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Reviewer's Bio

 

Robert May
Music and me...

 

 

Part I: The Bare Facts
I was born smack in the middle of the 20th-century in Brooklyn, New York. I grew up there for the next 18 years, educated in New York City public schools. I then went to Swarthmore College, with a year spent at the University of Cambridge. After that I did my doctoral work in linguistics at MIT, followed by post-doctoral positions at Rockefeller University and MIT. I was an Assistant Professor at Barnard and Columbia, after which I spent twenty years at the University of California, Irvine, and then at the University of California, Davis, from where I retired as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics.

Interspersed were extended sabbaticals spent in Tokyo, Venice, and Paris. Throughout my career, my research has shifted from theoretical linguistics to philosophy, where my work has been primarily in philosophy of language, philosophy of logic, and the history of analytic philosophy. For the 2018 and 2019 academic year, I was chair of the University of California Academic Senate. My amazing wife Andrea is a clinical psychologist, and I have two wonderful children (from a previous relationship) - my daughter is a filmmaker (her first film was shown at Sundance last year) and my son is a theoretical physicist. I currently live in San Francisco.

 

Part II: Music And Me
Growing up, my family was not particularly musical. My parents would occasionally go to the symphony, but we did not have an audio system at home, although at some point I did get a record player. The only lasting musical legacy from my family is an inheritance from my mother of a deep antipathy to Frank Sinatra. Exactly why she felt that way I never really knew, but to this day I also don't much abide him. (The only Sinatra album I like is "Sings For Only the Lonely", and I have been in a pretty low mood to listen to that!) Things turned musically, however, when I entered 7th-grade and a friend played two albums for me that started me on my course: "We Shall Overcome" by Pete Seeger and "Another Side of Bob Dylan". These were the first two albums I bought with my own money - mono versions, of course, since they were a dollar cheaper at Sam Goody's - and I still own both of those copies. ("Guantanamera" remains one of my test tracks.)

I freely admit that I did not go to Woodstock - although I thought about it - but I did take advantage of the musical riches of New York City. Particularly stuck in my memory are seeing Ravi Shankar at the Fillmore East, and Simon and Garfunkel at Fordham in the Bronx.

In college, my musical palette was filled with a lot of listening in the dorms to The Grateful Dead, The Who, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash/Young, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Joni Mitchell, etc, etc. My most memorable musical experience though was a concert by The Allman Brothers Band my freshman year. This was an event - there was only one major concert a year on campus. In the middle of the performance, an announcement was made from the stage that Nixon was bombing Cambodia. This made for a choice - leave the concert, as we were being urged to do, to have an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, or stay at the concert - the band was going to keep on playing. I demur from saying which choice I made!

In graduate school, I found the music that has been my core musical interest ever since. Again, a friend was the catalyst, turning me on to jazz. Fortunately, in the Boston/Cambridge area there were plenty of used record shops, so I was able to start building my jazz collection. We would go to hear live jazz pretty much every week, either locally or drive down to New York. I had the opportunity to hear most the greatest jazz musicians: Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Jackie McLean, Stan Getz, Sun Ra, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Rashied Ali, David Murray and many others.

Highlights of those days: Many nights hearing Sam Rivers with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, at Studio Rivbea, Cecil Taylor at the Five Spot when it was re-established on St. Mark's Place off 3rd Avenue, whom we saw play six times in the space of two weeks, and seeing Thelonious Monk's final two public appearances.

Since those halcyon days, jazz has remained been my music central, and it is the music about which I am most knowledgeable. It is not, however, the only source of my musical enjoyment. So, an evening's listening might run the gamut from Fred Astaire to John Coltrane, K.D. Lang to Cecil Taylor, the Grateful Dead to the Bach cello sonatas. I am a subscriber to the view that there are only two types of music, good and bad, so I am always open to good music from all genres - especially if it is well-recorded!

 

Part III: Audio
Although I had been aware of audio early on - mainly from friends who were building HeathKit and Dynakit equipment, it was only when I got my first job that I was able to begin my forays into a high-end audio system. Again, another friend was a catalyst. He had a lovely system - Linn turntable, Audio Research electronics, Spendor speakers - and he introduced me to The Absolute Sound as regular reading material. Over the years since, my audio sensibilities have been honed by a number of people, some well-known to audiophiles, others just friends of mine. The first is George Cardas. I met George when I moved to Southern California in the mid-1980s. George's influence arose in large part from his system, which remains among the best I've ever heard, and made me realize what could be achieved from an audio system.

A great deal of what I learned from George about audio has been material in the evolving realization of my system, most importantly from George's engagement with Magneplanar speakers. Hearing his system made plain what these speakers can do when properly modified, and my Magneplanar's are very much George's creation. The next person was Chris Carvan, my Australian mate, with whom I bonded over NOS Tung-Sol 6550s. Chris and I have talked endlessly for decades about audio and musicality, and of late, about digital audio. Edward Lau, a great friend from Southern California, is an extraordinarily talented woodworker with great ears who has created many custom parts for my system.

Over the years, first Scott Huntley and then Scott Frankland have maintained, developed, and refined my electronics; the modifications they have made to my electronics over the years have always been real improvements in the evolution of the sound of the system. Finally, my philosophical and reviewing compadre Jules Coleman has been an incredible partner in thinking about audio systems, and in leading me into reviewing. Some day soon we will write the paper that establishes the philosophy of audio as a major area of scholarly inquiry.

My interactions with these people, and other friends with amazing systems like Jean-Yves Pollock in Paris, Riki Heck in Rhode Island and David Hyman in California have all contributed to my conception of what I am seeking from my audio system, and how changes in the system are part of the evolution towards that goal.

 

 

Part IV: The System
All of the components in my system I have owned for a considerable time; some of them at this point might even be labeled vintage. But all have been extensively modified and upgraded over the years, (aside from the digital), and the sound of the system has evolved with time in the direction of greater refinement in the presentation of the sound.

Speakers: Magneplanar MG-3a. I first bought these speakers in the 1980s, but all that is left of those speakers is the magnetic elements. The modifications include: rockhard maple frames for the elements, high-mass walnut stands, custom George Cardas designed crossover, upgraded by Scott Frankland, Cardas wiring.

Amps: VTL Deluxe 300 Monoblocks. Initially upgraded by VTL to Signature transformers, triode/pentode switchable (only run them in triode). Steve Huntley did some parts upgrades, and recently Scott Frankland modified the amps to run primarily in class A. Currently using KT-120 tubes.

Pre-Amp: MFA Luminscence. Designed and built by Scott Frankland. First upgrades by Scott Huntley, but now maintained by Scott Frankland. Recent parts upgrade by Scott, with some circuit design changes.

Turntable: VPI Scout Platter plus Acoustical Systems Special Decoupled Platter (SDP) mounted on a massive granite plinth driven by a Teres Audio Signature motor. SpJ Tonearm, refurbished and rewired by Acoustical Systems. Cardas Heart with Van den Hul retip and Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridges.

Digital: Schitt Yggdrasil and Mytek Manhattan II DACs. Dedicated Mac Mini running Roon Core, connected to the DAC by USB over Ethernet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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