Friday, October 12, 2007

Trainbending

I bought my first tape recorder when I was 11 years old; it may date me, but it was a little portable reel-to-reel unit that required a 9-volt battery and four C-cells to operate. My father bought an identical unit, and for a few weeks, we had a blast, recording everything we could think of - nature, sounds around the house, radio and TV broadcasts. I recorded dad's voice off of the police-band radio - he was a dispatcher at IPD at the time. We made recordings of ridiculous, spontaneous skits and silliness-I remember dad's "Granny Goggins" voice, doing an advertisement for "good 'ol Poison Oatmeal," a not very kind send-up of our regular breakfast mucilage.

A lifetime later and a couple of lifetimes ago, I was a recording engineer for a small local studio, doing grunt work mostly. Often my responsibilities entailed such exciting tasks as tearing down worn speaker systems from restaurants my boss had acquired from fixture-auctions after a local business went bust. It was also my job to replace the wiring from these speakers, which was so old that the insulation was cracked and falling off. Then, he'd resell these components as new to his customers. Sometimes my job was multi-tracking commercial jingles in his studio; at other times I'd be vacuuming the birdseed from the walls - he'd picked up used carpeting cheap from a pet shop, and used it to soundproof his studio.

Once in a while, though, I'd get a choice assignment, like running the audio mixers for a fashion show downtown. My boss brought a couple of his Ampex tape decks - old enough to have recorded Caruso live, and of course, one of them was D.O.A. He offered to rent my Teac deck, and sent me home in his station wagon to pick it up. His wagon ran out of gas six blocks from the event, so I coasted into a parking lot, then chunked the 65 lb. deck the rest of the way, and still managed to set it up in time for the show.

I loved that Teac deck, and occasionally had the chance to make some interesting recordings while we had it: original compositions by Flo and myself, and a number of local bands. Still, it was A/C, and too bulky to really make any field recordings like I did with my first recorder.

Times have changed, and now I have a digital field recorder - a shirt-pocket stereo that has more built-in effects than my old cheapskate boss could cram into his cheesy studio, and the darned thing cost about as much as a camera you can buy at a grocery store.

I need to add a little "multi" to my visual "media" these days, and I'm in need of some original soundtracks to add to my photographic art slide shows. To entertain myself once, I sliced Slash's guitar solo from "November Rain" and added it to one of my slide shows; but of course I can't use anything of the sort in a public venue. Besides, artistically, I'd prefer the whole thing to be original, even if I could use someone else's music.

So, Flo and I are taking the recorder with us on our photo shoots. The audio dimension has been an interesting experience-forcing us to notice sounds around us when the emphasis has always been on the visual. And, I feel like a kid again, recording sounds we usually ignore or take for granted. A rusty door hinge, a power drill: sounds around the house, as well as urban noise or rural ambience. We've both tried to record our cats purring, but the wily little devils clam up at the first nuance of anything unfamiliar.

A couple of weeks ago, we returned to one of our favorite haunts, the docks down at Eagle Creek Reservoir, and the ominous oak I photographed last winter for the cover of "Midrash." Down at the water's edge, I recorded the sound of a distant train, echoing across the reservoir, along with splashing fish, and a clanging buoy that fit in with the train sounds. I looped a thumping bass, added a couple of notes and a crunch guitar chord from the P.D. "Loopology" files from Adobe Audition, and then set about playing with the field recordings.

I need a driving, urban beat-something perhaps reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, or eerie and moody like an early Pink Floyd song. Perhaps something provocative, like *Skozey's Noisician tracks: a functional, quasi-musical hybrid of digital noise and rhythm. Music that, like photography, gives the brain a chance to cool off from the verbal modality, yet still keep the juices flowing.

If you'd like to give a listen, you can check out some of my tracks on SoundCloud.

Later,

John

* Skozey in Synchronicity and Where's George?

Skozey on SoundCloud

Monday, September 24, 2007

Return to Central State

A little over a week ago, ambitious plans to redevelop the grounds of the former Central State Asylum were announced on local TV. This rejuvenation is long overdue, and should help to revitalize the entire neighborhood. The project will take up to a decade to complete, but demolition could commence as early as next spring. So, we will return several more times with photographic and audio equipment, to capture what we can of the ambience of one of Indiana's most haunted sites. I wonder what it will be like; to live there, say twenty years from now.

