The Thrills, Spills and Chills of Audio Gizmos
With Music, Meaning is Predicated on Pleasure
Dr. Harvey Gizmo Rosenberg
Guildmeister of The Triode Guild
Art is the vessel of heart, and as you know we all must die and be reborn many times before we can experience the richest dimensions of our humanity. It is the responsibility of every artist to share this process of death, despair and rebirth. So I dedicate this article to Harry Pearsons rebirth. He lit the torch and inspired my Quest for the Wholey Grail, twenty five years ago.
SIGMUND FREUD KNOWS HOW TO ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
The other night I was lying on the couch having a very deep symbolic dialogue with Sigmund Freud about my directly heated triode/alnico dreams. He ended our session with this question: Why is there a music taboo in the high end audio tribe? That is the type of question that shrinks always ask at the end of a session that really piss me off because they become claws in my brain. But of course Siggy was right. His question grasped the most fundamental paradox of high end audio...the terror, therefore a taboo, of exploring the complexity and richness of the home music experience.(see Freuds, Totem and Taboo )
There will not be a rebirth in the audio arts until we (you and I) expand our exploration of the unique musical experience we are having in our home, which different than the live event. Of course the easiest thing to do is always the most difficult, because all we must do is confront the taboos that have strangled our dialogue for decades, and therefore limited our appeal to wider groups. Can I say that in a more strenuous way? The reason our tribe is not recruiting more gifted listeners is because they dont have a clue about the thrills, spills and chills of the high end audios multi-dimensional music experience because our taboos prevent us from publicly exploring them. Because we are now trekking into the heart of the high end audio taboo territory I have asked my audio bro Aaron Copland to guide us.
In Music and Imagination, Aaron addresses this taboo:
Listening is a talent, and like any other talent or gift, we possess it in varying degrees. I have found among music-lovers a marked tendency to underestimate and mistrust this talent, rather than to overestimate it. The reasons for these feelings of inferiority are difficult to determine. Since there is no reliable way of measuring the gift of listening, there is no reliable way of reassuring those misjudge themselves......The gifted listener.... without theories and without preconceived notion of what music ought to be, he lends himself as a sentient human being to the power of music. What often surprises me is the basically primal nature of this relationship. From self-observation and from observing audience reaction I would be inclined to say that we all listen on an elementary plane of musical consciousness. I was startled to find this curious phrase in Santayana concerning music: the most abstract of arts, he remarks, serves the dumbest emotions. Yes, I like this idea that we respond to music from a primal and almost brutish level- dumbly, as it were, for on that level we are firmly grounded....That is fundamentally the way we all hear music-gifted and ungifted alike-and all the analytical, historical, textural material on or about the music heard, interesting though it may be, cannot-and I venture to say should not-alter that fundamental relationship.
Copland is pointing the way and telling us to pay attention to the unexplored forbidden territory; the land of the primal. And this is the clearest indication of our tribes taboo because we are only prepared to discuss our experience of music on the lowest level, the cerebral...the Audio Professor/Level One, though, almost all of us are experiencing many more complex dimensions of music in our homes. Why are we censoring our dialogue? Who or what are we protecting? To find the answer to these terrifying questions lets explore, for the first time, the triology of music experience in the home.
LEVEL ONE: THE AUDIO PROFESSOR:
This is the dominant existential persona of the high end music experience. Despite our protests to the contrary, high end audio professor are very similar to mid-fi professors. Transgression from these limited experiential boundaries means immediate banishment by Chief Editor.
This limited dimension is the most common form of musical experience in industrial society. It is universally recognized that music is pleasure, and the transistor and IC chip has brought music to every nook and cranny of the world. Civilized societies are so dependent on this form of reliable non-toxic, non-lethal pleasure that it is every where; in our elevators, cars, boats, kitchen, closet and bathrooms, and we walk around enveloped in headphone music. Every day billions of people experience trillions of hours of music, and almost none of it is live.
Neurologists know that music alters our chemistry and our brain waves: it relaxes us because it stimulates the secretion of a natural form of mood elevator. Can you imagine what would happen if we would turn off all music in America for only twenty four hours? Call out the National Guard.
Within this rudimentary sensitivity level, still respecting the music taboo, are our rebellious high end audio professors. With great seriousness, we dedicate ourselves to achieving our self proclaimed higher level of musical pleasure: musical accuracy/creating a live musical event in our home, which is like trying to create a live NFL game in our living room; very challenging.
