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Hemiolia Records Master Tapes

02-18-2020 | By Danny Kaey | Issue 107

"Hey Danny, are you familiar with Hemiolia Records?" asked Kerry St. James, YG's formidably friendly European sales director late last year. "No," I replied. "Well, you should and I'll put you in touch with them, I know you love tape and they have some really cool stuff out that I think you'll dig." Fast forward to early January and Chloe's usual protective and crazy bark as the customary yellow DHL van pulled up. "That was quick, I thought," given that it was merely a few weeks prior, following Kerry's email intro to Claudio Valeri, proprietor and partner in the Hemiolia venture, that I first made contact with Hemiolia Records. Cueing up my somewhat rusty Italian, which I really haven't spoken formally since my early teenage years goofing around the beaches of Lignano and Jesolo, I quickly realized that Hemiolia is one of those up and coming recording and reissue studios worthy of closer inspection.

While the idea of producing the highest possible fidelity recordings had kicked around Claudio Valeri's head since 2007, it wasn't until 2016, with the arrival of his now business partner, mastering and recording engineer Pietro Benini, that the company actually took shape. Striking performances by a group of world music artists are captured and issued on reel to reel tape, or even high-end cassette tape (!). Peeking through their informative website, the tapes that will no doubt immediately stand out are a set of Luciano Pavarotti live records, which Claudio and Pietro received official support for from the Pavarotti foundation to exclusively reissue these performances on tape. Pavarotti? The tenor? Indeed. How soon and how much of it can I get my hands on? I quipped.

What's the number one issue reel to reel tape heads cry after? Software. Make that genuine software. Indeed, given that the only reason to have a high end tape machine is to enjoy highest fidelity master tape dubs, you quickly run into the biggest bottleneck: lack of official, nay, genuine dubs or sources for dubs. Sure, the 'net is full of master tape this and master tape that; sadly, as I have come to learn in almost two decades of seeking this ultimate source nirvana, you quickly—well, hopefully anyway—learn that most of the stuff that's out there claiming to be a master dub, is nothing more than a master dud, fake news drivel. Unscrupulous sellers have just as quickly realized that master tape dubs are a potential great source for incremental spare income, and so are making claims that taken with even the slightest of skepticism fall apart quicker than a domino track. Fortunately, there are legitimate reissue labels offering up genuine master tape dubs, though be forewarned, they too, come and go, given the volatility of this tiny niche of an already itsy-bitsy market place.

You can certainly take a quick breather as Hemiolia is now officially part of this all exclusive club, as both the Pavarotti and Ao Amigo Guinga tapes offer stunning fidelity, bespoke deluxe packaging, and unassailable legitimacy and authenticity. Admittedly, not being familiar with, but nonetheless very much interested in learning about world musician guitarist Guinga, whose real name is Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar, hailing from Rio de Janeiro's working class suburbs, I must admit I had no idea what to expect of this tape. Self trained in classical guitar, Guinga had strong influences across the board of Brazilian greats. To quote from Hemiolia's website, "beloved of music without compromises, to use one his metaphor, he let himself 'impregnate' by his musical passions and then give birth to a corpus of works that for emotional power, aesthetic balance, and musical quality is unreachable. A self-taught musician, authentic son of Rio de Janeiro who represents the deep bowels and the heart of that miracle represented by the Brazilian Popular Music, Guinga seems to have literally cannibalized and then metabolized (following the lesson of his great compatriot and Master Villa Lobos), the awesome variety of music to which he approached up to become intimate. In his music there are Faurè and Sinatra, Debussy and the Neapolitan song, Cole Porter and the Portuguese fado, Beatles and Clifford Brown, Nico Rota and Duke Ellington and above all... Brazil. The  sophisticated one of Villa Lobos and Jobim and the rough and dramatic one of the northeast hinterland, the naively crafty and excited one of Rio suburbs, and the black and primordial of afro-brazilian communities. A music that is not a style or a genre but rather a psychology and an ethics, a unique and incomparable experience. Listening to Guinga is like to be on a tense walker tightrope above a sort of desperate emotional instability but firmly assured to a coherence of the musical material that permeates every little detail, able to transform drama into happiness. My friend Roberto and I, we wanted to dedicate to our friend Guinga, our friendship in a wonderful day spent in that temple of acoustic sound that is the study of Pietro, because Guinga has taught and given us so much and, despite he is far away, he is always with us with his infinite music." You get the point.

