognize that [although it’s compact], they can do shows with it. You can throw the ULTRA X40s and all your stuff in your back of your van and do gigs with them as your mains.

The Meyer Sound ULTRA-X40.

And probably the Bluehorn System is the third. [The Bluehorn System is a full-range powered speaker system with built-in DSP, designed for flat frequency response, phase linearity and sonic transparency. – Ed.] It’s been exciting because that product was basically done to see if we could get phase correction all the way down to 30 Hz, and doing it with high-quality digital processing. I mean, we’re getting over 120 dB of dynamic range, which is really quite an achievement. Bluehorn has definitely become a sonic reference.

The Meyer Bluehorn system in action.

We didn’t accomplish this without hearing from a lot of skeptics. I think some in the industry have a tendency to, when they can’t do something like make [a speaker with] full bandwidth phase correction, simply say, “We’re phase deaf!” We’ve heard kickback from people saying this, so it’s almost like sour grapes. “Well, maybe it doesn’t matter or maybe we’re deaf to it,” they’ll say. It’s always a challenge to achieve something when everyone is telling you, “Why are you doing that? No one’s going to hear it.”

But that’s true in every field. I think they probably made fun of cell phones at first with people out there saying, “this is a joke, no one’s going to buy that thing.” But you have to do the work to find out if something’s viable, and there is risk in the sense that you don’t know if what you’re creating is what anyone wants.

I think we’re going through a period today where people want to try to create more interesting sonic spaces or environments. So we’re going through a lot of what they now call immersive sound. But this is something we’ve been looking at for a long time. We could say that the Cirque du Soleil shows have been immersive – one of the shows even has speakers in the back of the seats.

From my point of view, the most exciting thing that we’ve put together lately is the system at National Sawdust [performance venue in Brooklyn]. Now we’re giving artists a chance, with our Spacemap acoustic processing system, to be able to change the configuration of the sounds in the mix, change the spatial character of the room, change where the sound is, and it all can be scripted. So we’re giving sound back to the artists so that they control it easily. But in order to make immersive sound like this practical, it’s got to be something really easy to use, so it’s also easy to script and control the sonic changes.

The Stage at National Sawdust: Meyer Sound Concert, September 26, 2019.

You know, we’re still in the infancy of this transition. A lot of promises are being made about what can happen [with immersive audio]. I think we’ll work through this until we create a more interesting sound palette from the artist’s point of view. They are the ones that will have to create something new and compelling. Otherwise, it could be just a gimmick.

I remember some hi-fi people, back in the Fifties, who did a big demonstration over at a planetarium with 15 speakers all around the room. It was a kind of experiment where you could move a sound around the room, but where you could only run one sound, like a train. That’s interesting for about 10 seconds and then the audience wants it to do something more.

With immersive sound, we have to remember we’re dealing with humans who have the capacity to can think of anything. So we want to develop things carefully so that we don’t over promise and disappoint people, considering that their imagination might be way ahead of our ability to create things through technology. That’s what science fiction movies show us, that you can think way ahead to imagine all kinds of possibilities. Materializing them is another thing.

My C-24, Redux

My C-24, Redux

My C-24, Redux

Dan Schwartz

In one of his Paul’s Posts (“Capturing Air”), Paul McGowan mentioned my AKG C-24, and I thought I would try to describe the mic, and how it’s been changed.

First of all: a C-24 is a stereo C-12, which is one of the greatest microphones ever made. It’s not quite a direct placement for it — the C-12 is perhaps a little “sweeter” sounding (i.e. more “tubey”) — but perhaps not, and close enough that it didn’t much matter to me. I sold mine a few years ago, because it wasn’t being used, and had gotten too valuable to sit around. And the C-24 is stereo.

Originally, it had a 6072 tube, used for both channels, and a fairly minuscule transformer, made by I-don’t-know-whom. The tube was situated right in the middle of the circuit board: picture a rectangular board with a gap in the middle. And it was really a great mic, exceptional in every respect one could imagine.

Unless you’re Tim DeParavicini

About 20 years ago, I was Tim’s professional importer, and he prevailed on me to send my C-24 to England for him to modify. I had (and have) plenty of faith in Tim — which I had to, to send something like a C-24 to him for modification. He told me he had done two before, one of which was for the great classical engineer Tony Faulkner. So…okay, good. Off it went.

What Tim did:

He threw out the 6072, first of all. This meant there was no longer a need for the fairly large gap in the circuit board. Doing this allowed him to make the board much smaller, which is crucial to the modification. But what to replace it with? Tim’s answer was to use a pair of AC701’s (which are miniature tubes, used in among many others, the Neumann M-49 and the KM-series of mics, like the KM-54 and 254), and to “fly” them off the sides of the board. Literally. Where the 6072 sat smack in the middle of the board, the AC701s are flown off the sides, one on each.

The mic body is a cylinder, and now, with a smaller board, a lot of space is opened up. He then threw away the small transformer that AKG originally used. This is really the crucial step: he replaced it with one (or two? I can’t remember) of his hand-wound transformers — and in my opinion, Tim makes the best transformers in the world. And it is — they are? — much bigger than the AKG’s original. A larger, more linear transformer: the sound was utterly transformed, too.

On the low end, it gained an octave, apparently. It may not be quite an octave, but it goes really low, now. It went low before, but now it goes really low. And on the top end — AKG’s have a bump, a rise, in the upper mids to lower highs. Tim’s mod smoothed that out. The overall result was a much more linear, wide-band microphone, capable of capturing the air of a space.

Am I happy I acquiesced to the mod? What do you think?

Postscript — The last time I really heard it in use, I had rented it to someone who complained of a hum, so I brought to the studio where I was “living” at the time, plugged it in — and there was the volume of the very large space, perfectly reproduced, without a trace of hum. (He had a hum somewhere else, probably in his AC line. I’ve encountered this before.)

Phase Shifter

Phase Shifter

Phase Shifter

James Whitworth

In and Out at WAMS and Getting WARM

In and Out at WAMS and Getting WARM

In and Out at WAMS and Getting WARM

Bob Wood

Station Seven: WAMS-AM

The seventh radio station in my career was back at WAMS in Wilmington, Delaware where I had been previously successful. What a homecoming. I loved the beautiful neighborhood where the studios were. I found a great condo.

I was fired on my sixth day.

My program director explained to me, very seriously, that for some reason, my voice didn’t go through the transmitter! Yup. I explained it had gone through very well on my last stint at WAMS, and that I’d buy a new microphone or whatever he thought necessary to get me back on the air.  Nope. I cried. Still nope. Down like Joe Frazier! I think the Frazier – Foreman fight might have lasted longer than my second round at WAMS.

My mother still lived outside Philadelphia so I camped there while I sent audition tapes out, trying to stay in the biz. I got a bite from a radio station in Scranton, PA. Not exactly a high-profile move up, but I took the job, and I feel that I really learned radio there.

Station Eight: WARM

“It’s always warm for me.” Either one of the radio personalities or a recorded voice said that regularly. The station was WARM-AM, with a darn good signal, since it broadcast at 590 AM, at the lower end of the dial.  When it rained, though, the wires to the transmitter got wet and we sounded like a cheap phone.

“The Mighty 590” had real personalities and they performed daily, with a darn good news department, a good general manager and a program director with major market experience. I worked 7:00 pm to midnight, plus I did production of commercials as needed. One advantage of that shift is the cleaning crew would come in and unlock the program director’s office. I got very good at reading upside down, because I’d do a nightly scan of his office desk just to make sure I wasn’t in trouble. Like, say, for invading his office. Didn’t touch anything – just read what was sitting on his desk. I was pretty insecure after my not-so-successful six-day return trip to WAMS.

But they wouldn’t let me be me. The afternoon guy was named Bob Woody and used his real name. The management didn’t think it would be a good idea to have him followed by Bob Wood, so I chose the radio name Christopher Sky. Part of my deal with WARM was a trade-out for an hour or two of weekly airplane rental time at a local airport. [Bob is a licensed pilot  Ed.]

So, being a flyer I thought Sky was a unique name, and liked the cadence of Christopher Sky (never Chris). I had never been anyone but myself, so it was strange to take on an alternate persona, and I asked those who knew my real name not to use it as it when I was at the station as it would inevitably goof me up. I never said my “wrong” real name on the air, but did say the wrong station name once or twice. My show was unique, well-rated, and jammed with news, features, many commercials, and me playing the hits.


I never got used to five-hour air shifts, always running out of gas in the fifth hour.

WARM was, essentially, a top station worthy of a larger market. I feel I “learned” radio there, as the personalities were talented, varied and great to study. Later in life I’d put some of the lessons I learned at WARM to use. I learned what’s it took to build a good full-service radio station, what’s it’s like to be on the air on a station with a great signal and how to mirror and reflect the needs of the community we were in. I also learned what true radio personalities did, and what being one was like. I would get teenybopper girls hanging out at my apartment door (I never took advantage of them) and walk through the mall and hear voices (real shoppers, not voices in my head) pointing me out as a local celebrity.

Remote broadcasting 1970s style.

One great thing about WARM was how I felt appreciated by the management. That really builds your confidence. I also found out what everyone at the station was paid and I felt it a fair distribution – the morning man (and it was always men in those days) always made the most, as was the case at WARM, but as evening guy I wasn’t being paid a pittance, which was typical for some stations. Plus, I got to fly.

Some snapshots of life at WARM:

The weekend news guy was all hyped up because he had a “foolproof” betting system that was “working with the horses.” Several weeks later he came in very sad. The system had failed. Let’s just say big time…

I figured WARM was the only radio station which Patty Hearst, then on loan to the Symbionese Liberation Army, could pick up, once it came to be known where they were all hiding.

My apartment complex was said to have been a haven for swingers, but that was before my arrival. But, no swinging when I got there.

I had a date on Christmas Eve and she fell in the parking lot and broke her ankle. She wouldn’t get out of the hospital until New Year’s Day. I had to call her dad and explain what happened. Her dad was coming from midnight mass…and he looked like a mobster. Happily I’m still here to tell the tale.

I did manage to smuggle, decorate, and light a real Christmas tree in her room before they caught me though.

I decided I someday wanted to be the boss of what went on the air…so I eventually managed to become a program director in Canada. I must note that in 1973 studded tires are not allowed over the border. But that’s another story.

Contemplating the end of the Swinging Sixties.

James Lee Stanley: Musical Survivor

James Lee Stanley: Musical Survivor

James Lee Stanley: Musical Survivor

Frank Doris

Every now and then I’m going to write about artists who deserve wider recognition. I can think of no one more deserving than James Lee Stanley. Since 1972 the singer-songwriter-producer-recording-engineer-actor has released no less than 34 albums, many recorded in his project studio.

His music is acoustic guitar-based and draws from elements of pop, folk, rock and more. He’s collaborated with ex-Monkee Peter Tork, John Batdorf and others. In addition to original material Stanley has released All Wood and Stones and All Wood and Doors, very different acoustic takes on those bands’ songs, and is now recording All Wood and Led with Dan Navarro. He played various roles in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He wrote the 1984 dance club smash “Coming Out of Hiding” for Pamala Stanley. He just started hosting Another Radio Show on folkmusicnotebook.com, featuring singer-songwriters he admires. He is a very funny guy.

