Label Archaeology: We’re Twins Records (Ann Arbor, 2000-2006)

In this first edition of Label Archaeology, we turn to an early 00s CDR label from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who put out a remarkable number of releases between 2000 and 2006, most of which is very poorly documented online. Their old website can be accessed via archive.org, and many of their records are catalogued on RateYourMusic, though only a few have made it to Discogs.

I reached out to We’re Twins’ former label-runners a few years ago, and since then, Jason Voss, one of the people involved with the label, put four of the label’s compilations up on Bandcamp. These sprawling comps feature an exciting cast of unknown lo-fi pop names, bands with inscrutable monikres like Chicken/Mechanic, Strikeforce:Euler, and, my personal favourite, Website. One of those compilations, We’re Twins Sampler 2003, was available for free at the time — all you had to do was email the label and they’d drop a copy in the mail.

The folks behind We’re Twins were Jason Voss, Benjamin Tausig, Katie Linden, and Kelly Szott. They were all involved in the University of Michigan’s radio station, WCBN, and played in various bands with friends.

“I’m going to say that it happened sometime around fall or winter of 2000,” Szott recalls. “I think Katie and I came up with the name. I remember thinking that ‘We’re Twins’ was kind of a funny name to use because Katie actually is a twin. A group of us at WCBN were all interested in making low-fi, off-the cuff music. The creation of We’re Twins was a result of this and inspired us to make more of this type of music.”

Tausig elaborates on the origins. “We were college students, and had no obligations whatsoever in our lives, for the most part. We hung out at the campus radio station and all had various musical projects, which congealed under the scotch-tape-bound administrative banner of ‘We’re Twins Records.'”

The first release on We’re Twins.

Voss came late to the party, after their first release came out. “I got recruited by Katie and Kelly right after the Most Dangerous Game of Cat and Mouse Band EP came out. They expressed a desire to put out as many CDR releases as possible so I got on it.” That EP, billed as WRT001, was described on the We’re Twins website like so:

What is there to say about the Cat and Mouse Band that hasn’t been said hundreds of times before in broken Esperanto? Succinct pop songs with guy-girl vocals, mandolin, violin, and yes, even handclaps! Think a cuter version of The Shaggs crossed with a tape recorder.

A remaining mp3 of the song “Me Envelope” kicks in with thick tape hiss, then introduces a joyfully dyscoordinated mandolin/ukelele, bass guitar, hand claps, and goofy vocals that repeat the lyric “What have you find/In me envelope?” over and over in a range of goofy voices.

Tausig’s recollection of that EP’s recording is hazy. “[It] was recorded in one evening, when I was supposed to be scoring a soundtrack for this guy’s student movie. It was a plodding melodrama directed by a 20-year-old, so it was pretty dull and awkward even as it aspired to be polished. Suffice it to say I did not treat my $50 commission all that seriously. Instead of a soundtrack, we got high on probably chips and salsa and recorded a bunch of goofy improvised tracks that kind of mocked the scenes of the film. That was fun. I think a lot of We’re Twins releases were similarly conceptualized.”

According to an archived feature for Dusted Magazine, at least one copy came housed in a Warner Bros. promo jewel case, which the author suspected had been cannibalized from an unwanted WCBN copy. Perhaps this was right on the mark. As Voss explains, “We were music directors at WCBN in the late stages of the music industry taking over college radio as a promotions wing in the wake of the big ‘alternative’ boom in the nineties. Tons of CDs came in the mail every week and most of it seemed really boring, uncreative, over-produced, and safe to us. We became aesthetic radicals in response and probably over-corrected in the other direction.”

From the back of the The New Folk Sounds of Patrick Elkins CDR.

Szott elaborates: “To me it felt very liberating to make music and have a record label even though I could barely play an instrument or construct a song. It was my feminist response to what I perceived was a very masculine type of virtuosity in the music world.”

Tausig concurs. “I would say that it was strongly inflected by a DIY feminist aesthetic, coupled with a kind of indie rock indifference or irony as well as what was either snobby connoisseurship or boundless curiosity about new and unusual musics. Probably both, depending on the moment or the context.”

The scarcity of these releases on the internet isn’t surprising when you consider their scant pressings. Exact figures vary. As Szott recalls, “I think we would make five or so copies and give them to friends, put them in the WCBN library, maybe send them to other radio stations (like WFMU or Rice University’s radio station), and give them to the local record store to sell. Then, from there I think we would make them to order.”

Ben remembers the pace of CDR-burning varying by expected sales numbers. “Sometimes we would make a pile of 20 or 50, especially for ‘popular’ releases such as our compilations. Other times they would be made to order, or produced in a limited release of, say, ten copies. Or one copy.”

Voss also recalls made-to-order releases and a few bigger runs. “They were generally made to order with a batch to start off with, mostly college radio promo copies. Patrick Elkins and I decided to market our 2004 albums as “limited editions of 750” and counted down starting at 750. I think there were a few hundred of the New Folk Sounds, probably less than 100 of my album Arts & Crafts.”

Many of the We’re Twins discs were distributed locally, and Szott recalls being “kind of part of the Ann Arbor music scene to some extent.” Meanwhile, Voss recalls that the website was another source of distribution. “Our use of the Internet involved a website that instructed people to ask us for a free CDR sampler, which we sent in the mail. Easily dozens of random people from all over opted in and we also had the mp3s up on the website. We sent out quite a few promos to college radio stations and a couple publications. We were more geared toward making product that college radio geeks would be interested in rather than enjoyable music that someone would want to purchase, so it’s not surprising that our biggest successes were in that market.”

Tausig expands. “They were all extremely successful in that we loved them, and extremely unsuccessful in that they were not profitable or generative of social cachet or artistic influence beyond a very localized sphere. In my opinion. It was a big, big deal to get one spin of our music on WFMU, or frankly even on WCBN.”

And Voss remembers some releases getting into more hands than others. “The samplers got the most attention and since they were free it was easy to sell them. The New Folk Sounds of Patrick Elkins and There Is a Rat in Separate by Melting Moments have a small but devoted following to this day. The 7-inches sold relatively large numbers, but were a failure in term of percentage of the total that were sold.”