We, the audio professors of the world, have developed sophisticated and arcane verbal skills at analyzing and comparing the attributes of a home music event, and we love analyzing the relative competence of hardware at portraying important individual elements of music. This is great fun for audio professors because we love to analyze and quantify their feelings. This is normal behavior for American men who also love arguing about baseball, football, and basketball scores. Remember grown men dont cry and express real passion and emotion directly. And why should we when distortion figures, waterfall charts, and a vanilla midrange liquidity so perfectly expresses our most profound longings? Advanced audio professors are very skilled at dissecting test signals, reads the AES Journal rather than Playboy on the potty, and love listening to Beethovens Symphony in A/B which was especially written for comparing the sound of cables in double blind tests.. And dont forget to read my new book: Men are from Baseball Scores, Women are from Oprah.
My forty experience with live concerts (versus the home listening experience) forces me to conclude that concerts, because they are too physically inhibiting, are much to mindful, and limit my capacity to relate to the music. Most significantly there are other dimensions to my musical world that are impossible to experience in public. And lets face the music facts of life: 99.9% of music-hour-experience are experienced in the home, so maybe we should get more serious about this experience which is a totally different art form than a live music event.
Of course the intellectual failing of audio professors is that their experiential model of music is based on listening with our ears, which is akin to claiming that our most profound emotional experiences, like music, are based on a single modality of sense, which they are not. We do not yet understand the complexity of how our entire being; brain , body (skin & glands), and imagination are involved in the music experience. The only sure way to diminish sensitivity to music is with double blind A/B tests, which is why this technique is so loved by audio professors.
The music head, while limited in his emotional capacity, can be very smart, very sincere, very intense, and articulate using descriptive phrases like... I was in awe of the music, or It was so real I was literally back in Carnegie Hall with the Weavers, but all of these poetic rantings are still about a level one, subject/object relationship to music. This is the foreplay, and lets never confuse that with really doing it with music, and I believe that the home is the common arena for this level of musical intimacy.
If you are listening to music a this head level of experience it is very difficult to justify the cost difference between a Bose Home Theater System at $699 when Bose offers the same type of audio professor pleasure as a $69,999 high end system.
Of course this type of analytical music-mind-trip, which was so impressed us twenty years ago, and represented the totality of our dialog about the audio arts, is now (this too shall pass) moldy cheese, and our confinement to it, and our lack of motivation to go further is why we are so UNappealing. Have we forgot that we are in the entertainment business? Where are the spill, chills and thrills of high end audio? Yes, there is value in struggling to get to the first music base and mastering a descriptive language, but we must continue around the bases to make a music home run. And yes, serious research and development is important, but it is as entertaining and involving as a prostate operation.
Heres a question that gets to the heart of the taboo: If you were a young man between twenty and thirty and were curious about high end audio and you opened one of our journals where would you find the thrills, spills and chills? Where is the adventure? What would set off fires in your loins? Whats the hook into your heart? Can you now understand why I assert that based on our public presentation it appears that today our average customer is a brainy rich almost dead white guy who cant dance, and this customer is becoming extinct. Can you define the customer who is going to take his place, and what is the NEW way to communicate to him and get his attention?
SUMMARY LEVEL ONE: There is intense pleasure in listening to music in our home. There is value in struggling to create the most life-like metaphoric (accurate) music event. Here we are in our living rooms enjoying the show, and cheer out in delight, Golly Gee, the music almost sounds real. This is the most basic level of music experience and this is the only level of experience we are communicating to our public, in spite of a vastly richer and more complex music experience possible in the home. This is the twenty five year old experiential model of high end audio that is now obsolete, and yet tribal taboos prevent us from a freer and more spontaneous relationship to the public. Of course YOU do not fall in this limited experiential category because YOU are into the juice...continue on....
LEVEL TWO: THE JUICE LEVEL/THE ECSTATIC
This is where we find the real music beef. This is where we find deep juicy pleasure....the full sensual juice of music. While this is now a common music experience for composers, musicians, and millions of Americans its exploration is still off limits to the high end audio tribe. Over the last two decades literally thousands of audiophiles have related their thrilling experience of musical ecstasy in their home to me, yet descriptions or exploration of this phenomenon is almost totally absent in the audio press. Odd as it may seem, there is a near total absence of any editorial exploration or your music experience in your home, because audio professors want all the attention for themselves.
