Archive for the 'Found Sound' Category

When Young Was Young

Saturday, February 16th, 2008
There was a time when coming of age was a short intoxicating ride. Even in an otherwise mundane life, a window of recreational opportunity would open when you’d get your first taste of independence and grownup rights, only to slam shut forever when weighty duties and obligations set you on the treadmill of adulthood. Whether you had to fight a war, take up chores at the factory or farm, or were lucky enough to go to college– there wasn’t a lot of time to make all your youthful indiscretions come true before you had to settle down and work and breed and be responsible, until the end.

That’s how life was, in my parent’s era and before (perhaps your grandparents time). It ain’t like that anymore, unless you happened to grow up in an old world-type community (Amish, Hasidic, crazy home schooling, etc.), the world has changed. Thanks to lots of societal tweaking that’s occurred since of the 1960’s, adolescence often begins much earlier, and sometimes it never ends.

To blame? Well, there’s plenty to go around. The draft is gone. The many choices of birth control and “family planning” made a big difference. It brought more women in the workplace and kept a lot of folks footloose far past their twenties. People wait much longer to get married, and there’s really no big stigma about getting married at all. More people don’t have kids at all, or have them well into middle age. And then there’s the complete fetish of life-long adolescence– through regimens of supplements and hormones or the horrors of botox and plastic surgery.

Which brings us to the rhetorical question of the day– Why is so much youth wasted on old people? Who oughtta have something better to do.

So with this post let us hearken back to simpler times, when coming of age was still an event. When the onset of adulthood was arousing and revelatory. And what made it so spectacular was that it was so fleeting and temporary.

To actually hear these ripening juveniles in their heyday, you have to dig back a few decades. These two offerings were created with separate technologies. Two are homemade discs (or records) featuring a gathering of friends. The others are clandestine telephone recordings captured with a reel to reel deck. I don’t have dates on any of these artifacts, but I’d guess the discs are from the late 40’s or early 50’s. The tapes are probably from the mid-1950’s. At least that’s my guess. And beyond content, what I really appreciate about all of these recordings is the richness of the regional accents. Something else that’s also disappearing in this future we inhabit.

Let’s go there now, into the heart of the jungle…

Jolly Boy’s Necking Party 5:01

The natives are puckered up and restless in this mock radio drama, recorded as a memento of a weekend trip to Panther Lake, and the memorable necking party that ensued. As someone beats out a jungle rhythm on a cardboard box, exaggerated smooching sounds are heard as the narrator hints at the terrors of kissing in the dark. When the drums and lip smacking abates, the group improvises a dark farce based on the scary radio shows of the day.

Looking around online, I see there’s a Panther Lake resort with cabins up in northern New Jersey. I’d say there’s a good chance that this is where these funlovers made these recordings so many years ago.

Panther Lake Farewell  5:54

While the side one was entertaining, side two is a more factual account of the weekend. They all sound youn enough (except for Helen, who sounds like she’s already on a two pack a day habit). It’s Sunday night and I believe the big necking party must have occurred the night before. But at this point the festivities are winding down, and they’re discussing their disparate destinations and where they’ll be tomorrow. Some will go back to work. Another has exams. And one fellah is heading out to Indianapolis for the big race, which would put this soiree right before Memorial Day– the traditional yearly kick-off of vacation season.

This bunch is far from wild. You might say they were rather square. And there’s no mention of drinking (except for some hot cocoa). And having grown up a generation after these folks, the “necking parties” I remember were part of our social scene when we were more like fifteen or sixteen (and we were drinking). I’d guess the kinds on this recording were at least 19 and older. However, it sounds like a swell time was had by all.

The other two archives here are somewhat less innocent. The scamp protagonist of these recordings, Jerry is the proud owner of an early tape recorder as well as a phone pick up he employed to capture telephone conversations. And the first selection is a session of boy-talk between Jerry and his friend Herb. Apparently, they had recently been on a double date when Herb improvised some masterful fiction to impress his date. Jerry was inspired. “Teach me to lie,” he implores Herb.

The Art Of Lying  4:44

If there’s a pop culture cliche for a guy like Jerry, it would be Eddie Haskell from “Leave it to Beaver.” Not that sitcoms are all that lifelike, but I think that the prankster/rebel who has a believable “nice boy” act for the parents is an archetype that has stood the test of time. And in fact, Jerry’s idea for a “bit” here is practically worthy of a sitcom script.

While may have only been an aspiring liar at the time, Jerry reveals through these phone calls that his manipulative skills and sense of mischief were already well developed. After hearing these two recordings I’d have to say that if Jerry didn’t eventually go into a sales profession one day he probably missed his calling.

Betty and New Years Eve  6:17

I don’t know the name of this sweet-voiced young woman, but she’s a mutual friend of Jerry and a woman he’s casually dating– Betty. And he’s called to tell her that he’s come up with a great plan for New Years Eve. Or a lack of one. He’s not going to ask out Betty (or anyone) for New Years Eve. Instead, Jerry is just going to wait to be asked out.

According to Jerry, his brazen behavior is based on his ongoing lucky streak (he’s “scoring on everything” he tries). And for his next miracle, Betty will magically call him for a date (to a party) on New Year’s Eve. I’m sure there’s no need for me to mention that “good girls” would never do such a thing back then. And her friend is quite defensive of Betty on this point, and besides she has other beaus to tend to her dating needs. And after all, Betty is a good girl (unlike Helen…), too good for Jerry’s needs. And what he really wants to find out from Betty’s friend is when and if she might actually be bad enough to satisfy Jerry. She makes no promises, but does hint that Jerry might get lucky if he’s patient.

