Feb 122010
 

Among the many joys of moderating Rock Town Hall is getting turned onto musical perspectives new participants who stumble into our hallowed halls feel comfortable putting on display and then possibly getting to know a bit about the people themselves. There’s so much an opinionated rock nerd like myself can assume and so many opportunities for those assumptions to make an ass of you and me. The outrageous assumptions we make can be an ongoing source of fun, provided they allow for some true dialog.

A recent thread by Townsman BigSteve on the reissue extravaganza surrounding RTH icon Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music gave me yet another chance to have a giggle, in part, to cover my ignorance on the subject at hand. To my surprise and delight, however, the topic attracted a new Townsperson to our ranks who goes by the RTH handle armyofquad. His personal tale in the Comments (read here and here and here) of helping to instigate the reissue of this controversial album in many of the formats in which Lou intended his work to be heard was both inspiring and too interesting to let slide with nothing more than our beloved giggles. I contacted armyofquad offlist to ask if he’d be willing to field some questions from a music lover who’s gone 46 years being completely ignorant of quadraphonic sound and newer surround-sound media.

Talk about assumptions, I assumed armyofquad was at least my age and possibly even one of those “audiophile asshole” guys I dreaded from my youth, you know, the kind of guys who were more interested in Japanese imports of some godawful fusion band because it highlighted the highs and lows of their kick-ass hi-fi system. It turns out, he’s 30 years old, a musician himself, and a lover of music itself before the technology. As is so often the case, I was happy to learn that I am an idiot who still can’t get past a few teenage scars!

BigSteve, another intelligent Townsman who’s less likely to make broad assumptions and who’s also managed to learn little to nothing about quadraphonic sound in his years in front of stereo speakers, contributed to the following questions. Townsman armyofquad provded answers that he hopes will not get too technical for our fellow neophytes. I hope you enjoy this chat with a fellow Townsman over a musical niche as much as I did. As a takeaway message, as long as we keep an open mind to new perspectives, our ribbing is doing its job to “tenderize” ourselves to true rock dialog rather than simply hardening our armor with snark. Let’s get it on, shall we?

RTH: Thanks for agreeing to discuss your interest and experiences in quadraphonic sound. As a guy who’s challenged by all audiophile issues, some of these questions are likely to be “dumb.” But as a math teacher once told me, “There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers.”

Because we met you through the recent Metal Machine Music thread, let’s start with Lou Reed in quadraphonic sound. Did Lou release anything else in quad? Is there a non-quad Lou Reed album you’d most love to hear in that format?

armyofquad: Metal Machine Music is the only Lou Reed album to have been released in quad. I would love to hear more Lou Reed in quad or surround. I think Transformer, Rock ‘n Roll Animal, and Berlin would be great in surround.

RTH: You said in our MMM thread that someone gave you a quadraphonic system and that you got into the format that way. Did you have an interest in any other high fidelity systems prior to that, or was quadraphonic sound your
first foray into a deeper level of appreciating recorded music?

armyofquad: By the time I had gotten that first quad system when I was in high school, I had already gone through a few different older stereo systems that were handed down to me by family members. When I got into college and got on the internet, that allowed me to start more research into quadraphonic, and sound systems in general. So, I certainly already had an interest, but while I was getting into quad I also at the same time got more into high fidelity, and picking up better stereo equipment to try a piece together a better system. My current system continues to be a work in process.

RTH: What is the rationale for quadraphonic sound and current-day formats, like Dolby 5.1 sound? We only have two ears, so isn’t stereo sound natural
and ideal?

armyofquad: The “2 ears” argument is a common argument from some. There are still those that will claim mono is better than stereo. But, in the real world, sound surrounds us. We have the capability of detecting whether sound comes from in front of us or behind us with our 2 ears. Surround sound offers someone more freedom when creating an album in the studio.

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  10 Responses to “It Takes an Army of Quad”

  1. alexmagic

    I’m insulted by the implication that I don’t already own several ELO releases with quadraphonic mixes on them. My copies of the quad mixes of “Mr. Radio” and “Whisper in the Night” and I say good day to you, sir.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    I owe you one, Magic Man! Sorry.

