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No. 120 May 2014
what a beautiful disaster!

atej Isak (“Mono&Stereo”): Is there specific company audio/sound approach or do you tend to be neutral sounding?
Christian Hermeling (MBL): Our main goal is we want the listener to have the same feeling as he would be having during a real concert. Hence we do not concentrate on specific other brands how they produce or engineer. We just listen to real life performances make measurements and listening tests in order to find out how to create the same emotional impact when listening at home as if you were sitting in a concert hall.

Wojciech Pacuła („High Fidelity”): How do musicians correlate the music they perform and its form, the latter being its sound when played back on audio equipment? How much is lost in the process of music playback?
Marek "Maro" Lewandowski (Audiofeels): Although most musicians are pleased with the albums they release, I believe that a concert will always remain an experience that can’t be compared to listening to an album; an experience both for those on stage and the audience. Musicians infect the public with the emotions they feel during their performance, and the audience can appreciate the process of creating live music, including complete live compositions.

Do you still remember the home cinema craze? It’s hard not to remember, isn’t it? The promise was that it didn’t take a lot of time and money to change a room in your house into a cinema and get even a better experience than at a real movie theater, all without leaving home and putting yourself at risk of sitting next to other people who talk loudly and eat popcorn. That’s how people were lied to. I’m not saying that all the home cinema manufacturers were deceptive, but most of them. And people like to be deceived.

People in Krakow say that the first home cinema system in Poland was made by Hans Frank. This German war criminal became the governor-general of occupied Poland’s ‘General Government’ territory on October 26th, 1939, after the German invasion of Poland. He made Krakow’s Wawel castle his residence that he moved into on October 7th, 1939. It was there, in the same royal rooms that were once home to Polish kings and knights, that the man organized private film showings.
The concept of home cinema or home theater was first made practically possible with the inventions of the Laser Disc and then the DVD, respectively. Although as early as in the 1950s, when the prices of Kodak’s 8 mm projectors fell in the USA, you could take part in home film shows, it was the digital formats that really set the genie out of the lamp. They allowed for a home playback of decent quality multi-channel sound. But to experience the “surround” effect you had to buy the right electronics – a DVD player and AV receiver – as well as a proper speaker system, first 5.1, then 6.1 and 7.1. Advertising campaigns and social pressure made the home cinema seem very desirable. In the end, almost all audiophile magazines started to publish home cinema reviews, forgetting about their original target audience, music lovers, vast majority of whom still listened to music in stereo. It was a big mistake.

Everyone who went through this “disease” knows that “home cinema” has about as much to do with a real cinema as a “sports car” with Formula 1. It’s just a certain convention – one is meant to be a good imitation of the other. But they are still two separate realities. In any case, home cinema quickly degenerated in a flood of dirt cheap all-in-one “systems” from China.
It was a real wake-up call as more and more people began to understand that while home cinema may be a pleasant experience, it won’t replace a real movie theater. And besides, it is not suitable for proper stereo music playback. Only the most expensive solutions, such as JBL Synthesis, are capable of matching the big screen in terms of technical demands, and sometimes even surpass it. But it will still be an experience of a different kind, unrelated to the thrill that a trip to a movie theater is. The rise, and then fall, of the “cinema-at-home” idea was fuelled by the companies that wanted to sell as many devices as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that – companies exist to make money – but the false ideology that stood behind it didn’t stand the test of time. As it seems to me, in many aspects it’s similar to the idea of a “concert at home” that is often promoted by audio manufacturers.

This was a concert I had been impatiently waiting to see. On March 20th, the Crimson ProjeKCt played in Klub Studio in Krakow. They are official heirs to King Crimson, having the full approval of Robert Fripp, the brain behind this rock legend (see HERE). The band consists of King Crimson’s former members who played on its best albums, like Discipline and the two following “colorful” discs, as well as Thrak: Adrian Belew (vocals, guitars, guitar synthesizer), Tony Levin (vocals, bass, chapman stick) and Pat Mastelotto (drums). During their live tour, the ProjeKCt grew by three instrumentalists – Markus Reuter (touch guitar), Julie Slick (bass) and Tobias Ralph (drums). All six musicians perform together as a band, in two interchangeable trios, as well as solo. In addition to King Crimson tracks, the band also performs compositions from the albums of bands like Stick Men, which Tony Levin is a part of.

