A couple of years ago, All Songs Considered made a list of the worst songs of all time (joined by special guest Carrie Brownstein (who may or may not have worn out her Portland welcome at that point). As with most lists of this type, there are obvious choices (“We Built This City” by Starship) and complete head scratchers (“Africa” by Toto—what kind of monster hates “Africa”?). As this list is a few years old, and included no participants from my circle of friends, I thought I’d make a Facebook post. It read:
What is the worst song of all time? (Only answer with ONE specific response. Don’t say “Country Music” or “Hall and Oates,” for example.)
Figure 1 Mr. Blobby. WTF is wrong with the British?
It didn’t take long for a flood of responses. Once I had 64 responses I decided to make a bracket and let people vote for their least favorite song, because I have a lot of free time. I excluded songs that were obviously novelty songs (although Mr. Blobby’s Song almost made it in anyway due to sheer horribleness) and Christmas songs, which I felt would make an excellent follow-up poll for the holidays.
The bracket is currently open, and will remain so for 30 days. I will share how the voting is going throughout the month, and you are welcome to vote if you are so inclined. This data will be used for absolutely nothing other than blog fodder and my own amusement.
Figure 2 You tell me: Guy Fieri or singer of Smashmouth?
After 3.5 hours of being online, here are the worst—remember, this is a bracket, not a poll, so things will change drastically as the month goes on:
Currently, the leader in awful is “Allstar” by Smashmouth. That surprised me. I mean, come on, that song is aural fecal matter (and I’m pretty sure the lead singer is Guy Fieri) but #1 worst?
“Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex, which seems legit.
“Barbie Girl” by Aqua is in the third position. Again, completely justified.
“Who Let the Dogs Out” by the Baha Men is in fourth. A guys at the bar next to me swears it is a good song. I resist the urge to punch him.
“My Own Prison” by Creed. Yup.
Figure 3 Seriously, though. Guy Fieri or Smashmouth guy?
Here are some things I’m surprised by:
My personal pick for worst song is “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. It’s in 38th!
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, generally thought of as one of, if not THE worst song of all time (does “Somebody left a cake out in the rain” ring a bell?) is in 61st of 64. Shocking!
“We Built This City” by Starship and “What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes are at 47th and 48th, respectively.
This is an accidental masterpiece. A more perfect album made by a dental hygienist on LSD I’ve yet to encounter.
There is no question to why it flew under the radar upon its initial release. In the huge wake stirred by the sinking ship of flower power, anything not heavy enough to float sunk to the bottom. Parallelograms was simply another weird record in a weird year full of weird records.
And quiet modesty did not help sales, as bands like Led Fucking Zeppelin soared to self aggrandizing heights. Not quite a bedroom record, but certainly kept inside the house, this album was destined for obscurity. And this beguiling and magical recording sat on the shelf, seemingly forgotten.
However, genius echoes through time. Parallelograms is still in our cultural vocabulary due to its many moments of genius. There are moments of sappy sentimentality, sure, other times are fractured and abstract, some moments are even seductively enticing. But throughout multiple listens there is a quiet intensity to these yearning invocations of magic realism that draws you in to their mystery.
As with all hidden treasures, we are left with unanswerable questions: What more could Linda have told us? Was this album everything she had to say? Are we missing out on decades of music never written?
Alas, she chose to pursue a career as a dentist, returning so many years later with 2014s “The Soul Of All Natural Things” which unfortunately does not resonate with the profundity and often confounding uniqueness of its predecessor. 44 years is quite a gap to merge between albums, and needless to say, this is a different era.
The original still stands as a perfect journal entry from the avant garden front lines of the acid washed folk era. Parallelograms is the story of those shocking shaking times told by a quiet girl and her guitar.
Vashti Bunyan – Just Another Diamond Day (1970)
Nature has a perennial need for a translator. An interloper between physical and spiritual realms. There is constantly a desire for one to communicate nature’s many small miracles into tangible art. Sometimes natural beauty demands itself to be heard so sternly that we have no choice but to sit up and pay attention.
Vashti chose to do her mystic translation in the form of nursery rhymes and cosmic lullabies. A cross between a pagan goddess and a pre-school teacher, her image can quickly escalate to mythic proportions. Rightly so, this album is perpetually beaming with light. Every rock, stream, and tree in this record bursts forth with life. You can practically smell it.
