Archive for December, 2006
I read somewhere that clear blog post titles are very important for driving traffic to your blog. I guess I’m failing miserably. hahaha. Clarity and ease of communication is easy when your content is boring, which I assure you this next bit is not.
I decided this morning that I was going to start listening to some of the reel to reel tapes I found in the trash the other day. What’s more I listened to them on my newly acquired Wollensak 3M reel to reel recorder, which I just rehabilitated. (Note: a little lubricant will fix a lot of old mechanical things :))
I really never expected to find really cool audio on the first tape, but low and behold… The tape seems to be a compilation of jazz pieces. However, the tape is so old that the iron-oxide is starting to shift and re-polarize and the result is bleed from each side into the other. Effectively, you hear side two of the tape playing backwards in the background of side one and vis versa.
What is remarkable about this common event, is how well the two sides blend together at times. It is almost like it was meant to be this way. Before I realized what was happening I thought I was hearing some odd instument playing it this jazz combo. I hate to keep harping on this, but this is why i collect tapes! This was in the garbage! No one would ever have heard it again. Now, is it not only out of the garbage, it is on this blog and hopefully preserved forever, or at least a good bit of time. Unless you are as obsessed with this stuff as me, you will probably never hear anything like this again. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
I have gone a little crazy and decided to present this as an album. I have created artwork for it and everything. The artwork is below and also encoded in the mp3s. There are 9 (yes 9!) tracks in all, in glorious mono. I present to you, “Jazz Two Ways”. I hope you all enjoy!
As I have mentioned here before…
I love tape.
One of the many reasons, is that over the past 50 or so years it has made it possible for different kinds of people all over the world to document their rich and varied existences. From the aspiring metal band in a garage or basement, to the lovingly crafted mixtapes from one dreamer to another.
Recently my wife called me to inform me that she had found a reel to reel recorder in the trash on the way to work and saved it for me (awwwww… i LOVE my wife). She said I should stop by the place she found it, because they had lots of cassettes and reel to reel tapes.
I grabbed a big bag and biked down. There was a ton. I filled my whole (large messenger) bag up. There was absolutely no more room. I wound up with about 15 or so reel to reel tapes, some recorded on, some not, and about 20-30 cassettes.
The reel to reel tapes were mostly jazz, R&B and soul recorded either from LP or the radio. The cassettes were either unmarked, or church cassettes. These I was pretty excited about, so I put a few on as soon as I got home.
After going through a few, I found one of the things I had hoped to find; a gospel organ rave-up. The tape is unmarked, so I cannot tell what the event is, but it sounds special somehow. The first side is a sermon by a male preacher, which so far has not been interesting enough to listen to all the way through. The second side is what I can only describe as organ assisted prayer.
The speaker is a woman this time. She seems to be “prophesying”, meaning she is using a form of extra-sensory perception to know what people need to be prayed for and how.
At some point in each prayer the organ kicks in and drives everyone into a frenzy. I’m sure to be there must be an amazing feeling. Being surrounded by all these people with so much joy and devotion in them, radiating waves of excitement out in all directions. Still, in a way it is surprising that these people are all getting this down to what is basically folk-experimental music.
All about context
Here we have a church full of lower to middle class black people in an urban area. Not the average demographic for left-field music, or performance art (generally white, upperclass, academic), but here we have them becoming enraptured in amorphous waves of sound and being driven on to the heights of slain-spirit by the shouts and hollers of an accidental-shaman.
This is ethnic-psychedelic music at it’s most pure. There is no record label to persue. No fans or critics. No intellectual questions. No stylistic dogma. Just pure, unadulterated, trancendental aural magic.
Maybe it is all of the questions, pressures, poses, etc. that can make any music boring. Maybe it’s the idea that something is in a package because you are supposed to think it’s good, that makes listeners resentful. maybe it’s the need for a sellable format that makes most music crap. Maybe the reason average people don’t like experimental music is because its in the wrong context.
Anyhow. I’m not here to give any answers. All I can say is that the people on this tape got something right. And, of course, they got it on tape. so I present it to you now. Enjoy!!!
Edited version (removed some of the talking)
- Gospel Organ Freakout Edit
- Gospel Organ Freakout Full
As we get closer to the holidays, I get less and less time to prepare posts. I have another edition of “The Wonders of the Cassetee tape Loop” I have been preparing, but it is going to be a very detailed post and so it is going to have to wait another week or so.
In the interest of posting something today, I decided to do another instalment of lazily and crappily recorded music.
While that title is a little self-depricating, it should not be taken too seriously. I have really been enjoying recording like this. Joy in what I create, is of course a huge part of doing it. Recording, while it can be fun, can be really tedious, annoying and devoid of joy. In the interest of keepig the joy at the center, it can be really nice to limit yourself to what is readily available and easily accessible.
In recording these pieces I pretty much limit myself to what is at arms length instrument-wise, and whatever samples are on my computer. All the tracks I record through my computer mic and assembled in pro-tools. The goal is as much bliss as I can pack in, in under an hour.
