2003 was a pretty bleak year, in some ways matched only by 2008 in terms of heaviness, but the upshot was that I met David Taber that year and, among other things, he opened the door for me to the beautiful world of lo-fi field recording. His “Day of Reckoning #5” CD/Zine is a classic and deserves a reissue so that it may bless more peoples lives with its revealing simplicity.
He had a hand-held tape-recorder and would make a day out of just wandering, through wild fields and brambles or alleys and then standing stock-still in awe with REC pressed down as some birds and squirrels cussed each other out, or as a styrofoam cup skipped along the sidewalk. We had just become friends, and collecting sounds was a great pastime considering we both were kind of shy and didn’t have cars to get around in. For him, I guess it was making the best of a situation to focus on his ears, since his vision is limited on the peripherals by a hereditary case of macular degeneration. I was just stoked, because collecting sounds felt like being a scientist collecting specimens, or like when I was a kid pretending to be a spy. And then we could use it for art.
Anyway, I started using my own recorder, the kind that uses the tiny tapes, probably in 2004. That means it’s been about 5 years since I started collecting sounds, and I have yet to put out a discrete work of art the way Dave did… I’ve had intentions to do so… (the first one was going to be called “For Tryers”), but somehow never could summon the chutzpah to just do it. Partly this is because I didn’t feel like I had a congealed sound-artist identity yet. I had all these conceptual ideas for sound projects that I wanted to do, but what I really was creating was on a different page from those ideas. I was urgent! And pretty soon I was overwhelmed by the variety of stuff I had to sort through: live shows of bands, field recordings, me singing along to various droning machines, 4-track collages/home-recordings, and (later) improvised music (solo & collaborative) using keyboard, sampler, thrift store tapes and effects. I got so fond of recording and listening to what I’ve recorded that I think my hearing has mutated away from “normal” people’s concept of what sounds good. That staticky tape sound can drive some people crazy really fast, even me sometimes. I also get kooky pleasure from listening to stuff sped up or slowed down ((distortions)).
So, largely I’ve been recording just for the benefit of my own self-medication and evolution as a noisician, but I really would like to share this stuff with other people who would enjoy it. A handful of people have received CDs (or tapes) that are mixes of various recordings and collages. I wonder what has become of those CDs? Some of them say “Pocket Mouse” and others may say “The Lost Art of (the lost art)”. My friend Clide in San Francisco put “juice song” on a mix that she gave to a friend who then played it on a radio show, which was awesome. That piece consists simply of a sped-up mini-tape recording of me singing an accompaniment to the juicer in my mom’s tiny upstairs kitchen, on the night of a back yard picnic and red wine. I was alone. Some things are so tiny and so huge at the same time. When I listen to that recording, I remember the flush of emotion in me, the warmth inside; it was the feeling of romance, but the thing that I was romancing was a mystery, a song that came out without any thought. Something like that is so intimate to me, it’s like a special little object you put in a box of special things, and just take it out and hold in your hand every once in a while when you want to remember. It seems weird to put it on CD. But that means I need to move my concept of a CD into a different context, I need to think about the whole package. It can be a container to hold a collection of special things, just like Day of Reckoning #5.
Today I am writing about this because, thanks to my friend/collaborator/partner Chad Hopper, the sleeping sound library has been roused and is being groomed. Chad (also know as Chaired or the founder of Palfloat or lead bard of Night Viking, Basic Shapes, etc.) grew up in Dallas and started making tape-collages back before I even graduated from high school. He got found cassettes from the thrift store, filled them up with friends, jams, snippets and commercial quips, packaged them between slices of bread, and left them in free-boxes at the local music store and other haunts. In between his other hobbies of making visual art and playing live music, he has kept in practice with the recording and sound-collaging and has put out a collection every couple of years or so. (“Leftover Blue Fur” in 2006, “Please Asleep” in 2008 – – look for them at an Austin record store or at palfloat.com.)
Lucky for me, he is really good at sorting through large volumes of sounds and paring them down to nuggets, like beads that can be arranged on a string. So, with my entire catalogue to work with, he has already started combing and snipping away. It’s not only exciting to see what he is going to do with it, but also has pushed me to organize my stuff so that I can work with it too. (Yay!) The first thing I am planning to do is “Found sounds, vol. 1: Long and calm”. This is totally unmanipulated ambient recordings, for people like me who sometimes need a soothing background noise going on for working or just relaxing. It’s mainly about air and birds, with windchimes and the sound of styrofoam garlands, maybe the sound of the ice cream truck (because this is urban calm).
I will blog again when some of these projects are done. In the meantime, a sample is available at http://www.myspace.com/tinycrunching.