Issue 60

Summer, Already?

Summer, Already?


Welcome to Copper #60!

Ye Olde Editor may still be all askew from jet-lag, but life goes on, and half the country is enveloped in a heat wave. I hope you can stay cool, wherever you are.

We've got an abundance of interesting content in this issue, with two interviews: John Seetoo chats with Renaissance man Kamel Boutros, operatic baritone, pianist, organist, actor, church music director, organ-restorer...what have I forgotten? Richard Murison interviews rocket scientist/surround-sound pioneer Edgar Choueiri, in the first of several installments. Richard and Edgar offer the clearest explanations of  hearing mechanisms that I've ever read.

Lucky traveler Larry Schenbeck  sends us a Letter From London; Dan Schwartz  discovers what was missing in his system; Richard Murison offers perspective on the lives of musiciansJay Jay French continues the series of articles on his guitar influences, with the late, great Albert KingRoy Hall runs through a gamut of emotions with the Big CAnne E. Johnson brings us her last indie column with veteran folkie Claudia Schmidt. Anne will start a new column next issue, and I think you'll really enjoy it.  I mourn the passing of David Wilson and look back at how it used to be done .

Industry News looks at several sides of  Sonos; and Anne features a stunning group of recordings of the works of Tomás Luis de Victoria in Something Old/Something New.

Copper #60 concludes with Charles Rodrigues telling us what's what, and a striking and picture-perfect Parting Shot from Richard Murison. Woody Woodward will return in the next issue.

Thanks for reading, and see you then!

Cheers, Leebs.

The More Things Change....

Bill Leebens

Oh, you think you’re so smart, Mr. 21st Century Hi-Tech Man. You know all there is to know about your fancy-schmancy stereo gear, you’re an expert at marketing it on all that social stuff, you’ve read all the gurus, you’re confident you’ve got your business COVERED.

Only one problem: you’re wrong. Not only that, somebody else had your business figured out better than you…nearly a hundred years ago. How is that possible? The stuff you’re selling didn’t even exist a hundred years ago—??

Wrong again!

In the 1920’s “talking machines”—gramophones/record players— were already a mature industry, and radio was growing by leaps and bounds. The primary reason for the existence of these devices was to provide music in the home. So, while the tech might’ve been a little different from today’s audio gear, the intent was exactly the same.

Feeling smug about our biz? I strongly suggest you take a look at any issue of the old trade journal The Talking Machine World, which went out to retailers and manufacturers of…talking machines. The magazine started in 1905, ceased publication in 1928, and by 1922 was publishing a 200+ page issue every month. Alongside articles on and ads for needles, motors, crank handles, new record releases, and regional sales news, there were numerous articles instructing salespersons in just how to sell those talking machines. There are headlines like:

That seems intuitive, no? And yet, donkey’s years later, how often have you suffered through a demo that was just all wrong, with material totally unsuited to the equipment? Maybe Also Sprach Zarathustra isn’t a great choice for that little 2-way desktop speaker with a 4″ woofer…

Demonstrators in stores or at shows are often caught between a rock and a hard place, when customers want to hear their favorites—which may be dog-mauled copies of terrible recordings. If another listener walks in and hears the resultant horrors, a bad impression can result. Perhaps the answer is a banner which says “Customer Request Now Being Played: Kindly Reserve Judgment”— or something more tactful.

At any rate: we can agree that successful demos usually require carefully-selected material. Nearly 100 years ago, even sellers of hand-cranked gramophones that used steel needles to play noisy 78s knew it as well. The gear may have improved—but why hasn’t our ability to present it?

Sometimes even the oldest and best-known aphorisms can be overlooked or forgotten. “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle” is familiar to carnivores and vegans alike—but what does it mean, really?

It means the salesperson should help the customer experience the benefits of a product or service, not just present the factual nuts and bolts of it. High-end audio is often guilty of obsessing over design details of a device, which may be nothing more than well-intended trivia when it comes to actually making a sale or providing a true user experience. That speaker may have state-of-the-art componentry and aerospace-spec build quality, but if the customer doesn’t feel great when his favorite music is played, all that is moot. Irrelevant.

And so, Mr. High-end Audio Salesman, learn from your predecessors:

My initial response upon reading that headline was, “well, DUH.” And yet: how often do we forget that the gear is not an end in itself? I suppose it could be if one wanted silent monoliths to polish and ooh and ahh over in a non-listening room, but even by audiophile standards, that’s just plain weird. If the headline isn’t clear enough, the sub-head really cuts to the heart of the matter:
“Convince a customer that a certain make of machine will produce the best music and the sale is made.”

That may have been easier with a $15 gramophone than with  a six-figure super system, but the goals are the same, no?

[Should you care to take a look at back issues of  The Talking Machine World—and I highly recommend that you do, it is indeed humbling—go here and pick any issue. Or go to the main site, American Radio History, and pick and choose from Audio, Wireless World, and a zillion other mags and books capable of making your day disappear.—Ed.]

Structure Needs a Firm Foundation

Dan Schwartz

I’ve had a BHK Signature preamp for about a week-and-a-half, so it’s on the way towards  breaking in. The first big change came just short of a day. This isn’t a review of the preamp, but this much I can say: it’s uncovered  where my troubles have been residing.

Everything is the same except for that, and the system has completely “opened up”, as the saying goes. What I mean isn’t, in fact, openness — there has always been a great degree of spaciousness in many records — but that openness now sits in a place: this is what was missing (to an extent).

A lot has been said about the BHK’s rendition of bass. That was the huge change I mentioned earlier. It started blooming at about twenty hours. Listening to Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, the music had a presence that I’d forgotten. I recall thinking, this is what’s meant by “rich” sound. Since then, I’m re-experiencing what bottom end truly means. This is most significant in how one hears the room of the source. Whether listening to John Williams’ rendition of Bach lute pieces, or Saradamani by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (the recording of which I was privileged to witness), the room of the event takes on a life that’s, well, live.

This is especially great to hear in something like the very reverberant RCA Earl Wild/Boston Pops Rhapsody in Blue, which I discovered anew in HP’s big system in 1987: a system driven by the Goldmund Reference turntable and brought to life by the IRS-5s.  There’s that big, beautiful room, brought to life in (sort of) miniature in my living room — almost 60 years after the event.

It was just after this encounter with HP’s system that he thought to put me in touch with Paul McGowan, thinking that Paul and company made equipment that I could afford. And they did, in fact: I started with a PS IV; then there was the 4.5, followed by the 5.5; and the 200C amp, which became the 200CX (I will always remember changing the power cable on it and getting it wrong — and seeing the devices going up in a sequence of paired blue flames, back to front, shooting out the top of the amp!).

Five years later, I was ready to move on up, and I got the EAR G88 preamp and a pair of VTL 500s (they’re still around, but many years ago I moved on to the BEL 1001s). I recall having a conversation with someone, and now I’m thinking that it was probably Paul, who suggested that EAR’s Tim de Paravicini must have known something about how to design for driving cables. The G88 sounded better than “nothing”, than going direct. And what brings that conversation to mind is hearing Paul’s Ohms Law that just showed up that attempts to explain the benefits of a passive preamp. There’s good to be had with a passive system, but you do give up something.

The G88, like the BHK, is an active device. The PS IV that I was using in the interim has a mode that came to be called straight-wire, a passive volume-control-and-RCA-jacks arrangement. And folks, I think this is at the heart of what led to my disappointment with the sound of my system. It wasn’t exactly lacking, but comparatively, it sounded a bit threadbare; lacking in that final thing that suggests musical presence. I can imagine it becoming better than it is now, but only just barely.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to sell my BELs, given that Richard Brown has died, and get a pair of BHK mono amps, but if I do or don’t, it’s no big deal. And I’d also like a lovely pair of Magnepan 3.7i’s. But that’s a sideways move. I’d keep my present speakers, too.

There’s something to be said for being friends with the people who make what you listen to. I know it’s a silly prejudice, but there it is.

[I ordinarily avoid mentions of PS Audio products in Copper, but it was hard to convey Dan’s point without naming the gear–-Ed.]

Lac Tremblant

Lac Tremblant

Lac Tremblant

Richard Murison

Kamel Boutros

Kamel Boutros

Kamel Boutros

John Seetoo

Cairo-born Kamel Boutros is a modern New York City Renaissance Man. As an internationally acclaimed opera baritone, he has performed baritone roles in multiple seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York under the baton of James Levine, Gergiev and others, as well as in the UK, Japan, India, Italy, France, and in other countries. He has shared stages at the Louvre in Paris, Bepu-Japan, and Verbier with his close friend, piano virtuoso Martha Argerich , the late Luciano Pavarotti, Tony Award winner Ruthie Ann Miles, and many others. As an actor, he has appeared on the New York Off Broadway stage in Babette’s Feast and in award winning independent films and television shows, including major roles as 9/11 terrorist leader Mohammed Atta in The Hamburg Cell and as Mahmoud in The Death of Klinghoffer. He has also arranged music for film and television shows, such as Damages.

A superb classical pianist, he currently is the Music Director of Calvary – St. George’s Church parish in Gramercy Park, New York City, where he programs, conducts, writes and performs an extraordinarily broad range of sacred music from multiple nations and genres composed over the last five centuries. Calvary – St. George’s Church has had the benefit of Kamel’s reputation over the years to bring an incredible array of guest musicians and singers from many cities and countries into its parish for exciting renditions of anything from a Bach oratorio to a Haydn symphony to a Bahamian Christmas carol to Middle Eastern music featuring the oud, to Americana and gospel hymns to contemporary electric worship music.

