Discovery 2010

~ 29 november 2010 ~

Uncool

or Hipsters : The Next Generation

Being deck (the new cool cool) is a serious part of personal identity. (Be honest, you know you wanna be cool.) Deck is what's current and desirable; uncool is tired and rejected. But breaking with the cool rules has gotten a new image. Since when has uncool become cool, ah, I mean deck? Guess it happened sometime after (way after) bad became good, ghetto became hip, and retro became the new nouveau. Anyway, it's good to know that uncool isn't so uncool, that it's okay to hang a little outside (or ahead) of the pack, and that some things, no matter how once hot they were, were never, and never will be cool. (Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Bon Jovi—I didn't make this up—Uncool Top Ten.) Which brings me to the point. You may be wondering why I review uncool music—that boring, snobby, elitist, stuffy classical stuff? It's because there's a huge gaping chasm between what's boring and what's uncool. And yea, ther'zalotta boring classical music. But, there's also beaucoup modern classical music that's reeking rad. Now that it's deck to listen to uncool retro 60s psychedelic, sappy 70s pop and conservative 80s music video glam-rock, moving out into other realms of uncool can be an intoxicating trip deep into the dark unknown at the outer limits of music.

Mini reviews of other uncool music at UncoolCentral.

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~ 9 november 2010 ~

Sting

If you're not a Sting fan, forget it. If you are, Sting's newest, Symphonicities, appears to be just another rehash of old songs. I bought this CD very, very reluctantly, fully expecting some half-baked self-consuming remakes. Most of the remixed, remastered, and rereleased stuff coming out is little more than cheapo gimcrack repackaging to get you to buy again what you already own—shameless. Well, Sting isn't settling down and he's not cheating us. He's pushing limits and crossing boundaries. This time not only into jazz, but with legitimate classical crossbreeding. So much so, this recording is on a classical label, Deutsche Grammophon. Twelve previously recorded Sting songs have been totally rethought, rearranged and refashioned to the point that a few may be hardly recognizable on first listening. Roxanne, for instance, has been toned down, a lot, yet revitalized with a poignancy lacking in the original Police version. I had never really paid attention to the lyrics before. It's like hearing it for the first time. These new arrangements break through the boundaries of pop/rock music in ways that haven't been attempted since the 70s. And get this, not a single cut is dynamically compressed. Woo-hoo! I can crank this CD up to the same level I would a classical disc and fully enjoy its full dynamic range. Plus, the order of the cuts have been carefully sequenced into an intelligently integrated program from beginning to end. Pop music you can really sink your ears into—how refreshing.

Rating : Music — A || Performance — A || Recording — A

Sting, Symphonicities, Deutsche Grammophon, UMG Recordings, 2010.

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~ 14 october 2010 ~

Hearing or Listening — Notes or Music

Is hearing the same as listening? Is playing notes the same as playing music? Thoughts on these topics and a couple of nice examples of the way musicians transform a page of black dots, lines and squiggles into music are featured on the following videos.

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~ 13 october 2010 ~

Giséle Ben-Dor & Alberto

So, I wanted more Alberto Ginastera and more of the impeccable conductor, Giséle Ben-Dor. So, I ordered three new CDs conducted under her baton, two featuring works by Ginastera, one of Villa-Lobos' 10th Symphony. Couldn't get through the first listening of the 10th symphony. But, the Ginastera hits the mark. I wish I could explain what makes Ginastera's music so captivating, interesting, and stimulating. Even the quieter more poetic parts, that in the hands of other composers could easily put you into a somnambulistic stupor, play out in dazzling displays of light. His music is filled with constant change, contrast, and just the right amount of surprise mingled with comforting predictability. His compositions are layered in a painterly fashion with an almost photographic precision. No less amazing is Ben-Dor's savvy sixth sense for bringing out the colors in the score. She seems to have an intuition into Alberto's artistic vocabulary that allows her to deftly shape his musical ideas, almost as though she has a psychic connection hard wired to his mind. The ballets, Panambí and Estancia, are on one CD. Each are vividly picturesque and scream "dance with me." The other CD has the Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals, both the original string orchestra version and the later version for full orchestra, plus the Variaciones Concertantes, a piece that reminds me of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra in the way it features soloists in each of the movements. Caution to those who are less comfortable with 20th century concert music, Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals contains more dissonance and features more ambiguous tonality than his other music. On the other hand, the ballet music gets a full-on endorsement. Take a chance on it.