It’s certainly odd to me to hear a guy lobbying so hard for nookie by pumping a mutual friend for information like this. But in the end he does find out why he’s been stuck on third base with Betty for so long. “She likes you,” her friend admits. “She thinks you’re a nice guy. But she’s not in love with you.”

“Well, she should be by now,” he says in frustration. “Every other one was.” What? A quid pro quo of dating and dining for some hubba hubba "affection"? Yes, times have certainly changed. But guys? Not so much.

Chunky Homestyle Breakdown

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008
The web stream that accompanies the Audio Kitchen blog (“Chunky Homestyle Radio”) is down. My non-stop audio-stream of found and obscure recordings is on hiatus until I can resolve a technical problem here at the house. The other day I noticed that the cranky old Pentium II box that sends out the chunky sounds  had shut down. And then after rebooting the old boy a couple times and restarting the stream I’ve come to realize that the computer will only run for an hour or two before passing out again. My hardware guru tells me it’s probably the power supply or the processor fan. I have yet to actually open it up and learn more.

So, Chunky Homestyle Radio will be probably be down for over a week or two as I try to resolve this issue. I’m going to hold back on buying parts until I take a look at a newer machine (a Pentium 4, I believe) that a friend has promised me. If I see that it’s actually fit I may upgrade to the new computer, which will take at least a few more days or longer to set up.

However, I have to admit that I wish I could report that I’ve received numerous complaints about this outage. But sadly, nobody seems to have noticed but me. And frankly, I’ve been surprised and a little dismayed at) how few people have actually taken advantage of the Chunky Homestyle station I installed with this blog. Perhaps I haven’t promoted it very well, but since I opened this site for business there was only a smattering of interest in Chunky Homestyle Radio. And within a few weeks the listenership dropped down to little more than a handful of people tuning in at one time, and then often none at all.

While it takes me quite a bit of time to get the posts where organized and written, but the Chunky stream has always been a way I could easily and indiscriminately share my bulging collection of home recorded detritus. It’s no surprise to me that providing some context would drum up anticipation and curiosity and make the make listening to the blog post audio more popular than clicking on the Chunky Homestyle stream and its random deluge of found sound. There’s many hundreds of hours of conversations and performances and untold numbers of lost dispatches and messages in the Chunky Homestyle Radio library. I personally find it an intriuging stew of words, noise and situation. But there is no announcer or  blogger to guide your mind through the arbitrary blather. Maybe it’s too much for anybody to handle. I don’t know. Either way, the Chunky stream will be coming back sometime soon. At least for a while.

Also, sorry there hasn’t been a new post here in a little while. But the good news is that I’m taking a little break from working on a new Audio Kitchen post just to let you know why the Chunky Radio link is not operational right now. And to be honest, I’ve been posting more often over at my radio blog (The Radio Kitchen) just because I’ve been getting substantially more traffic and feedback over there so far. Which is kinda funny, because my original inspiration was to only create this blog. The Radio Kitchen site was sort of an afterthought.

And in the spirit of after-thinking, let me append this post with some mildly savage multimedia content out of the many hundreds of files that have been in rotation on Chunky Radio. This is some burnin’ some lo-fi tribal rock unearthed on a soiled cassette tape by the late and great “Georgia” Todd Butler. As I recall, this was the only audio recorded on this particular tape. The subject matter is ostensibly about a certain earring and a back door. The real meaning is anybody’s guess.

Wang-Q – Q-Shaped Earring  1:22


That’s it. Now I’ll get back to work on the next Audio Kitchen post, which should be up soon. Expect more tales of youth, desire and passion. And less.

Four Scorned and the Guys Who Let Go

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
It wasn’t that long ago that one of the most important social networking tools in the house was a little blinking box next to the telephone. Not only did cell phones and voice mail kind of eliminate the need for answering machines, but more people take advantage of all sorts of ways to type to each other through the ether these days. While all that telecommunication doesn’t really leave artifacts behind for us to dig through, there is a lurking bounty of audio treasures out there from the golden era of the answering machine– many thousands of cassettes (and microcassettes) filled with communiques and intimate details of human lives that have been left behind in piles of resale goods. When I’m wondering through a thrift store I never pass up lifting the lid of an old answering machine to see if there’s an oyster in there.

Some incoming message tapes are quite boring (perhaps not unlike the lives they document), others yield a memorable moment or two. But the prize cassettes are packed with humanity, surprise and mystery. And they come in many flavors. Some tapes are wild. Some funny. Others are sad. Some are just a collage of voices and situations. But the very best unfold through a compelling series of events and offer narrative rewards. Such are the four answering machine tapes I’m offering here.

More than most home recordings, incoming message tapes are often candid documents. And they can provide some of the most intriguing red meat in the found sound business. While there’s an inherent awareness of being recorded that comes along with leaving a phone message, the more urgent or emotional the message is the less likely the caller is going to have posterity on his or her mind. Immediacy trumps self-awareness.

These four recordings are complete artifacts, with all the messages in the order they appeared on the tape. At least two of these tapes have chunks of captured conversation between the messages.The most likely cause is when the phone is answered after (or at the same time as) the machine has been triggered and keeps recording for a while as long as it’s getting levels. And some answering machines actually have a button you can push that simply engages the recorder to capture the call. Either way, getting some back and forth on the phone can be a big bonus, offering a taste of the personality of the owner of the machine and perhaps providing context for some of the messages left behind.