Kamel also supervises all of the audio and co-manages video production at both churches, which are historic landmarks in New York City. (St. George’s Church was founded in 1749; Calvary in 1832.) With pipe organ repairs and maintenance slowly going the way of the buggy whip, Kamel innovated a number of custom digital modifications to Calvary’s ancient pipe organ in order to stave off its obsolescence and incorporate it into his MIDI keyboard and pedals setup along with his Yamaha Concert Grand piano.

Kamel took some time from his busy schedule to discuss his childhood growing up in Egypt, his musical journeys and his work both on the international stage as well as in the church with John Seetoo of Copper.

J.S.: You are known in many musical circles for your humility and eclecticism, as well as a love for improvisation – all traits not immediately associated with classical music, at least from this rock musician’s experience. Where does this wide open music sensibility come from? Did your experiences growing up in Cairo help to shape your current attitudes towards music?

K.B.: I actually had no prior idea about improvisation. There isn’t any word in Arabic for “improvising.” The closest thing is the word “Taalif”, which mean “composing”, but also has some negative connotations since it can also mean “lying”. (laughs)

My mother, Nelly Boutros, was a trained classical pianist. As a matter of fact, when she was 8 months’ pregnant with me, she played Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto – not an easy piece – for her graduation exam at the Cairo Conservatory. However, I never heard her play at home except when was giving a few lessons, or playing hymns. Her main job was accompanying dancers at the Ballet Conservatory.

(Kamel explained that both conservatories are part of the Higher Institute of Music Learning in Cairo.The Conservatory is where she would take Kamel every day as an infant, so he was hearing so much music from the windows of the Conservatory of students practicing. It was one of Nelly’s colleagues who was tossing Kamel up into the air and once not catching him where Kamel fell head first on the floor. Kamel jokingly believes that that is when music came into his system – head trauma and hearing all these different instruments practicing – along with the guy shouting advertisements for his cold sugar-cane juice.)

My first exposure to non-Arabic music and to harmony was the movie, The Sound of Music. Since Arab music is diatonic, the harmony voices and the soundtrack blew me away as a kid. That was the turning point. The first song I ever played on the piano was “Do, Re, Mi” when I was 3 years old. There was a stain on the Middle C key and that’s what I looked for as my starting note.

Growing up attending a Presbyterian Church in Egypt, I would watch the organist in the chancellery and I was mesmerized! It was like watching a film – seeing the hands at the keys and the knobs, feet on the pedals – it was my dream to play the organ.

J.S.: What musical training did you have to undergo in Egypt to gain admission to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia? What was that experience like?

K.B.: I never had much training in Egypt. Learning basics at the church, I wasn’t aware of it but I guess I progressed very quickly. When I was 11, the church asked me to play a John Peterson Cantata because they needed someone with the skills. At home in Cairo, we had a horrific upright piano, which is still there, and hardly ever tuned, and could not be played in the evening without disturbing the neighbors. I looked at this piece and I realized that I had to practice it, and I needed a keyboard where I could plug in headphones for silent practice.

There was a Yamaha keyboard at a music store that compared to now, wouldn’t even be a decent toy, but at the time, I needed it, but my parents absolutely refused to spend the money. The only time in my life I ever stole – I snuck into my parents’ room and stole 500 Egyptian Pounds to get that Yamaha so I could practice. I was beaten after they found out, but it was worth it, and of course, I eventually paid them back. I now own a Yamaha 6’4” grand that I use at Calvary and I have a 7’4” Yamaha at a friend’s place where I get to play it.

My formal music education started when I was 13. An Egyptian family in Boston that was connected to the church brought me to the Lexington Christian Academy on a scholarship. Even there, the choral teacher would ask me, a foreign student, suggestions on exercises for the class. I felt like I had to play along, but I think that whatever improvising talent I had made the teachers assume that I knew more than I actually did, so I went through school with what I feel are gaping holes in my knowledge to this day.

At Curtis, I really looked up to Edward Aldwell. One day, I had a chance to play the Steinway B alone and after about 20 minutes, I saw a face in the door window, and it was Mr. Aldwell. I stopped playing, and he asks me what composition I was playing. I told him I was just making it up. He looks at me shocked and then gives me a hug, saying, “We have to do something about this.” The keyboard harmony teacher tells me to not bother coming to class. At the end of the semester, he gave me a F. I asked him why and he replied because I didn’t show up. I reminded him that he told me not to, and then he remembers and changes it to an A, telling me “Don’t slow up!” In retrospect, I think I have chunks of musical vocabulary missing since I can’t explain much of what I do, and it’s a struggle for me when conducting at times.

Improvisation, what I call playing “unbrained” – is not a conscious thing. The piano can be wonderful and evil at the same time – it’s a very needy wife. If you don’t touch it at least once a week, your fingers and brain don’t quite connect. Because I played in church, nothing else was needed. But later on, the gaps of knowledge still come back to bother me.

J.S.: You have performed Carmen, La Boheme, Romeo and Juliet, Madame Butterfly, and many other opera standards at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as solo pieces with orchestra, such as Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. What inspired your love of opera and what do you look for in a musical piece to motivate you to devote the time to add it to your repertoire?

K.B.: For me I look for when a composer can cry a melody that matches with the words. It has to grab you emotionally first, then intellectually, like Rachmaninoff! Not small breaths, but big breaths. Good music will make you scream and cry. I don’t have to talk about good music; bad music – you have to talk about it. (Because the emotional connection was lacking.)

J.S.: Your close friendship with Martha Argerich is probably best exemplified by one of her visits to New York for a Carnegie Hall performance, where she stayed with you as a houseguest and willingly prepared for her concert on a plastic Casio keyboard and insisted that you use your Yamaha Concert Grand to rehearse the Calvary Church choir. How did you two meet, and what is it like when you play together?

K.B.: Actually, that was before I was at Calvary. I was singing at the Met and I was living in a small apartment in Inwood at the time. The head of the opera department at Curtis named Mikael Eliasen took me to Carnegie Hall to listen to Martha Argerich play at Carnegie Hall. I had never heard her live She played Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto and it literally changed my life! She was musically on fire! I instantly became a huge fan and followed every bit of news about her. I couldn’t believe that her phone number was listed in the Musician’s International Directory. I called it and her voice mail message in French said to leave a message or a fax. I had read a news article that she was ill, so I sent her a fax telling her to take care of her health. We eventually met in Switzerland and now we are all like an extended family.

(One of her daughters, Annie Dutoit,has now become an actress. She and Kamel are planning a few film/music projects that will involve Martha at some point!)

She’s so down to earth. When Martha was coming to New York, I jokingly suggested she should stay with me. She said yes, and right away I said “I’m poor!” She didn’t change her mind. She was impressed that I could drive – I had a seriously beat up Toyota that was donated to me from a church I was helping in NJ, but she didn’t care. When we got to my building she asked which button to press on the elevator, I told her 2nd floor. She said, “Normal.” I laughed like mad. She was used to 50th floor fancy hotel suites but actually wanted something real. She actually gets upset when people applause before she even plays. “Are they applauding for me? They don’t know me; I haven’t even played yet! Why are they applauding?”

J.S.: Keeping it real?

K.B.: Keeping it real. And she’s so…unpretentious, it’s wonderful. Another time, she showed up to surprise me at Calvary during a service and wound up playing. I was at the organ and starting the second hymn, and I smelled her perfume – it’s Shiseido. I turned and she was waving at me. I was in shock! She got up and started turning my pages for me, of all things! People in the congregation who recognized her started texting their friends: “Martha Argerich is at Calvary!” She later played an impromptu set with me. One of the choir members who is Argentinian burst into tears and couldn’t sing; ten feet away from her was one of the most famous Argentinian musicians in the world acting like a normal person! Through the years I have become friends with some well known people in music, film and the arts. And I’m just blown away by the ones that knew that fame is not real, comes and goes. Nimet Habachy, Rachel Ticotin, Tony Hale, Peter Strauss, Sandy Faison, Todd Sussman, Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers), Rev. Timothy Keller (whose preaching changed my life!).

J.S.: What prompted you to step into the theater and film worlds in addition to your many musical accomplishments? What are your favorite moments from being an actor and a film and video producer so far? Is film and music scoring a field you plan to pursue further?

K.B.: I had never thought about acting in films. John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer was the first film I was in; it was a film version of the opera. I was asked to come to the UK for the audition and couldn’t make it, so I sent a video instead of me speaking into the camera. For some reason, it impressed them enough to send a plane for me to meet with them and they wanted me to play the terrorist. Klinghoffer’s choruses was what attracted me – there are two: one with Palestinians and one with Jews – that are just glorious! And he even used synths! Who is this man?

Klinghoffer was also my first time working with a living composer. There was one part where I was holding a Kalashnikov and I decided to change a part slightly and add “Sika” which is an 8th tone aspect of Arabic music that “adds the crying” to the melody. Adams came up to me and I thought he was going to be furious for changing his music, but instead he hugged me and insisted that whatever I was doing to keep doing it! For other film parts, the casting agents came to me; I didn’t pursue them. I’m not as interested in acting as I am in music.

