Posts Tagged ‘found tapes’

Mystery audio from second-hand tapes

August 10, 2008

I’m a total thrift store and flea-market junkie as you can well imagine from the contents of this blog. I can’t keep myself from any place that brings the world of second-hand audio junk closer to me. From time to time Al and I head out to one place or another and scour the shelves for noise-makers. On one such trip recently, we discovered a booth in a local flea market that was loaded with vintage audio toys. A stack of portable record players here, a stack of recording devices there, amps and speakers and mics everywhere, it was quite a find. Amongst other things, we both walked away that day with cool mini reel to reel players.

Als mini reel to ree

Al's mini reel to reel

I was excited to find another one that was so similar to one I owned already. My thought of course was to use it to make long tape loops during sound performances. Something i’ve been meaning to do for a long time. And of course, I’m still out of luck, because sadly, the one I bought does not work. I can get it to transport the tape, but it doesn’t make a sound, not even static, which is always a bad sign. I’ll probably end up using it for scrap.

Al had similar woes, as his worked, but did not transport at an even rate. It seemed like whatever was moving the tape was slipping intermittently, which while it was a cool effect, it was not what Al was looking for. It moved enough though for us to hear that the tape on it had been used, something that always excites me, because it means a weird audio snapshot of someone’s life is on there, just waiting to be released.

Since Al’s tape machine was working after a fashion, I took it to see if I could fix it. Often these old tape machines used some kind of oil that overtime becomes more glue-like than oil-like, and opening them and carefully oiling the moving parts can revive them, and sure enough it was the case here. Although this tape machine had the oddest transport system I have even seen. It had no belts and was driven only by friction, which of course means that it doesn’t transport very evenly to begin with. Actually a really cool effect, as you will hear later.

Once I got the machine running, I rewound the tape, and listened. It never ceases to amaze me the fantastic audio artifacts that can be stored on these things. It seems to me that pretty much the same fate befell them all. They were bought and a tape was installed, and a series of people recorded fragments of whatever on them, full in the red. Then when the tape ran out, they were put away and never taken out again. While this is sad if you are the type to anthropomorphize tape machines, it produces amazing audio collages. Wholly unpredictable sounds strung together… bits of history, amateur radio announcing, random unidentifiable noise, etc. This particular example starts with a birthday dedication (I imagine for the recipient of the recorder) and proceeds through television commercials, junk drum improvisations (!!!), a faux mission impossible message, and some badly sung Beatles. To me, it’s excitingly unpredictable, and oddly poetic. Almost like an accidental Williams Mix

Having such fantastic luck with that tape, I decided to encode the tape from my defunct reel to reel as well. Not quite as profound, more just plain funny, my tape was filled with a joke telling hessian! I imagine, one of the fellows who sold me the device to begin with (a somewhat magical thought in and of itself). That being said, there are (as usual with these tapes) so interesting accidental audio fragments that are fairly aesthetically pleasing to me. The first minute or so are on regular speed, the rest is slowed down considerably. I can barely make out the jokes, because as per usual, they are recorded full in the red for the most part. I have however, sped the tape up, so you can hear the second part properly. Enjoy!

- Al’s mystery tape

- My mystery tape

I’m not dead (I’m just moving extremely slow)

August 23, 2007

Some of you may have noticed I have not been posting with the usual frequency. I appologize and by no means have I abandoned this blog. I have however taken a big hit to my available time by re-entering the workforce. While this new development certainly limits my time for doing more interesting things, such is life and I will as I have for much of my past, attempt to work around it.

Personally, I like Keith Rowe’s perspective on the situation. The following is an excerpt from a talk he gave at the Slought Foundation in philadelphia a little while back:

“I’ve always had a job… like always. From the time I left the art school… Actually, I really enjoyed that… The idea of being an amateur… You could have a kind of obscurity. If there was kind of a slogan of the art school i went to, it was, the definition of success is to be middle-aged and obscure.”

Of course, this got quite a laugh, but I think the re-definition of success he is portraying here is pretty inspirational, and I find it aligns very well with my current attitudes toward “art” or “craft” as a thing of and for common people.

One of the non job related plusses to having a job located in the city, is the variety of interesting sounds one encounters. My first week, I has riding my bike home when i passed a truck with some huge compressor in the back making a huge sounding drone as it ran, that was just loaded with dancing overtones. I could have listened to that for quite a long time. I was kicking myself for not having a minidisc recorder with me. It would have made a great piece to post here. Suffice to say that I now have the MD with me at all times, and hopefully I will be happening upon some other sound of note soon enough.

