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No. 186 November 2019

OLEŚ DUO | ALONE TOGETHER

‘REFERENCE: in philosophy and semantics: a meaning supplementing a general sense; referral Polish Language Glossary

t all started ... really started about ten years ago, if not before. At the time, an email came to the "High Fidelity" mailbox, a standard one, asking for advice. MARCIN wrote to me asking for recommendation for a subwoofer at a reasonable price. He explained that he was a musician, double bass player, who was looking for a subwoofer for his music system. I answered to the best of my abilities and it probably made some sense, because after some time the same man sent thank you and asked for my home address and later he sent his last two albums recorded by him and his brother. The name was: OLEŚ.

Searching for information about Marcin, I realized that we are peers, both born in 1973. Tall, handsome, with special, cat-like elegance - he is one of the most interesting double bass players on the Polish music scene. Together with their brother Bartłomiej, a drummer, they form the Oleś Duo band, but they also appear in other configurations under the name Oleś Brothers. The main area of their musical search is jazz, but they also record ethno music such as on the Sefardix with Jorgos Skoliass, from 2014.

Marcin reached out to me again in February or March this year. He had a proposal for me - he wanted to talk about the technical side of the latest project - his and his brother's - which was to be released on vinyl record and it was supposed to be a REFERENCE record. As a result we met more than once. Based on several conversations, we managed to work out a kind of "common base", an agreement on which something could be built.

Before going to the recording studio, Marcin listened to various recordings in my system to find out what a high-end audio equipment could do. Apparently the session confirmed what he'd suspected, because right after that he borrowed from me the Acoustic Revive interconnect, which he used to connect the preamplifier connected to his double bass, as well as a power cable to use with the same preamplifier. We met again in mid-September to listen to two different masters of the latest album. So herewith you're getting first-hand information about it and it's happening even before the release date of this album.

I am talking to his latest album released under “High Fidelity's” patronage, with MARCIN OLEŚ.

| RECORDING

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: When did you start this project?
MARCIN OLEŚ: It was actually born in Bartek's head, as a thought, an idea, somewhere at the turn of 2018 and 2019 - I'm not 100% sure, but I think it was then. For twenty years we have been recording albums not only together but also separately. It all started with a reinterpretation of the Ornette Coleman's music, who once fascinated me, and which I recorded in my own way (Ornette on Bass from 2003 - ed.). The album sold out quickly and the record label never made more copies, so it is in high demand. In 2007, Bartek also recorded an album based on a similar idea, which in turn referred to the album of Sonny Rollins called Freedom Suite. Bartek paraphrased it, calling it FreeDrum Suite :)

We wanted to celebrate our joint activity with a new joint project that would be a solo one at the same time - this year we celebrate a 20th anniversary of the release of our first album. In 1999, I received an award at the Jazz on the Oder Festival, and with my brother as the Custom Trio, the 2nd prize at the Jazz Juniors Festival, because we had to start somehow as outsiders. This is a symbolic date for us. But it is fluid, because our first official album came out in 2000. A year earlier we released the first album that we recorded for these festivals, which we called perversely Mr. Nobody because we were nobodies from outside the environment. We released it first as a cassette, then as a CD. But it wasn't available in official distribution, that's why our official debut was actually the album recorded with Andrzej Przybielski titled Free Bop.

Bartłomiej Oleś during recording session

You got very involved in the technical side of this album - you could say "sonic" one ...
The latest album is a result of our daily practice, seeking for perfect sound. But without losing ourselves in some routine. In this case, I am responsible for all things related to the recording itself, that is, the choice of studio, I was also wondering what equipment to choose for this project. That's why I reached out to you hoping for some advice.

It's all related also to the previous album, the Spirit of Nadir, which was met with a very positive response from the audiophiles and vinyl record lovers. So I suggested that we would raise the bar - I was curious myself how we can get the most sound quality from our instruments in the studio. That's where the idea of using some high-end electronics and audiophile accessories came from. I mean cables, microphone preamplifiers and the microphones themselves. Sveda Audio provided us with studio monitors. Thanks to your help, I could get a unique sound of my instrument - I used the Acoustic Revive interconnect and Harmonix power cable borrowed from you in the recording.

