Issue 88

Issue 88

Issue 88

Maggie McFalls

Welcome to Copper #88!

The day this magazine goes live, July 1st, marks the halfway point in 2019. Having had a birthday recently, it certainly does seem that the months and years are zipping by. Back in the days when I still wrote checks, this would be about the time of year where I'd finally started writing the correct year in the date field of the check, halfway through the year. These days, without looking at my phone or calendar, I can rarely even tell you what month it is.

It's a good thing I have deadlines to keep me alert.

Dan Schwartz talks about TONE!; Richard Murison wonders if we're all just a bunch of navel-gazers; Jay Jay French plays Beatles tourist in Liverpool; Roy Hall has a rough go of it in Napa; Anne E. Johnson’s Off the Charts brings us lesser-known Deep Purple tracks, and Anne's Something Old/Something New features recent recordings of the lovely music of the unjustly unsung Fanny Mendelssohn; and I get up close and personal in The Audio Cynic, and in an atypical Vintage Whine, we look at the fate of vintage music---not vintage gear. Next issue---back to gear.

B. Jan Montana concludes his look around THE Show, and I finally (!) wrap up my coverage of the Munich show. I was starting to think it'd run until the next Munich show.

Our friend Woody Woodward will be back next issue with Part 3 of his piece on Django Reinhardt.

Copper #88 wraps up with Charles Rodrigues as design criticand a lovely Parting Shot from Maggie McFalls.

---and oh! Have a Happy 4th!

Cheers, Leebs.

20th Century Classical Music – the “Navel Gazing” Era?

Richard Murison

In the world of Classical Music, the end of the 19th Century brought with it the end of the “Romantic Era”, which had followed on from the “Classical Period” after the death of Beethoven. Although these are somewhat arbitrary distinctions, they do serve to provide a pair of pretty useful designations that conveniently distinguish the majority of the music composed in those periods. They also represent boundaries between periods of reasonably consistent thinking about how composers would set about composing music. Composers – from a 30,000 foot viewpoint – are always making advances in the ideas governing how to conceive and write musical ideas. Usually those advances take place within the overall confines of generally-understood stylistic and structural guidelines. But composers can always be counted on to explore the boundaries of conventions and rules. And if in the breach they begin to establish some kind of acceptance, what you have are the makings of a new paradigm.

But what are these rules? It’s not like baseball, or football, or cricket. There is nothing black-and-white to say that something is verboten, with ten yards penalty and loss of down for a violation. Instead there is just the opprobrium of the community of self-appointed experts, and the disdain – or worse – of the audiences. The rules are basically a set of broadly-accepted conventions that describe how music should be written, supported by a framework of theoretical underpinnings which explain why it should be that way. These conventions address issues like: what sorts of things tend to make a melody acceptable to listen to; what combinations of notes sound harmonic when played together; what sequences (or progressions) of chords work best together; which instruments play best together; and how to assemble a short collection of musical episodes into a larger piece that is more satisfactory as a whole than the individual episodes heard in isolation. Taken together, these concepts form the basis of the theoretical study of musical form or structure.

The history of the underlying theories of musical structure reflects nothing more than listening to the folk tunes that ordinary people sing, and trying to establish what it is about them that renders them appealing. The earliest songs are simply repetitive verses. So the earliest efforts at establishing a theory of music were no more than attempts to codify what works well as a verse, and what doesn’t. These folk songs began to evolve into more sophisticated repetitions of verse–chorus, eventually reaching the verse–chorus–verse–chorus–bridge–verse–chorus structure which became the default framework of the 90-second pop song of the 50’s and 60’s. If you listen carefully, you will find that it still dominates ‘song-type’ popular music today. Just about everything Elton John ever wrote more or less follows this formula. Take this example, a verse–chorus–verse–chorus–bridge–chorus–coda variant:

Pioneers like Bach and Mozart took this basic verse–chorus–verse–chorus–bridge–verse–chorus structure, tore it apart, studied its basic structures, and ended up codifying it into something far more elaborate called Sonata Form. Classical Sonata Form has three parts, an Exposition, a Development section, and a Recapitulation. You can look at the Exposition as being the first verse – chorus – verse – chorus part, the Development section is the bridge, and the Recapitulation is the final verse – chorus. These are very broad brush strokes indeed, but hopefully they serve to get the point across.

The key point is that musical theory sought to explain why it was that good music sounded good. What it did not attempt to offer was a painting-by-numbers solution to the creative process of composition.

The Classical Period represents the full flowering of what you might call the Mozart picture of musical structure – the grand assemblage of Sonatas and other codified structures into suites, concertos, sonatas, symphonies, and more besides. But creative processes never stand still [and those that do quickly find themselves going stale]. In particular, Beethoven came along and started nibbling away at Mozart’s “rules”. He didn’t care if he was caught offside, to use the sporting analogy, as long as he was able to score a beautiful goal. And in music, there’s no referee to blow the whistle. Eventually, if enough people break enough of the rules, then the old rules are no longer relevant, and a set of new rules comes in and takes their place

That’s what happened when Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (1824) arguably closed the book on the Classical Period and ushered in the Romantic Era. Composers like Berlioz came along with revolutionary music, although it is hard to look back today on Symphonie Fantastique of 1830 and see it as in any way revolutionary. But it was. In Classical Music, the “exposition”, “development”, “first” and “second” themes, and other such constructs were all defined in purely musical terms, such as the famous first four notes of Beethoven’s ubiquitous 5th Symphony, and they served as the musical purpose around which the piece in question was built. In Symphonie Fantastique, however, the musical ideas are subservient to human concepts – “Scène aux champs”, “Marche au supplice”, “Un bal”, etc. Beethoven had dabbled with this idea himself in his 6th Symphony, but the music itself still paid due respect to the requirements of classical symphonic structure. Berlioz, however, made the structure subservient to the musical soundscapes he was creating. Symphonie Fantastique was almost operatic in its scope:

As the century progressed, other composers came along and found yet more ways of writing music which departed from what was left of Mozart’s rule book. By the end of the century, Mahler was writing symphonies which were undoubtedly symphonic, and were undoubtedly tours-de-force of compositional technique…but the structures of these symphonies were staggeringly complex and convoluted. To this day, conductors approach some of these symphonies with great trepidation. Yet to the listener they hang together seamlessly from beginning to end.

Musical theorists studied these developments throughout the 19th century, and for the most part managed to continue to analyze the great works of the period in the most painstaking detail. Why bother, you might ask? Well, the main reason is that if you are teaching skills like composition to the next generation of students, you want to be able to teach the underlying frameworks that reference works adhere to. As you develop your own musical language as a composer, it is generally helpful along the way to understand how Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Mahler composed, and to be able to compose exercise pieces using their styles. The idea is that, only if you understand the styles of the great masters that preceded you will you ever be able to truly develop your own voice.

