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KRAKOW SONIC SOCIETY | meeting № 133

double bass means
the universe


KRAKÓW | Poland


Translation: Marek Dyba
Images: Wojciech Pacuła

Meeting #133

December 1, 2021

KRAKOW SONIC SOCIETY is an informal group of music lovers, audiophiles, friends, meeting together to learn something new about audio products, recordings, music, and so on. The idea of the KSS was born in 2005. It is already a 133rd KSS meeting.

he KRAKOW SONIC SOCIETY MEETING 133 was supposed to be different. To be more precise - completely different. On the other hand, it was exactly what we had planned. Let me explain this contradiction. The agenda was arranged by us a few months ago - "us" meaning BIRGIT HAMMER-SOMMER and DIRK SOMMER, who run the Sommelier du Son record label, and - this time just Dirk - and me.

We have planned this meeting as a celebration of the "new normality", a post-Covid one. We haven't seen each other for over two years and although together with HIGH FIDELITY decides STATEMENT in High Fidelity awards twice a year, we write to each other, call each other, see each other over Skype from time to time, it is not enough. The meeting in Krakow was therefore intended as way to a „disenchant” that time.

The more so that the day before, on Saturday, we had a gala dinner with the winners of the "German edition" of the 2021 award, ie Roger Adamek, representing RCM Audio, and Marcin Hamerla from HEM. Let me remind you that HEM was awarded for the FERRUM HYPSOS, and RCM Audio was awarded for THE BIG PHONO.

⸜ STATEMENT in High Fidelity 2021 - German Edition award ceremony: (from left) author, owner of RCM-Audio ROGER ADAMEK, owner of HEM MARCIN HAMERLA and DIRK SOMMER • photo: Birgit Hammer-Sommer / Plan B

We were supposed to celebrate the new opening not only with Birgit and Dirk, but also with JULIAN LORENZI, head of the AMG, who was to bring us his most expensive turntable, and to talk to us about it and listen to it with us. On his way to Poland, he and his wife planned a stop at a hotel just outside the border, where they took a Corona virus test, which turned out to be positive. We found out about the situation on Saturday morning. And this is the part I said, the meeting was supposed to be "completely different".

Fortunately, we have friends we can count on, among them MARCIN OLEŚ, a musician, a double bass player, whom we persuaded to prepare a lecture on ways to play this instrument and how to record it. By the way, we listened to the album that Marcin and his brother Bartłomiej, performing as Oleś Brothers, recorded with Andrzej Przybielski, entitled Short Farewell - The Lost Session. And this, in turn, is the part that set the mood of joy for our meeting, joy of listening to the music together. The 133th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society turned out to be an ideal metaphor for the coming out of the pandemic.

And that’s how I divided this text. In the first part we will listen to Marcin and learn a few "trade secrets", we will also hear the stary from behind a curtain of the Short Farewell ... preparation, and in the second part we will look at the differences between a black, transparent and Test Press vinyls using as an example the Christopher Dell & Oleś Brothers’ Komeda AHEAD. WP


⸜ MARCIN OLEŚ speaking:

WHEN WE RECORDED THIS MATERIAL (he’s talking about the Short Farewell - The Lost Session; all emphasis in the text - ed.) my brother and I were much younger and we decided not to publish it back then. We forgot about it with time, hence its title: The Lost Session. Twenty years later, however, we finally appreciated the value of this music material and decided to share it with our friends, jazz fans. The album was pressed on 45 rpm vinyl as it is a very short one - it is only 28 minutes long because only so much material has survived.

⸜ MARCIN OLEŚ with the Short Farewell – The Lost Session album

It is also a story about recording methods. During the session, a low-speed tape recorder was used. So the problem was to find a professional tape recorder that could play this tape. Fortunately, we managed to do it, which is largely thanks to my brother, Bartłomiej and the recording engineer, Michał Rosicki ... I would like to start with this album, because Rysiek B. who is here mentioned earlier that Stańko never appeared during the process of final mix of his recordings and I wanted to rectify that. Tadeusz Sudnik, my friend, has recorded Stańko many times and, as he says, the trumpeter was often a decision-maker in the matter of mixing and mastering.

