Category Archives: Interview

Interview: Marshall Blonstein Shares New Directions For Audio Fidelity

Marshall BlonsteinAudio Fidelity, the latest venture spearheaded by Marshall Blonstein, former president of Island Records during its peak period, is a constantly changing entity. After the demise of his once popular label DCC, Blonstein founded Audio Fidelity in 2002.

Audio Fidelity is a label that specializes in quality remastered reissues. They began with obscure sets, releasing them in the SACD format. Most of those sets have fallen out of print, and now fetch handsome sums for those willing to part with their copies. But SACD faltered with the public at large and so Blonstein moved his label into limited edition remastered album classics issued on numbered 24K gold CDs, and audiophile grade 180g vinyl LPs.

However, with shifts in the industry, Marshall Blonstein has elected to subtly change the focus of his label. In order to keep up, I asked Marshall if he’d be willing to catch fans of Audio Fidelity up with the changes. And while I was at it, I asked other questions that relate to the field of SACD, which has taken a solid place as the audiophile medium of choice.

It’s been a while since I last touched base with Audio Fidelity. Since our last conversation, several things have happened over at the label. One is the cessation of releasing Gold CD re-masters. Can you elaborate on that decision?

The 24K Gold CD has been a big part of our identity and branding since our DCC days. To see one of our 24K Gold discs with the see-through slip case left no doubt that was a DCC or Audio Fidelity title, so you were insured the highest quality and sound. There is only one plant in the world that manufactured the 24K Gold discs and with the cost in gold going up, they were unable to keep a consistent supply of gold on hand for manufacturing our discs. We only abandoned the 24K format because there was no consistency in manufacturing.

A few years ago, you re-entered the niche market of SACDs. All of the released titles have been great and have been well-received. Myself, I loved the YES SACDs (Close to the Edge, Going For the One). In fact, I’m hoping that you revisit several other classic titles including the challenging Tales from Topographic Oceans, as well as the brilliant Relayer. What caused you to go back into SACD?

Hybrid SACD was the next logical carrier for our audiophile titles. The SACD offers two-channel stereo as well as the DSD all on one disc. For a number of years we had been getting requests for us to move into the Hybrid SACD arena, so with issues with our 24K Gold supplier, it was time to test the waters with the Hybrid SACD format. It has worked out very well for us.

Most SACDs are released in the Stereo Hybrid format. Steve Hoffman recently tweeted that Audio Fidelity would begin working in the oft-requested 5.1 Surround mix. What prompted that and will you be alternating between stereo-only and 5.1 titles? Or will they all be 5.1 titled from this point forward?

AFSuperSessionBloomfieldKooperStills51SACD.jpgAs with the Hybrid SACDs, for a number of years, we have had requests to move into the 5.1 multichannel arena. Recently, we’ve struck up a relationship with several producers who have created a number of titles for the multi-channel format. We are always looking to broaden our base and the multichannel, whether it be 5.1 or Quad, gives us that opportunity. The Hybrid SACD along with the 180g vinyl is our bread and butter. We’ll be experimenting with the multichannel and testing the waters.

Can you give us any hints on what upcoming titles are going to be re-mastered and remixed for 5.1 Surround? Also, will you be revisiting any previously released classics for SACD, or 5.1? For example, is it possible to revisit Close to the Edge, Going for the One, and the Jon Anderson reissue (Olias of Sunhillow) to provide 5.1 SACDs of those?

Matt, I never like to talk about titles until we have had a chance to acquire the master sources, ensure that they are usable and we get 100% clearance from the record labels. That is the way we have always operated. Never making any announcements until we are sure about the sources to re-master our AF titles. I will never say never, as far as going back and doing a 5.1 or a Quad title on an album we have previously released on 24K Gold or Hybrid SACD.

Marshall, you have always championed the vinyl LP. During Audio Fidelity’s rise, you have released great LPs. Personally, I love the Kate Bush Hounds of Love 180g LP AF released. What is in store for the future where vinyl is concerned for Audio Fidelity?

Nothing beats the sweet sound of vinyl. There is something very warm about vinyl. We have some upcoming titles that include Sade’s Stronger Than Pride, Tron (the original movie soundtrack), Vangelis/Jon Anderson’s The Friends of Mr. Cairo, and for Christmas we have Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s The Christmas Attic, an absolutely stunning album. It’s the first time the album has been available on 180g vinyl.