This leads me to another unfortunate reason why I have not been posting as much of late. Latralmagog. With weekly recording sessions and a new motivation to crank out new sound making devices, it has become quite difficult to find time to post. And I certainly don’t want to turn this into a latralmablog (har!) by only ever posting our recording sessions. Of course, my increased instrument production rate has provided me with a bunch of new sounds that could be posted, but I’m so behind on documenting things I’ll never catch up. Sigh… jobs. I always wonder if there could be a way I could just do what I do and make money for whatever value I am able to provide people… maybe some time in the distant (distant) future.

That’s enough ho-hum for now, on to things exciting. AL and I this past week both played our first show, and released our first official packaged recording. The show went well all things considered, but I found that it was much more difficult to improvise in my normal mode while being watched by strangers. I felt very self conscious at first and felt an odd pressure to produce some sound that I felt would be acceptable to the perceived tastes of my audience, though I resisted the temptation. I did however fall into a sort of safe re-playing of ideas and techniques that I had previously deployed.

As the show went on however, my confidence grew and I ended up playing much more in my usual way, listening to AL and attempting to compliment what he was putting out there. I felt the set improved drastically from beginning to close and I ended quite happy and reasonably psyched. I also realized that if we are going to play out more often, I need to develop a better live set up. I ended up doing too much moving mics around and not enough playing. That being said though, I think our music is much better suited to small enclosed spaces and if we performed in such a venue, amplification would be far less a concern.

I think the CDR we did came out great. I planned the packaging so we could do all the printing ourselves. The cover ended up being drilled in such a way as to create a letterform that would serve as the focal point of the cover, but also as a stencil to decorate the (otherwise blank) discs. The stenciling helped create color washes on the cover that were then silk screened over in black ink. The type and lines were all cut by hand into freezer paper which served as a silkscreen stencil (thanks art school). We basically banged out all the printing and spraying in an evening. The music however was a nightmare. For some reason when I brought it up to peak level in Audacity it clipped when playing in iTunes?!?!? I can’t figure out why this would be and especially not when it seems to just be this session. Whatever, we got over it, albiet after two days of hell. Mental note… Learn something about mastering (yeah, right). We used the most recent session, which was really cool as it was ready for sale one week after it was recorded. How’s that for a turnaround time? We even sold a couple which is pretty cool.

Here’s the CDR design:


If anybody wants one, they are available on our myspace page:
http://www.myspace.com/latralmagog Send us a friend request while you’re at it!

LATRALMAGOG Sessions IV & V and some philosophical rambling.

July 28, 2007

I think about music a lot as you can (i’m sure) imagine. While thinking about my recent activities as half of latralmagog, I have realised that in a lot of ways, it is an answer to some philosophical problems I have been tossing about in my head for some time. I supposed that makes perfect sense, and I imagine this progression from thought to action is normal for most people if at most times completely unconscious. However for me, it seems to have taken place on opposite ends of the same track where now there is a meeting at the center in latralmagog. On one end is my (seemingly inate) desire to make “difficult” music, and on the other are my philosophies about the personal/social politics of music and the making of music. When I started, both the making of music and the thinking about music were still very young, and so distant were they, that I did not really see them as connected, or as an answer to one-another yet. Here are two of the questions, and the thoughts (not to be seen as “answers” in an absolute sense) behind them.

First a quick caveat… I’m thinking outloud here. I don’t really know how to write, and I modify my position all the time, as I grow and change. This is here to encourage thought, not to get you to agree with me. Hopefully you will think, and come to your own conclusions. In the meantime, I hope you at least find my rambling entertaining. :) Oh, and I also didn’t feel like editing this, so you know…

What is music?
Way to start with an easy one huh? Well, from what I have been able to mete out in a combination of my own thoughts and the illuminations of others, it is whatever you think it is. Which is almost an alarmingly simple answer, but it’s almost a stupid question when you think about it, that it’s amazing how it has dogged so many BIG thinkers. When it comes down to it, “Music” is just a word… and like all words that define or deliniate space, its boundaries are only solid in inverse proportion to how much they are being attacked. Thanks to John Cage, the most formidable (in my experience) of the attackers, the word “music” is all but meaningless. In order for it to have any meaning at all, each individual must put their own restrictions on it, but don’t be fool enough to think that anyone will agree with you.

In my personal point of view I differ from Cage. He sought to prove that every sound can be music if you are willing to view it as an aesthetic occurance. He often referenced Rauchenberg’s ready-mades as a parallel in the visual art world, stating that the art he liked best directed you to the beauty that exists outside the artwork itself. So that in Cage’s world, all sound is music, all matter is art, and all experience is theater (and all these naturally overlap, a fact in which he took great pleasure). But this point of view maintains that art is everything you can appreciate aesthetically, and this is where I depart from Cage. I still maintain that art needs the artist. Not the Artist (with a capital A) that Cage deplored, but the finger pointing to the stars. The curator of the aesthetic. Why? Because people are as beautiful, curious and interesting as nature and while you can call their likes, dislikes, preduduces, etc., weaknesses, they are weaknesses which I feel are too tied to our human experience to sever. They like us together is a kind of maladjusted mutual sympathy that I think is ipmortant, even though it can lead to various ills that I have not time to get into now.