Marcin Oleś during recording session

We were able to convince many people to this project, who we will be mention in the record's insert. It also cause a double mobilization in the studio. The standard process turned into something more, into something that made everyone think of "something special." We all learned a lot during this project. From what I heard in your system we have achieved nice results :) I do not know if without this attitude the result would be equally good. We recorded in a well-equipped studio, with wonderful, old Neumann microphones, Neve preamplifiers, custom-made contemporary items – you can feel it too. But these extra elements allowed us to reach, I think, more than ever before.

| RELEASE

What's the title of the new album?
The title of the new album is supposed to indicate that I didn't meet my brother in the studio and that these are actually two equivalent stories. It is also a reference to jazz: Alone Together. I don't know exactly what name will it actually released under - that's my brother's Bartek prerogative. But if I had to bet on something, then it would be the Oleś Duo - under this name we already recorded three albums and it would be a reference to the title of the album, because it is a duo that only met on the album.

That's also where the idea for the cover comes from, right?
Yes, the idea is that the cover will refer to the record itself – two musicians who have been working and creating together for twenty years prepare a duet project for double bass and percussion. This time we recorded an album on which each of us plays a solo recital - a short one, just for one side of a vinyl record. Because we maintain an equal identity for each of us, we do not want to display neither Bartek nor me on the cover. That is to say - neither of us is side A or side B. There will be side M and side B, both associated with our names - Marcin and Bartłomiej. The listener will be the one which decides which side is more important.

Due to the fact that we wanted it all to start from the cover, it will not have a back side and regardless of how you pick it up, you will always look at its front. On one side there will be a photo of one musician and the other on the other one. And the record will slide in from above, so there will also be no classic back of the cover. When we came up with this idea I didn't know that maxi-singles were released this way in the USA. This idea was proposed by Marcin Mizerek, representing the publisher, Audio Cave, who at some meeting told us he had such records that were put inside cover from the top not from the side. This is a case of a perfect timing :)

A little digression - I don't know about you, but I like the B side the most on vinyl records. And it has nothing to do with the album we are talking about now :) Simply the B side was always treated more loosely, especially by jazz artists in the 1950s and 1960s - I hate their A sides, because the second track is almost always a ballad, which usually doesn't make any sense. When you listen to the sixtieth album and once again hear the same repeating pattern, you feel like you want to throw it away. That's why I always start from the B side, because it seems more authentic and less calculated to me.

| TWO MASTERING JOBS – MARCIN AND ME :)



The work on mixing and mastering of the Oleś brothers' record lasted a long time, much longer than usual. Although these are solo recitals, each instrument was recorded with several different microphones to help sound engineers to capture their natural sound - as Marcin says: "adequate sound". But that's why the possibilities to change the sonic character of the recording were really great. So several versions of this album were created. Ultimately, it was decided to use the one in which there was the least interference in the sound Marcin brought to me Master CD-Rs with this material and an additional disc with an alternative version.

Each of the sides - and in the case of the CD version, each of the discs - has its own character, given to them during recording and then mastering by the musicians who were responsible for it. Side B, i.e. the one with the drums, has a close character, it offers primarily direct sound. On the other hand, the M side, with the double bass, sounds more "roomy", the sound of this instrument is a bit more distant. Both versions are extremely dynamic and resolving.

Side B | The drum sound is exceptionally intense. One has a feeling of listening to an event happening "here and now". The dynamics is fantastic and only on the best recordings of this type, fully analog ones and immediately mixed to the stereo version, it is possible to achieve more. This is a very resolving sound, and therefore rich with information. There are plenty of details, but we do not hear them at all, they come to us all together, as a complete sound, not as individual components. It is a low, dense sound, but with strong, intense, heavy weight metal cymbals.

Side M | The double bass has more air in its sound. This does not mean that it is better than or worse than percussion, but simply different. While the drum side resembles jazz recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, Marcin's side refers to Japanese recordings by Mr. Okihiko Sugano – a different aesthetics, different goals, but ultimately the class is the same. It is a double bass with very good proportions between the size and the fact that it is a reproduction played from a recording that differs from a live performance. The sound of the instrument is beautifully filled, but there is both selectivity and resolution.

I wonder how it will sound on vinyl, because it is difficult to convey such high dynamics and such selectivity on a record. But I can say one thing about the Compact Disc version: it's a REFERENCE. And a great music too – some parts are contemplative, some energetic, but it's interesting form the first till the last note.