And where did she go after making this strangely beautiful ode to mother nature? Did she ride that mystic caravan into her own fairy tale cartoon of timeless fantasy? She was still quite young when she left the music industry to live in a covered wagon in the British countryside (yes, really), emerging again in the 21st century with two more solo albums, 2005s “Lookaftering” and 2014s “Heartleap” (allegedly her last). Also some collaborations with Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective, all of which are quite good.
There is perhaps more interest now than ever before in Vashti and her music. And the freak folk revival has allowed her to bring new albums forth. But the sun shines on this record above all her others, kept fallow in the eternal field of natural wonder.
Elyse – Elyse (1969)
Elyse apparently lives here in Oregon (whatup Ashland!) Elyse if you’re reading this, please come play in Portland again. To anyone else who hasn’t heard this album: UGH, stop reading this and fucking listen to it! It’s really that good. Elyse hitting a sour note is still better than any of the auto-tuned industry schlock currently blazing up the charts, and I don’t care how old and cantankerous that makes me sound, it’s fucking true.
Elyse is the hippy grandmother of alt rock and I hang on every word of her raspy growl. She was grunge when Eddie Vedder was still a zygote. Just like grunge, behind the rasp is a heartbreakingly sweet sadness. “Painted Raven” is an 80 second song that can make me cry almost anytime I hear it. On “Mortuary Bound”, my inner goth cackles whenever I hear the Don Pardo-like TV announcer chiming in with his offer of death for everyone. Neil Young also plays on this album, making a brief squelchy guitar appearance on the beautiful “Houses”. What else can I say? Go buy this record.
Taylor Hill is a DJ, musician, and ghoul currently haunting several cities across the US. He hosts “The Based Goth Radio Show”, Thursdays 12-2pm Pacific, on Freeform Portland.
First up on this list is a modern 45 originally released in 2007. And it’s a truly ridiculous one! The Ridiculous Trio is a band made up of a drummer, trombone player and a trumpet player and they only play instrumental covers of The Stooges songs. Absolute insanity that works surprisingly well!
4. Stan Freberg – St. George and The Dragonet
Stan Freberg was a recording artist, comedian and author. Spoofing the 50s cop show Dragnet, this track shows off his mastery of puns and excellent wordplay. It tells the story of a cop trying to catch a dragon for “devouring maidens”. Produced in 1951, St George and The Dragonet eventually hit #1 for four weeks in October of 1953.
3. Dance The Slurp
This 45 was originally released in 1967 as part of a give-away at 7-11 stores with the purchase of a Slurpee. It gained some notoriety in the 90s when DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist sampled and also featured it on the cover of their Brainfreeze album. A truly whacked out track most likely conceived by some marketing and ad executives that features a pretty killer drum break and that terrible sound of someone sucking on their straw way after their drink is gone, but they don’t want to get another so they just keep making sucking on the straw until you get annoyed enough to slap the straw out of their mouth. Anyway it’s pretty cool.
2. The Lifeguards – Everybody Out’ta The Pool
A rocker released in 1959, this one features members of Bill Haley’s Comets and an excessive use of whistles and cowbells! I still haven’t figured out why we need to get outta the pool, but you better do as they say or we will need to listen to that damn whistle again.
1. Swamp Dogg – Total Destruction To Your Mind
A funky monster by the master of amazingly bad album covers (Just check out his album Rat On!) that will blow your mind! Jerry Williams Jr. is a soul singer that got his start in the 1960s recording for the labels Loma and Calla before taking on the pseudonym Swamp Dogg in 1970 and releasing the album named for this track. Since then he has continued to record soul records, but this is the 45 I keep going back to due to its catchy hook!
If you are interested in listening to these and more novelty tracks, check out my radio show from April 1 HERE
My favorite song by Michael Jackson is hands down “Human Nature” from the 1982 record “Thriller.” The tune is haunting, sexy, sad and beautiful, and I’ve always admired the particularly androgynous way in which Michael expresses the amorous yearnings expressed in the lyrics. The light and floating quality of the vocals is reminiscent of some of the great female arias of the classic American Soul era—the pining voice of Diana Ross comes to mind in particular for me.
