Sunday, September 29, 2013

Check out my Facebook page!

I'm getting the interblog thing rolling with a new Facebook page, to cross-pollenate a bit more, and to try to conversate with all you audiomusicphiles out there in the hinterlands...

I've been posting in AudioKarma, AudioAsylum, and AudioCircle, 3 very fine internet entities that allow the likes of me to mouth off a bit! Check them out, they help by letting me hotlink to my blog and Facebook page.

See you online as always!

Keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! Later! 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Road trip!

I've been planning an audio field day for quite a while. My main holdup was to decide whether or not my car ('95 Firebird) would cooperate with such a strenuous outing, and today I just bit the bullet and went.

This is what I witnessed, with my own ears:

Bel Canto!

What a clean look and sound... I could easily live with this set up for years. I listened to female vocals that came alive before my ears, with a speaker that was locally manufactured in Champaign, IL (home of Glenn Poor's Audio, more of which I'll get to later).

Ars Harmonia Desmond, designed and handcrafted by Bruce Pea, are amazingly beautiful (looks nice here, eh? See 'em in person for a real treat!). Featuring a fullranger (no nothing between the speaker and the amp but wire) that maintains phase coherence with superb soundstaging, I personally think that he has a hit on his hands.

Bruce is the kind of artisan that, I'd figure, would rather labor over a pair of these beauties himself than farm out a bunch of boxes and woofers to mass effect. I for one would own these, especially at their way-modest price of, wait... wait for it... the totally doable sum of  $1500! These are definitely high-end at an affordable price! Dayum!
Bruce told me personally (he was actually in the store when I was there!) that the beveled port tubes on these beauties took him three days alone to fabricate! I had to take his word that they are "as beautiful inside as they are out"! Double Dog Dayum!!
Find Bruce's Ars Harmonia Desmond (yes, you figgered right, named after the iconic jazzman Paul Desmond) at Tell him mind's eye music sent you!
On to the reference system at Glenn Poor's Audio:
The BAT (Balanced Audio Technology) Rex II Power Amplifier!

These monoblock behemoths had to be at least 2 1/2' square, and amply heated the room, as you could imagine! The sound was as massive as the sheer size, and, according to Geoff Poor, owner of Glenn Poor's Audio, the Rex II contains numerous proprietary design features. They utilize a fully symmetrical circuit with a high-current, all-triode, zero-feedback, fully balanced design.

These have to be the cleanest, most accurate tube amps I have ever had the opportunity to audition! Listing at $19,900 each, they certainly are classed among the world's very best, and performed every bit as well!
And next, the Rex II Preamplifier!
The Rex II Preamp features their custom-designed amorphous core output transformers for improved performance, and is optimally matched to the Rex II power amps for precise control of line level signals with balanced ins and outs. Sonically, these improvements offer greater dynamics, transparency, top-to-bottom extension, and a simultaneously more coherent and organic portrayal of music. Find more details about the BAT Rex II amp/pre combo, as well as their solid state offerings at 
And now, the front-end to end all front-ends (say that 5 times fast!):
The Esoteric K-01 SACD player!
The Esoteric K-01 represents truly the state-of-the-art in statement front ends, and implements two 32-bit monaural D/A converters with eight parallel/differential DAC circuits per channel, as well as separate L/R power supplies. The on-board, high-precision clocking circuit has also been advanced. The power supply for each circuit block has been optimized by using four on-board power transformers. Three sets of 192 kHz/24-bit digital inputs, supporting the most advanced high-sampling-rate digital sources are also built-in. USB driver software supports 192 kHz/24-bit asynchronous transmission for connecting with a PC.
Audio bling with a capital $! 20 big plus for this monstrous item!
"Sounds like heaven", to quote Geoff. Can't wait to get there myself!
And, if that wasn't enough...
Wilson Alexia!
Featured in these pages last year upon their release, this was my primary reason for the long, arduous trip to Champaign, IL. Living in the vast audio wasteland known as St. Louis, MO (save St. Louis Stereo, also featured here in the Vandersteen article), I yearn for audition opportunities like this. They are surely few and far between.

