IS MUSICAL ACCURACY DEAD?
I have been interested in accuracy since I was ten years old and because of that I read
every book I could find on the subject. I became a serious archer at a very young age, and
by sixteen was deep into rifles and shotguns. Over the years this passion for accuracy
matured into serious competition in archery, crossbows, benchrest shooting and black
powder shooting. It takes thousands of hours of tuning to bring a custom made
precision firearm or bow to its full potential, and accurate shooting is a very serious
mind game. Accuracy is all about precision, control and repeatability. Which is why I
found it so strange in the 1960s that accuracy was used to describe the
highest aspiration in the audio arts. To be sure accuracy thrills men. The champion stars,
the Basketball players, baseball players, football passers, hockey players, and golfers
that achieve extraordinary skill at hitting their target receive
enormous rewards....but that has been true for thousands of years....the most accurate
shots were always the heroes of culture....including David. Men love accuracy.
And when I look all around in the music business, including composition, performance,
recording and instrument making the notion of musical accuracy is completely alien. And
then when I survey all of the other arts from painting to pottery, I also cant find
in any of the critical literature and aspiration for accuracy.
Of course at the root of this notion is that if we could compare the input signal of an
audio system to the output then we could determine how accurate the system is, and that is
the root of the evil. While this seems logical it is an intellectual and artistic
absurdity...as far as I can tell on May 18,1998. The reason is that an input to an audio
system is a musical signal and its output is a musical signal, and NO ONE on the face of
the earth has yet measured or quantified a musical signal in any artistically meaningful
way. For those who would like to assert that a steady state signal is a close analogy to a
musical signal, I would like to assert that watermelon juice is closer.
So we become subjective in our evaluations of a completely dematerial art form, and
that is the essential paradox...there is no concrete substance to music, it is completely
dematerial and because of that it can never be precisely or accurately measured or judged.
So why use the word accurate which is a word of precision to describe the
highest aspiration of an art which produces a completely dematerial form; one that is the
most personal, subjective and abstract sensation?
To take this linquistic dysfunction even further, the whole notion of trying to
accurately reproduce a live musical event in my 9x12 living room when the source for this
experience is a tiny plastic disc is an intellectual and creative insult. The reason
I am insult is that the notion of accuracy is a negation of art and metaphor; it is a
negation of the transcendent power of audio system to create a music metaphor in my living
room; one which offers far wider opportunities of musical relatedness than a live musical
Accuracy is a mind game. It is all about precision, but it is not the artists
hunt. The artist hunts is in our heart, and it is their job to take the live
event/life and transform it into the transcendent experience of ecstasy. This
is completely personal, unique and symbolic. What I hear in my living room is a Mono Lisa
of music, which I much prefer to the real Mono Lisa sitting in a chair, because Mona Lisa
as a metaphor is more evocative than the live Mona Lisa.
I am suggesting here that for the high end audio arts to make its next
great leap it must also create a new, more cogent language to describe its artistic
impulse, and accuracy rightly belongs on the rifle range, and is not a meaningful critical
standard of the high end audio arts.
WHY IS THERE NO STATE OF THE ART IN HIGH END AUDIO?
To start this debate lets be real guys...lets check out cars, motorcycles,
guns, clothes, boats, bicycles...or any other important male totems.
What we quickly discover reading the magazines devoted to these subjects, even the most
mainstream, is that the state of the art cant be bought in a store, off a dealer
showroom floor, or out of catalog. The coolest stuff, the dream products;
those totems that excite our imagination; the true state of the art stuff is custom made
for us by the most gifted craftsmen. If you want a state of the art shotgun you go to
Holland and Holland and get fitted and leave behind $75K. If you want a state of the art
motorcycle put down $50K and call again in six months. Want the state of the art yacht?
Just leave a couple of million and come back in two years. Love bicycles? For $5K you can
have the state of the art. Want a state of the art Porsche? Your dream can come true for
$300K, but it cant be bought in the showroom. It is always the same: the stuff
delivered to stores is designed to accommodate the Mr. Average, even if Mr. Average is Mr.
Big Bucks Average.
Why do mainstream magazines tease us with these state of the art toys? A man must have
a dream, or his mind goes flabby. Isnt that the meaning of Playboys center
As far as I can tell the American audio industry is the only American male toy industry
that has absolutely NO state of the art totems....judging by its magazines. When you look
at the Japanese audio magazines you discover a wide variety of state of the art dream
audio systems...systems that are the works of the great audio artisans...and NOT available
off the shelves.
Is the total absence of these state of the art dream systems due to the
fact that they dont exist in America, or do they exist but must be hidden from view?
Or is it possible that the language of the high end audio community has become so
corrupted that it cant make a distinction between the best of the best high quality
off the shelf stuff and the true state of the audio arts? Or has our tribe
lost all of its dream energy?