Issue 67

Every New Beginning

Every New Beginning


Welcome to Copper #67!

It may be my Irish heritage and genetic memories of last call, but the melancholy song "Closing Time" has always resonated with me. For those who have somehow avoided this late-'90s classic, a key line is "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

Okay: it's not exactly Schopenhauer, and may be a tad sophist, but there is a fair amount of wisdom contained within that line. And so, as we move the PS Audio factory from our home of many years to a big new building (all the way across the street), there is wistfulness mixed with the excitement. Some clean-up remains, but the basic move is over, the toasts have been made---and so we begin, again.

Getting into #67, Larry Schenbeck tells us about a new opera, whose subject is---Steve Jobs?? Dan Schwartz is under the weather, so we'll revisit his piece on the Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound; Richard Murison writes about teamwork, and not in an eye-rolling way; Jay Jay French's piece is entitled "The Needle and the Damage Done"---and I'll let you determine what it's about Roy Hall has still more (!!) love storiesAnne E. Johnson examines some lesser-known cuts from Peter GabrielChristian James Hand deconstructs the '70s chestnut that is "Free Bird"---and I think you'll be astonished at the level of musicianship that was involved. ask, have you heard that stuff?— and continue looking at the technology of playing records.

Industry News looks at the never-ending drama of Gibson Brands; and our friend Tom Methans brings us a feature on some unusual wines.

Copper #67 concludes with Charles Rodrigues looking at an issue with phaseand a Parting Shot from a recent day-trip to Colorado's Lookout Mountain.

Woody Woodward is still on sabbatical, and will return in a few issues.

Thanks for reading. See you soon!

Cheers, Leebs.

50 Ways to Read a Record Part 3

50 Ways to Read a Record Part 3

50 Ways to Read a Record Part 3

Bill Leebens

It’s difficult to explain the basics of a highly-technical process like record playback without getting bogged down in eye-rolling minutiae. I’ll try to stick to the big-picture trends and details, and avoid nerding out. But when you get right down to it—a major part of audiophilia is nerding out—no?

But I digress.

In the big picture, record playback is just the process of tracking the groove. If you’ve ever encountered a jukebox or a transcription turntable from the ’40s or ’50s, designed to play back 78s, you’ll have seen the massive tonearms and bulky cartridges that often required ounces in tracking force—not grams.  Remember, an ounce is 28.3495 grams— let’s say roughly 28 1/2 grams. The manual for the RCA 70-D transcription ‘table, state of the art at its introduction in 1948, specifies tracking weight at 28 grams, plus or minus 1/2 gram—which is damned near close to an ounce. For comparison, depending on when they were minted—the metallic composition varied in density— a US penny runs from 2.5 grams to 3.11 grams. A nickel runs about 5 grams—and as a kid, I saw phonographs with nickels taped to the tonearm’s headshell, a brute-force method of improving tracking.

I’d still love to have one, but it may well rumble like a freight train with stereo records. Only 150 pounds in that cabinet.

While those weights sound  horrific in the context of a stereo microgroove vinyl record, keep in mind that 78s had much larger grooves, and thus the downforce is distributed over a much larger surface area than with a modern 45/45 microgroove record. Even today, with a modern tonearm and cartridge designed for 78 playback, optimal downforce is usually considered to be in the 4-5 gram range.

If you’re looking for simple, straightforward, factual history—you need to stay away from the history of 78s. For starters, from the turn of the century through the ’20s, record speeds were not standardized, and different labels had their own “house” speeds—which could vary anywhere from 70 to 100 rpm. To make matters even more confusing, groove sizes weren’t standardized, either. Pre-1940, most mainstream labels had grooves playable by a conical or spherical stylus of  around 3 mil in diameter(a mil being one one-thousandth of an inch—so 3 mil= 0.003″), but again, earlier and more obscure labels varied from that. Post-1940, most 78 grooves were playable with a 2.7 mil stylus.

Back in the day,  many phono cartridge companies offered a variety of playback styli for archival work. Today, Esoteric Sound, maker of present-day Rek-O-Kut products, still offers kits with a wide range of styli size in both cartridges and replacement styli to assist in playback of early records.

Everything we’ve just discussed? Forget it all, when it comes to the 33 1/3 rpm LP (long-playing record) introduced by Columbia in 1948. The discs themselves were thinner than 78s, made from vinyl rather than shellac and clay, and the grooves were far finer. The LP thus had both longer playing time and (in general) lower surface noise than 78s. The LP was developed by a team at CBS Labs in Stamford, Connecticut, near New York City. The team leader was Dr. Peter Goldmark, a polymath who had previously led development of early rotating-disk color television systems, and subsequently helped develop videotape technology and scanning imaging systems for lunar landers. Goldmark’s 1973 autobiography, Maverick Inventor: My Turbulent Years at CBS can still be found on Amazon and other outlets. It’s an interesting read, though it does tend to be self-serving. But then: what autobiography isn’t?

As if the change to the microgroove wasn’t enough upheaval—stereo made matters even more complex. While stereo recordings had been made in the early 1930’s by Alan Blumlein at EMI in England and by Keller and Fletcher at Bell Labs in the US—the famous Stokowski recordings—development of stereo discs didn’t pick up momentum until the LP was on the market. The obvious question was: how do you record two separate channels of information to a disc, and then play it back? Several developers opted for two separate grooves; most famous of these was Emory Cook, whose Cook Laboratories released a number of binaural recordings, including demo discs featuring trains—soon to become a stereo cliche’. Cook’s two-groove method required two separate cartridges, and clip-on cartridge assemblies were produced to adapt existing turntables.The other contender was ultimately the victor: the 45/45 single groove method, which cut both channels into a single groove. The method had been explored by Bell Labs in the ’30s, and was revived by Western Electric offshoot Westrex, in the ’50s. As we’ve written about previously, the first single single-groove stereo discs were released in the US by the tiny Audio Fidelity label, using Westrex demo material. The warring formats and commercial competition can be read in contemporary accounts archived here, and it’s pretty  gripping stuff.

Somehow, a sidebar has grown into a full column. We’ll get back on track with a look at the nuts and bolts of record playback in the next issue of Copper.

Free Bird!

Christian Hand

On October 20th, 1977, a Convair CV-240 carrying the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and their touring party went down just outside Gillsburg, Miss. The crash took the lives of the pilot, co-pilot, Skynyrd’s Assistant Road Manager, their guitarist Steve Gaines. his older sister Cassie , who sang back-ups, and the band’s charismatic lead-singer, Ronnie Van Zant, who was 29 at the time of the his death. In a horrible twist of fate Aerosmith’s management had, just prior, refused to hire the plane and crew for their tour citing fears of the professionalism and air-worthiness of both. The accident ended the lives of the band members a mere three years after their debut album had given the World one of it’s quintessential rock songs.

Is there any tune more maligned than “Free Bird”? I would proffer that the answer is a hard “No.” There may be songs that are mocked just as much, “Never Gonna Give You Up” would be on that list, but, I don’t think that there is any tune that has been as misunderstood as this CLASSIC. How many times a years does some douche-bag, at some random show, live event, wedding, bar-mitzvah, or ANYTHING, yell “Free Bird!!”? I am going to guess that the number is around 3.8 million. Although,I DID just make that statistic up.

There is only one member of the original line-up still alive, but the crew that worked on “Free Bird” is as follows:

Drums – Bob Burns. Passed-away in 2015

Bass – Ed King who plays bass on this album but soon after was replaced by Leon Wilkison’s return to the band as bassist which, in-turn, meant that King took over guitar duties and the bands “Triple Axe Attack” line-up was concreted. King passed away in August of 2018.

Piano – Billy Powell. He was originally a roadie for the band until they heard him playing keys during sound-check and immediately drafted him to the position. Passed away in 2009.

Organ/Mellotron – Al Kooper (who Produced the record) under the alias Roosevelt Gook.

