Hello Vinyl (Part II)

I initially left the turntable in the trunk of my car. Upon returning to SoundHounds, I didn’t see the gentleman who helped me on my previous trip. Nevertheless, I got talking to one of the guys about my interest in the Rotel A12 and a pair of ELAC-UNIFI bookshelf speakers, primarily for listening to music including vinyl. He said that’s a good setup, but for a similar price I might prefer pairing the Rotel with a pair of Bowers and Wilkins S685 R2s. I should give ‘em both a listen and see which set I prefer. I asked if he would mind if I got my turntable and some records out of my car? No problem at all, he’d get the rest of the kit together.

Set up in one of the listening rooms, we switched back and forth between the sets of speakers. During this process, he uncovered an issue with the way I had configured the balance weight on the turntable as well as my lack of sufficient pressure while applying the head / phono cartridge to the tone arm. After successfully troubleshooting the setup, we got busy switching between speakers and testing between the ELACs and Bowers and Wilkins across a few of the records. In the end my take on the speakers were the the ELACs were more “responsive” and “punchy” but the Bowers and Wilkins were “warmer” and “fuller”, which I preferred. Having come to agreeable pricing including some custom speaker cables, which I had no interest in doing myself with 4 banana plugs on one end, we had a deal. 

The speakers were on-order, the cables had to be fabricated; though not instant gratification, the timeliness of everything was reasonable – a week? All went to schedule. In the meantime, I ordered an in-wall rated optical cable from Amazon to connect the TV. Now to set all this up and get to listening to records – comparing that sound to the sound of Apple Music via an AppleTV 4K and a Sony XBR65X930D.

My verdict, with this setup, was that whether the record or the digital sounded better depended on the record. Of my four records only one sounded noticeably better on vinyl than digital. The Zhu, GenerationWhy, Limited Edition Coloured Vinyl was noticeably better sounding than the Apple Music Version. The horns seemed fuller, or further forward in the mix than the digital variant. The nostalgic love was real; but I was perplexed as to why the other records fell flat…

Hello Vinyl (Part I)

As much as vinyl may be a superior way to listen to music, the internet is a fabulous medium for initial research. My web research, on modern hi-fi, was buoyed by the Audiophiliac on Cnet. I found his articles entertaining and full of genuine voice as well as a passion for his subject matter. This article, in particular, was my jumping off point.

From that article the Pro-Ject Carbon Debut caught my attention; of course, I knew NAD amplifiers, but I didn’t like the idea of preamps, one for digital and another for analogue records cluttering up my already cluttered media centre. The Magnepan speakers weren’t going to work in my space as I needed something that could be close to the wall but not mounted on the wall and thereby competing with the TV for wall space. Bookshelf speakers were the thing. Though I have a lot of respect for Klipsch components, I would be replacing a set of powered Klipsch 2.1 computer speakers after 15+ years – I was looking for something different.

I learned about ELAC and their newer higher end Uni-fi series. I was enamoured with the story of Andrew Jones, a Robin Hood / Johnny Ives of speaker design taking his high end experience and making affordable hi-fi speakers. 

To address my clutter conundrum, Rotel seemed to be my knight in shining armour, yet another hi-fi brand I hadn’t heard of, with only one authorized dealer in my sleepy hometown – SoundHounds.

SoundHounds has been around longer than me. My parents bought their Harmon Kardon and Boston Acoustics hi-fi system there more than 30 years ago. I headed down to the spot they’d been situated at for the shop’s whole existence and looked around. ELAC – check, Rotel – check, Pro-Ject check… no prices on anything but I had an idea of MSRP and as I talked to one of the gentlemen working there, the prices seemed in line. The service was friendly, encouraging a try before you buy, listen to various components, bring your own pieces if you like mentality. However, nervous of the mounting price of my bundle I started to wonder if there might not be a more affordable turntable with a staged roll-out, rather than a big bang. I left the store without making any purchases or having them hook anything up for me to listen to.

Back home and online, after looking at more reviews, I settled on the Audio Technica LP3. I could get that as a first purchase, use the built-in phono amp to use it with my powered speakers, as an interim setup, and get to listening to my brother’s records sooner rather than later, or at least with a smaller initial price tag. 

Ordered from Amazon the turnable arrived super quick, and as I went about setting it up and connecting to my powered speakers, all sorts of static and issues ensued while trying to get it working. It was time to open up the wallet and re-visit SoundHounds, and this time I would bring the turntable and records with me…

Hello Darkness

On January 26th my wonderfully millennial younger step brother, at the age of 36, passed away. For less than a year, he knowingly fought skin cancer that had metastasized. In life he had succeeded where boomers and us x-ers had largely given up. He had avoided falling prey to the contemporary iteration of the ’50’s suburban dystopia and its creature comforts. Millennials, it seems, by and large have taken up this struggle in their own way. Many are narrowly avoiding life in a cubicle. My brother, in his last few years, was a successful entrepreneur, his own boss, and had succeeded in living his life his own way, on his own terms, and thereby having many adventures in his relatively short years.

