High Fidelity is the leading East-European webmag on Hifi and Highend Audio, run and edited by Wojtek Pacula, and published monthly as a bunch of quality reviews and other relevant articles. The magazine also features a rather unique ”Who’s who?” section called The Editors series, interviewing editors of audio magazines (both printed and online) from all over the world. Since 2012, 26 interviews have been published so far, covering such prominent audio journalists/editors as Srajan Ebaen (6moons.com), John E. Johnson (Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity), Art Dudley (Stereophile), Michael Lavorgna (Twittering Machine), Yosuke Asada (Net Audio/Analog, Japan), Edgar Kramer (Audio Esoterica, Australia) and many others from the USA, the UK, Germany and Switzerland.
And now INNER. Finland. Scandinavia.
The interview may have gone unnoticed by many, so it’s published as it were below. The original can found from here. So here we go (the opening image and the one here is by Michael Lavorgna):
HF: Tell us please about yourself.
Let me answer this way. There’s the old debate on whether it’s the book or the work of art, … the outcome, that is all that matters and should speak for itself, or whether some background information on the author or the artist needs to be released in order to better understand the work, text and so on. It tells much about me as a person, that subjectively and intuitively I’d no doubt choose to be in favour of the former camp, but it tells about my training and professional background that I’m first to admit that the question is richer and far more complex than that, and in the end probably remains open and unresolved.
HF: How did you started flirting with audio?
I wish I were able to give you some impressive anecdotal story but I’m afraid my first encounter with audio was a rather conventional one, beginning from when I got my first guitar, at seven I think, and then gradually grew into listening to recorded music, mainly pop and rock of the time. At the time when I commenced to collect records, the playback system I had was some out-of-date all-in-one FM-tuner/amp system. Then later, through the contacts of my father, I managed to acquire my first true stereo system with a Kenwood amp, Dual turntable, NAD cassette deck and B&W loudspeakers. Nothing fancy but enough for an aging teen-ager. Around the same time I became a regular subscriber to a Hi-Fi mag, did some elementary DIY speaker building, … and that was it, I was lost in audio and Hi-Fi. Just the normal course of events, isn’t it, among young Western males.
In retrospect I don’t think it was just the better sound quality that I was after, in fact the most volcanic record-based musical experiences I probably got through the lousiest playback equipment even though in some of my friends’ house there were a few fairly decent B&O systems. Nor was I particularly obsessed with what went in the amps or speakers technically, the circuitry or components or what have you, although I must admit there was something magical about the carbon resistors. But I do remember being fascinated by the sheer technicality of the devices. It was very sexy and cool to get a new gear, unpack them, their looks, the knobs, the non-natural man-made squared shape, and of course the pure amazement that they actually made a sound!
Then during my studies I kept a slower profile in the Hi-Fi hobby, just to pick it up again after having moved abroad and having found some excellent dealer shops nearby. Over the next 5 years or so, I fiercely wolfed down everything I could learn about audio from mags, books, contacts from all continents. Majority of what I know today about audio originates from that period.
HF: When did you get an editor bug?
In the mid 90s I begun to draft reports of the international Hi-Fi shows in Paris, London, Hongkong, Stockholm etc. for the one and only Finnish Hi-Fi mag there was, and then step by step drifted into assisting various audio mags with reviews, interviews, reports and so on. Around 2005, and somewhat bored with conventional audio journalism, I took the first steps toward launching my own mag, the first issue of which was then published in 2007 as a 500g heavy paper mag called INNER. Three years later it went through a transformation into a webmag, which was recently redesigned in order to better reflect the mag’s objectives.
HF: What kind of publication INNER is?
That’s a very good question. I’m not sure that I fully apprehend myself. Traditional audio journalism is rooted in consumer education dating back to the mid 20th century or so, the idea being that clever and competent audio journalists pick up, on behalf of less knowledgeable passive consumers, technically sound products out of a bunch of less respectable examples, confer the former five stars and mock the others. In such journalism the basic presumption seems to be that the principal task of an audio journalist is to intervene and reveal the hoax and humbug. That may be fine for the mass-market mode of operation, but when we’re talking about the audiophilia, the hobby, I’m inclined to think that such attitude is less appropriate. There’s always place for criticism and correct information, of course, but at INNER we trust that that audiophiles are smart and well-informed people not to be educated in the above sense.
That’s one thing. The second thing is that most of the Hi-Fi mags seem to presuppose that the hobby would be just about chasing some pre-fixed sound quality and do it by a series of technical means. That narrative in which audiophiles take technology only for its obvious instrumental role, is so narrow and shallow that I cannot imagine anybody who’s been into the hobby for more than five years would buy it not at least in the sense that it would provide the full picture.
As far as INNER is concerned, there’s much more to the hobby than the above simple scenario, meaning that there must be several meaningful ways, not just one, to relate oneself with the technology, and we try to represent those other aspects of the hobby too. To be honest I find it hard to believe that what truly motivates the interest in audio technology is some abstract sound quality, or even music. Those to me are more like rationalizations, and the true reasons probably lie deeper. Just think how nicely some of the features of the hobby are explained by techno-romanticism, for instance, or by the belief in science as an outlook on life of some of the hobbyists. Anyway, audiophilia is a very special male sub-culture, and as such provides a splendid opportunity to explore these issues, which is exactly what INNER attempts to do, and which is also why Art and Sound Art in all forms is part of the mag’s concept.
HF: What’s the story of the publication?