The overriding theme of these four recordings is bad behavior, specifically female misbehavior born of hurt feelings and rejection. Of course, exhibiting bad judgement in the middle of getting dumped is universal beyond gender (or just about anything else). It makes you kinda stupid. 

Okay, let’s meet Mark. Is there any doubt this guy has just about everything going his way? He has a new birthday, a new abode, and he’s preparing for a London holiday where a sweet bird awaits his arrival. And more to the point– this guy is just popular. All the voices on this tape sound to be fresh, free and female. Even if they’re not all hot, Mark has options.

Mark’s Answering Machine  6:25


About three minutes in the tone shifts drastically. It’s incoming wrath from a spurned girlfriend. Or perhaps just an episode of serial dating gone all wrong. I suspect that the first half of the tape with all the birthday joy may have been recorded at a later date. The first onslaught from her you hear starts in mid-sentence. Rewinding the answering machine and then letting new messages collect from the beginning would cause this effect. Some moving moments may have been lost.

As the curtain rises on the melodrama we hear the victim holding back tears, wishing and hoping that Mark might have been just a blt more emotive at their break-up scene (which may have just taken place an hour or two before these calls come in). But since he’s either holding is feelings back or doesn’t have any, she’s chosen to lather up his answering machine with her feelings until he finally feels something. Bottom line, she’s doing her part to make sure he is not happy. Which might be tough with a bevy of broads dialing him up around the clock.

While Mark’s ex only flogs him with raw hurt, the wronged woman on tape number two shoots with real ammo. This answering machine kept messages for a guy named Kevin and a few others (Tara & Debbie). I believe one of the ladies runs a nail care business. This tape stumbles along in a rather humdrum fashion until you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a ripping feud between Kevin and his girlfriend.

Kevin’s Answering Machine  8:58


It all started at some social event. Apparently in some small way she gave him some grief about not spending enough time helping her out with her kids (or something like that). And then he “totally and completely yelled” at her in front of “a whole bunch” of their friends. Not a good idea, in retrospect. But it does engender some cogent dark comedy for the record.

I don’t want to spoil the plot before you hear the tape, but let’s just say that she’s so unflinchingly merciless that it’s hard to imagine Kevin would ever take a call from her again. And the end of this tape is sadly telling. Perhaps there are people you can win over lovers by shoving them away, but I’m not so sure they’re the ones you’d want to stick around. Cooler heads and nicer folks move on to more friendly and fertile territory. And while it’s good to be direct, cruelty is problematic. And isolating.

Although the last two furious females may have been lacking in clarity of mind flailed their men over the phone line, they seemed sober enough. For the next offering, this clearly is not the case.

This tape is a murky affair. One nice bonus is that it starts with an outgoing message from the owner of the machine. It’s the only time you hear his voice. And is it my imagination, or does everybody on this tape sound chubby and black? The first caller is a horrendous mouth breather, almost impossible to understand. He calls the owner of the machine by name, but I have no idea what that might be. All I can glean from the message is that the caller is going to help him out sometime soon with something. Then there’s an invitation to come over and see “the fight.” That’s the first minute of the tape. Then the fun begins…

Pussy’s Answering Machine  5:28


Apparently, the guy is in some financial trouble and having trouble keeping up with some mortgage payments. And again, there was some type of a break up scene or argument providing the catalyst for this series of messages. And the woman who can’t stop calling does say “If you need me, I will help you,” in reference, I assume, to his financial woes. Or at least she’s willing to look out for his “part of the end” [sic]. But not only were her feelings trampled in the recent skirmish, but she seems to be at loss as to what is was all about. He just doesn’t like her? She did something to him? Or perhaps it has something to do with her drinking problem.

Okay, maybe she doesn’t usually drink herself into oblivion. But as the salvos start coming in, each message is sloppier and nastier than the last. It occurs to me that she may have a speech impediment as well, but with each call there’s more slurring and more spittle. By the end of it you gotta wonder if all that anger and hurt is the only thing keeping her on her feet and attempting to talk. You can almost smell the rank sweat and acetone breath.

Like Kevin’s girlfriend, the hammered hussy takes aim at the manhood. Only she derides his prowess in the profit column instead of the bedroom. And her insults are vulgar schoolyard stuff. Shamelessly crude and a lotta fun. You might wanna shoo all the small children and bible bangers out of the room before you listen to this one.

And to wind things up, we have Frank and Bess. And this incoming message tape is a little different than the other three. It’s longer and you actually get to hear several of their conversations between them. And there’s none of the belligerence and backbiting so evident of all the other tapes here. Yet, I find this rather sedate and relatively uneventful recording the most depressing of the bunch.

The star of this tape is the resonant self-absorbed voice of Frank himself. As it’s recorded from his phone line, he’s louder and clearer than all the other voices calling in. And besides talking about a lot of nothing (mostly weather and processed meat products) he just groans, sighs, yawns and exhibits an extremely annoying fake laugh over the course of his conversations with Bess. But all he really wants to do is get off the phone.

Frank’s Answering Machine  31:28


Instead of the coda to a meltdown, the repeated calls from Bess follow a more sedate and ambiguous break-up. The details aren’t readily easy to discern, but the main point is that he’s just moved far from her neighborhood and that the separation coincided with the conclusion of an intimate relationship they’ve shared. And perhaps they lived together. I’m not sure. And Bess? Nice. She sounds very nice. So how did a nice girl like this end up in a matching set of ugly break up tapes? It’s the cruelty.