For what would be our last Christmas gift exchange I had drawn his name. Knowing he hadn’t much appetite, nor the ability to consume alcohol, I had suggested to him that I could select some records. Despite years of near nomadic living, he had always been a connoisseur of vinyl, including a stint as a DJ; he was stoked on the idea.

With records recently outselling digital, excluding subscriptions/streaming, it was a simple matter of visiting my local purveyor “Ditch Records”. The last time I was in a record store, I wasn’t yet tall enough to see above the bins. Though, I had my very own version of Corey Hart’s record with the hit “Sunglasses at night” on it, most of my music as a youth was on tape cassettes and later CDs; my first CD being a Christmas gift – Tom Cochrane, “Mad Mad World” circa ’91.

For my brother’s 2017 Christmas, I picked out some of my recent, favourite albums, which happened to be in stock at the local shop.

Zhu – Generationwhy*

*with a “Limited Edition Colour Vinyl” sticker on it.

Allan Rayman – Roadhouse 01

Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams 

Ben Howard – Every Kingdom 

So I’d spent more than our alleged limit – so what. These were some of my current favourites, and I had hoped he would enjoy them.

Following our family Christmas festivities, my brother returned to his new hometown, and four weeks later passed away. I was shocked. Post death, the records were returned to me, sad and still shrink-wrapped. Having no record player myself, but having long held a curiosity regarding my brother’s interest, a new exploration beckoned… What is a good beginner audiophile setup? Why is vinyl the new hotness? Does it really sound better? What is this limited edition colour vinyl? Does it matter? How does this all work? What does it all mean? And what was my brother on about?

Our next instalment on exploring [the] art [of vinyl] will be on my process of researching and buying a Hi-Fi, which, as in most things, wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound.

Join a collective!

Because work, school and life aren’t busy enough, as evident by a complete lack of activity on your blog, you should join a collective. No seriously, trust me – I joined one and it has been great!

Continental Shelf is a writers’ collective formed by some feisty University of Victoria undergraduate writing students.  Why that name? Because we’re on the edge; the edge of our writing careers, the edge of academia, the edge of western Canada, and also because of books!

Last night at Solstice Cafe, Continental Shelf orchestrated its first public event, and it was a fabulous time.

Sean Michaels from Said The Gramophone read two excerpts from his debut novel Us Conductors. Jo, from the collective, led a fantastic interview, touching on what drives one to write and the phase shift form writer to novelist. Munro’s was there selling copies of the beautiful book, and Sean got busy writing inscriptions. Lastly theremin art-pop band Cleopatra & the Nile finished off the night with a performance encompassing a backdrop of black and white films, projected off a reel, while the duo channelled haunting theremin and synth sounds.

Also don’t be fooled by Solstice Cafe’s website – they’re licensed for more than just beer!

For me the highlight of the night, other than camaraderie of course, was Sean’s commentary, and yes I’m paraphrasing, on the cacophony of thematic interrelationships that drove the creation of Us Conductors. For me it was a glimpse into the magic actions, and interactions, that engenders something greater than the whole, pulsing electricity, that overcomes the many barriers and ultimately creates art.

 

2013 is over.

2013 Insights

School:

My 3rd calendar year of courses at Uvic is now complete. This year I successfully transitioned from a Fine Arts Diploma student to a Creative Writing Undergraduate student (2nd Degree program). In total I’ve engaged in seven semester equivalent classes, 4 of which were in Writing, and I’ve learned that:

  • I’m energized by creative writing
  • despite my enthusiasm, creative writing is harder than it looks
  • 2 classes every semester, on-top of everything else, is ambitious
  • I quickly grasp concepts – but always require more practice
  • (Critique) Workshops are essential to improve as a writer

Blog:

In an ode to irony, while my interest in writing has skyrocketed, my posts on exploring-art.com have plummeted. Only six posts in 2013, but I’ve learned that people like:

  • Pictures (select, not too many)
  • Cocktails (or maybe that’s just me)
  • Concise observations on writing (and life)

Looking Ahead:

2014 is going to be great! I’m registered in two classes next semester, I’m committing to at least one exploring-art.com post a month (including either a picture, cocktail, or concise observation), and I’m going to play more squash this year (this shouldn’t be hard I’m pretty sure I didn’t play any squash last year).

Happy new year’s – here’s to the year ahead, and turning over new leaves. Cheers!

 

Photo Excursion 6: Scale at Sea

Happy Sunday (and Father’s Day)!

Here’s a few more photos from my recent putter around B.C.’s Gulf Islands.

My writing goals and my local reading aspirations are already in jeopardy as summer, though it has yet to officially arrive,  seems to be slipping by. I must double down on my resolve, and create more time to read and write.

Have a fabulous week regardless of how you choose to spend it!