Rating : Music — A+ || Performance — A+ || Recording — A

Alberto Ginastera, Complete Ballets, Giséle Ben-Dor, London Symphony Orchestra, Naxos, 2006; Alberto Ginastera, Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals, Giséle Ben-Dor, London Symphony Orchestra, Israel Chamber Orchestra, Naxos, 2010.

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~ 30 september 2010 ~

Emotion & Music

Music expresses emotion in mysterious, magical ways. The connection between music and emotion is profound. This link is so strong that it creates a powerful byproduct : projection. Music emotion gets projected onto lifeless audio equipment. Yet audio is nothing more than a dispassionate delivery system. All the emotion and all the musical qualities exist solely in the musicians' performance. Electronics, wires, speakers are just a bridge for the space-time gap between musicians and listeners. Unfortunately, the two have been mingled into a muddled mishmash causing a deep-rooted confusion between what makes good music from what makes good audio. It has taken me a long time to realize the importance of this distinction, because, you see, I'm a slow learner.

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~ 21 september 2010 ~

Ghosh is Great

This is new. This is fun. This is Bickram Ghosh. Who? Imagine Indian classical music pumped up on electrons. Add in a jigger of jazz, a little rock, a dash of new age, and a good shot of house. Now, if you can wrap your head around that, you've got Bickram's latest release Electro Classical. Nine cuts of hopping, pounding, head spinning, uhm, uh, waddayacallit? Best I can come up with is Indo-Fusion. The bouncing beat is beautifully contrasted with moments of free flowing ease, enough to let you relax in the afterglow of the grove. Interesting stereo effects and creative use of electronic manipulation is deftly combined with the occasional musical quote. All of it cloaked in classical Indian rhythms and ragas. Great music for any kind of mood, casual listening to deep listening.

Only have two criticisms. Number one, the recording is dynamically compressed. Yeah, that again. It's not grossly compressed, so there's still some punch left and some life in the dynamics, but there's no excuse for pulling punches. Number two, too many cuts end with a premature fade out leaving us hanging, wondering, "What am I missing? Why they'd cut me off?" Just as they're building up steam, climbing up the winding switchbacks of a gnarled mountain, not even half way there. . , they drive off the cliff! The best cut, "A Raga Rises," strategically saved for last, is a prime example. Classical Indian ragas build and hold back and build and hold back. They twist, turn, return, wind up, wind down. They put you in a trance where time is suspended and your mind dissolves in a boundless, liquid space. . , simmering and boiling. . , and thirty or forty or more minutes later the music melts away leaving you feeling like a warm, radiant ember in a slowly fading fire. But, "A Raga Rises" is only seven minutes and change. Barely enough time to reach a plateau. Oh well, I'm not taking back the opening line, Ghosh is great. He just needs to stop playing the pop game and get serious.

Rating : Music — B+ || Performance — A+ || Recording — C

Bickram Ghosh, Electro Classical, Navras Records, 2010 [B+ for under developed music, C for compression. Previous acoustic Indo-Fusion release : Rhythmscape. Talking Tabla, A Tabla Odyssey are earlier Indian Classical recordings.]

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~ 13 september 2010 ~

Downloads Rule : CDs are Dead

We all know how great downloading music is. Get just the music you want, just when you want it. If you only like one song from an artist, you don't need to get the whole lousy album. Listen before you buy. Don't like it; don't buy it. In the long run 99¢ downloads can cost you less. A CD runs $15-20 dollars and usually has 12 or so songs on it. Do the math. Join one of the flat-fee membership sites, then you can download all you want and save lots more. Want it now, get it now. No waiting for delivery. These great conveniences. . . continued. . .

