Sonic fireworks

July 2, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

In a few days, the night skies around my town will be exploding with bursts of color as the country celebrates what we call Independence Day.

Bad day for animals, both domestic and wild, terrified by the explosions.

Sometimes when I am in the mood, I love to throw on some sonic fireworks. Let ‘er rip. Turn up the volume and celebrate the glory of dynamics and bottom end.

I suppose we all have our little stashes of such music at the ready.

I used to crank up Telarc’s 1812 but while it is certainly dynamic and spectacular, it’s not a particularly good recording. It suffers greatly from the digitits of a long-ago recording process.

What’s your favorite sonic fireworks?

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59 comments on “Sonic fireworks”

  1. I must admit I’ve never thought of audio that way. I have bass test tracks, but only for use when doing a demo. I can’t say I’ve ever sat down to listen to my audio system.

    The most crash-bang piece I know is Thom Willem’s music for “In The Middle Somewhat Elevated”. I’ve heard it in the theatre about 5 or 6 times, most notably at the first performance at Covent Garden in February 1992 (with Sylvie Guillem, Laurent Hilaire, Darcey Bussell, Jonathan Cope). The lighting is equally spectacular and there was a warning issued.

    If you stream it, play a few minutes fairly low before turning it up, else you could damage your stereo and ears.

    1. One sparkling track I always return to when I want some real thunder is the third movement, Chester, from William Schuman’s New England Triptych with the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz on Delos, and now also on Naxos. The level is a bit low, so crank up the volume and enjoy!

      /Erik

  2. Track 5: ‘Merlin’ – Rick Wakeman
    (The Myths & Legends Of King Arthur & The Knights Of The Round Table)

    ‘Random Access Memory’ – Daft Punk (Whole Album)

    Track 8: ‘Imperial Rockets’ – Itch-E & Scratch-E
    (Hooray For Everything!!!)

    And the piece de resistance…
    Track 4: ‘Dear Enemy’ – Night Club
    (Requiem For Romance)

    Back to “Truisms” from the other day (June 26th).
    I was listening to ‘Dusk’, an album by ‘The The’ (Matt Johnson) today & I heard this lyric:

    “Everybody’s looking for someone…
    …to tell them what they want to hear”

    I couldn’t help but think, ‘How true!’
    …especially in audio, & especially if you’ve worked in audio retail.

    Happy listening folks 🙂

    1. Just in case Paul does, ‘Music that gives you goose-bumps’ tomorrow, I’ll get in early:
      ‘Indian Sunset’ – Madman Across The Water (1972) Elton John/Bernie Taupin.
      After 49 years it still gives me chills up & down my spine.

    2. Mr Rat,

      I sure hear you on the “worked in audio retail”.
      I worked at Magnolia Hi-Fi in the mid-to-late 80s…
      A place called Pacific Stereo was closing down, and a local sales manager managed to get hired. Then came a flood of “sales people” that not only had no ears, but stole your be-back sales on a regular basis.
      Those were the days 😉

    3. FR, I have to agree with the Rick Wakeman choice.

      I read a brief blurb about “The The” somewhere a few days ago ( I had not being able to remember stuff like where I read it 🙁 ). Do you think a classic rocker like me could get into them?

        1. Hi Tony,
          A classic rocker should be able to get into ‘The The’ but you know how it goes, ‘Each to their own’.
          For me the real hook with ‘The The’ is Matt Johnson’s dark & deep lyrics…
          “I was just another Western guy with desires that can’t be satisfied”
          “Take me beyond love, up to something above…
          …beyond the gaze of the sick & the lame,
          Beyond the stench of human pain.”
          I’ve got The The’s first 4 albums & they still rate in my top 100 (out of 1,000) CD’s.
          ‘Soul Mining’
          ‘Infected’
          ‘Mind Bomb’
          ‘Dusk’
          Matt really digs deep into the frailty of the human condition.

    4. “. . . to tell them what they want to hear.” That pretty much describes the internet these days. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

  3. The most impressive track when it comes to dynamic range is track No. 17 “Return of The Garage Door“ found on Test Disc III from HIFI NEWS & Record Review. Track No. 23 “Stereo walkround” is a good example for the fact that there are sound engineers out there with huge deficits in hearing ability. This track shows severe phase issues – crosscheck with headphones easily confirms this finding.

  4. Metallica— Fight Fire With Fire

    Peter Gabriel— The Rhythm of The Heat ( has a great build up .)

