February 8th, 2005


Honour your rambling mumble as a hidden radio programme

Shall we go out to the countryside and ramble on magnetic tape? This entry is dedicated to people who walk around, talking some kind of stream-of-consciousness stuff into recording devices as they go. It's dedicated to nutty recording angels, people who put the 'psycho' into geography and favour the ear over the eye. Take a memo, Miss Anthropy! New paragraph, new paragraph, yours sincerely.

Call it ancestor research; this is something I've been doing on Click Opera, and I'm only now learning the names of my precursors, the podcast pioneers, the people who did it and called it art. It's the new thing's old thing! If it's the new thing, let's enter it in Ars Electronica this year instead of music! If it turns out to be the old thing, let's make the old thing the new thing instead!

Of course we all did this in the 70s, when cassette tape recorders were new. Who didn't, on getting their first cassette tape recorder, record herself singing, interviewing family members, making up stories, editing together snippets of TV shows, thumping at a piano? I've got tons of tapes of me and my sister doing that, all burbly and squeaky. 1970s TV commercials in the background, wow! Beck spliced bits of his kiddy tapes into 'Stereopathetic Soul Manure'.

Here are two men who kept making those tapes. And a third man who did much, much more.

This is Wake by Sam Truitt. It's one of 28 'strips' released in a book called 'Transverse, a book in Vertical Elegies'. Truitt, a poet, bought an Olympus W-10 Digital Voice Recorder rather like the Olympus models my students are using for field recordings at FUN. Truitt's machine allowed for photographs to be taken simultaneously with the sound recordings and played back, in a fixed sequence but at random locations, with the sound. The results show language and visuals combining in unexpected ways, blazing fresh pathways through our synapses. (I was trying to do something similar with my combination of odd, almost Raymond Pettibonesque phrases and static video shots in last week's 'Noboribetsu TV', but I lacked the random wild card element Truitt's lo-fi technique allows.)

Someone else who rambles and mumbles is Adam Bohman. You can hear one of his 'talking tapes' (released on the 'Music and Words' album) here. "These tapes," says the album blurb, "consist of on the spot cassette recordings of his observations, both humorous, mundane and personal, as well as the day to day activities of his life. The sounds of the environment, the sluggish recording mechanism and the use of the pause button give this piece an almost concrète, sound text feel. This piece dates from 1994." (I remember Anne Laplantine recording a brass band in the Boxhagener Platz with an old cassette tape recorder in a similar way, using the pause button to edit the music randomly.)

Finally, here are two people mumbling and rambling in a much more focused way. It's Alan Moore interviewing Brian Eno on BBC Radio 4's Chain Reaction series. We'll forgive them their focus, though, because they say some interesting things. Moore introduces Eno as someone who started by experimenting with a tape recorder as his primary instrument and setting his stall out as a 'non-musician'... "Considering the influence you've had, as a non-musician, on music, should we be thankful that you didn't decide to become a non-serial killer or a non-dictator?"

Moore interviews Eno (BBC Radio player, file stays up there until Thursday).

Eno on songwriting: I've actually just finished a new album which is all songs... Songwriting is now actually the most difficult challenge in music... Lyrics are really the last very hard problem in music. Software and hardware have changed the rest of music dramatically in the last thirty or forty years. It's very very easy to make pretty good music... Pretty good isn't very interesting, but pretty good is possible. But writing songs is pretty much in the same place as it was in the days of Chaucer. Apart from hip hop, hip hop is the only breakthrough in a way, rap, because it breaks away from the strict adherence to melody and beat structure and so on... I'd love to try doing this really hard thing [songwriting] and see if I can.

Eno on risk: Since the age of 18 I've been in a midlife crisis... I've spent a long time trying to figure out what the point of being an artist is. I'm not intellectually dishonest enough to always come out in my own favour... The element of risk may play some part in our idea of the beautiful. If you're taking a risk, all your antennae are out. One day I'd rent a cello, one day a marimba. I couldn't play any of them. I'd have two ideas, I'm going to dangle a mic from the ceiling and I'm going to hire a trombone.

That reminds me of something on Roddy Schrock's blog, a quote from the New York Times, an interview with a crazy Dutch town planner: "To make communities safer and more appealing, Mr. Monderman argues, you should first remove the traditional paraphernalia of their roads - the traffic lights and speed signs; the signs exhorting drivers to stop, slow down and merge; the center lines separating lanes from one another; even the speed bumps, speed-limit signs, bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings. In his view, it is only when the road is made more dangerous, when drivers stop looking at signs and start looking at other people, that driving becomes safer."

Eno quoting Chomsky on the democratic power of the internet: There are two superpowers now, there's the United States, and there's world opinion.

Eno on Elective Citizenship: Educate your children in Sweden, pay your taxes in Denmark, support an English football team. (That's the only thing I can think of that's good about England.) This notion that our nation defines us is going away... Actually, British comedy is very experimental. Much better than British football. The Goon Show was radio dada, really. It was about as experimental as anything that was going on at the time. (Cue Derek and Clive impersonation.)

Eno on Oblique Strategies: When I went home from the studio I'd think of things that I'd forgotten to think about in the studio. And these were not things like "Put on a guitar solo." They were things like "If you listen from outside the door, you hear things you don't hear when you're in the studio." or "If you listen to all the quieter details of things, that's a nice way of listening to things." Me and Peter Schmidt started to think that maybe we could come up with a sort of universal set of cards that gave you some strategies you could use in difficult working situations to knock yourself out of the furrow you might have inadvertently got yourself into. Some cards, their ideas have entered the culture so much that you don't need to say them any more. Like "Honour thy error as a hidden intention..."

The hideous animal

This hideous animal, denizen of some ghastly species hinterland between hare and deer, has long been dead. It "lives", stuffed, in a neglected vitrine at the Royal Museum, Chambers Street, Edinburgh and it was there, last month, that I exposed my photographic plate, steadying my apparatus against the cold glass pane lest terror should render the beast's visage even less supportable to my weakening constitution. Ghosting, red eye, shake or motion blur would, I confess, have induced in me an uncanny shudder even more unsettling than the clammy hand which was at that moment gripping my innermost being even as a body-trafficker grips the chill wrist of a half-decayed corpse.

It is rumoured that anyone who gazes too long upon this foul colt, even in photographic form, will be so possessed by the intense spirit of evil lurking in its yellow, ferine eyes that they must needs suffer night sweats and tormented dreams. Some even whisper that the creature's image is cursed; impossible, once seen, to banish from the inner chambers of the mind. That would indeed be unfortunate, for it is further advanced that those who cannot, after precisely forty nights of tossing, neurasthenic fever, squeeze the creature's likeness from their ken must--but no, I cannot credit it, but I will, I must mention it--perish in agony, burnt to death in a mysterious fire of spontaneous origin!

The nocturnal ringing of an infernal telephone! The scabrous scythes of Hades! Hieronymous Rabbit! A wall-eyed imbecile fumbling at the door! The spattered blubber of the murders at the Greyfriars kirkyard! Forgive me, dear reader, for a moment I lost my composure. But not my reason! Being a man of science I must discount all such rumours as the tittle-tattle of the frothing farmhand and the harlot-frisky bickerwench. And yet... and yet... this sinister will'o'thewisp, this vile flibbertigibbet haunts me still and will not leave my mind! The sprite has crept through my dreams for thirty-nine nights now, and will not leave... Even in this drowse which descends upon me, I feel its breath close upon my neck... close and cold... [Here the journal ends. The author was discovered, his corpse a ghastly scorched log, the following morning.]