“Human Nature” floats with buoyancy that the rest of “Thriller” doesn’t even come close to, in large part as a result of the song’s plaintive structure of question and answer, a discourse which in the end doesn’t add up to much and sounds even more damn mysterious in the end. This maddening mysteriousness, somewhat akin to the circular question and answer song “Que sera, sera”—is an excellent mirror to the true puzzle that was M. J. himself—always intimate, compelling, and totally unknowable as a person.
If they say,
Why, why, tell ’em that it’s human nature
Why, why, does he do it that way
If they say,
Why, why, tell ’em that it’s human nature
Why, why does he do me that way
I went on a “Human Nature” repeat listen binge recently when a guest on my Freeform show played the strange tune “Banana Boy” by the American original, Eden Ahbez. A bizarre moment even within the already weird world of the Exotica genre, Ahbez’s 1960 record “Eden’s Island,” combines beatnik sensibilities with the hedonism of 1960s lounge scene. Ahbez was a strange dude—according to some—the “first” hippie, if such a ridiculous designation is even thinkable.
According to Wikipedia: Living a bucolic life from at least the 1940s, he travelled in sandals and wore shoulder-length hair and beard, and white robes. He camped out below the first L in the Hollywood Sign above Los Angeles and studied Orientalmysticism. He slept outdoors with his family and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. He claimed to live on three dollars per week.
A certain aural headspace took shape over the course of the next week after my guest introduced me to Ahbez, as I obsessively listened to “Human Nature,” and “Banana Boy.” For some reason, in my head that is, the two songs somehow spoke to one another across space and time, but I’m still trying to figure out why exactly.
Buy my banana, fresh from the trees
Buy my banana
Eden Ahbez was born in Brooklyn to Jewish Russian parents, and first became known because Nat King Cole landed a huge hit in Ahbez’s song “Nature Boy” in 1948. Ahbez was paid a handsome sum for the tune by the film industry, and gained a lot of notoriety through Nat King Cole’s success with it. If you don’t recognize the title immediately, I bet you will recall the unusual melody of “Nature Boy” after reading a snippet from the gnomic lyrics.
There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he
“Nature Boy” continued to be lauded by the industry, and was later covered by the likes of David Bowie, Lady Gaga, and Miles Davis.
My obsession about the unexpected synergy, harmonically and thematically, between M.J’s iconic song and Ahbez’s “Banana Boy” and “Nature Boy” became a little more comprehensible to me when I realized that “Human Nature” was written by none other than Steve Porcaro of the American rock band Toto—of the dubious “rains down in Africa” fame (same year as “Thriller”- 1982- the Toto song “Africa” from the regally-titled “Toto IV”).
Lest you have forgotten the unforgettably random lyrics of that 80’s watershed (get it, rains, ah…):
It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you
I see Ahbez’s California trip of enchanted man-boys living in nature with bananas as planting a little tropical seed of exoticism (no doubt itself blown in from elsewhere further back in time) that took stubborn root in American pop music going forward, thus giving birth to Porcaro’s 1980s fantasies in “Human Nature” and “Africa”.
But where does that leave the virtuosic M.J., the ultimate, tragic “nature boy” of the last quarter of the 20th century?
In this triad of musicians, Porcaro (probably) ultimately takes the cake, as “Human Nature” is arguably the best song in this banana bunch.
However, even though M.J. is only performing someone else’s tune, the emotional quality of his genius performance speaks to the mythos of a “natural” and “innocent” man-boy that all these songs lucubrate about.
It’s a good answer to my ongoing question: WHY? “that’s why.”
I like livin’ this way
I like lovin’ this way
DJ Abi hosts a radio show called “Studio Visit” for Portland artists, art professionals, and art lovers. Catch the show every other Sunday from 8-10 PM.
April 5th 2017 is a year to the day of my first broadcast on Freeform Portland. Not my first radio show, not by any means, but I remember it felt good to be on the air, and does so every day I do my show. Getting to Freeform Portland is a life long story. Here is the short version.