  3. alexmagic

    I SAID GOOD DAY!

  4. A brilliant and informative interview with a REALLY cool and helpful person. My compliments to all extraquadinary town peoples involved.

  5. Well said, writehear now. I heartly concur.

    I believe the new Nick Cave reissues come with 5.1 mixes. He’s certainly not an artist one associates with audiophiles. I have the reissue of The Firstborn is Dead, which has a big, spooky, cavernous sound, and I can see how that would sound pretty awesome with the right equipment.

  6. diskojoe

    That was a pretty good interview & a good read.

    If any of you are interested in researching Quad in the ’70s, Google Books has back issues of Billboard Magazine from that period that has articles and ads for the equipment & records & even special issues dedicated to Quad.

  7. 2000 Man

    I had a Quad 8 Track when I was a kid. The stereo it was part of originally only came with two speakers, and you were supposed to buy the box next to it with two more for just a little extra. I ended up with some kind of Radio Shack’s for my second pair, and they sounded pretty good. I remember having several Quad 8 tracks, like The Best of The Doors. I didn’t really like the way that many speakers presented the soundstage. I kind of just like two speakers.

    My other complaint about Quad was everything was more expensive. The receiver, the cartridge and turntable (that’s why I just did the 8 track in Quad) and another pair of speakers. It turned whatever room you put it in into a decorating nightmare, trying to fit a stereo and four speakers in. My mom demanded it be in my room, not the extra room because then I’d move the furniture so I could hear all those speakers.

    I’d probably like it more if Malaysian kids had built stereo equipment in the 70’s. Then I could have afforded all that equipment. As it was, I felt that if I spent the same amount on a two channel system, I’d get a better stereo.

    That Doors album didn’t seem to benefit from the Quad experience at all. Dark Side of the Moon and Edgar Winter’s album with Frankenstein were kind of cool, but only in parts. It seemed to me that a lot of time it was like General Motors’ four speaker stereo setup in the old man’s Olds. They called it “Crossfire Stereo” and in the front, the left channel was on the left and the right was on the right. In the back, the right was on the left and the left was on the right. The effect was essentially mono using four speakers.

  8. @ 2000 Man

    I really enjoyed the clear sightedness of your recall. VERY interesting memories popping up there with the 8 track stereo in cars thing. I remember having ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery on 8 track in quad. I believe the case was pink in color. I also remember listening to Physical Graffiti on 8 track in the car only I am pretty certain it wasn’t Quad. I think the last 8 track I ever bought was Grand Funk’s Born To Die.

    You’re whole offering was great. Thanks!

    PS. You most likely already know, but just in case you don’t: I bet you would really enjoy the SACDs that have been released of some of those old Quad mixes. I think most of them sound much better than the original Quad mixes. (sacrilege!) That center channel action does a lot for the sound imagery. With the delay settings that one can control on most AVRs these days, you can get some awesome imagery and detail.

  9. BigSteve

    I wonder if they do quad mixes of string quartets where each instrument is in its own channel. Wouldn’t that be weird, to feel like you were sitting in amongst the players?

    When I’m at the movies, I always think it’s weird when sound comes from behind me. I don’t like the feeling of being ‘in the middle of the action.’ Come to think of it, I don’t like that feeling in real life either. I guess it’s just my nature to keep my distance.

    I will refrain from mentioning Brecht’s concept of the ‘distancing effect,’ and I won’t use his word — Verfremdungseffekt — because you guys might think that was pretentious.

  10. I’ve not heard a string quartet quad mix done like that, but there have been classical quad mixes done that put the listener in the middle of the orchestra, which is an interesting way to listen. But that seems to be frowned upon now. There was a quad release of Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra that had this kind of mix. The album cover artwork shows the arrangement of the instruments around the listener, and has an explanation in the gatefold cover. This performance was reissued on SACD, with the same front cover artwork showing the layout of instruments around the listener (the same artwork was used for the original stereo issue as well), and the SACD also included 5.1 surround. Except that they didn’t use the quad mix, or attempt to mix it anything like it. They just put some reverb in the back to try and simulate a concert hall. It was quite disappointing.

 
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