With the Romantic Era drew to an abrupt and sudden close when the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky foisted his Rite of Spring onto an unsuspecting public. This was a profound shock to the musical establishment. The Rite of Spring is a truly extraordinary composition, and it changed absolutely everything. It is hard to overstate its impact. To the extent that there ever was a “Romantic Era” rulebook, Rite of Spring put it through a shredder. It is almost impossible to extract from the Rite of Spring its underlying musical essence, without ending up merely dissecting it into its component parts. It follows no straightforward structure that you can teach to promising students. Any attempt to ‘learn what it teaches’ results in nothing more than copycat works of limited value. It is what it is. And it has proven to be – without anything else coming close – the single most influential piece of classical music of the 20th Century, and perhaps even ever:

All of this was no comfort to the musical establishment. How do we teach students about the latest music if we don’t even understand it ourselves? Even worse, the classical musical establishment was hopelessly elitist. [It still was in my own youth, some 50+ years later.] It tried to respond by looking down on new music it couldn’t understand, mostly, it must be said, from composers of a much, much younger generation. But these were highly charged times, and across many spheres of the Arts, not just in music, avant-garde movements were making a lot of noise in the corridors of power and influence. Of course, right at that moment, the Great War came along, and in its wake dealt a death blow to many of the old structures of the establishment. When peace returned, the time was ripe for major changes across all aspects of western society.

In the world of classical music, 1920’s Vienna became the hub of avant-garde and modernist thinking, centered around the great and famous Arnold Schoenberg. He, and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, established a school of thought that became most strongly associated with the so-called 12-tone movement. This movement espouses musical structures which – and this is a very loose description indeed – make use of sequences of 12 notes, called tone-rows, in which no two notes are the same [there are only 12 unique tones on a musical keyboard before you start repeating one octave above or below], and no two notes have an identical length.

Note that you don’t have to be a fundamentalist when it comes to tone rows. Berg in particular insisted a tone row didn’t have to contain all 12 tones. Here is a tone row you might recognize, and which Alban Berg himself might have been proud to have written!

But let’s not get too tied up with what 12-tone music is or isn’t. The key takeaway here is that Schoenberg pioneered a movement in which musical composition transitioned from being a musically creative enterprise, to one where it ended up being the result of some abstract application of a mostly philosophical set of considerations. Like Jackson Pollock throwing paint across the room at a canvas, music was no longer the designed output of a particular creative process, but became the almost arbitrary consequence of a series of non-musical machinations.

Crazy as this sounds, the so-called Second Viennese School became the most powerful influence on 20th Century Classical Music. The original 12-tone ideas grew and evolved into what is more broadly categorized as Serial Music. I don’t really want to attempt to justify it, but frankly, Serialism has more in common with mathematical Set Theory than it does with Sonata Form. And it more or less infected the entirety of the Classical Music establishment during the decades following the Second World War. A whole generation – and more – of musicians were taught that modern composition was a theoretical exercise in artistic abstractions with little concern given to what the result might actually sound like, and more emphasis on grand nonsense such as the ‘totality of the listening experience’. Sure, that kind of thinking has a place…but that place ought to have been more like the three-man music department of an arts college in Grimsby, rather than the entirety of Western musical intelligentsia. I have to look back on it and ask: “What did it all really accomplish?”. I have to wonder who, other than academic musicians indoctrinated into that way of thinking, really listens to the music of Stockhausen, Boulez or Webern, other than out of idle curiosity?

The thing is, I’m not denying that 12-tone, serialism, whatever, can produce interesting music. It can. It did. What I’m denying is the artistic validity of its creative process – and, more specifically, questioning the artistic validity of a school of thought that was so deeply entrenched into the establishment, for such a long period of time. To the extent great music was created, it was created despite the process, and not because of it. For example, when the aforementioned Jackson Pollock drips paint on a canvas while in a drunken stupor, the result may or may not be magnificent. He might produce a dozen of these, and, for whatever reason, one of them just floats your boat. To my mind the technique itself is only of passing relevance, but for others it is revered as the essence and genius of his art. Sorry, but I’m not buying that. Are we really suggesting that inebriation and paint dripping can be celebrated as creative attributes? </Rant>

Arguably the most famous 12-tone work of all is Alban Berg’s magnum opus Lulu, an opera in 3 acts, unfinished on his death in 1935. A lot of it sounds like an orchestra that is still warming up. But even so, Lulu is actually a tour-de-force of technical composition. It contains deeply layered Wagnerian leitmotifs – in 12-tone – and far more complex related musical devices. The plot itself is very complex and nuanced in a way that is notably uncommon in other major operas. And then, there is the fact that both plot-wise and musically, Lulu is one great big palindrome. For example, at a simple level, for every character who appears in the first half there is a corresponding character who disappears in the second half. The overall rise-and-fall arc of the plot line is totally palindromic. I could go on, but I won’t.

At the very center of the opera is the famous “filmmusik”. According to Berg’s directions, this music is played by the orchestra while the audience watches a black-and-white film of Lulu first being put in prison, and then escaping. This piece of “filmmusik” is itself a total and complete palindrome in every detail. Each and every note is precisely mirrored about the center point. Here it is, if you would like to listen to it: [See if you can spot the center of symmetry. It’s not easy!]

Even today, Lulu ranks among the weirdest of weird operas. I once saw a British TV documentary following Sir Colin Davis directing a production of Lulu that was being prepared for a season at Covent Garden. At the end of what is a very difficult show, both to watch and to listen to, Davis is interviewed by the presenter. He is asked whether, having got to the point where he knows the work well enough to be able to conduct it, he actually enjoys it. Davis thinks about this before answering: “Enjoy it? No, I suppose not.” Then he brightens up: “But I’m getting there!”. A lot of people are apparently getting there. It is unlikely you will encounter a production of Lulu which is not totally sold out. I’d probably try and go myself – purely out of curiosity. But there’s no way my wife would come!

Finally, as we approach the approximate 100th anniversary of Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School, I am glad to say that virtually every last vestige of the dreaded school of Serialism has pretty much had its day. I look back and I think that a whole century’s worth of musical progress – or at least 50 years’ worth of it – was essentially wasted. On the other hand, who can say what else could have taken its place?

There is no doubt that the classical music world is alive and well today, and that there is no obvious shortage of newly-composed works. But no longer do these works have to be discordant or atonal for the sake of it, nor must they pay homage to somebody’s avant-garde design principles. They are by and large considered pieces, written from the heart, and executed with great skill. We are still producing some wonderfully talented composers.

Is Audio Seasonal?

Is Audio Seasonal?

Is Audio Seasonal?

Bill Leebens

I’ve been a salesman or worked with salespeople most of my working life, and one thing I know is that as a group, they work hard. They have to. It’s a tough job, maintaining a positive attitude and sense of humor in the face of frequent rejection and occasionally, outright hostility.

I also know that not-very-good salespeople can always, always come up with excuses as to why things aren’t going well, why they didn’t close that big sale, how that guy was just a tirekicker—and on and on. “We’re just not in the season” is a favorite fall-back position. However, there are fields that truly do have seasonal ups and downs: TV sales go up before the Super Bowl; people are more likely to buy a boat as summer approaches; and almost no one buys a house right before Christmas. Such things are real, and are predictable.

I hear folks in the audio biz discuss downturns in sales during vacation season, where families are more likely to not be at home. There are also some types of gear that sell better after school starts in the fall, or as holidays approach.