My Requiem, which debuted in Paris at La Madeleine in Paris, was my first large scale orchestral composition, and almost was cancelled because the Brussels bombing occurred earlier that day and it wasn’t until 3pm that we knew whether or not the French police would let the show go on. It had an all men’s chorus of Christian, Jewish and Muslim singers with a soprano, Tami Schuch-Yaegashi, who sang in English, Arabic and French. They wouldn’t let me use the big Bonaparte organ that Gabriel Faure used to play. La Madeleine is huge and has like a 3-4 second echo. Thinking back, I should have redone some of the parts because of that echo on the syncopated parts. The Requiem ends with the line, “That is how much God loved the world (you and me) that he ‘discarded’ his only son so that those who believe in him will not suffer, but have absolute eternal life”

But yes, I’d like to do more scoring and my dream is to write song stories. My next composition will be an opera of a fictional dialogue between God and a suicidal man.

J.S.: Basically, opera.

K.B.: (laughs) – Yes! Opera!

J.S.: As you work in a variety of musical genres, do you have a different approach and system for your methodology in handling and conducting a classical symphonic piece for an orchestra vs. a jazz, rock, or world beat ethnic instrument music arrangement? I know that when I have had the fortunate opportunity to play with you, you gave me fairly wide berth with my guitar, bass, lap steel and dobro parts when doing Americana and contemporary worship music.

K.B.: Conducting is very overrated. An amazing conductor discovers what people in the orchestra have already, not just a bucket of his own ideas, and not 80 slaves with instruments. A good conductor finds where the weaknesses are and works with them. He or she should be like a psychiatrist or a record producer. Once the homework is done, all the glory can shine through. Certain musicians can inspire the rest. A violinist was playing a part with Martha. Instead of responding with the piano part softly as written, she attacked the part and changed the tempo, which fired up the violinist to respond. Creating a chance to capture those moments is what should be the goal. 30% will love it, 50% will hate it, but it can be magic.

J.S.: As Musical Director for a centuries’ old Episcopal Church, how did you become involved with Calvary – St.George’s parish, and what are some of the challenges that you faced? Were there any cultural clashes between your secular music and art background, your Middle Eastern upbringing, and the Anglo based western Christian traditions?

I was actually asked by the then Rector of Calvary to take that job while I was still singing at the Met. I decided to take the job since I needed to show (employment) stability because it would give me the ability to bring my mother and brother to the States. Musically, it was a new culture: the church calendar, the liturgy…in Egypt, hymns were chosen to reflect on current events, which could involve war, or food shortages…at Calvary, it’s forbidden to sing “Alleluia” during Lent, so it’s a whole different thing. At first, I saw them as limitations, but now, I find it freeing. A nice picket fence, rather than a prison. That difference can make Episcopal prayers seem disconnected to the world, but in another view, it keeps the focus on God. Bad stuff will always happen but Christ’s love is constant. Music helps to keep that connection. Tim Keller (of Redeemer Church) changed my life with his explanation of the Prodigal Son. That (revelation) started my new Christian life.

J.S.: Calvary St.- George’s Church’s reputation for eclectic music programs has been cemented by the various secular singer songwriter, jazz and classical concerts produced at both church locations in conjunction with jazz trumpeter Alex Nguyen, whom you have handling music services at St. George’s when you handle duties at Calvary. What has motivated you to expand musically in all of these directions through the church, and do you see it as a kind of music ministry, such as with Mockingbird? (Mockingbird Ministries was founded by David Zahl in 2007 while in NY and as a regular attendee of Calvary Church.)

K.B.: I’m somewhat conflicted with music programs tailored to bring people into the church. Admiring music in concert spaces is ok, but for a church, it can be dangerous. The focus should be on the worship, and that has to start pastorally. Luckily, Jake (Rev. Jacob Smith, current Rector of Calvary – St. George’s parish) is very good at bringing us all to a worship place so the music can make that connection.

Alex has done an extraordinary job; there’s not a jazz musician in New York that doesn’t know about the Jazz Vespers services at St. George’s. But music alone won’t bring people to faith.

J.S.: Looking back on your career and musical journey so far, what would you say were the highlights and the most regrettable moments?

K.B.: Highlights? Singing at the Met with James Levine, Pavarotti, at the Louvre and elsewhere with Martha, of course…and my long friendship with Fred Rogers. He was a relative of my roommate at Curtis, Alan Morrison, who is a wonderful organist. Fred Rogers became an admirer of my playing and had tapes of my improvisations. We kept up a written correspondence. I didn’t even know he was a TV star or what the Mister Rogers show was!

Regrets: Being admired to the point where teachers I sought thought there was not much to teach me. I have ADD, which gets worse with age. I have a fantasy about starting my musical studies all over from scratch. I have degrees from institutions that I really feel I don’t deserve.

J.S.: Looking forward, what projects are you working on and what are you looking to accomplish in the next five years or so?

K.B.: I want to learn and master computer music software of all types to get to the point where I can produce and compose as quickly as I can improvise ideas in my brain. I love listening to all music – I can always find something. Even rap – the production and engineering on some of those records are out of this world!

J.S.: Out of all of your various activities, which would you say have been the most fun and the most satisfying?

K.B.: I think the most fun and fulfilling was seeing people touched by my music. I set “Come Ye Sinners” to original music I wrote and tried to do it justice. When I was in Paris, a French and Arabic version was performed and I saw people crying. It was one of my most elevated musical moments from the outside in. I started crying myself and said to God at that moment: “OK, so I’m not a useless piece of ***t, just annoying creation by being here!”

(A separate article on the digital innovations created by Kamel Boutros to customize Calvary Church’s ancient Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ will follow in issue #61 of Copper.)

Guitar Influences, Part 4: Albert King

Jay Jay French

I woke up a couple of weeks ago and realized that I dreamed that Albert King called me to tell me he was coming over to jam.

As Albert died on December 21, 1992— I think this call came a little late!

I  believe that this dream was brought about by two instances:

1.I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain, in this column, my love for his playing;


2.   I had very recently had an in depth conversation with a guitar playing friend of mine about how and why Albert was so important to so many guitar legends such as Clapton, Hendrix, Gibbons & Vaughan.

Sometime in early 1967 I read an interview with one of my guitar influences and the name Albert King came up. I had only heard of BB King at that point and didn’t know about Albert. I then saw an ad in Rolling Stone for a new album release by King called Born Under A Bad Sign.

I ran out and bought it.

From the first second I put it on and heard the opening notes of the title track “Born Under A Bad Sign”, I knew I had just discovered the guitar sound that basically formed the basis for Eric Clapton’s solos. It wasn’t fast playing like Mike Bloomfield; it was slow, really slow.  Kind of like Clapton (remember Eric had the nickname “slowhand”), but not like Eric. It was a sound that made a note sound longer and deeper. King was able to wring out more from one note then anything I had ever heard before.


Remember, the Jimi Hendrix debut was yet to be released, and Cream’s Disraeli Gears release was still 6 months away. Why are these albums significant? Because Jimi, like Albert, played guitar left handed which creates a unique sound on its own, and the lead track on Cream’s Disraeli Gears was the song “Strange Brew”.

When Disraeli Gears came out in December 1967 it all came together.


Because the great solo that Eric played on “Strange Brew” was, note for note, Eric’s attempt at playing like Albert King! As I listened to all the songs on Born Under A Bad Sign, one track stood out: The song was called “Crosscut Saw”.  OMG, I never heard a lead guitar tone sound like that! Not only was the tone mesmerizing but the note stretch was a semitone further than any note stretch I ever heard before.


Eric copied that solo on “Crosscut Saw”.  But…not quite, because as hard as he tried he just couldn’t quite bend the notes the way Albert did. Eric has tried, SRV not only has tried but he made a DVD with Albert King which is remarkably instructive as a  young guitar slinger, as good as he was with his fluidity and multiple notes, phrasing and runs, just couldn’t keep up with Albert’s four notes.

Time and time again Albert would let SRV riff and then, with just his 4 notes, close the door and blow SRV away.

To be fair to SRV, he was sitting at the foot of the master and I feel that he was simply looking to Albert for validation that he was on the right path.

How were those seemingly simply played 4 notes impossible to not only recreate, but phrased in such a way as to just demolish anyone else trying to keep up possible?

How could single notes sound like this?

To be clear, BB King also played single notes but they were placed “normally” within a lead phrase. Very polite and clean. Albert’s notes were tough, loud, raw, searing and cutting in ways that only Albert (and I mean ONLY ALBERT) has ever been able to do!

So, early on, I thought that the secret was in his gear.

I needed to know what kind of guitar and amp he was using. Albert played, for many years, a custom made version of a Gibson Flying V, a model that was originally manufactured by Gibson for only one year, 1958. It was a commercial disaster at the time and discontinued straight away.

The guitar has since been reissued by Gibson as well as many other companies but Albert had one of the originals manufactured in 1958, and it had become associated with Albert King and his signature sound.

The amp however was not a Marshall or a Fender. It was a solid state amp made by a company called Acoustic. In my opinion, it is the worst sounding guitar amplifier ever made by a non-communist country!

Albert, however, made it work and with that, one can learn a very valuable lesson: “It’s really not the gear, it’s the musicians talent that will always shine through”.

I, however, had yet to learn that it wasn’t really the guitar and amp. It was the fact that not only did Albert play lefty but he also played upside down.

Albert was a big man (6’7”) and 250 pounds. He also had big hands. His grip, I assume, must have been vise-like on the guitar neck and strings.

Playing upside down allowed gravity to work its magic so that a note could really bend (when a guitar is strung normally, a player bends a note by moving the string up, when a guitar is truly played upside down, the string pull has gravity on its side because the string is pulled down). That is much easier to do, but would never happen with a guitar strung low string to high. Albert’s strings were strung high to low, which gives the string a longer and greater bend—  a semitone greater then what normally would be done, giving the note yet another personality.