This piece includes:
- A home-made dulcimer, cigar-box thing with notched frets like a pipa
- Accoustic guitar
- Processed field recordings
- Samples from my cassette tape echo system
I hope you enjoy it!
I was originally planning on going through my tape adventure chronologically, but since I forgot some of my notes at work, I’m going to move ahead in the storyline.
The Cassette Tape Echo
In my quest for a cheap tape echo, i tried innumerable techniques. I added extra playheads to the tape players, I added a playhead inside the tape cassette, Built arms to hold tapeheads and ran tape around them. No matter what, nothing eventful ever really happened.
At some point, I realized that if I had the leads from the additional playheads running back into the tape player, I was esentially recording with 2 heads, instead of recording with one, playing with the other. Then the idea of Frippertronics came to me. I could use 2 tape players. One to play, one to record!
Frippertonics, broke with my original plan, in that it did not appoximate the WEM Copicat. Instead of it making a nice controllable echo, it generated more of a return system. Even though it was not my original idea, I was intrigued by the possibilities, so I started trying to figure out how i could go about assembling a Frippertronics cassette unit.
After some searching I came upon 2 tape recorders that had plastic sides I could cut through so that the tape could run from one player to the other. I then built a loop using 2 cassettes that I also cut open and then joined.
Robert Fripp and the Frippertronics system:
As you can imagine this doesn’t exactly work like a charm. However, it was quite charming. The main issue with this settup is the really poor tape tracking. The tape warbles along, jittering and dragging all the time. This is in part due to the fact that only one of the tape reels is moving the tape along.
The ideosyncracies of this setup actually turned out to be quite pleasing. I really liked how whatever you played into it, got re-interpreted by the system on the way out. As I was playing with it, I had the rare forsight to record it. So of course I present it to you here. What you are hearing is an old Yamaha, single oscillator synth played through the cassette loop Frippertronics system. I basically am just improvising mindlessly and listening to the playback. I later added some slap delay and reverb to soften the very square wave sound of the synth, and it actually dresses up quite nicely.
I have an odd obsession with tape. I love the way it works, the way it sounds, the way it can be degraded, everything about it.
When I was a freelance designer and had a LOT of time on my hands, I did a lot of experimenting with tape. Almost entirely cassette tape. Why cassette tape you might ask? Cassette tapes and players are cheap, and readily available and if you break anything, you are at worst out a couple of bucks. I have destroyed about a hundred walkmen and other various tape players in the the past few years. If those were reel to reel recorders, I’d be broke by now.
I have built crude mellotron devices, tape theremins, loopers, loop mixers, crude tape delays, etc etc etc. The thing that started it all though, was the simple idea of the cassette tape loop.
In the time before detailed wikipedia articles the idea was just a rough concept that existed pretty much only in my mind and the minds of a few others, who to my shegrin were not very vocal about techniques. I ended up figuring out the Chandler loop (the name of which I just found via the wiki, which I also just found) and improving on it somewhat to get longer loops.
Here are the 3 basic looping techniques for cassettes:
Here is a diagram of a standard Chandler loop: (yes the tape does rub in one spot, hence the modified version below)
And here’s one of my Chandler loop cassettes, modified for longer play:
Initially, I was inspired by the idea of being able to build a self contained tape echo, a concept that eluded me until earlier this year, and functionally still does. Ideally I wanted to fabricate my own WEM Copicat. Of course, that’s an extremely complicated feat, especially for an electronics novice like myself, but I was obsessed with it, as I knew it was (if only faintly) possible.
So, in the process of breaking way more tape players than I care to admit I began to get more into the loops I was making than my original goal. I would randomly record music (original or otherwise) onto cassettes of various lengths and then play back the loop to see if anything accidentally musical happened. I’d play a few at once at times and improvise on accoustic guitar along with it.
My partner in crime complete with pitch control:
Eventually it occured to me to take the erase head off so that i could keep recording layer after layer onto the tape. This by far was one of the most exciting things for me at that time. It was so primitive and damn near uncontrolable, but it made the most amazing “instant music”. Some of the loops ended up actually being quite listenable for a period of a few minutes until you got sick of them.
The sheer nature of the process of recording these kinds of loops forces you to plan and limit yourself. Limits and planning are in my mind, some of the greatest assistances to creativity. You can fit a couple of tracks in before it geats to murky, so you have to record the least prominent thing first and work towards the most prominent. You have to be aware of the tape running so as not to overdub too many times. I recorded tons of stuff this way, most of which got promptly recorded over. It’s so much fun, it’s hard to stop fooling around with one loop, and before you know it, you record something too loud and it kills it.
At some point I got the idea to perform this destructive recording process, where I kept adding to the loop, then recording the result on my computer, then adding and recording again. I edited all of the bits together as one “piece” which is what I offer you today. I hope you enjoy it.
I have more cassette tape loop adventures to cronicle here, which is why this is titled “part 1″, so look for more in the future.