A Response to HP Editorial in the
April/May 2001 Issue of The Absolute Sound

I got this email from Winston Churchill..


There are no great men, just ordinary men taking on great challenges.


After considering what Winston had communicated, my mind wandered to HP, one of the truly great men of the audio industry, and because of his greatness, I felt compelled to offer him a great challenge, by inviting him to debate me on challenges facing our community of audio artisans.

Let the games begin….after you read HP's editorial in the April/May 2001 issue of The Absolute Sound.


What is the Absolute Sound that HP is hearing? It sounds like HP is suggesting there is an objective standard by which we should judge the competence of a gaggle of crude electro-mechanical gear at creating an illusion of a live un-amplified music event in our living rooms. While this statement sounds righteous, I am asserting that the concept of the "Absolute Sound", has become, in effect, a strategy for avoiding the real challenges of the audio arts; challenges which can no longer be avoided.

Let the debate begin.


There is not only NO MUSIC OUT THERE, there is no Absolute Sound anywhere on this earth. There is no music IN Carnegie Hall, when the orchestra is playing its heart out. There is no music AT the Blue Note. There is no music emanating from our favorite speakers. Out there is only noise, which only becomes music, (which is an emotion just like, love, hate, courage, fear, courage, faith) when it enters our body, and is decoded. This is an ancient truth of musical consciousness, often repeated by Hindemith. If there were an Absolute Sound, then there would also be an absolute love, or, an absolute passion. Clearly all emotions only exist within the perceiver, which is why music is such a powerful force: according to William James, nothing is more powerful than our illusions.

This is why there can never be a scientific proof for the existence of music…it has no weight, dimension, or form. If music had an objective existence it could be measured, and as far as I know, this hasn't happened yet. This also explains why audio engineering, which is really noise engineering, can never have any scientific legitimacy, though it pretends otherwise.

The absolutely inner nature of music should surprise no one, because the most common experience for gifted listeners, composers, and millions of humans, is to be walking down the street, or, sitting under a tree, and hearing music. Where is that music coming from? It comes from the same place that HP can find his Absolute Sound..inside his corpus mysticum .

It is quite legitimate for HP's Absolute Sound to be HP's absolutely intense emotions, but I ask HP how absolute his emotions are, or, any human emotions are, especially after HP has eaten a good Italian meal, and too much wine?

Or, how strong is our musical memory, when we compare live, to recorded events?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist, wearing a propeller hat, to realize that musical perception is cultural determined, which is why a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn has trouble sitting through a concert of classic Chinese music, or, why a Jivaro Indian would puke listening to Metallica.

So there we are sitting in Carnegie Hall..all in a row..HP, Gizmo, a Jivaro Indian, a Mongol sheepherder, and a punk rocker…listening to Stochausen's latest and greatest hits. Are we all hearing the same thing?

It is well documented that native cultures hear music coming from flowers, plants and trees, and this music is so detailed, that it instructs on their proper use in medicine and ritual.

How complex is our musical perception? I can remember a recent dream where I was sitting in a smoked filled café in Turkey, listening to a gray beard musician's heart sing to me in language I didn't understand. Is that experience a less Absolute Sound than listening to chamber music in Merkin Concert Hall?

How many levels of musical perception are there? Many more than this industry has had the guts to admit.

Like all human experience, the present is not just the present, but a complex matrix of experience that reaches back into our proto-conscious time. I assert, in the same way that every Gestalist would assert, that in every present moment of musical experience, every musical experience we have ever had is present, and is altering the present. This is further complicated by the vast differences in our "listening gifts", that Aaron Copland alludes to..and, are not evenly distributed. Or, to put this another way: In every moment of musical experience, all of our musical experiences are present.

So how absolute is HP's perception of that live musical event? I suggest, it is absolute as HP wants it to be, but it is absolutely only within his inner musical realm, because that is the only place music can exist, and that is cool.

May I summarize? There is only One Music, HP, and it is you, which means that your home aural matrix is a completely dematerial reflection of your inner musical consciousness. What you experience at a live musical event is your inner music projected onto the stage.


We once again return to the notion of The Absolute Sound as the benchmark standard for judging the audio arts. Implicit in the nature of all serious criticism is the notion of the benchmark, the standard against which all efforts are judged, whether it is Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Pee Wee Herman, a Typo 37 Bugatti, or, a gonzo audio system. This is the norm in serious literary, music, or art criticism; criticism is always meta-referential. The audio arts have not yet matured to this level of intellectual heft, and it is time for our gray matter to grow up and assume this challenge.

HP would assert that a live music event is the standard that should be used to judge the quality of a home music system. Again, if that is the standard then we are all listening to music events, in our living rooms, that taste like Texas Road Kill in August. Even the best efforts deserve nothing more than a "F".

For audio criticism to have any intellectual relevance the criticism must be based on the notion, perception, and comparison to a "benchmark" audio system….a system that reflects none of the compromises inherent in "ready to wear" gear, and not a live music event.