    Rammstein — Links 1-2-3-4

    Sepultura—Refuse Resist

    Hans Zimmer/ Benjirmen Wallfisch— Sea Wall ( From Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. )

    These tracks have terrific energy and I think they’re even more powerful than fireworks. They get the nod to destroy your neighbors once and for all. 😉

  5. The last Tool album, Fear Inoculum has many tracks that fit this description but my favorite is track#2 (Pneuma) which won the Grammy last year for best rock performance. It’s a amazing piece of musicianship.

    1. Beat me to it. While we’re at it, anything by “Between the Buried and Me” cranked up will get the neighbors talking about you. (I’m 70)

  6. Definitely Mahler Symphony No. 2 with Valery Gergiev conducting, especially the last movement. Also The Organ Sympnony by Saint Saens, especially the last movement, with James Levine conducting.

    1. I agree with your choices. And, of course, Paul’s comments are insightful and correct.

      But – and it’s a big but – all of these “fireworks” noted here one after another by mindless rock and rollers, rattling off their fruggin, freegin, freekin, flouvin, awesome-rock-out-doood favorites – are merely recorded noise compared to the real thing. Acoustic instruments playing in a real space just has no parallel. That’s reality. It just doesn’t.

      It’s like comparing the hocker you jest spat on the sidewalk to a full on, land-ripping destroyer tsunami.

      It’s like comparing your little backyard fire pit to the sun. You actually may prefer your carbon-greenhouse-gas emitting fire pit to the sun, and you may strongly prefer your pop/rock to everything else, but your preference doesn’t change reality.

      Here are some real fireworks. Galactic in size and power.

      1. Final Movement of the Dvorak “New World”. We practiced this in high school concert band. The band room was huge, but the orchestra was huge, also. Four Sousaphones[!}, bass trombones, trombones, baritone horns, trumpets, and a huge complement of winds – the sheer sound pressure in that room is an experience that’s stayed with me my entire music-sensitive life. Talk about sonic boom! There’s been nothing like it. It’s completely ruined any puny recordings of this music for me.

      2. Janacek – Rhapsody Taras Bulba. It’s scored for orchestra with pipe organ pedals. Organ pedal are the ultra deep bass of the pipe organ. They produced the lowest and deepest bass musically possible.

      Hearing this scintillatingly scored piece played by one of the greatest orchestras in the world – The Chicago Symphony Orchestra – in the natural, improved acoustics of Orchestra Hall – playing naturally, not with digital acoustic reinforcement – is wonderful enough. But, when the pipe organ ultra deep bass pedal enters in the final movement – I swear, it’s like you’ve just felt the hand of God. It’s like the power of the infinite universe has just made itself known. Oh yes, the Orchestra Hall organ is the real thing, too; not some electronic fake job, or synthesizer.

      3. John Adams – Short Ride In A Fast Machine. Played by the Northwestern University Concert Winds, this piece in concert performance is staggering. And, fun. That pressurized room effect that I was talking about in point #1 above – that’s applicable right here, too.

      OK. Y’all may now crawl back to your woofers and tweeters.

      Rock on.

  7. When i was younger a bunch of us would take the train into Boston for the July 4th concert on the Esplanade, the 105mm canon across the Charles river really had some punch. Some of those festivities had 400,000 people and there was almost no disturbance. Most of them were tipsy on drink or weed but everyone was in a great mood so it was a very peaceful celebration.

    One year we had a real “pea souper” of a fog roll in, you could not see the boats anchored just off the Esplanade. The music was just a bit muted depending on where you were but the fireworks after were fantastic. The sky was lit by eerie blooms of color above the fog. When I worked at the post office on Fort Point as a maintenance tech we would sneak up to the roof to watch the fireworks.

    I’m a traditionalist so most of my recorded bombast are the old stalwarts – 1812 (1960 version w brass canon recorded at West Point), poets and peasants, Picture at an Exhibition. A more recent one is a new remastering of Riders on the Storm with very much improved thunder. The pair of 10″ subs adds a lot to the experience.

  8. Al Di Meola – “Kiss my axe” (1991). Very transparent, some low bass and phantastic soundquality (thanks to Bob Ludwig !).
    One of my favorite fusion albums of all time

    Porcupine Tree – “Russia on ice” (some very low bass !), a song from “Lightbulb Sun” (2000/2008).

    Dayna Kurtz – “Here” vol 1 and “Here” vol 2, both recorded live (2017) in several European countries.
    Soundquality to die for.