Rhythm/Slide Guitar – Gary Rossington. Survived the plane-crash. He is the only member of this line-up to still be playing and touring with L.S.

Acoustic/Lead Guitar – Allen Collins. Passed-away in 1990.

Vocals – Ronnie Van Zant. Died in the plane-crash in 1977 at the age of 29.

The band entered Doraville, Georgia’s, Studio One in March of ’73 to record their eponymous debut album. It would go on to include “Tuesday’s Gone”, Gimme Three Steps”, “Simple Man”, “Things Goin’ On”, and the album, and every live show from that point on’s, closer, the 9 minute opus that is, “Free Bird.” This is a debut album that is partly responsible for the success of “Southern Rock” as a genre. Although Skynyrd is considered to be “Hard Southern Rock.” And, yes, according to those in The Know. there IS a difference.

Free Bird

Al Collins had been playing the chord progression to this song for, by all accounts, YEARS, but Van Zant always complained that it had “too many chords” and that he couldn’t find a melody to fit over the top of them. Then, in a rehearsal, Collins started to play the part and Ronnie had him loop it and in 5 minutes the lyrics were finished and the rest is, quite literally, HISTORY.

The drums on “Free Bird” are a beautiful example of “Playing to the song.” Bob Burns’ track is bedrock. But, each section of the song has its own part, its own vibe. I particularly love the ghost-note ruffs in the choruses. The use of the double-time hits at the 4:30 mark that allows for the start of the lead section is inspired. It is a fantastic bit of fluidity that feeds the energy to the rest of the band in order to get them to unleash the hounds of the latter FIVE MINUTES OF THE SONG. The pushed hits at 6:12 are perfectly placed. Then there is a break-down at 6:30 that is BUILT for crowd-pleasing in any arena! Then at 7:22 it is “Snare-Roll March Time” for 30 seconds and THEN rolls and cymbals hits and THEN it’s DOUBLE-DOUBLE TIME!! Then back to the hits AND double-double-time…and THEN “Big Fuck Off Rock Groove” to BIG ENDING!! AND HITS!! AND MORE HITS!! AND THEN BIIIIIG ENDING/ENDING!! Good grief. It’s nine-and-a-half-minutes where you get to play just about every Rock’n’Roll Drum Trope imaginable. And it never seems to be “too much.” That in itself is an accomplishment. Oh, and lest we forget, the live version is, generally, another FIVE MINUTES LONGER!! Fantastic work, Burnsie!

Ed King’s bass-part on this track is a mind-blower. Just listen to attached audio. It is absolutely gob-smacking. I had no idea that it was this beautiful. King wrote “Incense & Peppermints” while in The Strawberry Alarm Clock and you can feel the presence of Macca and James Jamerson all over this thing. This ain’t Southern Rock. Not at all. It is, almost, a 9 minute bass solo. I am in love with it. I know, and I’m sure you do too at this point, that I am huge fan of hyperbole, so, let me just say that I think this bass part might be the Best Kept Secret in all of Rock’n’Roll. There is NO way that even the BEST Bar Band in America is playing this friggin’ thing right! The peddles at the 7:20 mark are straight Iron Maiden. The rolling melody straight Macca. But, King is also playing chords, leads, countermelodies for days, booming bottom-end rides, and the walk-up thing that he does at around eight minutes is ABSURD! Amazing to think that by the end of the recording of the album Wilkison returns to the Bass Dept and King is off to play guitar with the other two. This is his Masterpiece, as far as i m concerned. Listen, you probably won’t disagree.

The next thing that we get to hear is the piano/organ/acoustic/guitar/mellotron stem. There’s a LOT of information to be found. The entire song can be heard in this one. There is more than a passing reference to Bowie in it. More than a little Mick Ronson. Rossington and Collins provide the rhythm guitars and acoustics, respectively. Perfectly “Tetris’d” together arpeggios and strums provide the sinuous back-bone to what seemed to be a simple Bar Rocker. It isn’t. Not at all. This song is so much more complicated than you’ve imagined. And then, at 3:40, Kooper fires up the Mellotron and a texture that you never would have thought would make an appearance shows-up and suddenly “Free Bird” becomes a much more “Three Dimensional” song, as far as I am concerned. It’s a VERY sophisticated choice and one that could only have been brought to the table by a bloke who worked with Hendrix on Electric Ladyland. And then we’re off to the races for the ending jam. Acoustics banging away. Honky-tonk piano. Gospel organ. The whole soup. Beautiful. Southern Rock.

Gary Rossington was one of the survivors of the plane crash, although its effects would ripple through his life in the form of a pain-killer addiction. Once again, i think that “Free Bird” is everything he does brilliantly in ONE song. The slide playing is the soul of this thing. It IS the song. That melody is impossible to imagine it existing without. The subtle bends, finger picks, bottle-slides, pinch-harmonics, finger-taps, it’s The Blues. Flawlessly executed. One would hope that Clapton was impressed. He should’ve been,

And then…THE LEAD! Holy smokes. Allen Collins earns his keep in the, close to five minute long, closing solo that moves from style to style, weaving from one to the next with ease and grace. Fireworks!! Wtf?! I can only imagine what it must’ve been like to be in the room to hear him laying this thing down live. What an experience. And then…THERE’S TWO OF THEM! And it just keeps going and going and going and going! There are more riffs to be found in this 5 minutes than most bands cram into an entire album! Of note is the fact that he was seriously injured in the plane crash and it was suggested that one of his arms be amputated, his father refused the procedure and Collins went on to heal and continued to play until January, 1986, when, while driving under the influence, he crashed his car, killing his girlfriend, and paralyzing himself from the waist down. He never played guitar on stage again. His death in 1990 was due to pneumonia related to his paralysis. A tragic, tragic, tale. It was Allen’s wife who asked him “If i leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?” And that question has gone on to ring throughout rock history. Isn’t music amazing?

But possibly the greatest tragedy in all of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legend is the death of Ronnie Van Zant. He was around 25/26 when he cut the vocal to “Free Bird” and, similar to the experience of hearing him singing “Simple Man”, it is hard to imagine how that is possible. He sounds ancient as he sings the words to this one. It is even more poignant, and dramatic, that his death would come a mere three years hence, in a plane crash. Sometimes the stories are too much to be able to imagine that they are real. And you would never believe them if they were in a movie. Van Zant had told many of his friends that he knew that he wouldn’t see his 30th birthday and his death at 29 proved that prophecy true. Listen to him sing these words and marvel at the ageless nature of the presentation. He wasn’t from around these parts. It’s a testament to the band that they went on without him. What a pair of boots to fill. Take a moment, turn off the phone, and listen to him. There is wisdom in those words.

“Free Bird” has become a part of the furniture at this point. A song that we just hear. But it requires more. You should LISTEN to it. As a closing track to an album it is perfect. As the closing track to a band’s debut album it is incredible. As the closing track to the debut album of a band who would go on to suffer such tragedy…it is implausible.

Gary is the only one left. And he’s still going. And he is still singing this one every night.

Heart-breaking. But, also, inspiring.

It was a Herculean task to try and accomplish breaking this song down in roughly 20 minutes. But, we gave it a whirl.

Please listen to “Free Bird” afterwards, you will appreciate it more, I promise…here’s your guide.

Thanks so much for reading!

See you at the next one,

Stay Golden.


Lookout Mountain, Colorado

Lookout Mountain, Colorado

Lookout Mountain, Colorado

Bill Leebens

The Gibson Saga Continues

Bill Leebens

We’ve written about the continuing saga of Gibson Brands numerous times, most recently when they filed Chapter 11.  As has been the case with many major companies in decline, Gibson financed a buying spree of companies with massive debt—and now it’s unable to even service that debt.

In the latest episodes of this soap opera, the company has finally begun a search for a replacement for longtime CEO Henry Juszkiewicz. Juszkiewicz’s wholesale purchases of dozens of consumer electronics companies were the cause of the company’s massive debt-load, and his firing was demanded by creditors.

