Electro Media Mix

“Oscillation III” and “Perpetual Motion”

It was the winter of 1969.  I rented a room in a small residence hotel at 9th and Mission in San Francisco.  I remember the wind and the rain whipping through Fox Plaza at night.  The streets were deserted – nobody actually lives in that neighborhood, do they?

I was pretty much living hand-to-mouth, eating at rescue missions and getting high a lot.  Somehow I got preoccupied with electronic sound.  I built a couple of transistor oscillator boards from experimenter kits, and latched on to a pair of very cheap cassette players that were part of some “succeed in business” training course you could get by sending in a magazine coupon.  I guess people paid for these things.  I didn’t.  I was living off the grid.  Free machines, free tapes.

I had my oscillators, a radio, a recorder and a toy reed organ.  Do they still make those anymore?  The organ had a very organic sound.  The more keys you pressed, the less volume each note had.  The air was distributed among the reeds like in an accordian, but without the control of bellows.

There was no mixing board.  I mixed sounds by playing multiple sources and waving the cassette microphone around.  Somehow it felt like art to me.  I mimeographed a trade-mark label, cut it out and glued it to the cassettes with rubber cement.  The tapes were stashed away in the self-help cassette binder called “Dynamics of Success”, and that’s where I found them 35 years later.

I dubbed the “Oscillation III” tape to a CD-R without much trouble.  “Perpetual Motion” was another story.  The original tape would hardly move in the cassette.  It broke and spilled and jammed my fancy new tape-to-CD machine, and a minute or so of the original performance waslost forever.  I mounted the ancient reels in new cassette housings and was finally able to capture the sounds to disc.

It was fun remastering this “art noise” on my home computer.  The fidelity of the original material is really bad, but the spirit of introspection comes through.  I’m a much better technician these days.  I don’t think I’m a better artist, though.  These strange recordings of little noises in a small room communicate my feelings as well as anything I’ve done in recent years.

I had a pet that winter, a little white mouse who lived on my dresser there.  One day he came up to the edge of the dresser, stood up on his hind legs and fell to the floor below.  The fall killed him.  I didn’t understand that.  I still don’t.