Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Just a Small Technical Note

Salamone Rossi was an Italian Jewish composer and musician who lived during the Renaissance. You can find out more about him here.

I first made the acquaintance of Rossi’s music last Hanukkah, when I sang one of his choral pieces during a benefit performance for a local synagogue. Well, “made the acquaintance of” is putting it a bit mildly. I was instantly blown away by this fantastic music and deeply regretted not having discovered it much earlier in my life.

So, some time later, I sent away for some CDs of Salamone Rossi’s choral synagogue music. They arrived a few days ago, and I have been listening ecstatically ever since. For those who are interested, it’s both volumes of The Songs of Solomon: Music for the Sabbath and Holiday and Festival Music. (Rossi also wrote secular music in his native Italian, which I hope to get for myself soon as well.)

But that’s not the real reason I’m writing this post.

As soon as I removed the plastic wrapping from the first CD and opened it, the following text leaped out at me from the disc:

NOTE: For optimum playback, the listening level should be adjusted so that the first 10 seconds of track 1 have an average sound pressure of 80 dB SPL A-weighted, and a peak sound pressure level of 84 dB SPL A-weighted, measured from the listening position.

This kind of remark doesn’t appear on most CDs I’ve seen. Intrigued, I opened the booklet and found an entire section of technical information, including a list of every microphone and other piece of equipment that had been used to create the CD. And as I scanned all this technical data, barely able to understand what I was reading, I closed my eyes for a moment and smiled to myself. Ray would have gotten an enormous kick out of seeing this, I thought. He would have been delighted.

You see, Ray didn’t just know about sound. Ray knew sound. I could swear that the man could see sound waves right in front of him as easily as I can see my alarm clock in the morning. He also spoke its language. As I typed the technical note above, I felt like I was copying words from an ancient and foreign tongue. But Ray was right at home in it—and he could easily translate it into a language that laypeople could understand. And his translations were always generous and gracious and fun.

In my mind’s eye, I can see what Ray would have done if I could have shown him the CDs. He would have listened to them from start to finish, figuring out which recording techniques had been used without needing even a glance at the booklet. With his amazing sense of sound, he probably would have been able to tell where each individual singer had stood in relation to the microphone. Then he would have suggested techniques of his own. And based on what I know of Ray’s work—far too little, to my everlasting regret, but enough to appreciate how amazing it was—it’s likely that his techniques would have been even better.

Come to think of it, Salamone Rossi and Ray had quite a few things in common. Both were Renaissance men (even if one of them lived during the actual Renaissance while the other lived several hundred years later), of Italian descent, independent thinkers, excellent composers and musicians and very much ahead of their time. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that my CDs of Rossi’s music arrived right around the time of Ray’s birthday, just a few days ago.

And if it wasn’t a coincidence, then perhaps I can let myself believe that maybe, just maybe, all that technical information on the CD, which for me might as well be ancient Greek, was in fact the briefest flash of a wink and a grin from the Other Side.

(Visit Ray’s website, and check out his albums, With the Help of Angels and Poor Working Slob, at CD Baby.)

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