Patrick Elkins’ disc has been uploaded to Bandcamp by Elkins himself, and shares We’re Twins’ lo-fi, ramshackle, maybe-recorded-drunk-in-a-dorm-room appeal. The Melting Moments CDR, with its great name, is also up on Bandcamp — it was the project of Voss himself, along with Anna Vitale. It’s, in some ways, among the more coherent We’re Twins releases; a drum machine backdrops dinky Casio melodies and electric guitar, with Voss and Vitale’s unpolished vocals overtop, all in an indie pop mould.

Szott recalls the details of another release, an EP credited to Elizabeth –really just Szott’s one-off solo project. Its description on the old We’re Twins website read:

Who is this “Elizabeth”? We cannot say for sure. Many theories have been bandied about at The Royal Academy, but let us assure you that they are indeed all wrong. What we can say is that album of delicate pop songs will keep your teeth two shades brighter for up to three weeks with just one listen.

Szott was willing to shed light on the mystery. “I remember making my album, Elizabeth, using a karaoke machine and the backing music of a Madonna song. I was so dreadfully embarrassed about that recording.”

What started off as a forum to release music composed by the group ended up expanding into a growing roster. “The first batch of releases was pretty much all combinations of the 5 of us, then there was a larger group of people at WCBN who were involved to some degree,” Voss tells. “Justin Shay sent us an unsolicited demo, we enthusiastically signed him and he pretty much became a core member (later becoming a WCBN DJ appropriately enough). After most of those people moved away, I recruited a few local Ann Arbor bands around 2003-2004 for one-off We’re Twins releases: Jib Kidder, Umberto, Kelly Caldwell. They all had the deal where it says We’re Twins on the CDR, but the band makes them and gets all the money from selling them.”

As Szott details, “Nearing the end of We’re Twins I remember sending out a couple emails to people who had sent us good demos. We asked them if they wanted to join We’re Twins and then, in true We’re Twins style, we did absolutely nothing and never contacted them again.”

Voss sees We’re Twins as one node of a bustling network of DIY record labels, often connected to the noise scene. Unsurprisingly, John Olson’s American Tapes label, long run out of Michigan, casts a long shadow. “The Wolf Eyes guys were definitely a major influence in terms of aesthetics and quality control, especially American Tapes putting out a maximal stream of super limited releases. Everybody in the noise scene had a CDR label and we were pretty much just a really twee version of that. A little later, there were a lot of sister CDR labels in Ann Arbor in 2002 through 2006. I moved into a house with 6 other WCBN DJs and they were mostly all involved with at least one We’re Twins release or comp contribution.

“Randall Davis and Dustin Krcatovich lived there and had a zine/comic/record label called Horrendous Failure Studios that they had started in high school in the Kalamazoo area. Around 2003 Randall started a noise CD-R label called Stop/Eject Records that I was somewhat involved with. We had a duo that just layered skipping CDs live and he also released an unlistenable conceptual square wave composition I made. Dustin was doing a label called Casanova Temptations Edutainment Consortium and currently has a mostly tape label called FM Dust, based in Portland. Patrick Elkins had a label called Chew Your Own Records before, during and after being a We’re Twins artist. Dustin, Pat and I lived in the Totally Awesome House in Ann Arbor from 2004 to 2005, where we had weekly plus shows and were running all three labels from the house. Asaurus Records put out quite a few CDR releases in a more organized fashion with more quality control. The representative from Asaurus said that picking up some We’re Twins discs at Stormy Records was a big influence on getting that going.

“We were a little ahead of the times I think. After Ben, Katie and Kelly moved away there was more of a local CDR label scene and bands that we would have fit in. And Spiders got some pretty good shows, but audiences and sound guys were very confused by us. A little later, there was some interest in We’re Twins that mostly resulted in great bookings for the New Sound of My Bossa Nova who got flown to Houston for a festival sponsored by now-defunct radio station KTRU and a Steve Keene art opening in Big Rapids, MI. The slightly younger generation at WCBN was vaguely inspired by We’re Twins and there were several other CDR/internet labels a little later. There have been some notable musicians from that batch of WCBNers like Julia Holter, Laurel Halo and Jib Kidder.”

Szott recalls We’re Twins petering out when she, Tausig, and Linden left Ann Arbor and moved to Brooklyn, and Voss is lukewarm on the period when he was the main one in charge. “There was a period when the others lost interest and I was pretty much (badly) running the label. We tried to do an actual CD for Patrick Elkins’ Fruits of the Spirit but I think there was a tour booked and it didn’t come together in time for it so there was a CDR tour version and the ‘real’ one never really got properly released. Similar story with WRT SAMP 2005, which never really got finished in physical form, just the mp3s on the website. I got overly ambitious putting the 2005 Halloween set together. It was a 2CDR + 3-inch CDR wrapped up with a bunch of stickers and a scary plastic spider in a taped and mod-podged together halloween napkin where the package had to be destroyed to open it. I think I finished them in January or February 2006 and failed to sell any copies. I was having a rough time that year. Wikipedia deleted my entry citing my being a ‘completely unnotable local musician’ and I gave up my ‘singer-songwriter’ career and folded the label.”

Today, Szott is an assistant professor of sociology at Southern Oregon University. “Sadly, I’m not very involved in musical activities these days. I often bemoan this fact, but don’t know what to do about it … My husband makes music and sometimes gets me to record with him.”

Tausig is also in academia, as a professor of ethnomusicology at Stony Brook University. “I talk at 200 students each semester about the history of rock music, framing that history (via a very We’re Twins worldview) as a fundamentally queer, colored, and female-steered musical tradition. This is probably a little iconoclastic, given how people tend to imagine rock, but it’s also backed up by plenty of evidence. And being part of We’re Twins, resolutely informal as it was, was certainly part of what led to that conception.” Having recently published a book, Bangkok is Ringing: Sound, Protest, and Constraint, and guested on WFMU, where he played a variety of Thai pop records.

