The State of Sound


Fondamenta : Reaching for Music’s Amazing Grace


This week, I had the pleasure of meeting Frédéric D’Oria-Nicolas, founder and artistic director of the record label Fondamenta. Fondamenta is located in the southern suburbs of Paris. To reach D’Oria-Nicolas, I climbed two lovely polished wood staircases before arriving in an enormous room that sprawled out across the building’s top floor. Welcoming me were a Steinway grand piano and a HIFI system made up of two Devialet 800-W monoblocks, a vinyl record player equipped with a Pierre Riffaud tone-arm, a pair of Focal Be Nova speakers, and Absolue Créations TIM-REF cables. Immediately, the stage was set: I was entering into the universe of an accomplished instrumentalist and an exigent audiophile. The hallmark of Fondamenta is its approach of thinking holistically about the musical works it produces—from the moment of their creation to their eventual reproduction for the listener.


A remarkable past

Frédéric D’Oria-Nicolas is a pianist who is as talented as he is atypical. He has been playing since he was very young. When he was 13 years old, he attended an international festival in the French town of Colmar and encountered Tatiana Zelikman, a meeting that would play a decisive role in his life. A few years later, he became her student at the very prestigious Gnessin Russian Academy of Music in Moscow; he ended up studying music in Russia for almost seven years. Upon his return to France, he set about trying to record his first album, a necessary step in the life of any young musician. He twice refused deals from record companies because he was not satisfied with the recording conditions they were offering. “Looking back, I don’t regret my decision. However, I admit that it required a certain amount of courage to refuse their offers because I was a young no-name musician at the same,” he comments. A few more years passed before he met a private sponsor who wanted to support his work and whose generosity allowed him to record his first album under conditions of the highest quality (CD FON-112008-01-001; Schubert / Lizst; recorded at la Ferme de Villefavard in 2008). It was this first album that marked the birth of the Fontamenta record label.

 A Video Presenting the Album “Odyssey” – Frédéric d’Oria-Nicolas

Striving for excellence

Fontamenta was born from a desire to stand out by offering extremely high-quality recordings. “The force that drove me to create the Fondamenta record label can be summarized in a single question: how will the recording of a work sound? When you start thinking about how your own instrument will sound in a given space, you start thinking about what the listener will hear on the album. I am still very surprised by the large number of musicians who don’t seem to wonder about this issue. I have a very clear idea of what I want to hear, and I have surrounded myself with a team of people who bring their exceptional expertise and technical prowess to bear on the matter. That’s the reason I always work with Nicolas Thelliez, who is a sound engineer and the manager of Fontamenta. For example, producing a recording of a piano is a very complicated process. A piano’s sound is the product of 88 keys and the 68 ways of adjusting what each of those keys does! It usually takes a whole day alone to correctly position the microphones associated with the piano,” explains D’Oria-Nicolas.

Fondamenta explores the links among certain works to come up with products whose content makes sense musically. Programs and musical works are put together in the same way that trips or literary works are put together: with a clear line running from the beginning to the end. Moreover, Fondamenta pays a lot of attention to the booklets that accompany its albums so as to take listeners by the hand, to accompany them as they discover and evaluate the work. As part of accomplishing this task, Fondamenta leaves nothing—whether that be the choice of the instrument or the recording site—to chance: “we won’t use the same piano or the same recording site for pieces from Schubert and Rachmaninoff.” It goes without saying that site acoustics are a crucial part of the final result. Fondamenta chooses to record in spaces that bring the music to life. The company’s high standards come at a cost: on average, Fondamenta spends between 17,000 and 23,000 euros to produce an album. This is approximately three to four times more than what most record labels spend. Nicolas explains, “At the same time, we have never wanted to sell our products for more than the going rate. We have managed to keep the prices of our albums down to 18 euros, on average, thanks to funds from certain organizations (Adami, SCCP) and partnerships we have set up with the private sector over the course of certain projects.”

photo 3

An innovative approach to music on the go

Nicolas explains, “I was motivated to act by a pet peeve of mine: the immense frustration of having subpar listening experiences during long car trips. Acoustic music has the advantage of using a wide dynamic range. However, traits that work to the music’s advantage in your living room rapidly transform into defects when you are listening to the same music in a noisy, moving environment such as your car. Indeed, you end up constantly adjusting the volume. We therefore designed and developed a type of mastering that gives you optimal results, which really allows you to appreciate all of a recording’s nuances, when you are listening to music on a mobile audio device, via a computer, or in the car.” Fondamenta sells two versions of each of its acoustic albums (for the same price): one is the “Fidelity Mastering” version, which is made for HIFI systems, and the other is the “Mobility Mastering” version, which is adapted to mobile audio devices, computers, and car audio systems. This approach is extremely interesting and completely novel and could help music lovers come to terms with the constraints associated with listening to music on the go. I conducted a little test behind the wheel of my car; when I compared the two versions, I immediately picked up on the difference associated with the “Mobility Mastering” version, even with the CD player of so-so quality that I have in my Peugeot.

Born from an unrestrained passion for music and an unconditional respect for musical works and those who interpret them, Fondamenta recordings bring music to life in a startling way. They emphasize what is most important: bringing the listener closer to the music’s grace.


Catalog :
16 albums available on CD or in digital format (all of which are available in both “Fidelity Mastering” and “Mobility Mastering” versions).
Soon to be released: « Pierrots lunaire » with Mélanie Clapies on the violin and Yan Levionnois on the cello

Distributed by :
Sony Music (France)—Harmonia Mundi (Germany)—Select Music (UK)—Naxos (USA & CANADA)

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This entry was posted on 03/10/2014 by in Interviews, Music and tagged , , , .
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