Jimi played lefty, but he strung his guitar normally so he had the same limitations as the rest of us mortals. To my knowledge, Albert was the only person I ever saw who somehow learned all the chords and notes, not just in reverse but upside down!

Basically, they say a bumble bee is theoretically not supposed to be able fly…but it does.

A guitar was never meant to be played like this… but Albert did it!

Here is the Wikipedia explanation of his style and unique tonal palette:

…King was left-handed, but usually played right-handed guitars flipped over upside-down. He used a dropped open tuning, possibly more than one, as reports vary: (C#-G#-B-E-G#-C#) or open E-minor (C-B-E-G-B-E) or open F (C-F-C-F-A-D).[10] He never used the sixth string.[9] Steve Cropper (who played rhythm guitar on many of King’s Stax sessions), told Guitar Player magazine that King tuned his guitar to C-B-E-F#-B-E (low to high).[11] The luthier Dan Erlewine said King tuned to C-F-C-F-A-D with light-gauge strings (0.009″, 0.012″, 0.024″ wound, 0.028″, 0.038″, 0.050″). The lighter-gauge strings were a factor in King’s string-bending technique.

I only learned this years later after I tried to get that tone, but just couldn’t quite get there.

I saw Albert and BB King on a double bill in 1988 and as good as BB was, when he invited Albert out to play with him, Albert just hung back and devoured BB.

I last saw Albert in concert a month before he died.

During the encore  of “Born Under A Bad Sign” he got up off the stool that he was sitting on most of the show, and walked off without finishing it or saying goodnight.

I felt really bad for him as I could see he was struggling. I also knew that I had probably seen him for the last time.

I think you get it now. I revered his blues playing above everyone else.

Next time you listen to “Strange Brew”, you are listening to Albert’s guitar solo!

I have a side project called “The Pink Slip Blues Band” with Michael Cartellone , the drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joel Hoekstra, the guitar player for Whitesnake and Bobby Held on bass (producer of Joe Bonamassa’s first 2 albums).

We always play “Born In Chicago”, my homage to Mike Bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and “Crosscut Saw” in memory of Albert and my nod by extension, to Clapton.

While all those who love Albert’s playing keep trying and falling just short, we will never stop paying our respects to the greatest blues guitarist of all:

The Mighty Albert King.

Next: Mick Ronson.

Tomás Luis de Victoria

Anne E. Johnson

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611) is often referred to as “the most famous Spanish composer in Renaissance Rome” or the like. As that epithet suggests, he has been marginalized for his nationality, not taken as seriously by history as his colleagues of Italian, French, or Low Countries heritage. Perhaps some recent recordings will raise him in your estimation, or maybe bring him into your view for the first time.

During the 22 years Victoria worked in Rome, he climbed to the absolute pinnacle of European religious musical culture, studying and composing alongside Palestrina and Lassus, teaching chant at the Pontifical Seminary, and performing on the most magnificent organs in Italy. Still, he longed to return to his native Spain, and finally got royal dispensation to do so in 1587. The sacred music he produced in Rome and Madrid is equal to anything of the period.

Victoria wrote rich vocal polyphony, mostly motets, following the precepts outlined by Palestrina, musical poster boy for the Counter-Reformation. The Catholic Church was trying to win back the disillusioned faithful who, spurred by the outcry of Martin Luther, noticed that the Church was corrupt and bloated. Palestrina took the Counter-Reformation’s cleansing ideals to heart: Less rhythmic complexity, clearer meters, fewer distracting dissonances, more obvious melodies.

In his Tenebrae Responsories, Victoria demonstrates some of the techniques his mentor Palestrina taught him. A good performance of this set of 18 motets for Holy Week should bring to mind the word “smooth.” You don’t get the kind of harmonic and contrapuntal tension so beloved of, say, Josquin des Prez, or the melodramatic arrangements of Lassus. Yet the word-setting is subtly expressive.

British vocal ensemble Stile Antico has a wonderful new recording of the Tenebrae Responsories. Typical of Harmonia Mundi’s releases, there aren’t tracks on YouTube, so you’ll need to go to Spotify:


However, you can listen to a sample from one of the recording sessions by Stile Antico at All Hallow’s Church in London in a featurette. The longest stretch of uninterrupted music starts at about 1:51. Notice the lustrous texture and the way the voices meld one to the other. Stile Antico manages to simultaneously let the natural rhythm in the Latin flow while maintaining Victoria’s strict duple meter (a once-rare sound in sacred vocal polyphony, now popularized by Palestrina):


Just for comparison, here’s a 2017 performance by Ars Nova Copenhagen (who, surprisingly, have not made any audio recordings of Victoria) of one of the Tenebrae motets. Under the direction of renowned early-music specialist Paul Hillier, the approach is markedly different from that of Stile Antico. Hillier seems to bring out the individual timbres of his singers’ voices, decreasing that smoothness I mentioned earlier. It’s not less beautiful, but it might not be as close to the Counter-Reformation ideal, which was to make music that banished all thoughts of this mortal life and raised our consciousness to the heavens.


Another interesting Victoria recording came out recently from the Oslo-based group Nordic Voices. Their Victoria:Motets is on Chandos, and you can find it on Spotify:


Although this, too, was recorded in a church (Oslo’s Ris kirke), the six-voice ensemble is so closely miked that they might as well be in a studio. Here is the motet “Congratulamini mihi,” a text from a cycle celebrating the Blessed Virgin. Nordic Voices take what I would call a madrigalistic approach, relishing the distinct vocal lines with even more individualism than Hillier allowed with Ars Nova Copenhagen.


The Nordic Voice’s performance of the motet “Vidi speciosam,” another text for Mary, demonstrates more delicate control over the material, especially in the highest voices (sopranos Ingrid Hanken and Tone Elizabeth Braaten). The second pars – that’s the usual term for a “movement” in a motet – starting at 3:19 is especially fluid and gorgeous.


Part of every Renaissance church composer’s job was the writing of Mass settings. Nearly 20 by Victoria are still extant. (In those days, no composer assumed that all his work was immortal and worthy of being kept for posterity, especially given how expensive it was to publish music.) All of them are cyclic Masses of one type or another, using pre-existing musical material to interconnect the various movements. As such, they are named after the pre-existing material.

The Missa Surge propera by Victoria borrows from the motet “Surge, propera amica mea,” by fellow Spaniard Francisco Guerrero. It’s a “parody Mass,” one that quotes from all the parts of a polyphonic source. Therefore, John Potter’s new recording, included on his album Secret History: Josquin/Victoria (ECM Records) is especially bizarre.

Potter, a tenor, has recorded some movements from this 5-voice Mass as solo songs with lute accompaniment. Turning polyphony into instrumental music was not unusual in the Renaissance, especially for secular music. But it’s hard to buy it for a Mass, particularly one that’s doubly focused on polyphony – its own and that of its source. All the grandeur is gone in this re-imagining. Here’s the Sanctus, reduced to lute song. Potter’s issues with breath control and intonation do not help his delivery:


Besides writing the Masses used in normal worship, church composers had to produce Requiem Masses when wealthy patrons died. Victoria’s Missa pro defunctis (Mass for the dead) is just that. Because of its special purpose asking that God accept a particular soul into heaven, a Requiem has different texts from other Masses. Thanks to Mozart’s magnificent setting, the “Dies irae” (Day of wrath) is the most famous Requiem text; Victoria, for some reason, did not set that one, so those words would have been sung as plainchant.

The Spanish ensemble Musica Ficta recently put out a recording of Victoria’s Requiem on the Enchiriadis label. Directed by Raúl Mallavibarrena, the performance is emotionally intense. Much credit for that goes to the composer, whose use of dissonance in this work of 1605 would probably have upset ol’ Palestrina (who had died in 1594). By this point in his career, Victoria seems unashamed of the influence of secular madrigals that used contrapuntal and rhythmic ideas to give the listener the most earthly of thrills.

Here is Musica Ficta’s juicy version of the text “Versa est in luctum cithara mea” (My harp is turned toward grief) from Victoria’s Requiem. All that beauty and perfection from his earlier works meets the pain of a very human heart.

David Wilson: RIP

David Wilson: RIP

David Wilson: RIP

Bill Leebens

The first 60 issues of Copper have featured 6 Audio Cynic columns headed “RIP”. One in ten is far too many for my taste; sadly, given the demographics of our industry, I’m afraid that the number will only increase as we go forward.

The first three—Richard Beers in issue #7, Wes Phillips in issue #15, Ken Furst in issue #23-–were writers or promoters. The next three—Arnie Nudell in issue #47, Charley Hansen in issue #48, and now Dave Wilson in issue #60—were among the greatest designers and technical talents the audio industry has known. The first three certainly left a void upon their passing, but the latter three will be very, very difficult to replace. Even if designers arise who match their abilities—and that’s a big if— it’s unlikely that the new designers could ever influence the course of the industry as Arnie, Charley, and Dave did.

Dave originally came to my attention, and that of most folks, as a contributor to The Absolute Sound  a million or so years ago (around 1980). A designer of medical equipment turned amateur recordist—in the best sense of the word amateur—Dave became acquainted with TAS Editor Harry Pearson and joined the magazine as Technical Contributor (his title on the magazine’s masthead) “…to construct a testing program that will allow us to determine if some of the peculiarities and anomalies we hear in evaluating equipment can indeed be numerically measured.”

Ultimately, such technical rigor was a lost cause at the magazine, though Dave made an impression with articles such as a lengthy, meticulous phono cartridge survey. Wilson the recordist made a splash at the 1982 CES with a massive, extraordinarily-expensive speaker he designed as faithful monitor for his own recordings: the WAMM, Wilson Audio Modular Monitor, was an ungainly  construct of boxes and panels offered at the then-astonishing price of $32,000 per pair, out-pricing its contemporary competitors, the Infinity IRS and Levinson HQD. (By the end of their run, the WAMM sold for $88,000.)