Voss remains involved in contemporary music. “I’m kind of doing the same stuff – still at WCBN, still playing guitar and writing music, mostly in secret now. I continued working with Patrick Elkins on music and puppetry projects through 2012, playing bass in the Rainbow Vomit Family Band for the last few years of that period. Melting Moments is still an active project. We try to practice once a year and continue to be able to create songs very quickly in short bursts spread over long periods of time.”

The official We’re Twins discography:

CDRs:
WRT001   Most Dangerous Game of Cat and Mouse Band “EP” 
WRT002   Strikeforce:Euler “S/T”
WRT003   Paraguay Today “Montevideo”
WRT004   Production Bee “#1”
WRT005   I Am a No’kazu Tak’mura Cover Band “The Gravity 500”
WRT005a Buckman-Kelley Overdrive
WRT006   Cannibal Kitten “15832”
WRT007   Lieutentant Disaster “Adrenaline Test Suit”
WRT008   Strikeforce:Euler “Mis s Goodthighs”
WRT009   Elizabeth “EP”
WRT00A   Most Dangerous Game of Cat and Mouse Band “Album” (never completed)
WRT00B   Savacald “’89”
WRT00C   Various Artists “Our Sampler 2001”
WRT00D   I Am a No’kazu Tak’mura Cover Band “2:58”
WRT00E   Various Artists “A We’re Twins Live EP”
WRT00F   State & William
WRT010   Ryan and Justin “sing, play chords, hit drums, make noise”
WRT011   Justin Shay “City Lights and Other Songs”
WRT012   Cockroach Huxtable “Maidmoiselle Disco Technique”
WRT013   Strikeforce:Euler “Everything to Do in Living is Smoking”
WRT014   I Am a No’kazu Tak’mura Cover Band “The Jean Tinguely Appreciation Society”
WRT015   X-Lemur “j.go”
WRT017   Production Bee “#2”
WRT018   S&WRMXPRJCT
WRT019   Bennett/Ilgenfritz “made for tv movies will extend yr career by 5ive years”
WRT020   And Spiders “In the Woods”
WRT025   Website “Circa ’88”
WRT026   Justin Shay “she said it looks like spring”
WRT027   Ice Cream Social “The Ice Cream Social Album”
WRT028   Ice Cream Socialist UK “The Ice Cream Socialists Come Alive!”
WRT029   The New Sound of My Bossa Nova “S/T”
WRT02A   Ever Will You Get There “Maybe We Can Help You Find a Place”
WRT02B   The New Sound of My Bossa Nova “For the Kids”
WRT02C   Various Artists “We’re Twins All Hallow’s Eve EP for 2003″WRT02D  Justin Shay and Patrick Elkins “Justin & Patrick”
WRT02E   Ever Will You Get There “Open Mic Ypsilanti”
WRT02F   “Hobo-A-Go-Go: The Official Tour CD”
WRT030   Jacob Danziger “August First”
WRT031   Capt’n Jus + the Fuck a robot band “remy didn’t give a damn”
WRT032   The Vix Krater “Panorama”
*WRT033   The New Sound of My Bossa Nova “Sing Songs of Love”
WRT034   Jib Kidder “Thirteen”
WRT035   Jason Voss “‘Arts & Crafts’ and other compositions for singer-songwriter”
WRT036   Patrick Elkins “The New Folk Sounds of Patrick Elkins” 
WRT037   Melting Moments “There Is A Rat In Separate”
WRT038   Umberto “There, A Somewhere Lies”
*WRT039   Kelly Jean Caldwell “LOBO”

Halloween 2005 releases:
Patrick Elkins “Fruits of the Spirit”
WRT03D  Justin Shay “Vocalizations 1”
WRT040  Various Artists “WRT 2005 Samp”

Vinyl:
WRT701   The Rants “Look Passive [7″]”
WRT702   Saturday Looks Good To Me “I Don’t Want to Go / Disaster” 7”

Various Artists – Handle With Care (Sabotage Recordings, 1996)

Sabotage Recordings was an electronic music label run by Robert Jelinek from 1995 until 1999, at which point its remaining inventory was melted down and used for the dance floor at Vienna’s nightclub, Flex. As that stunt might suggest, apart from releasing electronic music of various stripes, Sabotage also acted as a form of conceptual collective known for insidious pranks.

Jelinek and co. have concocted several past social experiments. Once, they concealed microphones in a private members club and broadcast the conversations publicly via speakers posted outside the building. On another occasion, they swapped out the guided-tour audio for an exhibition at a local art museum with audio about various art heists. They also once replaced the telephone book in a phone booth in Linz, Germany with ones from Linz, Austria.

The Sabotage Recordings label has also been home to its fair share of experiments. One particularly memorable occasion was a compilation, Handle With Care, which came out in 1996.

The back tray insert, complete with subtle warning regarding the virus.

Featuring a few artists affiliated with Sabotage and some one-offs (Zink and Line, for example, were obscure pseudonyms of a producer named Markus Brand), Handle With Care was, by Jelinek’s description, “very repetitive, loop-like” electronic music. What was interesting about it was that it came booby-trapped with a “friendly virus” which, when played in a CD-ROM drive, prevented the listener from opening the drive up to remove the CD. According to Jelinek, this virus was created by “local hackers from the Chaos Club Berlin” and was set to deploy once the first track was played. He also tells me the only way to rescue the CD was to find and trigger the manual release button on one’s CD-ROM drive. “There was no menu, no manual, no preparation,” he explains. “Program started automatically.”

Jelinek compares this booby-trapped CD to Merzbow’s famous, limited-to-one-copy Merzcar release, a fabled CDR of noise that came inside a car! According to the story, the owner of the Releasing Eskimo label, which put out Merzbow’s Noisembryo album, owned an out-of-commission Mercedes that the police had ordered him to move. So he decided to entice Merzbow fans to take his problem off his hands by rigging up the car’s CD player to play Noisembryo indefinitely, modifying the stereo to prevent users from turning it off or removing the disc. He then promoted Merzcar as an ultra-limited-edition Merzbow goodie. The interested customer was required to buy the whole car in order to obtain the CD, representing the apotheosis of elaborate packaging feats! Jelinek reflects that, much like the Merzcar, which is locked into a car stereo, doomed to be played on repeat for eternity, Handle With Care has “a romantic motive behind it: a piece of music inseparable, forever. Implemented with the technical know-how of the time.”

