High School Recordings: The 25-Year Anniversary

Around the time of my 17th birthday (1986), I'd saved up enough money grilling hamburgers to buy my first E-lectric guitar. It was a beaut: a Black-and-White Zebra-Striped Strat copy, $100 new. Already had my casio keyboard with built-in drum machine that I'd earned waiting tables at the old folks' home the year before, so I was all ready to go. After a couple weeks of teaching myself some chords I started recording.

These recordings span Summer '86 to Summer '87, at which time I graduated high school and left for the army to put life on creative hold for two years. I used the aforementioned casio keyboard and guitar to begin with, then acquired a casio sk-1 and programmable Boss Dr. Rhythm drum machine, and borrowed a friend's casio cz-101 synth (retail price: $500) much of the time.

Not all of these are original melodies. Some are bits I lifted from my punk rock records, or sometimes jingles from TV commercials and saturday morning cartoons (many years of classical piano training helped my sense of perfect pitch). To do multitrack songs, I would record the first part (usually drum machine and bass) through a wired condenser mic onto my Montgomery Ward one-piece Hi-FI (cassette, radio, phonograph AND 8-track tape), then transfer that tape over to my little portable cassette recorder, which had a speaker of about 2" diameter. I'd set that up next to my guitar amp, put the mic in front of them, hit 'record' on the Hi-Fi with the mixdown cassette in it, then hit 'play' on the portable and play along to the backing track. So the sound is total dogshit. But it's ten songs clocking in at a merciful 12 minutes, and I think it's pretty funny. They're all instrumentals. I omitted the ones in which I'm singing in a hormone-addled imitation of Lux Interior, Joey Ramone or John Lydon. I know we're all friends, but I'm not willing to put that part of myself out there yet. Maybe some other time.


The Life of an Agent

We visited Memento Park a few days ago, just outside of Budapest. It's a graveyard for monuments of Hungary's Soviet-occupied era (mid-40's to late 80's). One of my favorites is the one above, all that's left of an enormous likeness of Stalin. The rest of him was sawed down by protesters during the 1956 uprising.

Of no less interest was this interactive exhibit you could climb inside of; a real-life Trabant, a.k.a "The People's Car". This East German product was virtually the only car on the road when I visited Hungary in 1990. Now it's obsolete, presumably because of its shameful emissions; It put out nearly ten times as many hydrocarbons as the average European car, due to its two cylinder, two stroke engine. The shell was made of resin and recycled cotton.

In a small indoor exhibit era they screened this fascinating compilation of films, made between the 40's and the 70's, specifically to train members of Hungary's secret police: : how to interrogate, tap phone lines, photograph suspects, break into their homes to collect supposed evidence... unconscionable actions, treated like an ordinary matter of course.

On a related note, the House of Terror is a fantastic place to visit in Budapest. located in the actual building that housed HQ and prisons / torture chambers for the Nazis (Hungary was an axis country) as well as the Communists, it's an engrossing and terrifying subject, told in some of the best exhibit design I've seen.



Photos I shot last week at the Natural History Museum in Florence, Italy.

Windows 95 with Greta


Lux and Ivy's Favorites

Since Lux Interior's death I've been spending more time listening to the Cramps, my favorite rock n' roll band since I was 16, and appreciating the tributes and memoriams throughout the internet. It's a sad event, but this resurgence of Cramps interest has been a good thing.

A massive find is "Lux and Ivy's Favorites", 11 volumes (321 tracks!) of songs they spent most of their lives hunting down and enjoying, all for free.

Lux Interior and Ivy Rorshach were record collectors first, and a band second. They only started playing music after many years of digging up rare 45's of trashy rockabilly and doo-wop, and even then almost all of their songs were covers. They often freely admitted they were fans, trying to recreate the music they loved.

Listening to this collection is a special insight to Lux's tastes, and seemingly like Lux himself: unique, sincere, and always with a sense of humor. A short playlist is below (I found these tracks a few days ago, so I've barely listened to it all), and you can download the whole thing HERE.

(personal recommendation: combine these songs with those 255 free grindhouse radio ads I linked a few weeks ago into an itunes playlist and hit "shuffle").


17 Species of North American Mammals

Grizzly Bear :0 - :17
Harbor Seal :17 - :33
Dall's Sheep :33 - :44
Timber Wolf :44 - :51
Moose :51 - 1:22
Cougar/Mountain Lion 1:22 - 1:26
Sea Lion 1:26 - 1:51
Porcupine 1:51 - 1:58
Bison 1:58 - 3:26
Ringtail/Rodent 3:26 - 3:41
Musk Ox 3:41 - 4:11
Columbia Black Tail Deer 4:11 - 4:37
Caribou 4:37 - 5:06
Coyote 5:06 - 5:25
Mountain Goat 5:25 - 5:48
Peccary 5:48 - 6:26
Mule Deer 6:26 - 6:58

From Sonic Scenery, an exhibit I worked on at the natural history museum in Los Angeles a couple years ago. Composers were invited to record music specifically to be heard in wings of the museum. The visitor wears a headset, which plays the compositions when triggered by remote signals in the galleries. Experimental duo Matmos took it all the way by making audio environments for each of the seventeen dioramas in the North American Mammals hall. The timechart (above) was intended to cue the visitor to move from one window to the next, but you can read along for a similar effect.

artist statement:
In general, our work starts by taking an object, making sounds with that object, and working outward from those sounds in a free-associative manner, without a preconceived result or specifically targeted genre in mind.
In this case, we have had to reverse this process and have tried to think about the precise specifics of the North American Mammals hall and work to gather sounds that will evoke both the natural locale and the specific behaviors of the animals in the room. We decided to anchor our piece around the sounds of animals eating, breathing, and sniffing their environment, and to locate these noises of animal life against a backdrop of plateaulike drones generated with musical instruments associated with "Americana": pedal steel, acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, and autoharp. Feeding peanut butter to a friend's dog, we built up a basic library of mammalian lip-smacking, huffing, barking, whining, sniffling, and breathing noises, and combined this with a percussive battery of antler noises made by smacking deer antlers against each other and some softer rustling textures harvested by stroking and rubbing the pelt of a wolf.
The work is divided into miniature 'cells,' which stand in for the seventeen distinct dioramas/environments and animal species represented in the room, and this is split down the middle by a central section that corresponds to the large bison display at the far end of the room. Our work is intended to be a sound map of a walk through this room and is paced to coincide with a five-to-seven-minute counterclockwise walk through its contents
- Matmos

More about the exhibit here.