But for you—as a dedicated music listener, audiophile, however you view yourself—is your music listening seasonal? Not just the buying of gear—although I’d be interested in hearing reader’s habits and experiences with that— but actual sitting down and listening to music, or at least playing music in the home while doing whatever.

Does that wax and wane over the course of the year? Or are you firmly ensconced in your Ekornes Stressless lounger, glass of Cab in hand, tunes playing, no matter what time of year it is?

Yes, I’ve deliberately painted the stereotypical picture of Mr. Golden Ears. Some of us will fit that stereotype; many will not. You probably don’t want to hear about my habit of watching baseball with the announcers turned off and music cranked up—especially if one of the announcers is Alex Rodriguez.

But I digress.

I’m interested to hear about listening habits: solo? With family? With friends? Solely focused on music, or as a background to reading, dinner, Scrabble, or whatever?

And do your habits change, depending on the weather and season? If you’re an avid hiker or water-skiier, I’d imagine your amount of couch time goes down in spring and summer—and good for you.

But preferences vary, habits range all over the map of human behavior. Hell, I prefer ice cream in the winter—so I won’t sneer at whatever works for you.

Tell me about your listening habits, okay? And if there’s one time of year when you go nuts buying gear, I’d be interested in hearing that, as well.

No, this isn’t market research: I’m just nosey. Surely, after 88 columns, you know that by now.




Dan Schwartz

A recent conversation ‘twixt Uncle Bill and me:

Me: This is great bass playing to me:



Bill: Yup.

Me: I hear many bass players who have shitty tone, and if you don’t begin with getting your tone together, woe be unto you. I’d argue that most have shitty tone. All the speed in the world and flying fingers don’t matter if you don’t have tone. I’ve known this for 50 years, but couldn’t have discussed it for a long time.

Bill: Many bass players just sound like plastic to me. Dunno how else to say it.

Me: Including people that come in for heaps of praise.

I know I’m supposed to be writing “My Cancer Saga, Phase II”. But this conversation transpired in the meantime and I can’t get the topic out of my head.  Tone. It’s everything to me.

What I meant about knowing it for 50 years is that I’ve always been drawn to my perception of great tone — hence, Casady; hence, “Baby You’re A Rich Man”; hence, Danny Thompson.  You may agree, you may have a different set of what you perceive as great, or you may not care. But the more I think about it, the more I know that for me, ‘tain’t the notes, it’s the tone.

I’ve written that the first classical album I owned — my 2nd album, another gift from my father — was the soundtrack to 2001. I love the record (great tones!), but the album that I remember connecting with in a big way (in the early 80s) was the RCA/Reiner of the 1962 recording of Also Sprach Zarathustra — but not the RCA version, the Mobile Fidelity vinyl.  It’s different than the RCA; it has what I refer to as a “glow”, a relatively elevated mid-to-upper-mid, that sounds, I suppose, less real — but that glow, that warmth-like-a-fireside, pulls me in like nobody’s business.

Similarly with the Fabs: people will argue for years about the merits of the songs on Revolver vs. Pepper vs. the white album — I come down on different sides of the argument from day to day. But what pulls me in is, “What tone do I want to hear?” And it’s most often Pepper (or Magical Mystery Tour, which positively glows again, although it’s less balanced than Pepper).

For years my favorite Jethro Tull record was Benefit, even though I knew that I preferred the more acoustic, quieter tunes on Aqualung. Why? The tone of the album — it’s only almost 50 years later that I’m finding versions of Aqualung that have a nice, balanced tone and can finally accept that I like it more, even though I knew all along that the songs were better.

And this — THIS — is what I think might separate audio dweebs from mere music dweebs. I think we seek tone first. I can’t explain it any other way. At least I do, and now that I’ve recognized that I do it, that most of my listening choices are driven by that desire for great tone, I think maybe we might all do it.

It doesn’t mean the most realistic, or the highest-fi. The 50s Glenn Gould “Goldberg” is preferable (to my ears) to the 70’s one. In fact, Gould’s records are a great example of the inherent contradictions of what I’m suggesting: the piano in most of his early records isn’t especially real (the recordings are dynamically flat-ish and pretty band-limited) but it doesn’t matter — they have great tone. They build from the midrange out. Likewise with Keith Jarrett — the early solo piano records are a bit flat by comparison with the more recent ones, but the tone is SO great.

Think about the phenomenal trumpeter Jon Hassell — he’s all about tone. He practices for hours a day still, to keep the tone-generating part of his technique together.

My favorite Grateful Dead albums are “Skullfuck”, Europe 72 and Wake of the Flood — not gloriously hi-fi, but coherent; and again, built from the mids out. In the music that I prefer to play, if we’re doing it as I prefer, I’ve come to realize that like the Dead, I like exploring the tonalities and the “feel” (that is, how the notes are placed in time), and use the notes only as an expression of those two elements.

So this is something to mull over — the relative importance of tone vs. notes.

Of course the notes, the music, has to be there. But I’ve come to think that it’s far less important than great tone (for a player, OR a listener), and by extension, great feel (which is a rhythmic thing).

Timing, tone and lastly note choice. Those are MY priorities.

[Note: the bass-player in the Pentangle video is the sorta-legendary Danny Thompson. He has on occasion played with Richard Thompson, but the two are not related. Confusing, no?-Ed.]

Well, It Ain’t Dieter Rams….

Well, It Ain’t Dieter Rams….

Well, It Ain’t Dieter Rams….

Charles Rodrigues

Munich, Part 4

Munich, Part 4

Munich, Part 4

Bill Leebens

[Previous installments of our Munich coverage have appeared in Copper issues #85, 86, and 87Ed.]

We’ve talked about “the Munich Show”, meaning the High End, as the big show is properly known, and we’ve talked about it as though it’s a monolith. In terms of size, it basically is. However, just as CES’ success back in the day inspired the creation of THE Show, a nearby, lower-cost show running at the same time in Las Vegas, Munich High End has hifideluxe (and yes, that’s how it’s pitched) just a shuttle ride away in Munich.

Yup. That’s it.

A look at the official guides from the two shows will give you a sense of their relative size. High End’s guide is an impressive, hefty book of over 400 pages, chock full of articles and photos. While free to the press, showgoers pay 15 Euro for it. hifideluxe has a flyer: one piece of paper—admittedly printed on both sides!— showing the location of 38 exhibit rooms and 4 booth vendors in the Munich Marriott. (It must be said that it is a lovely hotel on a very nice site, and has a tremendous breakfast buffet. American hotel “breakfasts” are an embarrassment and disgrace compared to the offerings at even small Munich hotels. But I digress.)

As you might guess, many of the exhibitors at hifideluxe are smallish companies, often lesser-known. That’s not universally true, though; established, well-known brands like Jeff Rowland, Audio Note UK, Jadis, Synergistic Research, Viva, and FM Acoustics were on hand. Jeff mentioned to me that as their primary goal in traveling to Munich is meeting with distributors, not necessarily showing their wares to the general public, the less-manic venue of hifideluxe is ideal for them. I would expect the same to be true for many brands, as Munich has replaced Las Vegas as the place where manufacturers meet up with distributors and potential distributors.

Rowland had a modest but good-sounding system in their prism-shaped room. I can’t recall the speakers. Oops.
The ever-affable Mr. Rowland, with an innocent bystander.

