a new piece of music from an old piece of music
today, the ica website for the soundworks exhibition is live, and the site contains a plethora of great sounds from great people. every track is available to hear in its entirety, and many of the tracks have notes (you have to click the little "i"). much of the work was created for the event (which was commissioned in response to an exhibition of bruce nauman's work). my own piece is indicative of a group of works i've been working on using some of the original 4-track cassette masters of my earliest recordings circa 1983. here are the notes, and a link to the track is at the bottom of the post:
"From Past to Present (At Half Speed and Sometimes Backwards)" was composed entirely of fragments of 4-track cassette masters that were recorded from 1983 - 1987. These tapes were some of my earliest home recordings, and were mostly songs, and mostly attempts to step away from the punk scene, which was where I first cut my musical teeth.
Many of these early recordings are pretty embarrassing, and a few years ago, I was cleaning out my storage space and found three file boxes of cassette masters (nearly two hundred tapes). My first thought was to toss them - as my 4-track recorder has long since gone by the wayside, and the tapes ran at a faster speed than a regular cassette deck... and thus the recordings could only be listened to on my cassette player at half speed. On top of that, the 4-track used both sides of the cassette running in one direction, so that when played on a regular deck, one track was usually going forwards and one backwards.
A year or so ago I was invited by a label to make a piece for a cassette release, and as usual I took a lot of time before coming to a starting point that felt relevant. Eventually I started thinking about the 4-track masters, and began listening to some of these slow, running backwards, masters that offered certain spectres of my earliest sound works. while much of what i heard was unrecognizable, every once in awhile a sound or sound incident offered recognition.
After deciding to work with the material, I approached the making of new works more like constructing a scrap book or photo album of fragments, rather than electronically or digitally manipulating the material towards some kind of transformation (which is how I usually work). Thus, I did no processing nor did I add any new sound elements. I simply cut things apart (virtually) and pasted them back together into new forms and via new relationships to each other.
Since the recordings were originally songs, you can hear bits of guitar, voice, bass, a Casio keyboard, kids toys, and many things I’ve certainly forgotten; but it seemed important to allow those sounds to remain as they were, for they reveal so clearly the sound pallet of my past.
After creating two short tracks for the cassette release, I became more interested in the history aspect of what I was doing, so I decided that for “From Past to Present (At Half Speed and Sometimes Backwards)”, I would pull cassettes from different boxes, hoping that the sources would come from different periods of my musical evolution (and I should also mention that 95% of the tapes were not labeled with dates, titles or any information).
Now, I consider these tapes less an archive in relation to a history of finished works, and more like a surplus of personal history that I can continue to converse with and modulate towards future works.
I still find the nature of the cassette object as being one of the most intimate of sound carriers of my own lifetime, perhaps because like many people my age, cassettes were the things one not only recorded music onto, but re-recorded music onto - so that music could be shared by sharing a modified object - which was generally listened to in private (and trust me, an iTunes playlist is not a mixtape!).
I suppose the other aspect of intimacy and sharing was in the fact that a cassette could also be re-used, recorded over, so that if things were perfect and beautiful, you would end up up with tiny bits of the old stuff mixed in with the new... so here are some fragments of my past, with all the artifacts of this intimate carrier, intact."
you can hear the piece on the ica website - here