WAMM was followed by a smaller-scale monitoring speaker, the WATT (the Wilson Audio Tiny Tot), which  broke new ground for smallish speakers, both in terms of price ($4400/pair in the mid-’80s) and in their acceptance as an industry standard for mobile or near-field monitoring. Paired with the matching Puppy woofer unit, the WATT/Puppy combo supposedly became the best-selling over $10k loudspeaker in history. Dave’s recordings also became accepted as standards of excellence; originally released as LPs, many are still available as downloads.

Over the last 35 years, Wilson Audio grew to become one of the few high-end audio brands whose name was familiar to non-audiophiles. Dave Wilson’s thorough development of  his designs led to long model runs, strong support for products in the field, and a recognizable house style of product design that was imitated worldwide. Even if you weren’t wild about the sound of Wilson speakers—and prior to Sophia, I was not a fan—one had to admire the care of finish and precision of assembly, the skill in demonstration, and the thoroughly professional approach of the company.

Another thing everyone agrees upon: Dave Wilson himself was one of the nicest, most genuine human beings who ever lived. I only knew him for a decade or so, and couldn’t claim to have known him well, unlike many in the biz—but every time I saw him he was friendly, warm, and always asked about my well-being and that of my children. I never knew him to say an unkind word about anyone, and yet—important, for this cynic—never found him to be saccharin or insincere. His far-ranging intelligence and puckish humor always made him a pleasure to talk to.

Whenever I  left Dave’s presence I felt  that I was fortunate to know him, and wished I were able to spend more time with him.

I can offer no higher praise.

RIP, Dave.

Our friend and contributor to Copper, Ken Kessler, wrote about his longtime friend Dave here.
Stereophile contributor/friend/Copper contributor Jason Victor Serinus wrote about Dave here;
Stereophile contributor/Analog Planet Editor/friend Michael Fremer posted an uncommonly wistful reminiscence of Dave here.

Letter from London

Lawrence Schenbeck

New York, May 22. I’ve had some of my favorite musical experiences here, beginning the first time I came forty years ago and popped down to the Village Vanguard on a Monday night, hoping to catch the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band. Didn’t happen. Gil Evans showed up instead, trying out new charts with an assortment of his peers. I remember Howard Johnson playing tuba. There was a woman who had a bewitching way with timpani, and a couple of French horn players, I think. What a night. Lovely music, fun to watch the crowd too. For a kid from Nebraska, the beginning of many eye-and-ear-opening experiences.

This is what we live for, isn’t it? We head out for a show, a concert, a solo recital, hoping—of course—to get what we think is in store, but also ready to be surprised. It’s fun to hear something new, even if we discover it within something quite old. C’mon, we say (silently) to the assembled musicians. Surprise me. Wake me up.

In New York, for me, that’s meant many things: Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Lutosławski with the Philharmonic. The World Saxophone Quartet at the old Village Gate. Ron Carter and Bill Frisell at the Blue Note. Theatre of Voices at Zankel Hall, offering Berio and David Lang. Kent Tritle conducting a heavenly Chichester Psalms at St. John the Divine, just a New Year’s Eve or two ago. And of course a few special nights at the Met, like when Karita Mattila transformed Janáček’s Jenůfa. This spring, though, NYC was just a way station on our journey to the UK. We saw some old friends, took in a show.

London, May 26. And so to the Royal Opera House. Arrived here just in time to catch the very last performance of Lessons in Love and Violence, composer George Benjamin’s follow-up to his enormously well-received Written on Skin (2012). I’ll say more about the new work in a moment, but let’s talk about the House itself. It’s a small room, at any rate smaller than the Met, roughly comparable in seating capacity to La Scala or the Wiener Staatsoper.* As elsewhere, rows of boxes line the three walls of the auditorium framing the proscenium. We sat in Orchestra J13 & 14, perhaps a third of the way back—perfect as far as both sound and sight lines go. The clarity and transparency of Benjamin’s scoring was readily apparent, also its power, delicacy, and exquisitely fluid timbres (we were about fifteen feet from the harp and cimbalom players, who filled one of the left balconies). At no time were the singers overbalanced; one also never sensed they were straining to fill the space. I wish I had even a few opera recordings that sounded this good. It was like having a world-class stereo rig at one’s command. Amazingly lifelike!

That’s meant to sound perverse and silly, of course. The point is, my experience vividly brought an old message home: we all need to get out of our person-caves more often in favor of live venues. We need constant reminders of what live, preferably un-amplified music sounds like, and how a hall contributes to the care and feeding of that sound. (I am reminded, sadly now, of David Wilson’s frequent visits to the Musikverein and other great venues.)

For make no mistake, another great performer we heard Saturday was the Royal Opera House itself. Small size, hardwood floors—no carpeting once you leave the lobby and lounges—plenty of wood-and-plaster barriers of irregular shape (masquerading as statuary and decoration) lining the boxes, stalls and walls. No better diffusor panels have ever been devised. Gently raked rows of floor-level seats, each one occupied by a human of different shape and size. In short: many surfaces, both hard and soft, commingled to produce lively, clear sound throughout the spectrum. (Click here to read further details about the acoustic remodeling at the ROH.)

As for the opera: working again with playwright Martin Crimp, Benjamin has produced another 90-minute marvel, a semi-abstract study of love’s deadly power in the hands of a King who values his (male) lover above all others and all else in his kingdom. Lessons in Love and Violence is both a gloss on and a critique of a late-16th-century play by Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, which is itself based on historical events related in Holinshead’s Chronicles. Like Written on Skin, it nevertheless suggests parallels with modern events and attitudes—indeed Katie Mitchell’s inventively cinematic production sets it in 21st-century times, complete with squads of reporters and bureaucrats at the ready. The opera raises basic issues about morality, psychology, a ruler’s responsibilities, and much more. If it were a puzzle, a handful of clues might help you “solve” it: (1) the stage settings feature reproductions of well-known paintings by Francis Bacon  plus (2) a giant tropical fish tank such as one might find in certain upscale restaurants. Oh, and (3) the king’s two children are nearly always present, watching every act of betrayal, adultery, and casual violence that takes place. As the opera ends, they seem destined to inherit their parents’ roles as murderous power brokers. Lessons, indeed. Benjamin’s boldly sculpted music offsets the story’s bitter misanthropy and the concentrated, nearly unrelieved tension of the whole presentation, but it’s a draining 90 minutes. It leaves you with a lot to think about, or else puzzle over.

It probably helps to know your Marlowe. And several more viewings of Lessons wouldn’t hurt. The ROH were filming the night we attended, as they had done previous nights, so it’s likely you’ll find the Blu-ray on Amazon eventually. The production quality of previous ROH video releases has been quite high; it’s reasonable to expect they’ll do this one right as well.

London, May 28. Trio Tre Voci at Wigmore Recital Hall. The absolute highlight of our stay. Trio Tre Voce is made up of three masters of their instruments: flutist Marina Piccinini, harpist Sivan Magen, and violist Kim Kashkashian (Wikipedia: “not to be confused with Kim Kardashian.” As if!). The centerpiece of the repertoire for this combination is Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, which this trio recorded a couple of years ago on an ECM album that includes Toru Takemitsu’s Dickinson-inspired And then I knew ’twas wind. Debussy’s music inspired Takemitsu and many other composers to write similarly scored trios, and the trend continues. At Wigmore, Tre Voci gave both Debussy and Takemitsu but also the UK premiere of a work commissioned from Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955), Arabesque. In a program note, Hosokawa says

My Arabesque is drawn with sounds, with two plant-like curves where the flute and viola have a yin-yang relationship. . . . The harp provides and supports the place in which they exist. I wanted to entrust the arabesque, naturally formed of eastern-like sounds, to these three instruments.

What I heard was a massive chaconne, similar to what Purcell or Britten might have fashioned, building to a climax whose gestures become so angular and abrupt, so extreme in their impact, that we might well be present at a Kabuki drama. The heroic energies needed to pull off such a piece in performance were catnip to these three. In charming transcriptions of Ravel’s Sonatine and a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, they put their skills to even more seductive use.

My wife and I fell into an interesting conversation with a fellow concertgoer, a film critic who had apparently been at the ROH Saturday night, perhaps even closer to the cimbalom than we were. He told us he had come late to his appreciation of chamber music, having been much more attracted to the power and color of orchestral concerts. But evenings like the one we experienced would certainly convert any such listener. With chamber music, you can hear each player’s heartbeat, sense the spontaneous communication between them, feel the rivers of energy they put forth. In a jewel-box of a hall like Wigmore, with its perfect acoustics, the visceral intensity of Trio Tre Voci’s music-making becomes overwhelming. And you get to share it with 500 other music lovers. That too—the act of sharing—is something audiophiles enjoy, and we need to do more of it.

* ROH: 2,256; La Scala: 2,030; Staatsoper: 2,276, including 567 standing-room places.

Conversing With Choueiri: Part 1, It's Not Rocket Science

Conversing With Choueiri: Part 1, It's Not Rocket Science

Conversing With Choueiri: Part 1, It's Not Rocket Science

Richard Murison

High-end audio is not rocket science … but don’t you ever wonder what would happen if a proper rocket scientist were to apply his expertise to the field? I know I do. So I looked one up, and asked him.