And it does get ugly, in a low-key slow motion fashion. The best example comes near the ten minute mark. Bess emits an “I love you.” as a men’s underwear commercial blares in the background on Frank’s TV set. And then Frank offers the same reassuring affection she’s waiting for, with a caveat. “I love you," he responds followed with a big greasy pause– "… for what it’s worth.” 

“That kind of devalues it,” she says, unhappy that he can’t be nice too.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. An indignity she ignores. Not only that, but a minute or two later she starts to get worked up in the other direction and mentions that she’s all wrapped up in Frank’s bathrobe, luxuriating in his odors. “Your SICK,” he squirms, finding her intimate affection patently offensive.

Seems to me, that would be the perfect moment to challenge Frank’s manhood, let alone his emotional depth. But unlike the wronged women on the other tapes, Bess never lashes out or takes him to task. And you know, if she just would have ripped into the moron it would have made this tape a lot more entertaining, and probably would have provided the best results for all concerned. 

Rivers of Cream and Catnip Trees

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007
This one came in on the request line. And if your’re in the mood to hear a haunting high tenor belt out a few cat ballads, then you are in luck. But first let me digress here for a moment, and then… music!

I do like requests. Bring ‘em on. If there’s a particular recording or performer you wistfully recall from my old radio show that you think would make a good feature here, drop me a line. Of course, my intent is to do more with this blog than rehash the rehash the contents of the old show, so general requests for particular genres of amateur audio might be helpful, and give you a voice in the proceedings here. You wanna hear some drunk people? Answering machine tapes? Loopy kids hopped on sugar? Arguments? Voice practice? Hypnosis? You just let me know. I won’t promise I’ll post anything in particular, but it would be nice to have a sack of suggestions to reach into now and then.

I have to admit that so far it’s been a bit easier to make content choices for my other blog (The Radio Kitchen). I already have a few dozen posts for it started in my head and ready to pull off the shelf. But dealing with the magnitude of amateur recordings that fuel this blog, there’s SO many divergent paths to venture down that I get headaches just trying to get a game plan for posting here. It’s not just that there’s a lot of stuff to pick through (and there is), but it’s the VARIETY. And the variety of varieties. In fact, I decided on the audio for one post here by cramming over three-thousand files into Winamp and hitting shuffle, letting the first one that hit me over the head win the day. But you know, I didn’t have to scan through many before I found a good one.

I’m starting to get a grip on how much different it’s going to be to for me to offer items from my collection of found sound on the web now, as compared to when I started featuring these kinds of recordings on the radio in 1999. For one thing, I can’t obsessively listen to amateur audio all the time like I did back then. Truth told, it kind of drove me crazy. Nowadays I get all the lunacy I can handle keeping up with our three year old here at the house, and all the surrealism that entails. So I have to make planned attacks on the collection. I can’t wade around in it all the time like I used to.

While it’s no secret that some amateur recordings can drive you batty (or put you to sleep), but there are a few with curative powers. Like the “Kitty Love Songs” of Terry McMahon. When I made up a short list of possible initial posts, I’d already included these. And then when I recently got an email suggesting I feature them, I moved ’em to the front of the queue.

And then in posting this, I’m possibly tripping over a new threshold in all my years of presenting found recordings. Not surprisingly, every once in awhile I’ve gotten online to try and see if I could track down a few of the characters I’ve heard on found recordings. It’s not something I obsess over, but every now and then curiosity gets the best of me and I do a little searching. I’ve actually located maybe a handful of people online that way, but I’ve never attempted to contact any of them. Why should I? But by posting these recordings up on the searchable info grid of mankind I realize that the inverse will eventually occur, and some of these artifacts are going to find their creators. It might happen with this post. I see Mr. McMahon has a website or two.

It doesn’t bother me, sharing people’s home recordings– personal or not. Let’s face it, once the artifacts of your existence end up in resale shops, the mass of it all is passed down. Passed along. Iti’s more than fair use. But It’s history on the march. But for a number of reasons. And I think Terry is going to be just fine with his cat anthems getting some play here.

I discovered these recordings toward the end of a little road trip I took in the summer of 2002. Despite plenty of thrifting explorations and excavations through Maine and New Hampshire, I hadn’t found one tape worthy tape of purchase until I came across this gem in Manchester, New Hampshire. With handwritten titles like “Secret Agent Cat” and “There Will Always Be Kitty Love Songs,” I really didn’t have to pop it in the walkman to know I was going to take it home. But I did, and it was even better than I imagined.

Terry McMahon – 01 – Kitty Love Songs


The initial appeal of these recordings for me was Terry’s voice– a tender upper register not unlike Robert Wyatt with a little Art Garfunkel thrown in for comfort. And the musical stylings are orchestral pop/rock, as rendered by a moderately priced one-man-band keyboard device. And he’s one of those masterminds who knows where to find all the keys, buttons and switches to make his gadget sing, and how to tickle them appropriately. And lyrically, he’s the master of the cheap non sequitur rhyme.

Terry McMahon – 02 – People Who Like My Cat


These songs are as simple and silly as they are sincere. The sense of humor is cornball– good-natured with almost no irony. And the arrangements are good too. Is it kid’s music? Maybe. But it’s really more than that. 

Or less…

Terry McMahon – 03 – Koko’s Kitten


It’s the true story of “All Ball” the kittycat and that sign-language talkin’ Gorilla, Koko. Some meaningful cross-species diplomacy going on here. After all, “love is a language that all of us know.” Deep stuff. And from the narrative details captured in his lyrics I’d wager that Terry probably owned the book.

Terry McMahon – 04 – Scaredy Cats


Quite an evocative stew that one. Nice effects and more shameless rhymes.