Jadis products are instantly-recognizable, with appearance—and even some models— unchanged since the brand first appeared stateside in the ’80s. It’s a brand that’s inspired a lot of love, caused some broken hearts, and in one famous incident, been pumped full of lead. The sharp-edged chromed chassis always made me think of Dynaco with pretensions of grandeur—but that’s me.

Better wear cotton gloves while operating these guys.
See what I mean about Dynaco?

I must’ve run into Herb Reichert half a dozen times during my time in Munich, and we always exchanged info on must-see, must-hear rooms. So when I saw Herb at hifideluxe and he told me to go hear the Diesis speakers from Italy—I went.

Yes, they were horns. But they were good horns, meaning they didn’t honk, ring, or cause pain. What they did have was texture, tone, and dynamic range in spades. Pairing them with gigabuck Kondo gear didn’t hurt. I have no idea what the top Roma Triode speakers cost, but it’s unlikely that they’re cheap.

I think this model is the “Caput Mundi”—which sounds like a bad workday. The website describes it as “the energy which transforms the space in matter”. Okie-dokie. The red thing is not a supertweeter.
These are the full-zoot 3-way Roma Triode, fully tricked-out with all manner of fancy materials and designed specifically to pair with low-watt SETs like the Kondo Ongaku. Lovely sound.
This is “Bullfrog” from Martion Audio, better known for giant spherical horns. It uses a coaxial driver, and was paired with tube amps from Rike Audio. Punchy and driving—but the Deutsche pop being played drove me away.
Just as he did at the Tampa show, Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note UK held court in the coffee shop. Meanwhile…
…the Audio Note exhibit room looked pretty much like every Audio Note exhibit room ever. Judging by the cello and music stand, Vincent Belanger must have been nearby.
The static display of FM Acoustics gear impressed with the functionality and build quality of the gear—but not their marketing savvy or hospitality.

One fact was repeatedly impressed upon me by the exhibitors at hifideluxe: there are a lot of companies out there doing serious work in audio, companies you may have never heard of, perhaps one-man companies driven more by passion than commercial expertise—but producing real, finished, well-conceived products. Finnish company Knif Rauman’s display featured speakers using a cast waveguide loaded by SEAS magnesium-cone midrange drivers and a ribbon tweeter from RAAL. Woofers were also SEAS, coupled to passive radiators, with Hypex amps for the bass. The main amp was an 845 tube unit, also by Rauman. I was impressed by the coherent, transparent sound quality, although the bass seemed to be overloading the room. A little more space probably would’ve helped.


This was an impressive system.

Another company doing impressive work was Sotto Voce, from Spain. The slender floorstander Stereo 3 looks modest, but conceals a number of surprises: the front-firing driver is a coaxial unit with a large neodymium magnet; bass is provided by back-to-back side-mounted woofers, and 400 watts of Class D amplification was built-in. The company didn’t pretend that these relatively small speakers would provide ear-breaking volume in an auditorium, but rather, were designed to be a simple, high-performance solution for medium-sized room. I appreciate modesty and clarity of purpose.

The sound was bigger than you’d expect from their appearance.

Although hifideluxe was a relatively small show, time and obligations forced me to miss much of it. I was impressed by several of the systems that I did see, and enjoyed the respite from the manic, noisy atmosphere of the MOC. Next year, perhaps, I’ll be able to spend more time at hifideluxe.

Regarding the Munich show(s): that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Time to move on.

Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn

Anne E. Johnson

If Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847) had lived at a time and place when a woman could reasonably pursue a career in composition, Felix might be known as “the younger brother of Fanny Mendelssohn” instead of Fanny being the also-ran. Apparently Felix agreed, nicknaming his sister “Minerva” after the goddess of wisdom because she gave such good advice on his compositions. There’s also evidence that Fanny was at least as great a piano prodigy as her brother.

Still, we should be grateful that she received an excellent education from her parents and found the gumption to compose prodigiously. She even got to see a collection of her Lieder published the year before her death at age 42 from a stroke. She was married to a painter, Wilhelm Hensel — his last name is sometimes appended to hers — who is said to have “supported” her composing but doesn’t seem to have encouraged her to step outside the safety of her domestic life for the sake of her music.

Most of her works were for solo piano, and like her brother, she had a penchant for very short movements grouped under a single opus number. She also wrote a lot for voice and a bit for chamber ensembles.

If you’re surprised to learn that she composed nearly 500 works, it’s because many of them have fallen into obscurity. In 2015, correcting that situation turned into a project called Room for Fanny Hensel, by a group of scholars at the University of Music and the Performing Arts – Vienna. One result of their work is an album with an oddly anti-feminist title, Fanny & Wilhelm Hensel: Scenen einer Ehe (Scenes from a Marriage) on the Gramola label. It features a variety of rarities from the Mendelssohn catalog, performed by a large cast of contributing artists.

Pianist Darya Volkova wends her way through the Bach-like contrapuntal opening of the Introduction and Capriccio in B minor, reminding us that Fanny appreciated classic techniques as much as her brother. The Cappriccio starts at 1:48, and Volkova delivers with astonishing prestissimo virtuosity.


No other tracks are available on YouTube, but it’s worth going to Spotify for a vocal example. This is “Nach Sünden” (From the South), a song from the 5 Lieder, Opus 10. Soprano Jenifer Lary collaborates with pianist Chiaki Kotobuki in a robust, flowing performance despite Lary’s distracting vibrato.

You may recall that brother Felix famously composed a huge set of solo piano miniatures called Songs without Words. Well, Fanny loved that genre, too, and even called some of her solo piano works Lieder. From a set called 4 Lieder, Op. 2, this is No. 3, “Villa Mills,” marked Allegretto grazioso. Pianist Daniele Dawn Fietzek plays with grace and warmth to spare.

Given her domestic responsibilities, it’s hardly surprising that Mendelssohn focused on music that could be played by one or only a few musicians – the number who could fit in her parlor. The Opus 11 piano trio (violin, cello, piano) reflects this necessity. A recent recording by the all-female Trio George Sand on the Elstir label shows her mastery of lush yet delicate Romantic chamber music.

The first movement is an Allegro molto vivace that whorls like a river. Violinist Virginie Buscail could have more bite and solidity to her playing; Diane Ligeti is especially affecting in her cello’s upper register; pianist Anne-Lise Gastaldi keeps things moving with a light touch.


Here’s the contrasting second movement, Andante espressivo, which finds the trio matching their style better and not over-emoting.


Speaking of music for the parlor, an important contribution to recordings of Mendelssohn’s songs has been provided by Champs Hill Records, despite another frustrating, even misleading, title. Mendelssohn: The Complete Songs, Vol. 3 is not the third volume of a complete collection of Fanny Mendelssohn’s songs. Instead, it’s the single volume devoted to, as it says on the cover, “The ‘Other Mendelssohn.’” Volumes 1 and 2 contain Felix’s music. But we’ll take it!

With Malcolm Martineau at the piano, the songs are performed by soprano Susana Gaspar, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, and baritones Manuel Walser and Gary Griffiths.

