Monthly Archives: March 2012

Fantastic, Huge Archive.

The King and I.

I came from the future.
They brought me to their king. But,
He did not believe me.
So I shot two soldiers.
Boy was I in trouble. But,
I cured the princess of
an infection. She was a beauty.
We got married and had a kid. But,
Now I am my own great grandfather.
I knew it would happen this way.

The Hobbyist and Audiophile in 2010.

‭ ‭Anyone reading my blog, and certainly anyone willing to form an opinion about its contents, is likely to be an audio hobbyist; in colloqial terms, an “audiophile.” Audiophiles are a heterogeneous, but distinct group of people, very different from the average purchaser of sound equipment.  Average audio consumers think about equipment typically without much enthusiasm, and only when it is necessary to make an informed purchase. Contrast this with the audiophile, who is frequently engaged in thinking about, discussing, auditioning and comparing equipment. The audiophile gets considerable pleasure from speculating at length about the theoretical and practical aspects of gear, even gear that he or she has little desire or ability to actually buy.‭Today’s audio marketplace has bifurcated in its behavior. There are the audiophiles, and the loose affiliation of small, entrepreneurial manufacturers, DIY and hobbyist builders, sales and editorial channels related to them.  In contrast to these engaged constituents, there are the substantial majority of mainstream audio consumers who are motivated to purchase equipment only as a means to enjoy music or, to some extent, as a de rigueur acquisition in the fashion of their social peer group, whatever this may be. With few exceptions, this much larger market segment almost completely ignores audiophile concerns in favor of traditional consumer electronics marketing pitches via traditional promotional channels. This is not to say that good sound is not important, perhaps very important, to mass-market manufacturers and customers. But, this aspect of the product, if it discussed , is understated and forgivingly assessed in comparison to the lengthy and involved treatment that would be given by their audiophile counterparts. Where they meet, the two worlds have little to say to each other, aside from the occassional half-hearted attempt by a mass market brand to woo some audiophile customers, and aside from well-meaning but universally ill-conceived attempts by audiophiles to evangelize their beliefs to a wider audience.  Between these two distinct segments of the market, there is little commerce and few sources of mutual education.  Likewise, there are very few products that , on their own, would nurture a non-audiophile to develop a self-motivated, gradual and progressive interest in better sound. Consumer brands seek to promote loyalty and upsell, not graduation.  Thus, while the ranks of the mass-market audio consumer base are, more or less, continuously filled, the audiophile world depends on specific evangelistic encounters with potential converts to maintain and expand membership.  This has proven, in my observation, less than sufficiently effective.
‭The post-purchase behavior of the two groups is markedly different, also. The general consumer is almost always satisfied with their purchase, provided it performs as expected, is easy to use and is reliable. There is no thought of replacement until a major technological shift requires this. On the contrary, general consumers go to some lengths to maximize the lifespan of their equipment, and mimimize the need to consider new purchases. These consumers are highly influenced by a brand’s reputation for reliability and will pay more at the time of purchase in an attempt to future-proof the gear via upgrade contracts and even predictive technical features. This is very different from the post-purchase behavior of the audiophile, who very likely feels that the purchase itself was a compromise substitution made in the shadow of extremely expensive, beyond-boutique, star models. Thus, the audiophile tends to vacillate, between pride and satisfaction at one moment, compulsive, neurotic dissatisfaction at another. It only takes a few words from a friend, or a sentence in a magazine review, to flip an audiophile between unquestioning love and insecure doubt. or vica versa. ‭For some reason, the psychology of the audiophile seems to have much in common with that of the political activist. The most committed audiophiles are techno-chauvanists, who tend toward polarization, evangelism and extremism. They attach themselves to well-defined groups and gurus, and reject evidence and learning from for all other sources, no matter how firmly established, expert or well-reasoned. Alternative viewpoints are marginalized with great hostility. The audio world seems to them to be viewed as a battleground in  war of ideas that rises to matters of good and evil, as represented by competing sound reproduction technologies, test and characterization methods, even the basic materials used to build the equipment. Little of the conversation involves technological advancement, invention and the evolution of the field, at least in ways that might introduce real change and insight to the landscape. Improvement, as it is usually spoken of, is a matter of using more or different combinations of various well-established methods. Again, as with politics, any failures are seen as arising from incomplete, impure application of principles and methods, but never as an indictment, or even an indication of minor weaknesses, of the belief system itself. ‭This makes it very easy to influence one group or another by appealing to simplistic paradigms, while at the same time making it difficult to evolve the business towards a truly progressive agenda. Likewise, it makes the thoughtful education of audiophiles by industry professionals difficult and rarely successful. (Most pros have totally abandoned this endeavor in online venues.) Facts or theories which suggest something different from advertised claims and prevailing beliefs are instantly contradicted using questionable information from questionable sources, undermined with speculative epistemological arguments, or, most profoundly, countered by torrents of sincere and elaborate subjective testimonial. Each of these attacks can, of course, be countered. The problem is in their quantity and persistence, and in the fiercely held and well-rehearsed dogma central to many in audiophile circles. It is common for experts on the internet to refer to this phenomenon as playing, “Internet Whack-A-Mole,” where the expert becomes exhausted simply replying to pot-shots, and never really engages in meaningful dialog on the subject. It is important to remember that most audiophiles have no motivation to question the status quo. Doing so might risk reducing their enjoyment, the value of their psychological and monetary investment, even their income. Adopting new positions might well alienate an individual from their audio-social peers. Finally, it is important to remember that humans are notoriously defensive about not only their belief systems, but also their primary sense data. Being told one might be “hearing wrong” will yield automatic rejection from any but the most unusually mature, secure and introspective psyche.
‭This is not to say the audiophile beliefs are all wrong. There is truth imbedded in the prevailing audiophile wisdom; some truth which is in concert with scientific knowledge and some truth which challenges the same to improve.  Science has much to teach audio lovers in their ostensible quest, and audio lovers have much to teach science in the interesting fields of perception and cognition.  ‭As I have stated in a recent interview, I believe that audiophiles will find their core hopes best realized by guiding and rewarding, not rejecting and dismissing, those industry and academic resources with the means and ability to truely improve the audio experience. To do this, audiophiles must paint themselves back out of the corner of alienation from progress, and begin to internalize the motivations and economics of the larger marketplace. Audiophiles can and should become the champions of better sound and better products for everyone. But, in order for these things to happen, audiophiles must first allow their assumptions to be deeply questioned, and must support dialog with experts from outside their self-contained communities. This does not mean lower audiophile standards, for there is an essential difference between standards and dogma. Failing to do this will only hasten the marginalization and potential demise of the hobby that is, tragically, well underway. ‭Soon, I will try to tackle the ontogeny and epistemology of audiophilia, touching on the philosophical underpinnings of music reproduction and how it’s accuracy can be assessed.  I will also address topical issues like “capacitors” and “double blind tests,” “speaker refurbishing techniques and misperceptions,” “the relationship between audiophilia and electric guitars,” and, hopefully, many other topics that occur to me. ‭-k