Terry McMahon – 05 – Pepper’s Song


This next one is a kooky shuffle with a Biblical theme, where he implores Noah to make sure he gets a fertile pair of every cat breed on the big boat.

Terry McMahon – 06 – Cat’s Off The Ark


While I had done a web search on McMahon a few years ago which was inconclusive (there’s a number of them out there), in preparation for this post I also did a cursory search for “Kitty Love Songs." However, it seems that he put a few of his kitty tunes online, which certainly confirms his identity. Actually, these next three songs are the ones Terry himself chose to feature on his site.

Terry McMahon – 07 – Molly Malone


On his site, says “Molly Malone was a song originally written with a Public Service Announcement in mind.” Which never would have occurred to me, but the gist of the song was to admonish “those who might toss their kittens into the wild and abandon responsibility for their care.” And I heartily concur!

The next two songs were my immediate favorites on this album. The first, “In Kittyland,” is the description of a mythic utopia, from a cat’s point of view. But the message is universal. And apparently this song has brought great comfort to some. As McMahon somberly notes, it has “been used for quite a few kitty funerals.”

Terry McMahon – 08 – In Kittyland


I guess if there is a heaven, it might as well be Kittyland.

Terry McMahon – 09 – Secret Agent Cat


If there’s a single in the bunch it’s “Secret Agent Cat.” It’s a catchy ode to a feline forest ranger turned undercover operative, and his penchant for tuna pie. This tight and urgent arrangement is as spectacular as it is wacky.

The next four songs are more or less filler in my opinion. Although the short overture and sonata have their charm. The only song on the album I could really do without is the ill-conceived “Cat Dancing Song.” Or maybe I’m just not a fan of perky tracks with sped-up vocals.

Terry McMahon – 10 – Praise the Irish Cat


Terry McMahon – 11 – Cat Dancing Song


Terry McMahon – 12 – The Kitty Overture


Terry McMahon – 13 – The Kitty Sonata


However, the album closer wraps things up nicely. Like a few numbers here, "There Will Always Be Kitty Love Songs" combines McMahon’s own homebrew of light classical music and adult contemporary schmaltz. It’s easy to imagine a video of this– with McMahon performing in a tidy white tuxedo, supported with some evocative backlighting.

Terry McMahon – 14 – There Will Always Be Kitty Love Songs


Yes, I think there always will be Kitty Love Songs. I don’t see why not. They’re high grade amateur recordings– folk art flavored compositions done with a professional flair using an affordable musical gadget. It’s a pleasure to share them here. (And yes, they are cute.) As far as Terry McMahon, at the time of this writing I’m putting up this post without contacting him directly. But I suppose I will. If he’s still checking his blogs…

He has two websites based on an online video project of his– “BCNU-TV” (Be seein’ you??), but since March of 2007 there seems to have been zero activity on either one. And when I see sites come to an abrupt end without notice or goodbye notes, it always makes me wonder.

Assuming everything’s A-OK, I suppose I’ll hear from Mr. McMahon soon, or he’ll hear from me. And Terry, if you’re reading this now and haven’t figured it out yet, let me be specific– I salute you. And if I never come across a message from you in my inbox, perhaps I’ll run into you in that place where the window sills are wide. And there are no fleas. In Kittyland.

And to end this on a lighter note as well as ratchet up the entertainment value of the post another notch, here’s a dance number which may feature Terry himself, in costume. However be warned. It’s a little spicy.


Still Here, Still Happening

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

When I started this site (and its sister blog) a month ago I wasn’t sure how the rhyme and rhythm of posting would play out when creating content for two blogs became part of my day to day reality. But now I’m starting to get a better idea. At least for me, blogging takes time…

I certainly understand that the conventional wisdom for successful blogging is to generally write short pithy entries and to post often– daily or more if possible. And as I’ve been putting together (and editing) content, I keep these things in mind– cutting back on windy diatribes and pushing myself to finish a post so I can move on to the next. However, it’s become obvious to me that the way I like to work doesn’t lend itself to putting out a steady stream of short concise posts. I like to ruminate a bit.

So if you like a look to a blog for lots of quick chuckle-packed posts– I’m not the guy. As much as I’d like to be posting here everyday, I can’t seem to squirrel away enough time to make that happen. My personal goal has been to try to get two or three posts a week up on each blog, and maybe I’ll get there. But when I dig into some found recordings, it takes a little time to get acquainted with the audio. There’s often some discovery (or re-discovery) process I have to go through before I can write something meaningful. While I hate to give away too much of the plot or engage in a lot of speculation, I think that posting audio with a brief “this is really weird,” or “this is a laugh riot” is rather boring and uninspiring. With each substantive post, I hope to write something that will have some meaning without actually listening to the audio, and perhaps encourage someone who might not otherwise listen to the accompanying to actually click on it.

My writing background is in journalism, and long-form non-fiction. And I’m here at this blog to write, as much as I am to offer you compelling captures of radio broadcasting. It involves taking the time to listen, research and cogitate on each recording I offer here. And I like discovery. It’s just that it takes time, and blogging has to compete with work, life and raising a kid.

Perhaps not surprisingly, after pounding away to edit down the last three posts I’ve written for these two blogs, they still weighed in at over two-thousand words each. I suppose there will be times when there’s not so much to say, and some entries won’t take as long to put together. I do know there are some bloggers who just put up a picture of their cat or post a bunch of inane animated GIF files when they have nothing to say, or no time to say it. If that’s what it takes to keep the blog traffic up, then I guess I’m in trouble. I’d like to think I’m offering a different kind of blog– an online magazine for people who still have a little patience, a moderate attention span, and curious ears.