“Traurige Wege” (Sorrowful Way) is a Nicholas Lenau poem more famously set by Hugo Wolf. Mendelssohn chose duple meter (as opposed to Wolf’s waltz-like version). With a golden baritone, Walser makes sense of the composer’s many shifts in styles, tempos, and modes. It’s a complex song, not a simple strophic number to sing when your neighbors come over to tea.


Sung by Gaspar here, “Der Eichwald brauset” (The Forest Roars) is a setting of the first two stanzas of a poem by Schiller. This tiny gem is a vignette of a girl in the woods, fighting her way through heartbreak as nature empathizes on every side. Gaspar is commanding in her lower register, and Martineau keeps the forest roaring via the piano keys.


As skilled as Mendelssohn was composing Lieder, solo piano works were her true forte, and it’s good to see them getting continued attention. On a brand-new CD called Dreaming (DUX Records), pianist Sunhwa Park has put together a mix of pieces by 19th-century women composers. She includes the entire four-movement Lieder for Piano, Op. 8 by Mendelssohn.

In the fourth movement, marked Larghetto, Park brings out the Romantic longing beautifully.


The presto fourth movement is called “Wanderlied” (Wandering Song). The smoothness and expressiveness of the endlessly swirling phrases make me want to find more of Park’s recordings.


Fanny will probably never get the same level of attention that Felix does, but she’s not being ignored. The Park recording was just released in June. In late July, an album called Elles will come out from ATMA Classique, featuring violist Marina Thibeault and pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone. It’s a program of 19th– and 20th-century women composers, including an instrumental version of one of Mendelssohn’s Goethe-Lieder.

(Bonus tip: Fanny’s settings of Goethe’s poetry are as exquisite and moving as anyone’s. I recommend the recording by baritone Tobias Berndt and pianist Alexander Fleischer on Querstand.)

Keep ’em coming. Every track, every performance, helps give Fanny Mendelssohn the recognition she deserves.

Deep Purple

Deep Purple

Deep Purple

Anne E. Johnson

Deep Purple was originally called Roundabout because its founder, drummer Chris Curtis, planned to have its personnel be established musicians from other groups, who would come and go like cars on a roundabout. That wasn’t exactly what happened, although Deep Purple has had its share of member turnover during its 51-year history (the four basic lineups are known to serious fans as Marks I-IV). With 20 studio albums and over 35 live albums, this approach seems to have worked out fine.

Curtis ended up not sticking with his own idea, so the debut album by this English band includes Hammond organist Jon Lord, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, singer Rod Evans, bassist Nick Simper, and drummer Ian Paice. Shades of Deep Purple (1968) is a mix of prog rock and psychedelia, not yet the hard rock and heavy metal sound that would bring the band big success.

Amid the mixture of original and cover material, “Love Help Me” is a good place to start getting to know the band. The song by Blackmore and Evans opens with dolphin-like synth shrieks over a field of distortion. And then bass and guitar start playing repeated cadential motions, a characteristic that would become common in Deep Purple’s song arrangements. The vocals at this stage sound more like The Mamas and the Papas than what most of us know as Deep Purple:


You really start to hear the recognizable band on Deep Purple 1969 (some fans call this one Deep Purple III). There’s a hard rock crunch now, enveloping the psychedelia, and the guitar sound has more weight.

This album was less popularly and critically successful than the previous year’s The Book of Taliesyn (which was named after a 14th-century Welsh poetry manuscript, in case you were wondering about the band’s prog-rock bona fides). Still, Deep Purple is important for moving away from the light-fingered classical-piano influence that Lord had been exploring. Blackmore, at this point, becomes the most important member in the band, as both songwriter and guitarist. There’s also a touch of the blues creeping in. This is “Why Didn’t Rosemary”:


With Deep Purple in Rock (1970) there are two personnel replacements: bassist Simper was replaced by Roger Glover and, more critically, Ian Gillan was brought in as the new lead singer because Lord and Blackmore didn’t think Evans could handle the heavier rock style the band wanted to embrace.

Besides introducing the Mark II personnel lineup, Deep Purple in Rock is also the first album to feature only songs by band members, with no covers. One of those originals is “Flight of the Rat,” a relentlessly wild, banging heavy metal number. If you can stop headbanging long enough to pick out the details, there’s some very skilled orchestration giving this song its sound, including riffs where the guitar and bass play two octaves apart.


Machine Head (1972) was Deep Purple’s most successful album. But, as with many meteoric rises, the center could not hold; by the time they recorded Who Do We Think We Are (1973), the band was falling apart.

Vocalist Ian Gillan left (but landed on his feet with the role of Jesus on the original studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, not to mention a year touring with Black Sabbath), and bassist Roger Glover joined the band Rainbow. But they stuck around long enough to make Who Do We Think We Are, which included the huge single “Woman from Tokyo.” Three albums later, everyone was ready to call it a day and go onto other projects.

A nine-year studio hiatus was finally broken with Perfect Strangers (1984). The Mark II line-up was back: Blackmore, Glover, Gillan, Lord, and Paice. “Wasted Sunsets” features a thick chordal guitar sound. Maybe the song itself isn’t as profound as it thinks it is, but it’s worth a listen for Blackmore’s heart-rending solo.


Bandmembers have complained about how 1987’s The House of Blue Light turned out. Some thought that they didn’t play well; some that they played fine but it didn’t hang together as a group. Still, there are interesting tracks to explore.

In “The Spanish Archer” Blackmore has multiple styles and layers of guitar work on display. Gillian gets in a well-placed shriek, and Paice keeps things rolling with powerful drum patterns.


Things didn’t work out with Gillan the second time around, and the band fired him. For one album only, Slaves and Masters (1990), Blackmore’s band Rainbow (who Glover also played with) lent Deep Purple their lead singer, Joe Lynn Turner.

Slaves and Masters was not a commercial success, maybe because it doesn’t sound quite like Deep Purple without Gillan. Still, if you give him a chance, Turner has a good voice with a wide range and unusually clear tone for such hard rock. “Fortuneteller” shows off what he can do. The repeating guitar/bass arpeggios are strangely controlled given the song’s drive, as is Blackmore’s solo:


The break-up didn’t last long. By the next album, The Battle Rages On… (1993), Gillam was back. But the personnel shifts weren’t over. Founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left, to be replaced by Steve Morse on Purpendicular (1996).

The prog-rock song “Castle Full of Rascals” starts synth-heavy (with Lord at the keyboards), but soon a more traditional instrumentation takes over, underpinned by a perpetual walking bassline. Gillam uses his full vocal range in the verses, but keeps the melody intriguingly monotone in the central section.


Despite waning sales, the band kept putting out albums every few years. Morse stayed on as guitarist, and Don Airy replaced Jon Lord as keyboardist in 2003. Things petered out in 2005, until there was a reason for everyone to come back to the studio. Sadly, the impetus was the death of Jon Lord in 2012. They called the resulting 2013 album Now What?!

In a way, the band seems determined to show that it can still do everything it once did. “Blood from a Stone” includes touches of blues and funk, occasionally opening up into a hard-rock refrain.


Deep Purple remains an active touring band. Their most recent album is inFinite, released in 2017. The lads are mostly in their seventies now, but these veterans can still lift the heavy stuff. Let them prove it to you themselves with “Bird of Prey.”