As a kid, I always loved music. I remember listening to 45s at a friend’s house, over and over we listened to “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the theme song to the movie “M.A.S.H.” When I turned eleven and went to middle school, and in the school library “discovered” The Beatles. I often checked out their albums and listened to them with friends using headphones and listening posts. “Revolver” was an early favorite of mine. I was drawn to the more psychedelic tracks, such as “tomorrow never knows”
Exposure to music was generally by radio for me, hits of the day. But as this was the mid-seventies that meant some singer songwriter tracks, emerging disco tracks…which to me did not appeal. I remember a cousin of mine having the first record by AC/DC, which I sorta liked for the energy. I could not have explained it in these terms at that time, but I think I recognized the churned up Chuck Berry riffs at the heart of their music. A friend of my brother had a ping pong table, and some afternoons were spent at his house, playing ping pong and listening to his early records by KISS, who seemed silly to me. Sorry, I never grew to like them.
Everything changed for me in 1977. The real year punk broke. The band Devo appeared on Saturday Night Live. You can Google it now and find youtube clips. So it is easy to watch and see what a transformative experience it might have been. If you view it with that context in mind. Disco was on the rise, and here comes Devo. Robotic rhythms and motions. Automatons who exploded lightning in my brain. I was hooked. The following week at school many folks mentioned how weird it was, they seemed offput. But I was just being launched on a journey.
It was during this time and throughout high school that I began to buy records. New wave pop bands, all with names such as “The…” or Rhino anthology collections by bands like The Chocolate Watchband. This time period preceded the reissue craze that exists today. Only current records seemed to be available, records from three or more years past did not seem to be around, and I had not heard of a used record store. Not yet at least.
Following high school, I rented rooms in other people’s houses, worked in restaurants making Mexican food, or pizzas. And some of my money still went buying records. Two amazing things happened in the early eighties for me. The Walkman was invented, and I met Raymond Didyk.
The Walkman was amazing. A device that allowed you to listen to music everywhere. Music became portable. You had your own soundtrack. And, you could make mix tapes so the songs would vary and be of your own choosing. Which brings me to Raymond Didyk. A friend of mine worked for him, and I met him when I agreed to help them move some furniture. Putting a piece of furniture in the back of Raymond’s truck I heard the music he had left playing. I heard a familiar guitar style, and the voice of Tom Verlaine. I stopped for a moment, perplexed both by the fact I did not know the song and that someone else I knew listened to Television.
That song was “Glory” from the second album by Television “Adventure,” which at that time I was too naive to have sought out. Raymund Didyk and I became fast friends, bonding over music. He had vast collection of records and introduced to Link Wray, Bo Diddley, Fairport Convention, the original Modern Lovers, The Fall, and any number of garage and psychedelic records…he was amazing and so kind. He would allow me to come over to his house on my days off from work, to explore his record collection and make tapes from myself. He changed my life for the better, and saying so, no matter how many times I do so, will never be Thanks enough.
He also introduced me to a used record store in Monterey California called Recycled Records. I visited infrequently for a while as it was a long bus drive from my home in Carmel Valley. But circumstances changed and I found myself employed by The Bagel Bakery on Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey, four blocks down the street from Recycled Records. So my infrequent visits became daily visits. I never noticed that the new arrivals bin only changed once a week. I seemed to discover something new there all the time. I became friendly with the small staff, the owner and one other employee, and invariable asked for a job each day as I left the store. Not sure if I wore them down exactly but one day they said yes.
The very same week I started working in the record store I saw an ad on the bulletin board in the store. A flyer really about a local community radio station needed new DJs. I answered the ad, and soon afterwards was I working at a record store and had a weekly radio show. Pretty sure at the time my life felt like it could not have been any better.
I started my first radio show in 1988 on KAZU 90.3 fm, which had its studio on the second floor above a Mexican restaurant named Peppers. The name of my show was “Blank Generation” and I was on the air every Saturday from midnight to three am. I was certainly nervous but the person before me, a DJ named Mr. Hedge, was a complete professional and very kind. He helped me through many issues. And also demonstrated so clearly and well how to time your show, to end at the stated time, and make way for the next DJ. To this day his example and lessons are ones that I carry with me into radio studios when I do my show.
I was at KAZU for seven years. Seven fantastic years and only left when I moved to Portland.
I moved to Portland with my wife and her children in 1995. Jumped a few hurdles in life here and there. Always renting, so lived in a few different neighborhoods, and worked a couple different jobs, at Music Millennium and Djangos. Both great record stores that helped to continue to expose me to music, and make friends.