Photo Excursion 5: A Critter and Two Birds

Alright people! Good news all around. I’ve been admitted into Uvic’s writing program!

I’m also out and about with my Dad on his ship, enjoying some quality time with family and researching the coast for my great Canadian novel.

Here’s a few photos to celebrate – a critter, and two birds.

Review: Finding Your Element

Sir Ken Robinson is back with a sequel and companion to The Element, read on for a full review.

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Disclaimer: I’m a Sir Ken Robinson fan. Since I shelved my scepticism in 2011, I’ve been enthusiastic in every respect. From the video marathon to the retrospective epiphany, and my final review of The Element, my take has been persistently positive – this post will be no different in that regard!

Finding Your Element – How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life is, as the title suggests, a how to guide on launching your “personal quest” to discover your Element. In that respect, perhaps, I’m not the primary target audience for Sir Ken Robinson’s newest creation. My personal quest is already well underway, hence this blog, my enrolment in UVic’s Fine Arts Diploma program, and my pending application to once more join the ranks of undergraduate students, this time in UVic’s Creative Writing program. My quest was launched by an outward scoff and an internal dialogue sparked by the cover of The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. I thought to myself:

“Thanks Ken – helpful. As if I didn’t already know that… Do something you love and never have to work a day in your life… check… I can’t believe people pay for and read books, just to be told that…”

“Well, what are you doing about finding your passion?”

“Uhmm, nothing… apparently I’m looking for it in the self-help section of my local book store, and scoffing at what I see…”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“Uhhmm…”

“Well what are you passionate about?”

“Uhhmmm… I like architecture and design…”

“And how are you pursuing those passions?”

“Erhh I’m not… really”

“Because…?”

“Uhh… Look I’m really busy! I say I’m passionate about these things but I can’t ever find the time. It’s hopeless, for me, without a schedule… an enforced schedule with structure and deadlines, otherwise all my best intentions get blown away in the exhale from daily life.”

“So…?”

“I… I guess I need that structure… “

“Mhhmm?”

“I guess I could get it by enrolling in a course… Okay – I’ll start by looking for courses available in town!”

And so my quest had begun. The first and most essential step taken without actually picking up Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element – my conversion to fan of the book and the man came later.

Fast forward – what does Finding Your Element offer to would be readers?

It offers the same motivational, relatable, balanced and hopeful package as The Element. It’s offered in the same humorous, easy to read prose – but this time it’s more personal. It’s about the reader and their personal quest and is full of exercises, suggestions and tools to help readers plan and commit to that essential first step.

The stories of people inside seem more focused on every-day people and less focused on people who became rock star savants, though of course there is some of that. The book also contains a more robust conversation on how a person can have more than one Element, and how it can change over time. Besides the laughter and the motivation to continue my quest, the most useful thing for me inside Finding Your Element was the recognition that for most of us who are just starting to cultivate our Element, it takes sustained effort, which can feel like work. But it’s work you enjoy doing, it’s work you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid,  and as you hone your raw “aptitude” into a bonafide “ability,” you enjoy the journey, you see your progress, you “get it,” and you continue to push forward hoping to achieve more regularly the nirvana of being in your Element.

As I aspire to write a great Canadian novel, these messages are timely. It’s work, it takes time, but I do enjoy it; When I’m in the flow I do lose track of time, and I do believe my writing ability is getting better week by week. I’m doing it without getting paid, in-fact I’m actively investing in honing the “ability,” an investment that’s likely never to make a financial return. Yet, taking pleasure in getting better at something creative, productive, and moving towards spending a larger portion of my life immersed in that – I think it’s worth any price.

Creative Challenge 14: Local List

Spring is here gang! The spectre of snow dissipating, courses wrapping up, either with whimpers or bangs, and the budding of summer plans.

There’s no better time to start creating a list of local experiences you’d like to take in over the coming months. That’s your challenge! Mine includes authors, libations, shopping, arts and more.

If you start looking around you might be surprised by all that’s out your own backdoor. Be sure to share!

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Local Author – Reading List 

  1. Bill Gaston – The Order of Good Cheer
  2. John Gould – 7 Reasons Not to Be Good 
  3. Carla Funk – Apologetic
  4. Jack Hodgins – A Passion for Narrative  
  5. Yasuko Thanh – Floating Like the Dead
  6. Lorna Crozier – The Book of Marvels

Local Libations

  1. Beaufort Winery
  2. Schramm Potato Vodka 

Local Arts

  1. Art Gallery of Victoria – Traces 
  2. Belfry Season Ticket renewal

Local Groceries

  1. Dan’s Farm 
  2. Root Cellar 

Locally Owned Spots

(in a shrinking downtown core)
  1. Brasserie L’ecole 
  2. Outlooks 
  3. Belmiro’s 
  4. Only Human 
  5. Munro’s Books 
  6. Russell’s Books

There’s my list of local amusements for the summer months ahead – make a list and share!