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“I wasn’t a good enough drummer to make a fortune doing that. And I’m too much of a capitalist, so I thought, this is what I’ll do.”
You probably recognize the name Saxe Brickenden. He has a charming personality and infectious smile to match his statuesque 6’2” frame. And he’s been a figure in the audio industry for more than 40 years.
At 14, a young entrepreneurial Saxe registered a trade name for Sound Advice, and ran his own audio installations business, booking installs for friends of his parents, and networking through them.
Unable to get a manufacturer or distributor to sell to him direct, he approached the original Audiotronic store on rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal where he grew up, and cut a deal for them to sell him goods to install.
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Passion for Audio
With his parents, both of whom he lost this year, unsure that this could be a sustainable career, Saxe humoured them and attended Carleton University, where he met Dr. Floyd Toole at National Research Council (NRC). “He was this endless resource about the complex physics of loudspeakers. It was really the speaker labs at NRC and Dr. Toole that got me totally hooked on the audio business.”
Saxe’s ambition moved him to Toronto where he bonded with Bay Bloor Radio’s Sol Mandlsohn over their shared passion for poetry. “He hired me even without me talking about my credentials – we just talked poetry.” He worked there for a little over a year.
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But Saxe found what would be his long-term passion project when he met Lorne Howell at Evolution Audio. Saxe bought Evolution in ’88, renaming the company Evolution Audio Video. For close to a decade now, Evolution Home Entertainment has been principally owned by Gemsen’s Sal Riina. “I’m so proud of where Evolution is today,” says Saxe.
Reminiscing, Saxe says the ‘80s was filled with the most learning. “You had to plan, and be able to change the plan on a dime. The industry was young and sometimes, things just didn’t really work.”
A case in point was when Magnat’s engineer, Dr. Sigfried Klein, who was also the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Board of France, developed the corona plasma technology that created sound by, rather than mechanically pushing and pulling a loudspeaker diaphragm, expanded and contracted the air molecules themselves, and modulated the temperature with frequency. There was a spherical screen and an electrode in the middle that looked like a flame burning – you could see it flicker with amplitude of the music. “You had no mass, no resonances, no interia – none of these problems,” says Saxe. Needless to say, it was exciting.
Half an hour before the Canadian launch event, with representatives from major newspapers and TV stations in attendance, the “flame” went out on one of the speakers. By then, Dr. Klein had gotten into the mini bar, so Saxe came up with a plan: showcase some of the parts, explain the principle of how the technology worked, and run the demo in mono. “To my astonishment,” he says, “no one asked why we weren’t doing our demo in stereo.” (The product, by the way, never commercially launched in Canada. Turns out it released ground level ozone, which was discovered after people in demos got nosebleeds.)
Now 61, Saxe, who received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the Montreal Audio Show in 2014, is known for exuding poise and refinement, and for his stellar fashion sense. But in his early days, he was actually quite the prankster. He and a team of reps once secretly lifted the always fastidious Lorne’s new BMW from his perfect parking job to make it look as though he had jumped the curb. On another occasion, he once walked the pornography video awards, which was running concurrent with CES, and scanned a spare badge with Lorne’s name on it at every booth. “It was entertaining to see him go through the unbelievable piles of salacious junk mail that showed up at the office afterwards and declare to his conservative receptionist ‘that’s not mine! Honestly!”
Saxe discovered another passion – wine – at a very young age when he extended a school trip to Paris. An elderly and widowed rooming house owner, Madame Paradis, took him on an education project, where he explored an amazing selection of first growth Burgundies from her wine cellar.
“In Paris,” he says, “no one batted an eye at a 14-year-old having wine with dinner. That liberal approach, that it’s not forbidden fruit, gave me a chance to get to know wines early.”
He continued his education of wine as he traveled to France, studied at The Italian Wine Academy in San Gimignano, Italy, and made pilgrimages to Napa and Sonoma whenever he visited Monster Cable in San Francisco.
Today, Saxe splits his time between downtown Toronto and Prince Edward County, where his fiancé Sherry, as if by kismet, happens to own a winery, Karlo Estates.
He hasn’t played drums in in a while, another long-time interest, though he has jammed with his sons, 31 and 28, both musicians. And he continues to represent Canada internationally in sailing competitions.
“Racing an Eight Metre sailboat,” he explains, “is kind of like playing in a band. You have a crew of eight guys, and it becomes an eye contact thing. With a tight team, there isn’t the need for a lot of shouting.” Lessons undoubtedly that Saxe has applied to his working life as well.
While his time in the audio industry has not come to an end, Saxe plans for a better balance, and is relishing a chance to gain a new perspective.
“Now that I’m semi-retired, I’m allowing myself the luxury of reading more, and dreaming more. I’m even setting up my drum kit in a corner of the winery! That has been a wonderful aspect to this new chapter for me.”