Back of the CD.

Jelinek tells me a bit more about customers’ experiences with the album. “It was often a nasty surprise for the ignorant and there was a need for explanation. The handling of computer viruses was new at the time and accordingly one was awkward but also careful.” He explains that people who knew that track one was booby-trapped would know they had to start the CD at track two.

Handle with Care was also given as a mean gift,” he recalls. “And some club owners contacted us because DJs played this CD and they didn’t know how to get it out of their devices. And again, it was about our patterns of action in dealing with technology, trust and manipulation.”

It’s no coincidence that the label’s name was Sabotage, and it’s an idea that Jelinek has carried forward long past the end of the formal imprint. In 2003, he established a sovereign state called State of Sabotage:

 The State of Sabotage (SoS) was founded as a sovereign state in 2003 on the unpopulated island Harakka in Finland by the Austrian artist ROBERT JELINEK. Even before it had existed the end of the state had already been planned and set for August 30 2013. Exactly after ten years. Independently from the exhibition date the validity of all documents such as SoS passports and ID cards ends with August 30th 2013.

from Jelinek’s website, sabotage.at

That state, destined to be sabotaged from the start, was, indeed, shut down on its intended date, but not before issuing passports and ID cards, and corresponding with the United Nations.

Though Handle With Care was one of many Jelinek-initiated acts of sabotage, it’s a particularly pithy one. A CD that commandeers your computer and plays itself endlessly — in today’s era of unlimited musical choice, such a state of sabotage is almost unthinkable.

New Blockaders – Epater Les Bourgois C46 (Frux, 1985)

In 1985, the seminal experimental group The New Blockaders put out a 46-minute cassette of silent audio named Epater Les Bourgois, which translates, minus spelling errors, to Shock The Bourgeois. Released on a short-lived eighties label named Frux and limited to merely 25 copies, the release has nonetheless attained a mythical status, leading to two separate reissues. The most recent re-release appeared in 2017, courtesy of a Swedish label whose lavish re-boot included a special version housed in a handmade box with a t-shirt and sundry other goodies. As the venerable noise blog Do or D.I.Y.? opined, “If you listen to this collection of tape hiss for longer than ten seconds, then you are beyond pretentious, and beyond help……and probably Middle Class/bourgeois.”

Although there is limited supporting documentation about Epater available, its absurd uselessness as an audio object is consistent with the New Blockaders’ credo. In 1982, they published a manifesto that was a rallying cry against art:

Blockade is resistance. It is our duty to blockade and induce others to blockade: Anti-music, anti-art, anti-books, anti-films, anti-communications. We will make anti-statements about anything and everything. We will make a point of being pointless.

Scan thanks to Mark Lally.

In his PhD dissertation, writer William Moran Hutson argues that The New Blockaders regarded their noise performances as distinct from music altogether:

Their concept divided all artistic expression into two categories: Art and Noise, which they equated with anti-art.

He reflects that their noise was simply a byproduct of the performances themselves, which were conceptual in nature, located more closely in the performance art realm than the music realm. He views the subsequent boom of noise musicians, who peddled tapes and records through the eighties, nineties, and beyond, as diverging from the main point of The New Blockaders’ sound. While they enjoyed and perpetuated the sonic properties of noise, TNB’s motivations were conceptual, not sensory, in nature.

TNB’s extensive body of abstract noise tapes, records, and CDs stands as a testament to this philosophy of purposelessness, though by this metric, Epater seems like the conceptual apogee of their body of work. How better to subvert the expectations of music than with 46-minutes of silence on tape? It was an idea so good that they repeated it in 1991 with their blank tape Simphonie In Ø Minor, which much later was reissued on vinyl.

I reached out to Richard Rupenus, core member of TNB, to help shed some light on Epater and his other silent work. Epater was the first silent composition they released, but not the last, and he generously outlined the full history of TNB’s silent compositions, which I’ve summarized in a table at the end of this post.

Flyer for Epater Les Bourgois (notice the ‘E’ in Bourgeois scrawled out). Provided courtesy of Richard Rupenus

Regarding the motives behind Epater Les Bourgois, which he refers to in its properly-spelled form, Rupenus seems somewhat unsure. “I can’t recall what the ‘concept’ behind Epater Les Bourgeois was, if there even was a concept. Some reviews assumed that it must have been influenced by John Cage’s (in)famous ‘4:33’ but that wasn’t the case. The Pulp (w/ David Jackman) 7” had been described (by Paul Lemos in Unsound) as ‘Relentless musical violence, the most savage aural attack ever committed to vinyl’ so perhaps I wanted Epater Les Bourgeois to be the polar opposite of that?!”

He then provides some background on the title. “‘Épater les bourgeois’ is a French phrase that became a rallying cry for the French Decadent poets of the late 19th century including Arthur Rimbaud. It will not translate precisely into English, but is usually rendered as, ‘To shock the respectable classes.’ As stated in the sleevenotes to the the Nonchalant Acts Of Artistic Nihilism CD: ‘…Volume isn’t always the end-game. Silence is often far more interesting.’”

Frux

Frux was a short-lived record label run by Mark Lally, who was a teenager when he put it out. “I was one of those punkee kids that wrote to Crass and asked them questions when I was about 13 and I was going to do a punk zine,” he tells me via Facebook. “I was getting my records then from Probe Records which Pete Burns from Dead or Alive used to work for. He looked like Marilyn Manson in 1979, with dark contact lenses and a nun bone necklace from Bryan Gregory of The Cramps. I am from one of them underclass UK council estates about a mile in size, so it’s a proper no future thing. I funded my label with my 25£ a week wages and college grants and put any profits from releases back into the next release when I got the label more organised with distribution through Rough Trade.”

Mention of Frux in Dave Henderson’s Wild Planet column, Sounds magazine, August 1984. Thanks to Mark Lally for the scan.

Epater Les Bourgois was the third Frux tape. His first, a compilation called Not By Chance, featured tracks from Muslimgauze and Band of Holy Joy. Second in line was a collaboration release between TNB and Organum. He heard about the artists for these releases from Dave Henderson’s seminal Wild Planet column in Sounds magazine, and via suggestions from mail correspondence with artists, then reached out to them to contribute to Frux releases.

