A new pair of loudspeakers
By Beppe Colli
Oct. 1, 2006

Sad, but true: my faithful, trusted loudspeakers were on their way out. After consulting a nice group of people who participate in an online Forum for/by/about producers and engineers, and having the thing checked by a trusted technician, it appeared that the culprit was a faulty crossover. But since my loudspeakers were a bit on the old side anyway, and parts proved to be a problem, I thought it was time for a change. So I decided to have a look around.

Well... Reading about the death of hi-fi is one thing, but seeing what's really available in town (population: 380.000+) is a totally different experience: "Home-theatre" systems everywhere, dealers who have no choice but to sell what they already have in their shops, the only nice-sounding pair of (hi-fi) speakers I listened to being in the neighborhood of (gasp!) 8.000 euros... Not to mention the proliferation of those tiny speakers that one connects to a computer, or those portable "personal players" that one fills with whole libraries of (downloaded - and paid for?) sounds. In the end the good guys always win: a musician friend of mine whose opinion I trust suggested to me that I check (and no, I won't mention the brand and model) new studio monitors. They were really good. I bought a pair.

See, I've always had a thing for studio monitors, and that's what I use. So I arranged the proper placement in my room, tried my favourite "pet sound" (mine is an overtone coming from the bass drum skin that behaves like a resonant frequency in the studio room where the actual recording took place; you can hear it at about 2' 19" in The Joke, off High Tide's second album of the same name, originally released in 1970), and off I went.

One thing that I have a lot of fun doing as soon as I own a new stereo component is listening to a lot of records all over again. (Did I notice that...? And how could I have missed that nice bass part in...?) I also listened to the two albums released by Hatfield And The North - and also to some stuff by National Health - just to say goodbye to the recently deceased Pip Pyle, whose drum work is maybe at its glorious best there.

Funny how listening to some old records makes one want to read some old articles again, sometimes. In a folder in my computer I have some nice files with some stuff written by Greil Marcus. Take his review of The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed LP, for instance, which originally appeared in 1969 in the issue # 49 of Rolling Stone. I really wonder how helpful it can be in helping somebody who have never heard this album develop an appreciation for it, or simply just an understanding. Many times, what writers appear to really want to do is placing the work of a group in the larger scheme of things - and in Marcus case, this happens quite masterfully (maybe even more so in his review of the Stones' Sticky Fingers, which originally appeared in the August 1971 issue of Creem). But having read the stories about the group, the lyrics, the group's stance, their moral attitude... isn't there something quite important that's missing?

In his piece called The Bangs/Meltzer/Tosches Juggernaut, which originally appeared at the time of the theatrical release of Cameron Crowe's movie Almost Famous, Simon Reynolds singled out the piece about The Pretender by (the recently deceased US critic) Paul Nelson in the (quite famous, I'd say) Stranded collection as a piece being entirely on the level of the lyrics. Which, I'd say, is more or less the same thing one could say about (UK critic) Simon Frith's contribution about The Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet which appears in the same book. Sometimes it seems like - given the fact that certain songs were practically everywhere, blaring out of every radio and stereo (mono, perhaps?) - describing a song in detail appeared as to be superfluous, almost. And yes, those where the days when, if we're talking about "rock criticism", everybody was self-taught. However...

The (UK) magazine called Sound on Sound ("The UK's Biggest Selling Music Recording Magazine", no less) has a nice (monthly?) feature called Classic Tracks. I've read a few (one can also read all the magazine's articles on its website, eight months after the issue in question has gone on sale), and though they are quite diverse, I've found them to be for the most part quite interesting, and a highly enjoyable read. One of the best episodes being the one about I'm Not In Love, 10cc.'s 1975 worldwide smash, especially for its discussion about the arrangement process and their use of the studio and tape loops. (But Tony Visconti discussing his use of those three microphones for David Bowie's vocals on "Heroes" ain't bad, either.)

The formula is quite simple: just interview musicians and producers/engineers who had a part in creating, and recording, a famous song. Just when you think you've obviously read it all already - is there really anything new one can possibly hear about, say, Eric Clapton's Layla? - here comes this piece (it's in the September 2006 issue) about Tom Dowd's custom-made console: "(...) Well, he had his console faders set up that way - they were actually reversed, with louder closer to you." Wow! Never heard of that.

Due to one, or more, different possible reasons (lack of maturity? editorial reasons? commercial considerations? different philosophies? ignorance, plain and simple?) in the end what comes out of one's loudspeakers doesn't seem to be that important when talking about music. Colourful biographies are what most music magazines seem to really be about these days (and yes, when it comes to it most musicians won't let us down). Sure, young people will be bored after just a few sentences anyway. Yes, all those years spent watching videos must have had an effect on writers and readers alike. But in the end, the sheer predictability of those tales of sin and daring adventures can turn even the most interesting musical career into a giant snoozefest. It goes without saying that discussing one's lifestyle is a lot easier, and error-free (not to mention cheaper: have you heard about the sinking retributions of writers, whatever their trade?) than talking about music, which is a dangerous proposition anyway.

Having read about the re-release of John Cale's "highly celebrated 1973 solo album, Paris 1919" I thought about buying it - again! The presence of some unreleased tracks/versions/mixes/whatever was quite tempting, but how would it sound? - a lot of digitally remastered versions of old albums having harsh, brittle vocals, snares and cymbals, plus an exaggerated volume level that's maybe intended to compete with all those new releases. I happened to find one review of the album - quite long and detailed, as things go nowadays. The problem was that - apart from the fact that he never mentioned the sound of the remastered version - the writer appeared to be on familiar terms with just one group from the (distant) past (that's right, you guessed right): The Velvet Underground. Funny thing, there was absolutely no mention of Paris 1919 producer Chris Thomas, who certainly had no little merit in the record's (artistic) success; nor of Procol Harum, the (at the time quite famous) group whose records Chris Thomas produced, and whose distinctive musical style Paris 1919 definitely recalls, not the Velvet Underground's.

I used my new monitors to listen to some new stuff I had on my table, one CD I especially liked being the recent one by Rova, titled Totally Spinning. It was in the middle of my listening sessions that I happened to read a couple of reviews of said title. But what was written in those reviews didn't match what I was hearing - at all! Looks like these guys own some seriously faulty loudspeakers, right?

Beppe Colli 2006

CloudsandClocks.net | Oct. 1, 2006