Issue 59

Munich and Everything After

Munich and Everything After

Bill Leebens

Welcome to Copper #59!

Blame any errors in this issue on jet lag, following the Munich show. We've got a brief photo feature on the show here, and we have a video chock full of interviews, here.  Along with our own Roy Hall, you'll see Jeff Dorgay, Steve Rochlin, Ken Kessler, Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, Alan Sircom, and many more. For you pdf types, check the PS Audio YouTube channel.

Our regulars aren't jet-lagged: Larry Schenbeck leads off with a whole mess o'Messiaen; Dan Schwartz worries about things that he hears---and things that he doesn't; Richard Murison takes a detour around DutoitJay Jay French continues his series on his guitar influences, with Eric ClaptonRoy Hall  writes an affecting piece about JerusalemAnne E. Johnson brings us  indie band Electric Guest; Woody Woodward concludes his two-parter on Hoagy Carmichael; and I look at high prices and Nagra (not connected!)..

Industry News looks at a new Editor for Inner Fidelity and AudioStream, the sale of Musical Fidelity, and a few short stories about some usual suspects.

Copper #59 concludes with an amorous audiophile caught in the act from Charles Rodrigues, and a striking and slightly eerie Parting Shot from Richard Murison.

Thanks for reading, and see you next issue!

Cheers, Leebs.

New Editor at Inner Fidelity/AudioStream; Pro-Ject Buys Musical Fidelity

Bill Leebens

Industry News recently reported the sale of Stereophile and its associated magazines and websites. In the wake of the sale, a number of staffing changes occurred, with the departures of longtime Stereophile Music Editor Robert Baird, AudioStream Editor Michael Lavorgna, and Sound & Vision Editor Rob Sabin most notable. Subsequently, Inner Fidelity Editor Tyll Hertsens announced his retirement.

A brief press-release from new owners AVTech Media announced the appointment of Rafe Arnott to helm both AudioStream and Inner Fidelity, raising numerous questions regarding the direction of both sites:

May 14, 2018


Rafe Arnott (previously Creative Director for Part-Time Audiophile & The Occasional Magazine) appointed to drive the editorial vision for AVTech Media Americas’ iconic websites

“We are very excited about this appointment and the opportunity it presents for the growth of these connected websites. Headphone and computer audio enthusiasts can look forward to in-depth reviews from our regular contributors, supported by world-class test and measurement from industry veterans including ex-AES UK Chairman Keith Howard. We also believe the time has come for specialty audio to realize a broader audience, and Rafe will be driving our engagement with these media savvy consumers through innovative lifestyle features tied to an enhanced social campaign.”
—Paul Miller
Editorial Director AVTech Media Ltd/AVTech Media Americas Inc.
The Hi-Fi Show Live Organiser
President of EISA

“It’s an honour and a privilege to be part of the outstanding group of journalists and support staff at AVTech Media who have decades of experience in delivering what I feel is the most comprehensive, and respected, industry coverage in the world. I look forward to continuing the tradition of excellence inhigh-fidelity journalism that AudioStream and Inner Fidelity have established, and am excited to help hasten the alignment of audiophile with lifestyle.” — Rafe Arnott

Best of luck to Rafe as he enters his new role in the midst of upheaval and contentious reader response.


The biggest story to come out of the recent Munich High End Show was  the acquisition of UK brand Musical Fidelity by Audio Tuning, parent company of Pro-Ject Audio Systems,  as detailed in this not-so-brief press-release:

Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH
Audio Tuning Acquires Musical Fidelity

Musical Fidelity is acquired by Heinz Lichtenegger, CEO of Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH and founder of Pro-Ject Audio Systems. effective Wednesday 16th May

Pro-Ject: Affordable HiFi

Heinz Lichtenegger has been in the hifi industry for 39 years. He created the Austrian distribution company Audio Tuning and the international global brand Pro-Ject Audio System. Because of his boundless energy, imagination and enthusiasm both are in leading positions in their respective market segments.

Lichtenegger has created a huge sales and marketing success with his long term marketing strategy of making high fidelity audio brands popular. This gave a solid base of a wide
variety of sales channels and vast numbers of loyal customers! Pro-Ject stands for Lichenegger‘s personal philosophy of affordable hifi audio. It achieved fame by bringing back analog record players at a time when almost everybody considered CD and digital to be the only viable media. Lichtenegger bravely swam against the tide and fought for analog and his philosophy. As a result of his persistence and personal power Pro-Ject is a market leader in the global turntable market.

Since the early 2000s, he searched a way to fulfill his philosophy of making electronics affordable without compromising his standards of audio fidelity.

Lichtenegger directed the use of the latest technology and components to facilitate Pro-Ject to offer a full range of electronics including amplifiers, CD players, DACs, phono stages, headphone
amplifiers and streamers in super compact, but beautifully made cabinets. He saw that the cabinets are the most expensive parts of a hifi product. He directed his Pro-Ject engineers and
designers to find ways of lowering the cost without compromising quality. All products are a result of Lichtenegger‘s deeply held philosophy and are designed and built for
long time satisfaction in a simple but elegant and functional form.

Musical Fidelity: Affordable High End

Musical Fidelity was established 36 years ago and has built up an enviable reputation for high quality, design innovation, top-noth technical performance and value for money. These key facts
are remarkably similar to Lichtenegger’s personal audio philosophy.

Musical Fidelity makes fantastic musical sounding products and targets the mid to high end audio customer who expects no compromise performance, but still looks for a great value.

Over the decades, Musical Fidelity has made a wide variety of well received products using every type of technology, from tubes to surface mount Printed Circuit Board technology, to monster
amps, small Class A integrated, CD players, DACs, streamers, and now the Encore.

Musical Fidelity has introduced many completely unique and original circuit design concepts which have been enthusiastically received, and sold very well.

The Musical Fidelity philosophy is to give outstanding value high end. This doesn‘t mean cheap. It means that they strive to give true high end performance (often far better than products costing many times the MF price) at an affordable price. It achieves this by a combination of cutting edge design and technology expertise and unswerving commitment not to waste money on over the top cosmetics and metalwork.

This is almost identical to Lichtenegger’s philosophy. He will continue with the perfection of theMusical Fidelity DNA. Musical Fidelity‘s founder has retired. The company was adamant that its beloved customers should continue to receive back-up and was loking for a suitable partner to carry on their DNA. Lichtenegger‘s brand takeover will ensure the continuation of customer backup and Musical Fidelity‘s design and heritage DNA.

“We are delighted that Heinz Lichtenegger has taken over the Musical Fidelity brand. We have full confidence in the technical and design capabilities of his team and we know that they will continue developing MF‘s design DNA and looking after our long term customers. We have known Heinz for 30 years and have built a deep friendship with him. We are pleased that he has taken over the brand and that we will still continue to have an influence on its direction.“ – Musical Fidelity spokeperson

“As president, owner and CEO of both  Audio Tuning and Pro-Ject Audio Systems, I have known Musical Fidelity for 30 years and have always admired it. I will relish the opportunity of expanding the Musical Fidelity brand and continue developing its design and heritage DNA. I am brimming with ideas for new products and ways of exploiting the brands enviable heritage. I see great potential for the brand giving me even more options continuing my aim to fascinate asmany people as possible for our joy to listen to music at home with a great hifi system.“
– Heinz Lichtenegger


Short stories:

Trouble for Tidal yet again. Scandinavian artist organizations claim that hundreds of millions of plays were faked; reports have appeared that Tidal is months behind paying record labels.

