Thursday, February 16, 2012


As I write, the flute, oboe, viol and bassoon of Couperin serenade me on a piece from the Pandora music channel I had never heard. Sometimes I feel like there just is not enough time to hear all of the things I want to hear from the plethora of performers in the world. It's nice to listen to my select favorites but when a random mix of lesser-known artists and even more rare performances of well known ones, I can truly begin to appreciate the amount of true genius that has graced this earth. The way each instrument enhances the other, the timing, the intensity, the interpretation, it all is so magical to me.

I've been writing professionally from my first formal position out of college, a service manual for an electronic scalpel. I have a reasonable vocabulary and yet the numbers and meanings of adjectives in the English language from which to choose is rather limiting.  Reviewers struggle to describe nuances comparing sonics to random non-musical occurrences and esoteric synonyms from everywhere to help describe those emotions realized in listening to something new, something really different.

Words fail me at times when I hear something done right. For example, the ambiance and echo captured during the recording to me is as important as the actual technical execution, and when properly revealed by the playback system introduced an emotion that help you get an insight to what the musician was thinking and feeling at the time. I can only imagine what different levels of appreciation musicians and conductors have that I still must learn to understand. But I do know that as I listen to more and more variety, I gleam further insight to these undiscovered pieces of this grand audio puzzle.

As the level of my playback system became sufficiently refined, there was a point where a distinct turn was made from reproducing sound to recreating segments of reality. This extreme level of refinement came after carefully listening and thinking about what was right, and what was wrong. One friend recently stated that the front end was as good as it gets and now I had to focus on the extremes (he meant the extreme lows and the extreme highs the system struggled to reproduce). While true, limiting the bandwidth allows me to hear more of the content in that limited region and for this I am grateful. I am grateful that the bass is not earth shattering and the highs are not ear piercing. I am grateful that what is left is - in a word - right. For now, instead of listening to the equipment, I can listen to the performance.

One day in our Conifer home, I had connected a function generator to my system and was sweeping a band at the low crossover point (638Hz). I was trying to address a dip in that region where I believed I could address by hand selecting various capacitors, resistors, and inductors in just the right proportion. The near-field calibrated microphone, headphones, real-time-analyzer, and function generator were all piled in front of the speaker as was my notebook and soldering gun. I was listening to how the minute changes in components impacted the sweep either improving or degrading the sound. After about 30 minutes (Althea is a true sonic angel), my wife came down from upstairs and said one word to me, ENOUGH, and turned around and walked back upstairs.

In that moment, I realized what an obsession I had in getting it "right." What I was focused on was something even I had a hard time hearing consistently and her point was well made. I immediately stopped what I was doing and never went back again, at least not on this speaker. There comes a time when an audiophile's obsession with quality becomes an addiction, and I had crossed that threshold, It was a moment I would be eternally grateful for in all of the coming years. That was the summer of 1989, a mere 23 years ago.

Today, I enjoy listening and understanding music and sound, especially from those cryptic messages reviewers convey in their columns, but combined with the wisdom imparted by a chance encounter with a conductor. The variety of things discussed and the attention to detail these well-trained critic's ears embrace is truly remarkable. One day, I went to listen to the Nashville Symphony back when Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn held the baton. In a meeting with the audience before the performance (sort of like batting practice for classical performers), Maestro Schermerhorn described withs similar enthusiasm but greater passion than these critics the sound of the orchestra he planned to produce and the techniques he intended to use to do so. I was immediately thrust into another level of music appreciation, one that if I had not taken the time to consider would have been missed.

The point is this: there is always something to learn and one way to find variety is to, as Monty Python's Flying Circus routinely professed, do something different.  By putting variety into your acoustic life, you can feast from different culinary masterpieces and enjoy more musical emotion than by focusing on your present acoustic addiction. Variety is truly the spice of life. Sample yours today.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

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