I have noticed  more people finding this blog and then checking back for new content. And as the operator of two new blogs in search of an audience, I want you to know that I’m not forgetting you, the browser. While I was putting up posts at a pretty good clip since the launch of this thing, a large block of work and a short holiday weekend getaway kind of put the kibosh on my personal production line for a few days. Now I’m back, working on two or three posts at once here (including this one). And I hope you’ll keep coming back to see what’s cooking.

And then there’s the good news. While I’m discovering that I’m a bit bound by my own pace and way of doing things, what I do have in abundance is ideas for posts and lots of recordings to offer you. I really am looking forward to dipping into the piles of amateur recordings in search of finding entertaining and enlightening audio to share with you here. And thanks a lot for all the nice email, and encouraging feedback. It means a lot.

Just keeping you informed. Thanks for coming by. Now, I have to get back to work…

Greetings From The World’s Fair

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Home recording didn’t really take off until after 1941 when those relatively inexpensive Wilcox-Gaye Recordio machines made homemade records a reality without blowing a bunch of dough. But for those who could afford them, electronic disk recorders had been around since 1930. The first disk I’ve encoded for this post was actually made in 1939, making it one of the earliest amateur recordings I’ve gotten my hands on.

This World War Two era set of disks is a collection of audio snapshots capturing a few blissful moments in the lives of Edward Engel and his son John. The first is a dispatch from dad spending yet another day at the New York World’s Fair in Queens. It’s a crisp autumn afternoon, and ol’ Edward sounds to be a guy at the top of his game. More to the point, this brief greeting has a visceral cosmic quality I occasionally hear in old amateur recordings. Perhaps inspired by the futuistic theme of the fair itself, Edward intimately understands that talking into this state-of-the-art device puts him in direct communication with posterity (i.e. you and I). And for a minute and half you can let go of the illusion of linear time and lend an ear to Mr. Engel.

I can’t help but think of how much I wish I could find myself on the other side of this little rift in time. I mean, just how fantastic would it be to to back to "The World of Tomorrow"? And stroll around Flushing Meadows checking out wonders like the "Radio Living Room of Today" and the "Hall of Television"? The future was just a lot more fun back then.

But aside from the daydreaming potetial, what makes this recording so special to me is how graceful and genuine it is. It’s not a religious blessing he offers, but a real and human one. He wishes the listener good health, happiness, and a long life. Imagine, an antidote to irony…

The next one is a little different. It’s Edward again, this time offering a toast or testimonial to a couple hosting a gathering which has provided him the relaxing blood-alcohol level evident in this recording. It’s 1941 here. And notice how impressed he is with Tony’s home audio technology– the beautiful radio and the "rekkids are perfect." It’s not hard to imagine, is it? Glowing dials in wood cabinets. Tube-warmed jazz. It must have been a good night.


Now we move on to the son, John L. Engel. I believe dad makes the introduction. John praises bachelorhood and makes funny with the microphone. Running out of material in short order, he gets lost setting up a convulted joke for the rest of the recording. Of course, disks aren’t like recording wire or magnetic tape. You can’t rewind and re-record a bad take.


This next one is an artifact from John’s engagement party, which should place its creation to some time in the mid-40’s. The formula here– booze + friends + love = one loud-n-sloppy serenade. It’s congenial and cacaphonous. A lotta love. Again, this sounds like it was a swell party too.


While these records were all made during the course of WW2, there’s no mention of it except for on this one recording. John certainly seems young and healthy enough to assume he had some role in the war effort, but this pile of records offers no clues. Like most folks back then, John was caught up in the weighty issues of the day and this recording finds him prognosticating on how history is about to unfold. He guesses the Allies will win in Europe in six months (it only took two more). And his other two big predictions are right on the money.


On this next record you get Mr. John Engel over the top and quite pleased with himself. He’s "sings" “Mairzy Dotes,” probably the most popular novelty song of the era. At the time of this recording, it was a big hit for the Pied Pipers. Engel adds a bit more nonesense to a tune that’s already pretty silly. Quite a set of lungs on this guy.


Okay, here’s the last disk. The sweetest of the bunch. John and Jane have been married for exactly a year, and they still sound pretty darn happy about it. It’s December 1946 and they’re doing their part to get the baby boom underway.


It appears that John has warmed up to matrimony just fine. And they’re so damn sincere, it almost makes your teeth hurt. The "little angel for Engel" is due in June.

Jane imagines this recording is a private affair, made solely for their own enjoyment. But like his father, John is all too aware that futuristic strangers might pick it up one day and have a listen. Hello stranger!

It’s easy to wax nostalgic listening to captured moments like these. After all, people don’t generally archive the hard times and the grief, and all the plans gone wrong. Snapshots are inherently created to generate nostalgia as well as offer a little eternity to moments in time. As much as they’re not unfiltered or random, these audio images give you a flavor of time and place you won’t find in an old book or a movie. They speak to you.

For The Love Of Bob

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007
Okay here’s three short ones, all from found cassettes. I’ve grouped these all together in one post for a simple reason. They all express a mode of affection for a dude named named Bob (or Robert). And really, who hasn’t loved a Bob at one time or another? The name just has an affable buzz. Think about it. Sometime when you feel the need to reach out, you really just wanna grab a hold of some Bob out there and squeeze.

The first selection comes from an unmarked tape I found in a box in my room. I don’t really know how it came into my possession I suspect it might be from a junk store in the neighborhood, but I really have no idea. Sadly, this has become the case with too many tapes stashed away in bags and boxes around the house. Ever think about how cool it would be if you could afford to hire an assistant? Man, could I ever keep that person busy.