I first heard Stanley in 1998 on his Freelance Human Being album. I was knocked out by his songwriting, at once familiar-sounding and distinctive, his evocative singing and accomplished guitar playing. (My Stanley favorites sidebar is at the end of the article.) His latest release Without Suzie is a strong collection of folk-pop-American music, from the wistful opener “Every Highway” to the wry “Live It Up Now” (“Live it up now/You can live it down later”) to the simply gorgeous “I’m All In.” Stanley has remixed and remastered Without Suzie for January 1, 2020 re-release, so it was a good occasion for an interview.

Which might never have happened. James Lee Stanley now wears another hat – that of cancer survivor.

Frank Doris: What made you decide to become a musician?

James Lee Stanley: I come from a musical family and my grandfather was a huge influence. He could play guitar, piano, mandolin, trombone, flute, anything. There’s a picture of me as a very young boy, sitting on the side of the stage and watching him, riveted. I started on clarinet when I was 10, then the ukulele when i was 12, guitar at 14 and piano at 21.

FD: What inspires you to write songs?

JLS: All of my music is biographical. I always need to have some meat in my songs. When I was coming up and someone new would show up on the scene, the first thing we asked was if they had anything to say. Pablum lyrics, rhymes that don’t ring true and insipid phrases simply turn me off.

I play a couple of hours every day, so that seems to prime the pump. You play and then the music starts to play you.

FD: What would you call your music? It’s acoustic-based but it’s not stereotypically folky and it’s not really straight pop.

JLS: I just think what I play is American music. America is a place that attracts this big blend of people. The fact that we’ve had such a remarkably open immigration policy over the last 200 years means this place is a melting pot. It extends into art, literature, music, whether we like it or not, politics. The influences come from the whole planet. Coming out of folk music and listening to a lot of jazz, I sometimes refer to my genre as “Fo Jazz” or if you prefer, “Faux Jazz.”

FD: I’m really enjoying Without Suzie. How do you manage to keep coming up with good material?

JLS: I write a lot. On my phone right now there are probably 200 partial songs sitting on it. I asked my wife about this. “When you wake up in the morning is music playing in your head?” And she said, “no!” Well, every time I wake up there’s music playing. When I’m driving, I’m hearing melodies and I sing them into the phone. I’ve never had writer’s block in my life.

FD: You’re lucky! (Laughter)

JLS: I’m always trying to write a song you haven’t heard before, which is not something the popular music industry encourages. What they want you to do is to write a song that already sounds familiar.

You have to decide – do you want to be an artist or do you want to be a celebrity? I chose to be an artist.

FD: Some of your songs are lighthearted and some are emotionally intense. For example, “Just Let It Go.” My friend was going through a miserable divorce and couldn’t get his ex-wife out of his mind no matter how hard he tried. He would obsess over what she might be doing, even drive past her house. One day “Just Let It Go” came on my iPod and I realized that that song would give him better advice than I ever could.

JLS: I wrote that song for exactly that reason, for my friend, artist manager Derek Sutton who was going through a painful divorce.

FD: About two years ago you moved from LA to a rural area. Why?

JLS: My wife had been in the corporate world for almost two decades and truly needed to escape. I said find a place you want and we’ll go there. She found our lovely little home with spectacular views out every window on a couple of acres on top of a mountain about thirty minutes outside of Tehachapi, which is over two hours north and east of Los Angeles.

I have to work differently now. When I lived in LA I could call [people like] Paul Barrere, Timothy B. Schmidt, Rita Coolidge, Laurence Juber. “Hey, can you play lead guitar on this song?” And they’d all come over. Now I have to mostly record everything myself. I play the parts until I get something I like, then go out on the road to get a distance from it, then come back to the song.

When I do work with other people I call them in but don’t play them the demo. I like to get their contributions without steering them, because they’re such fantastic musicians that I don’t want to inhibit their creativity by trying to impose my ideas. Get the best people you can and then get out of their way. Why in the world would I tell Lawrence Juber how to play guitar!

Here’s James playing Paul Simon’s “An American Tune”:

 You’ve become adept at home recording. How do you do it?

JLS: I have Collings D2H, Martin HD-28 and Taylor 810ce acoustic guitars, a 1969 Fender Strat, a Kimball grand piano, various drums, percussion instruments, synthesizers and amps. I use an AKG C414 and a whole raft of mics, Reaper and EZdrummer recording software, a Tascam 8-track recorder, three Alesis ADAT machines and a ton of other stuff.

I started recording in 1972 with a Teac A-3340. I was always making demos, up through 1980. I had refinanced my home in Santa Cruz to make an album but got screwed royally by a company called Regency. I lost my home and moved into a friend’s for a while. That’s when I decided that I would never rent studio time again. I started building a studio and slowly but surely I’ve added to it and now have a full-fledged studio with a 48-input board.

FD: How about some recording tips and tricks, especially since more and more artists are doing it on their own?

JLS: I used to use a Tascam half-inch 8-track multitrack recorder with a footswitch. I’d get ready and punch Record a nanosecond before I had to do an overdub. Eventually I found that it’s just easier to practice the part until you own it and then just play it.

Second, listen to the part again and get some distance from it. You might find that what you didn’t think was good at first actually is good. Third, everything you do has to serve the song. Fourth, if you’re working with a computer, it can become too easy to just add a track wherever you want and cut and paste, but it’s very difficult to not end up with disjointed, improbable solos. I tend to write my solos. I like them to have a momentum, an arc, a destination. But sometimes it’s also great fun to just play and see what comes out.

The more guitars you record, the more manipulation and EQ you have to do to give them their own sonic space. There are some engineers that can do this but I’m not a brilliant engineer, just a careful dude! Sometimes, the more layers you put on, the worse it sounds.

I like to mix instruments in mono, so that their individual voices and timbres come through. If you record everything in stereo and hear all the instruments and vocals from both sides it can mask the uniqueness of things.

I frequently put on a song I think is well-recorded, like Paul Simon’s “Train in the Distance” and listen to my recordings to see how they compare.

FD: What about live performances? Someone once told me once you get on a stage you’re not a musician, you’re a performer.

JLS: If you’re standing on the stage and in the spotlight, to be unprepared is arrogant and insulting. You also have a responsibility to be entertaining. When I’m onstage I’m a musician and a comedian. The fact is, I’m a really good musician because I want to be.

FD: Why did you decide to start your own record label?

JLS: All my performing life, I have been doing funny bits between songs. My audiences liked it, so I finally recorded a show at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. I shopped it to all the labels and they all said the same thing: “is this a comedy record or a music record? Pick one!” I refused and decided to release it myself. I received a ton of orders, so in 1985 I started my own label, Beachwood Recordings, and never looked back.

James doing one of his between-song bits:

 Moving to the present: when did you realize you had cancer?

JLS: I was scheduled for a colonoscopy and my wife said, “you know, your breath smells funny; why don’t you have an endoscopy at the same time?” So I had them put a camera up my ass and down my throat. Musician on a spit!

They discovered I had a slight ulceration where my esophagus connects to my stomach. Two weeks after the endoscopy it felt like I was swallowing razor blades. It turns out I had squamous cell carcinoma on the base of my tongue near my throat. Believe it or not, what I got was from a virus that comes from oral [sexual] contact.

FD: Holy crap!

JLS: I thought about my pre-marriage days and realized that I was nothing if not full of reciprocity. Always trying to please, don’t you know.

I had started to feel irritation on June 14 and had a biopsy on October 14. Three weeks after I was in surgery. Luckily the cancer was on and not in my tongue or on my vocal cords. They cut the tumor out along with 62 lymph nodes from my neck.

I have no traces of cancer right now. I lucked out. If my wife didn’t tell me to have the endoscopy I wouldn’t have known because this kind of cancer doesn’t present any symptoms until you’re too far gone.

FD: So you produced Without Suzie before you were diagnosed?

JLS: I [thought I’d] finished it in April 2019 but I remixed, remastered and repackaged it over the summer and now I think what I have is the definitive version.

When I was diagnosed I worked on Without Suzie 10 hours a day. I finished the record on November 7 and went into surgery on November 8. I was kind of amazed that I wasn’t afraid of dying; I was afraid of not finishing the record before I died!

FD: You have your priorities straight. (Laughter)

JLS: I think so. I mean, anybody can die. Not everybody can do a record!

FD: How are you feeling now?

JLS: I sang for an hour yesterday. I have a show on January 4 and I’m gearing up for it.


Sidebar: 10 favorite James Lee Stanley songs, in no particular order (and I confess, I haven’t heard all of his albums in depth).

“When Love Comes Knocking Around” (Freelance Human Being)
“Somewhere In Between” (Freelance Human Being)
“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (Traces of the Old Road, Bob Dylan cover)
“Just Let It Go” (Traces of the Old Road)
“Live It Up Now” (Without Suzie)
“I’m All In” (Without Suzie)
“Let the Tree Fall” (The Eternal Contradiction)
“Coming Out of Hiding” (Backstage at the Resurrection)
“Jericho Wind” (Domino Harvest)
“Some Say” (Once Again, James Lee Stanley and Peter Tork)


Queen of the Salons

Queen of the Salons

Queen of the Salons

Don Kaplan

A Paris Salon, drawing by Adrien Moreau (1843-1906)

She was considered to be the Queen of the Salons; a great beauty and the “unchallenged sovereign of sophisticated Paris…the most distinguished lady in the whole of Parisian society.” [1] Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay was also called the “Queen of Music” by the Paris press and was one of the most famous and influential salonnières who helped shape the musical taste of 19th-century Europe.

Salonnières like Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay were the gratin (“upper crust”) of French society: educated women who generally married for money and status, and were discouraged by a male dominated society from working for a living or even leaving their homes. To escape their isolation these wealthy and often flamboyant women hosted cultural gatherings in their homes where both women and men could meet, share common interests, and exchange ideas in ways they wouldn’t be able to in the restrictive world outside.

The salonnières promoted and supported musicians, commissioned and premiered new works, and sometimes guided the music performances. The most prominent salonnières were so influential that some musicians would first appear at private music salons in order to build their reputations—reputations that could lead to public performances.

“Historically exempt from working for a living, the grandees of fin de siècle Paris [many of whom were salonnières] treated pageantry as their full-time job. They were known as the monde, or grand monde (“great world”)…and devoted themselves to a never-ending stream of dinners, concerts, plays, balls, cotillions, charity bazaars, costume parties, and embassy soirées.

‘The ladies of the monde, or mondaines, were not only the chief organizers and ornaments of this 24-hour party culture; they were its gatekeepers, and they extended few invitations to plebeians, whom they collectively termed “the Losers’ Club.” Then as now, their airy scorn for outsiders only increased the fascination these women held for that ostensible club’s members, fueling an explosion in the presse mondaine: an aggregate of daily, weekly, and monthly broadsheets that existed to gratify the general public’s insatiable curiosity about how the one percent lived. This booming industry prefigured the juggernaut of celebrity tabloids, gossip blogs, reality shows, and social media that pervades our culture today.”[2]

“They viewed themselves, and were praised by Proust and others, as the exotic golden birds of French high society. ‘When confined to an aviary or a cage,’ Élisabeth wrote, ‘woman cultivates her plumage and her song for reasons of pleasure, power.’ Her kinsman, the gay aesthete Robert de Montesquiou, called her ‘the Swan’…and she adopted mythic personas from Swan Lake, Lohengrin and the story of Leda, wrapping herself in a frothy winglike cloak of swan’s plumes, gliding in white satin mules [slippers] trimmed with swan’s feathers or waving a gigantic swan’s-down fan.”[3]

Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay. (Source: Wikipedia)

With her daughter. (Credit: I.pinimg/com)

Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay (1860-1952), later Élisabeth Comtesse Greffulhe, was born into a family already interested in music and arts patronage. In 1881 Élisabeth married Count Henry Greffulhe, a wealthy French heir, socialite, and politician. Unfortunately the Count was possessive and a philanderer who restricted Élisabeth’s social activities. Élisabeth responded by establishing a music salon and opening it to contemporary Parisian artists.