By the way, there is an eerie Central State documentary on DVD - you can find more information at http://www.central-state.com/.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

City of the Insane



I suppose you could say that we have odd hobbies and adventures - for example, one year, Flo was closely following a local murder case and voiced an interest in writing true crime, so for her birthday, I um… procured press passes. We joined the press pool, and Flo attended the trial while I took photos outside, and managed to get a good shot of the manacled murderess while she was being led out of the courthouse for lunch. Flo's feature article, along with my photos, appeared in "True Police" magazine.

Last year, Flo said she would like to visit the Medical History Museum on the grounds of the abandoned Central State Mental Hospital, here on the west side of Indianapolis. That sounded like another unique birthday adventure, so off we went. The experience was so fascinating that we returned twice more for all-day photo shoots.

We chose brilliant, cerulean days for the best lighting, to shoot digital and video. I would love to stalk those grounds on an oppressive, foggy morning, but this was the best for imaging.

First, we took the tour of the Medical Museum, visiting the teaching arena where students from all over the world would learn from autopsies of the mentally ill. We learned that, for generations, syphilis provided the greatest population of the severely mentally ill, and was treated experimentally - with malaria. The extreme fever of malaria could kill enough of the syphilis for significant remissions.

We saw sectioned brains in jars of formaldehyde; disease, injury, genetic defects. We studied the preserved brains of the elderly, of children, of murderers. We were told the spotted history of Central State; a smattering of the hopes and success stories, the scandals and tragedies spread out over 146 years of operation.

The monstrous Gothic dormitories, once know as the "Seven Gables," are long gone; razed in the early 1970's, to be replaced by sterile brick "Borg" cubes, situated elsewhere on the compound. However, when you stroll across the well-groomed commons where the dorms once stood, the sensation is something akin to walking a deceptively peaceful Civil War battlefield, like Chickamauga. Just behind the adult eye, the imagination spins tableaus of the tales one has heard, intermixed with information from one's senses, as well as one's intuition.

Once a self-sufficient community, inmates worked and maintained the compound, even growing their own food and preparing it on site.

The ground is firm - you don't feel any physical sense of the five miles of underground tunnels beneath your feet, though you know that homicidal maniacs were once chained to the tunnel walls, never again to see daylight.

Down a gently sloping hill across from the administration buildings, a few trees remain of a grove where an inmate was savagely murdered by his peers.

And the tunnels, again… once shuttled the dead from the dorms or the hospital, to the pathology lab for autopsy, unseen by the general population.

The most foreboding structure left standing is the old steam power house, which went online in 1930, providing steam heat through the underground tunnels to all of the buildings on the 160-acre compound. It is easy to imagine the mechanical drones clanks and hisses from the building - it's something out of a Tim Burton nightmare. Generations of savage heat, and a decade of neglect have weakened the walls - as I snapped photos, bricks dislodged from two stories above me and crashed to my feet. Fleeting shadows darted around inside the power house, which I attributed to shattered windows and passing clouds.

Padlocked chains deter but do not prevent entry to this death trap - where I photographed some of the rotting industrial entrails of the building, and "Insanity, Please" scrawled in huge letters on one of the inside walls.

A pair of corroded iron doors to the power house became my current signature piece "Asylum Door," once I added my Shadow Man.

Central State was referred to in newspapers of the Civil War era, as "the country asylum," before the urban sprawl completely surrounded it. Still enclosed by tall fencing, it is now flanked by cheerless, shabby housing and urban decay; excepted only by a couple of huge, ornate churches.

We were exhausted from walking the length and breadth of the compound and almost out of digital film, when we strolled in the open toward our car, for the last time. An almost cloudless day, we were stunned as a sharply defined birdlike shadow swept across the grass and passed over us, leaving us shuddering. Not a plane, nor bird, branch or cloud in sight from where we stood offered any rational explanation for what we both saw - and felt.

For those of you who are interested, "Asylum Door" first appeared on the back cover of issue #36 of "Not One of Us," and now represents me on this blog and our web site.