Ten years passed, quick as you like, and I began to think about how fun it would be to have a radio show again. But how I asked myself. The local community radio station in Portland, KBOO 90.7 fm, was well established and entrenched. Getting a show on that station seemed an impossibility. Then I heard whispers about a pirate radio station…the Portland Radio Authority…based somewhere in Portland…broadcasting with a tiny bit of wattage. Not too long after first hearing of them, I read an article the station had been raided by the police or FBI, but that did not stop them apparently, they soon converted to an Internet radio station exclusively. I think I must have found their web site or contact details. And pretty soon, like falling off a bridge, I had another radio show.
This new show I entitled “It’s A nice world to visit” after a song by Ann-Margret produced by Lee Hazelwood. First off because it was a cool track with blasting fuzz guitar, but more importantly it had the word “nice” in the title. At that time, myself and the world were all too jaded and cynical and I wanted to turn a corner. Embrace something positive. To this end, I also adopted an on air DJ name, Noah Fence. I wanted what I thought was a good pun, such as the name adopted by the singer of the band, Fear. His name was Lee Ving. And I just giggled a bit just writing.
Funny thing about adopting a name, I fooled myself. I assumed I would come into the radio studio, announce myself as Noah Fence and some other hidden aspect of my personality would burst out. It never happened. I suppose I am more myself than I will ever properly realize.
Another side benefit of being on the Portland Radio Authority was playing records at bars and clubs. During my time away from radio, DJs had become a more popular idea, so often clubs would have folks in to play records before bands performed, as well as between the bands. My first ever live DJ gig was at the Someday Lounge. And if I recall correctly I played at least one record at the wrong speed. No one seemed to notice. It had never occurred to me until that moment that the audience, either in a live setting or over the radio, would consist of passive listeners. That cue errors and such would go unnoticed. Now I know I was my own worst critic, and learned the freedom to laugh it off and forgive myself. Making friends I managed to play at several places in town, such as regular gigs at East End and Ground Kontrol.
My time at the Portland Radio Authority was well spent, well enjoyed by me, but the station struggled. Getting the rent and utility bills paid eventually become such a task, the station folded.
And into this void came Xray.fm, a new local radio station, both on fm and the internet, started by some folks who had been involved with the Portland Radio Authority and as it turned out, people with no prior experience with radio. They took over the Portland Radio Authority space and equipment, and brought along a handful of Portland Radio Authority DJs, including myself.
My show moved to Xray.fm but the name remained the same. I was returned to late night broadcasting. When the station moved to its proper location, it was a mile or so from my home. I began riding a bike in the dark down empty streets. All the while, mixing a variety of music, new tracks and old favorites for my audience, such as it is. But life changes. And I lost a job I had held for a decade. My wife and I were forced to move due to our financial situation. And I gave up my show on Xray.fm. That was in September 2015 and before the year end, I saw on Facebook people talking about a new radio station. All music, no talk. The kind of station that fit my aptitude, all rock, very little talk, and also my schedule. As what I needed most to be back on the radio was a daytime slot.
Freeform Portland began broadcasting in April 2016 and I am happy to say, a year later, that all is well and working out. My show is on every Wednesday morning at 8am, and I am an early riser and morning person. So love nothing more than getting up, putting some music choices together, riding to the studio on the commuter train and broadcasting my show. I love it today as much as I ever have. Drawing on my ever present love of music, and my radio inspirations, chief among them John Peel. Whose show I never heard when I was young. It was just something you read about. It was something you noted, when you heard a band you liked had done a Peel session, playing live on his show. Every show I do, it is always my hope that I will play some song sometime that someone will hear for the first time, and it will be like lightning in their brain.
Shakespeare and the Velvet Underground. Shaken, not stirred. The cityscapes that Dusty Santamaria conjures up are refuges for both refuse and revelation where the low and high aspects of our spirits (and, by extension, our culture) co-mingle in a lovers’ dance. His songs, poetry, and paintings are filled with religious imagery, classical references, and the smoky, yellow light that spills into the street, bubbling up from the bottom crust through the cracks in the fabric of our society. “Symbols, images, and surrealist dreams- My Mind’s a junkyard,” Dusty laments in “Shiverin, moanin, shaking, stoned,” the second song on the Sylvia Says EP. The characters that inhabit Santamaria’s cityscapes are restless, plagued by vice, and haunted by an impending sense of emptiness. Everyone is looking for an escape though they know they must return to the emptiness. Everyone is looking for meaning though they know modern reality is cruel and mechanical. Above all, everyone is looking for love… with only fleeting moments of tenderness afforded.