His connection with TNB was, similarly, a function of networking. “I just heard about them somewhere in 1983 to get a track for my compilation LP, Born Out of Dreams.”  They submitted a silent track entitled “Seinsart.” “I liked what they did and their manifesto so I just asked if I could release something else, whatever it was.”

“They might have done it as a joke or they might have been doing very anti music but I just released it anyway,” Lally explains. “It was a manufactured tape from the cassette copying place. It cost money to do, was not just a blank tape put in a cassette case. I did the label bit of the artwork for that tape — the expensive recent reissue copied that style. They might have sent me a blank tape which was copied or something. Have you been in touch with them about it? They do not say much. I did not tell them I was a kid releasing stuff.”

“The tape sold out at the time, quickly,” he recalls. “I do not know if people knew it was going to be silent though.”

Reissuing a Silent Tape

Kenny Johansson is a Swedish noise artist who records under the name Obskyr. He is also the owner of the Obskyr Records label, which in 2017 took on the extraordinary task of reissuing Epater Les Bourgois.

By Skype, Johansson talked to me about this unusual project. Johansson recalls obtaining the original tape years ago, only to be pleasantly surprised that the tape was blank. “I was like ‘Oh, yeah this is so great… oh wait there is nothing… even better!’” He has been a long-time fan of The New Blockaders’ irreverent take on music.

Ten years ago, he emailed Richard Rupenus, one of half of The New Blockaders, asking for his address to send some materials. “It felt natural to send gifts to a great guy like him. He and his younger brother Philip made ‘noise’ to what it is today and I am forever grateful for their work.” They ended up striking a friendship and have collaborated on many releases ever since, including a bizarre KISS tribute album under the name Torpedo Girl.

The special edition version of Epater Les Bourgeois, limited to one-copy. “White labels on black cassette C46 cassette, clear jewelcase with printed J-card. Case is affixed to the front of the box as part of artwork. 7″ black lathe cut with a large centerhole (jukebox) in handmade sleeve and partially painted/printed labels, housed in a dark wooden boxset with a Anti – 7″ vinyl, rusty junk and spewing tapes attached to the base of the box interior, and then coated with transparent crystal resin solution, sticker attached to back of box: ‘An exclusive release by Obskyr Records on Cassette Store Day 2017’. Also a 1″ pin is included.” (Discogs)

In the late 2010s, Johansson was working on a reissue of a New Blockaders seven-inch single from 1992, “Epater Les Bourgeois,” to be released on a Japanese experimental label called Siren Records. Though that single shares almost the same name as the tape (except properly spelled), it had more typical noise fare on it and was not silent. But it occurred to Johansson that the silent cassette Epater might be worth reissuing too, albeit on his own label.

“I asked Richard if we could do a reissue as it is a favorite of mine,” Johansson recalls. “Richard was very skeptical at first. But when I told him about my plans, he later agreed and we both had a blast working on it.” Johansson requested the master of Epater from Rupenus and received one in the mail.

“When I sent the master tape to Tapeline who made the tapes, they sent me an email saying, ‘Sorry but the cassette was empty, please send a new one.’ Ha! I sent an email back, ‘The tape is not empty, just silent, please proceed with the duplication!’ I think they raised their eyebrows a lot!”

Johansson acknowledges that there is some tape hiss on the reissue, which means it’s not entirely blank. It’s the magnetic equivalent to the pops and cracks that appear on the surface of silent records – reminders of the medium itself.

Epater Les Bourgois, tape (Frux, 1985). Later reissued on CDR (Kubitsuri Tapes, 2009) and tape (Obskyr Records, 2017). The original release was a blank tape.
“Seinsart,” track on Born Out of Dreams compilation LP (Frux, 1985)
Simphonie In Ø Minor, tape (Hypnagogia, 1991). Later reissued on LP (Harbinger Sound, 2009) and included on a 4-CD boxset, Gesamtnichtswerk: 20th Antiversary Antiology (Hypnagogia, 2003). The original release was a blank tape. Soon to be reissued on Menstrual Recordings, along with Simphonie in X Minor, described in Sound Projector magazine as “a full panoply of wild sounds: junkyard percussion, racing cars and industrial power tools, all providing a sense of unstoppable forward motion.”
“Null Bei Ohr,” track on Gesamtnichtswerk: 20th Antiversary Antiology 4-CD boxset (Hypnagogia, 2003). The audio, according to Rupenus, is “pure digital silence.”
Adapted from Richard Rupenus’ list of TNB silent works.

Unsolved Mysteries: The Invaders – “Night Ride” b/w “Invaders Twist” (Pacer, 1962)

(Image source: Discogs)

As always, if you can help shed light on our Unsolved Mysteries, please do! Any information is very much appreciated — please leave it in the comments section, and I will update the post, with credit, accordingly.

[See the end of this article for an exciting update!]

While listening to Fool’s Paradise, a rockabilly, surf, and rock & roll show on WFMU, I heard a thrilling instrumental surf track called “Night Ride” by an act called The Invaders. The band appears to be a trio — drums, bass, and guitar. A simple but momentous bass line incites matters, after which a wave of amateurish but rollicking drums sets an off-kilter pace, while a fluctuating guitar line brings the treble.

According to Discogs, this was put out in 1962 on a local, one-off record label named Pacer, based in a small city in Ohio named Delaware. The writing credits were Balogh, Iver, and May.

“Night Ride” and, in one case, its b-side, “Invaders Twist,” have appeared on a handful of compilations of obscure rock and roll singles over the years, released on specialist labels with titles like Realllll Rrrrrockin’ and Rare Rockers From Small 1950’s Labels Vol. 3 and, my favourite, The Best Of Greasy Rock ‘N’ Roll Volume 6. But no information survives about the band itself.

Greasy! (Image source: Discogs)

I did some digging. There is a Pacer Inn and Suites Motel in Delaware, which matches the record label. Unfortunately, all three names listed as writer credits are common ones, so Google searching those names in conjunction with “Delaware Ohio” and “Ohio” is of limited utility.

