Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thank Heaven for the BBC

The Proms have come and gone, marking the end of summer. This season of concerts, like no other, captivates my imagination; many weeks of great music, performed in one of the world's most iconic venues, aimed at making such masterpieces accessible to the general public, and out of phase with the main concert season. Occurring just as I move back to the US, it was exceptionally poignant this year.

Thanks to the foresight of the BBC, the concerts were broadcast using a new high-quality streaming service Coyopa - named after a Mayan god of thunder. Coyopa streams at 320 kbps (that's the bitrate of audio files one can purchase from Amazon, and higher quality than one typically gets from iTunes). The Proms have been a testing ground for this service, which will now be withdrawn, evaluated and (one sincerely hopes) made a standard streaming option in the near future.

Tonight, I listened to the Last Night of the Proms on my KEF loudspeakers, via this digital service, my computer's soundcard, and my Cambridge Audio amp (the computer soundcard being clearly the weakest link in this chain). The quality was astoundingly good for digital streaming, something that became exceptionally apparent at the end of the Prom, when the audience were singing along to the familiar (in the truest sense of the word) tunes of Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory. In closing my eyes, I was seated in the upper circle of the Royal Albert Hall. (with miraculously generous leg space). The orchestra was below me; music reaching directly to my ears, and music resounding from the mushroom-patch above. All around and below me, resonating fiercely, was the audience, singing in joyful abandon. I sang. I pointed skyward; a confirmation to the heavens, in a manner that reminds me immediately and solely of a certain Italian friend of mine. For a while, the 3000 odd miles seemed tangibly shorter.


  1. I only tested the high-quality audio for the first time last night (for the last night of the Proms), and was immediately blown away (if you'll excuse the poor expression). The music came through my small desk speakers with an intensity and aural dynamic I wouldn't have thought possible if I hadn't heard it myself. Suddenly, it wasn't the compressed tinny sound of elevator music; the cellos were there, the basses, the full percussion section and each viola and the brass and wind players breathing through their instruments - even that intangible, hushed anticipation of the concert hall itself, the sound that is "no sound" but instead is the culmination of ten thousand people holding their breath at once. I picked up a piece of paper and started waving along with the Promenaders during the chorus of Rule, Britannia (my neighbors must have thought I'd finally gone insane). I was that moved.

    PS - I always knew Amazon was better than iTunes! Even aside from the DRM issue.

    PPS - I love when people name code after cool stuff, like the Mayan god of thunder. Nice.

  2. PPPS - Make your opinions known! Take the survey on the Radio 3 webpage.

  3. "...even that intangible, hushed anticipation of the concert hall itself, the sound that is "no sound" but instead is the culmination of ten thousand people holding their breath at once."

    Beautiful description of one of my favourite things, along with the anticipative shiver I get to the sound of an orchestra tuning.

    All software should be given such names - obvious names, equivalent to calling an audio encoder SoundsGood, should be banned. Or at least heavily taxed.

    And survey taken :-)

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