I’ve always considered you, Marshall, to be a visionary of the marketplace. In your own words and inside insights, what do you see for the future of SACD, BD-Audio, DVD-Audio (will you be doing either Blu-ray-Audio and/or DVD-Audio releases?), and vinyl LP, as well as CD itself, streaming, and digital downloads?

We are very comfortable in the niche market rubbing shoulders with the audiophile. Like I say, we will never say never, but currently we are not looking to DVD-A, Blu-ray Audio, streaming or digital downloads. I think vinyl will never fade away. It will always be a format that will be enjoyed. As far as Hybrid SACDs or CDs, they’ll evolve and we’ll evolve right along with them. At the end of the day, it’s not the carrier, it’s the music.

Has Audio Fidelity considered digital downloads of their reissued titles?

We have talked about it, but have made no decision.

Where do you see Audio Fidelity going in the future?

Wherever the music takes us.

Thanks, as always, Marshall, for the services you provide, and the art you help to keep alive and refreshed. Believe me, you are appreciated!

Audio Fidelity

Interview: A Short Conversation With Jon Anderson of YES

To talk with those who journeyed with you, in their way, as you made your way through this thing called life, well, that’s special.

Being a Yes fan, I followed much of their music as I made my uncertain way through my teens. They were unlike any other band I had heard. And they still are.  So when I discovered that Audio Fidelity would reissue Close to the Edge, the enduring 1972 classic that, as Jon Anderson so eloquently puts it, “…changed the musical landscape a little at that time,” as a high-resolution Super Audio CD (SACD), I became excited.

It’s not every day that a fan can get one of their favorite albums remastered in the highest quality. It has the potential to become a whole new experience.

I sought out an opportunity to talk with one of the architects of Close to the Edge and other Yes classics, Jon Anderson. What follows is a short—and memorable—conversation I had with the writer and voice of all those songs.

JonAnderson

Yes has been an important part of not only my life, but many others as well. Part of that is the distinctive voice that powered many of those great albums and songs. Another part of the allure is the great songs, their lyrics, and their music that you had a deep part in helping create. Let me take this moment to thank you on behalf of myself and a wealth of fans that feel the same. We’re deeply grateful for Jon Anderson.

You were a part of the original configuration of Yes that did not have Steve Howe in it. Somehow, in strange ways, that seems inconceivable. The legacy of Yes owes much to the collaborative talents of both you and Steve, lyrically and musically. How did that partnership begin, and how did it evolve?

When Steve joined the band, we became inseparable. His knowledge of the guitar was amazing to me, and it was very easy to to sing melodies and write lyrics with him at that time. We were free spirits in a way.

As time progressed, so did we. He would come to me with ideas of a song. I would help develop the songs and add my ideas. That’s how we were able to write longer format songs, like “And You and I” and “Close to the Edge.” Again, with his guitar knowledge, I would ask him to try ideas out. He would happily follow my thoughts, and there it was, ‘magical’ moments that seemed to last forever.

The Yes Album and Fragile are excellent albums. But many, myself included, have a profound love for Close to the Edge. Would you tell us what ideas went into the creation of that album?

I think, first and foremost, we had a connection to create a very large work. Steve sang to me, “…close to the edge, down by the corner…”, and I sang, “…down at the end, round by the river…”, and off we went creating the verse and chorus to the song. It was then that I thought of a sort of ‘chanting’ intro, even starting with some sound effects, like the cosmic ocean, diving into a guitar-based solo intro, then into the ‘chanting’, “a seasoned witch,” etc.

After creating the first half of the song, jumping from a verse-to-chant-to-verse-to-chant sort of thing, we needed a middle section. Again, I created a cosmic ocean of sound, and we needed a song. So Steve played me these chords, and I sang, “I get up, I get down”, and “two million people barely satisfy,” etc. Steve then remembered that he had written a song on those very same chords, which he started to sing, “in her white lace,” etc. And lo and behold, the two songs worked together. The rest of the song needed Rick’s solo building to the chant once more, and then the final verse. We all felt that we had changed the musical landscape a little at that time.

