Oh The Flowers

Swinging the pendulum from the ridiculous to the merely trite, the archiving project rears its desperate head this week with a glimpse at Verona, the predecessor band to Decora/A Spectre Is Haunting Europe. This recording comes from my days recording demos in the basement of The Abbey, the shared house up by the PNE. Actually quite post- Verona’s live gigging days (1996-1998), this song, “Oh The Flowers” (trite due to obvious Britpop lifts), was recorded on 4 track cassette (I believe a Tascam Porta 03) in 1999, and I seem to remember playing everything myself. The cassette it’s on is one among many in the box that are labelled generically -this one being Verona – 4 Track Stuff. A few more tracks might surface from this one later, too. But as this is a collection of songs not recorded as a unified LP/CD/etc., I’ll set aside any complete track listing for now. It’s in the jpeg.

This audio snapshot was taken right around the time I entered law school. Had I spent more time studying and less time recording stuff like this in the basement you would not be reading this at present – in its place, perhaps, could have been a cranky treatise about the rigors of conveyancing. Imagine that.

Oh what the hell. Here’s another track from the tape, “Hey Hey“, another Verona track that didn’t make it to cable access. This one was recorded in late 1998. Quinn (currently a co-conspirator in ASIHE) sang vox, and I played the drunken master guitar ‘solo’.

Slide It Up

Bucket of Slugs - Pacifism (1987)OK – daughter’s asleep…continuing on with recordings of similar vintage (1987 and pre-), to ensure the oldest tapes I have are salvaged first.

More Bucket of Slugs, of course. Unlike yesterday’s monochromatically raucous Carnival EP, the follow up LP, entitled Pacifism, oscillates between whispered and barked songs. It appears that parents were at home while this was recorded, as there is evidence of periodic interruptions, attempts to make quiet music for various spells, and even, in the opening “Kill, Kill, Kill”, open violent threats against them. Some holdover from prior exercises, too – an ‘unplugged’ reworking of “Different Flavours of Birthday Cake” (featured in my last entry). There are also many in-jokes that I barely understand anymore, reiterations of themes worked over and over again until they were no longer funny. “Old McDonald’s Farm” seems to be a response to a parental request to “play something we all know”. “Don’t Box Me In” is an impotent Stan Ridgeway cover, and it appears that three of the four musicians either forget how it goes or have never heard it [maybe I’ll remix and post that one later for some ha ha]. Much of the second half is attempts at random note spatters just to fill up space, but in retrospect, that material is far more listenable than our attempts at songs with narratives and stuff.

I’ve featured two of the most interesting tracks here for your curious ears. First, “Slide It Up“, a “let’s switch instruments” foray that IMHO really works. Second, “That’s What You Get For Loving Me” – an irritatingly silly 60s pop venture.

Happily, this one imported from-cassdeck-to-arrange-window with no issues.

This LP includes eleven songs:

  1. Kill, Kill, Kill
  2. I’m So Jaded
  3. Our Bass Player…
  4. You Broke My Heart
  5. Don’t Box Me In (a cover of an original Stan Ridgeway/Stewart Copeland song)
  6. Slide It Up
  7. Different Flavours…
  8. Old McDonald’s Farm
  9. Italian Dad/Mexican Son
  10. Igor
  11. That’s What You Get For Loving Me

And yes, it appears that Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream (81 82 83 84) is still intact on Side B of this world-weary UX-90. And it still rocks.

You Should Do What Your Daddy Says

Bucket of Slugs - Carnival (1987)Bucket of Slugs – Different Flavours of Birthday Cake [Sept 1987, 3min 0sec]

OK, the archive project has officially begun, with a warble. Apologies at the outset for the pisspoor quality of this one (the others are in much better shape). I’ve tried every DIY method I know, and I cannot fix this cassette. If there’s a local cassette expert who knows how to repack an old reel so that it plays back at a constant speed, please contact me ASAP to help me save this one. (I’ve also looked for digital plugins that might correct the variable speed algorithmically, to no avail). In the end I decided to post it anyway, not being one to enjoy being held up by such irritants. It’s not the oldest, nor the best, nor funniest nor most offensive recording in the collection. But I guarantee that this is the tape that is in the worst condition out of the bunch.

The artist is Bucket of Slugs, and the song is called “Different Flavours of Birthday Cake”, from the 1987 EP cassette entitled Carnival. As indicated by the warbliness, the tape has barely survived the nearly 21 years since its recording. It was, like most of these early tapes, live to two-track cassette, and in this case, no overdubs.