The concert in Krakow was phenomenal. Unfortunately, the space between rows of chairs was ultra-minimal, and a bunch of Czech guys sat in front me, my son and my friend. One of them insisted on sitting with his legs extended in front of him, but it didn’t stop us from listening to what came from the stage in a state that neared ecstasy. In defense of the Czech guys (well, they were speaking Czech), they were no longer in their prime, which could actually be said about a large part of the audience, so their joints might be a little rusty. But besides some minor motor impairments, the audience gathered in the Studio showed the kind of musical taste that seems more fitting for guys with hair down to their knees who listen to music where the bass pedal hits 160 times per minute. Six of the people on stage (two drum sets!!!) played seemingly well-known tracks, but with the fiery passion you’d expect from a thrash-metal concert. Tony Levin’s chapman stick and Julie Slick’s bass (holy hell, the girl has fantastic power!) literally thrust me down into the already-wobbly chair. To be honest, I think that the soundscapes played by Markus Reuter on his custom-designed U8 Deluxe Touch Guitar were the weakest part of the performance. The guy is a genius and a fantastic musician, but only when his instrument is telling a story as part of a band.

The most important thing was BEING THERE, at the concert of a band I love and listening to the tracks I dream about. Watching a live performance stimulates all our senses, not only our hearing as listening to an album does, or our hearing and sight in the case of watching a concert on Blu-ray. So it’s no surprise that audio component designers attempt to bring this experience into our homes. And that’s usually how their products are advertised, as something capable of replaying a stage experience.
I don’t know how to say this without insulting anyone, but that’s rubbish. I do believe that this approach usually originates with the best of intentions but it is doomed to fail. Sitting about four meters away from the main stage speakers (also called FOH, or "front of house") and six or seven meters away from the bass combo amps, I knew exactly that there’s no way to repeat this situation at home. And that is both good and bad. Because as in every situation, to gain something you have to lose something.
You gain a lot listening to music at home. To give one example, during the Crimson ProjeKCt concert it was nearly impossible to hear what Adrian Belew was singing. If I hadn’t known those tracks, I would probably have had no idea what’s going on. The vocals sounded distorted, overdriven and incomprehensible. The bass line’s story was similar – while it had power and really deep extension, its comprehensibility was merely correct (and not always so). Even the touch guitar gave but a glimpse of what this instrument can really sound like. The whole presentation was too loud, overdriven and incomprehensible. But that’s exactly what rock concerts look and sound like and that’s why the energy of live rock music is so exceptional.

Coming back home before midnight, I immediately put on my headphones and placed Thrak on my CD player. The disappointment was huge, even though I knew what to expect. Live recordings are even worse in that respect. The reason for such a wide gap between an on-stage event and its recording lies at its very basis – in the way that concerts are recorded. With classical music recordings, microphones are placed around the stage so that they pickup certain instruments better.

The best recordings use a small number of microphones, and particular tracks are only minimally modified. Many jazz concerts are recorded this way, too. But rock concerts and some jazz performances are recorded using completely different techniques. The sound that we hear from our speakers (or headphones) has very little to do with what is heard on-stage. The reason for that is that the sound, although recorded by microphones set up next to the instruments or around the room, is treated in a specific way. The signal from vocals microphones as well as those recording guitar amps and drums is split into two lines (actually three, to be precise, as there’s also the monitoring system, but that’s not the point here). One of them is fed to the mixing console, manned by the sound engineer in charge of the concert mix, while the other one goes to the console in a recording room. Each of them is processed in a different way, i.e. with different levels of particular recording tracks, different reverb, tone control, dynamics, etc. Sometimes the signal for the recording is taken from the main console, after mixing, but it’s rare and the effects aren’t usually very good. Hence, an album brings a different interpretation of what happened on the stage to the one experienced at the concert. Many bands additionally cleans the tracks, improving the vocals, guitars and mixing in additional instruments.

That’s why trying to bring a concert experience to your home is like a “witch trial” – it has no right to succeed. So what do we do, then? Do we throw out all live recordings? That’s certainly an option. I don’t have too many of them, anyway, and I’m not too fond of them. I know how much I’m missing. There is a chance of saving some of the emotions, though, of creating something that “resembles” a concert in your home. But that’s only if you don’t expect to “move” the performance into your house (which is impossible), and agree to create something new, a kind of recording engineer’s vision of what happened on that day. Then it makes sense. Of course it will lack most of live event emotions, as it’s not the same thing as experiencing music together, and there’s no chance of getting a comparable sound pressure level (volume) or its physical sensation. But you will hear WHAT and HOW the vocalist sings. There’s even a chance that you’ll be able to create a sound that evokes completely new emotions, different than those at the concert yet being their “home” counterpart. And then you can be blown away, too.

(During the concert Tony Levin took photos that he later published on his blog – one of the longest-running music blogs. You can actually see me and my friend on one of them. Who can find us? See the photo HERE | I’m sorry for the bad image quality – the bouncers at the entrance strip me of my camera, saying that it’s “too professional” and forgetting that these days even the smallest cameras can be used for professional work; the photos were taken with a Samsung Core Duo).

