This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Family childhood tales are often fictitious, exaggerated and distorted. They speak more about the narrators than real subject of the story. My parents' tales about me are no different. However, in this palimpsest of accumulated memories we can usually find a core around which individual stories revolve and dust off the sand our parents added. In my case there are two such stories. They both relate to the first two or three years of my life - my skill of screwing huge nuts on and off equally large bolts; and my ability to communicate with my dad using Morse Code. While I do not really remember the former, I have some recollection of the latter. My parents' friends used to confirm this by greeting me with a sequence of letters and me answering ti-ti-ti, ti, ta-ti-ti-ta...

Again, such tales speak most about the parents, in this case my father who seemingly forever had been a radio ham fanatic working exclusively with the key and holding voice communications in contempt. An active member of the LOK (Polish amateur radio community), he was among the first to be arrested during the 1981 period of martial law and interrogated on charges of espionage. Oddly enough, with short wave DXing it is easier for radio amateurs to communicate with Australia and Tobago than with the Czech Republic or another neighboring country.

Anyway, electronics were always part of our home. My first contact with recordings was through fairy tales on vinyl and cassette. Both sources had a common limitation. Because we lived in a small flat, I could only listen to the tales in the evenings and had to use headphones. Fortunately, radio hams spend half their lives with headphones on their heads so there were always three or four pairs around our home. I had two favorite pairs - not very comfortable but pretty Teslas and very well fitting though ugly as sin soft-shell military headphones used by the army's short-wave radio operators. I don't remember if I listened to any music back then

Forward ten years. I was 13 years old and heard Depeche Mode on the radio for the first time. I had no idea who or what they were. The truth is, I didn't know much at all.

Yet during my summer holidays at my aunt and uncle the same year, I recorded The Singles 81-85 on a Finezja (Finesse) cassette tape recorder, then Polish high-end. That was it! Other bands I listened to earlier like Modern Talking or the Hungarian Omega and Locomotiv GT (on LPs brought by my dad's hamster friends) landed in the trash. I had found my love. However, since I had cassettes but no cassette player at home, I was most unhappy. Soon a lucky accident turned things around but I will come back to that later. First, a few words about the comeback of the turntable in my life. Poland during the eighties was a country where people listened almost exclusively to vinyl. Reel-to-reel recorders and cassette players were few and far between, the CD almost unheard of. Unfortunately, Polish LPs were pressed on material of such disastrous quality that they were practically impossible to listen to at least from today's perspective. But back then we didn't know better. And for me things weren't too bad at all. In order to make up for the missing cassette player, my father put together my first true audio system. The source was a German turntable, a very simple affair with an integrated loudspeaker. Fortunately, it had a DIN line out and was fitted with an additional crystal pickup. The line out was connected to another turntable, a huge wooden Stereo 206 (I don't remember the brand). My mum nearly threw us out with all this yet softened over time and let the box stay. Placed vertically, it didn't take up much space. Let me draw your attention to its name - Stereo.

Yes, it was a stereo turntable with an integrated amp about which I didn't know much but my dad would say from time to time that such an output transformer would be rather difficult to find. That's because one channel was silent as a grave. Never mind though, I had one loudspeaker to go with this set, a tall chassis with an oval full-range driver. Make no mistake, already back then we were talking about an ultra-purist, recently very fashionable again mono system with a tube output stage and a high-efficiency widebander in an open baffle. Praise the Lord, I was an audiophile already even though I didn't know then what such an oddity was.