Here Comes The Yet Another Son

Here Comes The Yet Another Son

Here Comes The Yet Another Son

Jay Jay French

First appeared in Goldmine Magazine, edited for Copper.

I recently spent 24 hours in Liverpool with my daughter Samantha on a dad/daughter Beatles visit.

I had been to Liverpool several times while Twisted Sister was touring, but never stayed longer than the time it took to arrive, play, and leave.

I have wanted to do a “Beatles Tour” ever since the name Liverpool came into my consciousness in 1964.

The plan last summer was for me and my daughter to stay at the Hard Days Night Hotel, go to the long-established Beatles museum, visit the rebuilt Cavern Club, and take the Magical Mystery bus tour to all the houses (including Brian Epstein’s) which also covered:

Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the graveyard of Eleanor Rigby, and “the church where her wedding had been”.

I wanted to finish this off at the Casbah Coffee Club, located in the basement of Mona Best’s (Pete Best’s mom’s house where the Beatles got their start), but time started to catch up with us so we didn’t get there.

You know, all the standard stuff that one would do on this adventure.

Apparently, over the last 5 years or so, Matthew Street (home of the Cavern and the Hard Days Night Hotel) has been transformed from its past seedy self to an almost Universal Orlando looking theme park for Beatles fans.

There is a Rubber Soul Bar as well as a Sgt. Pepper restaurant on Matthew Street now. It’s all actually a bit too much kitsch!

Liverpool itself, at least in the heart of the commercial district where Matthew street is located, is high energy and full of new businesses and buildings. This was not the dark, depressing Liverpool that I had always read about.

This was a town on fire!

New condos dot the Merseyside along with a huge bustling mall in the center of town. A newly installed, larger than life-size bronze Beatles statue at the ferry port (if you have the cover of the Beatles Live at the BBC, it’s that era).

This was also the warmest summer on record. All of these combined to give Liverpool the feel of a mini London, and not the Liverpool broadcast around the world at the beginning of Beatlemania.

It also appears that Liverpool is financially sustained by three very thriving businesses: a major shipping port, the Liverpool football club, and all things Beatles related (and I do mean all!).

Liverpool is so hot that the world famous Terracotta Army Warriors Exhibition from China was also on display at the Liverpool museum when we were there.

We were just about done seeing everything and heading for one last look at The Cavern, which is still on Matthew Street but down the block from the original location that is now marked by a statue of singer Cilla Black.

As I looked up the street, I saw a sign proclaiming the Magical History Museum with Beatles paintings in the windows and the names of Pete, John, George, Ringo, Paul, and Stuart on the front.

Wait a minute…This is not part of the Beatles museum located about a mile from Matthew Street.

What is this?

Well, what it was is a museum now called The Magical Beatles Museum and bills itself as “The World’s Only Authentic Beatles Museum.” It is the brainchild of Roag Best, half-brother of the first Beatles drummer, Pete Best, who was fired from the band.

For those who need a quick history, the Beatles first tour manager, Neil Aspinall, at the age of 19, started a relationship with Pete Best’s mom, Mona Best, while the Beatles were playing their first shows in the basement of Pete’s moms house in a club she called the Casbah Coffee Club. It did not serve alcohol hence the “Coffee Club” description.

That relationship led to the 1962 birth of a son, Vincent (Roag) Best. The relationship between Neil & Mona, so often incorrectly described as almost nothing more than a one-night stand, actually lasted 8 years.

Roag grew up with his dad Neil as first the Beatles driver, then tour manager, then CEO of Apple Corp., and eventually the manager of the business of the Beatles until he resigned in 2007 due to health issues. Neil died in 2008.

Roag Best has now, in my mind, entered the universe of world-famous offspring that have emerged, in their own right and in various musical realms, from the Beatles universe.

That world is occupied by Julian & Sean Lennon, Stella & James McCartney, Zak Starkey, and Dhani Harrison.

Stella, of course in terms of sheer dollars and influence, may be the most famous of all the “next generation”.

Roag perhaps is the least known (until now).

Although Roag is not a child of one of the Fabs, he is both the half-brother of the original Beatles drummer, as well as the son of their longest running associate, Neil Aspinall. Aspinall went on to manage the band and was one of the only people in the world who had the confidence of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, as well as their wives and family members.

This is about as close as it gets and, because of the unique position he found himself in, was the beneficiary of much of Beatles related memorabilia given to him by his dad, as well as items from the band’s very beginnings at the Casbah Club that are considered historically significant.

I was given a tour of this amazing museum by museum manager Paul Parry. This was totally an unexpected bonus to our trip and I wanted to take photos, however, Paul explained that it wasn’t totally ready but that he could help arrange an interview with Roag to talk about the story behind the museum and what makes it so special.

Here is my interview:

Jay Jay French: How did the idea of the museum come about?

Roag Best: My dad would come back from various tours and film sets and bring items from them home. I began collecting and storing them. The collection eventually became massive. Over the years my wife wanted me to get it all out of the house. At first there was one locker, then a second locker, then a third until I had so much stuff that I couldn’t store it all. A mate of mine asked me one night over dinner “What do you really want to do?” Of all the things that I had listed, the museum idea stood out and he said “You must do that!”

JJF: Then what?

RB: And so began a search for a building. Over a 10-year period I came close 3 times but each time, it seemed at the last minute, I got “gazumped” (This is British slang for losing a real estate sale at the last possible minute).

I wanted the location on Matthew street (the location of the legendary Cavern Club and the Hard Days Night Hotel, but this seemed impossible as Matthew street is one of the most sought after addresses in Liverpool, and of course nothing was available.

Just when I thought all hope was lost (literally 30 minutes from my most recent failed attempt), I was walking across Matthew Street and bumped into an old mate who told me that a building on Matthew Street had been offered to him but that he turned it down. I told him what I wanted to do and he made the introduction to the seller. I made a handshake deal that I would buy it and that the seller would keep any word of the availability of the building secret. (Both parties kept their word). I couldn’t believe my luck!

JJF: Do you have partners?

RB: Yes, five.

JJF: Are you the sole creative force?

RB: Yes.

JJF: What makes your museum stand out, especially against the other Beatles museum in town?

RB: Three words: Authenticity, Unique, Original

JJF: How so?

RB: Everything there is real and authentic, from the musical instruments, to the letters sent and received by the band, to the items from album covers like Sgt. Pepper. The other museum has mostly recreations and/or stuff seen before. Of the 30 or so original items they have, half of them are mine. We have 300 original items on display with an additional 1,200 in storage. This allows us the freedom to change the exhibit, which we will do every year to keep it fresh and give you a reason to return!

JJF: Tell me about the layout.

RB: There are three floors. The first floor is Beatles 1959-1962. This has mostly a black and white motif because most photos in that era were black & white. (Not because Pete Best, Roag’s half-brother, was fired in 1962)

The second floor covers the period of 1963-1966.

The third floor covers the period 1967-1970.

This allows for themes relating to each era to be focused on.

JJF: Is this an official Beatles Museum?

RB: Not an official Beatles museum, but I did get approval from Apple. Believe me, if Apple doesn’t want something to happen, it doesn’t happen! I got their blessing.

JJF: So, Apple does not receive royalties?

