In your strange bed, you feel like crap. That’s because the bed is in a sterile hospital room, lights biting in bright staccato neon. Just now the doctor saunters in. He is swarmed by a group of interns. A curt nod acknowledges your existence. Then he turns to the flushed acolytes. They begin discussing you in shiny but incomprehensible words of an alien language. The ‘you’ they fumble to analyse is clearly just this blob of aching flesh. Apparently, something with its neural wiring has malfunctioned. As they dissect possible cause to propose various diagnosis, the living breathing feeling ‘you’ recedes into a faraway distance. Whatever lights inside you had flickered before they walked in have now nearly gone out. You’ve already lost touch with yourself. You recede into nothing but a case file for budding medical intellects. The doctor even leaves scribbles to that effect on the clipboard at your feet. It adds further insult to the injury of that gaping hospital gown. As the animated groupies begin to drift out around their white head guppy, your feeling like crap begins to steam like a compost heap. But nobody notices. They’ve left already. Disconnect be damned. Time to check yourself out.
Voilà, the usual audio review.
Okay; dramatic license and that. But, if one purpose of a review is to fan enthusiasm about the learned art of fine music reproduction; if the purpose of the gear discussed is to serve that… then discussing it in tech terms which only the initiated understand treats a living breathing feeling thing like a clinical case study. It’s why the German word for hospital is actually Krankenhaus. It’s not a place to get better. It’s literally the ’home of the sick’. It’s where one goes to be ill. Where’s the real cure to be had? From an unqualified rave? It does communicate feverish enthusiasm. Check. Just as easily, it causes PPS, that dreaded purple-prose syndrome. Uncheck. That’s when readers feel the writer just got himself off in public. If he does it monthly, superlatives wear off quickly. Soon they face pending inner protest. Not everything the man reviews could possibly be this good. You’re perfectly willing to accept the occasional exception, the rare standout sighting. But month after month? C’mon. Even the church only believes in second – not third – comings. Time to check yourself out.
How about a qualified rave? If it smacks of fever, it still creates distance with any reader who doesn’t already have the fever. It’s like a teetotaller at a roaring drunk party. He watches but doesn’t participate. What he watches could seem interesting, even fun. But it’s also out of reach, happening to others, not himself. How then to communicate enthusiasm, a true find, the necessary tech data and the end (not just the means) of musical satisfaction? How to keep honest excitement transparent and hopefully infectious without defaulting into unnecessarily poetic language?
Weighings to that effect arose in the aftermath of my encounter with the Cube Audio Nenuphar when I had to decide how best to communicate it. Should I approach it in-the-zone style like a self-communicable contact high? That surely would convey the excitement. But would you be able to translate my experience into meaning and relevance for yourself? Would it smack of public masturbation instead? So I weighed, between whether to overwrite or underwrite; whether and by how much to curb personal enthusiasm into more sober shape; how to balance conflicting demands and expectations to avoid both PPS and the clinical effect. If you read my review, you’ll see how well I managed; or if I did, in fact.
Today’s KIH isn’t about success or failure. It just acknowledges the struggle and effort behind either. No matter where you come down on a specific review and how it fares on this matter, your simple appreciation that such writerly considerations will have gone on behind the scenes (or should have) will add to your reading experience and what you get out of it. Readers are made up of newbies and veterans, music-first types and tech types. It’s why magazine staffs have different writers. Their styles and approaches create variety and divergence to, hopefully, have something for everyone. If a single writer hopes to achieve something similar—cover the cold tech, the human interest angle, the sonic narrative, the experiential upshot for the listener—it gets more challenging. Failing at it doesn’t matter. Making the effort does. And I believe that most of us in this racket do exactly, that – by doing it over and over and over again, year in, year out, honing the craft, refining our sensibilities toward it so we become aware of our shortfalls and weaknesses to endeavour correcting them.
Far more than the equipment, you could say that’s the mechanism which keeps us at the keyboard. At least for myself, I can certainly say that’s true. And I expect exactly the same for all of my favourite colleagues.
Time to check myself back in.