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My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 2 (Read 699 times)
Jeff of Arabica
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My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 2
08/14/18 at 07:41:19
Well, I will admit…  This took much longer to post than I had ever anticipated.  But, in all honesty, I had no desire to rush it for the sake of rushing it.  It was too wonderful of an experience to not give it proper thought, turned into words.  

Summer is always a challenge for me.  Travel with family as well as work are in full swing.  Any moment to gel in “music and thought” are a rarity.  Opportunities to listen turn from the usual immersive, connected, observational, emotional experiences to simply therapeutic.  When life comes at you from all angles, that musical therapy is what brings me back to a peaceful state.  I am thankful for its existence.

Part 2 is all about the concert.  As sweet as the pre-concert experience was, I came to Toronto to experience Ultra Analogue (UA) in the raw.  There is nothing better than live, unamplified performances.  And Narek is a freak of nature when it comes to his cello deftness.  If you have not clicked on the link provided by Ed, you need to stop right here and now and do yourself a favor… click on it.  It will set stage for everything hereafter.

Going into this, I knew Ed’s studio was intimate and modest.  There are a few images on the website to give you a sense of the space.   It is not a commercial facility.  It is a residence – Ed’s residence.  His prior career, being a dentist, and no doubt a great and likable one, provided him the resources to do what he does at UA.  His house is impressive in all regards, and the area in which he resides is simply stunning.  It is situated 45 mins at best outside of the hustle and bustle of Toronto.  The dichotomy was pretty spectacular.  We definitely took full advantage of everything Toronto had to offer during our short stay, but getting out of Dodge for the time spent in Ed’s neck of the woods was certainly pleasant.  

Now, when I say residence, there is plenty of square footage to spare for all of Ed’s UA needs.  This includes the Recording Division ,the Playback Division, and the Replication Division of UA.  Despite these three monumentally important features of UA, remember what I said first and foremost – it is intimate/humble.  As a matter of fact, the space is very representative of Ed himself, much of which I described in Part 1.  

Now onto the venue itself.  Yeah, Ed makes tapes and has a killer system, but where in the heck do these World-Class performers actually perform within UA?... you might ask.  Great question!  What was originally designed and built as Ed’s indoor pool area (remember this is Toronto), is now repurposed - on an as needed basis - as the concert hall.  I kick myself for not taking more thorough pictures of the space but I was distracted by all the awesome things happening all around me. Ed sent me most of the images below.  I will let Ed tell the story with better accuracy but the discovery of how great accoustically the pool space ended up being was purely curiosity at work.  That beautiful grand piano depicted in the image below is Ed’s and it originally resided indoors – until Ed decided to see what it would sound like in his swimming pool room.  This room has a huge vaulted ceiling with its highest point above the newly designated stage.  It then slopes downward toward to opposite side of the room which during performances, becomes the back row.  I had the fortunate opportunity that Friday before concert day to experience the venue while Narek was playing.  It was really neat to hear how moving about the space, even in such a small venue, created different listening experiences.  It had the added benefit of allowing me to choose the section I preferred for concert day Smiley

I know I am stating the obvious here, but regardless of how great Ed’s equipment is, and how acoustically majestic the pool hall ended up being, none of it would express its grandeur had Ed’s selected musicians not been at such a caliber as to make any of it worth investing in.  The musician-to-speaker journey must always start with a stellar performance.  The goal of everything thereafter is to capture and replicate the experience in the most honest fashion.  From the samples I had heard prior, I was going into this journey knowing that no matter what tape I purchased from UA, or what concert I attended at UA, it would involve performers with undeniably freakish skills.  The concert I attended of Narek solidified this preconceived notion I had by being present and able to fully consume all that Ed and UA represented.  It was a truly special concert experience.  

Coming from sunny (and often hot) Southern California, I was really looking forward to some moderate temperature in Toronto.  Of course I show up on a weekend in which Toronto was experiencing some of its hottest weather of the year.  To top that off, I showed up in a suit and tie for the concert in a room in which air conditioning is turned off so as to not create any undesirable background noise in the recording.  I should have known better and asked Ed.  What I loved about the experience in general was the laid back and accommodating atmosphere.  Shorts were fully acceptable and encouraged that day due to the heatwave.  I ditched the jacket and tie, unbuttoned my shirt a bit and off I went.  

There was a great turn out.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was packed!  Luckily I got there at a decent time and was able to get inside a pick the area I had identified the day prior as the best for my ears.  Facing the stage, I sat in the right section.  The back row against the glass was a bit acoustically “hot” for me as the ceiling sloped down and created a megaphone effect.  The area left of stage sounded very good, but I preferred the right section since the piano was positioned behind Narek on Cello.  Also,  the mics were positioned between me and Narek – which was important considering my intent to purchase the tapes of this concert.  I felt this position was most similar to what the two microphones recording the concert experienced.  I sat down and anxiously awaited the performance.  

Aside from the equipment, the venue, the euphoria of being in Toronto for the first time, Narek Hakhnazaryan and the pianist Benjamin Smith absolutely crushed it!  Watching Narek’s finger and hand movements – his utter command of that instrument – was nothing short of hypnotizing.  I’ve experienced impressive live performances before in venues that qualify as engineering feats, but Narek displayed a level of oneness and sublimity with that cello that left me awestruck.  There is no wonder why he received the numerous awards and accolades.  He travels about and regardless of where he performs, you have to see this guy.  I know he is coming back to UA in 2019 I believe.  I am tempted to come back for another dose.  

What was so special about this experience was how unfiltered the performance played out.  I was probably 20 feet from Narek.  I could hear his every movement, his breath and contacts between his bow with the strings and neck of the cello.  You could literally hear a pin drop whenever a moment of silence.  The compactness of the space, the geometry of the walls and ceiling, the wood finishes, all made for a very transparent, dynamic, and personal experience.   The program consisted of:

•      Brahms Cello Sonata No. 2, in F major Op.99
•      Albeniz Asturias - Shchedrin Imitating Albeniz


•      Tchaikovsky Nocturne
•      Tchaikovsky Pezzo Capriccioso
•      Shostakovich Cello Sonata in D minor Op.40


•      Elgar Salut d’Amour Op.12

----Special Encore----- (which I regretfully missed)

•      Sollima Lamentatio

The time flew and before I knew it, the encore came and went and everyone was “back stage” enjoying wine and tasty kibbles with Narek that were provided by Ed and his lovely wife Amy.  Like all things great, it passed too quickly.  

Part 3 will be my evaluation of the concert tapes that Ed recorded and I later purchased from UA.  A significant motivator for me was to experience the concert and then own the tapes of that very concert – recorded with a 100% analog chain.  That is what I got.  And Ed so graciously produced my copies of all three tapes from the master itself, not from a copy of the master which is how it is always done elsewhere.  Pretty darned special!

View of the stage from the back row

View of the back row from the stage

View of Narek and Benjamin from my seat

The after-concert reception with Narek and Benjamin

Narek and his incredibly special, ancient cello
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Ed Pong
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 2
Reply #1 - 08/14/18 at 13:36:37
Good things come to those who wait...!

Thanks Jeff!

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Seasoned Member

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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 2
Reply #2 - 08/18/18 at 18:56:26
Great write up Jeff, more please.
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