Now here’s where Cage’s idea and mine only really differ semantically (oh how useless language really is!). He says everything is art, I say art is whatever you think it is, but everything is beautiful. See Cage views the aesthetic appreciation of an object as a declaration of it’s existence as art, whereas I don’t link aesthetics and art at all. Art is what you say it is, but everything is beautiful. I guess this is beacuse I view art as a construct not a continuum. Art is the domain of the artist, and you can take it or leave it really, because beauty is everywhere if you choose to accept it.

In music this idea means that 1) I can still be a curator of sound if I want to because human experience is important 2) Music is whatever I say it is 3) Not everything I present for aesthetic consideration within the confines of a recording has to be “music” or considered by me as such. This philosophy produces nearly the same effect as Cage’s, but where Cage says the artist must be elliminated so that there is no artist/non artist dichotomy, I say, everyone is an artist if they think they are. (Which is funny because I refuse to call myself one, I guess that is because my philosophy exists in the utopia of my mind (like Cage’s) wheras, I live in a sad state of reality-by-commitee) Like I’ve said many times before, the only difference between me and anyone else is that I have the balls to say that what I do is “art”.

What is the relationship between the medium, availability and value of music?
Why is music pressed on records and why do we buy it? Why do we collect it, own it, etc.? Why do we have record labels? Do they serve a purpose other than fronting money for the production of “art” in order to (hopefully) make an ROI? Does the medium in which a work of “art” is presented affect the way in which it is perceived and how does that relationship function with “musical” “art”? Has our construction of a marketplace for art served us for the better and how?

Edit: Now that I’ve gotten flack for some of these statements, let me be more clear. I believe the art marketplace can be a good thing. If it wasn’t for some very giving souls who decided to use their money to bring the art they valued to light, we may all be bereft of some works we value highly. However, as I’m sure anyone can protest, this situation of money for art is extremely dangerous and that danger is not confined to the “mainstream” world.

I’m not going to answer all of those questions, but I do find myself asking them and stewing about them frequently. Especially in our current climate where we are basically innundated with high quality free music, most often in digital form. There are countless out of print record blogs where one could easily obtain for free, (a digital copy of the audio content of) a record that previously commanded prices of $5,000 on ebay! The value of music is changing, but exactly how remains to be seen. Personally I see the value going down, but I’m not sure we can be so black and white about that.

Is a piece of music put on record because it is valueable, or is it valuable because it was put on record? I’d say a little bit of both. I think it’s put on record because someone valued it and somehow because of the value they placed upon it, it then becomes valuable to others because they value it as well or value the person who deemed it valuable in the first place. But does it have any intrinsic value over and above everything else? Maybe not, I’m not sure I can say, it would depend upon how you define value. I have to say though that after hearing large qualities of amazing records by unknowns that easily rival records by our societal golden calves, it is hard to look at the art market as anything other than a spotlight. Am I alone in having heard steaming piles of crap on reputable lables, that become gems as they are accepted by the easily lead? Is the value of what I do directly linked to who else thinks it’s valuable? Well? Yes, but only if that is what I believe.

(Note: I’m omitting the questions about specific media that were here, because I don’t want to take the time to mede it out and it only distracts from the poit anyhow.)

Or we could ask a similar but different question. What’s more valuable to witness; The Velvet Underground live in the 70’s, or the music made in ones own family? (don’t answer too quickly now :) ) I think a lot of these questions are taking on the dichotomy existing in the world now, of the “art star” and “art star” infrastructure, versus the personal and communal. And why does this exist? Because we buy it. These people, concepts and objects are only more important than others because we have agreed that it is so. So where is value in all of this? It’s wherever you think it is. In this stage in the game relying on any definition of value other than your own pleasure in “art” is just asking to be lead off a cliff.

Now if these things are only of at their hieght in valuable because we buy them, what happens if we stop? What happens if we have so much fantastic music that we can’t even keep track of it and it is all free. We have so much that every record only gets one listen. What happens when even what was previously considered to be “the best” is so common we don’t need it any more? How does it effect how we place value on “art”, or how we approach our own? I would say it evens the playing field somewhat don’t you think? I think it has the potential to take us out of the fog of commercialism and offers us the chance to see, choose and make for ourselves. (Not that all music that is sold is commercial, but that ugly culture does exist.)

Edit: (The paragraph here previously was an ill thought-out rant that actually did more to confuse my point than make it. It is being replaced with something I think is more the point. I can’t stand by any of those previous statements.)

These ideas have definitely shaped latralmagog. These questions in part affirm my decision to improvise. For me, improvisation confronts fleeting value by being instant, commercialism and style by being amorphous, and the question of the definition of “music” by being an exploration.

