This writeup consists of two parts:

  1. A description of magnification, the optical design parameter
  2. My writeup on Magnification, the record by the progressive rock group Yes, which is what I originally noded.

Magnification is a measure of the apparent size of an image viewed through an optical aid compared to the true image size when viewed with the unaided eye. In mathematical terms, if fobj is the focal length of the telescope objective and feye is the focal length of the telescope eyepiece, then the magnification, M, is simply

M = fobj/feye

You might also see magnification defined in terms of the diameters of the objective and exit pupil:

M = Dobj/Dexit

Basically the magnification is a measure of how much larger in angular extent an object appears to be when viewed through an optical aid as opposed to the human eye. Say you look at the moon with the unaided eye. It's about 30 arcminutes across. If you view it with a telescope with 50X magnification, the image size would be 1500 arcminutes or 25 degrees.

What does get complicated is what is the best magnification to build into a telescope (or to use, should it be variable). I used to see small (2-3 inch aperture) refractors advertised with magnifications of 625X. What they fail to tell you is that using a magnification of 625X on a two inch telescope looks awful. Atmospheric seeing limits the resolution possible with any telescope, and using such a high magnification will mean you're resolving turbulent eddies in the atmosphere more than the object itself. If you were observing the moon, it would be a blurry, distorted mess. You'd also have the added problem that without a rock-solid equatorial mount for your telescope, the object being viewed would probably jump out of view with the slightest vibration of the telescope; increasing the magnification decreases the field of view, and you can easily knock the object of interest out of sight. And of course with a smaller field of view, you miss out on the bigger picture -- those tiny craters near the terminator of the moon may be interesting, but it hardly seems like you're looking at the moon, really.

A webpage I found (URL below) suggests that about 100X magnification per inch of objective aperture is fine. Even less magnification than that would be fine, too. In professional astronomy, we never really mention magnification at all, other than to do our best to optimize the resolution of our images given the diffraction limit of the telescope, the detector resolution (or pixel size), the seeing, and the desired signal-to-noise ratio per detector element.

I confess I am a terrible practical astronomer (I don't even own a telescope anymore, for shame), so if anyone would like to add to this or correct it, please do.

Source: http://www.televue.com/engine/page.asp?ID=141

Written February 16, 2004








Now then, where were we? Oh yes,



Speak to me, teach me
Magnify the truth you are
Waiting for the rebeginning birth of every star
A symbol is planted
On the brow of every child
To justify, to magnify
To realize that everything is love
--"Magnification"



Magnification is the 18th studio album from the progressive rock outfit, Yes. The band have cut down their core group to four: Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitars, Chris Squire on bass and vocals, and Alan White playing drums and occasional piano. They've passed over their bullpen of keyboardists and instead hired a full orchestra, with symphonic arrangements by the Hollywood orchestrator Larry Groupé. It is Yes' first use of orchestral music since their 1978 album Tormato, and while the members of Yes have forgone the musical gymnastics that characterized their work in the 1970's, Magnification is still a fine piece of work. The title refers to the concept that everything in the world is based upon one central idea, love, that binds everyone and everything together, and that our realization of this love magnifies itself through human interactions and understanding. By giving love, we get it back, magnified. Heady stuff.

To me, Yes waiting this long to put out a symphonic album is surprising, as everyone from The Moody Blues to Metallica have long since jumped on the classical music cross-over bandwagon. However, in the year prior to this album, they went out on a limited tour with an orchestra, and individual members of the band have recorded solo records with orchestration in the past (like Steve Howe's 1979 release, The Steve Howe Album, and Chris Squire's 1975 Fish Out Of Water). But without a keyboard player like Rick Wakeman or Igor Khoroshev, Yes had enough room in the mix for an Orchestra to add color. Steve Howe said in an interview that the band composed and arranged the cores of songs, and handed the tapes off to their orchestral collaborator Larry Groupé and let him come up with his own arrangements within the context of the existing songs. Groupé normally works in Hollywood composing and conducting the incidental music for film and television -- his composing credits are mainly minor film and television projects, but his conducting credits include Apt Pupil, The Usual Suspects, and The Contender. I think bringing someone in from the film industry rather than a concert orchestrator was a nice choice, because his arrangements serve to provide mood and background for the band, rather than be the focus of the song itself. The orchestration is (mostly) unobtrusive, but adds interesting color to most of the pieces.