Sonos slims down in anticipation of IPO. The company laid off about 6% of its workforce (96 of 1,500 employees), apparently to enhance financials prior to an initial public offering, which could happen as soon as June.




Bill Leebens

The history of Nagra begins, as is often the case in audio, with the tinkerings of one man. Stefan Kudelski was a Polish emigre’ whose family fled the Nazis and eventually landed in Switzerland after stops in Romania, Hungary, and France. According to a Nagra biography, Kudelski was a 20-year-old physics student when he developed the first Nagra recorder, believed to be the first self-contained portable tape recorder. Studer in Switzerland had developed a portable recorder a few years early, but it still required connection to the AC mains.

The Nagra 1 —the name was derived from the Polish word for “(it) will record”—was spring-driven, like an old portable gramophone, with a hand-crank on the end . The pictures below were taken recently at the Nagra display at the Munich High End show.


The Nagra 1, complete with crank.

While the model 1 was a mono unit, a stereo model quickly followed. A big jump forward in performance occurred with the Nagra III, a transistorized mono unit with electronic speed control. It quickly became a favorite of motion picture sound recordists, and in 1965, Kudelski won the first of three Oscars from the MPAA  for its development.

The pocket-sized Nagra SN is familiar to any follower of spy movies. Its pocketable size required 1/8" inch tape like a cassette, and was a favorite for law-enforcement surveillance. Low-speed variants were made for the longer recording capabilities required by lengthy stake-outs and security monitoring.
Ho-hum, another Oscar. The IV-S ( sometimes 4S) was a stereo unit which became popular for stereo recording of movie dialogue and sound.
Nagra surprised the audio world when it brought out two high-end audio components in 1997. The PL-P was a smallish preamp which echoed the styling of Nagra portable decks, complete with a meter which resembled the famed Nagra "modulometer" level meter. Even more of a surprise was the VPA tube amplifier, with 845 output tubes. Its most memorable feature? A combination heat-sink/tube protector that resembled Joan of Arc being burned at the stake.
Or maybe that's just how it appeared to my over-active imagination....

At some point we’ll revisit Nagra in more detail. I just wanted to riff off the beautiful gear they showed at Munich….

If you care to read more about the brand before then, this page is fascinating.  BTW: high-end audio is a tiny spin-off of the Kudelski Group these days, a company focused on data security and satellite transmission—to the tune of 3800 employees and over a billion dollars in annual revenue. Audio is the realm of the Audio Technology Switzerland SA division, founded in 2012.

"The Price is the Product"

Bill Leebens

Way back in 1999, the late Brian Cheney of VMPS loudspeakers wrote a piece called “The Price is the Product”. I was a little shocked to find it online on Audiophile Audition; frankly, I was shocked to find that Audiophile Audition was still online following the death of founder John Sunier. But I digress.

Just back from Munich and mulling over what I’d seen there, Brian’s piece came to mind. The article’s premise is that there are a number of products in high-end audio that have prices that don’t reflect build cost, but are set to lend validation, allure, or appeal: the price is very high, therefore it must be worthwhile. I can’t say I have Brian’s expertise in costing and manufacturing, but I’ve been around enough to be able to roughly guesstimate a product’s COGS (cost of goods sold), and I know what standard multiples are required in order for a product to work with multi-level distribution.

There were more products with six-figure price-tags displayed at Munich than I had ever seen at a show, in a dealer’s showroom, or even in a manufacturer’s facility. There was a time in my life when that would’ve excited me, but that time is not now. Instead, I felt a bit of despair, mingled with disgust.

The late English speaker designer Ted Jordan—seems like an awful lot of talented speaker designers have died in the past few years, no?—once said that an engineer is someone who can do something for a pound, that a layman couldn’t do for a tenner. That viewpoint reflects the derivation of the word engineer from the Latin ingenium (meaning skill, or native talent), also believed to be the root of ingenious and ingenuity. To literal Leebs, that means being able to pack in a surprising level of bang for the buck—which is why I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to promoting high-performance low-cost products which many dismiss with the label “entry level”.

That’s a long way around of saying that if an audio product costs more than an S-Class Mercedes, I’d better be able to see evidence of where the money is going, well beyond, “parts costs are high due to low production”. Uh huh. Sounds like some poor design choices, if that’s the only justification of the price.

—And, oh: it better not sound okay. Or pretty good.  Or even just good. It had better be freaking amazingly, gobsmackingly, life-changingly FANTASTIC. Jaw hits the floor, veils are lifted,  stay up all night rediscovering record collection, yadda yadda.

I heard some big-boy systems that sounded pretty remarkable. Their prices were also remarkable, several being over a million dollars. Did I hear anything that I thought justified 7 figures? No. To be fair, the Atrium demo rooms range from problematic to awful, and it’s possible that a skilled set-up person could create magic with these systems in properly-designed residential settings.

Having said that: really? A million bucks?

I’m usually on the flip-side of this discussion, arguing that the years of enjoyment provided by a quality audio system make it a reasonable purchase, offering lasting value. But I’m sorry: the upper-Midwestern pragmatist in me has a hard time thinking that a $350,000 amplifier provides good value. No matter how extraordinary it sounds.

I guess I’m not a real audiophile, huh?

Electric Guest

Anne E. Johnson

When I first added Electric Guest to my schedule for this column, the duo was an indie band, and had been since forming in 2011. In the intervening weeks, the two musicians — Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton — signed with Atlantic Records. Somebody thinks they’re doing something right. So, let’s see what all the fuss is about.

The L.A.-based act did not break into the scene to universal acclaim with their first album. Critics complained that their sound on Mondo (2012) was too “corporate.” Nothing annoys certain indie critics like a band that sounds like it could go mainstream at any moment. This attitude always makes me chuckle, since what band doesn’t want the chance to make it big, even if they pride themselves on bucking the establishment?

Electric Guest puts on no such iconoclastic airs. They joyfully blend many types of popular music, from Serge Gainsbourg to the hip-hop collective Souls of Mischief, from Howard Jones to Hall and Oates. And then there’s the ever-present synthesizer – it does rankle the critics so.

 In the song “Holes,” from the Mondo album, you get a good sense of the elements at work in this band. Layers of synth, yes, but with syncopated and polyrhythmic patterns that form an interesting texture. This ain’t Flock of Seagulls. Taccone’s voice, some would argue, is too polished for indie. He has a pleasing pop tenor with both a smooth falsetto and dark undertones available when he wants them, and he knows how to shape phrases effectively. (It seems to me that, unlike their female counterparts, male indie singers take unfair heat for strong, clear, in-tune singing, as if it makes them too ordinary and therefore unworthy of the “indie” honorific.)