In just the last week, Gibson has sought to dismiss a $50 million lawsuit brought against them by one of their suppliers. Tronical is a German company that developed an auto-tuning technology that Gibson first adopted in 2007; Tronical is suing for breach of contract and unpaid profits from units sold. Press reports of Gibson’s efforts to dismiss have somehow inflated the amount of Tronical’s action to $60 million. At this point, who knows what’s correct?

And finally, just a few days ago Gibson announced their 2019 lineup of guitar models. The number of models has been drastically reduced, compared to the offerings of the last few years.

It will be interesting to follow the progress of reorganization efforts as electronics companies are sold off, a new CEO is found, and the company addresses criticisms of dismal product quality. There will undoubtedly be more twists and turns in the months to come.

Wine Like Grandpa Used to Make

Tom Methans

When I told Editor Bill Leebens that I write about wine for a living, he wanted exciting, off-the-wall stories about my day job. Such anecdotes might have been more common during my time in wine auctions when millionaires swooped in to buy up all the cases of 1982 Latour, Lafite, and Mouton, but I’m no longer involved with trends, scores, and prices of commodity wines. Nowadays, my work revolves around searching out more affordable and accessible products, making me the envy of my wife’s friends, family, and colleagues. “He gets paid to taste wine? Where do I sign up?”  Next comes the inevitable recommendation request. “Ask him what I should drink,” thinking that I know the exact $20 bottle they too would love. After twenty years of retailing, consulting, and marketing, my personal tastes have long departed the mainstream and gone back to wine’s genesis, like switching from EDM to pure Delta Blues. I only want soulful, complex, natural stuff – straight out of the dirt, and that’s what I hope other wine drinkers will try.

Every week salespeople and producers bring me new and interesting products to evaluate for my restaurant and store accounts. I also attend the equivalent of audio shows for wine professionals where I meet winemakers and grape growers. I ask them about their portfolio, winemaking practices and farming philosophy as I weave from table to table, sipping and spitting up to one hundred wines. It’s certainly not the worst way to spend a workday. But then there’s the junk I have to wade through: market-driven, mass-produced wines that pose as genuine articles.

Some wine, especially the ones with cute labels and creative backstories, are nothing more than an exercise in branding. There are all kinds of media personalities, conglomerates, and ad-men that dream up wine labels with no tradition, skill, or provenance behind them. Just tap into reservoirs of surplus wine, hire a consultant, invent the marketing and anyone can set up a label. I’ve even received offers to start my own brand. If I had to find wine that met my standards, it would never make it to the bottling line.

Most consumers believe that their wine is a healthy all-natural drink made from grapes. Were it not for those pesky sulfites it would be a miracle beverage full of anti-oxidants and cholesterol-lowering properties. During one of my retail stints in Brooklyn, NY, I lived through many epidemics of sulfite hysteria instigated by an article on a slow news day. Suddenly, everyone would be asking, “Where are your organic wines? Which ones are sulfite-free? Did you know sulfites cause headaches and hives?” Then, depending on my mood, I would go into a shorter or longer explanation of sulfur.

My stock answer would be, “Well, organic doesn’t mean sulfite-free, and ‘sulfite-free’ wines actually contain naturally occurring sulfites as a by-product of fermentation… organic wines can also have the same amount of sulfur as regular wine, and white wine has more than red…” and then the customer zones out. “But does it taste good? And, why does it cost $30!?” They ask as if I’m trying beef up my nonexistent commission. Upon consideration of price against my description of the wine, many revert to their usual brand. Sulfites be damned!

After the transaction, my co-workers and I exchange a knowing glance, “If they only knew what else was in that wine.” Organic granola even has dried fruit treated with sulfites. And if one eats from fast food restaurants or packages, then avoiding sulfites in wine is pure folly.

Sulfur is a chemical element that has been used since antiquity. Also called brimstone, naturally occurring crystallized sulfur (often found near volcanoes) is one of the oldest farming and medicinal remedies. While you don’t want too much of any chemical in your wine, sulfur should be the least of your worries. Besides sulfites, winemakers are under no obligation to list ingredients in wine – not to mention all the traces of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides sprayed in the vineyards.  Producers are free to use scores of animal, vegetable, and chemical additives to fix color, smell, flavor, and stability, transforming swill into a palatable liquid.

That $15 gallon-box of wine is not to be trusted, and the same goes for some of the extremely high-end cult wines that risk losing piles of money due to a bad review. So what in the world is safe to drink? First of all, drink what you enjoy. As the French say, “À chacun son goût” – to each his own taste. Don’t let me or a salesman talk you into anything. But, if you’re willing to stimulate your palate and brain, I have a recommendation: Biodynamic, the original organic wine.

Developed in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner, Biodynamic agriculture is a complicated name for pre-industrial farming. It’s what my grandfather did back in Yugoslavia. It’s what everyone did before agrochemicals and machinery. A sustainable family farm is an integrated system that relies on animals, plants, and people to nourish each other in a regenerative cycle. Hence, larger farm animals eat vegetation and spread manure to provide further nutrition for bugs and new plants. Ducks, chickens, and predatory birds feed on vegetation, rodents, and insects. People eat the birds, farm animals, and plants. Then, leftovers and inedibles are put back into the system as compost and animal feed.

Although this type of farming has been around for thousands of years, Biodynamics is viewed with skepticism because it circumvents chemical intervention and is dictated by nature’s schedule. For example, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting are done according to lunar cycles. Does this conjure up visions of witches dancing around a fire during moonrise? Even so, there’s no denying that the moon’s gravitational force affects ocean tides as well as sap activity in vines and water content in soil. In fact, NASA charts moons phases to the minute, so it’s even easier for Biodynamic farmers to map out their year from sowing to final harvest.

Biodynamic farming is simply about planting the right crops in the right place at the right time and letting nature conduct her symphony: bats and birds and ladybugs control pests; grasses are planted between vine rows to crowd out weeds; hoofed animals work as tractors and tillers. When needed, infusions of herbs, barks, plants, bacteria, and fungi are used as natural remedies in the field, as well as a limited amount of sulfur. Unlike that gallon box of cheap Chablis, this type of low-intervention wine is made in the vineyard and not in the lab. Does it make a difference in flavor? You bet. Does it taste better? Let’s just say it’s different. I find Biodynamic wine to be vivacious, expressive of its environment, and brimming with natural grape flavor. Compare a seasonal local tomato from an organic farm and that greenhouse imposter at the supermarket. I know which one’s going into my Caprese salad.

I could list my favorite winemakers here, but the brands might not be available at your local shop. Instead, let me suggest my go-to regions. From France, I like Loire, Beaujolais, Languedoc, and Rhône. Spain has many excellent wines from Penedes, Jumilla, and Rioja. Italy and Greece have quirky old-school winemakers all over the place, and don’t forget California! One of my favorite Rosés this past season was from Mike Roth & Craig Winchester at Lo-Fi Wines. Check out the back label: they listed the ingredients; this should be the norm.

If you live outside of a major urban center and have a limited selection of shops, here are a few more tips for seeking out healthier wines:

-Contact natural wine importers like Jenny & Francois and Kermit Lynch for retailer referrals, or ask your shop to special order Biodynamic wines from them.

– Browse the European sections for default organic options at reasonable prices. Many winemakers forgo the costly certifications.

– Look on the back label for descriptors such as: low intervention, spontaneous fermentation, wild yeasts, no added sulfites, sustainable, small-production, and organic practices.

If you’re like me and prefer not to drink polyvinyl-polypyr-rolidone, glyceryl mono-oleate, or potassium ferrocyanide, then try Biodynamic — or at least organic—wine. Natural winemakers are a serious, sometimes eccentric, bunch entirely devoted to sustainable farming. It’s an all-encompassing lifestyle for them but we can still reap the benefits of wholesome wine. It won’t make you look twenty years younger, re-grow hair, or restore hearing, but Biodynamic wines are much better for you and the environment. À votre santé!