My four-page photo-essay on Central State is now available in issue #2 of Razar - you can find links to both publications on the main page of our web site, http://www.3amblue.com/.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Synchronicity and "Where's George?"

“Where’s George?” (http://www.wheresgeorge.com/)– the Internet bill-tracking project – is generally either an obsession or a “Who Cares?” proposition. A couple of weeks ago, I was razzed by a Blockbuster employee for passing some marked Georges. He couldn’t think of anything more boring than tracking where your money goes. That is, perhaps, other than working the night shift at Blockbuster.

Curiosity seems to be the primary motivation driving the average George aficionado; though some rather ambitious enthusiasts have circulated marked bills numbering at or near 100,000.

By common standards, I’m not a rabid “Georger,” having only “EMS’ed” (Enter-Mark-Spend) a tad over 500 bills in a year and a half – more avid hobbyists will put that many bills out in a week or two, forsaking debit cards and other electronic transactions for the opportunity to circulate more green.

For me, it is an experiment in and perhaps a barometer for synchronicity. It is the odds and oddities, the stories – an initiative marker for the eerily recombinant possibilities in life.

Most “George” hits are mundane and disappointing, I’ll admit. Most bills that have been re-entered into the system have traveled a scant few miles, and been re-entered by people curious enough to login and type in the serial number, but not sufficiently cooperative to enter a note where the bill was received, nor inquisitive enough to follow the links to our web site.

Still, a few are out of the commonplace enough to keep me interested. One $1 bill left Steak & Shake here in Indianapolis, and was registered in California a couple of months later, having been picked up by said Californian on the island of Bonaire, in the Netherlands Antilles.

One left Steak & Shake only to return to South Bend Indiana when received in gambling winnings in Las Vegas. One was found on a sidewalk in Bloomington, IN. One was received in change at a fast-food restaurant in KY moments before the fellow was nearly killed by a drive-by shooter.

More prolific “Georgers” than I have astounding stories to tell, including receiving the same bill back in change months or years later; one bill I saw was re-entered by a cop who had found it on a dead body.

My fishing expedition for synchronicity paid off in pleasant strangeness only a few months after I’d begun. One evening, while too tired to accomplish anything particularly useful, I got out a box where I’d stashed the occasional silver certificate, two-dollar bill or other odd currency to enter into the online George database – one dollar that I’d received in change perhaps 10 years ago, was stamped

WARNING THIS "NOTE" IS NOT LAWFUL MONEY, THEREFORE IT IS NOT LEGALLY TAXABLE NOR IS IT REDEEMABLE IN LAWFUL MONEY, PER ARTICLE 1, SECTION 10, U.S. CONSTITUTION.

-not wanting to accidentally pass it on, I had tossed it into the oddity box, and it was promptly forgotten.

Out of curiosity, to see if other bills with the same serial number had been entered into the “Where’s George?” database, I entered the serial number and series info. Another bill of the same exact serial number, but different series (different year), had been entered, and less than two weeks before.

The fellow who entered that bill was unique, himself:

“Skozey Fetisch, the musical project of Mark C. Jackman, started out in Salt Lake City, Utah, and relocated to the Bay Area in 1992. Jackman is also a visual artist who is as comfortable working with oils and canvas as he is with computers and software to actualize his artistic vision.Jackman began his musical career playing in gothic bands in the early 1980's. Tiring of this, Jackman went on to do everything from composing film scores to composing and dancing to modern dance music for the Ririe-Woodbury International dance tour. Skozey Fetisch does what an artist does best: challenges and stimulates the observer. Momma:Key is for those who can accept that challenge.”

That brought me to purchasing a couple of “Skozey” CDs; the above quoted review is quite apropos. They are great soundtracks to listen to while writing.

(http://www.myspace.com/skozeyfetisch)

So, this little foray into proactive synchronicity paid off, if in ways that perhaps are interesting only to me.

Some other “Georgers” appreciate the synchronicity factor, if only in quest of a sort of god.

Still, without any provocation such as “Georging,” life manages to churn out the oblique coincidence, the synchronistic pun, the ominous innuendo… and the deadly retrospective.

I have perhaps more than my fair, if not mathematically probable, share of those; something to touch upon again, in the near future.