Performing works of Guinga are two Italian world music heavyweights, Gabriele Mirabassi and Roberto Traufic, playing the clarinet and guitar respectively. Musically, these performances are quite stunning, and admittedly quite the auditory tour de force. Recorded and mastered impeccably, this set of reels belongs in anyone's collection, especially a world music collector. Gabriele's mastery of the clarinet is captured absolutely beautifully, the interplay with Traufic's guitar at supreme level. Melodic, rich in tone and color, Guinga's material is replete with great themes from the melancholic Ária de Opereta, to the playful Nítido e obscuro, to the dreamy and soft Noturna, the music is absolutely outstanding. Musicphiles will rejoice in the character of the performances, audiophiles in the stupendous quality of the recording, which incidentally, was captured all analog to two Studer machines, a 2" 16-track A80 and 1/4" 2-track A810. Thus, these tape copies are true "master tape" dubs, all sourced from a bank of Telefunken M15 record decks (what a coincidence!) set to parallel dub. As is standard for these tape dubs, the preferred equalization is CCIR / IEC, 15ips at 320nWb/m reference record level. Finally, tape stock used is Recording The Masters SM900, a derivative of the famous BASF tape stock of yesteryear.

The second tape is likely the one everyone is most giddy over, and for good reason. Owning a piece of recorded history in the form of a genuine Pavarotti master tape dub is certainly high up on anyone's list; what else needs to be said really. Having sold more than 100 million records in his career, Luciano Pavarotti was an instant darling of the people. As a successful crossover artist, he found a following in not only classical music, but also pop music. A founding member of the three Tenors, their first album became the best selling classic record of all time. Who can forget such memorable performances as the 1990 FIFA World Cup concert, his genius of Nessun Dorma or Tosca, and Madame Butterfly. Truly an iconic tenor, he passed away far too soon, yet his music, especially in the form of this master tape dub, lives on. Working with the Pavarotti Family foundation, Pietro Benini had his work cut out: for some reason—though not entirely unsurprising—many of these concert masters were sadly in very poor shape, and needed extensive, meticulous and tedious restoration work before being used and dubbed.

In the end, what counts is the music and here Pietro Benini has—if the conditions of the original concert masters are to be believed—completely outdone himself. Taken from various concerts and performances, virtually all of these songs sound big, bold, with a certain sense of weight and rightness to the sound that is only befitting the great Pavarotti. From faint cues eliciting the majesty of the recorded venues, to spatial cues of the various orchestra sections, these recordings reveal so much more information than any comparable commercial recording I have of Pavarotti. The proverbial veil lifted, these performances shine in such new light that for the most part you will be hearing these for the very first time all over again. All the "hits" are here: Quanto è bella, quanto è cara!, La girometta, La donna è mobile and a few others that are perhaps lesser known or from a revitalized quality you haven't heard before.

As with the Guinga reel, this tape was dubbed in CCIR, 15ips, at 320nWb/m on SM900 tape. To boot, the presentation and craftsmanship of the tape boxes and reels themselves is absolutely first rate, and quite higher than even those from the Tape Project or Acoustic Sounds. Each reel comes with a very nice, very high quality cardboard box; the center hub is a nicely cut and finished piece of wood containing a laser etched Hemiolia logo. The reel flanges are aluminum of course, anodized in a very nice orange color, with laser etched logos and title descriptors. Clearly, these flanges are not off the shelf components, rather custom built and designed for Hemiolia. Compared to the often bland and stock looking reels other titles ship, this is a nice experiential effect that heightens ownership. Cleverly aiding Hemiolia's marketing and brand awareness, every person who looked at my Telefunken playback machines immediately took notice of these reels and asked which titles they were. Food for thought: you want to make a name for yourself? Have your product stand out amongst the masses.

Hemiolia is on to something here, and I frankly can't wait to get my hands on more titles. To boot, their website is well laid out and ordering reels is as simple as it could be. For die-hard collectors of authentic tape dubs, there is no way around these reissues: the music is superb, the quality exemplary, and the team behind Hemiolia come with the requisite pedigree. A must have, absolutely first class, A+++++!

Tapes are EUR 286,- + shipping, each.

Hemiolia Records are Claudio Valeri and Pietro Benini.

Hemiolia srl


[email protected]

Via Curtatone e Montanara, 23

06129 Perugia - VAT: IT03307780548