What about Compact Disc – I know you were focused on vinyl record release but there will be a digit version too, right?
Indeed, this project was created with vinyl in mind. For technical reasons - we had to change the pressing plant - a CD will be released first. But also in its case we wanted to treat it seriously and so the CD will be released in a unique form - they will be two discs, each with a recital by one of us. If we released it on one disc, we would have to decide which part goes first - double bass, or drums - drums, or double bass ... Any choice would suggest that one part is better than the other and that is not what we meant. Therefore, there are two discs, and the cover will be identical to the vinyl version. The CDs will be short, about 20 minutes each.

When should we expect the CD release?
The cover has already been designed, we just need to prepare it for printing. The album is ready, the master is ready. Vinyl version will also go to production this year, but we don't know exactly when. We would love to have the album released before Christmas. It will be pressed, most likely, at WM Fono .

The problem is, as usual, the visual side of the release. The WM Fono does not do these things in-house, but outsources them. Depending on who they order it from, the results are slightly different. For example, the record label has two different types of gatefolds release types, i.e. a fold-out - wide and narrow - and you never know which one you will get. The quality problem is a fundamental one in this country. We seem to keep bouncing off a wall. I'm not saying that elsewhere quality is always guaranteed, that you always get exactly what you ordered, but it is more likely to happen. And only in Japan can you realize even the craziest ideas. The Japanese are champions in this respect.

| MUSIC

What is most important to you in music?
For me - but probably also for my brother - the most important medium when it comes to music is sound. Both melody and understanding of structure and harmony are important. But what comes first is that music communicates through sound, not through harmony. The latter is also important, I don't even want to put a value to it, but that's - at least for me - the next thing in terms of importance. The first message that gets to a listener is always the sound.

What you mean by sound?
Sound, that is: the timbre of the instrument, its weight, size, adequacy – these features are also important in audio. A disturbance of these proportions is usually associated with what can be called "production". It may be done on purpose to achieve something. I strive to make the sound "adequate". But it's probably because both of us have a musical background. And it's two-sided. On the father's family side, they were professional musicians and music teachers at music schools. From my mother's side they were amateurs like my grandfather. But he was incredibly talented and musical amateur.

Two masterings of the new album…

So that's where your interest in music comes from?
Yes, I think so, it is my grandfather who has been responsible for my interest in sound through audio, that is, interest in what I want to achieve when replaying music. Grandfather was also an amateur electronics and repaired, assembled reel tape recorders, radios and tube TV sets. I often assisted him. I didn't understand any of this, it was black magic for me. And although my grandfather would explain something to me, say "schematics" etc., it was an inaccessible world to me. I remember the smell of rosin, and when I returned to the tube devices it turned out that I recognized the smell of specific tubes that my grandfather used.

Thanks to the orchestra's rehearsals, my father took me to, I learned about the proximity of the instrument - I felt the weight. I was immersed in the sound of acoustic instruments played very close. So when I listen to music using audio equipment, I am looking for that. I am looking for this proportion, this dynamics, I like something I heard in your system on the Takeshi Inomata album (The Dialogue, Audio Lab. Record from 1977 - ed.) - it was IT! It sounds like something that is actually there.

Who is you new album intended for?
When we worked on it, we did not "target" anyone in particular. We often do that - when an idea comes up, we just go for it, without worrying about who we will sell it to. It came from Lutosławski - we were inspired by what he said - when he writes music, he writes it for himself. In the sense that "I" am the first judge, a person who must be satisfied with what I want to achieve. In our case, most of the things we write, develop and record are treated this way.

Interestingly, the Bartek's side, i.e. B side, is more prepared, thought out, and mine, i.e. the M side, is more improvised. I improvised, because I heard differently a recording with this quality of sound - these miniatures are called "lapidaries". They are based on a sketch, have an open form, but were closed by the recording process itself.

And where did the idea to be more „audiophile” came from?
This idea, which could be called audiophile grade, is an idea I wanted to satisfy my curiosity with. As a person who wants to be surrounded by good, adequate and correct sound, I wanted to see how it translates into something that comes out of us musicians.

Did you succeed?
In my opinion, it was a very good successful experiment. We succeeded - and this is because there was a double mobilization - of guys in studio and us musicians. For example, checking the distance between a microphone and the double bass often took us an hour. Just a few years ago, when I did not have such a good instrument, I would not take this challenge on. This time it was not about "producing" the better, worse, or distorted sound of the instrument, but the most real one – to recreate how this instrument sounds in a given place. It would be interesting to see how much the recording was influenced by equipment we used and how much by our attitude :) But it seems to me that there was a unique "coupling" between these two sides.

Thank you and see you at the Audio Video Show!
See you there!

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