Well, Srajan Ebaen of 6moons used to sent to his contributors compilation CDs containing samples of so called world music, nice music often served with an exemplary sound quality, but not my material exactly. It then occured to me that there likewise must be less worldly music for our inner life, and wrote a piece on one of the greatest outsider artists of all times, Adolf Wölfli, who without being firghtened of being called a dilettante, went from making drawings and paintings to writing books to composing and even to developing his own mathetmatics. The text was published on 6moons under the title Inner-World Music. That gave the name for my first mag Inner-World Audio, which later became Inner-Magazines and more succintly INNER. The founding words for such a mag covering both technology and art were, however, written long before, in 1992 when I still lived in Geneva Switzerland.
The cover image of the Issue 2, designed by Michael Lavorga, the Chief Editor of Twittering Machines, an excellent audiophile and artist, represents Edward Munch’s famous symbolistic painting Shout, with the exception that this time the man on the bridge is shouting his head inside the vacuum of the Western Electric 300B! INNER is not against outer appearances as the symbolists were, but I think that the image nicely depicts the fact that for us inward-looking also plays a role in the hobby.
HF: What is your publication and reviewing policy?
Nothing special really, just the standard practices. Each reviewer, me inluded, uses his own system and devices to obtain comparative information if required. However, since the systems and equipment can never be fully standardized due to different acoustics and million other variables, I believe it’s far more important and informative for the reader, that the reviewers are experienced enough, so that irrespectively of the gear they happen to own or what happens to be present, they know how to place the product in a proper context both price/performance-wise and as a technical product, not forgetting that the product is always an object for the projection of its maker’s passion and ambition. Over the years I must have auditioned literally hundreds of loudspeakers and dozens and dozens of amplifiers, CD plyers etc. thanks to all the group tests I’ve taken part in, on top of all the reviews and experiments of individual gear.
HF: What is your favourite kind of sound, music, equipment?
As to the sound, mono. As to the music, anything older than 250 years, or newer than 130 years, and selectively in between, but independently of the age, something that is rather classified as art than entertainment, as artificial as that may sound. As to the equipment, vintage or vintage-spirited, tubes, horns, classic widebanders … you know. That would be the quick and easy answer.
HF: What are the assets and weaknesses of web magazines and printing ones?
As far as I’m concerned, the paper mag, purely as a user interface, outdoes web-mags in almost any respect. Paper renders the text and the images an appearance impossible to attain by the means of the dematerialized digital media. The mass, the smell, the physicality. The French have a charming habit of buying a half a dozen magazines from the newsstand on Saturday, and then lying on the bed browsing them relaxingly through Sunday afternoons. That’s so cool. None of the charm would be left if the only companion on the bed would be an ipad or laptop or similar. But, of course, a web mag is a way more cost effective to make whereas publishing a specialized paper mag is a really tough business.
HF: Tell us something about Scandinavian audio field – selling, publishing, audiophiles etc.
I don’t think the audio scene in Scandinavia deviates that much from that of the rest of the world, central Europe especially. There are some great world-class audio manufacturers, loudspeakers in particular, in all four countries, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, and there is a limited but relatively stable portion of the male population who maintains the interest in the hobby, as there is a good number of qulity dealers and importers. Of course the markets aren’t that big due to relatively low population numbers, but taken as a whole Scandinavia forms a rather uniform and well-structured market area of sufficiently well-off people who should be of interest to manufacturers outside the Nordic countries. There are some interesting differences between the countries though. The Finns and the Norwegians appear to be the most engineer-minded, whereas the Swedes are those who know how to get thrilled and excited, the Danes dwelling somewhere in between.
HF: Tell us 10 music albums our readers should listen right now and why?
That’s a bit hard because even tough I do listen to records, LPs and CDs, and the piles are growing, I don’t approach music via the records. The older I get the less I feel the need to listen to music just for the immediate pleasure of hearing it, and the more I listen to music in order to get access to new experimental music and to learn new things about music.
I kind of feel that music has betrayed us. It has betrayed us because it does not allow us to say about insignificant music that it is insignificant. If we go by feeling and emotion, there is no music so indifferent and frivolous … the music in gyms, stores etc. come to mind instantly but is not limited to those … that there would not be somebody who’d quite like the music, sings along it, feels home with it and so on. So, as far as music is concerned, we must conclude, anything goes. As far as I can tell, the only way to claim the contrary would be to choose a more cognitive approach to music but that to many seems to be in direct opposition to what music essentially is about: feeling, emotion, pleasure. An impasse, period.
Anyway, personally the best in music is the chance to learn more and to get deeper, which is why my principal source of music today may well be FM radio, precisely because the best radio programmes and the best music journalists and critics are an inexhaustible source for new information and ideas and new suggestions. Plus, a big plus: the sound can be truly marvellous and authentic, if broadcasted live from best concert halls.
In fact, one of the most impressive sonic experiences of recent times was when I heard, again on radio, a field recording of a pack of wolves singing multi-voice in different descending scales rhytmically cleverly sequenced … it was haunting and very, very musical. It reminded me of the young Norwegian Saami yoiker Marja Mortensson and her extraordinary voice eg. on the 2018 album ”Mojhtestasse”, and why not the Mongolian Huun-Huur-Tu’s throat singing on various recordings.
But since you asked, there is one recent album that I can warmly recommend, especially to all friends of cello music. That’s the one produced by Audio Note UK, on which Vincent Bélanger plays less often performed solo cello pieces, the Grutzmacher etudes especially (world premiere), and in which the cello has been recorded very appealingly. The disc is available both in CD and vinyl. Get the vinyl!