Quarter Notes #19 (Volume 5, Issue 3)

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners,

Welcome to the nineteenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on June 21, 2016. Quarter Notes is a free newsletter for Get Better Sound and Through the Sound Barrier owners, expanding on both, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.

Best email address

Since you’re reading this, the e-mail address with which I sent this QNs must have worked. However, the only e-mail address I have is the one associated with your initial Get Better Sound or Through the Sound Barrier order. If you have an e-mail address that you’d prefer to use to receive Quarter Notes notifications, send it to js@getbettersound.com. Be sure to include the e-mail address I used originally, along with the one that you want to use to replace it.

The silence between the notes

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” – Claude Debussy, composer

"The silence between the notes is as important as the notes themselves." – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides.” — Artur Schnabel, pianist

"Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play." – Miles Davis

"It's the silence between the notes that makes the music" – Zen proverb

There are other quotes referencing this topic as well, but these are the most commonly referenced.

The “silence between the notes” occasionally gets mentioned in various musically oriented communities, but I have recently realized that its importance has largely been ignored in our “audiophile” circles.

In fact, the only one that comes to mind is by Myles Astor – recently in his forum http://www.audionirvana.org: “For me, one of the biggest effects of the silence between the notes is feeling the pulse of the music.”

Author, neuroscientist, & musician Daniel Levitin does an excellent job of explaining musical concepts like pitch, timbre, tempo and harmony. He makes the point that the art in music can be just as easily found in the absence of things as in the presence of the aforementioned properties. The moment between each note being just as much a part of the music as the actual notes themselves.

I agree somewhat with Myles Astor’s comments above, although for me, this intended silence between the notes serves to highlight - even embellish - the emotional intensity that was intended for a given piece of music. It can be dynamic contrast, and even tone, as we await the next note.

As such, it behooves us to reduce the likelihood of obscuring this key to the music. Since this aspect of reproduced music can have a profound effect on our musical involvement, we need to take a look at how we might best preserve it. Actually the topics that follow are directly related, so let’s go there…

Two not-so-politically-correct techniques to gain even more musically engaging results from your listening sessions

  1. Absorption vs. dispersion I know that many “acoustic experts” call for dispersion in rooms. In earlier times, I have done so myself. But as I have become more conscious of musical involvement as the main thing I want to achieve, there have been some revelations that I’d like to share. The first topic relates to the original recording. As a location recording engineer myself, I made the recording to include the applicable reverberant space. If my choral recording included the reverberant space of the recording venue, the last thing I want to hear is that listeners injected the sound of their rooms into the playback of my recording! Here is an example – With choral recordings, when the sound of a chorus falls to silence, it’s expected to hear some of the recorded hall reverberation. Since audiophiles often add dispersion to create a more live sound, the natural decay of the recorded sound will now have a new and even longer delay. And musical information will be obscured. Audiophiles who are used to adding dispersed speaker/room reverberations to their sound are always amazed to hear the natural sound from the same recording when it is revealed. It’s almost as if the emotional content of the music had been hidden. And the system sounds more realistic, and surprisingly, even more live. When we consider the import of the silence between the notes, why should we wish to diminish what the composers and performers intended? In other words, do we want our system to continue to reverberate and change the impact that was intended? Speaker manufacturers of yore presented “live vs recorded” demos. One of the most successful in their demos was Acoustic Research. AR discovered that even a recording of solo voice could be changed unacceptably when room effects were added to the recording. The solution? Record the soloist in an acoustically dead space. Then the playback room sound being added would work better for the comparison when compared to the same live voice in the same room. Otherwise, allowing the room sound to add to the natural acoustic of the voice recording fundamentally changed the sound, on many levels. Why disperse ugly sound? Seriously, you ask! What I mean by “ugly sound” is the sound of a loudspeaker off-axis. When measured off-axis, the response of any loudspeaker isn’t very pretty. In fact, it is seriously compromised. This is due to beaming at crossover points as well as the natural roll-off of certain frequencies off-axis. The overall frequency response is far removed from smooth or flat. So why would we wish to disperse an admittedly poor sound – a sound that will introduce unnatural acoustic colorations into our playback listening experience? When I wrote Get Better Sound, I mentioned that I thought the best audio playback listening environment was probably slightly “live”. In the past eight years or so, that opinion has evolved a bit. Now I would prefer neutral and even slightly to the “less live” side of neutral. Amazingly, “live” concert recordings sound even more live (because we aren’t hearing the room interacting which provides a somewhat false sounding reverberant field). I sometimes describe this live recorded sound as atmospheric – it’s almost uncanny how the audience reacts to the performers. The same occurs with acoustical recordings of all types. The performance simply sounds more real, more believable and this more musically involving. After having discovered this aspect of musical involvement, I modified my listening room to be slightly less acoustically live than neutral. FWIW - I had always received outstanding comments about it, even before the most recent changes. However, since this was done, RoomPlay Reference visitors have consistently raved more strongly about the listening experience. Comments have ranged from “Didn’t know this was possible” to “Best (or “One of the best”) I ever heard”, to “Most Natural”, “…the whole system was absolutely incredible!”, etc. If you can, you should book a RoomPlay Reference session to hear what optimum Dynamics, Presence & Tone can do for your musical engagement. This preference is generally better served with so-called "dedicated" listening rooms. Of course the majority of rooms are not dedicated. So how might we make our listening rooms reveal more music, while keeping them as rooms that are enjoyable to live in? For living areas, the solution may lie in portability. For music listening while entertaining, or as a wonderful background music system, leave things as they are. When you want to hear what you paid for, with enhanced musical engagement/emotional response as the goal, there are several inexpensive/portable options to consider. Due to the time restraints in producing this newsletter, they will have to be presented in the next issue. If you want to get started before then, or if you simply have specific questions, we can do individual 25-minute StraightTalk sessions - http://getbettersound.com/straighttalk.html. This would apply to those who have dedicated rooms as well. The goal is to be able to adjust your living area room for optimum dedicated listening in about five minutes (which means that another five will be required at the end of the session to restore your home to its former look and feel).

  2. Quasi-near field (NF) listening This one is not so popular either, if it is considered at all. But it