Listen to Edgard Varése's "Ionisation" From "Percussion Music" on Nonesuch Records

After posting the story "Three Percussion Records You Should Own Bob Ludwig emailed that I should get Percussion Music (Nonesuch H-71291). I emailed back that I had it and that prompted the decision to produce an all-percussion show for tomorrow’s WFDU HD2 AnalogPlanet radio show.

Edgard Varése’s “Ionisation” performed by The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble from that 1974 Nonesuch album will be among tomorrow’s selections. Marc J. Aubort engineered the 1974 production with music supervision by Joanna Nickrenz. Over more than a few decades, the Elite Recordings, Inc. duo produced a long string of superb sounded records. If you see their credit, odds are good the recording will be “audiophile quality”.

That’s surely true of Percussion Music. After recording the track at 96/24 for the radio show I decided to post it along with a video on the analogPlanet YouTube channel both to introduce some of the almost seven thousand and growing subscribers to the album and to Varése and to demonstrate how ridiculous are the vinyl naysayers who whine about noise, distortion, limited bass and dynamics.

You can listen to the track and watch it being played on the YouTube channel and/or below that you can hear the full resolution file embedded below the video. The YouTube compression is actually surprisingly mild but the full resolution file is, of course better!

Edgar Varése’s Ionisation

OldschoolE's picture

I saw the Varese label, it looked familar and could have sworn I have a Varese recording, but alas, I do not, darn! (That doesn't mean I don't have equally good recordings at least).
I personally found the piece exceptional in sound quality even through You Tube and my noisy PC (I really need to remedy that). Although, I also found it not to my taste for music. (I was not expecting the soundtrack style, but it was not about that anyway). I just had something different in mind before hearing it.
Oh, by the way, you should polish that little spot on your turntable platter so it blends better. It might even improve the sound more! Ha ha ha, just kidding.

Michael Fremer's picture
Nonesuch label... Varese composer!
OldschoolE's picture

I somehow got Verese mixed up with Valient, that's what happens when you hit and exceed 500 records. If I had 15,000+ like you do, I would have to lock myself out of the room.:)

OldschoolE's picture

Taking the title of the piece "Ionisation". Too bad he did not do one called "Cavitation" and if he did one wonders if you would ever have to clean the record or perhaps it would be the appropriate thing to play as you are cleaning records.
OK, I'm being silly.

Tcmoore's picture

I had the pleasure of renting a very small apartment in the Varese's Village brownstone while attending, and working at, NYU's Courant Institute. Mme. Varese was, effectively, the landlady, and she made sure that I wasn't a musician before letting me the place! I was to be quiet and do nothing that might interfere with her husband's work. The apartment, on Sullivan Street, diagonally faced the theatre where "The Fantastics" lived for many years. BTW: Mme. Varese was famous in her own right as the leading translator of Villon's poetry from French into English.

theboogeydown's picture

Thank you as always Michael!

fetuso's picture

That was hilarious, Michael. Well done. Nice turntable, by the way. Is that a Crosley?

Dorian Workman's picture

That's their new entry level table, you can pick one up at Barnes & Noble now for $59.99 while supplies last.

gbougard's picture

What kind of seriously dangerous narcotic does one have to be on to listen to this music?

It's intellectually interesting but I can't find a groove to bounce to.

Am I the only one to feel this way?

AnalogJ's picture

It's supposed to be that kind of music where you go "Huh??" It's called Avon Guard, or sumthin' like that. There're lots of decomposers like that. The so-called music is supposed ta create a mood. They ain't called "posers" for nuthin'. There's that there Alvin Bearg, and then there's that Russky Igor that ends in with a -ski. Ever heard that gal Bella Bartalk's "Music For Percussion and Celeste"? I ain't herd nuthin' like THAT in a bar. I hear their music used ta cause riots back in them days. Makes my cat cling ta the ceiling.

AnalogJ's picture

I was wonderin' what it's supposed to be guardin' against. It keeps some people away, I reckon.