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~ 21 august 2010 ~

Anyone Can Read Music

Do you 'read' music? People hear more music than ever before in history. We have radio, cable, satellite, portable players, and more—more stations, more channels, more recordings and more artists than evermore—choices and more choices. But I suspect, although we are hearing more music than ever, we are listening less than ever. Learning to 'read' music opens the door to listening. Why?

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~ 11 august 2010 ~

More from South of the Border

. . . deep down south in Argentina. The music on this recording is, from start to finish, exciting and approachable. The composer, Alberto Ginastera. Born in Buenos Aires in 1916. He is arguably the most influential Latin American composer of the 20th century. His music is embedded with the native spirits of Meso and South America. The title piece was inspired by Popol Vuh, the collected stories of Mayan mythology, particularly its creation myth. Wild swings of emotion carry us away in Ginastera's musical vision of the Mayan world. These exhilarating swings are not limited to Popol Vuh, it's a common thread found in all the pieces on this recording. Each one taking us on a roller coaster ride of human passions and animal drives. The high points are deftly counterbalanced by etherial sections of profound serenity that impart feelings of floating miles high in weightless bliss. Ginastera's music is melodious and memorable. It is racy and rhythmic, almost to the point of being danceable. Danceable? Sounds like a crazy thing to say about modern symphonic music, but these works will move you and make you feel like moving. Inspiration is infused in Ginastra's music. The Suite de Danzas Criollas (Creole Dance Suite) was inspiration to Emerson, Lake and Palmer for a version they recorded on their Brain Salad Surgery album. On another occasion ELP also used a movement from his first piano concerto. The inspiration doesn't stop there. Inspiration begets inspiration. Gisèle Ben-Dor's exemplary interpretations are inspired as well. This release and her other recordings clearly reveal that the powerful, driving music she chooses to conduct is a reflection of her own internal driving force which she generously liberates on the podium. No doubt, she's becoming one of my favorite conductors. [And I see that I'm not alone. Here's a link to Ben-Dor's Bio.]

I also have a 2-CD set of Ginastera's solo piano and organ work which is equally exciting and approachable. (Well, mostly. The piano sonatas on the second CD are quite dissonant—not for the novice. The organ works are extraordinarily unique, creative and original.) If you're still apprehensive about trying out some modern 'classical' music, here's the place to start.

Rating : Music — A+ || Performance — A+ || Recording — A

Alberto Ginastera, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation, Gisèle Ben-Dor conducting, London Symphony Orchestra, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Naxos, 2010. [Chalk up another fine recording from Naxos.]

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.~ 3 august 2010 ~

What's the Skinny on Vinyl?

Could it really be true? All the banter about LPs are better than CDs. . , more

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~ 7 july 2010 ~

Treasures in Mexico

Silvestre Revueltas was an early 20th century Mexican composer who lived hard, drank hard and died young at the age of 40. His music is vivid, vibrant and violent. It's a virulent hybrid of European and Mexican traditions underscored by the political upheaval in Mexico during the period. At times his music reminds me of early Igor Stravinsky by making heavy use of percussion and strongly syncopated rhythms. His compositions exhibit generous amounts of dissonance, yet still grounded in tonality. Wonderful contrasts of instrumentation leads to never ending interest.

The title piece featured on the CD, performed by the Santa Barbara Symphony under the direction of the vivacious Gisèle Ben-Dor, is a world premier recording of the ballet, La Coronela. I find it surprising that a piece as colorful and exciting as this, though it's been performed many times in its first 50 years of existence, had never been previously recorded. (Another sad example of dismissing things from south of the border?) La Coronela is followed by two short pieces, Itinerarios and Colorines. Both good pieces, but more challenging for the average listener. Who cares, La Coronela makes the whole CD worth it. More Revueltas is going to be added to my music collection, soon.