RB: No.

JJF: Has Paul, Ringo, or any other Beatles family member visited the museum yet?  

RB: No.

JJF: Roag, as a lifelong Beatles fan I was blown away at the collection. There is real depth in this. I learned nothing at the other museum that most casual fans didn’t already know. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but to a real fan, you deliver something very special.

RB: We wanted to give real Beatles fans a really special, authentic, unique, and original experience.

JJF: Are you still finding new stuff to display?

RB: We just got never before seen film footage that we will be projecting soon. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s amazing!

JJF: Do you have a target annual admissions number that you are hoping to reach?

RB: About 300,000 visitors annually. We are on target!

JJF: Roag, in closing, what would you say would be the perfect 1-day Beatles experience when you come to Liverpool?

RB: First go to the Casbah club (the most visited of all Beatle sites), then come to our museum (The Magical Beatles Museum), and end the day with a visit to the Cavern Club across the street to listen to some good music and have yourself a drink.

JJF: Thank you Roag.

RB: See you in Liverpool on your next visit, Jay Jay!

The Fire

Bill Leebens

I’m going to deviate from the standard Vintage Whine topics just this once—because just as important as the heritage of innovation and genius in the creation of audio gear is the heritage of innovation and genius in the creation of music. And to state the obvious: without the music, there is no point in creating, using, or preserving audio gear.

A sidebar: I was a student librarian from grade school all the way through high school. To me, taking care of books and records was almost a sacred trust. As an adult, I had a side-business buying and selling antiquarian books, old books with historic, scientific, or artistic importance. More than once I bought entire personal libraries, collected with care over decades, that were about to be dumped by heirs who had no understanding of what had been collected, or why. Such uncaring disregard horrified and angered me on a level I can’t even convey, almost as much as seeing a child mistreated.


So imagine that you were in charge of maintaining recordings of some of the great artists of modern times. As many of the artists are long dead, such recordings are irreplaceable. But equally irreplaceable are recordings made by living artists, as those recordings represent specific collaborations, specific vibes, recorded in a particular place at one particular point in time.

As the curator of such material, wouldn’t you do everything you could think of to preserve and protect that material for future generations? Wouldn’t you view it as almost a sacred trust?

I would. But as you probably know by now, many in the recording industry did not.

Just a few weeks ago, The New York Times broke the story: “The Day the Music Burned.” If the title of the story was disturbing, what it revealed was far more disturbing: in June of 2008, fire destroyed a 22,000 square foot corrugated metal building on the backlot of Universal Studios. Within that building was a fenced-off 2,400 square foot area filled with 18′ high shelving. The shelving was storage of archival recording masters for UMG, the Universal Music Group. These days, the UMG conglomerate is the biggest record company in the world.

What was lost?

It’s almost easier to list what wasn’t lost. Analog tape masters from the very beginning of analog tape, all the way up to rap artists from the ’90s. Masters of many of the biggest-selling records of all time—from Hoagy Carmichael and Rosemary Clooney up through Peter Frampton and Barry Gibb all the way to Primus and Common—are gone. Louis, Ella, Joni, Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters. Poof. A complete list may never be known, but the Times, once again, managed to piece together information from disparate sources. See if you can read this without becoming nauseous. I couldn’t.

There are plenty of questions floating around: First, why wasn’t valuable, irreplaceable material handled and stored with greater care? After all, much of the income of record companies comes from remastering, repackaging, and re-releasing material from their back catalogs. Common fiduciary sense would indicate that one should protect the money-makers. Second, how and why was the extensive loss concealed for 11 years? Many artists affected had no idea their assets had disappeared until they read about it in the first Times article. Third, what will the outcome of this mess be?

Well, there are several elements to consider with that last question. You can bet that artists who lost their masters will be seeking compensation of some sort; one class action suit has already been filed, and it’s likely the first of many. Prickly questions regarding who actually owned the masters—the artist, their label, the group—could drag out for years, and the answers may well vary on an artist-by-artist basis.

And here’s a particularly sticky and potentially ugly question, on top of all the others: did Vivendi SA, the French media group that owns UMG, suppress the release of information of the lost masters in order to keep UMG’s valuation high, because they were planning to sell the group? Had they withheld that information and gone through with the sale, release of that information after the sale would likely result in suits seeking damages in the billions. Before the first Times story, UMG’s valuation was pegged at $50 billion. Now, the possibility of a sale is on hold until things shake out a bit.

In purely pragmatic terms, the disclosure of the losses is a disaster for UMG: credibility and trust of artists has essentially vaporized, and Vivendi Chairman Arnaud de Puyfontaine’s arrogant dismissal of concerns over the loss of priceless works of artistic merit as “just noise” has not helped the public perception of UMG or Vivendi.

Basically, it’s a cluster. Just how bad a cluster? We may know in a decade or so.

After all: it took longer than that for the news of the damage to become public.

Half a Year, Half a Year, Half a Year Gone

Bill Leebens
Welcome to Copper #88! The day this magazine goes live, July 1st, marks the halfway point in 2019. Having had a birthday recently, it certainly does seem that the months and years are zipping by. Back in the days when I still wrote checks, this would be about the time of year where I'd finally started writing the correct year in the date field of the check, halfway through the year. These days, without looking at my phone or calendar, I can rarely even tell you what month it is. It's a good thing I have deadlines to keep me alert. Dan Schwartz talks about TONE!; Richard Murison wonders if we're all just a bunch of navel-gazers; Jay Jay French plays Beatles tourist in Liverpool; Roy Hall has a rough go of it in Napa; Anne E. Johnson’s Off the Charts brings us lesser-known Deep Purple tracks, and Anne's Something Old/Something New features recent recordings of the lovely music of the unjustly unsung Fanny Mendelssohn; and I get up close and personal in The Audio Cynic, and in an atypical Vintage Whine, we look at the fate of vintage music---not vintage gear. Next issue---back to gear. B. Jan Montana concludes his look around THE Show, and I finally (!) wrap up my coverage of the Munich show. I was starting to think it'd run until the next Munich show. Our friend Woody Woodward will be back next issue with Part 3 of his piece on Django Reinhardt. Copper #88 wraps up with Charles Rodrigues as design critic, and a lovely Parting Shot from Maggie McFalls. ---and oh! Have a Happy 4th! Cheers, Leebs.

THE Show 2019, Part 2

B. Jan Montana

Part 1 of Jan Montana's report appeared in Copper #87---Ed.>

I don't know anything about modern analog equipment, but I'd rather spend money on a TriangleArt turntable than most of the visual art produced these days.

Yes the platter is floating, by magnetomotive force I'm told. Keep your hard drives away.

True Analog had a fine display of drivers using assorted cone materials available only to the OEM crowd (in large quantities, no doubt).

Despite their appearance, these $25K Apollo loudspeakers from Arion Audio are actually dipoles, both the towers and the woofers. The towers are powered by 2A3 Triode Lab amplifiers which belt out 3.5 watts per channel RMS from 20 - 20K at 8 ohms. It was surprising how clean and dynamic this system sounded at loud volumes on digital music. In my opinion, the flat panel woofers didn't really keep up with the towers despite their 500 watt amps.

