Saturday, October 18, 2014

V/A - Sounds Of Silence, The Most Intriguing Silences In Recording History! - #183

V/A - Sounds Of Silence, The Most Intriguing Silences In Recording History!

This is the one to test the limits of your stereo set-up at midnight. Go all the way to thirteen and enjoy this recording of, well, two sides of nothing. Not a sound ... which is not quite true, there's the background noise of any LP, even when the vinyl is clean as can be. But the concept is a fascinating one, with John Cage's 4:33 being the forerunner (and I'm not talking about his 4:33 second version). There's never real silence. And if you're sitting in a soundproof room, playing 4:33 (first version) in a digital copy, you're still going to hear your breathing and you also listen to your own heartbeat and movements.

John Cage is not even the inventor of performed or recorded silence, but he's the one most associated with it. And if you're like me, kneedeep in Noise, Avantgarde, Industrial and the like, you appreciate a live performance as well (as I did a few years back, John Cages 4:33 first version on piano - dead silence, except the audience beginning to get nervous and restless).

What I didn't know until I bought this record just recently, is, that so many recording artists have jumped on board. Of the 30+ tracks on offer here, you'll find some big names like Andy Warhol, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Sly & The Familiy Stone (that one really surprised me), Crass, John Denver (another surprise), Soulfly, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Robert Wyatt and Afrika Bambaataa & Family.

But to put matters straight, this is actually serious stuff with a lot of these tracks making a statement of sorts. The LP has apparently been issued as a double set with a 250 copies limited run (not sure about this claim - wether it actually exists and the 250 bit) and a single LP issue, limited to 500 copies. I almost missed this one in one of my favourite shops, because I'm not in the biz to buy Simon & Garfunkel LPs.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mono vs. Stereo - #182

Mono vs. Stereo

I'm not enough of a Beatles fan to shell out for the Mono box set that came along recently. But I did buy myself the "Mono Remasters" stand-alone triple LP, as it claims on the sticker, that it is a mono release only, with no digital input whatsoever. Sorry, forgot to mention, I'm talking about the vinyl releases. I still have to listen to the aforementioned LP, but I did realise, that I know close to nothing about mono playback. My set-up was always stereo, but I've been reading a few forums with this topic recently and I'm surprised at the level some enthusiasts will go to have a hardcore mono sound.

Apparently, forget about your stereo with two speakers. If you're serious about it, then you need a mono cartridge with the proper needle on your turntable, a mono block amplifier and one speaker only (not even for "fattening" the sound, would you use two of them). Everything else will not do. Some seem to use a cheap solution by connecting everything with a y-cable, but this is like watching a 50's black and white flick that's been handcoloured. Of course, the erstwhile chain of equipment will set you back a couple of thousand EUROs, just for the pleasure to listen to this stuff the way it was intented. I don't think there's a lot more in the way of mono recordings to be found in an average collection.

A good mono block amplifier (and you need two of them if you want to go back to stereo every now and then) will empty your pocket to the tune of a couple of thousand EUROs (per unit). So, there you are! Plus, a good mono cartridge, so I'm being told, is another 1'000 EUROs of your family income. Assuming that the turntable itself, the cables and the one loudspeaker required are already in place, you're done. That might be overdoing it a bit, but it seems to be very worthwhile. I'm afraid, I'll have to do with my stereo set-up, but reading all about the depth one can go to, in the search for the best imaginary sound, is fun in itself.

Some of these Beatles releases were actually made with the mono set-up in mind and the real fiddling seems to have been on these. The stereo versions were later mixed with no involvement of the band. If I got everything in the correct order, those LPs are not folded down mono versions, but are the real McCoy. The last chronologically regular albums by the Beatles were released in stereo only.

The funny thing is, around 50 years after the fact, the world is still talking about the Beatles and getting hysterical at the same time. Even I'm doing it, with no Beatles collection to speak of. One thing is certain, the Beatles catalogue is being milked and there are, for at least some time to come, always takers that will shell out for recycled stuff. And it comes at a premium price. I can't remember when a box set, broken down to single LPs (including the book) had that kind of price tagged to it. This is expensive stuff, but I should think, the Beatles fan of yesteryear has come into money by now and can well afford the asking prices. It might have been rebellion 50 odd years ago, it's now your chair at the fireside with some 25 year old cognac sniffing and "Love Me Do" playing in the background. You earned your place, enjoy it.