Rating : Music — A+ || Performance — A || Recording — A

Silvestre Revueltas, La Coronela, Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra, Gisèle Ben-Dor, Naxos, 1998. The Naxos label is one of the few bargain labels that consistently delivers both high quality performances and sound.

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~ 1 july 2010 ~

A Brief Music Lesson - part 2

Previously I mentioned how the dynamic range of human hearing is very wide, a ratio of about a trillion to one. Musicians can't take full advantage of this range for many reasons. One is background noise. Even in a quiet space, it's usually well over 30 dB. Acoustic music can range from about 50 dB, whisper quiet, to over 100 dB, LOUD. What you might not be aware of are the transients, the initial spike at the start of a sound, such as the strike of a piano key, the crash of a cymbal, the pluck of a string, or other percussive hit. These spikes can reach 110-120 dB. They are exceedingly loud, but they don't seem loud because of the short duration. The average sustained level is what we perceive as loudness.

Dynamics spark the inner flames of music. Loud sounds louder when it's preceded by soft, and vise versa. Contrasts of all kinds add excitement to music. Nothing is more boring than constant balls-to-the-wall intensity and high volume—it's fatiguing—we need some cool-down time. Why do DJs, theaters, clubs and recording engineers try to impress us with a never ending blast of LOUD & LOUDER? It's not impressive. It's imbecilic. And it sucks.

A recent experience highlights this. During a "live" concert, I checked the levels with my iPhone SPL meter. Background ambient noise was about 70 dB. The music mostly hovered around 95 dB. It rose to a little over 100 at times, with spikes just over 106 dB. The softest it ever got was still more than 90 dB. 90 dB is loud. 20 dB over background is relatively loud. The total dynamic range was less than 10 dB, 16 including a few spikes. That's a sorely restricted dynamic range. It was a relief when the music stopped. The 100 dB LOUDER sections were not exciting—not enough contrast compared to the average, nor pleasant—distortion products were apparent. The soft never got soft enough to bring the audience to a hush. The music was one big monotonous wall of LOUD & LOUDER. Interest link : Sound Dosage — And more on Hearing & the Ear

To bring the point home, the basics of sensory perception need to be understood. Have you ever been to a pig farm? The smell is unforgettable. Hang around for a few hours and you'll start getting used to it. Live with it for a few days and you won't even notice it. As our sense of smell gets saturated, we become desensitized. All of our senses are adapted to filter out the ordinary. It's a very basic survival skill. Things that are common place can be safely ignored. When something changes in the environment it gets our attention, wakes us up. Without contrasts, without changes, without dynamics, we lull into la-la-land.

Contrast and surprise are essential musical devices. Dynamics and transients are the delivery vehicles. If, instead, music is kept at nearly the same level, the power and the punch are ironed out, the emotion sapped. Musical thrills thrive on the impact of transients. When all the dynamic range is preserved in a recording, when all of it is presented to us at a live performance, that's impressive. See this uTube video on : Audio Compression

Also see A Brief Music Lesson part 1.

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~ 29 june 2010 ~

Bluetooth Earphones

I could start with a stream of expletives, but I'll spare you. I've been looking for months to find a decent pair of wireless earphones. Not the bulky, clumsy, earmuff style headphones, nor single ear headset, no, no, no, I want stereo wireless earphones that eliminate the plugging and unplugging of the dangling tether that gets caught, tangled, yanked, and twisted. They need to isolate noise and sound good while eliminating the annoying umbilical cord connecting to an iPhone. Go ahead, do a search. What you'll come up with is a bunch o' crap. . . read the full review.