The song is about making a mess in a supermarket, specifically in its baked goods section. The chorus enumerates various flavours of cakes that are available for the speaker to toss about. There’s a disturbing yet rather funny bridge near the end (starting at about 2:10) from which this post receives its title – “you should do what your daddy says/your daddy tell you to go to the store/you go to the store”.

The EP includes eight songs as follows:

    Side One

  1. ICBM (1987)
  2. Different Flavours of Birthday Cake
  3. Carnival
  4. I Shot The Sherrif [sic; a cover of the Bob Marley song]
  5. Side Two

  6. Riot in Cell No. 9 [a cover of the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song “Riot in Cell Block No. 9”]
  7. Let Me Be
  8. We Have Been Here A Long Time
  9. I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow

One last note. As pictured below, this was taped onto a commercially bought cassette by putting electrician’s tape over the security tabs. In this case I taped over an album by Frank Zappa that I found particularly disappointing: Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (1985).

The Zappa beneath the Bucket of Slugs

Watch for another update on this project before this weekend.

I Have Been Here A Long Time

I had another dream about my lost cassettes from 20 years ago (remember? I dreamed about this previously). This time, I was not in a pawn shop. This time, beleaguered campus radio station CiTR (which in this world has had to resort to fundraising in the face of UBC budget reallocations and spiraling costs) was caught up in the mix. In the dream I happened by the station only to encounter a number of harried young volunteers pushing piles of boxes out of the station, and awkwardly tumbling down the stairs with them, piling them on the grass outside the SUB. Breathless half-reports was I able to glean from these frantic vollies, about the station closing down, could I help please? I decided that the decent thing to do would be to roll up my sleeves and help salvage the music library.

Upon entering the station I looked around for where help was needed most. It seems nobody was saving the cassette room, which had long been considered an eyesore at the station anyway. A half dozen volunteers desperately crammed collectable (though well-worn) rare vinyl into crates, along with CDs and oddball PSA carts, but none got their hands dirty with the tapes. Alarmed, I dove straight into the tape room, remembering too well (& far better than this group of apparently vintage-vinyl-obsessed 20-somethings) the time when a homemade cassette was the only affordable way to disseminate yr basement squawks.

Lo & behold, after about 10 minutes of packing, sorting through cassettes that were long out of their cases, barely identified, garnished with hopelessly faded scrawl over top of Maxell, TDK, Sony HR-90, and the like sticky label branding, there it was, on a bottom shelf, buried under a pile of Dayglo Abortions mixtapes – a small 3 by 8 by 12 brown suitcase, packed to overfull with home recorded cassettes, emblazoned with, in mine own hand, obscure titles that could only trigger distant, uncertain memories in two or three heads in the entire universe, mine being one of them. My lost tapes.

I’ve been neglecting the archiving project I committed myself to back in December. I suppose time is really of the essence here, and somehow those half-sorted piles of semiconductive 1/8 inch tape reels fashioned decades ago are sending me their last psychic plea, o’er piles of baby toys and documentation about the MIDI specification, which for some reason, I’ve never spent any time figuring out systematically until now…

Found Sound

Tapes into bits

I made it through the holiday season without acquiring any new gadgets. I slept on it a number of times and realized that USB tape decks are for people who love the cassette medium. I’m not making that sort of emotional commitment here – this is about extending the life of my original recordings. Instead I went to my local pawn shop and bought a Pioneer cassette deck, pictured right. I chose the one with the slowest eject in the place, brought it home for $35 CDN, cleaned the heads, and started my archiving project, pictured at right, problematized here.

A longtime collaborator has indicated to me that he has scraped up some tapes I haven’t heard in almost two decades, so naturally much excitement abounds about this. It looks like we’ll be digging as far back as 1984. So cheap cassettes can last 23 years. Wow.

On the downside, after a thorough checking of storage spaces and closets at home, it appears I’ve misplaced a large number of early recordings made 1984-1988, which is tragic. Most of this material was recorded once, listened to once or twice, and never duplicated. Hopefully they’ll turn up.

If they don’t turn up, I do wonder where they’ll go? Would anyone discover them, use them, wonder why they were made? Much of the content included fictional bands and radio programs made in my bedroom and other exotic locales, though there are some early live recordings of my teen Top 40 cover bands in there too. I can’t believe that it all might simply be gone forever. Not sad – just tragic, shocking.