When they play live, Electric Guest is usually joined by Luke Top on bass and Reese Richardson on keyboards/guitar (Compton is a drummer). The song “Awake” shows the expanded band’s rock chops as well as their impressive polish. There’s a funky meter and tempo change at 3:40, a kind of epilogue you don’t normally hear in pop:


As the first effort of an unknown band, Mondo got so much media attention mainly because its producer was Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse, whose session and soundboard credits include work with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gnarls Barkley, and The Black Keys. Reportedly, he challenged Taccone and Compton’s songwriting chops and encouraged them to be innovative. The eight-minute song “Troubleman” is one result.

“Troubleman” is two interconnected story songs, even if their plot is vague. At first it follows the growing up of a girl into a woman in the context of a relationship. Then it switches to the perspective of the man in the relationship. The music is divided into movements, or, more accurately, variations on the main theme. Each part adds new material against the old, changing the overall style from soul to prog rock to experimental electronic, all with a pop underpinning.


In the year following Mondo, Electric Guest released an EP called Good America, which combined some new versions of old cuts plus a couple of new tunes. Among the latter is “The Jerk,” which draws on one of the standard tropes of male-written thinker’s pop (Beck is the obvious model): the self-deprecating love-or-life failure lyric tinged with sardonic humor. More interesting than that tired content is the musical arrangement – fragmented wisps of lyric, reggae-inspired bassline, and overall electronic sound. It’s a harbinger of what’s to come:

“The Jerk”


The band’s most recent album is 2017’s Plural. If that seems like a long gap between albums, you’re right. Taccone and Compton have revealed in interviews that they had produced a different album some 18 months before Plural. But their label (Downtown/Interscope) found it too serious and dark. That’s a warning sign right there: an indie label that dictates what their artists should release. At that point, the band might as well sign with one of the Big Three (Atlantic is owned by Warner).

 And so, Plural is Electric Guest’s final indie album, crafted with a label-appeasing happiness. Taccone and Compton claim to be pleased with the effort, especially the way the tracks rely more on electronica and less on traditional sounds than those on Mondo.

This album is all about keeping those toes tapping. “Glorious Warrior” has a retro-Eighties feel with long notes in the melody held over a frantic synth-drum backdrop of repeating rapid-fire triplets, giving the song a sense of 12/8 time:


Plural even got some Billboard attention: “Oh Devil” peaked at number 43 on the Hot Rock Songs chart. Taccone stays up in falsetto mode while guest reggae artist Devin De Dakta holds down the lower end:


Unsurprisingly, the most popular song on the album is not the best song. It’s not even the best reggae-inspired song. That honor goes to “Zero,” with Taccone’s Mika-like vocal slides into the stratosphere and lyrics about not letting the haters get you down. (Remember the critics I mentioned at the start of this piece? Yeah, those haters.)


Despite the wishes of their label, some seriousness crept into Plural. With its contemporary R&B melody riding on a river of synthesized vocal sounds, “See the Light” is a moving tribute to a drowning soul that still has a chance to be saved. “I’ve seen the light in you before / and I’ll see the light again.”


This song makes me curious about another side of Electric Guest. Even more than I want to hear their first album for Atlantic, I wish I could listen to that suppressed “too dark” album from 2015.

Up Close and Personal

Up Close and Personal

Up Close and Personal

Richard Murison

Guitar Influences, Part 3: Eric Clapton

Jay Jay French

As common as it is to read statements from rock n roll musicians that “When I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, I knew I wanted to be a rock musician”, so the following statement  goes with just about any guitar player over 45:

“When I heard Eric Clapton play the blues on the John Mayall & The Blues Breakers debut album, I knew that I wanted to play like that!”

So, to be clear, as much as Mike Bloomfield lit the fire and Keith Richards and Chuck Berry set the direction, it wasn’t until I heard the searing blues playing of Eric Clapton on the Blues Breakers album that it all came together.

All of this happened pretty quickly, as I heard Mike Bloomfield, then Keith and Chuck all around 1966.

By the time I started to digest it all, my neighbor Mike played Fresh Cream for me. This was also in 1966, December to be exact. When I heard the opening track “I Feel Free” and the unreal sounding guitar solo (which sounded like a combination of a vocal and a violin) Clapton’s guitar tone (famously called “woman tone” because of its sound like a crying woman, I guess) was electrifying and mesmerizing.

I knew that I wanted to get that tone but it didn’t register as to how and why a guitar could sound like that. It certainly was not a Fender guitar.

The guitar in fact was a Gibson Les Paul.

The amp Clapton used wasn’t a Fender either, it was a British amp I had never heard of called Marshall.

This guitar tone was alien to US musicians who really only knew pretty clean (read: non-distorting) guitar sounds.

I can’t remember exactly the next step but somehow I read about the band Clapton quit to start Cream.

The band he walked out on (a Clapton trait that has followed him all his life, much to the chagrin of the dozens of musicians that he “left behind”)  was the John Mayall, Eric Clapton & the Blues Breakers band.I bought the album now famously known as the ‘Beano’ album because Clapton is holding a copy of a comic book called Beano on the front cover.

I put on the first track called “All Your Love” and bam, it was all over. The guitar solos were just perfect in ways that I never heard before and… the guitar tone?

The picture on the back showed Eric with the Les Paul.

I thought that Les Paul was a guitar brand, not a model of Gibson Guitars.

The amp, a Marshall looked different then any other amp I had ever seen.

As the album progressed, Clapton’s playing just got better and more intense. Clapton played with the amp on 10 and all that overdrive distortion coupled with Claptons superior finger vibrato gave me the road map for the tone that I, with one more added ingredient coming in part 4, built my sound on.

Clapton’s performance on the instrumental “Steppin’ Out” and his solo on “Have you Heard” make me shudder to this very day.

In December of 1967 Cream’s Disraeli Gears followed by the Cream’s live album Wheels of Fire cemented Clapton’s legend.

To many of us, his playing has never surpassed this era.

I listen to the song and the solo on “Strange Brew” daily.

Clapton has of course gone on to have an amazing career. His 2 other contemporaries also had amazing careers: Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. To compare these three, it goes something like this:

Jeff Beck is by far the most creative and innovative of the three. I have seen Beck lately and he just seems to get better with age. He can do anything Clapton can do, plus voice guitar tones like few others on this earth can.

Jimmy Page (by far the most financially successful because of the titanic record sales of Led Zeppelin) has suffered as drugs and alcohol really took away his talent.

Always the sloppiest of the three, he at least was a better songwriter and also a very good producer. I have seen Page many times starting in 1969, front row at Zep’s first ever NYC appearance. He was really good then (1969-1972) but sadly, he is no longer among the top tier of players.

Where does that leave Clapton?

Clapton truly is a one trick pony and can, in concert, either be inspired to play blues with a feeling that can take your breath away or sleepwalk through a very boring set. I’ve seen him in every way including Cream in 1967 and the Cream reunion in 2005.