Are you old enough to remember thirty years ago when the experience of musical ecstasy was taboo? Then an ancient sacred plant invaded America and stomped the taboo against ecstasy in art and between humans. Let us not forget our tribes up tight roots when Fischer, Marantz and Mc Intosh were the high end audio business, and America was TV dinners, Leave It To Beaver, Gunsmoke, Einsenhower, Kennedy, Bomb Shelters, Hoola Hoops, Preparation H, Banlon, Leisure Suits, and when you went on a date you wore a suit, and your date wore a pink fuzzy sweater. America was Mr. Clean and so tightly compressed his mind was about to explode, and it took a weed to do just that.
When the hemp plant re-emerged in America in the late 1960s and danced with the transistor to Americas new pagan music: rock and roll, the ecstatic impulse in culture emerged in America for the first time...and it blew our minds away. (Ecstasy is integration, which is exactly the opposite of analysis). The coincidental appearance of the birth control pill then created a cultural volcano: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, which permanently altered the American landscape...and the rest of the world. On its wave of magma surfed the revolution of civil rights, rock concerts, eastern mysticism, womens rights, sexual freedom, gay rights, end the war, ban the bomb, save the environment, do your thing, and most importantly permission to once again experience our primal, brutish relationship to music: ecstasy.
Stop for a moment and consider the almost instantaneous revolution that occurred in Puritanical America that celebrated sensuality and pleasure. Almost overnight we went from listening to folk music on dinky sound systems, while we were trying to convince our girlfriends to do it (but she resisted because a Virgin Bride was worth many more blankets and ponies and she didnt want to get pregnant) to Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. Once we tasted this mind blowing ecstatic juice we not only wanted more, we wanted the most/best, and that is how the high end audio industry got kick started.
Danger Proceed at Your Own Risk! We are now in the center of the high end audio taboo, and while this has been, for three decades, the subject of mainstream journalism from Life, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Esquire to every other male magazine, it has been off limits to this industry whose roots can be traced to the re-emergence of plant induced musical ecstasy.
No more fear and shame: The high end audio industry was created in the 1970s by cash rich young brainy male gifted listeners who were lighting up joints, burning incense candles, and listening to the music created by musicians who were lighting up joints and letting the music flow from the center of beyond their beyond with the new multi-track tape recorders. Once you got the tracking angle right on your Koetsu, and your tube amps were properly biased, you invited your girlfriend over to your groovy pads for a listening session of Elton John, Cat Stevens, Barry White, The Who and Jimmy Hendrix, and she arrived wearing a mini-skirt, no underwear, toting a bag full of deluxe ice cream and cookies, and she said yes, and her heart was pounding yes, and yes, you both ingested the sacred plant and yes, you and she and the music become one, all Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and in commingled primal, brutish beauty you came together, and yes, you danced naked, and yes, you ate ice cream and cookies, and God Bless America, Jimmy Hendrix and your tube amp. And no live concert ever tasted that good....I have been told.
NOTE: At this years MTV movie award it did not surprise me that Mike Meyers, in front of millions of viewers, thanked his wife for dancing naked with him in their living room. The reason I mention this is that I know that Harry Pearson, John Atkinson, Art Dudley, John Valin, Gene Pitts, Myles Astor, Marty De Wulff, et al, have been engaging in this same normal pagan ecstatic music ritual for decades, but would be terrified to admit that to the MTV audience or their readers. Why the embarrassment at being human?
The American living room from that point forward became the primary place of primal pleasure rituals and hi-fi was the catalyst. Pat Boone was dead. And we studied the Wholey Scrolls written by the Wise Audio Professors so we would know the right things to buy. And because we wanted more and more of the juice of ecstasy, we made large cash offering to the Priests of the High End Music Temple, and they prospered and multiplied, and they created more, and they became out of touch with their customers because they became rich, fat, and got an attitude. And we couldnt stop. We are American Men and we have an inalienable right to wretched excess. And he who had the most stereo was most cool, and an Apple was something you ate to keep the doctor away, but this too shall pass.
This historic intersection of our eccentric technology and these ancient sacred plants in our living rooms permitted gifted listeners to expand their music experience, to rediscover the most common, primal and brutish relationship to music when the audio professor got an earring, where the analytical I/thou head-trip relationship melted away and there was only one; we and the music dissolved into each other; we became the music. In our home, because we were safe/free, we could relate to music in a way that was impossible at a live event. Just try dancing naked while eating ice cream at a Stones concert. Within this context the definition of a state of the art sound system is one that stimulates boundary dissolution, and gives us the freedom to be the pagan Gods that we are. For many of us this required very sophisticated magic pentode charms that glowed in the dark.
