Stereographic Apparitions with Herb Reichert Page 2


For me, playing records has always been about the physicality of sound. I like the feeling of sound emanating from loudspeakers. Its force, bandwidth, and density. I rarely pay much attention to lyrics – unless they are extremely clear and super-catchy. Same with melodies. What I consistently notice is the force of the beat, the shifting of rhythms, and the pulsing energies of physical sound. I ‘see’ this pulsing energy as occurring between and around my speakers but it is actually happening throughout my room.

What I find most fascinating is how my mind creates a dynamic three-dimensional picture of translucent molecule-rich sound energy. The energy around the speakers is real of course. I can measure it. But it is invisible. Nevertheless, my mind vacillates between the illusion of a soundstage with phantom performers, the illusion of pulsing energy between my speakers, and (!) the reality of a monolithic equipment rack sitting high and wide between my speakers.

More than once someone has asked me, “Doesn’t that equipment rack blur the soundstage?” I don’t even know how to answer that question. I know I have been staring at soundstages since the second speaker arrived in my friend’s dad’s bookcase. I know that when I walk around Brooklyn I can precisely locate the fire engines, helicopters, and pneumatic hammers that pulse the dome of space around me. I know that, given good data, my two ears and brain are exceedingly good at locating the geographic origin of sounds; as well as their relative power and energy. My brain is continuously mapping the sounds around me. But what is really going on between my speakers?


The difference between how a non-audiophile listens and how an audiophile listens is simple: focus and intensity. The non-audiophiles I know shut off the illusion completely, listening instead to the lyrics and progression of the song - and its mood. They are not thinking about where the singer is standing. They do not see energy pulsing around speakers. They simply let the music invade their environment and penetrate their psyches, giving it full permission to affect and control their moods. For most people music is about is mood. They use music as a tool to dream, celebrate their happiness, or sooth their pain. I get that.

But unlike my civilian friends, I enjoy the sound of stereo sound when it sounds good in a very precise stereophonic way. I have been aware of the physicality and illusionality of stereo since I was 16. I have been painting and exhibiting fine-art paintings since I was 19. In concert, these two practices have shown me the blurred line between the corporal and perceptual aspects of my awareness.

When I paint pictures, I analyze how the paint looks – just sitting on surfaces of paper, canvas, or wood. To be successful, the painting must possess a physical beauty that exists, by itself, in a purely tactile, textural, material sense. Beyond any illusion, a great painting must declare its objecthood. Despite any other content, a painting must be interesting for its physicality. Most importantly, this object-ness can never disconnect itself from the optical presence generated by contrasts of line, tone, and color. The true essence of all visual art lies in this inescapable conjunction between the physical and the optical – just like the orchestras appearing between my speakers.

One day, I realized that my contemplative analysis of what was right and wrong with a painting was practically identical to how I scrutinize the sound-energies between my speakers. Despite the fact that one medium was sound and the other silent paint, both analyses involved a tangible physicality that is inseparable from its corresponding optical/visual constructions. Both studied the effects of mass, shape, rhythm, and color. Both involved perceptions of a three-dimensional ‘reality’ that cannot be measured or accurately described. On a flat canvas there will always be some illusion of a third dimension unless all of the picture’s lines are perpendicular to the edges. The poetic content of even the most abstract paintings, a Jackson Pollack drip painting for example, lays in the quality and vibrancy of the spatial illusions created by these non-perpendicular lines.

In audio the second speaker becomes the equivalent of a painting’s non-perpendicular lines. It forces the listener to perceive dimensionality. Even mono recordings appear more dimensional when presented between two loudspeakers. One speaker serves only to diminish and distort a mono recording’s spatial information. Even a single mono microphone captures data for reproducing an illusion of three-dimensional space: up-down, right-left, near-far. Don’t forget, one speaker is what put Roy Rogers under my TV and the Beatles in my glove-compartment.

In my life, audio’s second speaker opened up a giant conceptual-perceptual door; one whose only equivalents were to be found in painting and cinema, both mediums designed to support narrative poetic-anecdotal content – just like records. All three are mediums that require their audiences to contemplate their unique junctions between the purely physical and the constructions of the mind. These junctions are where the beauty lies.

I do not claim to understand how all this physical-conceptual connectiveness operates, but I do know it exists, and it is beautiful and important and worthy of further investigation.


OneCreativeMan's picture

Herb, my uncle played RCA living Stereo records on a big Magnavox console. He was a furniture salesman and had this killer console. The wood was beautiful! Big (in my experience) speakers front and side firing. From the moment he set the automatic record player in motion everything changed. Wonderful writing thanks.

Ortofan's picture

... single/mono point source?
Why should you necessarily need two speakers/channels to properly reproduce it (by creating a phantom center image)?
That situation might change if you are, for example, a fan of the sisters Labèque, the brothers Kontarsky, or Ferrante & Teicher.

pbarach's picture

Haven't you ever listened to one in a room? You're getting lots of directional cues from room acoustics and from the direct sound radiation off the open lid of a grand piano.

There is no point source of music except mono output from a synthesizer recorded directly to a digital file without the use of a microphone.

Everclear's picture

If we use the new Beats wireless Bluetooth headphones, we can hear true stereo separation, ie. one piano in one ear and another piano in another ear :-) .........

rschryer's picture

Our audio listening brains are aligned, Herb. Great article, written, I might add, from the perspective of a born constructor; you worked in construction, and now spend your life "constructing" art, written narratives, and 3D sonic illusions (in your listening room).

Herb, liberate us from the Machines!