Peter Gabriel

Anne E. Johnson

Until May 2018, Peter Gabriel resisted allowing his solo albums to appear on subscription streaming services like Spotify. Since that date, more of his records are being made available each month – most recently the album versions of two of his movie soundtracks. Not that you couldn’t get Peter Gabriel’s solo work before May 2018, but it’s good to see it more broadly accessible. There’s a lot to explore.

You might expect an overview of Gabriel’s career to start with his years in the band Genesis, but I’ll be devoting a separate column to them later. Which bring us to 1977, when Gabriel released the first of four albums all called Peter Gabriel. The initial one included the still-beloved “Solsbury Hill.” Nailed it right out of the box.

Less remembered today is the opening track, “Moribund the Burgermeister.” Taken as a whole, this song might be seen as a nod to the more theatrical numbers by The Who. But it’s the way the song starts that reveals what will become Gabriel’s central defining sound: a coexistence of traditional African music and avant-garde electronica:


The third eponymous album, from 1980, was the real breakthrough in artistic terms. It was also exactly what the world needed at the time – utterly original, thoughtful, incisive, and musically daring works. Gabriel introduced a way of combining serious social commentary (“Games without Frontiers”) and political activism with magnetic world music (“Biko”) that changed the pop landscape for a time. The 1980 album was also groundbreaking for including a visual element that would play on your computer while you listened.

Despite the reported skepticism of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun about the subject matter of the songs, Peter Gabriel was a big success. In “Not One of Us,” one of the tracks not released as a single, Gabriel’s experimental daring in blending acoustic and electronic textures enhances the sarcastic message about the cliquishness and exclusionary norms of society.


If you love the 1980 Peter Gabriel, you’ll get a kick out of 1982’s Ein Deutsches Album, on which Gabriel sings German-language versions of all the 1980 songs.

Besides his albums of songs for their own sake, Gabriel has been involved with many high-profile film projects. The first was Birdy, a 1984 move directed by Alan Parker and based on the William Wharton novel. Gabriel released a version of that soundtrack as a studio album the following year. It’s his first serious foray into ambient music, mostly newly composed, plus a few instrumental versions of older songs.

“Floating Dogs” starts as pure ambience, but then tightens into frenetic rhythm, showing both sides of Gabriel’s preferred compositional approaches.


It’s hard to deny that the definitive Peter Gabriel album is So (1986). Nothing about this masterwork can be considered “off the charts,” so I direct you to the 2012 documentary from the Classic Albums series for an in-depth look.

Much to his credit, Gabriel has never taken for granted the sounds he’s borrowed from other cultures, musical ideas that help define his own style. In 1980, he co-founded a UK music festival called WOMAD, which is still going strong. Its purpose is to introduce rock fans to music from other parts of the world, a quest at the heart of much of Gabriel’s work. The African, Middle Eastern, and Asian musicians he’s invited to the festival over the years have often contributed important elements to his albums and tours.

That pipeline to world-music masters came in handy when Gabriel scored the controversial Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, which he then turned into a studio album of instrumental pieces called Passion in 1989. Appropriately, this was the first Gabriel album on Real World Records, which he’d founded as part of the WOMAD project. The score allows the musicians to explore melodies and instruments from their own traditions, incorporated into a distinctly Gabriel electronic background.

“Before Night Falls,” for example, features Kudsi Erguner on the ney flute, an end-blown wooden flute common in Middle Eastern music. Erguner, who is Turkish, includes a traditional Armenian melody in this number. In contrast to that ancient facet of the song, longtime Gabriel collaborator L. Shankar plays his own invention, the double violin, an instrument with two fingerboards to choose from, each with five strings. Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, who has also worked with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, plays the Indian tabla and Middle Eastern duf drum.


The album Us (1992) hit No. 2 on the Billboard album charts and produced singles like “Steam” and “Digging in the Dirt.” One track that didn’t get much notice is “Fourteen Black Paintings,” a trippy but powerful human rights statement featuring African percussion instruments surdo (bass drum), djembe, and talking drum, plus the ancient Armenian oboe-like duduk.


One of Gabriel’s odder projects is OVO (2000), which originated as the soundtrack to a theatrical experience (for lack of a better term) of the same name that opened the Millennium Dome in London and ran for a full year. It told the story of a British family line in the past, present, and future, and featured a wide range of instruments and musical styles, including some that Gabriel had not worked with before. The opening track, “The Story of OVO,” features the rapper Rasco. Other guest artists on the album include the great Richie Havens as the father and Scottish singer-songwriter Elizabeth Fraser as the daughter.


In 2002 Gabriel released Up. He supported that album with a tour captured on the video Growing Up Live, in which the then-53-year-old rock star astonished and entertained by singing upside-down and bouncing around the stage in a huge inflatable ball. While Up includes live favorites like “The Barry Williams Show” and “Growing Up,” I love the lesser-known “My Head Sounds Like That.” Its mournful simplicity makes me think of John Lennon’s solo songs.


Gabriel hasn’t released a full studio album of new material since Up. While perhaps his creative focus has changed, you can’t accuse him of slowing down: he’s toured consistently and released several albums of live performances, collaborations, and new arrangements of older material. Maybe in hindsight we’ll say he was on the cutting edge, as usual, being among the first major artists to acknowledge that, in this day of digital download and streaming, the studio album is a thing of the past.

Occasionally he does still record singles, especially for soundtracks. His cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for the 2014 movie Lone Survivor is worth a listen. As for recent original songs, “I’m Amazing” is a tribute to Muhammed Ali released in honor of the fighter’s passing in 2016. The diffusion of sound, the tribal energy, the slow-motion philosophizing – there’s no question this is genuine Peter Gabriel:

Love Stories

Roy Hall

Would you like to go somewhere beautiful?” I asked.

“More beautiful than this?” She asked, incredulous.

Raymond and Jennifer.

Raymond was married to Sophia for 63 years. They were inseparable and loved each other dearly but one day Sophia got sick and soon died. I missed the funeral as I was in China at the time of her death.

I had met Raymond through a mutual friend and our common love for wine made us good, if not close, friends.

A few weeks after the funeral, I bumped into Raymond and on his arm very close to him was Jennifer. I was quite surprised to see this as it was so soon. I acted as cool as I could and later made enquiries.

This is their back-story.

Ten years prior to Sophia’s death, Raymond had a heart attack and his prognosis was dire. Jennifer and her first husband were close friends of the couple. On hearing of his illness she visited Raymond on his deathbed and said to him,

“Raymond you may be dying but I want you to know that I have loved you all my life and I couldn’t let you go without telling this to you.”

Raymond did not die. In fact he made an amazing recovery and bounced back to good health in no time.  A few years later, Jennifer’s husband died and when Sophia passed away Jennifer came to comfort Raymond and they bonded.

Six month later they were married, She in her seventies, he in his eighties. Whenever we met them they were always touching each other. Once when Raymond was out of earshot, Jennifer said to me, “I love him so much.”

Raymond passed away recently and it was heartbreaking to see Jennifer, bereft at the Shiva house. They had been married for nine years.

Roy and Rita.

I had just escaped from a horrible engagement to a woman I did not love.

It was 1970, the year of the Kent State University shooting of students by the National Guard. In protest, almost all the universities had gone on strike, Rita, who was studying at NYU, had time on her hands and decided to visit the UK and come to a family bar mitzvah in Scotland. My father worked for her cousin so I was invited to the event.

The party was standard fare, copious amounts of ordinary food, a second rate band and boring speeches but then I saw Rita. She was wearing a dark blue, polka dot dress, her long luxurious hair fell about her shoulders, her eyes flashed and she stood tall and elegant. She was devastating.