Composer Gabrielle Fauré met Élisabeth in 1887. Fauré organized concerts for her gatherings and dedicated his Pavane to her. She suggested a more elaborate version of the Pavane with dancers and an invisible chorus, then arranged for the first complete performance of the new version at a garden party she held in 1891.

During the early1890s Élisabeth extended her influence by renting one of Paris’ largest concert halls and organizing a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Praised as one of the greatest events of the year, the Countess gained a reputation as a modern woman who had progressive political ideas and innovative musical taste.

Following the success of her Messiah, Élisabeth founded an organization with the aim   of promoting living French composers. The “Société des Grandes Auditions Musicales de France” was established in 1890 with a committee that included composers Franck, Chausson, Chabrier, d’Indy, Widor, and composer/conductor Camille Chevillard. The goal was to “give performances of complete works by composers old and new, and to be a center for French composers, to ensure to our country the first performance of their works.”[4]The press recognized that this was not simply a reunion of dilettantes but a distinguished national association serving a public need. The project quickly gained financial support from numerous members of the aristocracy, inspiring wealthy women to turn their financial support to public institutions and individual composers.

Winnaretta Singer: Self-portrait 1885. (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

Winnaretta Singer (1865-1943) was a musician, artist, and another of the most influential salonnières. Born in Yonkers, New York, Singer was the 20th of 24 children fathered by the inventor of the modern sewing machine. She welcomed musicians to her famous Paris Salon for over 50 years and commissioned works from many of them.

Like other wealthy women of the time, she married a European aristocrat in order to gain a title. At age 22 she wed prince Louis-Vilfred de Scey-Montbéliard but her marriage, like Élisabeth’s, was a disaster. “On his wedding night, when the prince entered the honeymoon chamber, he found the princess atop a large wardrobe, an umbrella in hand, yelling, ‘If you touch me, I’ll kill you!” [5] The marriage was annulled after five years. In 1893 she married another prince, Edmond de Polignac, who was reportedly gay but didn’t create a problem because Winnaretta was already having affairs with women. Their platonic union was happy but brief: he died in 1901.

Fauré was part of Winnaretta’s circle as well as Élisabeth’s. Through her patronage of, and friendship with, Fauré she learned how hard it was for emerging contemporary  composers to have their compositions performed in public venues. As a result, Singer hosted a salon in her mansion that lasted from 1888 to 1939 and was open to everyone who was anyone in the arts. Prominent guests included Nadia Boulanger, Benjamin Britten, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Sergei Diaghilev, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Proust (who based some of his scenes in Remembrance of Things Past on the times he spent at  salons), Colette, Claude Monet, and Jean Cocteau, and there were first performances of music by Chabrier, d’Indy, Ravel, Fauré, and Manuel de Falla (with the harpsichord part performed by Wanda Landowska). Claude Debussy’s compositions were featured almost every month between 1905-1907, and many premieres of his works took place at the mansion, too.

Singer commissioned works from many young composers including Stravinsky, Satie, Milhaud, Poulenc, and Françaix, and supported soloists Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti, Arthur Rubinstein, and Vladimir Horowitz. In areas of interest beyond the salons she also funded public housing in Paris and partnered with Marie Curie to send mobile radiology units — in limousines — to the front during World War I.

Singer’s arts patronage continues today through the Fondation Singer-Polignac which she initiated in 1928 and has been housed in her Paris mansion since 1945. The foundation presents concerts and other programs, and funds scientific projects as well as artistic ones.

Claude Debussy and the salon of Winnaretta Singer. (Source: parisianmusicsalon.wordpress.com/claude-debussy)

In addition to France, there were other prominent salons around the world like the one  led by Clara Schumann, acclaimed as one of the best pianists in Europe and recognized as one of the foremost composers of lieder in the 19th-century. Clara and her husband Robert championed each other’s works but, as usual for the time, her husband’s career took precedence.

Adele Bloch-Bauer, a society woman and hostess of a renowned Viennese Salon at the beginning of the 20th-century, entertained guests that included Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. She appeared fragile and delicate on one hand; elegant, intellectual, self-conscious and smug on the other, and was often caught engaging in the unladylike  habit of smoking. Bloch-Bauer was immortalized by artist Gustav Klimt in the famous silver and gold portrait he painted of her in 1907.

Adele Bloch-Bauer. (Source: Neue Galerie New York)

One of the foremost opera singers of her day, Australian Pauline Viardot promoted the careers of composers whose work she admired. As a teacher, she invited her students to  attend her salon where they learned lessons through performance practice and were able to make industry connections.

Laure de Sade (great-granddaughter of the Marquis de Sade), who became Comtesse de Chevigné, cultivated her persona as a sophisticated intellectual and swaggering rebel. She enjoyed shocking people, never shied away from cursing (in defiance of aristocratic manners), and spoke proudly of the Marquis’ X-rated opus. At the Bal des Bêtes in 1885 when 1,700 guests came costumed as insects, vermin, crustaceans, and big-game animals, she appeared as a white snowy owl, symbol of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. And in 1891, at the fashionable Black and White Ball, she defied the dress code by appearing as an androgynous harlequin in yellow and blue. Laure was a patron of artists and composers including Francis Poulenc and Ned Rorem; in keeping with the grand monde culture, the private recitals in her salon typically starred performers so famous that crowned heads from all over Europe clamored to be invited.

Geneviève Halévy Bizet Straus had connections to Bohemia and the artistic world through her first marriage to composer Georges Bizet. She established a salon regularly attended by Turgenev, Berlioz, Massenet, Gounod, Degas, and Alexandre Dumas; after her second marriage Geneviève started a new salon. As a Jewish bourgeoisie with a formidable family tree, she was also active in protesting the antisemitism of the 1880s and 1890s.

German-speaking Jews at that time had a dilemma: They saw new opportunities in Germany but didn’t have the comfort or support of a secure community. In addition, German society imposed the usual gender role restrictions as well as anti-semitism. Cultivated Jewish women were able to face the dilemma by starting salons:

“From 1800 on, salons performed a political and social miracle. The salon allowed Jewish women to establish a venue in their homes in which Jews and non-Jews could meet in relative equality. Like-minded people could study art, literature, philosophy or music together. This handful of educated, acculturated Jewish women could escape the restrictions of their social ghetto. Naturally the women had to be in well-connected families, either to money or to culture. In these mixed gatherings of nobles, high civil servants, writers, philosophers and artists, Jewish salonnières created a vehicle for Jewish integration, providing a context in which patrons and artists freely exchanged ideas.”[6]

With or without plumage, with or without costumed crustaceans or androgynous  harlequins, salonnières opened their homes so composers could connect with patrons and perform new music in private settings. Even though salons catered to the “upper crust” they had positive effects on the outside world by providing places where people were able to meet and express themselves away from social norms and 19th-century conventions, by helping change the ways money was allocated for the arts and public institutions, and by creating social awareness. Some of our most familiar pieces were introduced in these salons and the successful careers of many important 19th- and 20th-century composers were guided by what the salonnières and their guests had to offer.


[1] Georg Predota,“Muses and Musings La Comtesse Greffulhe: Female Entrepreneurial Power,”  Interlude (Oct. 2, 2017)

[2] Caroline Weber, “How Three 19th-century Parisian It Girls Became the Original Kardashians,” W magazine (May 2018)

[3]   Elaine Showalter, “French High Society During the Belle Époque,” The N.Y. Times (July 13, 2018)

[4] Georg Predota,“Muses and Musings La Comtesse Greffulhe: Female Entrepreneurial Power,”  Interlude (Oct. 2, 2017)

[5] Sylvia Kahan, Music’s Modern Muse (University of Rochester Press, 2006)

[6] Helen Webberley, “Cultural Salons and Jewish Women in 19th Century Berlin,” Limmud Oz Conference, Sydney, (July 2005)

Re-Examining Pink Floyd in the Post-Roger Waters Years

Re-Examining Pink Floyd in the Post-Roger Waters Years

Re-Examining Pink Floyd in the Post-Roger Waters Years

Tom Gibbs

This issue, I’m focusing on a single release, Pink Floyd’s The Later Years, which is a sprawling 18-disc box set that covers the band in the years following the departure of Roger Waters. This very noteworthy box deserved and required much greater attention; I’ll get back to my usual wanderings and ramblings in the next issue!

Pink Floyd  The Later Years

1982 found Pink Floyd in a state of complete disarray. Roger Waters’ increasingly politicized world view, along with his total negativity and complete disparagement of the contributions of bandmates David Gilmour and Nick Mason led to a considerable amount of tension in the band, both musically and creatively. Waters had already fired founding member Richard Wright during the recording sessions for The Wall, and the current album, The Final Cut, ended up being the final straw for Waters. Even though the album charted well and was a commercial success, the Pink Floyd that most fans had known was essentially dead when Waters announced his departure from the band in 1985. Most fans and critics alike generally consider The Final Cut to really be Roger Waters’ first solo album, anyway; it barely even contextually resembled the Pink Floyd of The Wall era.

David Gilmour, however, didn’t really seem to mind Waters’ departure; he had a different concept of the situation, and didn’t necessarily ascribe to Waters’ idea that everyone else in the band was just a hired gun, and totally expendable. And that Pink Floyd was Roger Waters, and a Pink Floyd without Roger Waters, well it didn’t really exist, did it? David Gilmour decided that Pink Floyd was, indeed, still alive; his first move was to rehire Rick Wright, and sessions soon commenced for their next album, 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason. The entire process was somewhat marred by an ongoing lawsuit over the band’s name, which was ultimately decided in favor of Gilmour and company. That didn’t slow Roger Waters’ continual derision of what he viewed as a diluted version of the Pink Floyd brand, and he frequently complained loudly in the international press. Despite the fact that I have a great amount of respect for Roger Waters’ creative genius, I just can’t reconcile his lack of enthusiasm for the other members of Pink Floyd with consideration to their significant contributions to the band’s music.

Much of the hoopla pretty much died down after that, with Roger Waters focusing on his solo career, and Pink Floyd continuing to tour and record a number of albums during the period. Including 1994’s The Division Bell, which is widely regarded to be the last true, fully-formed Pink Floyd album. Their final studio album, 2014’s The Endless River, was heavily culled from unused material from The Division Bell sessions. The three post-Roger Waters studio albums were augmented by two live albums, 1988’s Delicate Sound of Thunder, which found the band proving that they could still perform Waters-era Floyd material to great effect. And 1995’s Pulse, which found them again performing songs from every Pink Floyd era, including new songs from The Division Bell. And, of course, Roger Waters continued to complain loudly at every opportunity; partially for what he considered a bastardization of Pink Floyd’s legacy—but very likely that he was miffed at the continued commercial success of the David Gilmour flavored version of the band. Say what you will about a Waters-less Pink Floyd; they continued to sell millions of albums and tons of concert tickets.

