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Lou Reed talks vinyl over MP3 at CSULB

The Carpenter Center hosted legendary rock ‘n’ roller and Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed on Friday night.

Reed spoke with his team of four sound composers about his sound art exhibit currently on display at the University Art Museum. 

The exhibit focuses on Reed’s infamous and nearly career-ending 1975 experimental noise rock album “Metal Machine Music” in a pure and uncompressed format on one of the most advanced audio systems. 

Reed and his long-time friend and famed rock producer Bob Ezrin carried on conversations that weren’t so much about Reed’s career but instead about their obsession for the highest quality of sound. 

They spoke about MP3 formats and asked people if they could tell how terrible they really sound. 

Ezrin asked the audience with a show of hands who didn’t really care for sound quality in their music and only listens because they love the music’s content. The response was mixed and some people admitted to not really caring about the music’s sound quality. 

Ezrin and Reed also spoke about the rejuvenation of vinyl and how the LP format is really the only way music should be listened to in order to achieve the highest quality of timbre. 

Ezrin said in reference to MP3 formatting, “We have reduced our delivery system to something so simple and so gross.”

Reed expressed his love for his home stereo system and said he feels the only problem with vinyl is that a good delivery system is so expensive that most people cannot afford a quality record-playing system. 

Reed is also an active member of the Occupy Movement and a joke was made that he is part of the 1 percent and is therefore able to afford a sound system that could cost more than $10,000. 

Later in the evening, Reed and Ezrin spoke about the technicalities of “Metal Machine Music” and questions were asked regarding the album’s motifs. It has long been assumed that the album was a joke with a direct negative response to the record industry, but Reed responded with a sincere tone that the album is really about his love for the electric guitar. 

He described his New York apartment in the 1970s, when he recorded the album and laid several guitars with unique tuning up against their amplifier cabinets and essentially listened to the guitars play themselves with feedback. 

“The biggest mistake was releasing the album,” Reed said. 

“Metal Machine Music” appears to be one man’s love affair for the electric guitar and has long been considered to be a trailblazing album for noise-rock, industrial and alternative music. 

Reed and Ezrin’s team of four who built the 12-speaker binaural ambisonic process sound system came to the stage for questions and comments. 

The team explained the technicalities of the sound system. The sound is three-dimensional, whereas a stereo is only two-dimensional. It has an organic sound similar to a live concert. 

One man on Reed’s team was Ulrich Krieger, a professor of composition at CalArts and a distinguished saxophone player. Krieger had managed to notate “Metal Machine Music” and wrote it down on paper even though Reed said it could not be physically done. 

Reed was so impressed by Krieger that he gave him permission to record the entire hour arrangement and let him play it live in Berlin. 

“‘Metal Machine Music’ is very much a symphony with many orchestral concepts with guitars,” Krieger said. 

The presentation of “Metal Machine Music” in the University Art Museum will be on display until April 15 and is free for CSULB students.


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