Więcej na: "Heavy Rock"

Diary of Dreams
Accession Records, A137 Limited, “Limited Edition” CD

This Limited Edition album has a run time of 74:44. That’s a whole, whole lot. Whenever I get a chance I try to emphasize that in a perfect world an album would spin between 31 and 41 minutes. If it’s any longer, it should be a two-disc release. Otherwise it just gets tedious. But things are different with Elegies in Darkness, the 11th album by the German band Diary of Dreams.
The band plays music described as “darkwave” or “post-gothic”, and under the lead of their founder, Adrian Hates, they released the new album on March 14th. It has been released by Accession Records that was, incidentally, founded and run by DoD’s frontman. Similarly to Ego:X, the album is available in both Regular Edition and Limited Edition. The limited edition of Ego:X looked spectacular. Shortly after its release, a two-disc vinyl version was also prepared. Elegies in Darkness Limited Edition isn’t quite as flashy. It’s a little box containing a digipack and a 36-page booklet with art and lyrics. For quite some time, DoD’s booklets have been printed on chalk paper and they look as if they were additionally varnished. It looks superb although gets instantly smeared with fingerprints. Maybe the release could include some cotton gloves with the band’s logo? If they were black, they wouldn’t disturb the whole desing concept and we would look badass while listening to the album and browsing through the booklet :) The limited edition has a different cover art and includes three extra tracks.

Musically-speaking, this is one of the band’s better albums. Kept in the same convention they worked out on Nekrolog 43, (If) and Ego:X, it contains the music that is full of melancholy, with some really epic moments. Tracks are usually composed in the following manner: an atmospheric, mysterious intro played for example on the grand piano that moves to a more powerful passage with choirs, strong guitars and louder drums, before getting quiet again. The guitars aren’t as one-sided as before and often sound different than what we’re used to.
Fast, dense passages are indicated with a prior change of mood and anticipation, so there is no “impact” like on the Panik Manifesto EP. This makes the material somewhat predictable, at least when it comes to its structure. But it is the content that makes it very interesting. Hates nicely balances between darkness and melancholy, arranging the tracks in a seemingly similar manner and yet surprising the listener every time. Despite its length, the album is accessible and not boring. As usually, the extra tracks provoke questions. They frequently don’t keep up the level of the compositions from the “regular edition”. But not this time – Mythology Of Violence, An Empty House and Remedy Mine are all perfect and make up for an inseparable part of Elegies In Darkness. To me, this is the band’s best album in years.

I think that the refined album production was part of creating such a dense and intensive mood. DoD’s albums differ significantly between one another in terms of sound production quality. I’m fully aware that their die-hard fans believe otherwise, saying that each album sounds spectacular, at the very least. But the truth is different. Many of Hates’ productions are so compressed and overdriven that the chaos erupting in the louder passages is simply uncanny. Another problem is a not fully transparent treatment of DoD’s frontman’s vocals. They are hidden in the mix and yet “jump out” from time to time due to some overly emphasized sibilants.
Not everything that I’ve just described has been eliminated on the newest album. The louder parts that combine the guitars, choirs, bass and drums are compressed and, hence, brighter than and not as deep as they should be. This applies mostly to the drums’ section, especially the snare drum and toms. But it doesn’t really keep you from enjoying the music. And that’s because the overall sound is deep, with very good music planes and tone balance. It’s been a while since I heard such a good piano on one of their albums. It is the calmer fragments that sound the best. They’re dense and simply pretty, with ample soundstage and some counter-phase effects that create an illusion of surround sound. The bass extension isn’t very deep. The mid and upper bass is properly saturated and dynamic, though, and adds body to the midrange from below. The treble is delicate and has a sensible “weight”; it’s not too thin or “chirping”.
I really like this production, in spite of its limitations. I’d prefer less compression during the mastering and clearer Hates’ vocals, with a proper volume and a slightly warmer sonic signature. I wouldn’t mind a denser space and deeper soundstage. But you can’t have everything. For here and now, we get probably the best-produced album from this band.

Track list:
01:  Malum 4:53
02: the Luxury of Insanity 5:57
03: StummKult 4:53
04: Dogs of War 5:26
05: a day in December 4:12
06: a dark embrace 6:33
07: the Game 3:53
08: Dream of a Ghost 5:37
09: Daemon 6:00
10: House of Odds 11: the Battle 5:27
12: die Gassen der Stadt 3:16
13: Mythology of Violence 4:15
14: an empty house 4:30
15: Remedy mine 5:28

Sound quality: 7-8/10

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"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

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