⸜ PRZYBIELSKI But why am I talking about it - on the Peyotl album from 1988 we find two fantastic trumpeters - Stańko and Andrzej Przybielski. Nota bene, Przybielski's trumpet was a gift from Tomasz Stańko, who at some point stopped playing silver instruments and gave it to him. Andrzej played it until his death in 2011. Of course, his "sound" was completely different from the Stanko’s who had previously played the same instrument.

But to the point - after the session for the aforementioned album, Stańko sat with Sudnik and at one point asked the producer about "who is playing this fucking trumpet?" - "Przybielski" - answered Sudnik. "No, it's complete shit, cut it out," said Stanko. Tadeusz, however, has his own style and the next time he met Tomasz, he played exactly the same fragment of the piece to him, without changing anything in it, then Stańko asked: "Who is playing this fucking trumpet?" "Przybielski," replied Sudnik. "Is fantastic! - said the trumpeter, don't cut anything!" This is a story about a musician's intuition. Sometimes it is like this, other times it is completely different. These are often subconscious decisions and they change over time.

When early in the morning - today, let me add - Wojtek wrote to me that a man with a turntable would not come to today's meeting and asked if I could come and talk about the double bass, I said, of course, that’s a nice idea. But right after that, he said that maybe I would also bring my instrument and say something more about it, I thought, "he’s nuts!" But a moment later I thought it might not be such a stupid idea not to play too much music, but rather to talk about many, very important details that we have to deal with during recording sessions. I think they are very important because they influence how we perceive a given album later, whether we like it or not. However, you need to get to this point, gather enough experience for that. And to learn enough for the right instrument - even though many will say that its class does not matter.

⸜ RABBATH I started playing the double bass when I was seventeen, but it wasn't exactly a classical technique, especially when it comes to using the bow. It was only over ten years ago that I visited my MASTER, FRANÇOIS RABBATH, who comes from North Africa and now lives in Paris, to ask him about a few things. He was about 87 when we met, but he was in excellent shape and anyone could envy him such vitality.

I visited him because at that time I was having a crisis in my playing. I had another instrument back then and I couldn't get it to sound they way i wanted it to. I didn't know if it was my fault, the fault of the instrument, the bow, or something else. The meeting was actually a five-hour conversation in his kitchen - a conversation about everything except music. I asked him about instruments, strings etc. At one point I quoted my father, also a musician, who said that a good instrumentalist is able to play any instrument.

⸜ MARCIN OLEŚ with his instrument

François perked up and said, “Yes, it's true! You have to connect your heart with the music, the rest doesn't matter." Earlier, however, I searched the Internet for a story that he once took his double bass, played a few notes and threw it out the window - from the fifth floor. I quote it to him and ask: “François, WTF? - After all, the is the instrument important, or it isn't?" "You know, he replied, this is a longer story. " When he was young he learned to play from books that were at his house. And since his father was a violinist, he learned to play bass with a bow in a different technique than double bass players, more like a violinist.

After reading the book, he went to Paris to see the author from one of the most important double bass schools, EDOUARD NANNA, to show him his skills. With only a ticket in hand, he went to the Academy of Music, where he found out that his master had died some time ago. Undeterred, he took an entry exam to the university, passed, and resigned from it only a year later. However, he did not stop practicing, although he was playing a borrowed instrument. The double bass was so bad that one day he couldn't stand it anymore and threw it out the window. So he had to earn enough money to buy two instruments - one to give it back and the other for himself. It wasn't, as he says, nothing personal. So much for this story.

