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Positive Feedback ISSUE 7
june/july 2003


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Auroville 16
by Srajan Ebaen

It's become de rigueur to beat up on Stereophile, for spotlighting certain brands with surprising regularity. Once a month, AudioAsylum becomes host to repetitive rants about the Major Fairness act—MF for short. And they don't mean Michael Fremer. You know the story.

The counter argument? When they stop producing good stuff, we stop reviewing it. Of course, you might question whether other marquees have stopped producing it – good stuff; any stuff for that matter. The ranters make a good point. By concentrating on specific brands, others of equal interest to a broad readership get short shrift.

There's another angle. The criminal in question—do the CIA or NSA have special branches that deal with issues of global audiophile security—this dangerous terrorist has an open love affair with certain products. His columnist status affords him the freedom to decline reviewing gear he doesn't like. While you could find fault with his taste if yours diverged, you surely can't fault the man for having it - personal taste, and standing behind it.

In fact, I find such partisanship very refreshing, the taking of such a stubbornly personal stand admirable. The enjoyment of music is a thing of passion after all. Why squander it on lesser things that don't fan it to a brisk flame? Isn't uninspired and rote reporting a bore to read? I can tell you this: It's an absolutely dreadful bore to pen.

Hence, I'd much rather see Sam Tellig as he hears it (gushing at the seams with enthusiasm) then pen a half-cocked review about stuff he don't fancy, struggling valiantly to be fair, sifting fancy diction for good things to say that still remain true to his general dislike.

It's easy to point fingers, harder to do the thing you point at once, harder even doing it on a monthly basis year-in, year-out. On a whole, artists have dedicated their lives to a pursuit of creative happiness. In trade for stability, financial security or even recognition, they go on about pursuing their muse. The archetype of the starving artist – get a real job – exists for a good reason after all.

The world would be the poorer if bereft of the presence of such apparent folly, such apparent disdain for the trappings of those with real jobs. Why attack those who'd rather burn up with passion than compromise for security? Why feel threatened when someone takes a strong, unequivocal stand for what he or she believes in—just because it happens to conflict with your own?

Standing for something takes guts. You stand there, solidly and clearly defined, a perfect unwavering target. For some reason, unmoving and easy targets invite attack nearly by definition. Often those who attack are all over the place. They seem intent only on their warfare, completely oblivious to what might motivate them. Deep down, could they be envious that another knows what he wants, knows what he likes, is doing what he digs doing?

In the case of a monthly column, keeping it an easy and entertaining read becomes ever more difficult with the passage of time. In fact, you might one day question your reasons for continuing at all. Is the well about to run dry? Money might come in handy to refill some of it, true. Still, if your key impulse, your raw fuel, was and continues to be the enjoyment of it, money can't buy that. Your only chance of preserving the purity of your mission is to keep the passion alive. And let's face it, if you didn't get paid at all, you'd either be an idiot, independently wealthy or in dire need of handouts.

Guess what? Writing about stuff you like, whose performance, price and features you feel good about, want to turn others on to… that's the kind of grist for the mill that keeps your wheels spinning, your engine lubed, your exhaust fuming.

The other argument to get off the warpath? If you don't like it, don't read it. Wash that bright war paint off your face, stick that silly feather into the trash and become your normal self again. Walking the hallways of the Westin during HE2003 drove home how important the renaissance of the musical spirit has become.

Aged men made up the greatest percentage of the audience. How do I know? Because just like at the CES, the appearance of any woman immediately turned heads, as though male bonding went only so far, the sight of the opposite sex a clear bell in the dull cacophony of masculine seriousness. Remember the late Dean vehicle "Giants?"

Rock Hudson and the Texan boys are doing booze and politics. Liz Taylor just won't go away. "This is men's business." The tall owner of The Reatta Ranch is clearly getting bent outa shape, Taylor's fiery repartee the stuff of legend. Though the movie's dated, what the scene pokes fun at still holds true. Our industry's in dire need of spunk, disobedience, wackiness and excitement.

Why do people spend money on boats or motorcycles, planes or vacation homes? Coz it's fun, never mind a narrow 2-week slot stuffed between a hectic annual schedule to afford such toys to begin with. Ever heard a live real-time coverage of a boat show in Florida? The reporters nearly cream on their microphones with adolescent excitement and glee, about the latest and greatest luxury gizmos they've ever seen—until the next show. Nobody questions their objective sanity, nobody belabors the associated expense or exclusivity of ownership. The message is simple: This is fun; you gotta come out here and see this—right now!

Contrast that with the Westin's dim hallways, attendees carrying their plastic bags of literature like survival packs. Where was the excitement, the over-the-top cool, the infectious lifestyle endorsement?

It was sorely lacking. I clearly don't have the answers, on how to reinvigorate this ailing industry. Still, one thing seems clear: Those who spread the gospel with charisma, intelligence, humor and pizzazz are on the right track. Those who, into their audio musings, weave traveling, wine, love of food, cars, cigars or any other hobby telegraph the important message: Audio's a lifestyle thang, like any other – and one that gets shared between kayaking and skeet shooting, coin collecting and Bonsai growing, cooking and sex.

Normal people enjoy audio. By definition, this makes audio into something normal as well. Get it?

Observing the audiophile circus as an outsider—with all its infighting, quibbling, segregation and seriousness—makes it look anything but normal. The whole objectivist trend turns the enjoyment of music into a pseudo science. You need to learn the obscure insider language, grope the secret handshake to get in. Who the heck wants to bother?

What the industry needs—among other things—are colorful spokespeople that others can relate to. What we don't need is the latest techno paper on why SACD outperforms CD. We need to rediscover why we're doing this, foam again at the mouth with come-hither intensity before we can hope to turn others on. Where's the hobbyist juice, the creative urge?

Wherever they may be hiding, I say this: The oft-faulted champion of MF kit and Triangle speakers -- for how long he's been at it, for how deeply he's looked into that glass—still got "it" in spades. There's more there there, of personality, wit, charm and attunement to the message—music's fun and this stuff makes it more so—than many others whose writings would bore a crocodile into dusty oblivion.

Stop picking on the wrong guy. Attack the real enemies of the Reich: The SS party of Snobbery and Seriousness that is much of what remains of High-end audio. Never mind the magazines – the grassroots efforts have to start with you and your system, with how you share your love of the music, your obsession with the gear that reproduces it.

Only if you're doing as good a job of it as I believe ST is doing over at 'phile should you feel empowered to throw darts. By the time you have as much proselytizing under your belt as he, chances are you won't feel like throwing any at all. Rather, you'd see that he and you are in the same boat saying the same old thing ad nauseam—in your own two unique ways. What, pray tell, is wrong with that? And How many folks have you turned to audio lately? See what I mean, belly jean?

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