An Annoying 14 Year Old Making Obnoxious Sounds: A Memoir
As many of you know, I’ve recently devoted a number of episodes on my radio show to a documentary on Low Fidelity music I’m producing. It’s going well (up to 1981 thus far) and I look forward to publishing something on paper for this project, but all this Lo-Fi inspired me to dig out and digitize some of the cassettes I recorded as a wee lad.
Around my 14th birthday, I recorded an hour and a half’s worth of sounds in the Musique Concrète / Avant-Garde tradition. You would probably not call this music, dear reader, and you will probably not enjoy much of it, but I’ve put it up for posterity nonetheless.
Before any accusations of self-important pretension, I would just like to say that these sounds are not meant to represent any meaning beyond their purely aesthetic properties. This is not a conceptual piece per se, it is not supposed to represent a transcendental/drug-fueled experience (not that I’d even know what that would be like in the first place), it is not supposed to conform to any formal standards. This was conceived as an improvisational work that exists in and of itself, and I hope it could be appreciated for its thought-provoking freeform structure, if nothing else. Mostly, I was just having fun creating strange sounds and perhaps adding something to a rich tradition of experimental music/ anti-music. Not mimetically faithful reproductions, not springing forth from unidentifiable sonic sources, but something in between.
Described literally, the first piece was recorded on a Korean tape recorder/ 8-track combo that allowed for rudimentary tape manipulation and double-tracking. The sounds are mostly impressionistic guitar playing, interesting feedback and whatever else I could conjure up in my room at my mother’s house, four stories from sea level. The addition of scatological (nothing serious) noises renders this piece anachronistically pataphysical, in some respect, in retrospect.
The second piece was recorded in a farm an hour from Ottawa, which was built by my father’s father’s father’s father’s father, the truest patriarchal lineage. We were illegally occupying said agricultural operation at the time, and the sounds were recorded using a single-track condenser-mic-console. This piece features vocal-distortions and an out-of-tune piano that was used to entertain dozens of my ancestors, all of whom were to pass away before my time on this earth. These sounds were surely influenced by Schoenberg, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
In the third piece you can hear a culmination of the techniques I learned through these experiments: a certain degree of deliberate control of the effects I had at my disposal. Pretty spiffy.
A socio-economic analysis of these pieces would suggest that my lower-class upbringing contributed to both the present sounds and the overall drive to create a monster like this. I recorded on cheap tape decks because they were the best recording units my parents could afford. You can hear the click of my TV dial (feat. 13 channels and UHF!), the sound of a pawn shop amplifier, and the aural disturbances of a kid with nothing better to do. If you don’t enjoy any of this aesthetically, I hope you may find some peace in understanding my general brain state through these juvenile attempts at mature expression.
From a psycho-analytic standpoint, these pieces – or rather, noisy disruptions – may have been a result of early childhood trauma and my rebellion against an external world I had so much trouble adapting to. Making noise, even through the limited means I had access to, meant both that I could assert my existence (at least as an unusual blip), and add on to a rich tradition of challenging music. Even at 14, I was well aware of the post-modern implications of the whole ordeal, and I knew this was weird for my age. All the wasted potential!
These sounds represent an incorporeal sonar field- the soundtrack to my adolescent discorporation brought about by a swift loss of religion. Without a god to metaphysically ground existence, the turtles no longer went all the way down, so to speak. Although these pieces can thus never be preserved in some infinite noumenal world beyond the experiences of subjective perceivers, I now nonetheless preserve these sounds in a secular world of Berkeleyan idealism (whether you like it or not.)
Of course, these were difficult years for me, often spent in a hazy disconcerting anxiety. I’m glad that I preserved a document of my immediate phenomenological experience from those times: a conflicting dialectic between the memes I perused (stealing internet from my neighbour) and my avant-garde aspirations to be bigger than anything I had experienced in person, even if I was separated by space and time for those who shared my sentiments and inspired me. I hope that some burden, with my unleashing of these archaic recordings, may be lifted at long last. This one is for you, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa et. al.
released July 1, 2016
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