It was like the dance scene at the gym in West Side Story when the periphery blurs and you only see the couple.

I introduced myself. I probably said something stupid but as she didn’t reject me outright, I continued to chat and managed to spend the evening with her.

The next day I called her and arranged a date. We went to a restaurant called the Kiwi Lodge. It was nestled in a grove of trees in the Fenwick Moors; a wild, rugged area composed of windswept, unkempt tundra and brush that continues all the way down to the Irish Sea.

After dinner, I said,  “Would you like to go somewhere beautiful?” She looked at me as if I was mad. “More beautiful than this?”

Little did she know.

The June nights in Scotland are particularly magical. A soft twilight (we call it the gloaming) starts about 11p.m. and lasts until 2a.m., when the sun rises.

We drove to Loch Lomond, through Balloch, up the east side of the loch towards Rowardennan. Loch Lomond is designated as a national scenic area. That night, with the moonlight sparkling on the water it was breathtakingly beautiful.

I stopped the car at the side of the loch and we went for a walk. The gloaming (remember that?) had settled in as we strolled. Rita in a challenging way said that a fire would be nice. (She afterward told me that she doubted I could make one. Perhaps it was my matching pale blue paisley shirt and tie that gave her this impression.) She was wrong. I went to the car, found some catalogues to burn and grabbed my guitar (which I kept in the trunk for emergency purposes only) and built a bonfire.

We sang songs until sunrise.

She was hooked, and so was I.

She stayed another week and we dated every night.

Rita returned to the US. We corresponded often. No phone calls then –way too expensive.

In September that year I came to visit for 3 weeks She was studying at SUNY Binghamton in upstate New York. After 2 weeks, I called my mother and told her I was staying there. I called my boss and quit my job. We were married in the local courthouse. Between us we had about $30 and we spent most of it on a lobster dinner.

Our marriage, now 47+ years has lasted because of the love we share and to me, Rita is still that drop dead, 18 year old beauty I took walking through the gloaming many years ago.

The Needle and the Damage Done

Jay Jay French

No, this is not another “confession’ about past drug use.

It’s a review of an amazing stylus cleaner.

First though, I knew that my story about how I dealt with my prostate cancer would hit a nerve (no pun intended).

I read every story and I also received more comments directly. All the stories about the process of discovery and then the aftermath have been emotional, heartfelt and I appreciated all of them. I also want to thank those who simply wanted to wish me well and appreciate my honesty.

Now, getting back to audio, I am about to give a huge ‘thumbs up’ endorsement of an item that I never thought I would ever care so much about:

A revolutionary stylus cleaner made by DS Audio: The DS Audio ST-50 Stylus cleaner.

The same DS Audio that has recently made such a big splash with their out-of-the-box line of optical phono cartridges.

Here then is yet another out-of-the-box audio item and its an accessory that is as inexpensive as it is innovative.

I never thought that I would ever really write any reviews but I can’t see any other way to describe this.

Yes, this deals with analog and yes there is an audio cartoon with the caption “The thing I love most about analog is the expense and the inconvenience!” I agree with this.

The ritual of vinyl playback is, in fact, a ritual and to many observers (my wife included) there is a lack of understanding that this is actually something that is enjoyable. Those who partake know what I mean…

Back when I started listening to records seriously, around 1968— I just took out an album (always carefully) placed it on my trusty AR XA turntable, played the record, took off the album and put it back in the jacket and, probably played another album after that.

Well, that was then…

Now the higher the food chain of analog gear, the greater the ritual.

I now stand at about the peak.

I take out an album, wash it on my Audio Desk vinyl system pro (that takes 6 minutes alone), place it on the turntable, then I set the preferred speed -33 or 45-on the outboard power supply for the VPI Avenger Reference TT, put on an outer ring clamp around the album, then place a record weight on the spindle, clean the stylus and then ….play the record.

I can do all this (minus the record washing machine) about as quickly as a seasoned barista at Starbucks can conjure up a vanilla mochaccino decaf half latte.However When my friends see this they just start wondering if I should be committed.

They usually shut up when they hear what comes out —but this is another story.

The most harrowing period of this exercise, however, is cleaning the stylus.

Back in the old days of cleaning cloths, dust bugs and disc washers to remove dust, we didn’t really worry about the damage done to a stylus when dragging a brush over it to remove the obvious dust left behind from a previous record.

As time passed and everything became more expensive and more revealing, the issue of clean records and clean styli became much more important.

On the actual vinyl side of things this has led to record washing machines of ever increasing sophistication. The cost of these machines over time has risen  from $200 to now close to $4,000 for a state of the art unit.

The more transparent the vinyl playback, the more you want to remove anything that can get in the way of the transmission of groove information to the cartridge.

After you get the actual record as clean as possible then what?

Well, stylus maintenance is the next logical step.

When we were all young, stupid, and stoned, and we all owned Shure M91’s or V15’s or Stanton 500’s etc. it may have seemed easy enough to either blow away the dust or take a little brush to remove what we could see.

I have even used my finger in those days.

But today, with state of the art cartridges selling from $750 to $15,000, there had to be a better, more effective way.

I have many different brushes and even stylus cleaning liquids but, every time I drag either the dry or wet brush across the stylus tip of my Dynavector XV-1S ($5600.00) I wonder if the force I’m applying is pushing the cantilever into the magnet assembly causing some kind of damage or, even worse, pushing the brush the wrong way and breaking off the stylus completely.

I have heard many a story from audio salesmen I know about the customer who wrecked his $15,000 Clearaudio Goldfinger or $10,000 rare & discontinued Koetsu just this way.

On top of that, even the removal of dust is no assurance that the tip is really clean. Truth is…is isn’t.

Gunk adheres to the stylus tip and the heat of the friction of the stylus as it pushes through the grooves, at ever increasing velocity as the record spins toward the end of a side, keeps this junk on it.

And then I read about the DS Audio stylus cleaning pad.

Not a brush, a pad.

A pad made up of a Urethane resin gel like compound designed originally for “clean rooms”.

You simply place the pad on your turntable (without the record) and lower the arm so that the stylus drops onto the pad at its own preset weight (ave. 2 grams).  When you raise the arm you will see the dirt (a white spec) that is left behind. Lift the arm, move the pad just a little by rotating the turntable platter and repeat the process. Do it once more (recommended 3 times).

When the stylus ‘sinks’ into the pad the urethane compound pulls off all the gunk

You must make sure that the stylus is off the pad before you move the arm or pad to repeat the process.

What is left on the pad (white speck residue) is all the crap between your record and your cartridge. The garbage that you now see on the pad is stuff you can’t see with the naked eye just looking at the stylus and now visible on the pad in plain sight.

How really effective is it?

I have washed a new album, played it once and dropped the stylus onto the DS ST-50 Stylus Cleaner pad after playing the  ‘clean album’.

It always has gunk on it. Always.

So what this process does is give you, in essence, is a new stylus every time you play a record.

Remember when you put on a new cartridge and played your favorite record. Remember the thrill of feeling how clean and clear the music sounded?

Now you can have that sensation every time.

And the best part is that the pad can last years because it’s easily washable and what’s more it’s…. inexpensive. $80.

So inexpensive that the price justifies its use at just about any level of analog from a $475 Rega Planar One with an Elys phono cartridge to a $100,000 + TechDas Air Force One with the most esoteric of cartridges.

If you love analog, this item is absolutely indispensable.

That is, if this added new ritual is something you are comfortable with.

If not, then my wife would suggest just you just play a CD or stream….

Building Teams

Richard Murison

I spent the latter half of my career as an entrepreneur, building two venture capital backed technology corporations.  These are proper, bricks-and-mortar, hardware-based companies, engaged in the development of real-world, cutting edge products, requiring R&D and significant up-front investment in materials, equipment and people.  Not software-based businesses like BitPerfect, my current adventure.  Both those companies are still operating today, which is not so bad, I guess.