That reunion was about as sad as could be. It wasn’t Cream, it was skimmed milk.

They looked like three old men at the betting window at the dog track in Hialeah, Florida

I realized that it was the youthful aggression that made the original Cream so absolutely transcendent which was based on the fact that they hated each other. That plus the extreme volume created by the mega Marshall amps they were using at the time, created the sonic tour-de-force audio palate that launched a thousand guitar players.

Read Clapton’s autobiography. It is as sad as it is illuminating. I couldn’t put it down.

So: as you can see, I still hold Mr. C in very high regard.

But, back to 1967, there was one ingredient left that I didn’t know existed until I read a review of the artist and album.

It was only when I heard my next influence that everything came together in one neat package, a package that very much involved Eric’s style, and it all made total sense.

Next:  Albert King

Listening, Not Hearing

Listening, Not Hearing

Listening, Not Hearing

Dan Schwartz

A few days ago, I was lying on my couch, reading a book online from the Los Angeles Public Library (The Holy, by Daniel Quinn). On the hi-fi system played a recording of solo cello: Bloch, Ligeti & Dallapiccola – Suites for solo cello, by Natalie Clein. What’s not to like?


See, one of the problems with writing this column is that, ordinarily, I’d “suffer” in silence. But having opened this topic to scrutiny, I’m sort of obligated to keep going. I was thinking of going to the point of redoing the crossovers in my speakers. “It’s the caps, stupid!’ said one wag: yeah, but maybe not. That may be true of said wag’s Spicas, but apparently it’s not the place to investigate with mine.

Last issue of Copper, we had a dialogue about the capacitors in them, resulting in what I should have done initially, which was exchange messages with the man who built them: Richard Marsh. As it turns out, given that Richard also designed the Rel Caps, as used by PS Audio and many others, they almost certainly don’t need to be changed. The conversation with Marsh made me feel a whole lot better about continuing to have faith in them, given that I’ve always felt pretty great about them. And thanks to everyone who took part, but especially a reader who goes by chrisj1948, for his active participation in the conversation.

During the night before a reader called ElliotStudio posted, asking about the other equipment in the chain, tossing and turning, it occurred to me that what was driving me to distraction might be the subtractive qualities of the PS Audio IV preamp that I put in last fall. As I wrote last time out, for almost 25 years, I was listening to one of the few EAR G88s made, Tim deParavicini’s top-of-the-line for some decades. It was an extraordinary preamp, and I think I came to take its extraordinary qualities for granted; I never thought about it, or had to think about it. And my system was essentially stable for 20 years — for someone who occasionally reviews equipment, having a stable platform like that is pretty unusual. So I let the G88 go very reluctantly, planning to put in an EAR 912 — and then PS came out with the BHK, and my daughter was in college, etc. etc.


I was pretty happy to have found the PS IV on a back shelf at Brian Berdan’s shop, Audio Element in Pasadena. It had everything I needed, for the time being, chiefly the option of switching in the line amp — or, crucially, not. No gain stage, just a level control. What more do I need?

Well, as it turns out, maybe…

Back to that cello recording: lying on the couch, happily reading, listening with one ear, all seems well. It’s quite a beautiful record; maybe not as good as the Starker Bach solo cello suites on Mercury, but pretty damn lovely, and beautifully played. But when I started paying attention to it with both ears and focused on it, something was missing. So I put on the Starker, and it’s still missing. It’s just that last bit of “thereness”. That’s what I’m talking about — that “thereness”. I know writing about it doesn’t suffice, but it’s what I’ve got. I’ll have to trust that people reading this know what I mean. In frequency terms, it’s not a lack; it’s what those frequencies DO. How they bloom out from the speakers, or don’t.

Now, this could be almost anything, really. At first, I was inclined to pin it on my tinnitus. As I write, I hear three things: a Mac Mini’s fan, making almost no noise; the waterfall in our quite big pond, which our front deck crosses; and… eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee… The waterfall, built into the hillside, excites the tinnitus, never quite gone, in exactly the right way to be confusing to my ear. So attempting to eliminate that as the source of the trouble took quite a while.

The next most obvious was the speakers. Hence my last column: could they have aged so much, and so suddenly? Is there a threshold that they passed? I’m still considering what reader 300b4me said about the big dome midrange drivers, and that he and theBman have said about Duelund bypass caps.

At the moment, I’m focusing on the preamp. In hindsight, the change occurred about the time I got it, though I was so delighted with what it did well that I didn’t notice. But — it’s about a 35-year-old design, and it was never intended to go up against a statement product like the G88. (The G88 listed for $11,000 when I got it in 1992, and Tim raised the price to $20,000 shortly after to try to kill the market for it, it was such a drag to build. He got six orders from Asia almost immediately.)

Fortunately, through happy coincidence, I’m able to say that there is now a BHK preamp on the way. Nothing in my system is like the system in which I’ve heard the BHK, but it’s all equally good. So if you’re interested, look next time for a report on the effect on music and listening.

Why Messiaen (Still) Matters

Lawrence Schenbeck

This is not a Messiaen Year. It would be the 110th anniversary of his birth, but I haven’t heard of any celebrations coming up. Apparently we pretty much maxed out on that in 2008, when, you may recall, the New York Times reported lines of people stretched around the block at Carnegie Hall, or was it the 92nd Street Y, hoping to score tickets to concerts with pianist Peter Serkin and the NY Phil. What were they performing? The Turangalîla-symphonie? Des canyons étoiles? Something else?

If you were there, you will remember. Just as I will remember my discovery, early this month, of Messiaen’s monumental piano work Catalogue d’Oiseaux in a newly recorded performance. High-res in every sense, it’s now available for your own revelations and celebrations. The box contains three SACDs and a DVD plus illuminating notes by the composer, by ace musicologist Nigel Simeone, and by pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. (Pentatone PTC 5186 670; streaming and downloads also offered.)

I thought I was no stranger to Messiaen. I cut my teeth on the classic Tashi recording of Quartet for the End of Time, moved on to Turangalîla and Chronochromie as an undergraduate, annoyed the people I really loved in the mid-‘90s with Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus. I should have long since been ready for the Catalogue. Yet I wasn’t, and in the last few days it has gripped me with unexpected power.

Why might you have a similar experience? Here’s why:

(1) Unlike most other 20th-century modernists, Messiaen has gradually become a bit more popular (see above). People respond to his music emotionally. You don’t have to know much about how it’s put together, although knowing won’t spoil it.

(2) Messiaen was a pioneer of musical landscape, a keen observer of habitat and environment and the unity of all life. He didn’t simply collect and notate birdsong. He collected, in his mind’s ear, rock formations, still ponds, cloudless skies, desolate vistas, deep woods. For Messiaen, it was impossible to understand human life, including suffering, wonder, and ecstasy, without making the acquaintance of many other life forms, among which he saw no reason to exclude rocks or trees. He loved their colors, their sounds. (Because he possessed synesthesia, color and sound often joined forces for him.) Messiaen is the artistic ancestor of young composers today who attempt to depict glaciers cracking, rivers flowing, cascades and cataracts of every kind, the quietness of dense forests, the random noise of city life. We have finally accepted non-narrative music as something no less true or useful than a story. Messiaen knew all along.

