“Cliché – an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.” – Wikipedia
Dial-a-cliché. In the hifi demo music world, it’s Boz Scaggs, Rebecca Pidgeon, “Hotel California”, Gaucho, “The Girl From Ipanema”, “Take Five”, Dark Side Of The Moon, “Keith Don’t Go” and, queen of them all, Diana Krall.
The why is crystal clear: an exhibitor has only a few minutes to make a favourable impression and fear of failure is one helluva motivator; better to stick to the tried and true than risk alienating one’s audience with the shock of the new. This sees many a show exhibitor forever locked into playing from last year’s hard drive.
Another hifi world cliché: manufacturers and their distributors talking up the need to attract a younger audience. We hear this year in, year out…but little changes.
Quoting myself from 2016: “Of course, for show regulars this skinny genre diet is nothing out of the ordinary. Audio shows across the world sound like this. However, one might reasonably ask: is high end audio’s talk of capturing the imagination of the next generation of audiophiles nothing more than lip service?”
You tell me. Here’s a video snapshot of High End Hong Kong from August 2016:
And here’s a highlight reel from a mid-2016 event down under:
How about something more recent and European? Highlights from the Norddeustche HiFi-Tage held in Hamburg in February 2017 can be seen/heard here:
Two big problems with clichéd demo music choices: 1) nothing is being said that hasn’t been said a thousand times before and 2) the audience remains the same.
It’s not just exhibitors. The more the dominant show attendee demographic – middle-aged dudes – are exposed to this narrow diet of same-same, the more subconsciously resistant to change they become. I’m sure we’ve all been there when a room host dared to play a tune that reached beyond blues or a string quartet only to see Old UpHimself leave the room, quickly and with an audible grumble.
The irony is that audio show attendee complaints about exhibitors’ clichéd music choices are now so numerous that they too have become a cliché. Hanging a “Diana Krall Free Zone” sign outside your demo room door? How cliché!
Munich High End 2017 is less than two weeks away. Attendance by yours truly these past four years tells me that exhibitor music selections are consistent in their overall tendency towards a certain sameness. The likes of Zu and Gamut provide some relief but they’re outliers in the long grass.
Here’s how it played out in Munich last year:
And here’s another dose:
Think of the 40 million songs available on Qobuz and/or Tidal. Now consider the number of different tunes spun at an average audio show: they probably number a thousand at best. Can the remaining 39,009,000 songs ALL be so poorly recorded and/or mastered as not to be worthy of hifi demo consideration?
It’s also worth remembering that consumers don’t only make purchasing decisions based upon left-brain activity. Emotions play a significant part in our choices. The ‘best’ song isn’t always the best sounding. Sometimes it’s the song that packs the biggest emotional punch.
If we’re lucky, we can have both. Unearthing such gems takes effort and time.
Highly likely that audio engineers spend so much time engineering that they find precious little time at the end of the working week for new music discovery. How about we give ’em a helping hand…
Off the top of my head, I might go with:
- Lambchop – Old Matchbook Trick
- Rammstein – Heirate Mich
- Forest Swords – The Highest Flood
- Clark – Hoova
- Low – Witches
- Mercury Rev – Everlasting Arm
- Giant Sand – Stranded Pearl
- DJ Hell – Car Car Car
- Richard Thompson – Mingus Eyes (Live from Austin TX)
Among each trio of tunes: one electronic piece to test dynamic drama, bass reach and detail excavation; one acoustically dominant number for tone, timbre and layer separation; and one that pulls on a system’s ability to handle complexity.
Side note: large orchestral pieces and opera don’t feature here because this site is squarely aimed at the more contemporary music fan: the kind of guy/gal who reads Pitchfork, Uncut and Factmag. It’s a sad fact that electronic music fans are rarely catered to at show. The odd cut from Kraftwerk or Yello. Trentmoller if your’e REALLY lucky.
Which three songs would you use to show off a hifi system? Perhaps it’s your system. Perhaps it’s one that you dream of owning one day. Let us know your THREE (3) favourite hifi demo songs in the comments section below. Try to steer clear of clichéd choices.
The best entry, the one that shows the most original thought and musical variety, as chosen by Roon Labs and myself, wins a lifetime Roon membership (valued at US$499).
Entries close midnight 31st May 2017. The winner will be notified via email soon thereafter. The judges’ decision is final, no cash alternative offered, yadda yadda.