Professor Edgar Choueiri is Director of Princeton University’s Program in Engineering Physics, and Director of Princeton’s Electric Propulsion and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory (EPPDyL). He is tenured Full Professor in the Applied Physics Group at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, and associated faculty at the Astrophysical Sciences Department/Program in Plasma Physics at Princeton University. He is also Director of Princeton’s 3D Audio and Applied Acoustics (3D3A) Laboratory and has been interested in audio, acoustics and classical music recording for many years. He has invented a new technique for producing tonally pure three-dimensional sound from two loudspeakers. The technique allows a listener to hear sounds located in 3D space, as they would be heard in real life.

RM. So you really are a rocket scientist?

EC. Yes I am! Actually, I run two laboratories at Princeton University, a plasma space propulsion laboratory, and also an applied acoustics laboratory where we specialize in the reproduction of three-dimensional audio sound fields.

RM. Good. So you’d be the right person to explain to me how it is that we perceive sound in three dimensions, and what it would take to be able to properly reproduce that full three-dimensionality using a high-end audio system. This something that is close to the heart of most audiophiles. Perhaps you could start by explaining how we hear in 3D.

EC. We locate the source of a sound based on differences between how an individual sound is presented to our right and left ears, and in particular we rely on three types of cues. Because our two ears are located at different points in space, there will be a delay between when a given sound arrives at one ear and when it arrives at the other. We call this the Inter-aural Time Difference (ITD) and we can detect differences as short as 10μs. This lets us determine where a sound is coming from, from the left to the right. The same thing happens when we consider the Inter-aural Level Difference (ILD) where the sound reaches the first ear, and then decays somewhat before it reaches the second ear. The brain can detect ILD differences of 1dB or less.

RM. I can see how that helps us determine if something is to the left or to the right, but how about up and down? I’m pretty sure I am able to at least sense where things are located in the vertical dimension.

EC. If a sound source is directly in front of a person, the ITD and ILD will both be zero, so the ear/brain system clearly places the source as being straight in front of us. Yet the ear/brain system can also tell whether the source is at ear level, or if it is higher or lower, and neither ITD nor ILD can account for this, so clearly there is something else going on.

It turns out that we make use of spectral cues. As the sound makes its way to your ear canal, it interacts with your facial features, and in particular the pinnae of your ears. These effects serve to apply a tonal coloration to the sound. The tonal coloration applied in this way will be different depending on where in relation to your head the sound source is. This is why our pinnae [the flappy bits of our ears!] have evolved to be asymmetric – the tops are not the same as the bottoms – which helps us to locate sounds in the vertical plane.

RM. OK, that covers width and height, but what about depth?

EC. There is one other cue that we make use of to assess the distance of a sound source and that is the ratio of direct to reflected or reverberant sound. This is because the direct sound falls off in intensity at a consistent rate, whereas the reverberant sound tends not to drop nearly as quickly. So the ratio tends to change quite markedly with distance. These are things we interpret very strongly as depth cues.

RM. Can we measure any of these effects?

EC. We can easily measure all of these things with a small microphone inserted into our ear canals. And the result we get from your ears will be quite different from mine. It is like a fingerprint – we all seem to have a unique set of ears. If we measure the impulse response inside our ears using impulses located at all points in space – from points on a sphere around your head if you like – the result of that measurement is called the Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF). There are a lot of very promising technologies in the fields of Virtual and Augmented Reality that rely heavily on HRTFs.

Measuring a person’s HRTF is time consuming and expensive as it requires specialized equipment and software. One of the key technological challenges today is to be able to do this as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Essentially, you sit the subject in an anechoic chamber, put microphones in their ears, and surround them with, effectively, a sphere of loudspeakers. It typically takes about two hours. But once we have a person’s HRTF it remains pretty much constant, and won’t change over time unless something happens to their pinnae. We can store an HRTF in a file using a format called SOFA [Spatially Oriented Format for Acoustics], and you can carry it around with you on a USB stick. Here at Princeton, we can now measure an HRTF in about ten minutes, and if you call in on our laboratory we’d be happy to measure yours for you! We would like to obtain a large library of HRTFs, as we believe we can use that data to further reduce the process time.

RM. That’s pretty advanced stuff, then.

EC. Actually, all of the above is pretty much text-book stuff. You will find no Acoustician or Spatial Audio Scientist who will want to disagree with any of it.

RM. So where do the real challenges lie?

EC. How can we record a sound field correctly, and play it back spatially correctly so the listener perceives it as true 3D? Well, to do so we first have to capture all of those cues. And we should only need two channels, because we only have two ears. So a binaural recording, made with two microphones inside your two ears, or inside the ears of a dummy head, should be an excellent way to accomplish that, with the caveat that if we record it with your head we will be recording the spectral cues that are correct for you, but not for me. And if we record with my head, it will be correct for me but not for you. Even so, a binaural recording made on a well-designed dummy head will capture enough of these cues that it can be interpreted by most listeners as a 3D image, provided those cues are delivered correctly to the listener during playback. So your ear/brain may make some errors in where specific sounds are localized – you may perceive that violin to be located at an angle of 60 degrees off to the right instead 50 degrees – but the result will still be in 3D.

We can talk about these errors, and about the fact that it is not an absolute necessity to record binaurally, but it is definitely the best way to definitively capture all these cues. But regardless of how we capture these cues, once we have done so we have all the information we need to be able to recreate the original 3D image for the listener. All we have to do is recreate those original sound pressure waves in the ear canals of the listener. If we can do that, the listener should in principle perceive the original 3D image … so long as these cues are transmitted correctly during playback.

RM. Is that a problem? Do we usually transmit the cues incorrectly?

EC. The idea is that we should recreate the original sound pressure field as close as we can to the ear canals, and the listener should then perceive a 3D image. And to an extent that actually happens. The most obvious way to transmit these cues correctly is using headphones. But if you take an ordinary binaural recording and play it back through headphones, what you find is that only about 30% of people will perceive an external 3D sound field, and 70% will not. Why is that? It is because there is a mismatch between the HRTF of the dummy head used to make the binaural recording, and the individual listener’s HRTF, and it turns out that only about 30% of people are tolerant of such a mismatch.

But a much bigger problem is that in the real world if you rotate your head, the sound field remains stationary, whereas when you listen on headphones the entire 3D soundstage rotates with you. The ear/brain system gets badly confused by this, and as a result the perceived 3D sound field collapses completely, and it can stay collapsed even if you then hold your head still. In fact the brain tends to respond by placing the 3D sound field inside your head, and this is a well-known problem for the majority of headphone users.

RM. Yes indeed. This “inside-the-head” problem is something that many headphone enthusiasts would dearly love to be able to eliminate.

EC. One of the goals for headphone users is to be able to be able to localize a sound field outside of your head, and keep it there even as the head rotates. So-called ‘Crossfeed’ techniques attempt to address this, but they don’t do it very well, and they can’t compensate for the problems associated with rotating your head.

RM. What happens when you play a binaural recording through loudspeakers? They at least stay put when you rotate your head.

EC. With loudspeakers you tend to get a slightly diffuse sound field which is locked in the middle between the two speakers, with only a very slight extent forwards and backwards. And moreover, what you hear is totally dependent on the position of the speakers. That itself should tell you that you have a fundamental problem with playback. If stereo is correct, the positions of the speakers should actually have nothing to do with the stereo image. If a violin was recorded 10 feet away from you, and off to the left, why should the position of the speaker determine where it appears to be located during playback? It tells you that something is wrong with stereo … and actually, that is very well understood. Unfortunately, it is not very well understood within the community of high-end manufacturers!

In fact we can formulate a test that will apply if we truly have a methodology to recreate the original 3D sound field – we should be able to position the speakers wherever we want, and it shouldn’t change the sound field to any significant degree. The speaker positioning should become completely immaterial. So long as the necessary cues are transmitted to the ear/brain system – through the speakers somehow – then the listener will perceive the violin to be located exactly where it was during the recording, regardless of where the speakers are placed. Do you agree with me that this would be a good test if we had such a technique?

RM. Yes, that does make sense I suppose. Although I’ll have to think about it some more …

… which I’ll do before the next issue of Copper, when we’ll continue our conversation with Edgar Choueiri. And things will get very interesting indeed.

Claudia Schmidt

Claudia Schmidt

Claudia Schmidt

Anne E. Johnson

It’s been almost 40 years since a brainy, clear-voiced multi-instrumentalist from Michigan released her first collection of folksy yet idiosyncratic songs. Claudia Schmidt’s 14th solo studio album – that number doesn’t include a spoken-word effort and three duo albums with songwriter Sally Rogers — came out in February of 2018; I’m betting she’s got a bunch more in her.

Schmidt radiates that Midwestern folk-scene vibe: social, friendly, chilled-out, meditative, funny, in tune with nature – all of which flies out the window in the face of anything she considers to be injustice toward her fellow humans. Her lyrics reflect every one of these aspects of her personality, while her music shows influence from bluegrass, country, Irish traditional, American indigenous music, and jazz. Plus, she plays a distinctive instrument called a pianolin. Yes, it’s a cross between a piano and a violin, a bowed keyboard instrument!

The album Claudia Schmidt (1979) is an ideal introduction to her work. It’s a wild array of material, including, of all things, a cover of “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz. As for Schmidt’s songwriting, there’s no mistaking her solid folk chops in the jig-time “Drinking Buddy.” This song deals with what would become a recurrent theme in her songwriting career, an appreciation of what other people offer of themselves. In other words, friendship.