(3) Messiaen believed. He was brought up Catholic, he practiced this faith all his life, and in every note of his music he expressed (as Anthony Tommasini puts it) “a theology of glory, transcendence and eternity” based in wonder and humility. Pope Francis might get that. Puritans and cynics (of any era, nation, or religion) might not. I can’t help thinking right now of Westworld’s Dr. Ford (the Anthony Hopkins character), who dismisses all human art and science—Picasso, Shakespeare, the Empire State Building—as a pathetic extension of lesser creatures’ mating displays. He could be right. But even if we are all little Bernards—perhaps especially if we are no brighter than the average peacock—we need Messiaen’s generous counter-argument. His music offers an escape from civilization’s persistent attempts to program every single one of us.

(4) Which brings up the issue of Messiaen’s musical language. It’s different. He owes less to Beethoven and Wagner than did Schoenberg, less to Bach than did Stravinsky. He arguably made a cleaner break with Western tradition than any of them. The big difference between Messiaen and, say, John Cage lies in Messiaen’s stubborn insistence on using musical principles developed by sentient beings, including those with feathers. Even at its most eccentric, his music still sounds, well, musical.

Let’s run down the checklist: (a) melody: of course, the birdcalls Messiaen collected all his life were an important source of melodic inspiration. They often constitute all, or nearly all, the melodic layer of his musical textures. But his interest in exotic or invented scales and modes, especially what he termed “modes of limited transposition,” opened up both his melodic sense and his use of (b) harmony, meaning not traditional chord structures so much as any piquant combination of pitches.

Mention of harmony puts us in “accompaniment” territory: an important facet of Messiaen’s textural style is the way he used certain rhythmic formulas in combination with “chords” to structure the secondary voices that support those birdcalls and other, more distinctive primary materials. Keep in mind two things here. One: Messiaen’s vertical structures (chord-like simultaneities used as accompaniments or “scenery”) can be as straightforward and consonant as a C-major triad or as prickly as a tone cluster. Two: In either case, they are not harmonically functional. There’s seldom any resolution to a tonal center, no dominant-to-tonic “final chord.”

(c) Last on the checklist is the rhythm deployed in those accompaniments. Messiaen used the most varied catalog of rhythms imaginable. They range from primitive ostinato patterns to Greek and Hindu meters (some merely hypothetical) to complex, virtually inaudible “non-retrogradable rhythms” in which the second half of a pattern forms a precise retrograde of the first. (Think of the gull-wing doors on a 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL; facing the hood and with both doors open, let your eyes drift from left to right). As with certain works by Debussy, “rhythm is freed from its dependence both on tonality [functional harmony] and on pulse.” (André Boucourechliev, New Grove 1980) You could also flip that statement, so that both sonority and pulse are freed from rhythm. You can’t pat your foot, nor can you predict phrase length or melodic shape, yet the music bears an expressive message. There’s beauty locked inside.

Enough theory! Let’s listen to something. The Catalogue is organized into seven “books,” each of which contains from one to three field reports, as it were. The composer wrote:

I have tried to render exactly the typical birdsong of a region, surrounded by its neighbors from the same habitat, as well as the form of song at different hours of the day and night. [The birdsongs are] accompanied in the harmonic and rhythmic material by the perfumes and colors of the landscape in which the bird lives.

Gentle reader, you may well infer that these are not strictly scientific studies, in spite of the stated effort “to render exactly.” For one thing, as Messiaen explained,

A bird . . . sings in extremely fast tempi, absolutely impossible for our instruments, so I’m obliged to transcribe the birdsong into a slower tempo. Moreover, this speed is linked to an extremely high pitch . . . inaccessible to our instruments, so I write one, two, three, or even four octaves lower. And that’s not all. For the same reasons I’m obliged to suppress very small intervals [i.e., distances between notes] which our instruments can’t play. I replace these intervals with half-steps.

What Messiaen doesn’t also mention is that the music was written for a pianist of extraordinary ability, the remarkable Yvonne Loriod, who accompanied the composer on many of his field trips and gave the first performances of these works. Had there been no Loriod, the music might have turned out far differently.

Here is an excerpt from VIII. L’Alouette Calandrelle – The Short-toed Lark.

And here is what Messiaen had to say about it:

Provence in July: the Short-toed Lark. Two o’clock in the afternoon. Les Baux, Les Alpilles, broom and cypress trees. The monotonous percussion of the grasshoppers, the Kestrel raises a staccato alarm. The road to Entressan: the Crested Lark sings in two-part counterpoint with the Short-toed Lark. Four o’clock in the afternoon, La Crau. A stony wilderness, intense light, scorching heat. . . .

Another excerpt, this from V. La Chouette Hulotte – The Tawny Owl.

Plumage speckled with brown and red, enormous discs on its face, a solemn expression full of mystery, wisdom and the supernatural. . . . The voice of this nocturnal bird provokes terror. I have often heard it in the dead of night, around two o’clock in the morning, in the woods of Orgeval at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and on the road from Petichet to Cholonge (Isère). Darkness, fear, a heart which beats too fast . . .

Finally, an excerpt from II. Le Loriot – The Golden Oriole.

Late June at Branderaie de Gardépé (Charente), around five-thirty in the morning; Orgeval around six o’clock; Les Maremberts (Loir et Cher) in the full midday sun. The Golden Oriole, a beautiful golden-yellow bird with black wings, whistles among the oak trees. Its song is fluid and gilded, like the laugh of a foreign prince, evokes Africa and Asia, or some unknown planet, full of light and rainbows, full of the Leonardo da Vinci smiles. In the gardens and the woods, some other birds: the rapid and decisive strophe of the Wren, the trusting embrace of the Robin, the panache of the Blackbird.… For a long time, without tiring, the Garden Warblers pour out their songs with quiet virtuosity.

Yes, field notes, but from a poet! In the bonus DVD, Aimard discusses and demonstrates the “radical purity” of this music. Messiaen assembled it in the late 1950s, as he was making a slightly awkward transition from being the teacher of Boulez, Stockhausen, and others to becoming their colleague. His personal life was likewise in painful flux. Thus one could argue that Messiaen’s earlier and later works reveal more of his own curiosities and personal values, fewer of his students’ more rigorous attitudes. In the weeks to come, we’ll explore some of those pieces: more piano music, chamber works, orchestral pieces. More birds, stars, humans, angels.

Hoagy Carmichael, Part 2

WL Woodward

Back at IU Hoagy was going to class and stopped in at the old Book Nook and sat down at the piano.  He’d been thinking about melody, how there was always a melody inside the chords that would surface eventually with a little patience.  This time it surfaced and wrote itself all at once.  A friend listening said it sounded like washing clothes on a washboard.  Hoagy had a song, a different song he called Washboard Blues.  He called a few friends, including Tommy Dorsey, to record at Gennett as an instrumental.  The pressing was taken to a poet buddy who added a lyric.  I couldn’t find the original recording but here is Hoagy doing it himself.  The dialect is a poor black woman lamenting her life.