This gargantuan new box set offers virtually everything on record from Pink Floyd’s recorded output in the post-Roger Waters years. A sprawling, massive 18-disc set, it covers all the territory that encompassed the studio albums A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, as well as the live albums Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse. The studio tracks from 2014’s The Endless River, a predominantly instrumental affair, are nowhere to be seen in any of the proceedings—a rather curious omission, considering the otherwise comprehensive nature of the box set. The decision not to include any of that record’s studio tracks is probably significantly grounded in the relatively recent release of the album, and David Gilmour’s impression that there wasn’t really anything new to say in terms of remixing or remastering, which is most of the focus of the reissued albums in this box. That said, there are numerous videos on the companion DVDs and Blu-rays that reference material from The Endless River.

The breakdown of the box set is basically as follows: there are five compact discs, which include remixed and remastered versions of A Momentary Lapse of Reason and Delicate Sound of Thunder, along with live recordings and outtakes of material from the same era, including the full 1990 Knebworth concert. There are no CDs included for The Division Bell, which was remixed in 2014, or for Pulse. The five DVDs and six Blu-ray discs essentially duplicate each other’s video content (for legacy listeners who don’t happen to have access to a Blu-ray player, I suppose). The extra BluRay disc features 24/96 remix/remasters of both studio albums included in the set, as well as including 5.1 surround sound mixes in both DTS Master Audio and PCM Audio versions. The set includes concert videos from Venice (1989) and Knebworth (1990), and the completely restored Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse tour films. And tons of other videos from across the spectrum of the era, like their performance (sans Roger Waters, of course) from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1996. The package also includes a couple of 7-inch vinyl discs, and there’s a 2-LP set that culls songs from the collection that’s also separately available.

This is definitely the David Gilmour Pink Floyd show, although an excess of tour personnel (as evidenced here in the concert films) was already standard operating procedure for the band by the time they’d reached The Wall era. David Gilmour supervised the remixes of the albums done for this release such that the contributions of Wright and drummer Nick Mason were more prominently featured in the new mixes. I can’t say that I’m a true monster fan of this period of the band, but there’s nonetheless a significant level of really interesting work here. Especially in A Momentary Lapse of Reason (which Roger Waters famously called “one of the great forgeries of all time” upon its release) and Delicate Sound of Thunder discs. I still listened to a fair amount of mainstream rock radio at the time they were both released, and so I had a fair amount of exposure to both albums, though I couldn’t name a single song from The Division Bell.

This sprawling project had a very convoluted release schedule; the digital files from the CD content were released to both Tidal (in CD quality only) and Qobuz (in 24/96 high res) in mid-November. The box set wasn’t scheduled for release until early December, so my pre-release review copy only included the preliminary CDs, with some access to high res content and video content available online. I thought the CDs sounded great, and the 24/96 files on Qobuz sounded pretty darn magnificent; A Momentary Lapse of Reason via Qobuz sounded incredible, completely blowing away my original CD copy of the album. I watched some of the short-form videos, but was initially unable to watch any of the concert films, which are probably a major reason for many Floyd junkies to want this box in the first place.

But then the final production release of the box arrived; it came in a massive cardboard box with a very secure foam insert configuration that protected the box inside from any kind of shipping damage. It weighed about 12 pounds. God only knows how much it cost to ship the set—I was truly shocked by its bulk. But the true joy came in opening the finished production box. I work at my day job in the commercial print and publishing industry, so I have a great level of appreciation for high quality printing and packaging, to say the least. Pink Floyd The Later Years is, beyond doubt, the finest and most comprehensive box set of its type I’ve ever had the pleasure to behold. And everything in the box is finished with the highest level of satin varnishes and UV coatings, so you can handle everything with no risk of getting nasty fingerprints all over the contents!

In addition to the massive collection of audio and visual data contained within, there are two casebound, hardback books—one of them is a large-format coffee table type book with tons of photos from every facet of this era of the band. The second book houses the five compact discs, and also includes all the technical information for all the contents of the collection. Also included are four soft-bound books; two of them deal with the two studio albums in the set, one covers the Pink Floyd live experience within the era, and the last one compiles all the album lyrics from all five albums within this time span, including The Endless River. The box also includes multiple large-format posters, concert ticket replicas, and die-cut stickers; there’s a serious plethora of extras. All of the DVDs and Blu-rays are encased in heavy, glossy fold-out sleeves, and the discs themselves are encased in Japanese rice-paper inner sleeves to protect them from scratches. Removing and reassembling the contents was almost like a puzzle; it took a couple of tries at repacking before I was able to successfully get the box closed after removing the contents!

The 24/96 high resolution mixes of A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell found on Blu-ray disc six were revelatory, to say the least, providing a magnificently immersive listening experience. Whether listening to the 5.1 surround mixes or just the high res stereo PCM versions, the sound quality was a tremendous leap in clarity and dynamic impact over the catalog CD releases. I found the Blu-ray sound via my new Yamaha BDA-1060 universal player just a touch more refined than the Qobuz versions—but it was quite nearly too close to call. Listening to them now in high res makes me feel that perhaps I didn’t give these albums quite the attention they deserved back in the day!

The visual experience of the Blu-rays and DVDs was a significant step forward; I’d seen an early DVD of Delicate Sound of Thunder, and while good, just can’t compare to the new remastering. There’s a striking visual difference between Delicate Sound and Pulse; the former was recorded on film and has the appearance of a really good big-screen movie. Pulse was recorded live to video tape, and looks incredibly clear and, well, very live—which is a very good thing for a concert film! However, Delicate Sound is widescreen, and Pulse is, unfortunately, only full frame—decisions that were made at the time the films were created, so nothing can be done to improve upon the situation. The DTS Master Audio sound employed in both is superbly immersive, and gives each film a really good you-are-there feel. They’ve never looked or sounded as good as they do here. While the Blu-rays have my definite preference, the DVDs also look really great, and my Samsung 4K display upconverts all DVDs to 4K anyway, so they both looked really impressive on screen.

There are tons of additional audio and video content included with plenty of outtakes and unused, previously unreleased tracks from albums spanning the length of the box. And there are literally hours upon hours of promo, concert, and assorted extraneous videos that run the gamut of every aspect of the band’s existence from this era. Not all the extras are in high res sound or highest resolution video, but for Pink Floyd completists it’s definitely a treasure trove.

The Pink Floyd of David Gilmour, while heavily disparaged by Roger Waters—and somewhat less enthusiastically embraced by the critics—still sold massive amounts of product and concert tickets. It may lack the acerbic wit and penchant for theatrics that Roger Waters brought to the mix, but there’s plenty here to legitimize this body of work’s place in the Pink Floyd pantheon. I seriously enjoyed every aspect of this incredible box—the audio content sounded really dynamic and magnificent over my Magnepan LRS loudspeakers, and the video was a massive improvement over any previous iterations I’d experienced. Not really considering myself a Floyd completist, I could probably get on without the need to own this monstrous box, especially considering its nearly $400 price point. That said, it’s beyond doubt the most beautifully presented box set I’ve ever seen; as a print professional, I’m simply awestruck by its magnificence. If you love this version of Pink Floyd—and there’s a lot to love here—it might just be your cup of tea. Recommended.

Sony/Legacy Recordings, 5 CDs/6 Blu-rays/5 DVDs/2 7-inch Vinyls(download/streaming from, Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, Deezer)

Sublime Moments

Sublime Moments

Sublime Moments

Alon Sagee

I was cutting into a mango last night – it was a small variety known as Champagne, one that I have been smitten by for years. Its curvy shape can be described as half of the Chinese yin/yang symbol. It was perfectly ripe and its scent was intoxicating. I ate it slowly, with an almost child-like wonder, thinking: how could anything taste this good? 

Reflecting on it, I was clearly having a sublime moment – an altered state where my immediate reality drops to the background and all that exists is that mango and my conscious experience of consuming it. The feeling is usually accompanied by a sense of awe. Some of my most memorable episodes occurred while immersing myself in emotion-evoking, impeccably recorded music heard through a superbly resolving audio set-up. A favorite example is the sweeping, heart-wrenching Fantasia on a Theme By Thomas Tallis by composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. This 16-minute masterpiece is so beautiful it almost hurts. Again I wonder: How can anything be this magnificent?

While there are many good versions of this musical triumph available in all formats, allow me to bring to your attention a rendition by Sir Andrew Davis conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Humor me as I highlight a video of a performance that, to my knowledge is only found on YouTube. Don’t laugh, this is a production made to very high standards.

What makes this video so special is that it captures Sir Davis and the BBC Symphony at Gloucester Cathedral – a church where in 1910, this composition was played and conducted for the very first time. With outstanding cinematography and near-field intimacy (if I can borrow the term), Davis and his musicians look like they’re having sublime experiences of their own. When an orchestra tips out of normalcy and forays, as one into the experience en masse, magic happens. The presentation is not just seen and heard, but felt viscerally. I believe all legendary performances have that in common.

Switching gear (so to speak), experiences with hardware can also offer us sublime moments. One of the most dramatic was the first time I plugged my entire 2-channel system into a brand new AC power regenerator and played a familiar reference album. Nothing in the system had changed except the quality of the power I was feeding it.  I sat there, in the sweet spot, eyes closed and mesmerized by what I was hearing. The pure, clean and steady 120V juice allowed my rig to create a musical tapestry that was richly detailed and nearly palpable. Even my wife noticed the difference immediately!

I’ve noticed one simple common thread to all of the sublime moments I’ve had listening to music: my eyes are always closed. By minimizing the distracting visual intrusions from our environment, hearing is immediately enhanced, my thoughts retreat to a low ebb and I can listen more deeply into the music. At times, while listening to a passionate, emotion soaked selection, I may even lock in and discern the intent of the composer. I don’t hesitate to share that I occasionally squeeze out a tear or two in my listening room.

If you’ve ever had the surreal experience of opening your eyes at the end of a musical piece you were completely immersed in, and for a second, being surprised by where you actually were…you know the feeling of a sublime moment.

Audiophiles are “enthusiasts,” which is one of my favorite words. It comes from the Greek “en theos,” which translates to “possessed by God” – which aligns well with these emotional moments of grace. Maybe a slight tweak for us would be En Theos Audius, Possessed by the Gods of audio…which we most certainly are.


Alón Sagee is the Chairman and Chief Troublemaker of the San Francisco Audiophile Society.

Mythical Stature: Gentle Giant, Part One

Mythical Stature: Gentle Giant, Part One

Mythical Stature: Gentle Giant, Part One

Rich Isaacs

Gentle Giant, possibly the most musically and instrumentally diverse group in all of progressive rock, actually had its roots in rhythm and blues. Like so many UK youth in the Sixties, the Shulman brothers were fans of American soul and blues artists, and wanted to emulate them. Their first band was initially known as The Howling Wolves, a name that was subsequently changed to The Roadrunners R&B Band.

Philip, Derek, and Ray Shulman were raised in a musical household. Sons of a jazz trumpeter, each became proficient on multiple instruments at an early age. Guitar, bass, saxophone, trumpet, recorder, and violin were among the many others they would ultimately incorporate into Gentle Giant compositions.

