Gordon Holt’s Big Ideas

Gordon Holt’s Big Ideas

Gordon Holt’s Big Ideas

Anyone with TV has probably channel-surfed through CNBC while ad-man Donny Deutsch was on. I like him, he appeals to my own ex-ad-man way of looking at history and business. But Donny’s biggest contribution to Western culture is his concept of the “big idea.”

A “big idea” is an idea or thing that changes the status quo its sphere of influence in such a major way that it creates a paradigm shift. Most creative entities are lucky to get one “big idea” per lifetime. Gordon Holt delivered three.

Gordon Holt’s first “big idea” was that two audio components that measure the same could sound different. He was the first audio journalist to write about this phenomenon. Regardless of which side you favor in debates between subjective vs. objective reviewers when they discuss audio quality, Gordon Holt’s original idea that components can and do sound different, is the big idea behind it all.

Gordon’s second big idea was to create a publication dedicated to chronicling the sonic differences between components. Stereophile was the first magazine dedicated to describing the quality of sound through audio gear. Many other publications followed Stereophile’s model. Some were more subjectively flamboyant, and others less so. But, once again, all audio publications owe some large part of their basic conceptual bedrock to Gordon Holt’s idea that enough other people were interested in the same stuff that he was interested in to support a magazine.

Gordon’s third big idea was “Holt’s Law.” This law states that, “The better the performance, the worse the recording will be, or conversely, the better the recording sounds, the worse the performance will be. This is semi-curmudgeonly acknowledgment of the fundamental problem with recording anything – the more energy directed towards sound quality, the less is aimed at musical quality.

It’s nearly impossible to use state-of-the art recording techniques without impinging on a musician’s comfort zone. Take “direct to disc” recording for instance. Once a musician knows they will have no opportunities for overdubs or additional tracks to clean up mistakes they inevitably play more conservatively. The resulting takes often lack the spontaneous life of a recording where a player can push to the edge of their abilities, knowing that if they blow it they can re-record their tracks.

So, three big ideas generated by one skinny little guy. Not too bad for a single lifetime…

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