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~ 14 june 2010 ~

Joaquim Rodrigo - Orchestral Works

You wanna hear something really scary? I dare you to listen to 20th century classical music! It's all a bunch of crash & bang atonal dissonance, no? Makes me run for airport tarmac hearing protection. Ya know what? You'd be surprised at how little 20th century and contemporary concert music genuinely fits in that category. Most of the serial atonalism comes from pre-war Germany and midcentury academia. Is there something wrong with you because you can't get your ears around it? Flat out NO! Even trained musicians find it interminable. On the flip side, there's a whole wide world of music composed in the last 100 years to discover—a mind expanding field of wildflowers, fragrant and colorful, beyond the din of atonality. There are stockpiles of music lying far out on the horizon, beyond the land of pop—same old, same old; beyond Mozart—dead and played to death. A wonderland of contemporary concert music everyone can dig, and really dig into, deeply. Music that's outside the box. Modern 20th & 21st century 'classical' music is a rich kaleidoscope of styles that swirls together influences from folk to world, from hip-hop to electronica. Venture out of your safety zone, stimulate your ears, take risks—spice up your musical life.

One blazing example is composer Joaquim Rodrigo, born in Spain 1901, studied at the Paris Conservatory, and lived an fruitful 98 years (d.1999). He is thoroughly a 20th century composer. Yet, his music never succumbed to the lure of serial atonalism or massive amounts of dissonance. On the surface his music may seem too safe and anachronistic, a throwback to the 1800s. Fully functional harmony, memorable themes and uncomplicated melodies abound, nearly to the point of being lame. Just when you think he can't get anymore predictable, wham-bam, he throws a curve. Fresh even today, Rodrigo intermingles pleasant doses of contrasting dissonance and sprinkles of musical techniques that could only originate from the 20th century. Here is modern music anyone can love—a great introduction for the timid.

The first piece on the CD is Pavana Real, music for a ballet. The music is clearly telling us a story. Each short section paints a scene so vivid you can almost see it. I'd love to actually see a performance of the ballet. Rodrigo makes use of the full range of the orchestra with generous doses of the piccolo, brass, percussion and bass drum. The last piece, Soleriana, another suite of ballet music, was derived from the music of Antonio Soler, an 18th century composer. This work displays its classical/baroque roots, showing us once more that Rodrigo is a master of making the old new again. The music on these CDs is the kind you reach for when you want something comforting yet lively, sweet but not saccharine. It's a very pleasurable collection of Rodrigo's work. Definitely something for your PED.

Rating : Music — A || Performance — A || Recording — B

Joaquim Rodrigo, Orchestral Works, Mexico State Orchestra, Enrique Bátiz conducting, DDD, EMI Classics for Pleasure. 2 CDs set. [The recordings are very good, not great. They're on the bright side. I set the treble on the pre at -2 dB to bring it in line.]

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~ 1 june 2010 ~

Wow!

Enchanting, engaging, enfevering, endearing, engrossing! This is a seductive recording. It's quiet, it's upbeat, it's smooth, and it's jazz, but you'll never hear this in an elevator. Ray Brown, well known jazz bassist and studio musician, joining forces with Laurindo Almeida, Brazilian jazz and classical guitarist, enlivened the Tonstudio Bauer in Ludwigsburg, Germany almost 30 years ago, yet this recording is ageless. Brown and Almeida lead off by doing their take on Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and Monk's " 'Round About Midnight" in a fascinating union of the two world renowned melodies. And the album goes up hill from there, never letting you down for 70 minutes of musical bliss. As with many re-releases on CD, this one includes alternate takes from the session not on the LP and never previously released. Usually this practice is a nice addition from an historical perspective, but not for listening to the entire CD. Usually it's annoying to hear the same tunes repeated over again only slightly varied. With this recording I'm not annoyed. There are two reasons the additional cuts work. One, the alternate takes are noticeably different from each other. It sounds like a recap not a repetition. Two, their musical conversation together is so entrancing, hearing them go at the same number again is welcomed. It never feels like the extras are being used as filler. A couple of the alternate cuts I like better than the ones chosen for the original LP.