When I was in the pro audio/musical instrument business, I'd regularly go to LA to the yearly meeting of NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), and sample the wares. My bosses would send me as a product specialist so that, after all the schmoozing, I could recover from the hangover and sell some new gear.

Not so easy anymore (traveling or recovering). But I digress...

Wilson strikes a fair price point ($48,500) with Alexia (compared to Alexandria XLF@ 200 big!), and their finishes are as fine as a high-priced automobile. Maybe better! I was amazed at the finish quality, a big reason to position these beauties in a prominent place in your home or studio.

Now for some tech stuff:

Enclosure Type Woofer:(Rear Ported) X-Material
Enclosure Type Midrange:(Rear Vented) X-Material/S-material baffle
Enclosure Type Tweeter:(Sealed) X-Material
Woofers:8 inches (20.32 cm)
10 inches (25.4 cm)
Midrange:7 inches (17.78 cm)
Tweeter:1 inch, Dome (2.54 cm)
Sensitivity:90 dB @ 1W @ 1m @ 1k
Nominal Impedance:4 ohms / minimum 2 ohms @ 80 Hz
Minimum Amplifier Power:20 Watts per channel
Frequency Response:20 Hz – 32 kHz +/- 3 dB
Overall Dimensions:Height: 53 1/4 inches (135.29 cm) w/spikes
Width: 15 1/4 inches (38.74 cm)
Depth: 21 1/8 inches (53.70 cm)
     Total Weight Per Channel:256 lbs                                                 
Glenn Pour's Audio, and especially owner Geoff Poor, is a very affable audio dealer, and he and they exhibit none of the trademark snobbery that might besmirch high-end businesses of any ilk. I was treated with polite care, and my questions were answered without condescending attitudes!

How refreshing.

Contact Glenn Pour's Audio at Geoff's one of the good guys, as they say.

After all, he IS the BAT man! (Balanced Audio Technology, that is!)
So, boys and girls, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! Hasta entonces! 

Friday, September 27, 2013

New(er) music revelations!

Over the past year that I've been conspicuously absent from my roost, I've determined to update my listening predilections by delving into current-day, more modern sounds than my classic rock upbringings had previously provided. The main constant in my findings has been that, after careful analysis, I still enjoy good lyrics, smooth harmonies, memorable melodies, and medium tempo rhythms that do not bash and crash like machines (too much).

I'll take this blog op to mention some of my most significant discoveries this past year, as my tastes in music have greatly expanded (or not so; classical is still being saved for my near-deaf days!)...


For the most part, my association with Britpop began with a belated discovery of Oasis in the late 90's. Upon digesting their entire recorded output over the ensuing years, and thereby deciding to expand my horizons eastward across the pond, as it were, I encountered many other fine examples of this artform.

Liam Gallagher currently fronts Beady Eye, now on their sophomore release BE (as of the time of this publication), and Noel is still riding out his solo debut of 2011, self-titled Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. Noel is still in big demand for live performances, and has logged considerable treks across the terrestrial universe.

Both (pictured center) brothers' bands are brilliant in creation and delivery of all the essential rock goods.

Oh yeah, Sir George Martin was said to note that, in his studied opinion, Noel was "the most significant songwriter of his generation", leaving an out for he and his Fabs!

Liam also helms his pricy Pretty Green clothing line. Paul Weller visually supports the firm in adverts.

Blur, Oasis' arch enemies (in the press anyway) were worth a listen for that reason alone, that Noel Gallagher was slagging them so hard in NME and the like. Turns out that the two bands couldn't be more different. Oasis exhibits little to none of the classical British offhanded wittiness, just straight-ahead rocking good music with all the standard pop elements in tow. Blur, fronted by Graham Coxon, always seemed to me to be more of an obvious audience choice. But really, there's no denying the audience share that both bands enjoyed in their heyday.

The Boo Radleys, fronted by singer/songwriting guitarist Martin Carr, amassed a huge tome of released material in their decade of existence (1988-1998), but only charted once in that span, with "Wake Up, Boo" being their sole lucky number. Noteworthy in this discussion, nevertheless.