Paradoxically, the notion of musical ecstasy is ingrained in the oldest traditions of music pedagogy: it is the difference between playing the notes and making music. His Highness Glenn Gould hit the bullseye when he said, There is no genuine musical experience without ecstasy. It is a common declaration for musicians to say I am nothing more than a channel for the music. And I believe it is safe to say that the ultimate goal of every performer is an ecstatic performance, where there is a physical union between themselves, their music and the audience.
Try this concept on for size: In the same way that sex is implicitly the urge for union, so implicitly music is the urge for union....always has been, always will be, and the only thing that gets in the way of that irresistible primal force is our head editor.
Have I been successful in convincing you that there is a historical/cultural context to the audio arts? To repeat: high end audio arts emerged from and is an expression of the most important artistic revolution in modern industrial culture, a rediscovery of the ecstatic, which began in 1960s and was based on music. From that point forward American popular music became a world wide cultural and political tornado, and we became the custodians of the experiential high ground.
Do we have the capacity to relate to the public from this deeper, more complex level of experience? There are hundreds of thousands of gifted listeners (potential customers) in America; those who love exploring the most mysterious dimensions of musical pleasure, but they havent got a clue about our art because we wont speak their language, and we wont relate to their needs. We have an attitude problem, and it alienates us from gifted listeners. Our art will not be appreciated until we are able to dwell comfortably in this, no longer taboo, sensual territory and invite strangers to join our dance. To disown our artistic roots and achievements is to keep the taboo alive, and that is exactly how we continue to repel the millions who are searching for more musical ecstasy.
SUMMARY LEVEL TWO: Because of advances in home audio technology, we were able to, in the safety and privacy of our living rooms, surrender, let go, and let music do its job. We become what we are: music. At long last we are no longer listening to it in the audience, we are it. Our living room is where the thrills, spills and chills happen. Here we scream out, Golly Gee, I am the Shake, Rattle and Roll...I am Elvis in my blue suede shoes. A new generation of young gifted listeners, who are not embarrassed by their ecstatic impulses for pleasure, will replace the almost extinct brainy rich almost dead rich white guys who cant dance, and they will be the Phoenix of our tribe....you are the Phoenixs dance.
LEVEL THREE: THE NTH DIMENSION OF MUSIC HYPERSPACE
Now we will explore the Joseph Campbell level of music experience, which has existed for at least fifty thousand years, and a common experience for you, but another taboo for audio professors. This is where you discover your techno-shaman; the man who uses music and magic charms to travel to paranormal worlds, to higher states of being. This is the Nth Dimension of Music HyperSpace.
Siggy and his disciples first introduced me to this level of music experience in the early 1970s. I was discussing the latest rage, the therapeutic use of LSD with my psychoanalyst Hal, who agreed to experiment with it when I was ready. At this time many shrinks were experimenting with LSD, and even Cary Grant had over one hundred LSD treatments. You, the current generation of gifted listeners, dont need the help of LSD and a shrink to break through to these dimensions of experience because you have directly heated triodes, which were unavailable in America in the 1970s. To understand what follows you must accept this hypothesis: Because every one dreams sooner or later we encounter music in our dreams...let me say that another way...every human has music in his un/subconscious because we were musical long before we were conscious.
Soon I was ready for LSD Treatments which took this form: Hal would come to my home because I felt safe there. I would take a tab of LSD, put on a blindfold to eliminate all external stimulus, and lie down on my couch, and in about 30 minutes the trip would begin and last for about four or five hours. The best part of the trip was I taught Hal how to use my Revox A-77 tape recorder so I could listen to the 10 1/2 inch reels of my favorite music cuts while I was tripping (associated equipment Magneplanar IB, biamped with Van Alstine modified Dyna 400 on woofers, and Paoli 60s on tweeters). I was using music as the pathway into my never, never land, into my Nth Dimension of Music HyperSpace. Hal agreed that music was the most effective way to make contact with my demons who lived beyond the wall. This was my first direct experience of music as a pathway to paranormal worlds of knowledge, where not only are the boundaries of sensual experience dissolved but the entire space/time continuum boundary dissolves. Isnt that what music does for a living?