The lyrics found on Close To The Edge, Fragile, Relayer, Going For The One, Tales From Topographic Oceans, and others have motivated and thrilled many of the fans of these albums. They’re poetic, well-crafted, and seem to have deeper meaning than perhaps many of us are capable of discerning. Can you give any insights into the inspiration, creation, and meaning of a few from any of them? Favorites, perhaps? Even key lines.

‘A seasoned witch could call you’ etc, (your inner voice, ‘guardian angel’..will help erase all your fears and doubts’

‘Rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace’..( Evolve your physical world to a more spiritual one)..

OK??..just a couple of lines…I’ve even thought about writing a whole paper on the meanings of some of of my way out lyrics, but now I think,.”mmmm, not really”. But it is fun to remember what I was thinking,

‘Dawn of Light’…..’Dawn of Thought’..was all about the development of the human consciousness, and how we came from the ocean, etc, and learned to fly, all in metaphors. It’s always a lot of fun to write this way, then look back and think, “oh!!! that’s what I was trying to say!”

Personally, I love “Wonderous Stories”. What was the inspiration for it?

Seeing a very young Deborah and Damion asleep in the early morning before I went to the studio, I sang the song in my head all the way to the studio in Montreux, Switzerland, where we recorded ‘Going for the One’.  By the time the guys came, I had the song finished.  It revolves around being told how wonderful life truly is by my spirit ‘Teacher’.

There are few Yes albums that I do not revere as much as others. Those include releases without you in them. Despite the absence of Rick Wakeman, I have a deep love for Relayer. I also deeply appreciate the whole of Going for the One. Do you have any Yes albums that you value over others?

FragileClose to the EdgeTales from Topographic OceansRelayerGoing for the One, especially “Awaken” [from that album], 90125TalkMagnification. All of them were very worthwhile creations.

Your first solo album, the brilliant Olias of Sunhillow, showed Yes fans that there were facets of the band that could be enjoyed outside the confines of Yes. Even so, it is difficult to escape the majesty of the Yes sound. Could Olias of Sunhillow have been a Yes album?

Not really. I was very committed to this idea of ‘solo’, creating a work by myself. Like going to a musical university and learning about my potential.

I have followed and enjoyed your work outside of Yes, including your collaborations with Vangelis, as well as your film contributions (“Loved by the Son” with Tangerine Dream). All of your solo albums after Olias of Sunhillow take on various musical styles. Do you have a side that you particularly enjoy exploring musically?

I always feel the need for adventure when I create an album. That’s why they are all so different.

I understand the sequel to Olias of Sunhillow is underway, with you playing all instruments? Can you tell us about this album?

Again, it was just like going to school every day, and being guided by ‘spirit’ to make this enormous musical project come to life. It drove me a bit crazy, but in the end, it was amazing to me that it worked so well.

You seem to have a deeply spiritual life. Can you elaborate on your use to help you to live day to day?

We are all spiritual beings.  Some people take it as part of the devotion of life, I believe that is why we live, to find the Divine in our everyday being through good thoughts, actions, and meditation or prayer.  Like most people, I try to live this way everyday.  Not always easy to do, but it’s a wonderful way of living this life journey.

Your Three Ships Christmas collection is an essential for my holiday enjoyment. Did you record other standards that didn’t make the cut for the LP?

Not really. I wanted to try something different, like the jungle making music, and songs for spirits, it was such a fun album to do. Maybe one day I will sing the carols I sang at school.

Will there be a time that you re-record popular Yes classics, perhaps with Rick Wakeman?

Maybe some acoustic versions for fun. Rick and I already perform those songs on the live albums.

Will there ever be a chance at reconciliation with Yes that could result in a new tour, perhaps even a new Yes album?

I would love that to happen!

Are you aware of the reissue of Close to the Edge in the audiophile format SACD coming from Audio Fidelity?

Yes, very cool!

I assume that by now you have heard the SACD version of Close To The Edge. Being a creator of those notes and words, did the remastered product reproduce what you intended the music to sound like? Having said that, is there a favorite issue of the album that you feel brings out the way you desired it to sound? That could be original LP issue, subsequent remasters, and this recent SACD remaster.