My audio sensibilities have kept me from being much of a fan of Wilson speakers despite my respect for the person of Dave Wilson. Alma Audio from San Diego may have changed my mind with this demo featuring Luxman power, an Innuos server, and an MSB DAC. The L-509X amp with a pair of Tune Tot speakers are just under $20K.

Fans of full range dipoles should find these Canadian speakers from VKmusic.ca interesting. There must be many of them because the room was packed and I didn't get a chance to ask the host about the drivers. They sounded much like the Lowther dipoles I've heard at other shows.

These Ekahi speakers ($8900/pr.) from alaiaaudio.com, introduced at this show, featured top-flight Scan Speak drivers and very complicated, but beautiful, cabinets. They sounded very clean, smooth, and non-fatiguing, but might have benefited from a sub driver in the boxy stand.

I've liked 3 way ATC speakers with dome mids ever since I first heard them over 30 years ago. They've always impressed me with their lifelike presentation. These powered versions are no exception. ($50,000/pr.)

No idea what the protrusions from the front of these drivers are, but they don't appear in the images on the WaveTouch Audio website. The sound of these $4800/pr. Antero speakers reminded me of the classic BBC LS3A monitors.

Here's a nice view of the hotel pool from one of the demo rooms. Not sure why I took this photo but I'd enjoy the opportunity to drive the Vette.

At their show demo, CDT Audio from Buelton, CA presented these 2.1" mid-tweeters as "image enhancers" to one's existing home audio system. But the hand-outs they gave us referred to them as a "point-source speaker" with the "ability to produce all of the sound output". I went to their website for clarification, and there they are presented as mid-tweeters for car audio. Sounds like a very versatile speaker.

I always stop in at the Evolution Audio room, as much to say hello to the affable Jonathan Tinn and his engineer Kevin Malmgren, as to hear their excellent speakers. They didn't disappoint me with this version, which produced bass so serious I looked for a subwoofer. The heroic efforts Kevin employed to engineer the right sound can be seen in the exposed crossover.

The Canadian Muraudio electrostats feature curved panels, which is not unique. What is unique is that the panels are curved in the vertical dimension as well, which makes them more of a point source rather than a line array design. This offers a wider soundstage to accommodate people seated off to the side, standing along the back wall, or passed out on the floor. The broad dispersion doesn't stop at the 750 Hz. crossover point as the four bass drivers are arrayed to carry on through the midbass and bass frequencies. They integrate better with the panels than most of the other hybrids I've heard. Clever design, which solves many problems. Their sound reminded me of the beloved Quad 63s, but with bass and dynamics. ($15,000/pr.)

It's fun to discover sound playing from one of the demo rooms hours after the show has ended. The room was packed but I got a glimpse at the top of the speakers, and assumed they were large Magicos. But they seemed to have more body and soul, which I attributed to the first generation tapes played by Greg Beron, owner of United Home Audio. Once the room cleared out a little, I could see that these were Audio Solutions speakers. By their sound and appearance, I expected them to cost in the neighborhood of $50,000, but was surprised when the distributor told me they are made in Lithuania and retail for $10K/pr.

My fellow travelers to the THE Show, San Diego Music and Audio Guild members Paul Marble (left) and Joaquin Perez (right), agreed that this event was well worth the investment of time and money. In the center is THE Show's Operations Manager, Kyle Robertson, who not only did a terrific job of making everything run smoothly, he also went out of his way to make attendees feel welcome and appreciated.


Roy Hall

“Hi Dad. How would you like to be my sous chef? I’m doing a charity event in Napa and I’ll need a assistant.”

Ilan, my son, was the winner of Top Chef, season two on Bravo TV. Since then he had become somewhat of a celebrity and had done dozens of cooking events around the country and abroad. I had to say yes.

I was flown out first class and chauffeured to a very fancy hotel in St. Helena, California. Our driver for the event was John Shafer—owner of Shafer Vineyards, a most prestigious producer in the Napa Valley. On arrival, I found a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon wine in my hotel room. He was a delightful man who regaled us with farming stories (the vineyard owners call themselves farmers) as he drove us around for supplies.

The organizers had invited most prior Top Chef winners to make one dish each for lunch. Among the attendees, apart from Ilan, were Richard Blais, Harold Dieterle, Hung Huynh, Stephanie Izard, and Kristen Kish.

Ilan had decided to make a tongue sandwich with romesco sauce on fried bread. It was truly delicious, but a little much for some people who couldn’t stomach the idea of eating tongue. As there were so many students from the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena (CIA) jockeying to help, there wasn’t much for me to do. Ilan had also invited his friend Rahul, who is now a partner in his Los Angeles vegan ramen restaurant, Ramen Hood.

My job was to prepare ingredients as told. At one point Ilan asked me to perform some task and I suggested I do it a different way.

Ilan looked at me seriously and said, “Dad! All I want to hear from you is, ‘Yes Chef!’”

“Yes Chef,” I answered. I did what I was told. [That HAS to be a first—Ed.]

We served our dish and, with few exceptions, the crowd of high rollers raved over Ilan’s food. Everyone had been given a cutting board to eat on and some circled the chefs, asking them to autograph their boards. One woman approached me and I explained that my son, standing nearby, was the chef. She soon returned and again asked for my autograph. I asked why.

“You created this Top Chef,” she said, beaming.

Another woman, dripping with jewelry, asked me to sign her board. When I explained that I wasn’t the chef, she looked at me in abject horror and backed away as if I was contagious.

Service over and surrounded by vineyards, we started drinking some amazing wines. A bunch of us then sauntered (staggered) over to the restaurant at the Meadowood Resort and, of course, Ilan was friendly with the head chef, which made for quite a lush meal. We also drank a few more bottles of wine. At one point, I mentioned that my favorite brewery in the world, Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, was only 25 miles away. Russian River brews a beer, Pliny the Elder, which in my opinion is the best beer ever made. Everyone agreed that it was time to stop drinking wine and start drinking beer.

Russian River Brewing Company was founded in 1997. While RRBC has recently opened a new brewpub in Windsor, California, the original premises in downtown Santa Rosa consists of a very long bar that is eternally crowded. Serving standard pub fare, it has the feel and look of a local pub in Anytown USA, but the beers they make are magical. Pliny, my favorite, is a double IPA. Double IPA means double the amount of hops, which makes the beer bitterer, but if properly made (and Pliny is) the addition of extra malt balances the bitters and turns it into something sublime. Many brewers make double IPAs but no one does it better than Russian River. It is not uncommon to see many a customer clutching his pint and smiling knowingly. A pint or two of Pliny and all is well with the world.

Refreshed from our outing to the brewery, we returned to St. Helena to a restaurant booked for all of the chefs and their helpers. By this time, we were all rather lifted, which made the chefs quite talkative. At one point some the chefs competed in showing their battle scars, which ranged from cuts (lots of them), to serious burns, to scald marks. They seemed to find this subject hilarious.

Dinner over, we all traipsed over to a local bar to listen to music. Hanging out with chefs is fascinating but their excesses in food and alcohol must take a toll on them, and I wouldn’t be able to do this all the time. Nevertheless, that weekend was an experience.

The next morning, hung over, the limo whisked me back to the airport. It was time for a detox.