The complexities of such a new system of values are obvious, and why they have been historically avoided, which is why, I believe, traditional audio criticism has lost its credibility for the Hi-IQ segment of the public. A combination of a well-developed inner music life, and technical competence in the audio arts, has been sorely lacking, and needs to be developed in a new generation of audio critics.

The notion of comparing an encoded music event to a live music event is akin to comparing a painting of a rose to a live rose. Can you imagine any art critic ever considering such an intellectual misadventure? What is the standard that we judge the beauty of Steichen's black and white photograph of a nude? Is it the living breathing nude, or, other masters of black and white photography?

HP, are you getting my drift about using "The Absolute Sound" as the standard for critical appraisal of the audio arts? It avoids the real thorny issues of comparing "ready to wear" equipment against a true benchmark standard..or, it avoids comparing comparable equipment, which is SOP in every other field…even wine and cigars.

If we compare a Corvette to a Dodge minivan, the Corvette will represents the highest performance in cars, except tens of millions of American men wouldn't believe such a judgement…because we know better. On the other hand, if we compare a Corvette to Formula One car, we discover that the Corvette has a long way to go in development, and I think the Corvette engineering department would agree with that, which is why they are working so hard to improve the breed, and have made so much progress.

My direct experience with racing Corvettes and ready-to-wear Corvettes affirms that the true soul of the Corvette can not be found in car showrooms.

Of course, comparing the quality of audio equipment is infinitely more challenging, and exciting, than comparing….. Corvettes versus Dodge Viper versus or Porsche. It is easy to determine who wins a car race, or which car is faster, or which car has more horsepower….but how do we determine who wins the race for musical beauty when that experience only exists in our body? How thrilling to have such a Goliath intellectual challenge. Now is the time to develop a new generation of David's to take on this challenge, because over the last two decades American audio savants have fled the battlefield.

HP, pardon me, but it is time to raise the standards for audio criticism a bunch of notches..this is the 21st Century. Are you ready to lead your tribe of audio savant to a higher ground? Do they have the right stuff to inspire an industry in desperate need of inspiration?


We can be comfortable with just one absolute fact about encoded music: From encoding a music event to decoding it in our living room we are experiencing at least, and I will be kind, at least 50% gross distortion…and I suggest it is much higher, approaching 90%.

What percentage of the live Stone's concert is encoded in one of those little silver discs? HP, can you count that low?

Let's be accurate, for the first time…it is a glorious folly to attempt to encode and decode music/human emotion, because of its inherently highly distorted, non-accurate, non-neutral, nature.

On a purely technical level…compared to music performed by humans, all encoded music, even when played through a "state of the art system", meaning non-commercial system, is a dismal technical achievement.

It is a befuddlement to me that any professional audio reviewer can listen to encoded music, in their home, using "ready to wear" equipment, and then describe this experience with words like, "accurate", "neutral", while at the same time knowing the inherent, and highly distorted nature of all encoded/decoded music, and the fundamentally primitive nature of all audio gear. What is the standard they are using for these judgements, or, are they still using up their inventory of pot that was available in the 1970s?

This long-term linguistic dysfunctionality isn't going to change until we talk about it publicly.

Or, is it possible that this absolutely distorted electro-mechanical reality is not the important consideration?


And it is obvious to all: 99.9999% of the music we listen to, is music produced in a digital multi-track recording studio, and not recorded at a live event. Anyone who has worked in one, even in the best, of these factories of ultimate aural discombobularity, understands why 99.99999% of CDs taste like Texas Road Kill In August. Let me be bold: It is impossible to create a high quality music CD in today's digital multi-track recording studios. Are there exceptions? Yes, but as a percentage of the universe it is statistically insignificant.

The real challenge facing every music lover is how to squeeze the most musical juice out of this dried digital fruit…and we are all faced with this TABOO CHALLENGE: THE PARADOX OF CLARITY. The better the quality of our audio gear, the more we are able to experience the turdosity of CDs.

HP may respond that this challenge is addressed with a list of recommended recordings…NOT. Show me the letters to the recording companies and recording artists..complaining. What happened to the HP fire of rebellion, and concern, for music quality? Show me our industry's crusade to improve the quality of recorded music.


The truth is powerful, and it is that the male brain is a very horny dog for ecstasy. It doesn't take much to get the juices of ecstasy flowing in the music maniac's brain. By that I mean that even with 90% total music distortion, if we are given the right bunch of cues, we can dissolve into a state of musical ecstasy, which according to Glenn Gould (and he is right) is the only genuine state of musical consciousness. Let me put this another way: the purpose of an audio system is to create an aural metaphor that will, like all forms of metaphors, trigger an ecstatic response in the brain. It doesn't take much of the right cues to give our bodies a woody…sometimes only one note, or, one whiff, or, one tiny peek. On the other hand, for gifted listeners, the cues must be increasingly subtle, even more subtle than those described in audio magazines.