Building companies such as these is largely about building teams.  Sure, the technological smarts that underlie what you do are the fundamental elements, but the success of the enterprise rests firmly on the shoulders of the team you put in place.  They are the ones who do all the real work.  Building an effective team, and having that team execute a complex and challenging mission with limited available resources in both budget and time, can be a source of great personal pride, not only for those who build and lead it, but also for the team members who accomplish those goals.

One gentleman, an investor in, and director of, one of my companies, had a lot to say about building effective teams.  He liked to address the employees and tell them how his greatest pleasure in life was working with people and building teams.  He was a great motivational speaker.  I and my co-founder wanted to spend some quality time with him so as to benefit from his knowledge and insights, so we arranged a nice, long dinner together one evening.  Over dinner he expanded on his thoughts about effective teams and team building.  In every team, he said, 10% of the team are over-achievers and another 10% are under-achievers.  Team building, in his view, is about identifying and continuously replacing the under-achievers.  It all sounds solid and sensible, in a Johnny Appleseed kind of way.

But what happens after you remove the under-achieving 10%, assuming that you have the wherewithal to be able to identify and attract suitable higher-achievers to replace them?  You will have, on balance, an over-achieving team, no?  Not in his view.  It turns out that you still have an under-achieving 10%.  In his view, the bottom 10% of any distribution are inherently, by definition, under-achievers who need to be replaced.  By continuously following his strategy, your team gets continuously better, no matter that the same performance which categorizes an employee as an over-achiever one year, may see her categorized as an under-achiever soon afterward, and shown the door.  This, apparently, was what he enjoyed when it came to working with people and building teams.  Not surprisingly, he was a big college football fan.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes people you hire don’t turn out to be who you thought they were.  A good leader will seek to ferret those people out within their first six months, and will be justifiably ruthless in letting them go if they look like they are not going to work out.  However, you should at the same time not lose sight of the fact that unless that person has lied on their resume, the hiring was your bad, not theirs.  Hey, not all of us are perfect, and we are all bound to make some bad hires from time to time.  Hire enough bad people, though, and you need to start looking at your own recruitment methods and skills.  But once a new hire has passed his probationary period, your expectation should be for him to make a productive contribution to your company on an ongoing basis, and not just until somebody better happens along.

At this point it is a mistake to imagine that your job then becomes one of making sure your team members continue to get their work done.  That is the difference between a manager and a leader.  A manager is generally satisfied by achieving objectives A, B, and C, on time and on budget.  But a leader will at the same time seek to continuously develop his employees into better and more useful resources.  Instead of continuously measuring up your staff for the purpose of weeding out the bottom 10%, find out where they can improve and set about improving them.  Teach them how to be top-10% contributors.  If they grow their skills sufficiently you will have the pleasant task of promoting them, or, if there isn’t an opening, the satisfaction of seeing them advance their careers in an excellent position elsewhere.  Don’t be afraid of losing employees that have outgrown your ability to satisfy ambitions that you have nurtured.  Pay it forward.  A strong argument can be made that California’s world-beating semiconductor industry effectively grew out of silicon valley’s apple orchards on the backs of a seemingly endless stream of talented executives groomed at the Fairchild Corporation in the 1960’s.

A wise man once told me that the most valuable talent he looks for in a manager is the ability to groom a steady stream of subordinates fully capable of replacing him.  Rather than making yourself vulnerable to being replaced by one of them, managers who are able to make managers are actually your most valuable commodity.

Another important aspect that has been key to my own successes in team-building has been to value intelligence and proven skills over domain expertise.  Sure, sometimes it is precisely domain experience which is the principal unmet need in your candidate profile, but mostly I find that someone who is smart, inquisitive, enthusiastic, and with a suitable record of actual achievement on their resume, will generally be a more productive team member than somebody who has previously done a similar job for one of your competitors.  When you bring fresh thinking to a team it will be more likely to discover new and disruptive ideas.  A team long immersed in its field is more likely to end up developing the exact same solutions and approaches as your competitors.

I’ll illustrate that with the following example.  I once recruited a guy called Lance into one of my laser companies.  Although he was a really sharp individual, he didn’t know much about lasers.  He came to my office and asked me what would happen if you launched a multi-mode laser into a single-mode fiber.  Now, both the question and the answer are totally beside the point, except to say that it doesn’t work, for a bunch of well-understood reasons that most laser experts could cite.  I could have just told him that, and advised him to forget about it.  But instead I thought it would be instructive for him to find out for himself, so I suggested he experiment with it during his Friday-afternoon time.  In due course, he came to me with the results, which puzzled him, and after examining them they puzzled me too.  But I was ultimately able to make sense of them, and  …  cutting a very long story short  …  we ended up using Lance’s result to develop a radical new technology, which we duly patented.  Anybody who knew the first thing about lasers (me included) would never have bothered performing the initial experiments which led to the invention.

But perhaps the most important aspect of successful and productive team building is to make sure your team contains the right personality types.  Or, more accurately, does not contain the wrong types.  For this, I would recommend a book.  I must confess, I normally have no interest whatsoever in management books, but this is one that has probably taught me the most powerful management lesson of all.  It is called “The Drama of Leadership”, by Patricia Pitcher, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Patricia Pitcher characterizes leaders as falling into three categories, Artists, Craftsmen, and Technocrats.  She introduces these three personality types, goes into their characteristics in some detail, and discusses where they usually fit into an organization.  It is hard not to look at all the leaders you have worked with and for, and not immediately start to drop them categorically into one or other of these boxes.  I am not going to attempt to reduce the work of a fairly detailed text into a couple of summary paragraphs, but I will tell you what the most important finding is.  It is simply this; never, never, never let a technocrat into your organization.  Never.  If I could give any aspiring entrepreneur a single piece of advice it would be this  …  Buy.This.Book.  [NB Parts 1 and 2 are essential reading, Part 3 less so.]

Welcome to the Machine

Bill Leebens

Pop music has always had machines: groups of people who were responsible for an unconscionable, unbelievable percentage of all the hit songs that have permeated the airwaves and our lives. Whether it was the songwriters of the Brill Building—who included Johnny Mercer, Bacharach & David, Goffin & King, Neil Diamond, Mann & Weil, Doc Pomus, Leiber & Stoller, Neil Sedaka, and many more— the dominance of McCartney & Lennon, the Wrecking Crew,  or today’s leading behind-the-scenes popmeisters, Max Martin and Dr. Luke–hook-laden, easily-accessible pop has often originated from an assembly line.

So—as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid asked, “who are those guys?” Well, they’re a couple of guys who were born about the time I was in high school. “Max Martin” is the nom de digits of Martin Sandberg, a Swede,  and his one-time apprentice Lukasz Gottwald is “Dr. Luke”, born in Rhode Island to Polish immigrants.

I recently chatted with someone who had just become aware of the all-pervasive influence of Max Martin in today’s pop music. They were outraged— which I found both charming, and touchingly naive.

“This—this ONE GUY has written or produced most of the big hits of the last TWENTY YEARS!”

“You couldn’t tell that stuff had a common source, just by listening to it? You don’t think “Hit Me Baby, One More Time”, “Teenage Dream”, and “Shake It Off” don’t sound a lot alike? …I mean, A LOT alike?”

“Well, sure—but lots of songs in the past have sounded really similar. Look at the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” and Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”.”

“That’s called plagiarism. Berry sued them and got a writing credit on “Surfin’ USA”.”

“Oh. And then, “He’s So Fine” and “My Sweet Lord”.”

“Lawsuit. FAMOUS lawsuit.  Where have you been?”

“Oh. Well, what about that Marvin Gaye song and “Blurred Lines“?”

“Lawsuit. Settled.”