    I don’t get excited by Test records. No fireworks there for me. But as always, to each his own…

  9. I am not big of movie scores but I’ll say the score from Star Wars for some sonic excitement. The 1812 is also very exciting.

    If anyone lives with a K-9 that is fearful of fireworks or other explosive noises there is a product called “Thundershirt” that works quite well to diminish this fear. Works on the same principle used by Temple Grandin.

  10. Wanna “test” your speakers and find out how loud and dynamic they can go ?
    Try a piece of classical rock : Beethoven’s “Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria”
    (“The battle symphony”).
    No guns here like in “1812”, but more than enough noise from good old Ludwig to make up for that.
    So, crank up the volume, but…don’t forget to warn the neighbors ! 😐

  11. My favorite is a piece by David Diamond called “This Sacred Ground”; a setting of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for Mixed and Children’s Choruses, Baritone Solo and Orchestra. The only recording I know of is the Seattle Symphony with Gerard Schwarz on Delos, (DE 3141). A very stirring piece with orchestral fireworks.

  12. I’m not much of a Rock An Roller anymore.
    But this is what I yoost to listen to on the fourth of July in my late teenage years.
    Pore Some Sugar On Me, Depth Leporid.
    Back In Black, AC DC.
    Here I Go Again, White Snake.
    Sweet Child Of Mine, Guns And Roses.
    Momma’s Fallen Angel, Poisson.
    Just to name a few.
    I yoost to rock the whole block with my music.

  13. The old Reference Recordings “Dafos” record at the part where Mickey Hart drops the drum set. On an IRS V or system with similar bass extension it will scare people.

    1. Even over my Pioneer SP-BS22-LRs with rolled up wool socks plugging the ports and the bass rolled off a bit (yaayyy, tone controls!), it’s still fun.

  14. I disagree that Telarcs in general suffered from “digitits of a long-ago recording process.” With a purist microphone technique, a Soundstream transformerless recording system (response to 0Hz, supposedly), and a straight to the cutter head mastering system, those old LPs still sound good. From an Absolute Sound article in 2019 called “Early Digital Recordings Didn’t All Suck”:

    “The sound of these early Telarcs holds up very, very well with sonic quality that’s far superior to most analog orchestral recordings from the ‘majors’ in the mid- to late-1970s. It’s not just Stockham’s Soundstream recorder, encoding at a bit-depth of 16 and a sampling rate of 50,000Hz. Woods and Renner had the advantage of making these recordings in three very favorable acoustic environments—Atlanta’s Symphony Hall, Cincinnati’s Music Hall, and the Haughton Chapel at Wellesley College—and Renner’s long experience recording large ensembles with a minimalist technique contributed as well to the superb result. The electronics in the recording chain were beyond reproach, and top-notch mastering engineers, including Stan Ricker, Bruce Leek, and Richard Donaldson, cut the lacquers for the original discs. Although some homogenization of the sound of Silverstein’s Stradivarius violin afflicts the Vivaldi recording—“digititis” was (is) the pejorative term—massed violins on the Stravinsky are feathery and transparent. Woodwind sonorities are wonderfully realistic in the Introduction to the Polovtsian Dances and with Carmina burana, the complex timbre of Hăkan Hagegărd’s baritone is beautifully characterized. The most dynamically exuberant passages of Carmina (the ‘O Fortuna’ sections that open and close the piece, for instance) remain coherent, as does the cacophony of the overdubbed bells in 1812. The soundstage is wide and gratifyingly continuous with all four programs.”

    1. I haven’t listened to my copy of the 1812 on Telarc for many years and yes I remember that it was what I considered a high quality recording that contained a lot of sonic fireworks.

      We were discussing direct to disc recordings not long ago, specifically Sheffield records. One of their recordings was the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra led by Eric Leinsdorf which sounded like the entire orchestra was jammed into a room that couldn’t have been bigger than 10 x 10. No one in that post made mention of that deficiency but only spoke about how fabulous Sheffield recordings were which for the most part is true. I happen to like Telarc recordings even in CD format. I have quite a few of them and I think that many are top notch.

  15. Edward Elgar’s Gerontius when he gets a glimpse of god. An inspiring crescendo of full orchestra plus four percussionists deliver a lacerating Parsifal-like discord but only for a split second.
    Elgar marks it fffz-p as a blinding flash of light thats infinitesimally brief. Made several folk jump 🙂

  16. For the 1812 Overture….in terms of sheer bombast…..gotta go with the Telarc version.

    It’s not my favorite performance of the 1812…..as I think it’s a bit overdone. Erich Kunzel, God love him, is just foot-to-the-floor all the time which has it’s place but for the purpose of our discussion here, it’s the recording for the occasion.