My Bloody Valentine, roundly considered pioneers of the shoegaze sound, were signed to Alan McGee's Creation Records, and paved the way for Oasis' meteoric rise to British fame and worldwide acclaim. It was widely reported that their benchmark LP Loveless cost McGee and Creation considerably, and subsequently, the label dropped MBV in 1991 after the huge critical success of the LP. My Bloody Valentine later disbanded in 1997 after a stint with Island Records, and released m b v in 2013 to universal raves.

Loveless LP cover:

Ok, now that we've scratched the surface, let's see if this whets your appetite for more!

Keep your valves hot, and your whips erect! Ta ta, till Big Ben bangs anew!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Max Load package finally here!

After literally YEARS of wait time, and months' worth of last-minute revisions and preparations, the moment has finally (actually a couple months ago now) arrived!
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The long-awaited Max Load anthology originates from the years 1978-1983, and contains an LP's worth of Epic Records demos, a monumental single that put the band on the St. Louis punk/new wave map (first of its kind from the band's hometown of Belleville, IL), a CD of alternate material, and a DVD of an early public access appearance the band completed back in the early 80's, as mass-market cable TV was in its burgeoning state.
This effort was spearheaded by a chance meeting of Mike Yaffe (me!) and Jason Ross, head of local rock history archive BDR Records. Jason has been curating the local punk/new wave scene for quite some time now. Ever careful to give the local scene national and international recognition that was largely unattainable in the pre-internet era, he's created a juggernaut of a label, and garnered considerable attention to a long-lost era that had been largely ignored, save the remeberances of a few scenester diehards still hankering for a bit of the old time.
I initiated an interview opportunity after speaking with Jason at KDHX 88.1 FM St. Louis, where he hosted a long-running punk show, "Scene Of The Crime". I'd heard that the show's days were numbered, Jason's family was growing and his obligations were shifting. I knew I'd better get the ball rolling with the only person who'd sink the right amount of attention to detail into such a dauntingly complex undertaking.
I interviewed on-air, told the tale of a bunch of Belleville boys on a mission to dominate the staid STL airwaves, and hopefully set up for further deconstruction of popular myths surrounding what type of music should be played at our local Friday/Saturday night VFW hall soirees. Fighting the classic rock bug that was so prevalent at the time, we knew we were bucking trends, and this didn't stop us for one minute.
Upon a subsequent chance meeting at the local record purveyor (Vintage Vinyl), I told Jason, "You need to put out the Max Load record as a final piece of the STL punk/new wave puzzle". He immediately agreed, saying in regret, "I can't seem to locate Terry Jones (songwriter, singer and founder of Max Load) ..."
"No problem", I replied. "Here's his number".
And off we go!
We tried to place the record locally with Greg Black, of the superbly obscure band raymilland (the BDR release of which I'll cover in the near future) as he has capabilities to master recordings for vinyl. He relinquished, and the task was up to Jason to locate suitable facilities outside the area.
Material was chosen, liner notes were written, the photos were assembled, the fonts chosen, and the artwork began to materialize. Revision after revision saw this process stretch over a two-year period, and as each hurdle was cleared, we knew that the Max Load LP would finally see the light of day.
Upon first listen, you can tell that these guys were really onto something rather unique: a simplistic punk ethos with quite a bit of arty synth cred to kick in the sensibilities of the day. We all took various roles, musically, in the sessions. I played drums on the opener, occupied my primary role as bassist for the rest of side 1 (vinyl), and played synthesizer in my last stint with the band. A bit of guitar rounded out my claims to multi-instrumentalist status on this, my most visible release to date!
The thing I always enjoyed about Max Load is, although we felt that we were very original, we weren't afraid to borrow from our biggest influences, and it always worked out really well. We always purveyed a pretty obscure stance, but weren't adverse to quote some recognizable musical clich├ęs along the way, just to cover bases. This gave us our cult status locally, and made it even stronger when the bigs came a'courtin'.
BDR Records threw us a great tribute upon releasing the package. They hired a local Belleville punk band (Trauma Harness) to play a set of Max Load material, along with tributes to other BDR-released product. This was so good, Terry was said to exclaim (he said it, actually, straight to me!), "I sure am glad that's them, and not us!" I wholeheartedly laughed and agreed, and was totally blown away at the energy (audio as well as emotional) the band produced that night. They raved up Max Load over Belleville contemporaries/natives Uncle Tupelo (out of which Wilco and Son Volt came) to great response!
One for the books, like Max Load themselves.
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With rave international press of late (Ugly Things, Maximum Rock And Roll, etc.) as well as local review acclaim, Max Load is finally getting much-deserved recognition. They're now firmly ensconced in the annals of St. Louis music, along with Scott Joplin and Chuck Berry.
Keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you catfishers next time!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Canned Heat, Wildey Theater, Edwardsville, IL, 9-22-13

