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

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