In any case, after five hours of conversation, he took me to one of the rooms in his beautiful house, where there were five double basses made by CHRISTIAN LABORIE, a famous French violin maker, who asked him to evaluate them; each cost around 50,000 euros. Rabbath himself, let me add, plays an instrument from the 1940s, costing 100,000 euros. There were ten bows on the table, each costing from 2,000 to 6,000 euros. When I saw it, I repeated myself again - after all, he’d said that the quality of the instrument does not matter ... He didn't answer that and just smiled. As you can see, the instrument doesn't matter unless it does ...

So I started to play so that he could see my technique. I greased the bow and played a few bars. "Weird," he said, "put more rosin on." I did it and played the same. "Hmm, could you give me your bow?" He put on a little more rosin, played the same thing, then in a gentle but firm manner said: "How can you even play with a shitty bow like that?"

That was how our meeting ended, because he called his friend right away, to have him make a bow for me a proper one I should have had and I HAD to buy it. As he said, I had a good technique, but my bow sucked. A little scared, I said, that it was very expensive. To which he only smiled ...

The lesson I learned from these anecdotes was that maybe at some level the quality of the instrument - especially in improvised music - doesn't matter, but at some point you can't get away from it. You have to have good bass, good bow, good rosin and good gain or you'll never get it right.

⸜ DOUBLE BASS With all this in mind, I would like to mention a few - as Wojtek put it when we talked in the morning - "tricks", thanks to which the double bass sounds good when recorded. First of all, when I play, it is important at what distance the instrument is from the listener - in the recording situation it is about the distance from a microphone. Normally the listener stands at a certain distance from the instrument, but it does not work well during the recording. So the first decision concerns the placement of the microphones, as well as the place I take up in the room.

When I find a place, we choose a place for the microphones, then we have to decide what amplification we will use. So we take several microphones, different designs, etc. I add a slightly unusual thing to it - a contact microphone made by the Swedish company called EHRLUND, which records the sound from the top of the soundboard . On top of that, I am adding a custom-made "dings" - made by a French double bass player, HUBERT LIEGOIS. These are two electret microphones which I mount in the holes of the double bass bridge. While mixing, most of the sound comes from the main microphones, but these two, which I add sometimes contribute 2%, sometimes 5%, and other times 15%, allowing me to 'anchored' my instrument more precisely in one place in the space.

Then I choose the bow. I don't have twenty, only two, but they are really very good. One is made of pernambuko wood, and the other is made of carbon fiber - they sound completely different. This is an important decision that must be made before recording. Only then can you approach the recording. The next series of decisions will be made during mixing and mastering.

And it doesn't end there. Much depends on the quality of the studio, and even more on the relationship you have with the sound engineer. Because it is very important that you are able to explain to him what you want to achieve. And yet it happens that everything goes well, and in the end it turns out that the effect is not overwhelming. Or something else happens, like in the case of Koptycus music, which we recorded in 2018 with DOMINIK STRYCHARSKI.

This material was commissioned a few years ago by one of the Warsaw festivals and was broadcast by Polish Radio PRII. I asked the director of the radio to record this material on multiple tracks, because I had a feeling that it would be a very good concert. And indeed - it seemed to us on stage that from the very first notes people in the audience held their breath and let it out only when we finished our set. The audience during this concert was an equal member of the group.

But, as Wojtek said earlier, sometimes everything goes to dust. It turned out that we did not manage to obtain the material recorded at that time and ended up having to record this material in the studio, and this wonderful moment in time - was lost ...

I hope I was able to show you that the recording is a complex dance of many people where things can go wrong. The musician has to prepare the material, the instrument, and "agree" with the microphones, the studio, as well as the recording engineer and the producer. But even then there is no guarantee of success, what counts is experience, the right people in the right place and a stroke of luck. MO


THE SECOND PART OF THE MEETING WAS informal, because we listened to various albums, discussed them, etc. At the end, Marcin played a micro-concert so that we could hear the sound of a double bass in a real room, where we usually listen to music from CDs. One of the highlights of this part was the comparison of the three versions of the Komeda AHEAD album, which Oleś Brothers recorded together with Christopher Dell, and which was released in 2014 by the Universal label. On the Oleś Brothers website it reads:

Polish and German artists interpret music by Krzysztof Komeda, a legendary Polish jazzman. Their interpretation has a new, original, emotional and expressive dimension that was based on the traditional jazz and contemporary music.; accessed: 9.11.2011.