Woodstock legends Canned Heat appeared live in concert last Sunday night at the recently-renovated Wildey Theater in Edwardsville. While not admittedly a blues-based rock fan, I decided to check out the theater, as the venue has been getting good reviews as a nice place to sit and watch a concert. Since I like to sit (hehe), I figured it would be a good gamble that the seats would be comfortable, and since I was being treated (gas and ticket), I figured, what the hell, I'm in.

First off, the theater was nicely appointed with the usual art deco accoutrements, comfy seating (!), and an intimate audience capacity, around 300 or so. Sponsored by local FM rocker WDLJ 97.5 Carlyle, it was well-attended, and among the attendees were a few friends from out that way, as well as some hometown diehards I've known since the 70's. All in all, a good time.

Canned Heat served up the standards (predictably opening with "On The Road Again"), the radio hits they made famous, and offered some perfunctory exercises along the way. "Fried Hockey Boogie" was their closer, and there was nary a hint of "Reefer Blues" all night, a song I amazingly heard back in the day on a gold-colored slab o' vinyl (bootleg, of course, from some other legendary festival like Atlanta or Miami Pop or some such).

The most confusing part of the band's presentation was the fact that they insisted upon switching instruments upon introducing every song! The drummer never left his assigned post behind the kit, but the frontline shuffled listlessly throughout the evening. This caused me to believe that they were possibly too cheap to hire a really good bassist, as this was what they all defaultedly switched to. As a bassist myself, my ambivalence toward blues-based rock is that, when doing 12-bar progressions, bassists usually mail in their performance, as the parts themselves get pretty perfunctorily repetitive and boring to perform (at least to me anyway). They all seemed content to alleviate this in the same way... bass solos! As a bassist, I HATE solos on my instrument, and can't tolerate bassists (musically, not personally. Some of my best friends are soloing bassists.) who solo. Having said this, I categorically refuse to solo on bass, citing the ensemble nature of my professional role as sideman, and out of pure respect for said role.

Note to Canned Heat... I'm a great bassist. I don't solo but I'll play Fried Hockey Boogie for food, with but one caveat: youse gotta do Reefer Blues as well, then I'm all-in!

The band back in the day-day:

Thanks to my boy Todd for footing the bill on a fun outing!

Stay tuned for more stuff... Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up. See all y'all next time!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Beatles "Rubber Soul"

Getting back to my earlier succession of the Beatles' tome, I'll continue on reviewing their amassed output by spinning "Rubber Soul" on the ol' grammophonium.

File:Rubber Soul.jpg
Rubber Soul is the sixth studio album by English rock group The Beatles, released on 3 December 1965. Produced by George Martin, it was recorded in just over four weeks to make the Christmas market. Unlike the five albums that preceded it, this album was recorded during a specific period, the sessions not dashed off in between either tour dates or during filming projects. After this, every Beatles album would be made without the need to pay attention to other commitments, except for the production of short promotional films.

Rubber Soul is a folk rock album, and also incorporates pop and soul music styles. The album was described as a major artistic achievement, attaining widespread critical and commercial success, with reviewers taking note of the Beatles' developing musical vision.
Rubber Soul was successful commercially and critically, and is often cited as one of the greatest albums in music history. In 2012, Rubber Soul was ranked #5 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".