Anyway, this is a quirky tune. The band, such as it is, seems to be a few wholesome college types with a keyboard device. The cassette collection of songs I have from these folks is actually quite entertaining. Very earnest. A little odd and kinda kooky. Art school perhaps. I think these songs hail from the 1980’s. This particular number is a tight and out of tune plea for Bobby companionship. The vocals are fast paced and overlapping, and I suspect it might be a gay kind of thing. The Bobby protagonist of the song is referred to as “sugar,” “darling,” “honey,” and “angel” (and maybe “throbby” as well). And the crescendo at the end is a celebration of the “three of us.” Not quite like anything I’ve  ever heard before. And you? I think I need to make a point of sharing more of this tape in a future post. It’s a lot of fun. Musical nerds having a good time.


The next offering is a bit strange, which may have gay overtones as well. (Okay, there are girls named “Bobbi” out there, but it’s not that common.) It’s a unique item, recorded on a late-model audio cassette. I’d guess it’s from the 1990’s. The “creator” of this recording has foisted his microphone up to the speaker of his stereo while playing the opening of a soprano sax power ballad. And then, right before the female singer starts to warble on nostalgically about never ending love the guy holding the mic intones– “Bobby” in an urgent half spoken whisper. Then she sings for a minute about the wild and free days of yore. He then hits the pause button, restarts the song, and does the same urgent thing all over again– the sax intro, the “Bobby” whisper, and that pop diva chorus about wildness and freedom (and love). He does this several times.

The only editing you hear in this recording is via the miracle of the pause button. I didn’t change a thing. Following his series of passion loops, he ends this little drama with an instrumental Muzak version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” And you can hear him shuffle around in the room while the recording takes place.

Although it’s impossible to be sure, the cryptic presentation here doesn’t seem to hard to decode. It would seem that the fella misses his “Bobby,” and can’t stop thinking about all the wild and free fun they used to have. And perhaps he’s trying to reel him back in by repeating this bit of what might have been their special song. Just guesses of course. Somehow when I hear this tape, I see two slender preppie guys in cardigans walking along a beach, laughing and smiling as the waves crash and the sun sets. And I’ll bet if I mixed in some seagull noises you might see the same thing…

Anyway, here’s the tape. As I found it.


That little wonder was unearthed at a thrift store in Youngstown, Ohio. While I didn’t find much in the way of lost audio the last time I swung through there, Youngstown is one of those hardscrabble rust-belt cities where life is kinda cheap, and there’s some big thrift shops crammed with inexpensive goodies.

The final entree here also invokes “Bob love.” Actually the it’s the love of a Robert and his bride to be, Sandra. However, instead of idealized adoration or yearning for the return of a Bob, this is fully realized affection. No irony either. Not to reveal all the details in this rich two minutes of fun, but there’s some sweet singin’, a little Waffle House poetry, and a lusty invitation to wash up. From the sound of it, these folks aren’t so young and probably ain’t all that pretty either. But they sure are realistic! And they sure sound happy too. Brian Belott discovered this brief masterpiece at a thrift shop in Sarasota, Florida. Like the first two selections, I didn’t edit this in anyway.


That’s it for today’s post– three quickies that kinda show you how there’s more to found recordings than kiddie tapes, answering machine messages and audio letters. And there really are a lotta ways to love a Bob. But you probably already knew that. 


Monday, October 29th, 2007

Whiplash!While I’m not the biggest fan of Halloween (I get enough vicarious dread and terror from a typical newscast), it’s certainly more entertaining than most holidays. And the festive music of the season is so much better than the true horror of Christmas carols. And speaking of that, don’tcha ever mourn how the true meaning of Halloween has been kind of been lost in all the crass commercialism and plastic pumpkin totes? I mean, if I was a religious person I could get all worked up over our pagan traditions reduced to silly parties and kids begging for candy.

But I’m not so religious, so let’s hear something ridiculous. After all, there’s only a few shopping days left. This beat up old cassette was re-discovered by Georgia Todd. There’s not much on this tape. Just one song really. But, it’s a powerful little tune full of testosterone and mischief. Here’s Todd’s description:

Short and sour amateur metal (or a joke?). Great. All the attitude, none of the skills. New distortion guitar song writing, and the lyrics match the playing level.

There ya go. Apparently somebody is going to die. Possibly in a car accident. And his name might be Alex. Quite a bit of guitar experimentation with monkey-like interludes. I guess you could call this a demo. If it is, I’d sure like to hear the complete version with the full band.

Have a safe holiday.


Yo Quiero Travis

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

What do you get when you take a corny shell of a man, and fill him up with meaty teen passion and lots of cheesy on-the-job behavior? You get a trashy little fast-food affair, documented in this found tape.

This is the tale of Travis the Taco Bell manager and his fiesta menu of uniformed young girls. Actually, we only hear one side of the story, from Christine, a teenage taco stuffer who offered him her virginity, along with some cologne and a funny sign for his parking spot.

In this audio letter to her friend Rachel, Christine wonders how she can ease the pain, and whether Travis will ever get his priorities straight. Will he finally leave his unhappy marriage (and baby on the way), and give her all the love she deserves?

Christine is 15 years old. The year is 1991– the dawn of the Breakfast Burrito. I think Travis had a couch in his office.