Sung in this way it was controversial at the time and downright racist by today’s standards but remember the times and remember Hoagy’s affiliation and love for the black communities he learned in.  We can explore Ethics in History! in another forum.  This recording is important because it represents a real departure for the songwriting idiom itself.


By the way.  Was anyone offended by the Irish mom caricature I used in the front of this article?  No, of course not.  It was cute and folksy.  Right?

The song got a lot of attention and Hoagy began thinking he could actually make a go of this whole songwriting thing.  In 1927 he was still working on his studies at Indiana University but continued playing in bands and working on writing.  Once again crossing the campus a melody entered his head and he went to the Book Nook to get it down.  It took a few months of work, but when it was done it was Stardust.

In 1929 Mitchell Paris added the lyric and the damn thing ended up being recorded by everybody, and I mean that almost literally.  It’s arguably the most recorded melody in the 20th century, recorded more than 1500 times by artists as disparate as Bing Crosby, Artie Shaw, Louis Armstrong, George Benson, Eddie Cochran, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.  Originally recorded as an instrumental at Gennett with Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals who included Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.


But before all that shit happened there were hard times.  Hoagy tried Hollywood since movies had added sound and needed songwriters but they didn’t think they needed a kid from Indiana.  Carmichael headed for New York, had success writing songs for Tin Pan Alley producer Irving Mills ( who ended up owning the songs and in fact added his name as co-composer of Stardust), and still struggled with the itinerant nature of a musician.  He was in New York in the fall of 1929 when all hell broke loose and everyone’s livelihood was in jeopardy.

Hoagy tried to find work in investment banking but his timing was pretty bad.  He wrote a banking friend back in Indiana but had no luck there either.  Meanwhile every six months, changes and indecision saw Hoagy getting excited, then broken by songwriting, then trying to be a responsible member of society with a weekly paycheck.

In 1931 a series of events made his decision for him.  First Bing Crosby recorded Stardust and it was a major hit.  Walter Winchell loved it and gushed about this fresh new songwriter on his national radio program.  A year later a dozen bands had covered it.  Also that year the Hoagmeister failed the bar exam for the second and last time.

Goodbye law career.  We’re all in.

Still Hoagy lamented at this time that jazz ‘seemed to be waning’.  The reality was the jazz he had loved, ‘hot jazz’, was turning into a new phenomenon to be called Swing.  Dude,  jazz will never die.  Relax.  Fortuitously in 1933 he met a young lyricist named Johnny Mercer and they wrote a tune Lazybones that sold 350,000 copies.  Carmichael and Mercer are close to jazz’s Rogers and Hammerstein, writing iconic songs together like In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening for which they won an Oscar for Best Original Song, and a little tune to become another jazz standard, Skylark.  Mercer told a great story that Hoagy had given him the music to Skylark and it took him a full year to get the lyric to set right.  It wasn’t until Carmichael stopped pestering him with ideas and forgot the thing that Johnny was able to finish it.

In 1935 Hoagy started writing songs for Warner Brothers and his attachment to Hollywood began.  He played bit roles as the droll cigarette smoking piano player in movies like To Have and Have Not, The Best Years of Our Lives, and one of the great jazz movies of all time, Young Man with a Horn, starring Kirk Douglas as a rendition of Hoagy’s old pal Bix Beiderbecke.  Honestly man.  If you haven’t seen this movie…

The Hoag wrote Georgia On My Mind and never set foot in the place.  It’s now the state’s freakin anthem.

You know this guy, you’ve heard his songs a million times and you’ve seen him in movies, always with a toothpick or cigarette hanging from his mouth, giving advice to the young girl spurned by her man.

He caught a great deal of flak from critics and fans alike for his vocal abilities, which he himself described as sounding “the way a shaggy dog looks”.  I could not disagree more.  I love how he used what he had.  Listen to what he does with Am I Blue that he recorded with a very young Lauren Bacall in To Have And Have Not.


Shiver me timbers.

That’s the movie where Bacall and Bogart met.  Wait..you haven’t seen that film either?..Crimeny..  Where you been?

Trying to cover Hoagy Carmichael in a small column is an impossible task.  He was one of those transitional figures in music that witnessed and blew air into the birth and development of the jazz age.  I guess I’m just trying to pay homage to a man largely forgotten today.  Y’all know his songs and some recognize him from his movies, but even with a name like Hoagy he’s beginning to fade in our memories.

A dear friend, old college roommate, and fellow musician this week told me his band was doing an arrangement of Skylark.  He didn’t know I was doing this article.  That’s pretty cool.

Here is one of a thousand interpretations of one of the greatest jazz standards ever written.  Performed by the unmistakable Paul Desmond and accompanied by Bob James, Ron Carter, Gene Bertoncini (guitar!) and Jack DeJohnette.  Music by Hoagland Howard Carmichael. Skylark.


Hoagy, you’re still the man.




Charles Rodrigues




Roy Hall

The pilgrim, after saying some prayers, prostrated himself on the Stone of Anointing, removed a small plastic bag from his coat, emptied its contents and rubbed them on the stone.

The old city of Jerusalem is most interesting. I first visited it in 1968 when a friend of mine guided me over the wasteland that had been, until recently, no-mans land. She said, “If I would have come here 9 months ago, someone would have shot at me.”  The vicissitudes of war always amaze me. The city is divided into 4 main sections: the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Three major religions converge and are always jockeying for space. This causes tension, which sometimes explodes into violence.

Act one.

When tensions are running high you can usually sense it by the body language of the residents. Once when visiting my sister who lives in Israel, the three of us, my wife Rita, my sister Joy (I know, Roy and Joy) and myself decided to spend a day in the old city. Our first stop was St Andrews Church. It is a Scottish Protestant and Presbyterian Church not far from the Jaffa Gate. The inside is rather stark and somewhat austere. It was built after World War One, and during the British mandate in Palestine, serviced the rather large Scottish population stationed there. Although I am an atheist, I appreciate the tranquility of sanctuaries like these. From there we wandered through some back streets into the Jewish Quarter towards the Wailing Wall. It was the eve of a Jewish festival and the streets were humming with shoppers doing last minute errands. We also noticed an abundance of police and soldiers on alert so, instead of going to the wall, which was mobbed because of the festival, we decided to visit “HaKotel HaKatan” (the little wall). This is a part of the Wailing Wall that is not contiguous with the main plaza. It is just as holy as the main wall but hardly anyone knows of it. Walking down Barquq Street, the Muslim vendors, usually welcoming and gracious, were sullen and distant. The little wall is in an alley off the main drag and is quite quiet. While we were standing there a Muslim woman exited her house. She was carrying a bag full of garbage. As she approached us she emptied the bag at our feet and without a word walked past.