OldschoolE's picture

Ha ha I know what you are saying. The correct term is Avant-Garde. It's from French, meaning advanced guard or vanguard. How it got to mean people or works that are experimental or unorthodox with respect to art or what have you is a bit beyond me as I am not a linguist.
Avon Guard might be a new deodorant Avon has come out with, I don't know. (I'm just teasing).

AnalogJ's picture

Ya mean that we're listenin' to French music?? That's FOREIGN!!

By the way, I thought that "vanguard" is some French painter that had one ear.

Snowdog57's picture

With respect to the artist... His first name is Edgard.

Michael Fremer's picture
Had a brain ooze. I knew it had the "d" on the end. Not as bad as when I once spelled it "Billy Holiday"
AnalogJ's picture

Especially bad since there isn't an "i" in Edgard Varese. ;-)

I also learned to spell via television - "How do you spell relief?? R-O-L-A-I-D-S." I kept getting it wrong on vocabulary tests.

Dorian Workman's picture

Truly spectacular! I am jealous. Is that "perfect" sound? Has got to be close.

Cartel's picture

This 1974 version is also available on Tidal.
Gorgeous sound on my vintage Dahlquists.

volvic's picture

Also, given the quality of the gear involved I am impressed that is all the record clamp you only need. Always wondered what kind of clamp I could use on my Linn LP12.

volvic's picture

Nice frames....Warby Parker?

Daniel Emerson's picture

If I remember his autobiography right, it was a recording of 'Ionisations' that sparked an interest in avant-garde music in the teenage Frank Zappa.

I like this sort of music in moderation. After listening to it, though, I tend to cue up something different in style, like some filthy noisy rock music. Variety is the spice of life.

Stringreen's picture

I was a part of this recording when I was in colledge... Ray DeRoche was the percussion master at school. Really nice guy.

Stringreen's picture

How could I do that!!

ViciAudio's picture

Thank you so much for the video, now on to finding a NM copy of this LP :D

gsbischoff's picture

Hey Michael! Let me first say that while we disagree (as you'll see), you've been a great source of interviews and information about audio history which I love so much and you have introduced me to many great recordings, thank you!

So first of all, no doubt this is an excellent recording. Aubort seems to know his stuff regarding mixing and mixing because it really is an eye-opening recording.

In regards to the claims regarding vinyl's ability as a format I'd say "Ehh".

I took the sample clip you provided, thank you very much, and listened to and inspected it. I'm not sure where the figure of 80 Hz in stereo comes from but here's what I got:

This recording has nothing in stereo below *60* Hz, and in mono there sorta exists content down to 40 Hz. It's better than 80, but it still isn't completely in stereo and anything below that is rumble. So this shows some bass had to be struck in mono past a certain point even for such an daring and tricky recording, but it beat the "expectation" of 80 Hz. However, whether it is linear / not rolled off? I'm going to go with it generally has to be, unfortunately.

The surface noise is low, but it's still there and not completely unobtrusive. Especially the pops and cracks, which, while I bet most people here are used to them, I don't like hearing them.

On distortion, I'd hand that back to a previous video you did on "Play With Fire" by the Rolling Stones, where, when I compared it to a CD release, the bass was noticeably distorted on both the new and old LP versions. Worse so on the old one though, so it's good they improved.

In short, releasing on LP suffers, in theory, a little. Releasing digitally, in theory, suffers nothing.

Regardless of all that---thanks for showing us this piece of music! I hope I don't come in to this as the attempting-party pooper! Thank you for the time you put into this website!

PS - are there any other recordings you'd suggest of Aubort? The whole business of selecting music by the *recording engineer* is a very risky one, so I was wondering if you had suggestions!

