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Book Review: This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession

Book Review: This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession

This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession, Daniel Levitin, 2007, New York: Plume Books (Penguin). ISBN 978-0-452-28852-2, $15.00.

For audiophiles, the importance of the listening context is never doubted. We recognize that components sound different in various spaces and, after some time in the hobby, the importance of room acoustics to the complete audio reproductive system (music, components, environment and listener) is accepted. What is less recognized is the importance of what lies within us as listeners, our cognitive architecture, and the role it plays in our enjoyment of sounds. Once you accept that experience can teach you to discriminate reliably between components, rather like an expert in other domains of perceptual experience can learn to distinguish styles and tastes (food and wine palates, for example) you are in a position to benefit from an investment in the single most important component in appreciating music, yourself. read more…

George Van Eps – The Quiet Master

George Van Eps – The Quiet Master

One of my all-time favorite guitarists is the late George Van Eps (1913-1998). Van Eps, born in Plainfield, NJ, and son of popular banjoist Fred Van Eps, grew up around music. Not only was his father a noted musician, but his brothers were also professional musicians. His mother was an accomplished pianist. As a child growing up during the era of Prohibition (1920-1933), his father became well-known among fellow musicians for his high-quality “hootch,” and his house was often filled with members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra among others. George remembered being bounced on frequent visitor George Gershwin’s knee. read more…

Recording Techniques: The Mixer Desk

Recording Techniques: The Mixer Desk

In this article I am going to discuss that piece of equipment which is probably most iconic of a recording studio, the mixer desk. At first a large mixer desk can seem quite daunting having so many controls. I have been asked before ‘do you really know what every one of those controls does?’ This can seem quite impressive to the average non-technical person, but it is not nearly as complex as it seems. read more…

Jimmy Raney: Bebop’s Quiet Master

Jimmy Raney: Bebop’s Quiet Master

Jimmy Raney, one of the great unsung heroes of bebop jazz guitar was born in Louisville, KY, in 1927. He moved to Chicago in 1946, where he played as accompanist to piano player Max Miller. He also worked with Artie Shaw and Woody Herman before moving to New York City in the late 1940s. Here, he teamed up with tenor saxophone player Stan Getz, with whom he recorded extensively from 1951 to 1952. He replaced Tal Farlow in the Red Norvo Trio in 1953, and remained with him until some time in 1954. He worked in and around New York, including working in Broadway theater pit orchestras until he returned to Louisville in the 1960s. read more…

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, “A Night in Tunisia” Music Matters Jazz MM BST-4049  Vinyl Double 45 rpm Album

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, “A Night in Tunisia” Music Matters Jazz MM BST-4049 Vinyl Double 45 rpm Album

I clearly remember my first exposure to Art Blakey. I was living in New York during the eighties, in my first job out of college, and around ’85 or ’86 a friend invited me to join him at Sweet Basil, one of the pre-eminent jazz clubs in New York on Seventh Avenue South in the Village (sadly, recently closed). Art Blakey was the headline act that night; I had heard the name, but knew nothing about Blakey. It did strike me as odd that a drummer could lead a jazz band, but up to that point my exposure to jazz had been limited to Dixieland and I knew nothing about the artist. That ignorance ended that evening over twenty years ago. I had always viewed drums strictly as the means by which a beat was achieved; never had I heard drums played quite so polyrhythmically (and almost polyphonically). While I was familiar with drum solos, I was new to the concept of percussion as a lead instrument. Blakey and his cohorts nearly blew me out of my seat. It was a memorable evening, and one that was brought back to mind immediately when I listened to this LP. read more…

Recording Techniques: MIDI

The studio technology I’m going to discuss this issue is something called MIDI, which stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. If you are keen on computers you may have heard of MIDI as a file extension for computerized music that uses sounds built in to the sound card or operating system, but it can do a lot more than that. read more…

Gene Puerling (1929-2008)

Gene Puerling (1929-2008)

Gene Puerling died a  at age 78, and sadly, most obituary editors of newspapers around the nation chose to ignore this event. It’s unfortunate, because Gene’s work in vocal arrangements and performing was admired and outright copied by many.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1929, to a very musical family, he had little or no formal training, but went to work at 17 and never looked back. read more…

Recording Techniques: Studio Sound Effects

Recording Techniques: Studio Sound Effects

Hi, guys and gals. Sorry I missed the last two issues. Work has kept me rather busy of late. But now I’m back with a new article about a number of common effects used in the studio, and how they work.