Musically, the Sylvia Says EP is one of those fleeting moments. The sounds are generally soft and soothing, focusing mostly on Dusty’s acoustic guitar and voice. It’s over too soon. Dusty’s voice is relaxed and familiarly conversational at times, passionately precise in diction at others. But it’s the simplicity of the first line that sets the tone for the album. “Bring a little water, Sylvia,” Dusty offhandedly requests. The narrator’s fondly familiar relationship with the character Sylvia is evident in the absence of formal politeness and the way he pronounces her name, almost completely dropping the last letter “a” and turning a three syllable name into two. The request itself is a simple one. He’s not inconveniencing her, and he’s not expecting much. The listener (and the reviewer), however, should be careful to avoid the trap of attaching meaning to the symbols and images- sometimes beautiful, sometimes violent- that permeate the music. Santamaria makes it clear from the start that this sort of analytical appropriation is a cop out and will be in vain because the symbols themselves have no continuity of meaning. They are just the static of an active imagination prone to nostalgia. For example, the water of the first verse, a symbol of life, is immediately turned on its head in the second verse when “some sleepwalking guru that guided me here just jumped into the river and died.” It’s not the first time Dusty’s started off an album with a river of death. His 2014 release Now That I’ve Stopped Killing opens with this verse:
Broken bodies and dead flowers run through the river of my hometown
Where fear is a law, confusion’s a creed, and apathy wears a crown
I took the blood, the filth, and the slime and painted myself as a clown
Then took the midnight train into infinity
and never turned my head to look back around
While Dusty’s music is heavily influenced by country and traditional folk, his soul has always struck me as being at home in pure urban chaos. I often think of him when I’m in the seedier downtown parts of a city. It seems to be in his nature to see beauty and possibility where others see starkness and entrapment. Part of this lies in his willingness to be struck by the smaller things in life such as on “Haunted Feeling” off the Sylvia Says EP where the narrator is driven to “pick a flower from the garbage.” The apparent reference to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” here doesn’t seem to be something Santamaria is trying to shy away from. The album has plenty of lyrical references to other songwriters, most obviously Lou Reed and the Velvet Undergound as one might have already guessed from the title of the EP. Like the symbols and classical references, one gets the feeling that the lines from songwriting royalty are just what’s passing through his head. He puts them down in order to move the songs along, in order to get to the lines only he could write that are what make his music truly worth listening to. It almost seems as if he’s just observing his own thoughts without attaching to them or, for that matter, attaching to anyone else on this album.
The last song on the EP, “New Year’s Night,” is an ode to the road Dusty seems to know is his only home. The backing “doo-wop” female vocals and the simplicity of the songwriting serve to bring this EP back full circle. The whole thing seems very intimate. There is a sadness about the things he knows he misses out on by choosing the path he does, but even through the teardrops there is the brightness of someone living the way they want to.
Overall, this EP is not a drastic change from the rest of Santamaria’s catalogue. His previous release, Now That I’ve Stopped Killing, had a few songs that were written in more of a linear, confessional style. Those types of songs like “Rose Tattoo” or “Dark Eyed Girl” are absent on the Sylvia Says EP, but, despite that, this EP feels a bit more intimate. It also moves along well and doesn’t drag. There’s some rockers on here like “Underground (Party Dress).” It’s a well-written, well-rounded, and well-recorded EP from a mature songwriter who’s really found his stride and surely has more good things coming down the road.
Soundspace is a new radio-based installation series for Freeform Portland focused on recontextualizing radio as a space for new modes of listening, hosted by sound artists Samson Stilwell (who played the second Foreign Accents show ever at Turn! Turn! Turn! in October, thank you Samson!) and Ben Glas. Each month a new sound artist installs an exploratory piece to the airwaves for you to mull over, get lost in, and whatever else works. The series, which meets every other Sunday from noon to 2pm, is live-streamed at Beacon Sound, but the general idea is that the broadcasting medium puts the concept of a sonic installation tied to a specific locality in a new, far more flexible cast.