The Salad Bar.

Good, solid Christian men in matching coveralls, a bit past their wildest days.

What detail and care goes into the selection and arrangement!  All the intensity and dedication of cooking a fine holiday meal.

Secretaries and dental assistants, nurses and mental assistants, teachers, lonely lovers.  Me.  Watched in awe.  How silly it seems now, midst the mundane treachery, to ever have dreamed of greatness at the salad bar.

Mendelev’s Dream CHAPTER 1: The Dossier

“Who is Mendelev?”    The question hung ominously, as the room of gaunt faces turned towards the man walking in.  Taller than the rest, he took his seat at the head of a long table. “Who is Mendelev? And how is it that I know nothing of him?”  His voice, while calm, had undertones of irritation, deeper-still were undertones of fear.

One could count to twenty in the silence that ensued. Finally, a man to the left side of the table cleared his throat to speak. “We simply do not know. He came to our attention barely one day ago, and no background or history can yet be found.”  This reply did not sit well anywhere in the windowless and monochromatic room. “Gentlemen, in today’s world one day is an eternity. Is Mendelev not a man? Has he no records? Perhaps he is a phantom. Or, even, a dream?”

Phantom or not, Mendelev’s room at this very moment was filled with the morning light, a breeze was tossing the white gauze curtains that had recently come back into fashion.  He had awakened somewhat refreshed, though still depleted after weeks of constant travel. He gazed from his bed at the pleasant-enough view, and wondered if this home would finally be his last. In the mirror, Mendelev did not see himself as a particularly mysterious character. Rather, his handsomely anonymous face was an asset of his, along with a pleasant and open personality. There were certainly times that he wished for a more distinguishable and heroic visage, or a more selfish nature, but this was not one of those moments. So, all in all, right now, Mendelev could be said to be content, weary and perhaps a bit more mysterious than he himself realized.

Are there others to mention?  Yes, there are, of course.  Anna and Feo.  Blessed with similar features but opposite demeanors, the two remained in perpetual contest with one another even in their times of secretive romance. They remained the closest things to allies to be found anywhere in Mendelev’s strange saga.

Next comes August, known and despised as Mendelev’s greatest enemy, revered by some for the same reason.  His minions that we have just met in the stark room remain, at least to me, nameless.  After August, then there are Döbereiner and Gmelin, two of the infamous German Triad that has alternately protected and threatened Mendelev.  Finally, are the various minor players in this game. Some are quite prominent people, but all are generic and interchangeable for our purposes.  They fill the expected roles, much as you and I do ourselves.

Gazing from his bed, Mendelev was grateful to have not very much on his mind. While no person’s future is ever very certain and Mendelev knew his was even less so, the present at last seemed reasonably predictable. He would have to shop for some items for his apartment and kitchen. Begin the process of putting down roots, of meeting new friends and useful tradesmen. Sorting through a list of lovers, past and future, available or not, requited, unrequited, or none of the above. A consideration of what would be presentable clothing for his only adequate budget, and whether he was up to the demands of a house pet. Mendelev was finding himself feeling sleepy again.

Most of us, having labored through periods of great exertion and minimal rest, are familiar with the state of mind that these engender. Mainly, the state consists of a pleasant sense of depersonalization, which in turn can serve to remind us just how much our conscious awareness of the world is taken up with self-observation. The sensations of the body, pavement pressing against the foot, photons impacting the retina, food dissolving in the stomach or the release of endorphins during orgasm, these are all things that must be observed to be understood or even known. In this regard, living our daily life has a distinct similarity to the watching of a film.

“Then I drifted into a dream,
from which I was soon awakened.
Into sleep.”

(To Be Continued)