In The Beginning There Was Angst (And It Was Good)

Friday, October 26th, 2007

found memorex cassette tape, recorded in 1975As this blog begins, I suppose it’s fitting to go back to the beginning of my fascination with found sound– a day of sorting through junk that launched what has become a large and disparate collection of amateur recordings over at my house.

Actually, I was looking for records down in the golden peninsula of discarded goods, Florida. The combination of northern pilgrims coming to retire (and all that follows) and the subtropical transient lifestyle of the state, provides for a constant flow of surrendered possessions filling the junk shops, thrift stores, pawn shops, and flea markets with SO much junk that some of it has to be good.

It all began on a hot dusty afternoon in 1996 as I was browsing through a squalid little booth at a Florida flea market. It wasn’t the tied-died shirts or patchouli oil that had kept bringing me back this particular dealer. No, it was his abundant selection of cheap and dirty albums. I’d often dug up gems out of those splintering crates, but not that day. I had been there a week or two before and wasn’t finding anything I hadn’t passed up on other trips. As the friend I came with was still elbow deep in the lp’s, I started prowling around under the tables. In the middle of a lot of useless crap I came across a little cardboard box filled with cassettes. The stout bearded guy in the psychedelic wifebeater told me they were ten cents a piece.

I snatched up a few, primarily because they’d looked to be good candidates for recording purposes. However, the ball point scrawl on one particular tape suggested something more. It was a 1970’s era Memorex cassette (one of the least dependable name brands out there), and carved into the silver label were the words (in cursive and in print): “Has my voice about saving the earth.” And above that on the same side: “Has our voice about talk & seating around on side 2.” It was cryptic, yet intriguing. On the way home, I cracked open the dusty case and popped it into the deck. Like uncorking a long lost message in a bottle, the car stereo conjured forth the voice of a desperate 70’s teenager in the middle of a strange and urgent secular prayer. I’ve never heard anything like it, before or since.

For those of you who weren’t around in the early mid-70’s, it was a rather messy and pessimistic time. While the political assassinations, urban riots and the Vietnam War (which we’d just gotten out of) had driven many to anger, isolation or a drug-addled haze. And then there was the Watergate scandal, runaway inflation, another Arab-Israeli war, and a worsening oil crisis. Like today, if you were paying attention to the news it could put you in a bad mood. “We can’t go on living like this,” the kid exclaims. But instead of seeking guidance from god, or religious or political figures, his entreaty is decidedly secular. Almost cynical.

No, he theorizes that the world could be saved by tracking down the world’s top scientists and asking some hard questions. Who else might have the answers? The generals. Some people "in the other worlds” (like Russia). And if the scientists and generals are less than helpful, he’s prepared to force their hand. His plan of action? Firearms (he yearns to become a hit man), or perhaps hypnosic persuasion. On the other hand, perhaps the release of a really meaningful movie might do the trick. He’s really all over the map. Then again, other things he says make a little more sense. Like taxing the rich, or working together to solve a common future crisis. And even his “Free to Be, You and Me” language about people “putting a garden in themselves” isn’t too off the wall. It’s as close as he gets to seeking a spiritual solution.

From the accent, I’d guess the kid grew up in or near Georgia. His family may have relocated somewhere down the line, as the tape bears evidence of being recorded in California (a military brat perhaps?). It’s easy to laugh at the cockeyed concepts and mangled syntax here, but this artifact reveals the inner struggles of an anxious baby boomer on the verge of adulthood. It’s a young confused guy wondering aloud about his purpose in his life, and how he can make a better world. I guess to me the most striking thing is how contradictory it all is. I mean, about three and a half minutes into this bit, he turns a corner and sounds strikingly similar to type of urgent bonehead you might hear call in to a contemporary right wing talk show: “No more people comes to the United States!" he insists. "The United States has got to start taking power. United States got it– They’re going to use it.”

Those might have been the most prescient words spoken on this tape. Here’s the audio:


Okay, while the screed above was certainly the main feature on this tape, the casette was filled leader to leader. Following the planet saving diatribe, the rest of side A is a parade of popular (and sensitive) 70’s ballads by Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkle, Three Dog Night, etc. You get the idea. However, at the very end of side one is some slightly more interesting content, which puts a likely date and location for the recordings on the tape. It’s a radio ad for an upcoming Virgil Fox concert, at a concert hall in the San Francisco area in September 1975. At the time I recall hearing the radio ads for the grandiose Virgil Fox organ roadshow coming through town, not really understanding why bombastic classical music with laser beams was being marketed to rock and roll teenagers. But maybe this was the kind of guy who might go for that sort of thing. And then, before the spot is over our protagonist tape jumps in to remind himself or somebody about a Native-American themed novel: “Seven Arrows” (orginally published in 1973). From the reviews I looked at online, I can see how this book might have fit into his vision quest.


70's kid rockin' in the basementWhile he mentions regretting souping up his car against his parents wishes and generally goofing off in his supplication to science and warfare on side A, side B is the flip side to all the sober consternation. Here’s our hero at play. It’s a party. And a couple of guests have brought in a guitar and a banjo. And it’s a teenage “pot party” jam session, including "Proud Mary," “Stairway to Heaven,” and the theme to the “Beverly Hillbillies.” It’s not a great recording. The instruments sound out of tune, and there’s lots of chatter and party coughing. I’m including it to provide a more representational archive, and to give the fossil sounds of a forgotten gathering some online posterity. I almost feel like I was there.


This tape was quite a find, but there was another compelling series of recordings buried within that little batch of crusty cassettes I picked up that day– Not as profound, but certainly containing more complicated subject matter. A lot more. But that’s a topic for another post. Or maybe a few posts…