The effects I am going to talk about here are Delay, Chorus, Reverb, Harmonic Exciter and Auto-Tune.

read more…

Hi-Fi as a Hobby or Terminal Audiophillia

Hi-Fi as a Hobby or Terminal Audiophillia

“Hello everyone. My name is Jess and I am an audiophile.” Now I ask you, doesn’t that sound just like the standard opening for another group who admit to being in the grip of an addiction? “Welcome to this week’s meeting of AA (Audiophiles Anonymous)…”

Where I don’t think that audiophillia is quite as personally unhealthy as many of the other popular addictions that we hear about in the media, it can be every bit as expensive, time consuming and anti-social. There is something about relentlessly chasing that elusive ‘perfect’ combination of electronics; recorded media and listening space that can make all other activities (career, marriage, children) seem like an unwelcome intrusion. read more…

Barney Kessel – He Played With Everybody

Barney Kessel – He Played With Everybody

If you listen to almost any jazz or pop record from the 1950s and many from the 1960s, you will in all likelihood hear the distinctive guitar of Barney Kessel. From Julie London to Billie Holiday, from Frank Sinatra to Ricky Nelson to the Beach Boys, Barney was there. One of L.A.’s “first-call” studio guitarists (who also included stellar players like Howard Roberts, Jimmy Wyble, Dennis Budimir, Tommy Tedesco, and others), Barney’s distinctive sound and overall musicality and professionalism elevated him to the pinnacle of players, who had the respect and awe of any number of players on the music scene, and is still remembered today as one of the giants in jazz. read more…

Recording Process Part Five – Monitoring, Techniques & Technology

Recording Process Part Five – Monitoring, Techniques & Technology

In these articles we have covered a little bit about acoustics, the technology of microphones and microphone techniques. Today we can look at monitoring, mainly in the studio but also for live performance.

So what are the differences between monitors and domestic loudspeakers? Well, the main differences of course stem from differing demands. Professional monitors often need to play a lot louder than a domestic speaker, so they need to have very high SPL handling. The smaller professional monitors need to have a tough finish because they get moved about, bumped and generally treated with less respect than a domestic speaker. They aim to have as low distortion as possible. You may think ‘are not all speakers made as low distortion as possible?’, but in truth a lot of audiophile domestic speakers are made to sound ‘nice’, not just low distortion. Finally the biggest difference is that the majority of professional monitors are active. read more…

Recording Process Part Four – Microphones, Techniques & Technology

Recording Process Part Four – Microphones, Techniques & Technology

Along with the advent of multi-track recording (an idea conceived by Les Paul and put to practice originally by Ampex), new microphone techniques were also developed to record each instrument individually. This method is called close micing. read more…

Recording Process Part Three – Microphones, Techniques & Technology

Recording Process Part Three – Microphones, Techniques & Technology

Hello again, sorry I missed you all last month! I was asked rather last minute to make an appearance at the Heathrow hi-fi show here in the UK, and that made it pretty much impossible to get anything written in time for the last issue.

The last article went in to detail about different microphone types and their polar patterns . I didn’t explain how the different polar patterns are achieved though, and I think it is quite a smart bit of engineering, so lets look at that.

To achieve different polar patterns there are two things, or a combination there of, that can be done. The first is to simply shield an area of the mic so that sound pressure only affects one side. However, this method alone can not produce many different polar patterns. As such, the more common method, and that used for variable polar pattern mics is to combine the signals from multiple mic capsules. For example, a figure-of-8 mic is created by exposing both sides of the pickup to the sound. A ribbon mic is a good example, the sound pressure at the front is naturally out of phase from that at the back. Sound pressure at the sides affects both front and back equally so does not move the ribbon. A figure-of-8 polar pattern is the most simple to achieve, and is the pattern that occurs with a fully exposed membrane. read more…

Charles Farrell — Three CDs — Wow!

Charles Farrell — Three CDs — Wow!

Think of the opposite of easy listening, and you come up with — difficult listening. That is the experience of “Glossolalia,” from first note through last.

“Glossolalia,” by pianist Charles Farrell and saxophonist Evan Parker, reminds me of two very different CDs:

  • Black Angels” by Kronos Quartet is a brainexpanding George Crumb composition.
  • “Tibetan Tantric Choir” by The Gyuto Monks is a deep, dark recording of chants by the actual monks.

Neither of these other two CDs sounds the least bit like “Glossolalia.” The similarities are in the intensity of the performances, and in the state of mind I achieve in order to endure and embrace them with any degree of equilibrium. read more…

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