You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 56
july/august 2011


Sonic Satori - Great Music, Great Friends, and Great Sound. What More Do You Need?
by Michael Mercer


My friends (and always-patient, never out to bug me, thus making my life miserable editors) threw one of their "music night" parties at their home in Southern California last Saturday. These events have been growing in popularity, as they should. The theme for this party is straight-forward: Bring music to share with others (both new and old) and turn each other onto new music while enjoying some terrific food and drink for the evening. From my observation deck, a fantastic time was had by all: The music bumped, the wine and beer flowed, and the laughs and hugs made you feel like you were hanging out in your own backyard. Pretension had no corner to hide behind at this party, nor did it find an opportune time to creep into a conversation. We were all there to enjoy each other's company and listen to music. There were no audio sales pitches or hidden agendas (none that I observed anyway).

It was a refreshingly mixed crowd (both age and sex) of fellow audio freaks and music addicts, even a few hangers-on with no attachment to either were peppered amongst the attendees (usually girl or boyfriends, or just a friend tagging along) This made the vibe exceptionally fresh and welcoming. I didn't feel like I was at an "industry" event (though we had many high-end audio manufacturers and company representatives present: like cable master George Cardas, Dan Meinwald of E.A.R, Alex Sventitsky from WyWires, and Michael Goodman from Centrance to name a few). Nobody however, pardon my French, felt the need to whip it out, drop it on the table, and have a measuring contest (which seems to happen all too often at numerous audiophile industry events). We were having fun, pure and simple. It has been many years since I attended a house party where I felt like I could get along with everybody in attendance. Instead of arguments over equipment specifications and reviewers' commentary, many of the face-offs I witnessed involved the discussion of popular music, bourbon, cigars, and the records that changed people's lives.

Though I enjoyed myself immensely throughout the evening (right up until the moment I left, being the last attendee standing, around midnight) there are two specific highlights that inspired me to write about the party: playing in-house DJ alongside Peter Clark (playing everything from vinyl to CD, as well as files off a USB stick and Dave Clark's NAS drive) and a discussion with Michael Goodman of Centrance held outside the house on the sidewalk. Both of these experiences encapsulate some of the reasons behind my sincere love of music and Hifi: one being the community that shares these collective passions. I'm always meeting new people from different areas of the globe who are bound by the same love for music and appreciation for the art of fine audio. Having common ground is always a great thing when meeting someone new in your life, as it makes the distance in your background shrink, and small talk soon fades into real, wholehearted conversation. After all, with everything we have to deal with in our daily lives, who has time to waste discussing the weather?

Peter Clark (not the turntable Peter Clark, but the son of Dave and Carol Clark) and I often share similar tastes in music. We both enjoy the ever-changing, ever-evolving sounds of dubstep and various electronic music (ranging from James Blake to Eskmo) as well as moody instrumental atmospheres from bands like Mogwai and MONO (a band Peter introduced to me, and I am eternally grateful). I've been enjoying their music so much lately that I'm crafting an essay about their intriguing musical landscapes (to be published soon). We had a blast playing DJ in the listening room. Usually I'm behind a pair of Technics 1200's and a mixer in this situation, but the hi-fi became our instrument, and we had people clapping and pumping their fists, especially when we dropped James Blake's "Limit to Your Love" (on a 45rpm 10" single) and Claude VonStroke's "Chimps".

I played the Vonstroke record at Dan Meinwald's place on one of his reference systems many weeks ago and the bass line shook the foundation! When Dan (the US importer of the fantastic E.A.R line of electronics by Tim de Paravicini) gave it the thumbs up I was psyched. Unlike many people in his profession, Dan is very open-minded when it comes to discovering new music. However, being a tech house record (more of a DJ track, something you play in the club, typically blending it with another record) I wasn't sure what the response was going to be at the party. This wasn't Avalon! Thankfully, we didn't receive any complaints, and surprisingly a handful of people approached us and said, "Who the hell is this, this is very cool!" We were playing underground dance music on a high-end system to a party of various ages, and everybody in the room was having a good time. Isn't that what it's all about? Hell, we even turned a couple in their forties onto Depeche Mode! I know, it's practically impossible to imagine going through the eighties without knowing about Depeche (and I was in elementary school at the time) but who cares, they know now—and they love them!

Another highlight (one that may sound silly, but meant the world to me) was Russ Stratton, fellow audiophreak, live sound engineer, and friend, took a minute to show me some music in his iPod that he called "Mercer music." He wanted to share some of the music that I helped turn him onto through my music reviews at Positive Feedback. As strange as it may sound, it was seeing The Morning After Girls (an indie band I wrote about back in 09', and again this year) that touched me the most. I wasn't even buzzed, and I felt a freakin' tear well up in my eye. It was humbling and exciting to see that he had trusted me enough to not only check this music out, but eventually purchase it. That's why I write about music: I want to share about the sounds that excite me, and hopefully help somebody find out about a band or an album that may have passed them by. I'm not a famed DJ like John Peel was (one of my musical heroes) but if I can turn even a handful of people onto new music, then I can sit back knowing I've achieved one of my journalistic goals, and for any writer that's a huge deal. It's a terrific feeling.

Unfortunately I have to admit, it's rare when I run into somebody in the Hi-Fi industry who knows who Arif Mardin was (those familiar with my Sonic Satori column know how important Arif is to me). Michael Goodman from Centrance not only knew about Arif, but he was excited to talk about his many contributions to the music industry, as well as Mr. Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and Mr. Tommy Dowd. I treasured our conversation, as I got to share the story of how I came to work for Arif (how my experience in hi-fi granted me the opportunity to work for one of the last great architects of American pop music, not to mention an amazing human being). Knowing there are still people like Michael making hi-fi i equipment today re-instills my faith in the audiophile industry. I'm not an idiot however (not all the time anyway). I know some manufacturers are not in this for the love of music and sound, but if they are getting into high-end audio to get rich, they might want to re-consider (just my two cents).

The bottom line is: when I spoke with Michael about music we got so deeply entrenched in the conversation that other party-goers (in one instance, another fellow PFO scribe Dean Seislove) had to come out to the sidewalk to call our attention back to the party! It's those moments I cherish the most, when you connect with an individual on something that is so close to your heart you have no choice but to bear your soul, and hope they won't think you're a maniac as the result. That moment is also the perfect metaphor for the entire evening: it was as if I was spending time with the friends I've had since I was a kid (yes, I'm very fortunate to still have my crew from back then). In my opinion, that defines a terrific party, and I'm looking forward to the next one! Shine on you crazy diamonds, shine on…