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Review of The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo by Garrett Hongo

“The Perfect Sound” braids several threads. Hongo tells us the story of his parents; its majority, mainly in and around Los Angeles; an ecumenical love of music and writing intimately linked to this maturity; his quest for the best equipment on which to experience each new musical discovery; and race, unavoidable in America.

What was the racehe wondered as a high school student listening to white or black music, but not both. of our black Compton classmates?”

The book testifies to Hongo’s keen observation skills, exquisite hearing, and sense of words. He recounts an incident when his white high school girlfriend’s father discovered the couple in a compromising position. Instead of exploding with rage, the father invited Hongo into the kitchen and described being rescued by “the Four-Four-Two” – the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team – during World War II when his battalion was surrounded by the Germans in the Vosges. Mountains in France. Hongo feels “a kind of grief and gratitude mixed with this strange and intense recognition. … Everything flowed through my body – a sticky wreckage of race, excitement, heritage and music.

Hongo boasts of his early influences. His college roommate introduced him to John Fahey’s “Blind Joe Death” album. Wakako Yamauchi (1924-2018) was a Nisei, a second-generation Japanese-American, who became the teacher of “heart, kokoro in Japanese, a word for mind and spirit together. He began visiting her after dropping out of college and supporting himself as a meter reader for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity. “She was, for me, a sort of Colette and Chekhov at the same time, an elder who shared with me the ideas and passions of her life and those she had witnessed.”

It is impossible to do justice to the breadth and depth of the topics explored by Hongo. Want to know how the audio went from mono to stereo? Studying sound wave scholarship, beginning with the 1st century BC Roman Marcus Vitruvius Pollio? Follow the connection between Aristotle’s descriptions of cicadas and the Aeolian harp, King David’s lyre and the lyre adorning Keats’ tombstone in Rome? Compare the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda with Charles Wright, a contemporary poet from Tennessee?

As he left for an MFA and went to songwriting gigs, Hongo made friends in every port. In Portland, Oregon, we meet George Radulesk, an expert on how to control the muddy vibrations of audio equipment – ​​with “little polymer feet, carbon fiber shelves, ceramic cones and blocks of myrtle wood. » placed under the CD player or preamp. Hongo discovered the call of the pig while walking with poet Etheridge Knight on a writing fellowship at MacDowell Colony in the 1990s. Hongo’s friend Jeffrey Jackson of Experience Music in Memphis made demonstration of Goto Unit tweeters and compression horns in Vancouver. In 2014, Hongo visited Michael Fremer, the “American analog guru”. From these myriad connections, we see Hongo as delightfully social and a voracious student of, well, everything.

According to the Poetry Foundation, “ekphrasis” is “a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” Hongo’s work embodies ekphrasis – his expansive mind wanders through art forms. He wants to listen to the way he observes the primitivist painter Henri Rousseau – “as if one had suddenly received the gift of sight”. Here’s Hongo channeling his love of painting in the opener to “Blues With a Feeling, Cassis”:

“It’s a misty day and an onshore wind is blowing from the Mediterranean / in windy puffs that billow the straw-colored curtains I’ve set aside for this Dufy-type view / of pleasure boats, Zodiac boats and double-deck cruisers head for the Calanques and their narrow bays of sparkling Byzantine blue.

“The Perfect Sound” is illustrated with beautiful photography throughout. My only complaint is that these photos need captions. Overall, though, it was a joy to spend time with Hongo’s book. His wandering intellect plants surprises on every page.

It seems best to give the last word to Hongo, author and/or editor of eight previous works of poetry and prose. “The main story lies in my own passionate quest, evolving from an audio ephebe to… someone who can mix and match a bunch of disparate machines and equipment, fine-tune things with cables and different audio tubes, pick up a pair from Sylvania ‘Bad Boy’ 6SN7 American.-GTA from 1952 and combining them with a pair of English military Brimar CV1988, placing them in the input and driver sections of a KT88 stereo amplifier so that they can form together an electronic synergy that will play tunes from Puccini and Donizetti that can make a big man cry.

Martha Anne Toll’s first novel, “three museswill be published in September. She completed 26 years leading a social justice foundation in 2020.