Things didn’t start happening for the group until, at the suggestion of their manager, they were renamed Simon Dupree and the Big Sound and began working in the pop/psychedelia genre. EMI Records gave them a contract, and 1967 saw them landing a UK top ten single with “Kites,” a track that was not included on their album Without Reservations. None of the other singles charted nearly as well as “Kites.”

Here are two examples of the Simon Dupree sound:



Despite their initial success, the Shulmans were unhappy with the new direction. They even went so far as to put out a single under the pseudonym The Moles. We Are the Moles was a fairly forgettable bit of psychedelia that may have been the inspiration (along with “I Am the Walrus”) for “The Mole From the Ministry,” from XTC’s psychedelic tribute incarnation as The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Although Simon Dupree had incorporated a much wider range of instrumentation than most groups of the era, frustration on the part of the brothers led them to disband in 1969 in hopes of finding even more accomplished and adventurous musicians with whom to write and perform. Gentle Giant took shape with the addition of Kerry Minnear, a Royal Academy of Music alumnus who played keyboards, cello, tuned percussion, and recorder, and Gary Green, a blues-based guitarist who also played mandolin and recorder. Drummer Martin Smith was the only holdover from the previous band.

The band signed with UK label Vertigo Records, and the legendary Tony Visconti, who was featured in Copper issues 96 & 97, produced their first album. Roy Thomas Baker (of Queen fame) engineered their eponymous debut LP, which was not released in the U.S.

Gentle Giant features cover art nearly as arresting (though not so disturbing) as the first King Crimson album. The friendly face that fills the front is part of an illustrated aerial view of the giant holding the band members in his hands. The cover unfolds vertically to reveal the complete image. Liner notes inside tell the fanciful tale of the giant.

That album was the ambitious (and auspicious) debut of a band that would expand the boundaries of rock music through diverse instrumentation and changing moods. The opening track, “Giant” (what else?), begins with a quiet organ bit before plunging into heavier territory featuring Derek Shulman’s forceful vocals. Soon, that power yields to more contemplative, almost spacey, passages before returning to the heavy riffs.

The next track, “Funny Ways,” brings a complete change of style. Violin and cello evoke a chamber music feel, complimented by Phil Shulman’s softer vocals. More mood and tempo shifts follow, even including a bit of bluesy electric guitar. Because this piece so perfectly captures their range, it became a staple of their live shows for years.


“Alucard” is a darker work, with angular and extended riffs using bass, saxophone, guitar and Moog. “Isn’t It Quiet and Cold?” finishes side one on a lighter note, with strings alternating 3/4 and 4/4 time, and even features a xylophone solo.

Side Two begins sweetly enough with acoustic guitars, bass, and vocals on “Nothing at All.”  True to the “Giant style,” it soon goes off into unexpected places, including a heavily phased drum solo/piano freak-out. The overall effect is not nearly so disjointed as it may seem.


The last significant cut on the album (it actually ends with a brief throwaway rendition of “God Save the Queen” and some synthesizer noodling) is “Why Not?,” a rocker that includes some fine blues guitar from Gary Green.

Acquiring the Taste, their second LP, would be worthy of a feature all on its own. It represented a major step in their musical evolution. To quote their liner notes: “It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular. We have recorded each composition with the one thought that it should be unique, adventurous and fascinating. It has taken every shred of our musical and technical knowledge to achieve this. From the outset we have abandoned all preconceived thoughts on blatant commercialism. Instead we hope to give you something far more substantial and fulfilling. All you need to do is sit back and acquire the taste.”

With Visconti again producing, and new engineer Martin Rushent working the board at Advision Studios, the album is a tour de force. No two tracks are remotely similar in mood or instrumentation, although sophisticated vocal arrangements featuring harmony and counterpoint find their way into many of the songs and each one goes in multiple directions. Acquiring the Taste was their first LP to be released in the USA (on Vertigo through Mercury), and is an album best appreciated through good headphones.

“Pantagruel’s Nativity” tells the story of the giant conceived (along with Gargantua) by François Rabelais in the 1600s. Nearly every instrument in their arsenal is put to use in this difficult-to-describe track.


“Edge of Twilight” is a softer piece featuring some very creative engineering. The percussion break in the middle utilizes snare drum, tympani, and xylophone.


“The House The Street The Room” darkens the mood, obliquely describing a tale of drug use in the dealer’s home. An off-kilter middle section mixing recorder (played by Visconti), piano, trumpet, violin, clavichord, and xylophone leads to a very heavy riff.

The album’s title track is a short synthesizer solo straight out of Bach’s baroque work.

Side Two begins with “Wreck,” which chronicles a shipwreck with wailing vocals, and includes a multi-recorder passage that would be right at home on an album of Renaissance music. “The Moon is Down” goes down tempo, featuring woodwinds and harpsichord before breaking into a faster, jazzy middle section. “Black Cat” perfectly captures the seductive and unpredictable moves of a feline, at times using instruments to mimic a cat’s cry.


“Plain Truth” is the album’s most obvious rocker. It opens with violin played through a wah-wah pedal, then introduces a rock riff that alternates between 5/4 and 4/4 time signatures. The violin solos through most of the rest of the track.

Gentle Giant’s third album marks their initial attempt at a concept album. Three Friends explores the lives of schoolmates who grow apart, with one becoming a road digger, another an artist, and the third pursuing a white-collar career. It coincided with some major changes for the band. They switched labels in the USA, signing with Columbia. Original drummer Martin Smith left, and was replaced by Malcolm Mortimore. For the first time, the album was self-produced, resulting in a somewhat more homogenized sound, although Martin Rushent (misspelled on the cover as Martin Rushkent) again served as engineer.

The UK release on Vertigo featured a somewhat stylized drawing of three figures, but for the US version, Columbia decided to use the more arresting illustration of the giant from their first album.

The opening track, “Prologue,” is just that, an introduction to the story. Quirky rhythms and instrumental interplay are juxtaposed with intricate vocal arrangements.

“Schooldays” is a beautiful piece of music, describing the innocence and friendships of childhood. Along the way, Philip Shulman’s son Calvin provides a sweet counterpoint to his father’s vocals, accompanied by mellotron and piano. There’s a nice jazzy vibraphone solo in there, too.


“Working All Day” gives voice to the frustrations of the blue-collar worker. Derek Shulman’s gruff vocals play well off of Philip’s baritone sax work. “Peel the Paint” starts out all sweetness and light before descending into madness, representing the artist’s inner demons with a free-form, Hendrix-y guitar and drum sequence.

The white-collar worker’s story is heard in “Mister Class and Quality?” The bass line that provides counterpoint to the guitar and organ at the opening will re-emerge as the main theme in the album-ending title track, “Three Friends.”



Gentle Giant toured the States off and on beginning in mid-1972. They first opened for Black Sabbath, with whom they shared management. The situation was not ideal – the Sabbath crowds were generally hostile, even to the point of throwing a cherry bomb onstage during Gentle Giant’s set at one gig, prompting them to leave the stage with some choice words.

Later tours saw them paired with more compatible artists, among them Jethro Tull, Yes, and The Strawbs, yet even then, they were not always well received. There is an incredible website filled with news clippings, show flyers, and recollections detailing their tour history at: http://ggconcerts.on-reflection.org.

The UK version of their fourth album, Octopus, bore a beautiful foldout cover painting of an octopus done by Yes artist Roger Dean. For some reason, when it was released here by Columbia, it was given a completely different cover. The illustration is that of an octopus in a canning jar, with the band’s name written along the lid and “Octopus” seemingly embossed on the side. Initial runs were die-cut with ridges like the profile of the jar.

Octopus, UK cover.


Octopus, US cover.

Prior to recording the album, drummer Malcolm Mortimore had been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, forcing yet another change of percussionists. John “Pugwash” Weathers, a veteran of numerous Welsh bands, was brought in. He would prove to be the permanent member the band needed.

Octopus could be reasonably described as an extension of Acquiring the Taste – mirroring that album’s incredible range of styles and sounds. The opening track, “The Advent of Panurge,” introduces a companion giant to Pantagruel. “Raconteur Troubador” incorporates violins, bass drum, tambourine, keyboards, trumpet, and echoing vocals.


One of the heavier tracks is “A Cry for Everyone,” full of rhythmic variations and complex instrumental interplay, with lyrics inspired by the literature and philosophy of Albert Camus. “Knots” showcases their propensity for intricate vocal arrangements.


The album’s lone instrumental piece, “The Boys in the Band,” is explained in the liner notes as using the full band, including engineer Martin Rushent (who once again suffers the indignity of having his name misspelled – this time as “Rushant”). It opens with a laugh and the sound of a coin being spun on a tabletop. What follows is a high-energy, ever-changing romp. The next track, “Dog’s Life,” is described as a “backhanded tribute to our roadies.”  The odd sound of a reed organ combined with strings makes for a unique sonic experience.


“Think of Me With Kindness” is a sweet lament featuring piano and solo voice before adding drums and brass – the most straightforward arrangement of all on the LP. “River” closes out the record by “creating several atmospheres within the boundaries of one song by using the various electronic devices at our disposal in the recording studio.”

Of course, that description could apply to almost any piece of music created by this most versatile and virtuosic group of musicians.  The second phase of their career will be covered in a subsequent article.

Header image: Gentle Giant promo photo, 1975.

An Ode to Cassette Tape - Part One

An Ode to Cassette Tape - Part One

An Ode to Cassette Tape - Part One

J.I. Agnew

I still remember how, as a very young boy, I had to handle a 7-inch record with both hands and I still could barely manage to put it on the turntable, having to climb up on a chair to reach it. This is how big the 7-inch format was, or how small I was at the time (a question of perspective)! The 12-inch records were far too big for me; I couldn’t even remove them from their sleeve!

I observed in astonishment as my father was holding a 12-inch LP with one hand, four fingers on the label, thumb on the edge, and wondered if I would ever become big enough to do that. Back then, I couldn’t even do that on a 7-inch single!


That sure wasn’t me! I preferred loudspeakers, and I still prefer them to be bigger than me, even nowadays.

Having been taught that records could be easily damaged and were of immense value, I found the experience of handling records rather stressful, because of my small size and clumsy motor skills as a toddler. However, the ensuing auditory experience was so deeply fulfilling that I had decided it was worth the stress and effort of placing the record on the turntable and putting it back in its correct place on the shelf again when I was done. But I still had to wait for dad to come home from work to ask him to put on a 12-inch record.

Luckily, there was another format, which I found much easier to deal with! The CD had not yet arrived and we did not have a reel-to-reel tape machine at home, which is probably for the better, as I would have most likely tangled myself up in knots trying to thread the tape, which would have felt like the equivalent of 8-inch wide tape in my tiny paws back then.

The toddler-friendly format consisted of 1/8-inch wide tape, wound on small reels, packed safely inside a plastic shell! There was no need to touch the actual tape containing the recorded information. Of course, I’m talking about cassette tape, which could be handled entirely by the shell and was small enough for me to confidently hold! As an additional bonus, the cassette deck, a vintage JVC unit, was situated on a low shelf near the floor within easy reach.

JVC cassette deck. Photo courtesy of Magnetic Fidelity.

The fact that cassette tape existed when I was a baby will perhaps give away some hints regarding my age, contrary to what some of my earlier accounts of my experience with antique audio technology may have led readers to believe. The format was introduced by Philips in 1963, but gained popularity in the 1970’s.