Eventually, I reached out to the Facebook page of Endangered Species, a Delaware OH shop that bills itself as “The Last Record Store On Earth.” Stephen from the store responded quickly, letting me that they get a copy into the shop every once in awhile. He clarified that the term “Pacer” has special significance in Delaware. “We are the home of The Little Brown Jug horse race and the horses are called ‘pacers,'” he explained. “It is the team name for the local high school as well, The Delaware Hayes Pacers.”

108 Spring St., Delaware, OH, circa Aug 2012, according to Google Maps. This is the address listed as the Pacer record label HQ on the “Night Ride” single. A pesky tree obscures our view.

Stephen told me he’s worked in the shop for forty years, but has never been able to clarify the origin of the single, suspecting it was self-produced and self-financed by some “local teens.” “We get a copy in now and then and if in nice shape, sell it for $2.99.” Considering copies have sold for $66 on Discogs, that’s quite a steal!

If you can shed light on the mystery, please do! Include any relevant information in the Comments section and I will update this listing, with proper credit provided.

UPDATE! July 20, 2020: Mystery Solved!

David May, one third of the Invaders, left a comment on this very page (see below) and connected with me via email to fill me in on the Invaders story!

May now lives in Brentwood, Tennessee, but he grew up in Delaware, Ohio. He started the Invaders in fall of 1961 after meeting a new friend, Tom Ivers. They were both in high school. “We played as a duo for a time and used the name The Invaders, boasting ‘rock-it to the music that’s out of this world!’ After a few weeks our ambition grew and we found a drummer named Greg Balogh – at a different high school – and we became a trio doing instrumentals. We were the only band we knew about in the area and were invited to play at lots of local events and parties. We did have a few original compositions and decided we should make a record. Greg’s grandfather owned a local recreation area named Eckels Lake and he offered to underwrite our recording session.”

They were managed by Rick Scarry, who had recently graduated from their high school, and who was working as a radio DJ. “He had connections with radio and TV people in Columbus and one, Jerry Beck, knew his way around the recording studio and distribution channels.

“We did our recording session at Coronet Records in Columbus and 500 copies were pressed at Columbia Records in Chicago. The records were placed in local record shops in central Ohio and in juke boxes. Local radio stations played it quite a bit in April, 1962 and we often joined disc jockeys at sock hops they hosted all over central Ohio. We were featured guest recording artists! Our band’s lifespan was fairly short, however, as I left town in the fall for college in Kentucky.  We may have reconvened a time or two after that, but I never went back to Delaware once I was in college.

“The Pacer Records label was inspired by the harness racing theme that was a big deal in Delaware.  One of the triple crown races of harness racing, The Little Brown Jug, was held every September in Delaware. Our high school mascot was a pacer. Thus, Pacer Records. The address on the record label was the home address of Rick Scarry, our manager.

“Rick left Delaware himself a few years later and became a very popular radio personality in Los Angeles during the 70’s and 80’s. Following that, he embarked on a successful career in movies, television, and commercials. He is still active in that industry today. I have been in contact with Rick over the past few years, and most recently about these findings, and he is as surprised as I am.”

The story of how May came across this blog post is its own story. “I have been playing guitar since the late 1950’s and focus mainly on instrumentalists from the late fifties and early sixties,” May says. “I am constantly looking for new things to learn to play from that era. I search eBay for ‘rockin’ guitar instrumentals’ once or twice a year. A search I made in April led me to an album titled Guitar Runaway and as I scanned the track listings my eyes settled on track seven, side one, by The Invaders. It was titled ‘Invader’ (not ‘Invader Twist’ – the true title) but the writer credits were the names of our band members. I was stunned by this finding because it never, ever entered my mind that our recording would ever get out of central Ohio and certainly wouldn’t have acquired any interest from collectors or record manufacturers.

“I also found out at that same time that both sides were actually posted to YouTube. I messaged the person who posted ‘Night Ride’ about how he was able to post it to YouTube and he revealed to me that the song was found on an album, Rare Rockers From Small 50’s Labels. He furnished me the link to Discogs, which listed that album. From that link I was able to make the discovery of all six of the compilations that contain one or the other side of our recording. That was my initial exposure to Discogs. There are currently 36 of the various albums containing our record for sale by Discogs members. The sellers are all over the world. I am just absolutely astonished by these findings, and quite enthusiastic to say the least. I have had contact with several Discogs members in the past week about the record.  One man in Belgium paid $167 for his copy of it.

“I was directed to the article in your website by another member of Discogs community. He owns a copy of our record and was identified on the website as an owner. I messaged him asking how he came to acquire the record, and he shared a lot of interesting information with me in his reply. He first heard the recording on the same radio show you mention in your article. He even shared with me playlists for the several dates on which he heard our record played!  He put in a saved search on eBay for the record and finally after three years waiting a copy came up for bid which he acquired in 2017.

“In his delightful message of reply to my inquiry he sent me the link to your article about our record in Anomaly Index, May, 2020. I can’t tell you just how excited I was to read what you had to say and to have the opportunity to provide the information you were seeking about the band and the record.

“Today I called the owner of the record store, Endangered Species, in Delaware, Ohio, that you had communicated with. I shared information with him about the band and about the members. We had a wonderful conversation, and he recalled communicating with you about it.”

May updated me on his pursuits and the whereabouts of the former Invaders. “I know that Tom Ivers, the other guitarist, has deceased some few years ago. I have been unable to locate Greg Balogh, the drummer, but have information that as recently as two to three years ago he still lived in Delaware. I asked Patrick Bailey, the record store owner, to help me trace down Greg, if possible, so there’s a chance I might still find him. I know he will be or would have been delighted to hear how our little self-financed record has achieved a world-wide following (sort of!).

“After college, I enjoyed a 34-year career with Southern Bell/BellSouth telecommunications company, retiring in 2000. I took a hiatus from playing for several years but resumed in the late 1980’s when my oldest son became interested in playing guitar. I have been spending lots of time playing ever since. I also have a nice collection of guitars and amplifiers. Nothing really valuable, just for variety’s sake. I have a good friend that plays drums and we have played gigs for several years identifying ourselves as The Elderly Brothers. My oldest son plays bass guitar with us quite often. We play exclusively music of our teenage years, 1956-64. Keeping the beat alive, so to speak.”

