Here are the winners in our recent Stereo Essay Contest.
Grand Prize winner - Harry Tournemille
I woke up one night, when I was ten, to the sounds of my father arguing with himself in the living room. From the hallway I watched him slowly assemble a futuristic piece of furniture straight from Battlestar Gallactica. Lights and twitching gauges and towering black speakers, all lay in various states of frustration on the carpet. Dad grumbled his way through the manual, scratched his head, peered at components, then back to pages that might as well have been written in Russian. Eventually I went back to bed, and by morning the remnants of Dad's confusion were nowhere to be seen. The torn packaging, the bits of tape—all gone. What remained was a cabinet in the corner of the living room, polished and ominous. Brushed-steel pieces of electronics sat on tidy, arranged shelves. My father stood close by, admiring his handiwork—still wearing his clothes from the night before.
His words were law: this is hands off. You want to listen, you ask me. You want to look at it, you ask me. In fact, maybe it's better if you don't come into the living room at all. My mother objected to this last one, but we were still relegated to the couch. Dad played everything he could find, from Mike and the Mechanics (don't ask) to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The monolithic Aurex speakers thundered and vibrated, the sound waves went through the floor boards, the walls, our own bodies as we sat in stupefied awe on the couch and listened. Years later, when he was less concerned about others using his precious apparatus, Iron Maiden, The Beatles, Herbie Hancock and a host of others made their way to the turntable, from various basements in the neighborhood. Dad's stereo had gained legendary status amongst my friends, and I was quick to capitalize on that.
Today, the age of sound is digital. We download music from the internet, listen to truncated audio spectrums on tiny pieces of hardware that fit in our pockets, or around our wrists. Music has become a quick distraction in a busy, routine-filled life. Recently, I thought of my father and his stereo, the speakers kept safe and warm in a basement bedroom should I want them. For my father, listening to music required conscious effort. Owning a record player held intrinsic, empirical value.
To play a record is to use all our senses. We smell old paper, vinyl and dust. We flip records over and manually lower the needle. We hear the faint crackle as the record turns, the warm sound of music filling the room as if the musicians are here with us, sitting on our couch. My father understood the importance of engaging with music, not just hearing it in the background. Now, as I look at my own record player, which sits next to records from today and years past, I remember that night, the manic effort required, the payoff of feeling music for the first time.
$50.00 Second Place Winner - Peter Parsons, "Bare Essentials"
A new guy joined our office staff in Ottawa. He was about 35 years old and from Toronto. He was married with six children, four girls and two boys. I gather he led a harried life during his free time.
As I got toknow him I discovered he loved Latin music and new all the names of the percussion instruments. He was also a hi-fi nut. He had not been with us long before he invited me round to his house. It was very sparsely furnished. He took me into the living room which was entirely empty except for a Marantz amplifier, a turntable and a gargantuan speaker enclosure in the far corner of the room, the biggest I'd ever seen, which he proudly announced contained top of the line Tannoy speakers.
When I asked about furniture, he explained that it was all still on the road somewhere. But, he said with some satisfaction, "we've got the essentials"!!!
Third Place Winner - John Simmons, "The Toy"
When I was a kid, playing in the living room during the early to mid-seventies, I had some really great toys. One, in particular, was this really cool rubber parachute man with a flimsy plastic 'chute that I used to throw all over the house and watch as he floated back down to the ground.
One day, I threw him just a wee bit too hard and watched in horror as he lightly landed on the then playing turntable of my Dad's stereo system. Needless to say, the record scrapped and yowled while the plastic parachute got caught up in the needle. My Dad, sitting in the next room, came flying in and threw a fit. In one motion the stereo was turned off, the record player untangled and my parachute guy was balled up and disappeared into my dads pocket.
I week or so later I asked him about and he simply replied, "It's gone for good'.
Over the years I grew, moved out and started my own family. In early 2000, my father passed and I got his old stereo system. I stored the components downstairs for awhile until one day, in 2003, I found myself putting the system together so my son can hear what a record sounds like. As I was moving one of the big speakers I noticed the foam around the woofer was rotted so I got out the screwdriver and removed it so I can have it repaired. Now these are big speakers, having a decent tweeter, a midrange, woofer and a big bass port. You know, that large, big hole that one can put a fist into. After taking out the woofer Isaw a bit of colored plastic lying at the bottom of the cabinet. When I reached in and pulled it out I fell back against the couch and slowly untangled the web of strings of my long lost parachute guy. Nothing I could do could hold back the tears. I guess that in my fathers eyes this was the best place to hide him.
My parachute guy is on permanent display in our family room, forever in flight, right above my dad's old stereo.