“At least Max Martin steals from himself. And only Lennon and McCartney have had more number one hits on Billboard’s charts—that’s pretty incredible. Even if you don’t like his work, you’ve got to admit that he’s a meticulous craftsman, unlike many out there. Also unlike most of the obnoxious self-promoters in music, Martin lets his work speak for him,  stays at home with his longtime wife and his kids, and almost never gives interviews. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if Diplo, will.i.am, or Kanye West did that?”

“Diplo? Aren’t those the fake Lego blocks?”

“No, those are Duplo. Try to focus here. Believe me, there are far worse scourges in pop music than Max Martin. At least his stuff is beautifully produced,  always has strong vocals, and respects the character of the individual artists. The songs he’s written with P!nk can be pretty damn touching. At least to me—but I’m a sucker for P!nk”


“Well, his buddy Dr. Luke did horrible things to that poor Ke$ha.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Hard to say. She sued him, now he’s suing back.  If those things happened, then he’s a bastard. If they didn’t, she’s a manipulative creep. Life’s confusing, sometimes, and there have been plenty of awful autuers in pop music—and classical music, and the movies, and publishing, and basically every field. For better or worse, he’s right behind Martin on the roster of #1 hit-makers.”

“I love that “Party in the USA” he did with Miley Cyrus!”

“…umm. Yeah. It’s certainly quite the ear-worm.”

“But I still don’t like the fact that one or two guys control so much of what we hear.”

“I can understand that. I don’t like the bland uniformity of the music played everywhere. Maybe if the iHeart Radio stations get broken up, things will change. I doubt it, though: these days, You Tube has more influence than broadcast radio—and You Tube is owned by Google, and…. I don’t like the fact that many pop artists are successful due more to their appearance than their talent, but ever since concerts became theatrical events and MTV showed us musicians non-stop, looks have been critical. Do you think someone who looked like Mick Jagger could break into music today? I’m not so sure.”

“Kinda getting off-track here.”

“Well, you have your rants, I’ve got mine. Now I think I’m gonna go have a Corona Light and some Cheetos and watch some Taylor Swift videos.”

“OMG! Adorbs!”


[The header pic is Max Martin and a very young—too young—Britney Spears back in the ’90s. If you find the contrast between Martin’s “get the hell outta here!” expression and Spears’ cheerleadery smile a little creepy…well, you’re not alone. And yes, both the songs in the videos were co-written and produced by the ubiquitous Max.–-Ed.]

The Great Wall, Redux

The Great Wall, Redux

The Great Wall, Redux

Dan Schwartz

[Our friend and regular Copper columnist Dan Schwartz is under the weather—and so we’re re-running a classic Schwartz column from Copper #39. Best wishes to Dan, with hopes of sunny days and better health!—Ed.]

In the early 70s, the Grateful Dead were the most interesting organization in rock music.

To the world outside of San Francisco, they may have seemed a “Warner Brothers act” –– they were signed to the label from 1967 – 1973 — but they rarely acted like it.  The band had put out a number of albums on the label, including some that were very commercial, but in plain sight of anyone interested, anything but hidden away, they grew from a group of five guys in 1965 to a pretty massive assemblage of companies and people — about 75 people in all.

There was Out of Town Tours, a travel agency called Fly By Night, the Dead’s publishing company Ice Nine[1], as well as Alembic, the most advanced instrument builder of the day, which had it’s beginnings under the Dead’s wings in this same period. In the last WB period, they had learned to become totally self-reliant. Every aspect of their existence was independent except their records, and by 73, they issued their last WB album and they launched Grateful Dead Records and Round Records. Freedom at last — for a few years.

Their utter uniqueness was commemorated in an issue of Rolling Stone dated November 22, 1973, in a cover story called “A New Life the Dead: Grateful Dead Handle Their Business”, and a cover that proclaimed, above an airbrushed picture of an ebullient Jerry Garcia,  “Welcome to the Wide Open World of the Corporate Dead”:


I want to encourage anyone reading this piece to read the RS piece, too. It’s a wonderful document of the band and company at a phenomenal time in their adventure.

An excerpt to suggest the spirit that pervaded the band:

One other side trip needs to be mentioned: the Neal Cassady Memorial Foundation. Ron Rakow had mentioned it as “one of the measures we’re taking to ensure that the Dead are never financially secure.” Jerry Garcia gives the details:

 “When I recorded Garcia, I found for a while I was rich, so I started giving the money away. And I found after a while that it cost me $1500 to give away $1000. So we’re getting an institution registered to promote research in the arts, sciences and education so I can give away my money easier. So far it hasn’t done anything.

 “Well, yeah, it ought to keep us insecure.”

So, you understand — the Grateful Dead did not think like any other band.  Success to them meant things it didn’t mean to most other people. And so, the great Wall of Sound: it was mostly the inspiration of Augustus Owsley Stanley III, otherwise just called Owsley or Bear. He called everyone to a meeting in 1969 at what was then the band’s rehearsal room in Novato, California, to brainstorm about, basically, his dissatisfaction with the band’s sound. It was a topic Bear knew well — he had appointed himself the Dead’s chief soundman after witnessing them at an Acid Test in 1965, close to their beginnings[2]. And he was after something more. Rick Turner remembers him saying, “You know, the solution is the PA system has to be behind the band.[3]

And so began a process of figuring out how to do that. It was an ingenious, almost completely insane solution, took a few years, and almost broke the band, financially and otherwise. Their near-breakup and yearlong hiatus when the Wall was retired probably had as much to do with hauling it around as anything else. But it worked — really worked! I heard it in 1974, and have never heard anything like it. The combined efforts of Bear, the illustrious John Curl, Ron Wickersham and Rick Turner of Alembic, as well as a few others, paid off in spades.

Imagine an amplifier set-up for each instrument, blown up to arena-filling proportions. Or rather, imagine six of them: one for each instrument (including drums), plus vocals. And then arrange them all in vertical line arrays. And then have the vocalists sing into phase-cancelling microphones.

Let me talk about the bass first, since I know and care more about that subject. The bass, besides bass and treble (or neck and bridge) pickups, had a quad pickup. Each string could go to its own amplifier — or not — selected by pushbutton switches on the instrument’s face. From there the signal went to four separate preamps, four McIntosh 2300 600-watt amps, and then on to four groups of 9 JBL D140 15” speakers in separate cabinets, arranged, in its final configuration (and as I heard it), as two columns of 18 — slightly over 30 feet, or one full low E wavelength. In practice the bass was rarely used quad, except during a bass solo. And then, it was unbelievable. I was pretty far back in the Philadelphia Civic Center when Phil Lesh soloed, but the clarity, especially of chords, was truly something to remember.

The guitar set-ups were simpler, consisting of smaller amps driving columns of 12s, but the drum, piano and vocal systems were more complex multi-way systems: all in all, almost 600 individual speakers, 50 E-V tweeters, and 50 Mac tube (3500) and solid-state (2300) amps[4]. It was BIG.

But it didn’t sound big. It sounded like a group of people playing their instruments, pretty intimately, in whatever space they were playing in.  And it did what it was expected to do — at least almost. By putting almost all the speakers behind the band, and by controlling vertical spill, the overall color of the band was preserved. The one drawback was the vocal mics, which could sometimes, not always, sound thin owing to their genius arrangement, as a pair per singer of mics run into a differential circuit that would reject anything that went into each mic identically — oh, say, like the massive wall of speakers behind them, while the vocalist sang into one.

And, importantly, it was the first of it’s kind in many ways. A lot of what’s known and put into practice nowadays was discovered in the band’s Wall period, and in small systems like the Bose portable L1 line array system, which does an admirable job of doing, in miniature, what the Grateful Dead, en masse, learned from the Wall of Sound.

[1] Named for the water with a higher freezing temperature from Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cats Cradle”


[3] https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wnnayb/the-wall-of-sound

[4] Rick Turner adds: “You might just mention that the 2300s were used for everything except the EV tweeters where the tube 3500s sounded better, and that the PA portion was a four way system with the height of each frequency band array designed to give optimal dispersion for the wave lengths projected.  The ultimate goal was equal dispersion at all frequencies…with reality kicking in a bit.“

Steve Jobs, the Opera. Really.