Close to the Edge is still a wonderful experience for me, both to listen to and remember how it came together…Steve sang the phrase ‘close to the edge, round by the corner,’ to me one day, and then I sang , ‘down at the edge, round by the river’. I had just finished reading ‘Siddartha’, by Herman Hess and off we went.  We kept interweaving those lines all through the song, never wanting to repeat lyrics, just part of the never-ending quest to be unique.  Same with the music.

Remixing an album seems to be a new trend. Do you feel that Fragile, Close To The Edge, Going For The One, or any other YES albums would greatly benefit from such a process. I would like to point to the recent remixes by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) of the first two Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums, as well as some Jethro Tull albums (Thick As A Brick, and Aqua Lung) for reference. Those remixes really recreate the albums in stunning new ways. I cannot help but wonder what such processes could do for a YES classic.

Tales from Topographic would be great, and “Gates of Delirium”  They were never mixed as well as they should have been..

It has recently been announced that Audio Fidelity is remastering Going For The One in SACD. I can’t tell you how many of us are excited about that. Which YES album should follow, or, better, which albums do you feel should be considered for SACD remastering? 

All of them!  I’m very happy with Audio Fidelity!  A fantastic company of people.

It will be presented in stereo, however many love a multi-channel effect. If such technology were available to you back when your albums were created, would Yes have widely availed themselves of it?

I’ve always wanted to record in surround sound, still do.

Assuming that you have heard the DVD-Audio multi-channel of Fragile released some years ago by Rhino Records, do you have any thoughts on how it made the album sound?

Not really. I just remember that great feeling I had at Advision Studios when we recorded it.

Have you heard the SACD version of Close to the Edge that was mentioned earlier? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

I don’t have it, sorry.

What is next for Jon Anderson? Musically? Spiritually? Professionally? Have you ever considered writing a book detailing your YES years? I’d be fascinated by such a book.

I’m slowly working on a number of projects.  All of them are taking their own good time to be finished.  The next 10 years will be a wealth of ideas coming through…just waiting for the doors to open..

As for the book, yes, I’m working on that as well.  As for evolving musically, I don’t know any other way, just keep working with people from around the world…spiritual songs, songs of search for truth, symphonic music, dreams, operas,.children’s musicals.  You name it, I’m trying to achieve it.

OPEN is a signal to where I want to be heading.  Even a pop song would be fun…you never know!!!!!

Thank you for your time. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it was to communicate with one of the greats. Thanks again for your immeasurable impact on my recognition of beauty in song and lyric.

My pleasure.

If the thought of hearing Close to the Edge in great clarity appeals to you, Audio Fidelity will release the intended SACD version on January 22.

YesCloseToTheEdgeSACD.jpg

Audio Fidelity’s Marshall Blonstein Talks Music

MarshallBlonsteinAFCurrently, Marshall Blonstein is owner and visionary of the increasingly important reissue label known as Audio Fidelity. Audio Fidelity began releasing superior quality 24K gold reissues, as well as an industry niche product, the SACD (Super Audio CD). But before Audio Fidelity, Marshall Blonstein forged an impressive career trajectory that started with humble beginnings in the stockroom at Dunhill Records. That soon led to a promotions position which saw him working with The Mamas and The Papas, The Grass Roots, and Ray Charles.

Eventually, as history would demand it, Blonstein teamed up with Lou Adler to launch Ode Records, which soon became home to the immensely important Tapestry album from Carole King (and other albums), as well as the notable Cheech & Chong classics. After Ode had run its course, Marshall became president of Island Records in the late ’70s, where he oversaw the talents of Robert Palmer, Bob Marley and Steve Winwood. Under his watch, Island Records achieved its first Top 10 single with Robert Palmer’s “Bad Case of Loving You.”

After a time, Blonstein started DCC Compact Classics, producing a string of highly collectible reissue titles that are still in demand today. In 2002, he started Audio Fidelity, with the intent to produce time-honored and unbeatable sound classics, much in the same mode as DCC Compact Classics had achieved.