In a way I feel like there was a time I was tying to cram what I really wanted to do into a box that I thought would be more easily palateable to others, and resisting the real impulse I had toward something less defined. I felt as if I was trying to train myself to make what was essentially other people’s music. Why? Because I guess in a way I thought it would be more “credible”. When I finally thought about it, I realized that I had been improvising for some time, but I had been casting it off because it didn’t fit with what I for some reason thought I ought to do. Once I opened up however, I realized how fun and fulfilling it was to give myself over to all of the ideas and feelings I had pushed aside for so long.

I realize after some of the comments below, that a lot of what I say above can be very easily misconstrued. I wish I were better at expressing my thoughts. I think the bottom line though is that everyone should feel free to do and think as they like about art, theirs or anyone else’s, no matter what the established art world thinks, or what trend it is worshiping today. There is no intrinsic value in anything, we bestow value, so feel free to cast yours wherever you like.

I also want to make it clear that I am NOT saying improvised music is better or cooler than any other kind of music, only that is better suits a certain set of ideas that are occupying me presently than anything else.

LATRALMAGOG, Session IV
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6
- Part 7

LATRALMAGOG, Session V
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6

My first time collaborating on improvised music

June 6, 2007

For all the things I have tried musically, there is was a very obvious one which I had not… until recently that is. I have of late become aquainted with a friend of a friend who is now my friend; Al. Al and I have some similar musical tastes and ideas, and it was suggested to us and we agreed that we should try making some music together. After a few missed connections we were finally able to hang out, talk music, and listen to records (he had an especially interesting set of 50’s vocabulary records which kept us occupied and laughing out loud for a good while). I also got to check out some of his various instruments, a kora like instrument, a synth, an electric kalimba (!) etc. and it was abundantly clear, we were at least of a very similar bent. We decided the best way for us to go about making music was to sit down to improvise, so we started making plans.

After missing a few more connections, we were finally able to get together to actually make music this week. Al met me at my house this time, so he could check out my laboratory and see what my noisemaker stash had to offer, and after pulling out a number of devices, a little impromptu jam just sort of happened from us tooling around on various things, so I grabbed a bunch of instruments, amps, mics, cables etc. and set up a little recording area in the living room. I decided the easiest way to capture this initial session was to just mic the room so I set up a pair of condenser mics, one for each of our approximate areas.

We ended up improvising for 76 minutes straight. I think that is the longest I have ever played anything. We probably would have made it to two full hours if we the mics didn’t start shorting out. (I really need to check that out) The session was great. We managed to create a sort of space where we could really do pretty much anything. And the resultant overall feeling was really cohesive. For the first session, I was really pretty surprised how much of a unified “vibe” we were able to generate for most of the performance.

One interesting part of the overall outcome was accepted more than planned. Due to the thin-ness of my walls and the fact that i’m constantly hassling my neighbor for blasting modern rock radio, we had to keep the volume way down. In fact one of the amps we are using for the electronic instruments is about six inches square, and it still competes admirably with the 10 inch Ibanez that the kalimba was running through. This also meant that none of my acoustic instruments or cassette recorders needed to be miced. As a byproduct of this, every movement we made was audible in the recording, from me shuffling through cassettes to Al thunking his kalimba down on the coffee table. The unexpected part is that it somehow works. In listening back to it, I thought some of the noises were intentional and successful, and then later realized that I couldn’t really even tell if some were intentional or not. The line had completely blurred. The unintentional sounds being made by our “playing” had not only become an aleatoric musical component in the performance, but one of my favorite parts.

For those of you who care, here’s the rundown…

Personnel: Al B & ET (me)
Implements: Cassette recorders, home made “lute”, various modified and unmodified children’s toys, kalimba, silvertone acoustic, boss reverb pedal, boss loop station, bells, chainwheel gong, loop cassettes, transistor radio, playing cards, cappuccino foamer, cardboard “costume” guitar, voices, found answering machine tapes, harmonica, random household items, and probably more stuff I can’t remember.

I cut the performance into 6 parts, based on what felt like individual movements within the session. I have cut them off directly, so they can be played gapless. The end fades out due to technical difficulties in the final 15 or so minutes. Enjoy!

- Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 1
- Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 2
- Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 3
- Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 4
- Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 5
- Session 1, 06/03/07, Part 6

Jazz and the degradation of tape. Or; Jazz Two Ways.

December 30, 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 :))

Wollensak 3M tape recorder and Mac

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!

Jazz Two Ways Cover

- Jazz Two Ways No. 1
- Jazz Two Ways No. 2
- Jazz Two Ways No. 3
- Jazz Two Ways No. 4
- Jazz Two Ways No. 5
- Jazz Two Ways No. 6
- Jazz Two Ways No. 7
- Jazz Two Ways No. 8
- Jazz Two Ways No. 9


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