Lawrence Schenbeck

Mason Bates wrote the music, Mark Campbell the libretto. They took their work seriously. The Santa Fe Opera offered the world premiere last summer, and Pentatone (PTC 5186 690) was there to record it. Judging from what I heard on the recording, the audience had a good time. You might too.

Steve Jobs was one of those people who actually did change our lives forever, way back in the 20th century. He’s as good a candidate for operatic portrayal as any of Handel’s historical protagonists, e.g., Caesar, Saul, Xerxes. (What, you’ve never seen Serse?) The thing about characters like that is, they’re “real,” but you can have fun with them because they’re so removed from modern life. Neither Handel nor his audiences gave a fig about the historical accuracy of an operatic Giulio Cesare. (Click here to see what Handel had his Giulio getting up to.)

Jobs (1955–2011) may not be ready for the Full Historical, though. We can’t assemble the requisite mythology/hagiography in so short a time. Or can we? Two serious biographies and two major biopics have already begun the job. Now an opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, brings in another point of view—sort of. As librettist Campbell put it,

No story . . . could capture all aspects of the Steve Jobs people think they know; nothing I write would be captious or laudatory enough. So I simply focused on writing the story that Mason and I wanted to tell—and the one that would sing.

Fair enough. Bates and Campbell are working at the top of their respective games, and the results are certifiably enjoyable. My joy was not complete, but we’ll get to that after the good parts.

First, the music: tonal, very accessible, throbbing with energy, delivered with feeling. It never lets up. Beatmaster Bates (club name “DJ Masonic”) has hit a triple his very first time at bat (operatically, that is). Here’s an excerpt from “One Device,” the big ensemble from Scene 1, “2007 Product Launch, San Francisco.” (Click here to get a PDF file of the libretto; scroll down to p. 36 for the text of this clip. You may want to keep the window open.)

00:00 / 01:33

Bates is acutely aware of what Jobs wrought:

When I held up one of the elegant black boxes containing the [Pentatone] CDs and libretto booklets, stylishly contained in a minimalist design worthy of Apple, my son asked, “Is that a new phone?” Good guess. . . . The opera is, in fact, a kind of giant smart phone, exploring the music of communication. The piece examines a fundamental tension in our lives today: how do we simplify human communication on such beautifully minimalist devices—when humans are so complicated?

There are few arias as such, no catchy tunes. The show jumps backward and forward through time, establishing connections between characters’ dreams, fears, failures, and triumphs, while Bates and Campbell guide us toward some surefire climaxes. Here’s one, an ode to the idea of the iPhone (which “doesn’t play us, but [is] something we play”), delivered by baritone Edward Parks as the 1976 Steve Jobs.

00:00 / 02:40

(Scroll down to p. 54 in the libretto for the text of this aria.)

Care was taken to juxtapose moments that subtly suggest connection: one can’t help being struck, for instance, by the way Jobs insists on a sleek, impregnable case for the new Mac (“We have to cover it up. . . . No clutter. No wires.”) mere seconds in the opera after cruelly shutting out someone from his life. (Okay, maybe that’s not too subtle.) Although it robs us of deeper insights into some characters, the temporal-dislocation device largely works; we know it from A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life. The ghostly Kōbun Chino Otogawa, Steve’s Buddhist mentor, materializes to guide a desperately ill Jobs as he revisits scenes from his past. Kōbun’s tart, earthy commentary, expertly handled by baritone Wei Wu, provides a welcome contrast to the more cliché-prone characters. At one point Kōbun gently pushes 1975 Steve to leave the Los Altos Zen Center and begin practicing mindfulness in the real world (see p. 49 of the libretto):

00:00 / 02:42

I wish the other people in Jobs’ operatic life had received this sort of individualistic treatment. Wozniak (excellent tenor Garrett Sorenson) comes closest; he and 1973 Steve get to sing an infectious “Officer Krupke”-like number as they try out a Little Blue Box phone hack. Their raw adolescent glee leaves an indelible impression. Later, Woz gets a big solo song, a lament for the end of his friendship with Jobs. No female characters get an equal opportunity, although both Jessica E. Jones (Chrisann) and Sasha Cooke (Laurene) make the most of the conventional roles—spurned lover, dutiful wife—they are asked to animate.

I suppose this brings me to the Incomplete Joy parts, which thankfully aren’t very long. Part One: Bates’ first opera is a perfect machine; it runs like a dream, carefully maintaining momentum, color, and general interest from first to last note. But why couldn’t there have been a musical surprise or two in there? I think it’s actually harder to create psychological alienation—a big factor in this story—when you so carefully skate around anything that might musically challenge the audience.

Part Two: the production credits include not one but two individuals for Sound Design, plus an additional shout-out to Skywalker Sound’s Gary Rydstrom for “assistance with the electronic sounds,” i.e., synths and such. I get it. Without amplification, you can’t do this production, with its orchestra plus various tone generators and modifiers, outdoors (i.e., at the Santa Fe Opera). But that kills the microdynamics; it also tends to flatten macrodynamic range, making it harder for singers to do anything but bellow. (It would’ve been nice, in 2018, to hear a non-“operatic” vocal once or twice.) I understand the punishing economics that prevent Pentatone or any other label from doing a studio recording. But unless something like that happens—until engineers get to exercise greater control over the soundscape—we’ll never get to hear the full range of dynamics, tone color, and vocal characterization, i.e., music, that lies buried in this opera.

Part Three: I wonder whether Indiana U., San Francisco, or Seattle might still scrounge up the money for a Blu-ray video? Because apparently the innovative sets and lighting for this show are really smashing. It’s an opera, folks.

Speaking of which, here’s a complementary postlude for this week’s column. Recently I sampled another new “opera” recording, a charming 1718 one-acter. We know it as Acis and Galatea (HWV 49a), not to be confused with this composer’s earlier Italian treatment of the story from the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Handel wrote this version for the tiny band that James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, maintained at his palatial country estate; its English libretto was fashioned by the likes of John Gay and Alexander Pope. I know the music largely because, like Brahms’s Liebeslieder Wälzer, it was the sort of thing you could organize on a weekend with similarly inclined (singing) friends. Here’s the opening chorus:

00:00 / 01:47

So, nothing too serious. The future composer of Messiah tossed it off as a favor to a well-connected patron. Does it have anything in common with The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs? Well, both works involve disruption of a previously stable environment. (Which pretty much describes 99% of all drama, ever.) Sea nymph Galatea is blissfully in love with shepherd Acis, and he with her:

00:00 / 01:17

Alas, their happiness is upended by the monster Polyphemus (“the same Cyclops . . . outwitted by Homer’s Odysseus,” David Vickers’ notes remind us), himself enamored of Galatea

00:00 / 01:15

and monstrously jealous of Acis. After a disastrous attempt at courtship, he hurls a fatal boulder at his rival; general mourning ensues. In a reconciling gesture, the gods turn Acis into a bubbling spring, source of the River Aci.

Handel used the old story to hang out as many stylish airs, duets, and choruses as he could manage, which was exactly what his noble audience expected. The results are delightful, although I found myself occasionally skipping ahead. (Maybe we cut a few numbers back in the day; I don’t remember Handel’s part of the party lasting so long!)

Will you enjoy this new recording from Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company (Chandos Chaconne CHSA 0404[2])? Depends on your tastes. It brought back fond memories for me, and the performances are top-flight (soprano Lucy Crowe, tenor Allan Clayton, bass Neal Davies).

And that’s it until next time, when we may consider Bernstein’s A Quiet Place, or Dvořák’s complete chamber music, or something else entirely (always my personal favorite).

Seriously Out of Phase

Seriously Out of Phase

Seriously Out of Phase

Charles Rodrigues