The track listing is:

  1. Magnification
  2. Spirit of Survival
  3. Don't Go
  4. Give Love Each Day
  5. Can You Imagine
  6. We Agree
  7. Soft As A Dove
  8. Dreamtime
  9. In The Presence Of: i) Deeper, ii) Death of Ego, iii) True Beginner, iv) Turn Around And Remember
  10. Time is Time

The album opens with the title track, "Magnification". The first minute or so of this reminds me of their mid-1970's work, like Tales From Topographic Oceans and Relayer, but with quiet orchestral accompaniment -- a lilting flute and string arrangement, with a bassoon tossed in for good measure. It eventually moves into a more uptempo 4/4 rock, with brass and strings providing the background. Yes themselves are the focus throughout, though. Jon Anderson's contralto is still (even at age 55) as clear as ever. Chris Squire and Alan White are a solid rhythm section. And Steve Howe throws in his eclectic mix of guitars, with elements of country fingerpicking, pedal steel, and rock playing to round out the sound. The song crescendos and then (deliberately) collapses in a musical heap, a bit like "A Day In The Life" (including the final major chord, played here by the low brass rather than the Beatles room full of pianos).


"Spirit of Survival" is more of a rocker -- the minor key and Chris Squire's bass line gives it a brooding, almost menacing feel. The orchestral arrangement goes along with that, as it almost reminds me of the incidental music behind battle scenes in action films, with cascading strings and angular brass hits. I suppose this is Larry Groupé's specialty. Steve Howe stretches out a bit as well, with some odd minor key and tritone soloing. An unnerving piece at times, but interesting.


This is followed up by the much lighter (almost comical) song "Don't Go," about relationships gone sour ("Don't take love for granted..." et cetera). Again Jon Anderson's voice is crystal clear, and Steve Howe's guitar playing is a bit lighter. The orchestra lays back a bit, only providing some strings and woodwinds for color during the choruses and the amusing bridge.


"Give Love Each Day" was Groupé's chance to score a more extended piece. He wrote a two-minute introduction before the band comes in, and the orchestral music really shares center stage with Jon Anderson throughout. I like the introduction, as it reminds me of the music from the film Contact (which I also recommend). Though the song starts off quietly it builds to a nice crescendo at the end, one of the high points of the album.


After this comes Chris' Squire's piece, "Can You Imagine." This is an interesting one not only because he shares the lead vocal duties with Jon Anderson, but also because it dates back to Yes' hiatus period between Drama and 90125, when Squire and drummer Alan White briefly teamed up with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page after Zeppelin folded and Yes went on hiatus prior to the formation of Cinema and Yes West. Because of this, the song is a bit reminiscent of Drama (but with Jon Anderson singing background vocals). It has that simple, stark feel that Drama had, though Jon Anderson and the string arrangement gives the piece more warmth than anything on Drama. Despite it being Chris Squire's piece, it is driven more by Alan White's piano playing. He plays very simple chords and rhythms, but that's all the song requires until the second verse when the full band comes in (and White moves back to drums). I've always been a huge fan of Chris Squire, so I wouldn't say anything bad about him even if I wanted to. But I don't want to -- it's a good song. The only problem is that it's too short at only three minutes -- I'd have liked to hear him explore the song a bit more.


"We Agree" is a slow song, and probably the one where the orchestra is best integrated into the rest of the band. It starts off with a short melody in D major played by Howe on the acoustic guitar, eventually resolving to A minor with the rest of the band and orchestra slowly joining in. The beginning of the piece is again somewhat brooding, with subdued bassoons playing a quiet lyric before Jon Anderson joins in. It maintains a slow tempo throughout, though the verses in A minor are offset by lovely, bright choruses again in D major.


"Soft As A Dove" is a bit of fluff, but a pleasant one. Lyrically, it is probably Jon Anderson singing to his young children (if he still has young children). Again, it features Steve Howe picking out a quiet accompaniment to Jon Anderson's lyrics along with a single flute and pipes or recorder.


This is followed up by "Dreamtime," which honestly I don't much care for. It's very dark and dissonant sounding, and while it has an energetic tempo, some great playing by Chris Squire and Steve Howe, and some musically interesting sections (particularly the instrumental section in the middle of thesong), it doesn't have any interesting melodic sections that I can latch onto. And Jon Anderson's lyrics are even more obscure than usual, going on about spiritual ascension -- his usual New Age fare. Of course as I type this, I'm unconsciously tapping my feet... But then the song ends with another short section by Groupé and the orchestra which is even more angular and dissonant than the beginning.