The following year I had an accident. During a PE lesson, I attacked a colleague's shoulder so awkwardly that, bleeding, I had to be taken to the school nursery. Maybe it wouldn't have ended up so badly had I not led the attack with my nose. The resulting open fracture opened the door to my future career because the money from my health insurance bought me my dream Unitra cassette tape deck. Life was beautiful. However, it soon turned out that cassettes recorded from my friend's turntable sounded better than the same LPs played on my turntable. I thought hard. This was the first time I concluded that clearly there had to be a difference between a good and poor turntable. Fortunately, someone watched over me from above because soon after that, the village I lived in during my elementary school years had the farms connected to the gas network. Together with my friend I signed up to the trench-digging team to raise funds. We were not fifteen yet. We lived in different times and got away with it. With my monthly wages, I soon bought my dream Unitra turntable with stroboscope, straight tonearm, regulated speed and MM cartridge. My father extricated a phono preamp for me from another device and so several years passed.

It was probably inevitable that the electronic technical high school became my natural choice. And so was the town of Krakow where we lived. But that was a completely different world. The music of Depeche Mode, Vollenweider, Jarré, the blown output stages in the school's broadcasting station where one day I decided to throw "a school break party with the Depeches"... all this made up the atmosphere that shaped me. Even the title of my high school diploma Steering Automation for the Ceramic Kiln didn't bother me in the least.

The situation changed when one day I heard an announcement over the school broadcasting station that the Mascaron Theater of Satire was looking for a sound engineer. Why such an announcement at school? I have no idea and to this day nobody has been able to explain it. Mascaron was a professional theater and as such should have placed newspaper or radio adverts. But at school even if it was the Electrical School Complex No. 2 in Krakow? Out of nowhere, it became one of the turning points in my life. Since it was October and I was already out of school for four months, the announcement should not have reached me yet it did. Before noon the same day -- and I worked shifts then - I raced off to the Mascaron manager Mr. Biskup for the job interview. Did I have live sound engineering experience? Absolutely, I was a born expert! Say, I worked at the Chrypa festival at the Nowohucki Cultural Centre. For proof, I produced a few pictures with performers, i.e. myself and the then well-known Polish singer Andrzej Zaucha, sitting together hugging in the cloakroom. All was true except for the fact that my job at the festival involved checking tickets.

Could I manage certain small repairs? Me not manage? There had to be something about my assurances of mastery in these fields that had Mr. Biskup agree. I was to start the very next day. At 19:00 I had to come to the Town Hall (the theater was located in the center of the Krakow Main Square) responsible for sound engineering the evening's performance. Luckily, I had no idea what was involved, otherwise I wouldn't have slept that night nor gone to work the next day. Fortunately, the sound engineer was seated right next to the light operator who sometimes used to work with both hands, managing simpler performances on his own. Even luckier, he probably took to me instantly as he never told anybody that I was sitting in front of a Peavey mixing table and Tascam reel-to-reel recorders for the first time in my life. And so it went.

Since no man shall live by bread alone, I decided to take up studies right after high school. As it happened, my other passion was literature, hence I enrolled at the Polish philology department of the Jagiellonian University. Because my theater job only took up evenings, there was no problem doing both at the same time. Then the next 'miracle' happened. One of my friends from the same university class came running to Mascaron with the message that the Juliusz Slowacki Theatre, a prestigious Krakow theater, was in urgent need of an experienced sound engineer. How did he know that? His uncle Jozef Rychlik, professor at the Musical Academy in Krakow, composer and expert on music theory, was then the theater's musical director. During the next Sunday luncheon, my friend mentioned me between hors-d'oeuvres. Half an hour later (both theaters are separated merely by the Main Square and Szpitalna Street), I was at the conversation with the uncle. Did I have some experience with sound engineering in a recording studio (the theater had a recording studio)? Most assuredly I had birthed many a recording (in my heart, I specified hat mainly from the radio to the cassette tape recorder). How about live sound engineering? Here I could honestly admit to experience as I had to set up, move and assemble everything by myself at Mascaron. "Why don't you come to rehearsal tomorrow and the next day to our HR manager to sign the work contract?" Apparently my job interview had gone over well enough. When Mr. Biskup learned of my new job, he thankfully didn't make difficulties and the same day terminated my Mascaron employment. Thus began the next chapter of my life.