Track One: A His­tory of Lirpa Labs

Au­dio had Loof ev­ery April, but SR had Ro­drigues all year long.

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - Rob Sabin

In prepa­ra­tion for our April is­sue, and in search of a sub­ject for our ret­ro­spec­tive flash­back fea­ture, I pressed deep into our 60-year ar­chive for hints of the ori­gin of Lirpa Labs and its mysterious, opin­ion­ated, and wildly cre­ative founder, Loof Lirpa. Many read­ers know that Loof and his of­ten wacky prod­ucts typ­i­cally only ap­pear in the weeks lead­ing up to April, more of­ten than not as we’re just go­ing to press. I pe­rused ev­ery April is­sue look­ing for a glimpse of him—ev­ery sin­gle one, dat­ing back to our first year in 1958 when our pre­de­ces­sor HiFi & Mu­sic Re­view was in only its third edi­tion. De­spite my rec­ol­lec­tions of Lirpa from my time at Stereo Re­view in the mid-1990s, and those of my col­league (and for­mer edi­tor-in-chief) Bob Ankosko, I was un­able to find even one ref­er­ence in the mag­a­zine un­til our more mod­ern his­tory in the few years prior to our merge with Home Theater. Hmm...where was Loof?

So, I de­cided to check in with long­time con­trib­u­tor Ken Pohlmann, whose first ar­ti­cles in SR (af­ter­mar­ket car au­dio re­views) date to 1988, and whose Sig­nals col­umn (it ran un­der dif­fer­ent names through the years) goes back to 1989. Lirpa, he re­minded me, made reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances in Au­dio mag­a­zine, at one time a sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion to SR in the mid-1990s when I was first there, be­fore ever ap­pear­ing in Sound & Vi­sion. Ah...that rang a bell. So I checked our Au­dio ar­chive for as far back as I had on hand, and sure enough, in the April 1980 is­sue, there was a re­view of a 5-kilo­gram Lirpa ton­earm and car­tridge. That’s right, 11 pounds. Other Lirpa re­views may have ap­peared ear­lier. Credit for in­tro­duc­ing Loof and his hand­i­work to our au­dio­phile world, then, goes at least to long­time Au­dio edi­tor Eu­gene Pitts III, (who can be found these days at The Au­dio­phile Voice, au­dio­philevoice. com), if not to one of his pre­de­ces­sors who en­joyed a shared sense of hu­mor and was sim­i­larly adept at spelling back­wards.

A ca­sual web search of “Lirpa” brings up a num­ber of quite var­ied ref­er­ences. Trekkies might know that a Lirpa is a tra­di­tional Vul­can weapon first seen in the orig­i­nal 1960s se­ries—a staff with a fan-shaped blade on one side and a club for strik­ing on the other. And ur­ban­dic­ says a Lirpa is “a per­son whose epi­der­mis ab­sorbs sun like a sponge, re­sult­ing in a potato-like coat­ing.”

Be­yond these, I found a few men­tions at the web­site of The Mu­seum of Hoaxes ( of sea­sonal spring ap­pear­ances by var­i­ous en­ti­ties bear­ing the name Lirpa Loof. For ex­am­ple, in 1984, That’s Life, a pop­u­lar BBC tele­vi­sion show in the U.K., ran a seg­ment about a short, hairy, and ex­tremely rare bipedal crea­ture by that name who was in­tro­duced to vis­i­tors at the Lon­don Zoo; it had the habit of mim­ick­ing the mo­tions of any­one who stood in front of it with re­mark­able ac­cu­racy and pooped pur­ple nuggets, the re­sult of it feed­ing on rhodo­den­dron flow­ers. Zoo­go­ers peer­ing into its cage had no idea it was a small per­son in a suit. (The video is avail­able on YouTube.) In 1961, the BBC ad­ver­tised a ra­dio con­cert by the “dis­tin­guished con­ti­nen­tal pi­anist” Lirpa Loof, but when lis­ten­ers tuned in, the joke was on them. And in 1969, in the midst of the on­go­ing space race and with the U.S. poised to reach the moon, the Daily Jour­nal news­pa­per in Kanka­kee, Illi­nois ran a most con­vinc­ing item—com­plete with a photo—about a Soviet space cap­sule that had dropped from they sky and mirac­u­lously landed in­tact with three sur­vivors out on North Hob­bie Av­enue. “One of the cos­mo­nauts is thought to be Rus­sian Lirpa Loof, miss­ing for the past year,” the ar­ti­cle read. De­spite the hint, peo­ple drove to the site in hopes of see­ing the downed space­craft.

All of this got me think­ing about the role of hu­mor in our hobby, or more pre­cisely, the de­cided lack of it. Au­dio­philes and A/V buffs know how pas­sion­ate and se­ri­ous we can get about all this stuff, and how dry and deeply tech­ni­cal it can be. It’s nice that mag­a­zines like Au­dio of­fered an an­nual respite each April; a lovely tra­di­tion. But I re­al­ized that the work of Charles Ro­drigues, whose clever car­toons graced the pages of this mag­a­zine from its first is­sue and were fea­tured reg­u­larly there­after, showed that found­ing edi­tor Oliver Fer­rell wanted us to ac­knowl­edge the lighter side of what we do and show we weren’t afraid to poke a lit­tle fun at our­selves. The artist’s on­go­ing pres­ence for more than four decades only proved that the edi­tors who fol­lowed Fer­rell agreed. Our ret­ro­spec­tive trib­ute to Ro­drigues starts on page 32.

An ex­cerpt from Au­dio mag­a­zine’s re­view of the Lirpa 5kg ton­earm, April 1980

Charles Ro­drigues, by Charles Ro­drigues

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