May expresses gratitude for the interest in his decades-old record. “This experience of the last couple months has really elevated the spirits of this old man!! 58 years after our record’s release into obscurity.”

Thanks to David May for the interview and for the images.

Mark Pawson ‎– 8705640 anti-7″ (self-released, 1984)

(Source: Discogs)

About nine years ago, around 2011, a strange record turned up on Discogs, titled 8705640 and credited to an artist named Mark Pawson. I came across it while cruising a list of silent records compiled by a user named “type.” The record’s title corresponds to a strange barcode on the front cover, and it was listed as an anti-record because, as the images showed, the record itself had crude, hand-etched grooves, leading to a warning:

Could be played, but WILL cause severe needle damage.

Curious about this anti-record, I tracked the artist down. It turns out he is a mail art veteran who has published books and staged exhibitions of visual art.

How did the idea for this hand-etched record come about?

Through play and experimentation, and using readily available materials/techniques. I was about 19 when I made this and making  printed materials such as spraypainted postcards, photocopied leaflets and an assembling publication. Distributing to personal friends and via the mail art network. I think this was a one-off – (probably) made as a contribution to a specific Mail Art project/exhibition.

(Source: Discogs)

Were you aware of other hand-etched or damaged records, or records where people are encouraged to carve their own sounds into the grooves? Was there any conceptual/philosophical background? (Yours is one of the earliest incarnations of this theme).

At this point in time no, but I’d seen self-released records, with folded photocopy/handprinted sleeves, rubber-stamped labels, etc — so that DIY/self-made aspect was more of an influence. The felt-tip pen spirals on the labels were inspired/copied from one of those. My idea was for patterns and textures on the sleeve, labels, vinyl, 

What else was going on (in your life, in your musical life) around the time the record came out?

It was the period between school in my hometown, Lymm, Cheshire, UK – the address which is on the sleeve – and moving to London to attend University. Very active in the Mail Art Network – which was my art education. At this time made some very rough tape overdubbed ‘music’ (but nothing since then). Listening to the John Peel radio show,  buying a few records (but i didn’t have a record player for a long time!) and going to gigs – when I had the money – and when I could get a lift. Locally – Dislocation Dance, Mudhutters, in Warrington – Membranes, Drones, A Certain Ratio, At the Manchester Apollo – Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Skids, Altered Images, Vic Godard &  Subway Sect, most of the 2-Tone bands, The Clash, Orange Juice, The Mo-dettes, Diagram Brothers, Stray Cats, Barracudas… At the Hacienda in Manchester, Undertones, New Order, The Final Academy -PTV/Wm Burroughs/Brion Gysin…

(Source: Discogs)

Can you take me through how you made them? What was the process for creating the covers and for creating and etching the records? (Were they blank records or recycled records?)

Cover – I used this photocopier-generated print for several projects/purposes, kind of as a generic device.  Record was re-used, it was hard to scratch with any accuracy/precision, think I used the end of a screwdriver and pressed down really hard.

How was it distributed?

Gift/exchange

How many copies were made?

I think this was a one-off, it is possible there might have been  a couple more, don’t think I still have any.

What did people think of the record? What was the response like?

I don’t know!

Do you have any interesting stories related to the release?

It was interesting to see that it appeared on Discogs!

Just to make sure I understand — this was only produced in a single edition of 1-3 copies? And then it popped up on Discogs without your intervention?

YES!

I know that, apart from this, you are involved with numerous artistic projects, including zines, books, and visual art. Your website is amazing! I wanted to know a little bit more about you — some background on where are you from, roughly how old are you, and what do you do outside of your involvement in arts?

Website and Instagram gives a pretty good idea of what I get up to. I’m 56, live in East London, I’m a bookmaker, book seller, Lecturer, artist, writer…

Thanks for filling us in on this strange release!

Mark Pawson’s website.

Lost Albums: Various Artists – BritneyWave (Sunbeam Records)

Lost Albums is a way of documenting records that exist in some manner, but don’t exist in the public realm — records that were recorded but shelved, records that almost-happened, records that never were.

In late 2018, a vaporwave label called Sunbeam Records, responsible primarily for digital releases, put out a call for submissions for a new tribute album. Run by two vaporwave producers named Opal and 氷河, Sunbeam was not new to tribute albums. They had put out two tributes already, one dedicated to the enigmatic Luxury Elite (who has since disappeared entirely), one focused on the producer Waterfront Dining, and the other an homage to 猫 シ Corp., a Dutch performer named Jornt Elzinga responsible for one of the seminal mallsoft records, Palm Mall.

But this tribute was different. They were pitching a vaporwave tribute to a very non-vaporwave artist, Britney Spears. The Oct 29, 2018 tweet came with the following image:

I connected with Opal via email to learn the background behind this proposed compilation, which had some submissions but never panned out. “Sunbeam has not been active for some time, due to me owing some people a few physical orders, and BritneyWave did in fact never come out,” Opal explained. 

Opal, who is in his early twenties and lives in “Amish country, Pennsylvania,” works full-time at Subway and produces music, plays video games, watches movies, and enjoys the outdoors. He is saving money now, possibly to go to at school. “I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I’m excited to see,” he tells me.

He explained how he caught the vaporwave bug. “I got interested in vaporwave a couple years ago, probably about 2015-16, when a friend kept playing a lot of it for me.” He, by then, had been exposed to Macintosh Plus’ Floral Shoppe, a seminal vaporwave record known for its post-modern mash of diverse sources, ranging from the now-forgotten seventies soft-rock band Pages to the soundtrack to the Nintendo 64 game Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. But it was the experience of completing schoolwork and listening to Canadian producer Blank Banshee’s 2013 album, Blank Banshee 1, that sealed the deal, inspiring him to download the sound editing program Audacity and to start experimenting with his own productions.