Not only was I able to play any of the prerecorded tapes in our collection, but, unlike our Thorens turntable, that same cassette deck could also record on blank cassettes! Both of these activities were deemed safe enough for me to pursue at will, without requiring direct supervision or assistance!

My experiences with cassette tape started when my dad decided to try to record my first words when I was about nine months old. I found the VU meters fascinating and was able to learn how to initiate the recording by simultaneously pressing the Rec and Play keys. Soon after that I learned how to adjust the recording level correctly and things rapidly escalated from there. I was building shoebox guitars with my mom (cutting a hole in a shoebox, putting rubber bands over it and sticking a piece of cardboard under them as a bridge), banging on whatever produced an interesting sound, talking, singing, and recording music from 12-inch records, to be able to enjoy the music on the records when my dad was at work.

As I grew and became able to easily handle any size records, I discovered the concept of the mixtape. Throughout my childhood, cassette tape remained the only viable means of recording sound for me. But even after graduating to reel-to-reel tape machines, disk recording lathes and all kinds of digital recording systems, cassette tape never lost its magic for me.

As a teenager playing guitar and keyboards, I started experimenting with more complex recording ideas, using several cassette decks and a mixer. At first it was a crude homemade mixer, then I got a cheap DJ mixer and as a young adult, after a lot of saving up and experience in professional recording and broadcasting facilities, I eventually managed to buy my first mixing console second-hand. I was still using this with my multiple cassette decks.

Shortly thereafter, I found a Tascam 414 Portastudio, which is a 4-track cassette deck that records using all four tracks in the same direction. No side A or side B. Flipping the tape over would play things backwards, which was great for special effects! The Tascam 414 ran at 3-3/4 ips (inches per second), twice the normal cassette speed of 1 7/8 ips. It offered dbx noise reduction and had a very simple built in mixer. I did hundreds of recordings on this setup and some of them came out surprisingly well.

Heavily modified Tascam 414 with the mixer section removed for use with higher quality mixing console. Photo from the author’s personal archive of audio adventures.

Not only were cassette decks generally much more affordable than professional recording equipment (especially in the second-hand market, as broken units in need of repair work which I was happy to do on my own), the blank cassette tapes were also very attractively priced for a schoolboy with limited resources. There was a dedicated blank cassette tape store in my area, whose owner would excitedly explain to me the differences between the multiple different types he was stocking.

I learned that Type I/Normal/Fe was very similar to the ferric oxide formulations used in reel-to-reel tape. Type II/High/CrO2 was coated with chromium dioxide particles and was used with a higher bias setting. Type III/FeCr was a combination of ferric oxide and chromium dioxide, while Type IV/Metal had a non-oxide metal particle coating and could take higher peak levels prior to saturation.

It was the affordability, ease of use and very decent level of performance that made cassette tape popular. By the early 1980s, the cassette tape had become the best-selling consumer format, surpassing vinyl record sales. The average cassette deck at the time could offer a reasonably flat frequency response from 30 Hz to 16 kHz while the more sophisticated units did much better, while also having good speed stability and being quite reliable. The Annual Equipment Directory in the October 1983 issue of Audio listed no less than 203 different models of cassette decks in the US market alone and those listings were far from complete!

Marantz cassette deck. Photo courtesy of Magnetic Fidelity.

Being immune to vibration and shock, cassette players were widely used in cars and other mobile applications. The Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979 and paved the way for a range of products aimed at those who wanted to listen to music on the go. The iPod and iTunes owe their existence to cassette tape and the Walkman.

A Sony WM-FX421 Walkman.

Cassette tapes still form a big part of my personal music collection. I used them extensively during long road trips and made countless mixtapes on them, offering hours of entertainment to many a high school sweetheart, to whom they were frequently presented as gifts.

Sansui cassette deck. Photo courtesy of Magnetic Fidelity.

Throughout my professional career in audio, despite having access to much more highly regarded equipment, there were several occasions where cassette tape proved itself, even with commercial success, as we are bound to discover in Part Two…

Beethoven Plus One: Songs

Beethoven Plus One: Songs

Beethoven Plus One: Songs

Lawrence Schenbeck

2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the single most influential figure in the history of Western music. His intense focus on individual expression and musical innovation made life more difficult, yet arguably more rewarding, for every musician afterward. We’re his children. He touched us all, from Chuck Berry to Max Richter and everyone before, between, and beyond.

Every two weeks in this space, I’ll survey a genre in which Beethoven left his mark. In some genres, he made a bigger splash—symphonies, string quartets, piano sonatas—so those categories will occupy multiple discussion spaces. Multiples also recommend themselves because over the years he changed his own style so markedly. Why lump together his Haydnesque early quartets with his late quartets, so radically different from them (and from each other)?

We’ll pair up each Beethoven selection with a work or works in the same genre from a 20th- or 21st-century composer. The lines of influence may be obvious and significant. Or they may be missing entirely. It took some people (but not everyone) a long time to get over Beethoven.

Today we’ll do Beethoven songs. He was not a great song composer. As Julian Haylock reminds us in notes to Beethoven Songs (Hyperion), “Beethoven saw music as a world of infinite possibilities largely unencumbered by textual concerns.” He was happiest when he could work with emotions that emanated from internal (that is, instrumental) musical drama, which allowed him to speak directly to the listener. Haylock cites the opening movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata as a prime example of Beethoven’s ability to articulate the pain of unrequited love better without a text than he ever did with one.

And yet. Let’s open our survey of Beethoven’s eighty-odd songs with an acknowledged masterpiece, his 1796-ish setting of Matthison’s poem “Adelaide,” sung by Fritz Wunderlich. (Suggestion: open these text translations and just keep them open.)


This is as good as it gets. Beethoven creates and maintains a lyrical melodic line, floating above a sensitive but restrained piano accompaniment. It’s not exactly strophic (successive stanzas sung to the same tune), nor does it seem through-composed in an operatically jumbled way. Yet 18th-century critics faulted the third-verse piano accompaniment and Allegro molto finale precisely for their lack of tasteful, unifying restraint.

Even more theatrical in character was “An die Hoffnung,” an 1815 setting that recalls Schubert’s similar efforts that year, e.g., “Gretchen am Spinnrade” and “Erlkönig.” Those songs owe their overtly narrative style to the Balladen tradition associated with Schubert and his younger colleague Carl Loewe. “An die Hoffnung” opens with an operatic recitativo:

We’re using this Hyperion Beethoven collection partly because it presents his songs in all their diversity, both the missteps and the solid hits. Here’s one takeaway: the composer did better with painful emotions than with joy. The first two stanzas of “Klage” show how effectively he could deepen feelings by a simple turn to the minor mode:

Conversely, in “Busslied,” Beethoven’s initial sensitivity to human guilt is nearly undone in the last three stanzas by his shallow treatment of the text’s turn toward hope. (Our clip begins at “Herr, handle nicht mit mir.”)

The collection does offer unabashed pleasures, ranging from a brief but atmospheric meditation on death, “Vom Tode,” to the gleefully sardonic “Song of the Flea” (below, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore). Hyperion’s Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles deliver impeccable renditions throughout, ending with Beethoven’s one true song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte. Teije Van Geest’s engineering has held up well.


And now to our “Plus One,” Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854–1928). You might well ask, why Janáček? What did he have in common with Beethoven? Short answer: not much.

In his songs, Beethoven often reflexively called upon the operatic devices of his time. Besides the examples cited above, there’s the hearty ending of “Busslied” (LvB didn’t always know how to make happiness interesting). Likewise the awkward, quasi-triumphant conclusion to “Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder” in An die ferne Geliebte.

As we’ll see, Janáček instead felt called to innovate: he sought nothing less than to create a body of music in sync with Czech folk idioms and the Czech language. Rather than shape his songs to existing vocal tropes, he discovered ways to fit his visionary folk-based style, first developed for opera, to the more intimate medium of solo song.

And why was that style so important to Janáček? Because of another crucial difference between him and Beethoven: the latter had been raised in an aristocratic court and depended on aristocratic patronage all his life. Beethoven internalized not only the art of that circle but also its values, with one crucial, revolutionary distinction—one might become a “natural” nobleman, blessed by genius instead of bloodline.

Janáček was raised among peasants in various poor Moravian villages where his father and grandfather had served as teachers. There and later he encountered the cultural products of the “folk” largely without mediation. One is reminded of Robert Frost’s words:

There are two types of realists: the one who offers a good deal of dirt with his potato to show that it is a real one, and the one who is satisfied with the potato brushed clean. I’m inclined to be the second kind. To me, the thing that art does for life is to clean it, to strip it to form.

Janáček might have disagreed; to “clean” an artifact does far more than “strip it to form.” Some background: after his smashing success in 1904 with Jenůfa, Janáček considered himself primarily an opera composer. But his whole life had been bound up in singing. His family’s straitened circumstances forced him to leave home at age 11 to join a monastery choir in Brno. At age 18 he took over that choir; a year later he was made conductor of a working-men’s choral society, for which he wrote his first folk-song settings.

The perennially impoverished Janáček somehow managed to study in Prague (where he got to know Dvořák), Leipzig, and Vienna. Always he led choral groups, even managing to mount Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in Brno in 1879. Later he founded the Brno Organ School and became its first director. In 1888 he began collecting folksongs; like Bartók and Komitas, he was helping invent ethnomusicology. When his research brought him back to northern Moravia for the first time since childhood, he was astonished by its music.

That revelatory trip coincided with disappointments over his first opera, Šárka. He had set the libretto without permission; now its author forbade performance. Worse yet, having encountered folk realism, Janáček found himself embarrassed by Šárka’s jejune romantic style. Nevertheless his ethnographic work bore positive fruit: a flood of folksong editions and music based on folk materials. And he got to know Gabriela Preissová, author of the play upon which Jenůfa would be based. Janáček’s attitudes toward dramatic music and toward the Czech language continued to undergo profound changes, decisively enriching his personal idiom with the folk styles he had embraced.

Which brings us to the extraordinary music in a new Janáček collection from Hyperion. It includes some of Janáček’s earliest efforts, published in the 1890s as Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs. (Click here for texts and translations of what follows; keep the window open.) The poetry is filled with remarkably complex emotional transactions, which the music complements. Here are two examples, “Pennyroyal” (tr 31) and “Rosemary” (tr 37)

Similar bittersweet realisms survive in a much later work, The Diary of One Who Disappeared. This was the earliest music inspired by Janáček’s 1917 encounter with Kamila Stösslova, a young woman who became the 63-year-old composer’s reluctant muse. Although he met her in a Moravian spa town, in his imagination she embodied Zefka, the gypsy girl in The Diary who lures a young plowman into an illicit relationship. (The story had originated in a series of folk poems published in a Brno newspaper.)

These poems shared the psychological complexity of Janáček’s Moravian Folk Poetry settings, but the composer now brought a deepened understanding of his task to every line. The Diary’s 22 movements depict the course of a passionate, life-changing love affair, including a piano interlude tracing its physical consummation. It is scored primarily for tenor and piano, although female voices emerge at times to provide dialog and atmosphere. The plowman careens between desire and guilt. He cannot resist the woman who may forever separate him from his family, his community, and his way of life. Perhaps two movements, “Twilight glow-worms” and “Already swallows are twittering,” (tr 3 & 4) will impart some sense of the cycle’s overwhelming effect:

Superbly performed by tenor Nicky Drake, pianist Julius Drake, and the supporting musicians. Engineer Ben Connellan captures the music’s tenderness and violence in equal measure. Nigel Simeone contributes invaluable booklet notes.

