AUDIO EXPERIENCE FROM FRANCE
Today, I propose to explore how music is made, in the sense of how it is recorded and mixed. Although as listeners we do not necessarily have the ability to act on these parameters, we nonetheless have the possibility of selecting a CD because it is particularly well recorded. The German record label ECM (which I mentioned in the preface to this blog) is one of the rare companies that has managed to develop a real signature sound. How many times do I remember purchasing an ECM album, “sight unseen”, just to have the pleasure of rediscovering the particular sound universe the label creates? Today, even if all record labels claim to produce recordings of quality, I think that the reality is that only a few actually provide proof of their claims. The homogenization of good sound is too often detrimental to the music itself. The objective is to please the greatest number of listeners using an overly dominant bass and all sorts of effects that create an easy and immediately seductive musical dressing. These types of artifice end up truly tiring our precious ears.
For example, I was recently particularly annoyed by a recording of a young jazz singer (Fanny Bériaux) on an album that perfectly illustrates the absolute excesses in the use of all of these types of effects; the ultra dominant reverberation only underscores its artificiality, and the music, to my ears, is completely emptied of emotional substance. Is it really necessary to hear each inhalation and exhalation of this young woman? Did they graft a microphone to her glottis to torture us? One wonders if the sound engineer was not perhaps a pneumonologist, someone specialized in the study of the lungs. What is the underlying interest in suggesting that we need to hear sounds that we do not naturally perceive? Here, we witness an outrageously outlandish performance that is far distanced from the artistic process that imbues music with its soul.
In contrast, it is important to give recognition to those couple of record labels that work hard to offer recordings of quality that demonstrate balance and respect both the natural acoustics of the instruments and the choice of the artist. I wish to mention the company Passavant Music, which is committed to its high recording standards, from the studio dedicated to its recordings to the exceptional quality of the cutting of its albums; it also offers certain works in Studio Master quality. I am also thinking of the excellent work of the Naim label or the German label Carpe Diem. In addition, I highly recommend Label Bleu. However, when it comes to record labels, my heart partially belongs to the work of Jean-Jacques Pussiau, the man who founded and led the now defunct OWL label. For those who are jazz enthusiasts, I cannot more wholeheartedly recommend Michel Petrucciani’s early albums, which were recorded by OWL between 1981 and 1985; they are small marvels. In particular, the duet with Lee Konitz, in my opinion, sets the standard for piano jazz recordings.
If I had to name another one of my favorite recording studios, I would mention the North American-Japanese label MA Recordings without hesitation. I had the pleasure of meeting the head and founder, Todd Garfinkle, a couple of years ago during a hifi expo in Paris. This small independent record label underscores the importance of producing direct, untouched acoustic recordings (not subject to mixing). Recordings are made using two omnidirectional mics and are immediately rendered into Studio Master quality when the album is cut. In fact, each album provides a precise list of the recording materials used. Solo instrumentalists or small acoustic ensembles are preferred. Recordings are frequently made taking advantage of locations with good natural acoustics, as in the case of this sublime album by lutenist Eduardo Egüz (pictured at the top of the post). When he plays the Bach pieces, his lute’s natural resonance in the Italian abbey where the recording was made is captivating. Ma Recordings’ catalog offers a very rich repertoire of music, with a pronounced emphasis on world music. The catalog also allows the public to discover many young artists who are rarely broadcast; isn’t that the primary goal of a recording label? When scrutinizing the catalogs of the major record companies, you start to wonder.