ViciAudio's picture

Digital, as an audio technology and format, has its own set of problems and inconveniences, all very well known, and it's certainly very very far from perfect... not to mention that it is much more common to find bad mastering jobs (wild compression, EQ, limiting) on digital formats than on vinyl, one of the main reasons why vinyl is such a great choice. Even for today's recordings this remains common... there are dozens of examples of new music being recorded digitally today that is poorly mastered for digital release and actually sounds better on LP because the cutting engineer was not under pressure from the label or from the producer to make it sound smashing crazy loud and forward and with all little minutia clearly jumping from the speakers as if they were huge sounds... more often they just get the "not yet damaged" pre-master high resolution file and put it to lacquer with some care and loving attention, preserving dynamics and organic sound of music. Beautiful... it's what vinyl is :)

gsbischoff's picture

The job of a mastering engineer is separate from the format. In the regard to format I could have simply said "sampling theory" and mentioned "humans' perception of sound by frequency and loudness" and that's well enough to say the CD format is as good of a medium as there ever needs to be for a consumer.

But, due to length, I didn't mention mastering, because it's beside the format argument and because I agree in most cases (that'd be boring).

I do think the mastering engineers do a better job on often for vinyl as you mention, it's a "bigger deal" it seems---but I bet anyone could tell you they do poor jobs too sometimes. Just because in digital they're not dependent on the needle they can do stupid things like EQ wildly and compress and whatnot doesn't mean they have to or does it make the format worse.

I think what is a good comparison is when they aren't under pressure, or pressured by "status quo" to master loud and ugly. Like classical! I've heard a number of great classical recordings---it only matters if one engineer here is better than another engineer there, and that, in my opinion, is the only variable in the argument between vinyl and CDs that isn't regarding the format itself.

Also, don't get me wrong, I've loved many recordings on vinyl from those I've heard elsewhere. I just don't have a turntable and if I hear that someone worth their stuff had done a good master on CD I wouldn't hesitate!

And don't worry, I love vinyl in it's own special way! I'm just neck-deep in signal and audio stuff that when Michael brought up figures I though "IT'S ON!"

Thank you for the reply!

ViciAudio's picture

... it makes the format debate nonsense, I don't love any format, but I love sound and through the years I came to understand that the best sound depends mainly on the quality of the recording, quality of the edit/mix to make a master tape, and the actual mastering from that source master tape to the final media. When these three major steps are done with really high quality and good taste, it will sound great on any format (except for "low res" formats like MP3 and the like). Sure there will be some differences, even more so if the full path is analog from capturing to recording to editing/mixing to mastering, in such cases there are reasons to find that vinyl (when cut taking full advantage of its capabilities) is actually superior in the task of translating the original analog recording to the domestic music reproduction environment. But for most recordings, specially today, it's not the format that will make anything sound good or bad. I might disagree with you regarding classical music on digital formats being free from the loudness wars... unfortunately I've found many cases where they were just as bad as any modern punk/rock mastering, with extreme limiting and obnoxious EQ as well :(

ViciAudio's picture

... during my music/sound voyage, I started with digital (mostly CD and SACD) where I invested a lot of money and time and research to find only the best mastering from all eras and regions, did that for some 10 years... then I started to gravitate towards vinyl when it was becomning really difficult to find good masterings on digital formats, at some point it bacame obvious to me that the vinyl world was the place for easy access to above average mastering quality, and when it comes to "high-end" reissues market, they are mostly unbeatable. Mastering sound quality is what brought me to vinyl records... nothing else ;)

gsbischoff's picture

*answering both*

Oh I definitely found at least a few that are limited/compressed. Film soundtracks mainly. It's particularly annoying because the extent which they limit the higher amplitudes is so minute it's unnecessary---there's maybe a *couple* dBs gained, but why?? Just give it to us without dynamics compression!

But the format argument matters because digital isn't disadvantaged, it's simply misused most of the time. ://

And if I've learned from all of the mastering talk it's that people have different opinions. The whole "Black triangle DSOTM CD is the best!!" is one, I like the later Capitol version because the first mastering has a lack of treble which makes it sound really dark to me. (ugh, I hate the audioland descriptions of sounds, "this recording sounds green!" is what I expect next)

But, have you tried any of the CDs from the high-end reissues? I have a sample size of 1, so don't ask me! (Stokowski's Rhapsodies on Sony/BMG's SACD sounds almost exactly like AP's SACD reissue---you just get less music, and pay 3x more, but you DO get *far* better quality artwork with AP! They both sound fantastic, but if I'd known...)

