A Night Out-Of-Doors

A Night Out-Of-Doors
Jonathan Foote
14 August 2000

Moi-self and Edith Piaf, my faithful French finch, stepped cautiously from our sophisticated loft abutting everything interesting and finding no paparazzi poised to spring — they’re probably in England hounding Prince William — we betook us off to Carnegie Hall to hear some live stuff. I do this semi-annually to recalibrate my ears. (Don’t try it at home. I am a professional listener, and you are fortunate to be reading me, but you already knew that.) Edith Piaf gets a kick out of watching humans imitating birds. It’s really cute, that petite (that’s French for small) tête (that’s French for head) with its teensy feathers and little bill sticking out of my breast pocket. Women (ahem, snicker, heh heh) are especially curious to know (a) why there’s a little yellow bird in my breast pocket instead of a hankie and (b) why it doesn’t fly away. I explain that (a) I never go anywhere without Edith Piaf and that (b) she loves me too much to think of escaping. This establishes me in their soft, doe-like eyes as a sensitive man who knows at least how the alphabet starts, i.e., it gets me to first base, heh heh, snicker, ahem. Anyway, it was the Berlin Philharmonic that night or maybe the Buffalo Philharmonic. Doesn’t matter.

I don’t much care for classical music — bombastic, elitist stuff — but it’s the only thing you can get to hear these days that isn’t amplified. For the true-blue audiophile, unamplified music is That Big Boxy Thing Under Black Wraps in Mecca, or for you sports fans, Honus Wagner’s baseball card. Harry Pearson says so, so it’s got to be true. His Doppelgänger HP agrees. I mean about the absolute sound, not the thing in Mecca or the baseball card. Besides, does it make sense to go to some noisy, crowded club to listen to stuff amplified with gear that does not come close to the mother’s milk of one’s incomparably fine audio system? Is it possible to discuss liquidity unless one has cozied up to the best of all possible lactating boobs? Metaphorically, that is, heh heh, ahem.

Let’s not take this mother’s milk thing too far. I mean, left and right speaker, left and right boob, nice and symmetrical, snicker, ahem, but I’ve never heard a pair of boob-shaped speakers to compare with my reference Dégobillages (they’re French, of course). Out of consideration for your inferior attention span, I’ll say it again: this Carnegie Hall exercise or your local inferior equivalent is supposed to tell us something about our audio systems. We’ve heard it a million times: the measure of a system’s quality consists of its proximity to the sound of live instruments and voices, the closer the better. You’re in big trouble system-wise if a chalumeau sound like a shawm. (Don’t know what those are? Good. One needs to keep a step ahead.)

Funny thing, though. Every time Edith Piaf and I check into a concert hall we wind up asking the same questions. (I ask the questions. Edith Piaf shrugs and nods.) So there we are, Edith Piaf and I, sitting in Carnegie Hall and wondering (quietly in order not to appear boorish), where’d all the highs get off to? What’s the story with the swimmy soundstage? I mean, the music’s bouncing off the walls, for goodness sake! There’s no real sense of layering. Or of width. Or of depth. Soundstage height? Ha! There’s no one to reach out and touch, except maybe the geezer in front of me next to the old cow with frizzy hair. Pfui! Twenty-six rows back where Edith Piaf and I have been regretting the price of the ticket ten seconds after the mook in fancy tails started waving his little white twig, we’re asking ourselves, where’s the goddam slam? Where are the legs? I know, they carried off the pace nowhere in evidence! And those little, stumpy legs, the micro-dynamics, where’d they scamper off to? Let’s not forget Musicality. Where’s that hiding out? Back in our sophisticated loft abutting everything interesting, that’s where!

Which goes a great way toward explaining why we do this semi-annually. Maybe next year annually.

Don’t relax. I’ll be back.

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