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June 2023

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Why Music?
Roger Skoff writes about the most basic question of all.
Article By Roger Skoff


Why Music? Roger Skoff writes about the most basic question of all.


  Many years ago, when I had a different audio company, I was absolutely shocked something that really doesn't happen very often when one of my dealers told me that he didn't like music. At first, I thought that I must have heard him wrong or misunderstood what he said and that it must be some particular piece of music or some style or instrument that he didn't like. But, when I asked him what he meant by that, and to please clarify, he told me straight-out that he found music of any kind to be annoying and didn't like to listen to it.

Truly, my jaw really did drop when I heard that. The person I was talking with was one of the biggest and most successful hi-fi dealers in the Eastern United States, and I simply couldn't comprehend what he was telling me.  So, I asked him outright, how he could be the person he was and have the company he owned if he didn't like music?

He answered that he loved hi-fi equipment that shiny, expensive gear with lots of knobs and dials and huge, preferably horn-type, speakers "turned him on". He also said that he enjoyed selling things to people; that he "got a kick out of" helping them to get just the right thing to meet their needs; and that their happiness with their purchase pleased him, too, but that the music, itself, simply left him cold.



Okay, I accepted that because I had to, but I still don't understand it. I do understand, though, that music isn't the only thing about our hobby that can bring people to it and hold them there.



For severe Hi-Fi Crazies (which is how I and my audiophile friends have long referred to ourselves), just the recording can truly be king, regardless of its content: If it's good-enough sounding and gives a believable impression of a live event and the acoustical environment it was recorded in, we'll buy and play just about anything anybody offers, whether it's music or not.

Proof of that was the phenomenal success of a test and demo CD [HFN003] released nearly forty years ago (1985) by the UK's Hi-Fi News & Record Review magazine. In addition to more conventional material, this featured (as Track #14) the sound of someone inside the closed space with it, banging on a steel garage door. Entitled "The Garage Door or The Dynamic Range of Real Life", that ultra-realistic recording of Mike Skeet and his garage door was the demo hit of CES and other trade and audiophile shows around the world for years after its release, and is still a collector's prize, even today.



Other kinds of recordings have also sold well and become favorites regardless of their musical quality. Hymns and religious music are good examples of this. So are things like rap, Hip-Hop, Talking Blues, and other kinds of music which even when the music is great (as some part of many kinds of it truly is) may be more valued for the meaning and emotional, spiritual, or political content of its words than for the "catchiness" of its tune, or the glories of its harmonies or performance.

Think of a national anthem, for example, or a hymn, a college "fight" song, or even a country Christian classic like "Troublesome Waters", by the Reverend Mr. & Mrs. Joseph W. Brooks. Despite Marshall McLuhan, the message of these things is the message, and the medium (the music itself) is just the means to get it across.

That doesn't mean, though, that the music of the music the rhythms, the harmonies, the force of a mighty choir or a full symphony orchestra, or the sound of a single voice or instrument aren't also powerful sources of action. It's martial music that provides the cadence to keep men marching in step and makes them organized troops instead of a rabble. And, in modern factories everywhere, background music keeps workers at their tasks and working at a brisk rate.



For all of human history, music in one form or another has been used to motivate us to action, to mark and celebrate our rituals and special occasions, and to stimulate and express our emotions. Love, joy, lust, sorrow, ambition, worship, hope, glory, and every other human emotion are all inspired by, or find expression in music, and all of those expressions are available to modern audiophiles and music lovers, just by turning on their system and selecting a recording.

Certainly, the equipment has wonderful hobby value and just as that one dealer said can be appealing just in itself. It's certainly also true that with a good premium audio sound system, we can get very close to the actual sound (and even an illusion of the physical presence) of music or anything else from a banging garage door to the Mahler Symphony of a Thousand (No. 8).

We can also, taking advantage of modern recording technology, create music that never really happened, but that was created by combining the contributions of different people at different times For example, Nat and Natalie Cole singing 'together' decades apart, or Walter and Wendy Carlos stringing together entirely artificial notes created on a Moog Synthesizer to form a quite wonderful work of music that never existed in any way at all.



Or even where the music is real modern producers and recording engineers can, with multi-track recording, EQ, phasers, flangers, and a whole array of other enhancements, make the natural sound into something else that will move us; get us to dance or sing along; or, most importantly, want to make the music a part of our life.



Ultimately, it's always the music that we come back to, to fill our time, entertain us, and enrich our lives. For me, at least, the music is the steak and the sound is the gravy. Either is great, but I want both.

And now, having said that, I'm going to turn on my system, put on some tunes, sit back, close my eyes, and...



Enjoy the music!


Roger Skoff
















































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