Earlier I mentioned Komitas (1869–1935), legendary scholar of Armenian folk music. Here’s why: Janáček’s Diary concerns a simple plowman and his un-simple emotional journey. Plowing songs were also a staple of Armenian folk music; Komitas collected dozens of them in his short life. Those songs are likewise—and famously—not simple. Wherever you go, you are likely to encounter plowing songs, and they are likely to disclose complexities. The best will offer a good deal of dirt with the potato.


Hugh Masekela, Jazz Legend

Hugh Masekela, Jazz Legend

Hugh Masekela, Jazz Legend

Anne E. Johnson

Some artists get a helping hand exactly when it’s needed. Hugh Masekela, a black South African, was given a trumpet at age 14 by Rev. Trevor Huddleston, who taught at his school in the town of Rosettenville, outside Johannesburg. Young Masekela started the Huddleston Jazz Band, and its namesake provided as many second-hand instruments as he could find.

But the good reverend’s role in Masekela’s musical development was not quite finished. When the staunchly anti-apartheid Huddleston was exiled from South Africa in 1955, he met Louis Armstrong in New York and told him about his excessively talented charges back home. Armstrong sent one of his own trumpets to Masekela! That’s what I call an auspicious start to a jazz career.

It’s no exaggeration to say Masekela helped invent Afro-Jazz. He had a long, illustrious career, making dozens of records and playing all over the world. For 30 years he was exiled from his homeland, but during that time he shared the stage with the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the jazz side and David Crosby and Janis Joplin in the pop sphere. He even had a No. 1 U.S. pop hit with “Grazing in the Grass” in 1968. But it’s in jazz that his contributions are most lasting and profound.

He repaid his success like a man who understood both his good fortune and his place in history, starting cultural programs for kids in the Bronx, NY and a heritage foundation in South Africa. Masekela died in 2018 at the age of 78.

Enjoy these eight great tracks by Hugh Masekela.

  1. Track: “U, Dwi”
    Album: Grrr
    Label: Mercury
    Year: 1965

Just before leaving South Africa, Masekela formed the Jazz Epistles, which became the first black South African band to record an LP. Political unrest broke the group apart, but Masekela landed on his feet, musically speaking. He attended Guildhall Music School in London and Manhattan School of Music, befriended Harry Belafonte, and married Miriam Makeba. He also landed a recording contract with Mercury.

Grrr was Masekela’s second solo studio album. The track “U, Dwi” is subtitled “Song for My Mother” and was composed by Masekela. It’s a good example of the combination of soul and jazz sounds he often used in his work.


  1. Track: “Why Are You Blowing My Mind?”
    Album: The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela
    Label: Chisa
    Year: 1966

In 1965 Masekela and producer Stewart Levine started their own record label, Chisa. One of their first albums was this one; Masekela is joined by John Cartwright on bass, Chuck Carter on drums, Charlie Small on piano, and Big Black on congas.

With its slow syncopation, “Why Are You Blowing My Mind” is mostly a vocal Afro-Jazz track that Masekela sings in his disarmingly straightforward way. At 2:08 we finally get a trumpet solo that blasts through with a similar clarity. The structure of almost completing the song before coming in on trumpet became standard for Masekela’s vocal numbers.


  1. Track: “Morolo”
    Album: The Lasting Impression of Hugh Masekela
    Label: MGM
    Year: 1968

While this album is long out of print, you can find all but the last track on a Verve compilation called The Lasting Impression of Ooga Booga, which combines this and an earlier record.

The levels of rhythm in “Morolo” (dedicated to a fellow musician in Johannesburg) are riveting. There’s the train-like chugging of Harry Jenkins’ drums, the repeating chordal pattern of Larry Willis’ piano, and the conversational trumpet phrases that blow out into fast-paced be-bop at 2:30. 


  1. Track: “The Big Apple”
    Album: Home Is Where the Music Is
    Label: Chisa/Blue Thumb
    Year: 1972

Another Chisa release, Home Is Where the Music Is features a number of cuts by fellow South African composer and political transplant Caiphus Semenya.

One of Semenya’s distinctive pieces is “The Big Apple,” with Masekela’s trumpet and Dudu Pukwana’s alto sax dragging against each other, luxuriating in the dissonance like two taxis in Times Square. Eddie Gomez’s bass guitar provides a foundation as solid as concrete. The magic of Masekela’s first solo rests in how laid-back it is in a harmonic world that could easily lead him into a frenzy.


  1. Track: “Vasco da Gama (Sailor Man)”
    Album: Colonial Man
    Label: Casablanca
    Year: 1976

Masekela assembled a large group of session musicians for Colonial Man to beef up its Latin and LA soul sounds. It’s hard to know what was in the mind of whoever came up with the cover of this album, showing Masekela dressed as a seafaring explorer, complete with spyglass. But weirder and more fascinating still is this particular track, “Vasco da Gama (Sailor Man).”

Despite the appealing Afro-Cuban beat and lyrics that seem playful at the surface, this is a serious anti-colonialism song that blames the famed ’round-the-Horn explorer for ruining Africa by drawing European attention to it. The flimsy pop-sound of the backing singers are in complete contrast with Masekela’s craggy voice once he enters and tells the woeful tale of colonialism.


  1. Track: “Getting Fat in Africa”
    Album: Techno-Bush
    Label: Jive Afrika
    Year: 1984

Masekela became interested in boogie, funk, and electronica in the early 1980s, and he developed the Jive Afrika label to handle his output in that area. He recorded this in Botswana (he was still exiled from South Africa), and this album is reportedly his response to the tough socio-economic and racial issues he found there.

“Getting Fat in Africa” is in part a tribute to his old friend Harry Belafonte, who’d had a hit decades before with a wry song about a thieving girlfriend called “Mathilda.” Masakela’s song takes Belafonte’s as a starting point and adds political jibes to the story. The studio was obviously packed with gifted African percussionists.


  1. Track: “Emavungweni”
    Album: Uptownship
    Label: Jive/Novus
    Year: 1989

Another Jive album, Uptownship is the last album Masekela made before he was able to return to his home country. While it includes some covers of R&B songs, its strongest material is the South African tunes.

“Emavungweni” is by Ndikho Xaba, exiled leader of a band called the Natives. The opening duet by what sound like tin whistles makes exciting contrast with Masekela’s trumpet. The sax solo is by Capetown native Morris Goldberg, who also produced and engineered the album.


  1. Track: “Fiela”
    Album: Jabulani
    Label: Listen-2
    Year: 2012

Jabulani, one of Masekela’s last albums, glows with arrangements heavily inspired by spirituals and gospel. The album’s title is Zulu for the verb “to bring joy.”

I dare you not to sway and clap as you listen to Masekela sing the traditional “Fiela.” He treats us to some exquisite flugelhorn riffs over the last few choruses. Thank you for bringing us joy, Mr. Masekela!


[Editor’s Note: Another Masekela cut, “Stimela (The Coal Train)” from the album Hope has become a perennial audiophile demo favorite because of its stunning sound and performance.]

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/scorpius73.

Tina Turner: Finding Her Own Voice

Tina Turner: Finding Her Own Voice

Tina Turner: Finding Her Own Voice

Anne E. Johnson

Tina Turner is a textbook case of a talented woman finding her own voice by freeing herself from an abusive man. Born in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, she became an international sensation not once, but twice – the second time on her own terms, in one of the music industry’s most astonishingly successful re-brandings.

She started recording with Ike Turner in 1958 under the moniker “Little Ann” (her birth name was Anna Mae Bullock). Ike renamed her “Tina Turner” in 1960, two years before they married, so that he could own the name in case she left his band. Ike and Tina made 24 studio albums together and had lots of hits, most famously “Proud Mary” in 1971. Their tempestuous musical and personal relationship fell apart in 1976, by which point Tina was ready to start a solo career.

The duo’s 1961 debut release was The Soul of Ike and Tina Turner on Sue Records. She shows what she’s made of on their very first album, which included the hit “A Fool in Love.” Joe Morris penned a non-single track called “I Had a Notion”; the duo also re-recorded it in 1973 for the Let Me Touch Your Mind album. Here’s the original, showing off the gritty emotional depth and power of Tina Turner’s voice:


Don’t Play Me Cheap, their fourth record, came out in 1963. Its only single was “Wake Up,” but there are some nice things to explore on the album. The string arrangements by Jesse Herring and René Hall tend toward the sticky-sweet, but once Tina comes in for her solo work, that nonsense all falls away.

Case in point: The album’s closer, “My Everything to Me,” written by Ike, is a slow R&B number that starts out with a treacly blend of orchestra and back-up singers. But Tina quickly takes over and lays her soul bare. The material doesn’t deserve her performance of it.


Sue Records did not renew the Turners’ contract, leaving the act searching for a studio. Their first stop was a short-lived entity called Cenco Records. Get It – Get It had no year printed on its label, but it is estimated to date from 1966. The contents of this album have been given wider distribution thanks to retrospectives by Capitol Records and other companies.

The highlight is “My Babe,” by the great bluesman Willie Dixon. Turner, with that signature wobble in her voice, lends a wistfulness to the lyrics even while she’s belting. The arrangement is satisfyingly lean, probably the result of limited funds, but it works to the song’s advantage:


In the duo’s work for Blue Thumb records, Tina managed her first solo Grammy nomination for her singing on the album The Hunter (1969). The uncredited blues guitar playing is by Albert Collins, who kept his name off to avoid a lawsuit from another record company.

This album is unusual for having few tracks by Ike Turner. Eddie Jones and Memphis Slim co-wrote “The Things I Used to Do,” a 12-bar blues that Tina pulls and wrenches with a musical aching that you won’t soon forget. Collins’ guitar really shines on this track.


An interesting aspect of the 1975 album Sweet Rhode Island Red is that Tina, not Ike, wrote most of the songs. By this point Ike was mired in drug problems and not very functional. The Turner team was nearing its end.

Tina’s title song did well on the R&B charts in both the US and UK. The album also includes a couple of Stevie Wonder tracks, including the gloriously funky cover of “Higher Ground.” The session musicians are criminally uncredited. I hope at least they got paid.

Finally extracting herself from what was by all accounts a traumatizing marriage and exploitative business arrangement, Tina Turner launched her solo career in 1977, thank to financial help from an executive at United Artists and a willingness to work any kind of gig and do any kind of promo. Her lack of self-aggrandizement paid off with steady jobs and a steadily rising industry profile.

Even before the divorce, she had made a couple of solo albums, the second of which was an interesting project called Acid Queen (1975). Side A was all covers: two each by the Rolling Stones and The Who, and one by Led Zeppelin. Check out the Tina Turner take on Pete Townsend’s “I Can See for Miles,” reconceived as R&B with a disco edge:


Rough (1978) was her next solo album and the first one post-Ike. It bombed commercially, which makes Turner’s subsequent rise to superstardom all the more impressive and surprising. The problem with Rough is that Turner hasn’t quite defined her new style yet. It’s an awkward combination of disco, pop, rock, R&B, and blues. Witness this strangely brash arrangement of the old Willie Dixon song “Earthquake and Hurricane”:


Of course, Turner soon figured out exactly who she was musically, and by 1984 she had a No. 3 album in Private Dancer. The album was a smash, thanks to hits like the title track, a cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” That was followed by another big success, Break Every Rule, in 1986. But nothing lasts forever, and the US had turned its attention elsewhere by the time Foreign Affairs came out in 1989. However, this album is aptly named, since it sold very well in non-US markets.