Another stunning quality of this CD must be mentioned. It's beautifully recorded and incredibly quiet. Startlingly quiet. You hear Laurindo's guitar and Ray's bass and almost nothing more other than their breathing. It also sounds like a true stereo recording made using only two microphones. I looked in the liner notes for more information about how the recording was done. All it tells us is the studio, the engineer, and the year, 1981. It was at a time when digital was cutting edge, but it is even too quiet for digital. On the CD are the letters "DTD" in a box, much like the DDD or ADD indications used for earlier CDs. Could it be a Direct to Disc recording? Direct to disc is an old technique used exclusively until tape became the standard—hardly ever used today. DTD skips the tape step, and the remixing, and equalization, and overdubbing, and mastering step. In other words, there's no reworking, overdubbing, patching, rerecording, fixing or fudging or playing any games or tricks. It is a straight recording. The signal goes directly to the disc cutter. (Hence the origin of the term "cut" to refer to a single recording or track.) No tape—no tape hiss. It's a get-it-right or throw it away proposition. If anything goes wrong in the cutting process, all is lost. For that reason and many others, tape replaced direct wax recording. To confirm this I emailed the studio in Germany with the hope someone would know the answer. I got an response over the weekend. It is indeed a direct to disc recording. I checked the levels on a few tracks. Not a trace of compression. Peaks don't even reach -3 dB. On "Blue Skies" it would take 5.4 dB of amplification for the loudest peak to reach 0 dB. So clean, so pure, this is an audiophile grade recording.

Take the exceptional collaboration of two greats, add the exceptional recording quality and you have one of those very rare examples of audiophile meets musicophile recording. Grade A+ on both scores.

Rating : Music — A+ || Performance — A+ || Recording — A+

Ray Brown & Laurindo Almeida, Moonlight Serenade, Bauer Studios, Carlos Albrecht engineer, Kingston World & Bell Musik GmbH. [Link to the studio's other recordings : http://www.bauerstudios.de/en/7/labels.html]

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~ 27 may 2010 ~

Fahir Atakoglu — Faces & Places

Fahir Atakoglu, Turkish composer and pianist, has worked internationally with many well known musicians, composes in an array of styles, does film scores, symphonic music, and has released a prodigious 16 albums. His most recent release, Faces & Places, reflects some of his multiplicity in a broad mix of contemporary jazz, fusion, funk, rock and straight ahead jazz all swirled together with inflections of his Middle Eastern roots. Some big names play on this CD as well; Randy Brecker, trumpet; John Patitucci, bass; and Rene Toledo, flamenco guitar; among others. The album drives strong until the very last cut, a smoky lounge tune featuring Bob Mintzer playing a sassy tenor sax solo. The mellow and cool ending leaves one in a smooth mood, quite relaxing after all the previous high energy edge. Here and there are curious inclusions of strings accompanying the eight principle musicians. It sometimes makes me think "adult contemporary" or "easy listening." Eeeyikes! (Have to find something to complain about.) But not enough to make me run, on the contrary, I want to hear what else Fahir has to offer. A few of his other recordings will be added to my wish list. Grade A, for the music.

As I listened to the recording, it seemed just a trifle bright, yet there's something going on more insidious. I suspected minor compression, then I opened a few of the tracks in Audacity to look at the histograms. Okay, not the worst compression I've seen or heard. On a couple of tracks it's relatively minor, on others it is overboard. One of my favorite cuts, Rhythm of Corners, starts with Patitucci alone on double bass—sounds like he's right here in the room with me. Then Fahir comes in on piano, it's stunningly real. This track is one of the least compressed, and it sounds it. As far as any reputable recording engineer is concerned, the only acceptable compression is none. This isn't pop music mastered for AM radio play. Compression is likely to become one of my recurrent rants.

Rating : Music — A- || Performance — A || Recording — C-

Fahir Atakoglu, Faces & Places, Far & Here Music, 2009. [The recording is very crisp, if a bit overproduced and inexcusably compressed.]

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~ 24 may 2010 ~

about Listening

The jazz giant, Keith Jarrett, and bassist Charlie Haden were interviewed on NPR's Weekend Edition. Part of the interview never made it to the radio, but this short 2 minute section of it can be heard online. Listen to the Web Exclusive : Jarret & Hadden on Listening.