The comparison concerned the black version, TEST PRESS and the transparent vinyl version, the latter was prepared only in three copies exclusively for the musicians. Marcin asked for it because he thinks transparent vinyl is the best sounding one. The downside to this particular pressing was that the records were made at the very beginning, before the machines reached their optimal operational temperature.

⸜ „Resonator” by Corrado Faccioni

By the way, the "guest of the evening" showed us something that resembled audiophile attempts to achieve the best possible sound, and which is a strange thing for outsiders. CORRADO FACCIONI, a music lover, designer, known for his devotion to the smallest details of the sound, produces an element that clips to the head of the double bass and changes its sound. What's more, similar elements are used for audio cables ... The Swedish designer calls it a "resonator", which is made of bimetal. It is used by many musicians, such as Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea etc., and at the end of his carrier it was also used by Tomasz Stańko.

When Marcin asked the designer about this "resonator", he said that he would send it to him and if he did not like it, he could send it back. He played a few things to us without and with it, and everyone agreed that indeed - this THING improves the sound of the instrument. The sound is „nobler” and deeper with it. And this way we came to the listening section where we talked in a relaxed atmosphere about the differences between pressing on various types of material.

⸤ Christopher Dell & Oleś Brothers Komeda AHEAD, Universal Music

Dionizy Piątkowski writes about this album for polish “Jazz” magazine:

In 2011, Berliner Jazzfest commissioned a "Komeda project" from the Oleś brothers, which was materialized not only with the premiere at this prestigious festival and numerous live performances, but also with a session that was released on Fundacja Słuchaj CD and on a vinyl (with a different graphic design and cover). The wealth of creative ideas and extensive discography of the Oleś brothers would be enough for several other creative artists, and each of them would draw a lot of authentic, creative experiences from the projects of a drummer Bartłomiej and double bass player Marcin. […] The Komeda Ahead is a result of cooperation between Oleś brothers and the vibraphone master Christopher Dell. The session includes eight famous compositions by Krzysztof Komeda (with the iconic Kattorna, Astigmatic and Svantetic and Nightime, Daytime, Requiem dedicated to John Coltrane ). The trio gives Komeda's music a new, modern dimension, built by the stylistic openness of the trio. The musicians combine a considerable load of emotions, expression and finesse with the melody and consistency of Komeda's idea.

⸜ DIONIZY PIĄTKOWSKI, Oleś Brothers & Christopher Dell – Komeda Ahead – FS Records/Universal,; accessed: 10.11.2021.

⸜ DIRK SOMMER ( This, of course, is nothing new in the sense that clear vinyl is the best. Let me remind you that Mike Hobbson from Classic Records talked about it many years ago. It would be best if we had a demagnetizer for black records, which significantly reduces the difference in sound between black vinyl and transparent vinyl. The problem is, of course, the small metal particles in the vinyl that get magnetized and interfere with the cartridge's operation.

And by the way – the clear vinyl sounded better than Test Press.

⸜ Additional microphones on the double bass’ bridge

⸜ MARCIN OLEŚ I like the sound of transparent vinyl, but it is worth remembering that a lot also depends on which copy is it pressed from a given matrix. For it is so that the first ten, maybe more, copies should be thrown away, because they are pressed by not completely warmed up press. But no one does that ...

⸜ DIRK Many audiophiles believe that Test Press records sound best because they are pressed from matrices that are in perfect condition. They also think that the first 100 copies sound better than the next ones. This, however, is not true. It takes some time for the machines to warm up and for the people who operate them to calibrate them properly and only then the copies are optimal.