Regardless, I just like that I don't have to give much thought into expensive cartridges or turntables or *cleaning*! Maybe just the CD player's specs... but most importantly the mastering job on the recording, landing us here!

I just hope the loudness wars goes out of style, for all of our benefit.

ViciAudio's picture

... it sounds really glorious on the AP LP :D (I admit I never heard the digital version from AP, could it sound any better?)

gsbischoff's picture

As someone who first listened to the original stereo LP, I LOVE it! (both!) I haven't A/B'd it, but I don't need to, they both sounded wonderful.

That said, again, I found no useful difference between the AP SACD remaster and the Sony/BMG SACD from 2005. Plus the BMG has his wonderful version of Tannhauser. And it only costs $10 versus the AP's SACD and LP being $30 and $35! (why such expensive SACDs AP??? WHY? AND STOP PLATING THE CDs WITH GOLD TO SELL THEM FOR MORE DAMMIT)

Trust me, I doubled down on Rhapsodies because I was curious, ended up with nicer looking packaging but that's it! (the BMG living stereo series from '04-'07 sounded fantastic but the covers were blegh)
I hope AP isn't putting all their mastering resources and expertise in LP over SACD, for how much they sell them. I am pleased with AP's version of Witches' Brew, which is not on BMG's SACD series.

gsbischoff's picture

Just to pop in once more... I found a CD release of this percussion record Mike's demoing for us! I did a comparison and...

They sound practically the same in terms of dynamics and EQ, it seems there wasn't much that could be said about the mastering engineer's work other than them reproducing it very well on vinyl. It is very well recorded, after all!

However, Mike's comments about the surface noise are, well, wrong? Despite there being not a whole lot of pops, there still was some nagging surface noise. Enough so that when I compared the file directly, I noticed that the noise of the piano fading away grew so minute it fell under the surface noise---and the noise wasn't that quiet! As in, I could hear it drop below the noise without my speakers being too loud!

On the CD, without any surface noise, not only did I distinctly hear the piano completely fade away, I also could hear when the piano's tones stopped (not the tape ending, physically stopped) and hear a bit of shuffling and the room noise and then the tape noise. (but you wouldn't listen to the rest that loud!)

Randy Shirley's picture

Yep Micky, everybody knows records don't have any bass. ;-)

An audiophile buddy of mine introduced me to this record when it came out, as one of his favorite test records. I had to run right out and get it. My 18-inch Hartley in the 14 foot transmission line loved this record!!

jenspp's picture

Hi Mike, I am wondering if your radioshow is available as a podcast?

xtcfan80's picture

Cool LP...Was on a business trip to S.F. in 2010 and heard this piece played by the Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting in Davies Hall...fantastic experience as you might imagine...I'll get a copy of this LP soon.

es347's picture

..all you need is poorer dental work and you'd easily pass for a Brit

bdp24's picture

I learned of the Percussion Music LP on Nonesuch when J. Gordon Holt gave it a rave review in a mid-70's Stereophile.

concerto12's picture

And the sound is superb. As for the music, each to their own. I very much enjoy it. Very technical 20th century compositions.

michel9998's picture

I saw the Varese name, it looked familar and could have sworn I have a Varese recording, yet oh dear, I don't, darn! (That doesn't mean I don't have similarly great recordings in any event).

I for one found the piece remarkable in sound quality even through You Tube and my boisterous PC (I truly need to cure that). In spite of the fact that, I likewise discovered it not to my preference for music. (I was not expecting the soundtrack style, but rather it was not about that in any case). I simply had something other than what's expected at the top of the priority list before hearing it. sebeatapp ( is my favorite music streaming service.

Gracious, coincidentally, you ought to clean that little spot on your turntable platter so it mixes better. It may even enhance the sound more! Ha, simply joking.

sefischer1's picture

Were you thinking Varese-Sarabande?

sefischer1's picture

The Nonesuch Percussion Music was a very well reviewed recording back in the 70s when it was released. I was in high-school then and searched it out. It is one of those recordings which I've always kept on the top shelf of my mental filing system, even after all these years.