In September 2013 after the British Phonographic Industry changed their sales award rules, the album was declared as having gone platinum.


Virtually all of the songs for this album were composed immediately after the band's return to London following their North American tour. The Beatles broadened their sound on this album, with influences drawn from soul music and the contemporary folk-rock of Bob Dylan and The Byrds. The album also saw the Beatles expanding rock and roll's instrumental resources, most notably on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" through George Harrison's use of the Indian sitar. He had been introduced to it via the instrumental score for their 1965 film Help!. Although The Kinks had incorporated droning guitars to mimic the sitar after a visit to India on "See My Friends", "Norwegian Wood" is generally credited as sparking off a musical craze for the sound of the novel instrument in the mid-1960s—a trend which would later branch out into the raga rock and Indian rock genres. The song is now acknowledged as one of the cornerstones of what is now usually called "world music " and it was a major landmark in the trend towards incorporating non-Western musical influences into Western popular music. Harrison's interest was fueled by fellow Indian music fan David Crosby of the Byrds, whom Harrison met and befriended in August 1965. Harrison would eventually be transfixed by all things Indian, taking sitar lessons from renowned Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar.

French-like guitar lines on "Michelle" and Greek-influenced ones on "Girl", fuzz bass on "Think for Yourself," and a piano made to sound like a baroque harpsichord on the instrumental bridge of "In My Life" added to the exotic brushstrokes on this album. Ringo Starr had frequently augmented Beatles tracks with standard percussion instruments such as maracas or tambourine, but on the track "I'm Looking Through You" he unusually used taps on a matchbook, perhaps influenced by a similar trick as done by Gene Krupa in the 1941 film Ball of Fire.


Lyrically, the album was a major progression. Though a smattering of earlier Beatles songs had expressed romantic doubt and negativity, the songs on Rubber Soul represented a pronounced development in sophistication, thoughtfulness and ambiguity. In particular, the relationships between the sexes moved from simpler boy-girl love songs to more nuanced and negative portrayals. "Norwegian Wood" sketches a failed relationship between the singer and a mysterious girl, where she goes to bed and he sleeps in the bath. "Drive My Car" serves as a satirical piece of sexism, and songs like "I'm Looking Through You", "You Won't See Me", and "Girl" express more emotionally complex, bitter and downbeat portrayals of romance. John Lennon's "In My Life" depicts nostalgic reverie for younger days, while "Nowhere Man" and Harrison's "Think for Yourself" explored subject matter that had nothing to do with romance at all.


To achieve the mimicry of a harpsichord by the piano on "In My Life", George Martin played the piano with the tape running at half-speed. When played back at normal speed during the mixdown, the sped-up sound gave the illusion of a harpsichord. Processing used included heavily compressed and equalised piano sound on "The Word," an effect soon extremely popular in the genre of psychedelic music.

Until very late in their career, the "primary" version of The Beatles' albums was always the monophonic mix. According to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, Martin and the Abbey Road engineers devoted most of their time and attention to the mono mixdowns, and the band were not usually present for the stereo mixing sessions. Even with their landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, the stereo mixdowns were considered less important than the mono version and were completed in far less time.

While the stereo version of the original release of Rubber Soul was similar to that of their earliest albums, featuring mainly vocals on the right channel and instruments on the left, it was not produced in the same manner. The early albums were recorded on twin-track tape, and they were intended only for production of monaural records, so they kept vocals and instruments separated allowing the two parts to later be mixed in proper proportion. By this time, however, the Beatles were recording on four-track tape, which allowed a stereo master to be produced with vocals in the centre and instruments on both sides, as evidenced in their prior albums Beatles for Sale and Help!. Looking for a way to easily produce a stereo album which sounded good on a monaural record player, Martin mixed down the four-track master tape to stereo with vocals on the right, instruments on the left, and nothing in the middle, even though in "What Goes On", Starr's vocal is mixed on the left instead of the right, with Lennon and McCartney's harmony vocals on the right, while on "Think for Yourself" Harrison's double-tracked lead vocal is split between the two channels.

This was the final Beatle album that recording engineer Norman Smith worked on before he was promoted by EMI to record producer.

