J.S. BACH: Art of the Fugue; BUXTEHUDE: Prelude in d; BACH: Prelude & Fugue in G Minor – Paul Jordan, organ – Brioso Transaural Recording

by | Nov 23, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

J.S. BACH: Art of the Fugue; BUXTEHUDE: Prelude in d; BACH:
Prelude & Fugue in G Minor – Paul Jordan, organ – Brioso Recordings
in Cooper Bauck Transaural Stereo BR 128 (2 CDs) 65:18, 58:10 **** [www.brioso.com]:

First, the musical side of this set: It’s a thoroughly prepared and
executed performance by a much-recorded organist who has appeared on
national TV and NPR and performed in over a hundred cities around the
world. He studied at and was active in the New Haven-Yale community, as
well as in Germany, and holds graduate degrees from three institutions.
The instrument is the Anton Heiller Memorial Organ, built in Eugene,
Oregon for the Church of Seventh Day Adventists in Collegedale,
Tennessee.  With 70 stops in 108 ranks it is tuned in well
temperament in the manner of J.S. Bach, and is regarded as one of the
finest instruments of its kind in the U.S. Although The Art of the
Fugue was not created specifically as an organ work, it is in either
this form or on the harpsichord that it is most familiar to most
listeners.  Since Bach left it up in the air, any performance of
the monumental work is smitten with the feeling of a transcription of
sorts. It is an abstract work, but it is about the various melodic
lines, which Bach so amazingly takes thru a whole world of variation
and expression. The proper selection of stops and careful phrasing can
spell the difference between a magnificent multi-voiced contrapuntal
structure and one which runs together in a muddy hodgepodge. Jordan
makes the work come alive (though it doesn’t quite replace my favorite
version – played by a saxophone quartet). The 60-page note booklet is
highly detailed and analyzes each of the fugues in the complete
cycle.  There are also notes on the instrument and the recording
process.

That brings up the unusual sonic approach used on these discs. The
original recording was made employing the Aachen Head Acoustics
binaural dummy head.  Built to simulate a human head and
shoulders, it has two sensitive microphones in the left and right ears
of the dummy head which in standard binaural recordings provide the two
audio channels which are kept separate all the way to the listener’s
stereo headphones. The result is that the listener is placed sonically
at the same point the dummy head was located, and can experience the
full spatial effect around one in 360 degrees. This is especially
important in pipe organ recordings which have so many complex sound
reflections from the various pipes and surfaces of the church or
cathedral. It can serve to deepen ones’ emotional involvement in the
music.

The Cooper Bauck transaural process is a special computer algorithm
which derives head-related correction signals from the left and right
binaural channels – allowing them to be reproduced thru loudspeakers
instead of headphones.  The two speakers used should be about 20
degrees apart and the listener seated at the apex of a triangle, as
with normal stereo listening, but closer. (The idea is to reduce
hearing reflected sound in the room.) The algorithm cancels out the
signal from the left speaker which reaches the right ear and vice versa
with the signal from the right speaker. The result is superior to
headphone-specific listening in several ways: There is no problem of
imaging the sounds within one’s skull, as some headphone listeners tend
to do; the very lowest frequencies can reach the listener’s body and
thereby increase the realism of the experience (not possible with
headphones), the primary sound source always stays solidly in front
(some binaural headphone listeners tend to hear sounds either elevated
in front or moving behind them), and the listener can move his/her head
without the source of the music appearing to slide in the opposite
direction.

I found the effect somewhat similar to Bob Carver’s Sonic Holography,
but less subtle and with a wider sweet spot when everything was
properly set up. Things to consider are to turn off the center and
surround speakers if you have a surround system, to make certain the
left-right balance is set correctly, and to sit rather close to the
speakers – three to six feet.  The process can simulate sounds to
the sides and behind you, which Sonic Holography cannot do, and it
sounds more natural than some of the current processes for creating a
pseudo-surround sound from just a front pair of speakers. A circuit in
Lexicon surround processors achieves a similar result, but the sweet
spot is only a couple inches wide, giving a more tied-down feeling than
wearing headphones. However, the Cooper Bauck is not quite as
transporting an experience as the very best binaural recording on the
very best headphones – that is if your particular hearing and brain
allows you to image the sounds outside of your head and mostly in front
of you. But it is certainly has many advantages, and can be heard even
with inexpensive gear.

– John Sunier

 

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