NoSecretsSimon24k.jpegMarshall Blonstein, at the helm of Audio Fidelity, began producing 24K gold reissues, SACDs, and original titles with both formats. Audio Fidelity has consistently produced classic reissue titles that have become important to an audiophile’s library, with high quality remastering of such titles as No Secrets (Carly Simon), Love It to Death (Alice Cooper), Mud Slide Slim (James Taylor), The Soft Parade (The Doors), Machine Head (Deep Purple), as well as Rush, Dio, and Phil Collins titles, amid many, many others. After once having abandoned the SACD because of lowered interest, Audio Fidelity is returning to the format simply because, although a niche market product, SACD refuses to be put to rest. The label returns with a special powerhouse, Close to the Edge, a progressive classic from Yes. They will also re-enter the market with an SACD of Rush’s Counterparts.

Being interested in how Audio Fidelity works and their focus on providing the best sound that can be extracted from decades-old master tapes, I interviewed Marshall Blonstein to gain new insights into where Audio Fidelity is going and what could possibly be next from his historic label. With all of the magic his label has worked, I’m particularly excited for what will come in the future.

Marshall, a few years ago, you gave MusicTAP an in-depth interview that covered not only a complete biographical overview of your long career, but also gave brief looks into the direction of music, especially SACDs, which, at the time, your company, Audio Fidelity was active in releasing. It was well-received. However, since then, changes have occurred, not only in the music industry, but also in your direction of Audio Fidelity. This is why I’m back.

At one time, SACDs seemed to be a highly coveted niche market that had an ability to satisfy the audiophile. However, the market for these seemed to dry up overnight. What happened?

When the CD first made its appearance in 1984, the look was completely different from the LP and the cassette. It was easy to distinguish between the old and the new. The introduction of the SACD didn’t have the benefit of looking uniquely different from a traditional CD. They were literally indistinguishable. Sony initially released SACDs only in the SACD format and, if you didn’t have an SACD player, you couldn’t play them. When the hybrid SACD format was introduced, it was very confusing for the consumer. The idea of hybrid and SACD still gave the impression that you needed a special player to play the SACDs, even though there was a red-book layer that allowed the SACDs to play on any player, as it had an additional red-book layer, along with the SACD layer.

The average consumer was not ready to re-invest their catalog in a new format. They were happy with the CD format as it was. Plus, the retailers never truly got behind the SACD as the retailers did with the introduction of the CD. It seemed like it was the wrong format at the wrong time. You also had companies, such as Warner’s/Rhino dedicated to the DVD format, and did not invest their artists’ catalog in SACDs.

Audio Fidelity released a fair amount of SACD titles. But, like the large labels, AF soon left them behind in favor of the remastered 24K gold disc. The titles that were being released on these 24K gold discs were reissues. What led to the decision to dispense with SACDs and explore the album reissue path?

When we started Audio Fidelity, we were already releasing 180+ vinyl with artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. It was very difficult to acquire licenses from the major labels for SACD, because Sony, who introduced the format, was reluctant to license any titles to third parties by any of their major artists. They were holding on to their catalog for their own SACD releases. Warner’s was invested in the DVD-A format and were not about to license artists for SACD that would compete with their DVD-A format. We had always been associated with 24K because of our days at DCC Compact Classics. The requests from audiophiles, distributors, etc. that we were getting to release our titles on 24K far outnumbered the requests we were getting for SACD.

Was it already a path that you were exploring for the label from the beginning, therefore a natural transition?

Yes. I think I answered that above.

Audio Fidelity is much, much more than a stock reissue label. This is borne out in the fact that rather than just putting a currently out-of-print album back into the marketplace, you elect to have them expertly remastered, and beautifully packaged to create a unique expectation for your label. As a result, you have, once again, successfully engineered a highly regarded brand. How did this come about?

YesCloseToTheEdgeSACDA.jpgWe had been a part of the audiophile world for a number of years and, working with audiophiles, we knew that, to be a unique label in the marketplace, we had to raise the stakes by presenting the best sound and re-creating original packaging and choosing artists with the broadest appeal. There always are a number of re-issue labels in the marketplace, but we never felt that we were competing with them as they had a different philosophy from ours.

Our philosophy centered on sound, not price, We chose to be the company with the highest sound, not the least expensive in the market. We also ensured our uniqueness with our packaging and our see-through slipcase that highlights the gold disc. We feel that our 24K gold disc with its see-through slipcase makes it easy to distinguish an Audio Fidelity disc from all others. We took great pride in being able to re-create the Braille on the Stevie Wonder Talking Book, the original gold foil used for Grand Funk’s We’re an American Band and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love where we re-created the multi-colored vinyl. That little extra care to the packaging does make a difference to the audiophile and the discriminating consumer, as well as members of the groups’ fan clubs.