After this welcome, we decided to go for lunch and my sister took us to a nearby Arab restaurant that she liked. Upon entering this usually friendly eatery, no one greeted us and after 15 or 20 minutes of being ignored, we stood up to leave. Only then did the owner approach us an asked us to stay.  We didn’t. In this atmosphere we decided that going to another Arab restaurant was pointless and my sister said, “I know a place”. She led us to Via Dolorosa (the street where Jesus is said to have carried the cross after his condemnation by Pilate) and into the Austrian Hospice. The hospice was built over 150 years ago exclusively for Austrian pilgrims but now it welcomes everyone. It is built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse Palaces. After the chaos of the streets below, the hospice was wonderfully serene. We went upstairs to the restaurant, built in the style of a Vienna coffee house and sat in the shade of a cedar tree in the café’s outside garden. There we ordered Wiener schnitzel and Austrian beer, followed by Sachertorte. This incongruous meal was served to us, with grace, by nuns.

Act two.

About 1 kilometer north of the Damascus Gate, just off Derech Shichem (Nablus Road) in East Jerusalem is the American Colony Hotel. Initially built by a Pasha for his 4 wives, it was purchased by a group of American Christians who sought a simpler life in Jerusalem. They attracted other US pilgrims and the group was subsequently called, “The Americans”. In 1902 Baron Ustinov, grandfather of the actor Peter Ustinov, decided that the Turkish inns in Jerusalem were sub-par and asked “the Americans” if he could house his visitors in their enclave. Before long, the American Colony Hotel became the ‘go-to’ lodging for western visitors. My wife and I make a point of visiting the hotel every time we came to Jerusalem. We once stayed there before 6-day trip on command cars through the Sinai desert (The subject of a future tale).

The courtyard of the hotel is straight out of Arabian nights. Songbirds live in tall mulberry trees that shade the entire area. There is a pentagon shaped central fountain that’s filled with goldfish. Circling the courtyard is a balcony leading to the guest rooms. It is a colorful and calming place. Every Saturday they serve a fabulous brunch, which features lots of seafood. Eating there, in the early seventies, when we lived in Israel, was a real and rare treat. It is certainly one of the most romantic hotels I have ever visited. It is the sort of place you would expect to see Lawrence of Arabia walking around in his caftan. (Apparently he actually stayed there.) Over the last century the hotel has been a meeting place for dignitaries, spies and politicians. As the hotel is in Arab East Jerusalem, not many Israelis venture there. Recently we had lunch in the courtyard and were again once again calmed by the serenity of the place. As we sat there eating lunch and drinking wine, my thoughts went back to a prior visit in the late seventies when, sitting at the table next to us, talking quietly with friends, was Peter O’Toole.

Act three.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to contain two of the holiest sights in Christendom, Calvary, the site of the crucifixion, and the tomb where Jesus was buried and (if you are a believer) resurrected. The Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian Orthodox churches jointly own it. Some smaller and less powerful orthodox communities, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian, also have rights to certain areas but their places of worship are adjacent, not in the church itself. To add to this mélange, for the past 800 years, two Muslim families have had the sole rights to hold the key that opens and closes the church.

Each of the owners have jurisdiction over distinct areas and sometimes when too many people attend Catholic mass, the spillover causes fights to breakout. This rivalry is a microcosm of Jerusalem itself, except that this conflict is solely amongst Christians.  Considering this conglomeration and the size of the crowds, it’s amazing that anyone actually sees anything.

I prefer to visit holy places very early in the morning before the onslaught of tourists and pilgrims. One morning around 7 a.m. we decided to visit the church. The old city, at that hour is very quiet. With the exception of food shops, most stores are not yet open and women doing their daily food shopping seem to be in the majority.  There is no small irony in the fact that we noticed that the Muslim women, the orthodox Jewish women and the nuns, all dress in a similar fashion. With everything covered up save the face and hands, it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart.

We entered the church from the Souk el-Dabbagha, one of the streets with vendors that sell religious trinkets. The Church was very quiet as we wandered through the various sections. We saw the Silver disc where the cross had stood and the Edicule where Jesus was buried. We wandered around and ended up in a gallery overlooking the “Stone of Anointing”. Even though this stone is only around 200 years old, many people nonetheless believe it was the stone that Jesus was laid upon when his body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea. This is where we encountered the pilgrim, who, after saying some prayers, and prostrating himself on the Stone, removed a small plastic bag from his coat, emptied its contents and rubbed them on the stone.  The bag contained a rosary and a crucifix. After saying a prayer, he carefully put them back in the bag and returned them. He then took out another bag and did the same. He did this twenty or thirty times. What struck me was his devotion to the task. He could have easily taken out all the bags, put them on the stone and said one prayer but he was obviously tasked with doing each one individually and did it with reverence and sincerity. Even I, an unbeliever, was touched.

Au Revoir, Dutoit

Richard Murison

About ten years ago I shared an airplane ride with Charles Dutoit, the former conductor of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  Dutoit had been principal conductor of the orchestra since 1977, and under his leadership the orchestra’s reputation had risen from that of an everyday regional ensemble to one with a global reputation of excellence.  In 2002, as they were preparing for a season devoted to a celebration of his 25th year with the orchestra, Dutoit abruptly resigned and walked out.

The stereotypical orchestral conductor has always been a temperamental, autocratic maestro.  In a sense, this comes with the territory.  An orchestra, particularly one with a global reputation, attracts into its membership musicians of the very highest caliber.  As a conductor, you can’t just walk into the rehearsal hall, baton in hand, and expect them to do exactly what you say.  No, it doesn’t work like that.  You have to earn their respect, either by establishing your reputation in advance, or by earning it at the podium.  And even if you’ve earned their respect, you may still need to earn their fear before you can get them to play the way you want them to.  Failing one or the other, you will be out of the door before you know what’s happened.  So for a prominent maestro to be accused of being an autocratic bastard is … well … hardly news.  But they get away with it because, as with professional sports, the world of the major classical orchestra is a results-based business, and the benefits of playing in one of the most in-demand orchestras in the world generally outweighs the personal challenges of serving under an autocrat.

Dutoit was most certainly an autocrat, and, apparently, a pretty mean-spirited one at that.  So much so that, by the spring of 2002, with a celebration of the orchestra’s 25th anniversary ahead of them, his personal relationship with the majority of his players had sunk to an all-time low.  When Dutoit initiated proceedings to dismiss two members of the orchestra, the president of the players’ union issued a public letter accusing him of a number of unreasonable, unfair, and unacceptable practices, and in an interview went so far as to state that “The musicians have, for the past 10 years at least, been abused and harassed.  They have been treated with derision and condescension”.  He further characterized Dutoit as “a tyrant” who rules by “verbal and psychological abuse”.  This was too much for Dutoit, who threw his toys out of the pram and, with immediate effect, severed his ties to the orchestra.