The first installation for Soundspace was Roarke Menzies‘ Anamnesis Study: The Little Bell, a loop-based ambient piece which I caught on November 6th from the comfort of home. Roarke’s broadcast, which manipulated an obscure recording of a Russian folk song to highly evocative effect, was a real pleasure to hear not least because of my admiration for his new album Corporeal. In December, Soundspace featured Eli Coplan‘s piece Substractive Synthesis, which I sadly missed. This show is not being archived at the moment. See, this is why you really need to tune in!
I recently got the chance to have a brief but illuminating chat with Samson and Ben about the project over email. Have a look-see:
How did the two of you meet? What was the impetus for SOUNDSPACE?
S: We met through a radio show I did called Nocturne. I had heard Ben’s work through a mutual friend (Roarke Menzies) and invited him to perform on the show. Nocturne aired from 4-6 in the morning and it was Ben’s birthday. It was very romantic.
B: The inspiration to start Soundspace came from a series of conversations that Samson and I had about the possibility of transmission art and ephemeral space. When Nocturne ended we felt a desire to continue radio-based experiments and further question modes of listening and experiencing.
What is SOUNDSPACE “about”? What kind of considerations do you both make in curating the series?
S: Soundspace is an attempt to turn the radio in on itself, to consider the radio as holding space, as well as a an opportunity to showcase sound artists we admire. We consider our by-monthly transmissions as radio installations. The tuning in and out of a radio frequency acts as a way to interact, to enter or exit the radio installation. Using this framework the Soundspaceartists have created work that really utilizes the radio as a site-specific mode of listening.
What kinds of possible proclivities/biases do you guys think you may show?
B: I definitely see a leaning towards open and aleatoric structures, as opposed to set-in-stone or seemingly serialist compositions. There is an urge to mimic the show’s experimental nature through the content.
I was not present at Beacon Sound for Anamnesis Study: The Little Bell, but I listened to the entirety of the piece and was really mesmerized by its evocation of memory. Tell me about how you guys got in contact with Roarke and about your interpretation of the installation. Was the first broadcast the first time you had heard the piece yourselves?
S: I heard Roarke’s work for the first time about a year ago when he came to play a show in Portland. I missed the show (which oddly enough Ben was also performing at) but listened to his record Corporeal and loved it. I invited him to do a guest mix for Nocturne. Then we became pals!
B: And yes; the first we heard the piece was when it was first presented on air. It was a pleasant and beautiful surprise! My interpretation of the composition, in conjunction with the writing, was definitely nostalgic; I felt a deep longing for a moment in time that can be described by no words I know.
S: At one point in the piece the original recording, which gets warped and reworked by Roarke’s complex electronic processing, becomes almost morse code like; the pulsing signal is so precise with wordless meaning, reaching back for itself, reaching for the moment of the recording and yet knowing it will never fully be able to reach it. It’s sad but fitting that the piece was only audible twice when we aired it and now disappeared. That is unless Roarke uses it for something else.
Your latest broadcast was of an installation by Eli Coplan. If you were asked to make a succinct introduction to his work for someone unfamiliar, what would you say?
B: I would say that Eli’s installation for Soundspace was very much focused on networks and the grey area presented by radio broadcast technology.
S: Eli opened Soundspace to the wider radio, feeding back different radio signals into the Freeform Bandwidth and filtering and manipulating them through an open source software called Pure Data which Eli wrote a patch for. Networks within networks.
What is on the docket for this coming January?
B: Max Wolf (formerly Schneider) is on for New Years day (Really excited to see how Max goes about installing!) and
S:Lutfi Othman, a sound artist living and working in London, is installing his piece The Sculptural Adhan which is truly beautiful and you gotta hear it!
What kinds of hopes and anxieties do you both have for 2017?
S: That art finds purpose and beauty. That the world isn’t ruined beyond repair. And for compassion.
B: My hopes for 2017 and the rest of 2016 are for some deep healing on a National, Global and introspective level. And for simple and loving growth for everyone. Anxieties: that the masses won’t be silent and listen to each other’s ideas or fears (or Soundspace).
Tune in to 90.3 FM on Sunday January 1st for some work Max Wolf. I saw him perform with Ben for a series entitled Shortspace in October of 2015, as well as with my friends at Sanctuary Sunday and SIX, so this ought to get interesting. Happy listening.
Photo Credits (top to bottom): Tessa Bolsover Xander Marrow