Packaging and artwork

Rubber Soul was the group's first release not to feature their name on the cover, an uncommon tactic in 1965. The 'stretched' effect of the cover photo came about after photographer Bob Freeman had taken some pictures of the group at Lennon's house. Freeman showed the photos by projecting them onto an album-sized piece of cardboard to simulate how they would appear on an album cover. The unusual Rubber Soul album cover came to be when the slide card fell slightly backwards, elongating the projected image of the photograph and stretching it. Excited by the effect, they shouted, "Ah! Can we have that? Can you do it like that?" Freeman said he could. The distinctive lettering was created by Charles Front (father of actor Rebecca Front), and the original artwork was later auctioned at Bonhams, accompanied by an authenticating letter from Robert Freeman.

Capitol Records used a different colour saturation for the US version, causing the orange lettering used by Parlophone Records to show up as different colours. On some Capitol LPs, the title looks rich chocolate brown; others, more like gold. On the 1987 compact disc reissue, the letters appear a distinct green, and the 2009 reissue uses the original cover design with the Parlophone Records logo.

Paul McCartney conceived the album's title after overhearing a musician's description of Mick Jagger's singing style as "plastic soul". Lennon confirmed this in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, stating, "That was Paul's title, meaning English soul. Just a pun." McCartney uses a similar phrase, "plastic soul, man, plastic soul...," heard at the end of "I'm Down" as released on Anthology 2.


Rubber Soul was commercially successful, beginning a 42-week run in the British charts on 11 December 1965. On Christmas Day it replaced Help!, the Beatles' previous album, at the top of the charts, a position Rubber Soul held for eight weeks. On 9 May 1987, Rubber Soul returned to the album charts for three weeks, and ten years later made another comeback to the charts.

Critical response to the album was also positive. In a 1967 article for Esquire, Robert Christgau called it "an album that for innovation, tightness, and lyrical intelligence was about twice as good as anything they or anyone else (except maybe the Stones) had done previously." He later cited it as "when the Beatles began to go arty".Rolling Stone magazine commented "they achieved a new musical sophistication and a greater thematic depth without sacrificing a whit of pop appeal." Pitchfork Media described the album as "the most important artistic leap in the Beatles' career—the signpost that signaled a shift away from Beatlemania and the heavy demands of teen pop, toward more introspective, adult subject matter". Since 2001, the album has been included in several media-sponsored "best" album lists.[In 2012, Rubber Soul was voted #5 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".

The US version of the album greatly influenced the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson believed it was the first time in pop music that the focus had shifted from just making popular singles to making an actual album, without the usual filler tracks. He "answered" the album by releasing Pet Sounds in 1966.

"What Goes On" was the first song which has a Richard Starkey writing credit, as co-composer beside Lennon and McCartney. Lennon later said this was the first album on which the Beatles were in complete creative control during recording, with enough studio time to develop and refine new sound ideas. Exhausted from five years of virtually non-stop touring, recording, and film work, the group subsequently took a three-month break during the first part of 1966 and used this free time exploring new directions that would colour their subsequent musical work. These became immediately apparent in the next (UK) album, Revolver.

Albums like this aren't made in quite this way anymore. This represented the state of the art in record production for its time, it inspired the greatness of a Brian Wilson to fruition with his masterworks, and set the standard for innovative, daringly complex songwriting and execution.

Next in this series, what else? Revolver, of course!

Keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See yas next time!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hoo hah (wayhay for my British readers) !!! I'm baaaack (as Ahnold would say), with another dose of reality as only I can dish it out. I'm re-inspired to start blogging again, after a protracted hiatus. It's September 2013 (nearly a full year since I last posted here). As summer ends, thoughts turn to frost on the pumpkin, as it were.

Come along as I get back into the flow of online audio life and the new discoveries I've made since last gracing these airwaves... I promise to include music reviews from the many and varied sources of new (to me) sounds I've unearthed since last we met here at mind's eye music, as well as the highlights of our collective lives here on the Third Rock.

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Keep your tubes hot and your antenna up!

Welcome back, all.