“Listening”: a Video Tribute to Art Dudley

Listening, an extraordinary video tribute to the late writer Art Dudley’s taste, vision, and devotion to music, premiers this month on Stereophile‘s YouTube channel. The video follows the unusual path of Art’s beloved Altec Lansing Flamenco loudspeakers from their home in Upstate New York to their current residence, the listening room of deaf audiophile Bob Lichtenberg in Port Orchard, Washington.

Lichtenberg, 64, who serves as senior court program analyst for the Washington Supreme Court Interpreter Commission, began to lose his hearing at age 5. By 8, he was completely deaf. Today, he’s a confirmed audiophile with a huge LP collection and a dedicated listening room that holds several systems. He began listening to music by mapping musical vibrations emanating from a small bookshelf speaker held to his ear. From there, he moved on to HiFiMan, Sennheiser, and AKG headphones, which enabled him to map more nuanced vibrations.

Eventually, Lichtenberg discovered that he could appreciate musical gravitas better by holding a Mylar balloon between his hands, using it to sense vibrations transmitted by larger speakers. Listening in this way—with sensory input from his hands and not his eardrums—sensitivity is so great that he can sense the change of a single interconnect in a familiar setup.

Lichtenberg is an avid fan of jazz and blues-based rock recordings that enable him to sense a conversation among instruments or people. In that vein, his loves include acts ranging from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and the Grateful Dead to Benny Carter, Joe Pass, and Charlie Haden.

“Speakers remind me of what I could hear as a child,” Lichtenberg explained via phone and email. “It’s been a long, strange trip, but I give much credit to Erik Owen of Gig Harbor Audio. Erik let me audition gear at home and created a growth path for equipment purchases that deliver what hearing people can hear in an unamplified space. Ultimately, I’m an ‘as you like it’ listener with the Flamencos, and a more critical listener with my Graham/Krell gear.”

In conversation, it becomes clear that Lichtenberg feels the spiritual power of music in his being and transmits its emotional effects with passion and enthusiasm. The light in his eyes as he holds his balloon and listens to music reveals the love of its creation—the core of the audiophile experience.

After Art passed away in April 2020, John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity in Brooklyn, New York, made several trips to Upstate New York to help Art’s wife and daughter, Janet and Julia Dudley, categorize and sell Art’s audio-related possessions. On his first trip, he bought back Art’s DeVore Orangutan O/93s, which he then sold to dealer Owen of Gig Harbor Audio near Seattle. When Owen expressed interest in Art’s fabled Altec Lansing Flamencos, DeVore put him in touch with the Dudleys.

One of Art Dudley’s Altec Flamencos can be seen to the left of Bob’s turntable.

“I knew what the Altec Lansings had to offer from Art’s articles on restoring them and then using them as reference tools,” Owen explained. “I also feel like less is more. The more efficient the speaker, the more low-powered amps I’m able to use with it. Speakers like the Flamencos give me a different type of headroom and listening experience.”

Just four days after Owen set up the Flamencos in his store, Seattle-based videographer Christopher Bell dropped by to take a listen. In the back of Bell’s mind was a long-held desire—put on hold during the pandemic—to shoot videos with Owen about mutual friends who had record collections and hi-fi setups.

When Bell stopped by, Lichtenberg was in the store. Soon after taking out his balloon and starting to listen, Lichtenberg turned to Owen and said, “You know the journey I’ve been going through to find the right speakers and amp. I have to have these speakers.”

Owen, who hadn’t bought the Flamencos with the intention of passing them on, proceeded to sell them to Lichtenberg at cost—on the condition that he could come over anytime to listen to them. “I didn’t feel any loss, because I never feel like anything is mine,” he said.

Bell, who was watching Lichtenberg, asked to hold his Mylar balloon. “I found the amount of information conveyed unbelievable,” Bell explained after I met him, Lichtenberg, and Owen at an early video shoot. “We were all broken up when Art passed away so suddenly. Then I put everything together and immediately knew that we had to tell the story of Art, Bob, and the Flamencos to a broad audience through video. I think Bob is a great inspiration.”

Owen let DeVore know about the sale of the Altecs and sent him a rough cut of the video. He and Bell were fans of DeVore’s YouTube channel and asked him to narrate. “Bob is so genuine in the clips. I was blown away,” DeVore said. “I’ve never met him, but I immediately agreed to write and supply narration.”

Listening—the movie, not the column—is an all-volunteer, nonprofit effort. Its message, in Bell’s words, is that “there’s a broader world of listeners than most of us had ever considered. The emotional effect music has on Bob is something that some of us lose sight of in our obsession with the cables and equipment and everything else. This is a story that challenges assumptions as it pays tribute to Art and his musical world.”

“The video makes me miss Art even more,” Lichtenberg said shortly after viewing Listening for the first time. “I hope it will unveil more about how people experience music, and further attest to music’s vast mysteries.”

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