What decisions go into finding and selecting albums for re-mastering and reissue?

To license a title from the major label, it almost has to be the “perfect storm.” We select our titles on many occasions by requests that we get from consumers, which has always been the biggest source of suggestions for new titles. We also work with a group of distributors and retailers that have their ears to the ground and pass along suggestions to us. Once we do our research on the title, making sure that it has not been re-mastered recently, we then look at the viability for sales in the market. A lot of time, effort and resources go in to one of our releases so we want to ensure that there is not only great sound but there is a profit to the company.

Then, we submit the title to the label. We then go through the processes of getting clearances from the label who work with their business affairs to see if there are any restrictions. In most cases, they check with the artist’s management for their approval as well. Some of our requests are rejected because the label itself is planning on a re-issue or the artist rejects the request for their own reasons.

Are you the sole decider of any given project or do you have a team that you sit with and brainstorm possible releases?

As mentioned above, there are a number of people that have input into what is released. But I do have the final approval.

Once a title is decided upon, what are the processes that must be followed to gain access to the masters in order to create the finished product that ends up in players?

We always check with the tape vaults to make sure that the source we want to use is available. Many of the masters have been lost or transferred to digital through the years and are compressed and full of EQ — not for us.

Much of your catalog titles have been remastered by Steve Hoffman. On occasion, you have used Kevin Gray. What draws you to these individuals rather than a team of engineers, or other name mastering greats?

Trust and familiarity. We have worked with Steve and Kevin for over 25 years. We know each other very well. I trust their tastes and we are all on the same page when it comes to demanding the best sound quality. Additionally, they are not just “anonymous” engineers; rather they are the best in the business, well known with great reputations and great ears.

Do you ever have titles that you request and are turned down for?

We are turned down more than I would like. We have been asking for AC/DC for over 15 years, but we are not giving up. Yes, we are turned down, but continue requesting for that one day when we get approval.

I can imagine that some bands keep tight fists over their catalog and therefore prevent timely remastering and release. Do you have coveted titles that you’d like to release in 24K gold CD but have had difficulties in acquiring rights?

Absolutely. There are a number of titles that I would love to work with. Hopefully, one day we will get them. As mentioned above, AC/DC is one of those artists.

Recently, you have returned to the market of SACDs. Your debut return include the highly coveted SACD issue ofClose to the Edge by Yes and Counterparts by Rush. What led not only to the decision to return to SACD but to the choice of these specific titles?

The cost of gold, as you know, has gone up dramatically over the past few years. Even though the plant that makes 24K has raised the cost to us, we have not raised our price to the consumer. Keep in mind that there is only one plant that makes 24K, so we are at their mercy regarding production. The availability of gold is now becoming harder to get for 24K discs and our releases have been more inconsistent because of that. So cost and availability are two factors that led us back to SACDs. We have also always had requests that we re-enter the SACD market, which we have done. Close to the Edge andCounterparts are two titles that we wanted to kick off our re-entry into the SACD market — two great artists and two great opportunities to show off how we can improve the sound that is currently available.

Will we be seeing more SACDs coming from Audio Fidelity?

Absolutely, you will be seeing more SACDs. We will actually be doing the majority of our upcoming releases in SACD.

Do you have a few currently on the back burner, simmering until the release of the first set is completed?

Our next two SACD titles will be Harry Belafonte’s Calypso and Nat “King” Cole’s Welcome to The Club. How is that for the return to SACD?

Let me say, and I know that I speak for many, the arrival in SACD format of Close to the Edge is highly anticipated. In fact, for me, it already is THE release of the year that is not likely to be topped. Let me take this opportunity to personally thank you for the decision to release this wonderful title on SACD. It’s a holy grail for me. How excited are you about these two titles?

I am very excited about both of these titles, but when I hear someone say “THE” release of the year, I get even more excited.

Thanks, Marshall, for not only Audio Fidelity, but also for providing us with a chance to upgrade some titles with superior versions on CD and, once again, SACD.

Hey Matt, thank you.

AudioFidelity