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But, What About The Music?

11-21-2014 | By Roger Skoff | Issue 76

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I've just spent a little time reading posts—both the originals and the comments on them—in some of the more than fifty audiophile groups that I know of on the internet. I'm sure there must actually be many more than just half a hundred of such groups, but from what I've seen, fifty is more than enough for me to comment on.

The posts I've been reading have, frankly, been amazing to me and, had I not read them, my understanding of the people who share my hobby would be greatly less. Some of the people posting or commenting have a depth and breadth of technical knowledge and experience that I can't help but admire, be impressed by, and frankly be, at least in some areas, a little bit jealous of. Others seem to be human encyclopedias; brimming over with a phenomenal amount of organized data on a number of subjects that can only remind me of those remarkable people who have not just memorized the Bible, but can also tell you the chapter and verse of everything in it. Regardless of what anyone might think of the subject matter, I can't imagine anyone at all who would not be purely blown away by the sheer brute accomplishment involved in not just memorizing the words, but then going back and memorizing where each of them is in the book. What's next, the page numbers?

Among the things that I've read is a whole lot of opinion about what's better (or worse) than what; about how to do just about anything any audiophile might want to do with his system; about tubes vs. solid state; about analog vs. digital; about 24/96 vs. 16/44, and on and on and on.

I've also seen a whole lot of tomfoolery on a vast range of subjects, with people-of-questionable- knowledge-attacking-other-people-of-questionable-intelligence-who-are-in-turn-attacking-still-other-people-of–questionable-experience, and around and around and back again, in every possible configuration. If it's within the range of human discourse and it's there, I've seen it.

What I HAVEN'T seen, though, is a discussion of "Are the Blues Greats really worth saving?" or a comparison of what Mark Levinson did along those lines, as compared to Chad Kassem. I haven't seen discussions of why it is that folk music—the biggest of big deals of the '60s and early '70s – doesn't even seem to be a curiosity any more. Why Rock and Hip-Hop make millions, while classical music needs government subsidies to stay alive. Or even why it is that the music business, in general, but as purchased physical recordings in particular, seems to be at real risk of following the dinosaurs into extinction.

Can it be that we are so used to having instant access to just about any music, of any kind, in any version, by any performer, at any time, that, like the news of the day, it has simply become a part of our environment and we feel that it will always be there for us, whether we pay any attention to it or not? Or can it be that, as with ballroom dancing, which required actually learning the steps and variations of a particular dance (a foxtrot, a waltz, a Polka, a rhumba, a Cha-Cha, or even a Country & Western Line Dance), we have abandoned the comfort of rules and pre-learned steps in favor of the freedom of simply gyrating as we see fit and as the music moves us, and are content to simply hope that our "partner" can anticipate what we are going to do well enough to keep up?

I don't expect the average audiophile or music-lover to spend the time, money, and effort to learn to be a great dancer, or to be able (or even willing) to design and build his own electronics, but think how rewarding either of those would be if he actually were to do so. Neither do I expect that anyone should, just for riffing with his friends, become a musicologist or a sociologist, but again, think how rewarding it would be; not only to the person doing it, but to everyone he spends time with talking of such things.

At one time, many years ago, when I still owned XLO, I was invited by one of XLO's better dealers to fly to a nearby State and speak to a group of (obviously committed and obviously affluent) audiophiles who had initially just hung-out at his store, and then actually formalized their weekly meetings into a club . When I got to the store, the things that most caught and held my attention were that 1.) The store was obviously well set-up and carried some great lines; 2.) the club members were obviously well-to-do, and had, on the average, a GREAT deal of money invested in their hobby; and 3.) the majority of the attendees had not the slightest clue about how a system or any of its components worked, but were content, instead, to buy whatever the magazines declared to be "this week's hot setup"; to throw money at any problem; and to believe the "experts" instead of their own knowledge or their own ears on any issue where judgment was required.

Although that was SO not me as to be actually shocking, (whenever I get involved in some new thing, I make it a point to learn as much as I can about it, and, because I'm the one who must ultimately live with it, I tend to regard my own opinion at least as highly as any other), I could at least understand it: These were, after all, privileged people who were probably used to a high level of service from others in whatever they do. (Who, for example, carries his own golf bag?) The thing that really got to me was that they didn't know anything about the music, either.

Isn't the whole point of having a system to be able to listen to music on it in some reasonable approximation of a live performance? And if you like the music, and if different people play the same thing in different ways, isn't it reasonable to think that you might want to have more than just a single performance? I personally have sixteen different recordings of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and more than a dozen of the Shostakovich Symphony #15, and it isn't just classical music that that applies to: Think of all of the various "cover" versions you've heard of different pop, rock, and even Country and Western music: Isn't it possible that one might be better than the others? Wasn't the Ed Bruce version of Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys better than the one by Willie Nelson? And if one IS better, don't you want to know about it? And if they're all wonderful, don't you want to know them all? And if you know about them, and either some are better or they're all good (or even if they're all bad) don't you want to talk about them? And write about them on the internet?

There's plenty on the internet about the toys and goodies that make our hobby possible, but why is there so little about the music that makes it necessary? And what about real and substantive discussion of, and news about, the people who make the music?

Aren't all of those things important, too?

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