This inherent desire to surrender to our ecstatic impulses is the saving grace of the audio arts..and it is again, dependent on the essential horny nature of the human brain.

We are now unburdened by the artistic irrelevancy of trying to create a live musical event in our living room, and can join up with every great artist, and ask the artistically relevant question…"Within the limited possibilities of our art form, what are the aural cues that will induce ecstasy in our musical horny brain? I assert that this is the fundamental question that is relevant to the higher exploration of the audio arts…and where the real debate must begin…like…how to create exactly the right type of aural matrix that triggers our individual musical ecstasy response in our home.


One of my most common emails is…"Have high end audio rags become nothing more than guarantees of predictable "RECOMMENDED COMPONENT" reviews?

I would like HP to join me in the potty with one hundred of our favorite men's magazine's, for a serious study session. What do we discover in our favorite car, motorcycle, fishing, gun, magazines? The same thing that we discover in our favorite Japanese audio magazines. If we are looking for state of the art performance…then we don't shop in dealer's showroom, because it doesn't exist there. If we want state of the art performance; if we are looking for the ultimate expression of any tool of ecstasy… in any category of boy toy, we must go to lunatic fringe, the "custom-hot rod" route…and men expect, and demand to know this truth.

Looking for ultimate accuracy? Use my gunsmith Art Cocchia who builds competition benchrest rifles, because no store bought rifle, no matter how high its cost, can achieve state of the art accuracy. Want state of the art performance for your new $150K Porsche? There are hundreds of companies that will double its horsepower and dramatically increase its road holding performance. Or, the Porsche factory will sell you a racecar. Want to double the horsepower of your Corvette? No problemo. Want a state of the art motorcycle? Just check the pages of Easy Rider, not your Harley dealer.

HP, what does this mean? The only male toy industry, on the face of this Earth, that denies this "state of the art" expanded reality is the American audio industry, which pretends that the custom hot rod ultimate higher performance audio arts don't exist. Compare this to the Japanese audiomaniac culture, which celebrates the audio artist that builds and races Formula One Audio Systems.

I assert that it is an absolutely inaccurate misrepresentation of the audio arts to exclude the true state of art equipment, and imply that ready-to-wear gear represents the ultimate expression of audio arts. HP, what is the fear of a wider view, the one expressed in Japanese audio magazines?

Let me give a concrete example that would benefit all…because I believe HP deserves (and has the responsibility to have) such an custom made "benchmark" system as the standards for his judgements:

HP let's try this experiment…let's record a Steinway Concert Grand, or a Bosendorfer piano. Let's do a direct-to-analog tape recording so we can eliminate ultimate instruments of aural discombobularity: mixing consoles. Now here is where the fun begins..HP is free to choose any type of type of speakers and amplifiers he wants…they will be custom made for him…so he can do the best job of recreating the live sound of the piano…and we will keep the piano and piano player around, for comparison. HP has absolutely no limitations, especially the limitations that are inherent in all ready-made audio equipment. HP is faced with the challenge of creating his first true state of the audio arts system…his first, and completely unique, bad ass, Formula One Audio System. This is HP's moon shot. This system will become the benchmark that HP can use to judge all other systems. This is the system that will inspire all of the HP's readers.

This means that HP can, if he wants, choose from speaker drivers that are not even available in America; the type of state of the art high flux density Alnico drivers that HP knows exists, but never appears in American ready to wear equipment, in the same way that racing motors don't appear in ready to wear Corvettes, or Dodge Vipers. Why not have some drivers custom made just for HP?

Let's assume, for the moment, that HP will choose a custom-made tube amplifier. I want to suggest that in HP's quest for ultimate state of the art performance he will apply all of the conventional well-known wisdom, and will have amplifiers designed specifically for each driver, and not use any passive crossovers. He will probably choose output transformers made with cobalt lamination and silver wire…which never appear in ready-to-wear tube amplifiers. The power supplies for these amplifiers will be huge…even bigger than the audio circuits, which is right.

I am beginning to see a vision of HP's dream system…and it can be anything he wants, but it is a true benchmark system against which all commercial, and necessarily compromised systems, will be compared: a new Absolute High Ground for the Audio Arts. What a gloriously inspirational contribution to our tribe.


HP, I suggest the brave new future of the audio arts, is no longer the 20th century orthodoxy of finding, among the chaos of gear, that accidental combo that is ecstatic. History is proof that this is a formula for attracting a small group of rich white guys who must own the latest toy…and little or no relevance to wider music loving public.

I suggest it is time to develop a completely new vernacular of electro-mechanical musical intentionality. This is nothing short of teaching music maniacs the gizmological grammar of how to create an ecstatic aural matrix in their home. This is a completely different shift in the audio arts, and it will meet with much resistance, in the same way the all existing orthodoxies resist change. Great men love great challenges and you are the man HP.

The bagel is in your court HP.

Over and out from Music HyperSpace.


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