One of the few tracks on Foreign Affairs that challenges worn-out ’80s tropes is “Falling Like Rain.” This song by David Munday and Sandy Stewart has an interesting structure of unpredictable line-lengths. Turner doesn’t over-sing, but instead holds back until she hits key phrases in higher registers. (I fully acknowledge how annoyingly robotic that drum machine is.)

The last of Turner’s ten solo albums is Twenty Four Seven, released on Parlophone in 1999. She turned to the production team of Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, fresh from their massive success with Cher’s Believe. Twenty Four Seven was no Believe in terms of album sales, but it did hit No. 21 on the Billboard 200.

One of this album’s most pleasurable moments is Turner’s cover of the Bee Gees’ “I Will Be There.” It’s nice to hear her do something less emotionally extreme than her usual fare.

As of this writing, Turner is living in Switzerland at age 80. In case there was any doubt of her place in the pop music firmament, a juke-box musical about her life called Tina – A Tina Turner Musical recently opened on Broadway.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Philip Spittle.

Seeing Stars

Seeing Stars

Seeing Stars

Rich Isaacs
The Star Wars Death Star looming? Fear not, it's just the top of a pressure-treated fence post. Photo courtesy of Rich Isaacs.

Thoughts on Hi-Res Music and Audio – An Insider’s Perspective

Thoughts on Hi-Res Music and Audio – An Insider’s Perspective

Thoughts on Hi-Res Music and Audio – An Insider’s Perspective

Robert Heiblim

Let me start by saying I have deep respect for all music and audio lovers and their various points of view. There is nothing in my experience more personal or varied than taste in music and sound, and one aspect of our shared passion is that we debate and argue approaches and results. In the end, we all get to enjoy the sound and hopefully have a good time.

I have been following and working with this passion for some decades now and have had a ringside seat for many of the changes in audio formats we have all seen and heard in these years. My conclusion remains that if the sound and music delight you, I am happy and there is no “wrong,” even if it is fun sometimes to fight about it.

I operated a retail audio store in the 1970s, worked for CBS/Pacific Stereo, went on to be a manufacturer’s rep and had the honor of working for Denon during the birth of the Compact Disc. I was the vice president of the Compact Disc Group and did a lot of work on birthing this first effort in consumer digital audio. Not everyone liked, or likes, digital audio, but it has enabled many more people to listen to more music in more places at more times than ever before. That is a fact even if your love is analog and you listen to tapes or spin vinyl.

In the 1980s Denon had the chance to record the first performance at the rebuilt Semperoper (Semper Opera House) in Dresden, bombed to the ground in World War II and rebuilt in 1985. It was a performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz.

I had the honor of knowing and working with Dr. Takeaki Anazawa, the builder of the first digital audio recorder, who oversaw this recording work. It was a very revealing recording even by today’s sonic standards. You see, after we did the first live recording we realized there was unwanted noise in the mix.

It turned out that the sound of the air mover in the HVAC system could be heard during the recording and so it had to be done over with the HVAC system turned off, which meant the recording was done in a more heated and stuffier environment. None of the engineers had considered this, as in their normal previous practice this sound would have been lost in the noise floor of the recording. However, these new 16-bit recorders offered much wider dynamic range and so revealed this sound, unwanted or not. Anazawa told me then it would take 30 years for the entire engineering and production chain to learn what they now had to work with in this new digital recording medium. How prophetic a prediction that was.

An early digital recorder, the Mitsubishi X-850.

One of the technical benefits of digital audio was that it promised almost no noise and the widest dynamic range, unmatched by analog audio and its associated limits – benefits that were independent of anyone’s audio preferences for either format. However, digital also allowed producers and engineers to record at ever-higher levels without distortion. Perhaps this was part of what Anazawa had warned about and at first it led to loud, then ever-louder recordings. The loudness wars that have followed have been with us for most of the last 30 years as producers have sought ever-louder tracks in the effort to attract listeners’ attention. Too bad.

Digital technology has evolved and changed over the years, now giving us up to 24-bit resolution, but also spawning lossy formats such as MP3 (derived from the MPEG 1 and MPEG2 Video standards (actually MPEG Audio Level 3). These formats are remarkable in ways both good and bad. Good in that MP3 enabled the commercial practicality of portable digital players such as the iPod and others that have allowed listening to digital audio on the go, with the ability to listen to and instantly access thousands of songs.

The advent of MP3 and other formats such as AAC also came with the (amazing from a technical standpoint when you really dig into it) perceptual coding that, while allowing us to recognize and often enjoy the music, did so by throwing away 75 – 95 percent of the data. A compressed file is simply not the original and depending on the recording, may sound quite different from the original, regardless of whether you enjoy hearing it.

This change in the quality of what people listened to can be said to have resulted in more than a generation of music lovers becoming acclimated to listening to often poorly produced and recorded sound, sometimes not well-produced to begin with and then even further degraded by truncating the data by converting it to a compressed audio format. We gained music everywhere, but somehow lost the original sound and the ability to hear it at its best – as many of you readers know well. That said, I do not indict compressed sound per se. It has resulted in the availability of a remarkable amount of music. However, as a tradeoff music buyers and owners are being shortchanged.

During all of this period digital recording technology and techniques have continued to improve, and we can now enjoy listening to high-resolution digital audio. Today, studios commonly record at a 24-bit depth with sampling rates up to 192kHz. We know that 32/384 is in the on-deck circle and the quality of high resolution digital recording is truly stunning using the best approaches that have been developed. Just listen to some of the impressive work from Ray Kimber or Mark Waldrep and his AIX Records.

Many artists, producers and engineers have caught on to the benefits of hi-res. Dr. Dre became well aware that his fans were not hearing what he created for them in the studio, and the same for Snoop Dogg to name just two examples. While you may or may not listen to their music, you should know they and other artists have become very serious about hi-res audio and spend hundreds of hours in the studio making the sound just so, for the benefit of their listeners. Fans want to hear the artists’ sonic vision and hear it at its best.

Around six years ago enough artists and producers started talking about hi-res audio enough to get things really moving. Perhaps it was the popularity of Beats headphones, and although I do not prefer their sound, at least some of the Dr. Dre and producer Jimmy Iovine-driven initiative behind Beats was to get listeners to hear better sound, imperfect as that sound might be. Whatever the reason, the move toward hi-res was born.

Starting about 2010 I attended multiple events that demonstrated these considerations. In one studio session, the engineer and producer for Norah Jones’ hit “Don’t Know Why” ran synched tracks from various streaming services and at various bit rates from low-res MP3 to higher-res (320bps) MP3 up through CD-quality and to the original Hi-Res Audio feed right off the mixing console. In this case, the differences were stark and extremely revealing. We in the audience heard not only the “air” around the music and heard the image expand, but what was mixed as background sounds resolved into what we could distinctly hear as individual backup singers and instruments. (Keep in mind that will not always be the case as not all recordings are this complex, or sadly, well done.)

At another session at Jungle City Studios NYC we heard from a field of engineers and producers including Mark Waldrep and many other luminaries, who were involved in the remastering of Stevie Wonder’s classic Innervisions album. The CD version sounded dead compared to the original vinyl record, but with the hi-res digital remastering using up-to-date techniques, not only was the “life” that was heard on the original vinyl restored to the sound, it was now available in a format that could be accessed and heard on multiple devices and on the go.

Jungle City Studios, New York. (Also featured in article header image.)

Many have suggested or insisted that 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD sound quality is good enough. But keep in mind that the very term “CD quality” sound has lost much of its meaning over the years, as even the most execrable equipment using very lossy sonic approaches has sometimes been labeled “CD quality” by disingenuous marketing types. In order to promote something better the industry agreed to use the terms hi-res audio and more informally, hi-res music for formats that have a greater than 16/44.1 resolution.

There are endless arguments about the best approaches to hi-res audio, the ability for listeners to hear the difference, whether FLAC or WAV files are the best to use as source files, what sampling rates are needed, if the bit depth matters and much more. There remain arguments about what hi-res really is at its core. And of course, that hasn’t stopped some companies from turning out poorly-produced “hi-res” recordings. All of these considerations are interesting and valid to some extent, but for me none of them approach the main reasons why hi-res is important.

When the iPod and other portable players were first introduced, MP3 and other compressed audio formats were needed because the limited storage capacity of the players. Using uncompressed audio files would have meant 30 songs in the pocket instead of hundreds, but today storage costs are negligible and processors are much faster so on-the-go listeners can also enjoy hi-res audio thanks to portable players from Astell & Kern and others. Also, more listening than ever is being done through streaming services, and should those listeners be denied hearing the “real thing” when hi-res audio is available?

Some argue you cannot hear the difference between hi-res and other formats. Some say you must have a very good audio system to get the full benefit of hi-res. (I would say of course you should.)

But I think the real reason for hi-res is about “getting what you paid for” when it comes to hearing the music. Would you be happy with reading an edited book with pages and sections missing? Are CliffsNotes good enough? And what if you do get that upgraded gear? Will you want to listen to lesser-quality audio files through your revealing equipment? Whatever the situation, in my view hi-res audio means being able to hear the music the way it was meant to be heard.

Hearing an audio format that is faithful to what came off the mixing board in the recording studio is a great leap up in sound quality. We have never had that before, and now services like Qobuz, Deezer, Tidal and Amazon are bringing us there or close to it. Whether you hear the difference or not, whether the recording or performance requires it, whether you have the correct gear or not, now people are able hear the “real thing” in all its musical glory.

A few final thoughts: It is true that many of the hi-res files now available are derived from older recordings. It is also true that many of these recordings were originally done in analog, or are recorded at 16- or 20-bit. What is also true is, as discussed earlier, many of these digital recordings suffered from poor recording techniques, as Anazawa presciently pointed out. As a result, today many of these older recordings have been reproduced in hi-res by going back to the original master recordings and remastering and fixing many of the sonic problems. Is “improving” the originals good or bad? I say it is good, because new listeners and those who listen via hi-res streaming will enjoy the benefits of what has been learned and adopted.

With all that said, I think it’s healthy to continue to talk about, even argue about the way forward in digital audio technology. Like discussing fine wine, we may never agree, but the discussions will hopefully be productive. And who knows how far hi-res audio may continue to evolve?

Now I am going to listen to Qobuz some more, as their selection of hi-res recordings is much bigger than mine!


Robert Heiblim is co-founder and principal of BlueSalve Partners, specializing in consumer electronics product development, marketing, consulting and other areas. He is the Chairman of the Audio Division, and also Chair of the Business Council of the Consumer Technology Association and a CTA board member.

Mr. Heiblim has more than 35 years of industry experience and has worked with clients including AT&T, Sony, Panasonic/Matsushita, Best Buy, Harman International, Sonance, Klipsch, D&M Holdings and numerous others. Previously, Mr. Heiblim was CEO of etown.com, president of KH America and president of Denon Electronics. He served as the Audio Division Chair for the then EIA/CEG (CEA) and as Vice-President of the Compact Disc Group that facilitated the move to CD and consumer digital audio technology. Heiblim continues to work on developing digital technologies.