These shamanic music experiences, which most of us are having in our living room ( without the aid of LSD ) stimulated my three decade exploration of the world of the shaman who always uses music as the pathway to the other worlds. The shaman archetype is alive and well all over modern industrial culture, and he is using technology, like audio gizmos, to do his job....just like you. Have you ever consider the recording engineer and producer as a techno-shaman? As you know, there is now much literature on this subject.
A more detailed account of music techno-shamanism adventures are in my book, The Search for Musical Ecstasy, and the only important point here is to reiterate what we all know...that beyond the most intense levels of musical pleasure, musical ecstasy, there is even more musical wonder, and we have experienced these dimension for thousands of years. Personal experience with the Cherokee Indians and with a master sitar player from India confirmed the common use of music as the pathway to higher forms of knowledge; ones that are not only filled with pleasure but much more. All great composers seek to express this mysterious dimension, this existential transcendence through musical pleasure. With music, meaning is predicated on pleasure. My take on this process is that when musical ecstasy occurs, and we have dissolved the boundaries of normal existence, then the head editors of our experience are gone and we are free at last to experience what these editors censor, and no multi-channel home entertainment can compare with that.
The point being that if we want to get down with this paranormal level of musical transcendence we must explore the living presence of our stone age shaman in our digital Cyberspace world. What we are creating in our living rooms is exactly what cave men created in their caves; the similarity is remarkable. Here we are again at Aaron Coplands primal, brutish level of musical reality. In spite of our civilized-Cyberspace trapping each of us, every day, still experiences our ancient longings, and nothing better expresses and fulfills those longings than the high end music system. When we create our high end audio system we are creating our Stonehenge, The Temples of Karnak, Machu Pichu, The Caves at Lascaux, The Sistine Chapel, the Cathedral at Rheims. These sacred spaces, our living rooms, is where we encounter the paranormal wisdom we need to be human. And I dont believe that the modern form of music concerts encourages this dimension of music experience.
I firmly believe, and know that Joseph Campbell would agree, that each of us, including all editors and reviewers are creating a music analogy of a sacred space in our homes. My fellow audio bros it is time for our tribe to come out of its teensy beensy existential closet... admit that pleasure is, and always has been, the pathway to the sacred.....but pleasure for a higher purpose; it is pleasure as the pathway to higher consciousness...which is a general taboo in America. Let me say this another way...if you cant get down with your bad funky self you will never know the wholey God in you.
On the Positive Feedback/Triode Guild website you will discover SETMI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Musical Intelligence, which is all about having fun while catapulting to the Nth Dimension of Music HyperSpace...get my point...being a techno-shaman can be FUN!
SUMMARY LEVEL THREE: After we have become the music, we discover that it is also a pathway to paranormal forms of being and knowledge. If we will open our imagination and use our magic charms properly our homes become our sacred temples and we travel on the pathway of music across the boundaries of time and space. This is what techno-shamans do for fun, and the only way to describe this dimension of being is to dance for you. The Beethoven and Zeus in you knows exactly what I am saying.
THE PHOENIX DANCES:
This new generation of audio artisans has a rendezvous with destiny. The high ends original customer base of brainy rich almost dead white guys who cant dance is becoming extinct, and we must have a major attitude adjustment if we want to attract the new generation of hundreds of thousands of gifted listeners who are looking for more. To do that we must communicate about the triology of paranormal music pleasure that is possible in the home that is not achievable at a concert.
Our exotic audio gear is different than the mid-fi stuff because it is high performance transportation tools for traveling into deep music space. Our new customer want the thrills, spills and chills of exploring the rich complexity of their music soul...and there are hundreds of thousands of them out there who havent got a clue about our thrills, spills and chills because we talk like nerdy hardware professors. How is our trip different? It is the difference between a ride on Piper Cub and a NASA rocket. It is the difference between a Club Med vacation and parachuting into the Brazilian rain forest. It is the difference between a riding a Vespa and a Hells Angels Hawg.
It is time for the high end audio tribe to come out of its teensy beensy closet, cast off its taboos and with pride claim the artistic high ground it, in fact, commands. Lets face it, the equipment aint that interesting, but the music trip it launches... nothing else on earth compares in wonder...and that is our business....the business of transporting gifted listeners to a music wonderland, and in that place every man becomes a dancing God.
If all of this is too bizarre for you, let me suggest: rent Zorba the Greek, and, at the very least, watch the last fifteen minutes. It says it all. Or, can you imagine what FI Magazine would be like if Puff Daddy was editor?
You are music, so be it.
e-mail Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg: email@example.com
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