Thankfully this is followed by the highlight of the album, a suite of pieces collectively called "In The Presence Of." The pieces are: "Deeper", "Death of Ego", "True Beginner", and "Turn Around and Remember". It's an interesting song, because in different sections, they evoke the feel of different musical periods in their history. "Deeper" starts off with some warm, open piano chords by Alan White accompanying Jon Anderson's beautiful voice. Again, Jon's lyrics stray into the New Age realm, but it doesn't really matter -- Jon Anderson could sing the nightly business report and still make you cry. The rest of the band follows, with Steve Howe switching between mandolin and an electric guitar, Alan White playing a stately 4/4, and finally the string section of the orchestra. The very end of "Deeper" is reminiscent of the quieter parts of Relayer (particularly To Be Over). This fades into "Death of Ego" at around 3:20, which begins quietly in a minor key, but slowly crescendos to a very beautiful end, very reminiscent of "Awaken" on Going For The One. This very abruptly changes to "True Beginner" at 5:30 -- a pretty, energetic piece, but the transition is a bit sudden (just as I was enjoying that big crescendo). They move back to the melody of "Deeper," but with a lot more energy, and it vaguely reminds me of some of the nicer parts of Tales From Topographic Oceans. Finally, at around 7:00, they segue to "Turn Around and Remember." It starts off a bit lethargically with the same melodic patterns of Death of Ego, but again it crescendos nicely, with some nice playing by Steve Howe, alternating between an electric (probably his Gibson ES-175 oops, no, Gibson Les Paul) and a pedal steel. Throughout, the orchestral arrangements are used mainly for color -- Steve Howe (and occasionally Chris Squire) provide most of the melodic support for the song. While the song doesn't end on a very strong note, it's got some some of the most enjoyable material on the album.


The album ends with "Time is Time," which like "Soft As A Dove" is a short bit of fluff. Steve Howe switches to an acoustic for the main body of the song,finger picking the verses with short, four-bar solos played with a slide. They're backed by a string quartet, and the song and album end with them. It's got a pretty melody, but isn't one of their best musical moments.


I really enjoyed this album, though I doubt it will appeal to anyone who isn't already a fan either of Yes or progressive, orchestral rock (like The Moody Blues, for example). I honestly hadn't kept up with Yes in recent years since the release of their "Union" CD in 1991. I liked Union (though I seem to be alone in that opinion), but Yes seemed to slip from rock radio afterwards, as did my awareness of what they were doing. I decided to give them a try again, picked this up on a whim, and I'm not at all disappointed. While I'd love to hear Rick Wakeman playing on this CD, Larry Groupé contributed nicely to the music, and I think his orchestral compositions and arrangements added an interesting new texture to Yes' sound. I felt he added to the character of the music rather than simply layering sound on top of what Yes had already done. It was an experiment by the band, and I think it paid off musically even if it isn't a commercial hit.

Yes have apparently left major labels behind, and the CD is released under the Beyond Music label (at least in the U.S.), catalog number 398 578 205-2. It is an HDCD, but since I don't own an HDCD-compatible player, I can't say whether this really matters. It was released first in the U.K., and a few months later in the U.S. and the rest of the world. I only stumbled across it in the record store because I looked in the Yes section on a whim -- it doesn't seem to be well-advertised here in the US, I suspect partly because there aren't any tracks that will fly on rock radio. It's not that there are no catchy songs, it's that radio programmers won't play an eight-minute song unless it's "Roundabout."

Yes are shipping *four* different versions of the CD, three of which contain free bonus CDs. According to www.yesworld.com, the three bonus packages being sold are:

  1. Bonus disk: "Close To The Edge" live from their Masterworks Tour -- sold by Borders.
  2. Bonus disk: "Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)" from their Masterworks Tour -- sold by Best Buy.
  3. Bonus disk: "Gates of Delirium" from their Masterworks Tour -- sold by F.Y.E.

All the bonus disks also contain a live version of "Long Distance Runaround" with an orchestra. Personally, I think this is silly -- I never liked it when artists would release a bunch of different albums or CD singles with one or two tracks on them, I'd rather see a CD of an entire Masterworks concert. And making the discs store-specific is unfair, particularly if you don't frequent malls or chain stores. But so be it. I'll wait for the full live CD (which is scheduled to ship in June 2002) rather than running all over to buy multiple copies of the same thing.

But aside from all that, Magnification is a good listen. As I said in the beginning, none of the band members engage in the instrumental sonic frenzies that characterized some of their earlier work, so if you're hoping to hear "Steve Howe Guitar" or "Chris Squire Bass," you're going to hear "Yes music" instead. They've all matured to the point where the song is the most important thing, and "shredding" is a distant second. And as I said earlier, Jon Anderson's voice is still as clear as ever. It's usually a fact of life that a vocalist's musical range and power will decline as they age, but his contralto is nearly as good as it was in his younger days. He must take excellent care of his vocal chords when not singing, and I hope he continues sounding like this for many albums to come.

Some of this info gleaned from www.yesworld.com, and www.imdb.com for info on Larry Groupé.

Although he did not appear on the record, Rick Wakeman joined the other four in a reunion of their classic lineup for the Magnification Tour in 2002. For the Yes Symphonic Tour of 2001, keyboards were very well played by the young keyboardist Tom Brislin, who can be seen on the DVD "Yes Symphonic Live".

Mag`ni*fi*ca"tion (?), n.

The act of magnifying; enlargement; exaggeration.

[R.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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