Not exactly a Wheel of Fortune “before and after” clue, but my 2 day trip to Aberdeen, Scotland was full of musical and cultural references.
Despite being within 100 miles of the Macallan estate, I did not venture over to get the origin story of the amber spirit that powered Neil Peart through multiple Rush tours (and is well documented in his musical and motorcycle tour books).
Roger Dean, the artist famous for his Yes album cover art, once said that he drew inspiration from the rocky Scottish coast. I opened my talk with the cover of Yessongs, depicting what could be sea stacks, taken with liberal artistic license, and perhaps a few drams of Macallan. The point was that disruption typically comes from pulling ideas across domains, whether new applications of automation or transforming the Scottish coast into 70s prog rock art.
The city of Aberdeen reminded me of a cross between Pittsburgh and Jerusalem – it’s sparkly (mica infused) granite, and when the sun reflects off of the wet stone the old city practically shimmers like the polished sandstone facades of Jerusalem. It’s an even older city, settled for nearly eight milennia and recognized as a city since the 12th century. Part of my geographic and history lesson included the etymology of “Aberdeen” – “the mouth of the river Dee” – a modern industrial city (North Sea oil) sited on a river drew additional parallels to Pittsburgh.
Upon hearing about the derivation of “Aberdeen” I had to ask about the “firths” – inlets or bays. First thought was of course the Genesis song “Firth of Fifth,” with hope that it referred to some real place. The song’s lyrics seem overwhelmingly appropriate for the terrain, the coast, the sea faring life, and the rolling hills replete with (large bore) cows and sheep; it captures a certain haunting melancholy I felt while camped in a miniature version of the Balmoral castle. Sadly, there is a Firth of Forth (and a pair of football teams, named Firth and Fortha leading to unwieldy tongue-twisting scores like “Forth 5 Firth 4”), but the Firth of Fifth exists only in Peter Gabriel’s expansive imagination.
It’s a beautiful country, taking the time to visit and photograph the myriad northern castles would exhaust the full Genesis catalog, but sampling the variety of single malt scotches would make it a truly heady trip.
[ed note: This was originally posted as a page, but wasn’t getting any traction, and in an effort to clean up the site a bit I’m moving the content into the mainline. Plus I’ve been trying to squeeze ever lower frequencies out of my Sonos sub, using the TruePlay software to offset the minor dropped ceiling rattle it sometimes induces.]
Subwoofers are snarky audio components: feed them the wrong audio, with the wrong level settings, and you feel like you’re in a subterranean basement that’s all low echo and no daylight. But gently place one in your listening room, set the levels to not overpower your over-200 Hz drivers, and listen to some tracks with pronounced bass, and you’re in heaven. There’s an indescribable feeling of being at a live show, with the bass pouring over you, undulating your shorts or shirt sleeves, and for a moment you not only hear the music but feel it, in phase, and it’s nothing short of catching a bit of ocean spray as you hear the wave crash and smell the salt.
I also love “bass in front” music. So I’m biased. But after a few weak attempts to place a subwoofer and drive it well, I’ve fallen in love with my Sonos Sub – much less dependent on room placement and with the Sonos controller’s ability to level adjust, I can take 6 or 8 decibels off the top and keep the kitchen furniture from rattling.
If you’re wondering what the fuss is about, listen to the following with and without a well-matched sub, and see if the deeper bottom transports you to that spot on the musical beach:
Yes, “Wurm”, from the end of “Starship Trooper” on “Yessongs”. This is the gold standard, with Chris Squire working the Moog Taurus bass pedals into a frenzy.
Genesis, “Squonk,” from “Seconds Out”. More bass pedals, more prog, more Mike Rutherford! If you’ve ever heard progressive rock referred to as “arena rock”, you get the idea here – that sound could fill a football stadium (American or European).
Rush, “Subdivisions,” preferably from the live “Clockwork Angels” set, but even the studio version. More bass pedals, sitting under Geddy’s synth playing.
Phish, Mansfield MA show from July 1, 2014. There are a few “brown notes” in there, and listen to the second set closer “Harry Hood” around the 14:00 mark.
Chalk up another transitive closure to amazon.com’s suggestion engine. While hunting for Yes “Live at Montreaux” on CD, I was presented with the concert mash-up of the last Genesis jaunt across Europe, appropriately titled “Live Over Europe 2007.” I ended up throwing a nice Rick Wakeman compliation (“Sixty Minutes With…”) and Asia’s “Fantasia Live in Tokyo” into my cart. Tuesday provided the perfect chance to audition all of the recent arrivals, as I had a trip to and from Newark airport along with a reasonable ride to a youth hockey league meeting. I’m disappointed that the Asia concert assembly didn’t include Steve Howe performing Clap, but on “Live at Montreaux” not only do we get Clap but the condensed game version of To Be Over with Howe on acoustic guitar, no lap steel, no other-Magnification required. It’s a great rendition of one of my favorite Yes tunes (I can’t further qualify it as favorite on the “Relayer” album because there are only three tracks on the whole thing).
Surprise, surprise, though, was the live Genesis CD. I was a bit disappointed in the Phil Collins vocals — while they’re crystal clear and the enunciation is better than most live recordings, he seems to have lost a bit of his range. The In the Cage medley, drawing on “Lamb Lies Down”, the Slippermen section of Cinema Show and the tail out of Duke’s Travels is spectacular — I listened to it three times before even popping in disc two of the set. The segue to Afterglow is very smooth (thank goodness for gapless playback on the iPod, or I won’t be able to listen to this one), but best of all, Firth of Fifth shows up, in pieces, with some Hackett-like guitar work by Mike Rutherford or Daryl Stuermer. Only thing missing (besides Supper’s Ready): instrument credits per track, to go along with the location credits for each.