The Triumph Of Dehumanisation


Blogger Richard Capeless a.k.a. Deep Groove Mono adds an exciting chapter to the book of publications on the legendary engineer Rudy van Gelder. Capeless recently launched the website RVG Legacy, preserving the work of Van Gelder with background stories, equipment analysis and (previously unreleased) pictures in cooperation with the Van Gelder Estate and Van Gelder Studio. See here.

Dubbed ‘an equally important band member’ by the famed Dutch engineer Max Bolleman, it pays to look at the role of the sound engineer in jazz, since it is his work that shapes our appreciation of the artist. Who wants to listen if Freddie Hubbard is buried in a mix of loud cymbals and muffled piano? That’s like eating chili con carne and discovering that the beans have been substituted by gumballs.

A pioneer in close miking and reverberation technique, “The RVG Sound” is synonymous with immediacy, space and a distinctive ‘thick’ piano sound. He made the musicians sound as if they were playing live in your room. In cooperation with Blue Note’s Alfred Lion, Van Gelder created a unique level of authenticity and in effect – almost all of the Blue Note musicians were black – a hard-core and unsurpassed black aesthetic in the world of modern music. Lest we forget, Van Gelder was the engineer on many more labels, including CTI, Impulse, Prestige, Savoy, Regent and Verve and recorded Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins among many, many others.

Van Gelder, as it goes with ‘artists’, met with critique, notably from Charles Mingus, who said that his uniform sound deprived the musicians of their particular character. But if “The RVG Sound” is indeed considered uniform, it is a triumph of dehumanisation that meets with worldwide enjoyment to this day, and many days to come. Now and then, one hears the quibble that too much attention is focused on Van Gelder at the expense of his contemporaries. Indeed, there have been equally extraordinary engineers, for instance Roy DuNann and Val Valentin, but the truly innovative genius of Van Gelder is beyond dispute.

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