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~ 19 may 2010 ~

A Brief Music Lesson - part 1

Not exactly what you might be expecting, but bare with me. Normal human hearing range is from about 20 cycles per second to about 20,000 cps, a.k.a. Hertz, abbrev., Hz. That's a thousand fold range. From the softest sound to the loudest before the onset of pain, humans can hear from 0 decibels to over 120 decibels. Every 10 dB is 10 times louder, for a dynamic range of about one-trillion to one. The dynamic range of music is much more limited to around half of hearing range. The fundamental frequencies of acoustic instruments range from 16 Hz, the lowest note on some pipe organs and the Bösendorfer model 290 piano, to just over 4 khz, for the piano and piccolo, with harmonics going into the ultrasonic range exceeding 40 kHz. The total frequency range of musical instruments including their harmonics goes beyond what we can hear, yet as you may have already noticed, most of the acoustic energy in music is not in the center of our hearing range, which is 640 Hz. It's not even close. Middle C on the piano is 262 Hz, which is, not coincidentally, also about the middle of human vocal range. The bottom note on the piano, A0, is 27.5 Hz, almost at the bottom of our hearing ability. Contrast that with its top note, C8, 4186 Hz, which is more than two octaves below the top of our hearing range. When we're listening to music, most of the frequencies being played are in the vocal range, about 80 to 1100, plus some content extending another octave above and below to about 40 and 2200 Hz. The lion's share of it is in the lower half of that range. Guitar chords, bass lines, piano accompaniment, the very foundation music is built upon, is concentrated below middle C. Those couple of octaves, between 60 Hz and about 240 Hz, is the range of frequencies where music presents most of its energy. It is the powerband. Sopranos, violins, trumpets, clarinets, may pierce through to dominate our attention, but the power and weight of music is with the cellos, trombones, timpani, bass drums, etc. If that range is weak in our audio playback, the life of the party is gone. Keep this in mind for future reference. More on dynamic range another time.

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~ 17 may 2010 ~

Boccherini Guitar Quintets

Google "guitar quintets" and on the first three pages nearly all you'll get is Luigi Boccherini, an early Classical period composer. Okay, I know, whadda snore, 250 year old geezer music. Hang with me here, Boccherini is a bit of an outsider. I have a recording of his string quintets, a somewhat usual genre also. More commonly works are written for string quartet. Piano trios (piano, violin and cello) are common too, but guitar quintet? Weird. To my knowledge Boccherini's are the only ones in existence. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) At first, this combination, two violins, viola, cello and guitar sounds like a mismatch. The guitar's strumming and plucking doesn't quite blend logically with the bowing of the other strings. Sometimes the quartet drowns out Pepe Romero's guitar. But by the time I listened to the second CD of this 2-CD set, I began to get a feel for the charm of this peculiar instrumentation. It's fun music, light and entertaining. Good for listening and good for ambience. Like the string symphonies of C.P.E. Bach, this is refreshing; a welcomed change from the more common string chamber ensembles. The music won't be making any headlines, but don't take that as criticism, rather, it's straight ahead classical music, well structured and rule abiding. There are just enough flashes of inspiration interspersed to keep you from lulling into a stupor, and most importantly, plenty of energy in the delivery with superb performances. Very listenable, an overall B+.

Rating : Music — B || Performance — A || Recording — B-

Boccherini, The Guitar Quintets, Pepe Romero, guitar, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, Philips Classics, 1993, ADD. [For an analog recording, it's fairly quiet. Since it's a chamber group there's not much pushing the limits of analog dynamic range either. One of the few classical ADD recordings that doesn't make me wish it were digital.]

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~ 16 may 2010 ~

Where Are Your Ears?

One of my best friends is a real music freak, a true musicophile. At last count he has almost five thousand CDs, mostly classical. It's a collection to rival some public libraries. And he's still buying more, especially obscure operas, determined to collect at least one performance of every opera ever recorded. It's gotten to the point, since he can't remember every single opera he owns, that he carries a list around to keep from buying duplicates.

You'd think someone majorly serious about music would be equally serious about the quality of the sound. After all, read on

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