Thus it was that, some seven-plus years later, with the orchestra’s reputation finally beginning to show signs of a recovery under new music director Kent Nagano, I found myself flying from Montreal to San Francisco with Charles Dutoit.  Not with him, you understand.  Merely “in his presence”.  Dutoit flew first class, as did I.  But in my case, as a frequent flyer, I received an upgrade.  Dutoit, one expects, paid the full fare, or had someone pay it for him.  I first became aware of his presence as we prepared to board.  As you will know, first class passengers enjoy the privilege of advance boarding, along with frequent fliers who have attained a sufficiently prestigious level.  This wasn’t acceptable to Dutoit.  He clearly felt that passengers who paid the full first class fare (or maybe just passengers named ‘Dutoit’, I wasn’t sure) should be personally called to board before the frequent flier rabble.  Thus it was that he – literally – elbowed his way to the front of the line.  He barged past me, presented his ticket, and headed on into the first class cabin.  I must admit that I watched this whole drama unfolding with some amusement, and maneuvered myself to ensure that if he wanted to push in front of me he would be obliged to be pretty blatant about it.  Which, indeed, he was.

A few minutes later, I arrived at my own first-class seat, which as luck would have it, was adjacent to Dutoit’s, with just the aisle between us.  So I got a front row seat for the Dutoit show.  I wouldn’t describe him as loud, which he certainly wasn’t.  Nor did he monopolize the stewardess’s attentions, which he didn’t.  But he addressed the stewardess in the most condescending and superior manner, making it very plain that he expected his every command to be acted upon as if he owned the airline.  For the duration of that 5-hour flight I felt very much at one with the players of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

[All this stands in stark contrast to a remarkably similar situation where I found myself travelling from Montreal to Paris in the presence of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife.  Mr. Mulroney could not have been any less self-important, or more gracious in his interactions with his fellow passengers and the airline staff.]

So, Dutoit is a self-absorbed egotist with a well-developed sense of entitlement.  Frankly, that comes across as neither a surprise, nor as a particularly news-worthy revelation.  It would be barely worthy of raising as an anecdote in casual conversation.  But last year, the whole Dutoit story took a decidedly darker turn.  Dutoit was accused by multiple women of having raped them, these acts having taken place more or less throughout his career.  We’re not talking groping here, but actual rape.  As I write this, it is not clear to me what the legal status is regarding these accusations, or whether any of them are on track to proceed to trial.  But what I do know is that more or less every orchestra Dutoit is associated with, or has been associated with in the past, has firmly severed all ties with him.  This includes the MSO, with whom a certain rapprochement had been taking place of late.  As for Dutoit, he has formally denied the allegations.

So, while it looks pretty clear that Dutoit is at best a person you don’t want to fly with, and at worst a serial rapist, it doesn’t make him unique.  Heaven knows, there are many, many musicians whose work I admire, that at best I wouldn’t want to fly with.  No, the interesting question here, as it is with other prominent persons who have been accused of varying degrees of sexual impropriety, ranging from workplace harassment, via sexual assault, to rape, is where we go from there.  How do we separate the stains on their personal reputations from the highlights of their professional accomplishments?

Take the CBC, for example (and I’d be happy if you would).  Canada’s public broadcaster can be relied upon to take the most politically correct of all possible positions, and they have naturally applied their own patented line of logic to the Dutoit case.  They decided that they couldn’t just ban all of Dutoit’s recordings from the airwaves, since that would effectively ban all the musicians who, not only were not party to his misdeeds, but in many cases were the victims of them.  So they would continue to play from the vast catalog of Dutoit-led recordings in their library, but when doing so would no longer credit Dutoit.  In other words, if they tell you who the conductor is you know it isn’t Dutoit, and if they don’t … well you know that obviously it was!  Good old CBC.

But what am I supposed to do with Dutoit’s contribution to my own record library?  It’s not huge … less than a couple of dozen albums at a guess.  For the most part, these are excellent recordings, both in terms of music interpretation and recording quality.  Two of them are Grammy winners.  Am I supposed to stop playing them because he is a rapist?  [… which he isn’t, of course.  He’s an accused rapist.]

We need to ask ourselves what is it about accusations of sexual assault that require such special treatment.  For example, Phil Spector is serving life for murder, but I’m not sure the CBC has taken a position on his extensive and influential professional oevre.  Likewise Chuck Berry, who served 20 months in Club Fed for kidnapping a 14-year old girl and transporting her across state lines for “immoral purposes”.  Or Jim Gordon (who co-wrote ‘Layla’), who attacked his mother with a hammer, and when that didn’t work, stabbed her to death.  And then there was the Italian renaissance composer Gesualdo, who murdered his wife and her lover, but got away with it thanks to his noble birth.  None of those individuals made the CBC’s shit list.  Even Beethoven was arrested for vagrancy, and famously invoked the “don’t you know who I am?” defence.  In other words, it seems that an accusation of sexual assault is sufficient that you should become a soviet-style ‘unperson’, where a conviction for murder, kidnapping … or vagrancy … is not.

Speaking of accusations, one Pythonesque episode managed to rope in three notable classical composers.  Brahms was actually accused of being a serial cat killer who incorporated their dying cries into his chamber music (!), an accusation which if leveled today would doubtless have got him banned from the CBC for all eternity.  It gets better.  He supposedly committed the foul deed(s) using a crossbow given to him for the purpose by Dvořák.  But in the end it emerged the whole thing was a slanderous false rumor created by none other than Richard Wagner, who hated nothing more than hearing other composers’ work praised.

We have a legal system whose purpose distills down to providing society as a whole with a mechanism by which to deal with a person’s misdeeds and hold them to account.  If you do the crime, you do the time, as they say.  And, supposedly at least, the punishment is designed to be a sufficient and adequate retribution for the misdeed.  But beyond that, as individuals, we are all free to hold whatever opinions we desire about individuals who have committed crimes, regardless of whether they have been brought to book for them and served their prescribed punishment [although our freedom to act upon those opinions is more limited].  So I don’t have to watch movies produced by Harvey Weinstein, or starring Kevin Spacey, or Winona Rider (who … gasp … shoplifted), if I don’t want to.  And I don’t have to watch old episodes of The Cosby Show (which is good, because I didn’t care much for it anyway).  These should be choices for me to make personally, and I’m unhappy for other institutions, organizations, or individuals to be making them for me, particularly when their decisions are being made based on the media-driven public outrage issues du jour, as opposed to on a consistent, open, and rational basis.  The reason this happens, of course, that a cold and considered rational system fails to satisfy the outrage and bloodlust of a callous public whose attention span is not apparently up to considering an issue beyond the lurid extent of its headlines.  At our core, it seems, we are still a torches-and-pitchforks society.

I don’t have to play my Dutoit albums.  It’s my choice.  But I will, whenever I feel like it – despite my personal experiences with the man himself, and despite the despicable acts of which he stands accused – because they are worthy recordings.  In the same way that House of Cards was great TV, and Pulp Fiction was a great movie.  And, yes, I actually like Let It Be”.  As it’s equally my choice that I don’t listen to Justin Bieber, who, best as I can tell, has never raped anyone.