I have a very vivid memory of first hearing Caverna Magica by the Swiss electro-harpist Andreas Vollenweider. It was about 10:30 am December 22, 1983. I had been married for exactly two months and working only a few weeks more than that. It was at a small Christmas lunch hosted by my director at his house in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. My musical tastes were quite myopic: folk and just enough rock to not been seen as just wanna-be hippie. I was working as a youth employment outreach counsellor in the downtown core of Toronto. Everyday was a new eye-opening experience for me. To me, Caverna Magica was another new experience.
Chris, my director, had expansive musical taste and budgeted himself for two new albums weekly. He had audiophile stereo equipment, so when the needle dropped on the opening track of this album, you could hear every effect: the dripping water echoing through the cave, the giggling voices, the foot steps. I bought the album shortly after Christmas and loved it.
Like most of my vinyl collection, Caverna Magica was replaced by the CD version and the vinyl was donated to the local thrift store. The CD and now streaming and MP3 versions are still delightful listening experiences, but it wasn’t until I re-acquired the 1983 vinyl version and spun it on my turntable, that I again fully appreciated this disk.
I love the tactile experience of record albums. I appreciate the album covers and liner notes. And I’m always comparing vinyl to CD and MP3 listening for those extra qualities that everyone says vinyl has. Digital media is pretty damn good and will usually beat vinyl on the low end bass spectrum, but I was blown away by the audio quality of the opening track of Caverna Magica. Digital just can’t fully reproduce that dripping water in the cave effect. It seems like a small thing because I’m not going to be hearing many albums with that sound effect, but for me it was that moment of validation when I could finally say “listen to this and you’ll understand what people mean when they talk about the warmth of vinyl.” I feel vindicated !
A few interesting notes about this album. It was recorded at Sinus Studios in Bern, Switzerland. Vollenweider recorded all of his studio albums there until the studio closed in 1989. You apparently entered the studio, which was underground, from a trap door in the sidewalk above the studio. Vollenweider reportedly stated, “Recording this album we worked completely cut off from the world, in the cellars of the Sinus Studios in Bern (capital of Vollenweider’s native Switzerland), which are more than 300 years old. In the shelter of this creative “womb”, it was easy to lose track of time and space.”
To add a bit more mystery to the recording, if you play in reverse the man and woman talking as they enter the cavern much of the dialogue is in Spanish.
This album is now my go to test album for audio equipment that will be used for playing vinyl.
Listen and enjoy.