I guess this is what it feels like to be a found sound object.

Two nights ago I had a dream in which I was digging around through a box of tapes at a (different) pawn shop and, of course, I was anticipating that I would find something I had made with that equal-parts-excitement-and-horror you get in dreams. And then I did find a few tapes. I identified my own handwriting instantly (that was what drew my eyes toward them). I shouted “Oh my god!” – actually shouted, waking up the spouse and the infant.

I’ve got to get this project under control. The spouse and the infant need as much sleep as they can get.

Tapes and Tapes

The A List

The image above depicts the “A List”: tapes that are clearly labelled and known to have original music on them. There are 100 more on the “B List”, which are mislabelled but suspected to contain original works (e.g., they were recorded atop prior recordings on the blank tapes, but never properly re-labelled). There are yet 200 more tapes which are not labelled at all, and many of which might not even be mine.

For those just tuning in, this is the beginning of a massive personal digital archiving project I’m undertaking, and which I’m promising to blog about as much as I can. The oldest tape I’ve found so far is from 1987, but I’m certain there are older ones lurking in a box somewhere.

I’ve come up against a few boggles already, in deciding how to prioritize things. First, multiple media. I’ve got floppy disks with writing on them (yes, even the big “floppy” floppy disks – which contain early university papers and oodles of lyrics, poems, and fiction). I’ve got Hi-8 tapes with all manner of film school and ethnographic projects from my undergrad on them, including, probably some early music videos and short films I’ve made along the way. I’ve got VHS tapes of band performances (though I’m missing some very crucial ones of List Of Mrs Arson that I’m mourning the loss of). Then there’s old CDRs that need ripping, and then the tapes and tapes and tapes. I’m prioritizing tapes because they contain the most valued material (the music), and are the most fragile due to their age (20+ years).

Then there is the problem of how to blog this process. I don’t have much interest in putting everything up online, and doing so would be untenable. I need to build a narrative, which can obfuscate as much history as it can illuminate.

And this brings me to a consideration of the scope of the project, which augments my perplexion even further. Some projects I was only slightly involved in – do I include those and thereby prioritize the biographical dimensions of this endeavor? How will former collaborators respond to my requests to make everything public, noncommercial, attribution only, sharealike, copyleft? How will these considerations limit the project? And should I just ignore these concerns altogether and let the chips fall where they may?

And then there are the questions of destiny, of purpose. Why do this, besides my impulse to restore and save the historical record, however personal and idiosyncratic that history is? Who cares? And what if the music bores people to death?

Finally, there are practical concerns – the tedium of scanning homemade cover art, the hopes that I can locate everything, and that it’s all still salvageable (and PS – for those in the know and who do care, Yummibrain has indeed survived the full 19 years since it was recorded), and whether I have the stamina to carry it through, while exposing some very personal (and perhaps embarrassing) stories in my musical learning process since I was a child.

Lots at stake in such a thing. And I haven’t even mentioned the notion that some of it (hopefully) might get remixed by someone. Anyway, it’ll be a couple weeks before the uploading starts, as there’s much planning to do.

Mobile Media Use & Disuse – Research findings, plus musical odds and sods

Hey. I’m digging my head out from under a tense, transitional semester of research, teaching and baby-raising. I’m working directly in mobile media now, in a new job at Mobile Muse 3 (so expect more posts in this sorter space as we go). On that note, you can see a recent presentation of research findings gleaned from my ongoing mobile research for Nokia here (PDF, 3.7 Mb). A full paper on this research, authored by me and Richard Smith, is forthcoming.

On the music and audio front, I’m about to embark on an ambitious audio archiving project pending the purchase of a USB cassette deck. Not a found sound project, mind you, but more of a personal biographical project. I have a huge box of old tapes, set to expire any minute, that simply must be digitized. I’ve been recording things since I was 9 years old. No word yet on how much has survived, but in the new year I’ll have a good idea. This’ll also be my chance to debut the clicknoise podcast…

I will likely set this bio project to coincide with the release of the newest A Spectre Is Haunting Europe record, too, which will permit much dialectic between past, present, and futurism. This way I’ll have the dual pleasure of digging through the vaults whilst unleashing something that is completely fresh (in the past, ASIHE albums have always combined new and old seamlessly, and with Embers (the next LP), we definitely didn’t want to do that again.