    It’s always interesting to see how well someone’s turntable can actually track this LP.

    With Telarc’s….I’ve never had any quibbles with the recordings, in fact, I think they are generally very good. I think that some of the performances were so-so…..but, some had those criticisms of the Mercury Living Presence recordings as they didn’t have the budget for the big names and orchestras that RCA did…..and, man, for fun listening, it’s hard to beat Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops recordings. His rendition of the Magnificent Seven theme and the William Tell Overture are two of my all time favorite things to listen to on the Carver Amazings (truth be told….I’d give my left one to listen to those two tracks on the IRS V’s…..ahem, Paul? Please? LOL) and the Frankie Laine recordings are, IMO, real sleepers…..

  17. I’ve made it a point lately to write down every piece of music that I’ve seen mentioned in YouTube reviews. I dig them up on Tidal or Spotify and listen. So far I’ve really enjoyed most, but not all. This comments regarding this subject cover the entire music spectrum which is great. I’m only familiar with some of them. This will keep me busy for quite a while!!

  18. WAY too many to list, but here’s an oddball CD I always use to wake people up. It’s “Nirvana” on LaserLight (!) with Bucky and John Pizzarelli. Track 2 features a drum solo by Bernard Purdie — and I’m not a drum solo guy ordinarily — that really does the job. Track is “Sing, Sing, Sing,” so we’re definitely in retro-land.

  19. I have several early Sheffield Labs DD vinyl recordings – I love the Lincoln Mayorga and Colleges – “America” is a goodie.
    And a CD of James Newton Howard with a lot of tracks that just cannot play at low volumes.

    A KLH demo recording I picked up from a small shop in my old home town – Amanda McBroom – Horray for Hollywood… some very special tracks there.

    And best is that my neighbors on both side are quire hard of hearing, and make their own noise.

    John

  20. TELARC Saint-Saens Symphony No.3, Op.78 “Organ” is my go-to for testing the limits of my system. With that CD I can hear every tweak I make. It has the deep pedal bass of the organ along with full orchestra and really moves the air. At the fortissimo end, sorting through all the instruments and pipe ranks challenges any audio system.

  21. well this one was recommended by Bert Whyte in AUDIO Magazine dwcades ago. it’s a TELARC with its concomitant warning about playback levels.

    it is Ein Straussfest. the first cut is The Explosions Polka. BE CAREFUL. theres a real gunshot in there which i adjust until i just hear distortion and then back down the level until that disappears.

    THEN, when an unsuspecting soul sits down, i put it on and it nearly knocks them off the couch. heheheh. the rest of the disc is likewise robust so it’s FUN listening to Strauss.

  22. Since I’ve been on a prog [Aaaaargh! Run Away! Run for your life and sanity!] jag lately, I’ll put in [Time and] a word for Steve Howe’s solo on the live recording of “Your’s Is No Disgrace” on the yessongs album.

    Also, the “Cacophony in C minor” by Carlheinz Stockhousen. The recording by Walter Bruno conducting the Greater Hoople Area Off-season Philharmonic Orchestra is particularly recommended.

  23. I own many Telarc recordings and “drank by the label” when I first got got back into audio. They do vary in sound quality though including the older ones done by Woods/Renner which I found the best of Telarc. However when I discovered “Mercury Living Presence Recordings” a bit later which were done by recording engineer Robert Fine and his wife, Wilma Cozart Fine, the executive producer, I found MLP to be the best Classical Recordings that I’ve ever heard; especially as I upgraded my gear.. While MLP vary in SQ like all recordings, I find them the closest thing to the going to the symphony and listening to the real thing. Of course, no recording can capture the dynamics and sound of a live symphony. Just my 2 cents.

  24. Reference Recordings/Exotic dances from the opera comes into my mind.

    Otherwise I agree with Paul, the Telarc suffers meanwhile but it’s still immense fun. I have the original LP, the SACD and the FIM LP audiophile reissue, which sounds best.

    1. Indeed Exotic Dances should be on the list of being very dynamic.

      I own the 1812 Telarc SACD, and while it was fun to listen to at first, IMO it’s not one of their best recordings and I agree with Paul 100%. To my ears the early Telarc recordings generally sounded the best even though they were recorded on the 16 bit SoundStream ADCs and before they started using the dual layer surround sound & 2 channel versions on the same disk. Maybe the miking for both surround sound and 2 channel was a compromise??

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