The musical arrangement features another of Schmidt’s signature instruments, the distinctly American four-stringed mountain dulcimer (held in the lap and strummed; not to be confused with the hammered dulcimer, which has 15 or more strings and is played by tapping the strings with wooden mallets).


This first album also offers proof of Schmidt’s social conscience as well as her ability to write songs with complex rhythmic and melodic ideas. “Old Woman Lament” describes the painful issue of poverty and isolation among America’s senior population. The unusual percussion-only accompaniment and the leaping intervals in the melody help convey the stress and fear that the song’s main character feels in her daily life:


In 1981, Schmidt released Midwestern Heart, which showed that the quality of her first work was no fluke. “The Man Who Visits Me,” featuring the pianolin, finds her in storyteller mode, viewing the scene from a unique perspective. Basically, it’s about a peeping Tom through the compassionate eyes of the lonely woman he’s stalking. This sort of thing has gotten Schmidt into hot water–not everyone appreciates it when a poet who’s empathetic with but not experienced in their situation takes over their voice. I find the forced perspective fascinating, if creepy.


The toe-tapping refrain of “Broken Glass,” a wistful reminiscence about an ex-lover, puts Schmidt in that class of folk songwriters trained in the glow of Peter, Paul & Mary, John Denver, and their ilk.


Another major influence on her is Pete Seeger (her cover of Seeger’s song “Old Devil Time” is well worth a listen). She channels that hero of American-grown music in the song “Tired of Going,” on the 1991 album Essential Tension. Seeger’s influence can be felt in the simplicity of expression and the repetition—think of his famed singalong numbers – but the jazz modulation in bridge makes it decidedly Schmidt’s:


After a stint as a bed-and-breakfast proprietor and restaurateur, not to mention putting out a jazz album and an audio collection of her poetry, Schmidt returned to her day-job, so to speak. Promising Sky, a rediscovery of her folk roots, came out in 2010.  Although most of the songs are accompanied by a string, jazz flute, and drum ensemble calling themselves the Funtet, “Wisconsin Country” uses Nancy Stagnitta’s flute in a whole-tone scale for a Native American sound:


Every good midwestern folk singer-songwriter has some witty songs in her bag, usually made with a teaspoon of sarcasm, a cup of self-deprecation, and a pint of left-leaning feminist perspective. On the unfortunately-titled New Whirled Order (2014), there’s a perfect example of this genre, “The Strong Woman Has a Bad Day Polka.” As they say, it’s funny because it’s true:


The work continues. Hark the Dark: Reflections on Winter (2018) is Schmidt’s latest release. Her lifetime of living in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota has taught her a thing or two about long, cold seasons. Typical of her, she approaches the topic from a range of angles. On the one hand, there’s a cover of Irving Berlin’s standard, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”; at the other extreme is a quasi-traditional “Solstice Chant.”

“The Darkening” is a pianolin meditation with vocalise. Some songwriters only mellow to the meditation stage later in life, but this is a continuation of normal for the thoughtful Schmidt. And I admire the way she’s clung to this odd instrument as a calling card for her whole career.


Besides keeping a busy schedule of writing, touring, and recording, Schmidt always has her hands in other projects. She wrote award-winning incidental music for Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechuan for the famed Goodman Theater in Chicago. A couple of seasons ago at a theater festival in New York I saw an early version of Final Approach, the short musical about Amelia Earhart that she’s developing with playwright Laurie McLaughlin.

A bit far from the folk scene? Not at all. Think of it as seed and fertilizer for all the songs to come.

Sonos: Bad News and Less-Bad News

Bill Leebens

Since its founding in 2002, Sonos has stood apart in many ways from other booming California tech companies. For starters, Sonos is headquartered in Santa Barbara— better-known for tourists than tech— and not in Silicon Valley. The company also started up without venture capital, and had consistent leadership from a founder for 14 years—both rarities in Bay area tech companies.

The company once completely dominated the distributed-sound world with its multiroom systems, but the appearance of Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo — and similar subsequent offerings from Google and Apple—led to an unstated number of  layoffs in March, 2016. Founder/CEO John MacFarlane stepped down in January, 2017, and also left his seat on the board.

In 2015, the company was said to have $1B in sales. It’s unclear what the number is today; a company spokesman recently stated only that Sonos “is profitable”. Over the last several years the possibility of an IPO listing has been mentioned several times. Early this April, longtime Sonos critic Daniel Sanchez of Digital Music News noted that an IPO by itself will not “save Sonos from extinction.” 

Later the same month, news stories reported that Sonos had indeed filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission with the intention of holding an IPO as soon as it could be executed—possibly as soon as June, with a market valuation of $2.5-$3B. And what often occurs ahead of an IPO?

You guessed it–layoffs. This time, the number mentioned was 96 workers, about 6% of a workforce stated as 1500 (also mentioned in last issue’s Industry News). That’s where the company stands at this moment. It’ll be interesting to watch developments as the IPO occurs. The recent IPO of Spotify, often mentioned in the same breath as Sonos,  has not produced the growth hoped-for by potential investors:  in the two months since the offering, shares have gone from $148 to around $158, about a 6% increase.

Short stories:

Monster Products made a less-expected SEC filingMonster Products—you know, that company once known as Monster Cable —intends to launch a $300M offering of “Monster Money” cryptocurrency. This latest move shouldn’t really be a shock, given the company’s past history of suing anything and everything with a similar name (mocked nicely by Gizmodo), losing the golden egg of Beats (detailed here-–thanks again, Gizmodo!), or investing in online gambling, or spending a zillion bucks on an embarrassing, ego-fodder ad during the Super Bowl, and yet…

Issues with Gibson bankruptcy. We recently reported that Gibson Brands had been forced by creditors to enter into a pre-arranged Chapter 11 filing in the Delaware District of Federal Bankruptcy court. To the surprise of virtually no one who has followed the company’s tumultuous debt-wrangling of recent years, there are problems: less than a month after the filing, major unsecured debtors including Philips have disputed the legitimacy of a $135M DIP (debtor-in-possession) financing arrangement, designed to keep the company afloat. Hearings are scheduled to determine what happens next.

It's All In The Materials

It's All In The Materials

It's All In The Materials

Charles Rodrigues


Roy Hall

“What’s that black circle?” I asked the technician while looking at the ghostly images on the screen. The contrast between the ethereal wisps and the circle was striking. “I don’t know”, he said, but I did.

I had been having pains in my groin and had visited two or three doctors who poked, prodded and violated me to no avail. The fourth doctor said,  “Have you ever had a sonogram?” That’s when he sent me to the technician.

About half an hour after I returned home from the test, my doctor called. “We found something in your left testicle and I’ve booked you in for surgery. I would like you to come to the hospital tomorrow for tests and the surgery will be the following day. Any questions?” What questions do you ask at a time like this? Will I die? How long do I have to live?

I said, “Will I still be able to make love?”


Will I still be able to have children?”


I didn’t believe him.

The next evening after all the tests, I was woken up around 10 p.m. and told that I had to go back downstairs for another X-ray. When asked why, someone said that they had found a mark on my lung and wanted another look. They took the X-ray and I asked for the results but all I got was, “The doctor will tell you tomorrow.”

It was now 11.30 at night and no doctor was around. I panicked and thought that the cancer had metastasized and I was going to die. I became maudlin. Thinking that I would never see my four-year old son grow up I started to cry. I got so low that I begged the nurse for a sleeping pill, which mercifully kicked in early.

The next morning, while being wheeled into surgery I asked my doctor about the X-ray. “It was nothing, just a mark on your lung.” I could have killed him but by then the anesthetic was taking effect. The operation was painless. Recovery was swift but then I had to visit the oncologist. He told me that the mass was malignant but encapsulated, (apparently this is good) and suggested a course of radiation lasting 3 weeks, 15 sessions in all.

The first session was memorable. While watching TV in the waiting room, I saw the lift-off and destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger. All seven crewmembers died. So in a state of shock, I entered the radiation department. All dignity disappears when you enter the medical system. I was laid down on a morgue-like slab and the radiologist, after choosing a section of my midriff, marked me up like a side of beef. I was then moved under this giant machine – it looked like an oversized Kitchenaid mixer without the accessories. The technician focused the machine on the outline of the magic marker and then, as a final indignity, shoved what I can only describe as a leaden cowbell over my lonely remaining testicle. “Don’t move,” he said and I heard a sharp buzzing. A few minutes later I was released and allowed to leave. The next morning I repeated this.  Initially, oddly enough, the most bothersome part of this procedure was the magic marker. The outline was demeaning and upset me terribly. I complained and they offered me an alternative, tattoos at the corners of the polygon. I settled for that and I still have them today.

As the days passed I started to get nauseous; I also started to notice the other patients. I saw children with no hair, people so skeletal that I knew that they were not long for this world, and a mix of sullen and stoic people dealing with their illness.  Although the staff was wonderful and compassionate, it was not a cheery place. My nausea was worsening because the radiation was destroying the intestinal barrier in my stomach lining and the pills to reduce symptoms didn’t work. Everything tasted bad; my stomach was constantly upset. I spent too much time in the toilet. I asked my oncologist about this and he said it was a side effect of the treatment and would soon pass. I didn’t believe him. He then filled out a 5-part prescription form, which he signed then had someone else countersign it.

“Take this down to the hospital pharmacy.” he said.

I did as I was told and when the pharmacist saw it, he too had someone countersign it. He went in the back and came out with a supersized pillbox and handed it to me. Bewildered by all this fuss, I opened the container and started to laugh. Inside were 20 perfectly rolled joints.