⸜ MARCIN (KSS) Exactly - that's why the "special", i.e. color versions, should not be made right at the beginning, but only after one hundred black versions have been pressed. This is why Test Press doesn't always sound good.

⸜ TOMEK (KSS) There is something else - MAREK BILIŃSKI, who released his re-editions on colored, numbered vinyls, once said that the WM Fono press, which prepared the re-releases, assigned them numbers completely randomly. So it's not that the early numbers are always ones pressed first. And this probably applies to many releases.

⸜ From the left – Tomek, the host of the meeting, Marcin Oleś and (on a couch) Dirk Sommer

⸜ JANUSZ (KSS) Coming back to the listening session, I will say that the clear vinyl is, in my opinion, unrivaled. My experience with music shows that the sound closest to my ideal was the sound of the clear version. The others "tried" to sound better, but in fact they couldn’t. The transparent version was simply addictive.

⸜ MARCIN (KSS) I will not say anything new, but I have a similar opinion as Janusz - "clear vinyl" sounded best. There was the best dynamics with it, the sound on it was most "lively". However, I didn't notice much of a difference between the two black versions. Maybe because the transparent version stood out clearly.

⸜ JAREK WASZCZYSZYN (Ancient Audio) It seems that my opinion varies, because I admit that the clear version was actually nicely done, it sounded well. However, dynamics, attack and rhythm were better served from the black records.

⸜ RYSIEK B. (KSS) I also disagree with previous speakers - for me the Test Press definitely sounded the best, then clear vinyl and finally black vinyl. I noticed two aspects that promote TP, namely the resolution of percussion instruments. On previously played albums it was more cacophonous, less clear. On TP, I heard that there are real cymbals. The second aspect is the tonal scale on the vibraphone, by far the best on Test Press.

⸜ TOMEK (KSS) According to the long running KSS tradition, I can say that I heard things exactly the same way as Rysiek, but I judged it exactly the opposite ... In my opinion, the greatest dynamics was from the clear vinyl.

⸜ ROBERT SZKLARZ (Nautilus) In my experience, it would be best to listen to the albums several times, with proper focus. But even here you can hear that there were differences and I was most pleased with the clear vinyl. The TP sounded a bit less dynamic and more noisy.

⸜ WICIU (KSS) I agree with Robert 100%, I always have a problem with us rely on fleeting impressions. But here I immediately noticed that the black vinyl sounded quieter. On clear vinyl, the rising sounds of the timpani, resembling an epitaph, were more dynamic and cleaner. Honestly, the moment the drums come in was a real punch, which I can’t recall from other versions. To sum up - the clear vinyl was the best, then Test Press but falling quite far behind, and finally the black vinyl.

⸜ JULIAN (KSS) I hesitated because I seem to have a different opinion from most of you. Mine is the closest to Ryszard's opinion - I liked Test Press the most, with a colorful, vibrant midrange. The clear vinyl sounded so similar to the black one that I would have to listen to it again at home to judge the superiority of one or the other. So I definitely disagree that the clear vinyl somehow stood out.

⸜ TOMEK (KSS) I agree with Janusz - the clear version was the best and then nothing for a long, long time. I heard a lot more detail on this version, the soundstage was spectacular and there was nothing special on both black versions. I was also irritated by the hype on the Test Press, but for me there weren't any big differences between TP and black vinyl.


PREPARING VINYL RELEASE IS a complex, multi-threaded and multi-dimensional project. As Marcin Oleś showed us, preparation for the recording is time-consuming and requires many decisions. The next stage is the recording itself, with even more variables, after which the material has to be mixed and mastered. Only then does the time come for the "other side of the glass", i.e. the way of distributing the material and decisions about how to release it, how to press it, etc.

The end result, and I think about a record packed in an envelope, or an audio file that we buy or stream, brings it all together, like in a lens. Let's take that into account the next time we play a record. Behind many of them there is a lot of work and money, hope and expectations, talents and hearts. Let us remember this.