The pot did alleviate the nausea but it also made me even more depressed.  What had started out as ennui, slowly developed into melancholia then depression. Nothing gave me joy. Each day was like the previous one, no hope, only despair. Intellectually I knew this was because of the radiation but as a person with a generally positive outlook, this feeling was alien to me. As I sunk deeper and deeper into despondency I had to muster what resources I had to not fall off the looming precipice. These symptoms occurred towards the end of my treatment and on the last day, when it was finally over, I felt flat. No happiness, no sadness, no relief, nothing.

I did learn something good from this experience. Up until then, I hadn’t taken depression seriously but having tasted it I now knew how real it could be.

About a week later, the symptoms of nausea and depression started to wane and I decided to re-enter the world of the living. I called up a friend and on a glorious, early spring day, we drove out to Reading Pennsylvania to visit a customer. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and I was alive.

Musicians, Restauranteurs, Plumbers

Musicians, Restauranteurs, Plumbers

Musicians, Restauranteurs, Plumbers

Richard Murison

You read a lot of brouhaha within the audio community about how musicians are not making any money out of streaming services.  There are so many streaming services available these days – with some now even offering high-resolution lossless content – and much like Netflix in the video domain, we as consumers can now access a lot of content for a nominal (i.e. affordable) outlay.  How, people ask, can the musicians who create the music in the first place be making any money out of it?

About three years ago, a study was published which analyzed the French revenues of the streaming service Spotify, and broke down how that revenue was divvied up among the Streaming Service itself, the Record Labels, the Writers/Composers, and the Artists.  The report was prepared by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, so it has at least a minimum acceptable level of credibility, and is still available on the web site of Music Business Worldwide.  It would not be unreasonable to extrapolate these figures across all of Spotify’s operations.

Ask yourself this – according to the report, for every dollar you spend on Spotify, just how much of it ends up in the pocket of the artist whose music you are listening to?  Before you go on to read the answer, I want you to ponder the issue for a moment and ask yourself how much you think OUGHT to go to the artist?  Also, stop for a moment to consider the rationale behind your calculation, so that it is a little bit more than a number you pulled out of thin air.  On what basis do you think the artist ought to receive whatever it was that you thought was appropriate?  Include, if you like, any and all of the streaming services you may subscribe to (TIDAL, Qobuz, Apple Music, etc.).

So what figure did you come up with?  50 cents?  20 cents?  10 cents?  The actual answer according to Ernst & Young turned out to be less than 7 cents.  Not seven cents every time you listen to a track, but 7 cents out of every dollar you spend.  If you subscribe to Spotify’s premium service that’s about $10 a month, which works out to 70 cents a month to be shared among all of the artists that you listen to.  Let’s imagine that you are a serious listener and stream 20-25 tracks a day.  And let’s assume for the sake of the argument that this money gets split evenly among the artists you listened to on a per-play basis.  In that scenario you’d be playing about 700 tracks a month.  So each time you played a track, the artist you were listening to would earn something like one tenth of one cent.

In some circles, this arouses the anger of musicians who feel that the Spotifys of this world are screwing them out of their rightful earnings.  But there are two problems with that.  The first is that, as best as anyone can tell, none of these streaming services are actually making any money … Spotify’s $26 Billion IPO notwithstanding!  It is one thing to argue a case against someone who is making off with truck loads of cash, earned off the backs of others’ minimum-wage labor, but another thing entirely to vent your spleen at someone who isn’t even profitable – unless your complaint is about the lack of adequate profit margins, which would be an entirely different discussion.

Which brings me to the second problem.  Can it really cost that much money to run Spotify?  What happens to all the money they rake in, which in 2017 amounted to a whopping €3.7 Billion?  The answer is that Spotify pays the majority of it to the Record Labels.  Spotify France pays about 17 cents on the dollar in taxes, and uses 21 cents to run its own operations … so any profit they made would have to come out of that 21 cent share.  The rest – amounting to nearly two-thirds of their revenues – is paid directly to the Record Labels.  In other words, Spotify doesn’t have any say in how much of their take goes to the Artists.  That is entirely within the purview of the Record Labels.  And according to Ernst & Young, only about €0.26 Billion of that €3.7 Billion would have ended up distributed among the artists.

Let’s take a look at the money that the Labels receive – how do they distribute that?  According to the Music Business Worldwide report, only 11% of what the Labels receive goes to the Artists.  Another 16% goes to the Songwriters and Publishers, which means that the Labels grab a whopping 73% of Spotify’s pie.  That’s a lot of pie.  But also take great care to note that the Songwriters and Publishers net more than the Artists do – those songwriting credits turn out to be seriously important.

It is therefore wrong-headed for Angry Artists to get their panties in a bunch over Spotify eating their lunch.  It is the Labels who are doing all the munching … which is how it’s been for as long as there has been a music industry.  But, the argument goes, it is a different world in 2018.  Labels used to have to pay for record stamping plants, or even CD stamping plants.  They had to maintain a sales force to get their product stocked by the music stores, and a promotional force to get their customers into the stores.  Plus the costs of transporting the product internationally.  Today this doesn’t happen any more.  All of the above is theoretically replaced by an “Upload” button that someone has to click on.

But even taking all of that into account, it still misses the point entirely for the Artists to be taking pot shots at the Labels.  If the Artist feels that the Label is charging too much for what they provide, then their solution ought to be simple – they don’t have to sign with a Label.  Like just about any transaction, if you don’t like the price, you don’t have to make the purchase.  Unfortunately though, the majority of Artists don’t actually have the option to hold out for a better deal.  There are many more emerging Artists out there than there are Labels with available deal space.  The idea that Joe And The Nobodies can shop around and choose the Label that offers them the best deal is a pipe dream.

For the Artist then, what are the alternatives?  The obvious one is that they can start their own Label.  Sure they can … there’s nothing to stop them.  Is there?

The view from the other side of the fence is not all roses either (although I’m anything but a Labels fanboy).  As a Label, you are hopefully making money from your roster of Artists.  But they come and go, as do their sales.  You always need to be replenishing your portfolio.  For every new Artist that you have a budget to sign, there are a hundred who are convinced that they are The One.  So for starters, you’ll need to be really smart about which ones you sign and which ones you pass on.  But that’s not a problem, is it?  After all, you’re not as dumb as the Decca executive who said no to The Beatles because ‘guitar music was going out of style’ … are you?

Once you’ve signed a new Artist you are going to need to pay for some studio time to record their new album.  Maybe pay some studio musicians.  You’ll need to pay people to design the cover work and take publicity shots.  You’ll need legal work to get all the contracts and copyrights in place.  You’ll probably need professional video work doing.  You’ll need to schedule radio and TV spots if you’re sufficiently gung-ho about their prospects.  And you’ll need to cut those deals with Spotify et al.  All those expenses must be incurred without any guarantee that you’ll ever generate a penny in sales.  And for every Artist who generates a handy revenue stream for you, there will be four or five who fail to make any sort of impact at all.

For these reasons, most Labels are very hands-on when it comes to their stable of Artists.  They will want to control a large part of the product, how it sounds, whose arrangements are used – they’ll even kick members of the band they don’t like out of the studio and bring in better session musicians.  If they don’t like your songs they’ll use their own songwriters.  The Labels are in the business of knowing what will sell and what won’t.  They won’t always get it right, but like a professional stock trader, they’ll get it right more often than you will.  After all, even the poor sod at Decca who turned down The Beatles (his name was Dick Rowe) went on to sign The Rolling Stones.  Consequently, Artists very soon find out exactly where on the totem pole a place has been reserved for them, even as their backs are being patted and their egos stroked.

So, as musicians, if you have the wherewithal to do all of that yourselves, you don’t need the services of a Label.  You can form your own Label and make ten times as much money as you might otherwise have done … although if you’re not as smart as you thought you were, you’ll lose ten times as much.  Failing that, you have little choice but to work within the established Label system, always assuming you can get one sufficiently interested.  Otherwise, as one certain Norman Tebbitt might have put it, you’re going to have to get ‘on yer bike’ and find a proper job … 🙂

Here’s the thing about musicians in particular, but Artists generally.  And it’s the nub of this whole piece.  You are only an Artist while you are creating art for your own personal satisfaction.  As soon as you aim to sell it for even a modest profit you become a businessperson, no different from a restaurant owner or a plumber.  Like it or not, doing business is a dog-eat-dog world, and regardless of whether you’re selling art or amplifiers you need to have a minimum of business savvy if you are going to make a living at it.  You’ll need to be able to identify the smart things you should be doing, as well as the dumb things you should be avoiding.  The world has very little sympathy for poor businesspeople … it generally won’t pay $10 for something if there is something else it thinks might be just as good available at $9.95.  Don’t take my word for it.  Spend some time in Walmart.  [Of course, you should also spend some quality time scratching your head in an Apple store!]

My advice, for what it’s worth, to aspiring professional musicians is this.  Think of yourselves as businesspeople first and foremost.  Would you open a paint store that only sold blue paint because you felt a desire to pay homage to Picasso’s Blue Period?  I know I wouldn’t.  On the other hand, I might if I were smart enough to accurately identify a genuine unmet need in blue paint that everybody else had somehow missed.  The thing about business is that more often than not the best thing to do is not the same as the thing you really wanted to do.  If you can’t – or won’t – see that, and are not prepared to adapt accordingly, then your prospects for success will have a lot in common with buying a lottery ticket.  Bear in mind that most of us do not make particularly good businesspeople … just as we rarely win the lottery.  In which case you can still be an Artist, and create art entirely for your own satisfaction – but in your spare time, since you’ll have a ‘proper’ job to do as well.