He then discovered a subgenre of vaporwave called late night lo-fi, which uses smooth jazz samples to evoke the experience of being up at night, circa 1993, watching TV and staring out the window of one’s luxury condo. It was Late Night Delight, a split release between Luxury Elite and Saint Pepsi, that did it for Opal. “I fell in love with it and spent probably a good month listening to many artists, like Saint Pepsi, Luxury Elite, Waterfront Dining, and tons more.

“Part of the reason that vaporwave appeals to me so much is because I grew up on classic rock and that blended into me discovering eighties pop. Vaporwave combines the internet era, which I am very acquainted with, and eighties pop. It’s a way to take an already created piece and make it your own. It also opens doors for me to explore new music that has been out for years that I’ve never heard before. It kind of symbolizes the known and unknown for me. It’s a blend of future, present, and past.”

Sunbeam Records occurred when Opal met 氷河 over Twitter. “I had wanted to do a collaboration project, and we met based on a tweet I had put out asking if anyone would like to either collaborate or make a split album,” he recalls. “氷河 messaged me and said he was interested. And so, our collab project ゴールデンアイ1997 was born. Shortly after our first album came out on Flamingo Vapor, I decided I wanted to start my own netlabel. And so, I figured who better to help me than my collaboration partner? I asked if he was interested and he said yes. And so we started Sunbeam Records. Most of the music in the beginning, and throughout the span of it, was made by us, with the occasional release by an artist or friend.”

Eventually came Sunbeam’s tribute compilations, which remain among their most popular releases. “The tribute albums were an idea I had while thinking about artists I personally liked, and realizing a lot of them, while similar, have a signature sound. I thought it might be a fun and interesting experience to invite artists to try to mimic their favorite artists’ sounds, while staying true to themselves. And as it turns out, a lot of other people liked the idea as well. Our first tribute, an album dedicated to Waterfront Dining, was by far the most popular album we released at the time. And so I decided to continue with them. We released a Luxury Elite tribute and a Cat System Corp. tribute. To this day, people still ask about them. The artists who were featured talk about them. A few have approached me about doing tributes to other artists. I think what appeals to me about this format is the sense of community. Many people were inspired by these artists to make their own music, and it’s a fun way to see how each person interprets the music and makes it their own, while still having the umbrella of us all having the same influence.

BritneyWave came about from a friend who really likes Britney Spears. An artist known as Valet Girls. He made a joking comment about making a Britney tribute, and I actually liked the idea. I thought it was a little more out there, but I knew a lot of people who liked her as well. Unfortunately, it marked the end of the tributes thus far, because we only got a handful of scattered submissions. At this point in time, I’m not planning on ever releasing it, but maybe sometime in the future if it becomes a popular idea again…

“We only received about four submissions. One was a male vocal cover of a slowed down ‘Toxic.’ The other three were original vapor pop pieces.”

As of late, Sunbeam has seemed to close up shop. “Sunbeam has petered out right now because of one simple problem. I got in over my head. I offered a CD set for a group of albums, and once a few people ordered, I realized I didn’t have experience shipping things out of the US. I decided to take hiatus with the label until I fulfilled people’s orders. Once I do so, we will be back up and running. The other reason we stopped is because I felt like most people didn’t really care to listen other than the tribute albums, and so we didn’t get many submissions.”

Sunbeam is an online endeavour primarily, but Opal mentions that he had made connections with people IRL. “There’s a handful of people locally interested, namely a man who fronts a local dream-pop band called Vicious Blossom. He contacted me through my Bandcamp and asked if I’d be interested in remixing their music. He also has proposed a music project mixing vapor and dreampop. We’ve grown to be pretty decent friends I feel.”

And he’s managed to intrigue a few associates. “My family and friends and girlfriend all know about vaporwave. I practically never shut up about it. They’re all proud, and a few are curious about vaporwave. Most of them never knew about it before me.”

Robe. – Did I Not Bid Thee to Arise CDR (Vade Retro Records, 2008)

Robe. was the doom project of two twentysomethings from Indiana, Adam Cooley and Kyle Willey. Over their run, Robe. released dozens of albums on CDR and cassette, some of which had interesting backstories, including an album recorded in a bathtub and a box set whose every copy came with a different bodily byproduct. Did I Not Bid Thee to Arise was one of their most unusual records.

I met with Robe. member Kyle Willey over Skype to discuss a number of the band’s releases, including this peculiar CDR. Unfortunately, Adam passed away several years ago, at the age of 27. Kyle, who still misses his friend deeply, credits Adam’s dynamic personality and zest for innovation as key factors in Robe.’s sprawling discography. The idea for Did I Not Bid Thee to Arise was a classic exponent of his offbeat creativity. Kyle explained to me that Adam used to spend a lot of time listening to music in his car, often blasting releases that they had recorded together . Their work together was all about experimentation, and they started to wonder if it might be possible to record a full release in a car – intended to be listened to while driving.

To make it happen, numerous details had to be sorted out, including where to sit and how to power up their instruments. Adam suggested using a portable mixing board connected to the cigarette lighter via an adapter. They then figured out they could both fit in the trunk of the car, lying flat in opposite orientations, while a friend played trombone in the backseat. Adam played guitar and Kyle played bass; using the mixer, they could modulate the relative volume of the trombone. Another friend was behind the wheel, responsible for driving the band to Indianapolis and back, the trombone blaring just behind her. Because they were in a car trunk, it was a dark ride. This was made worse after Kyle dropped his flashlight as the car hit a bump; it fell under his back and lodged there, leading to an uncomfortable ride and two days of back pain.

After the drive, they chopped up the recording, isolating its best moments then shuffling the pieces together into a record they were proud of, naming the album and its songs after de-contextualized quotes from Edgar Allan Poe stories. The release was put out on CDR by an Italian label called Vade Retro, run by Steve Spettro, who also performs as Spettro Family. Kyle tells me that he is still occasionally in touch with him, and that the label even arranged for Robe. to appear in three issues of a still-running Italian music magazine called Blow Up, including a three-page interview published entirely in Italian around the time that the album was released.

Did I Not Bid Thee to Arise is available on Bandcamp. It’s an entrancing collection, primarily composed of droning guitar tones, though the trombone appears at times, deep in the mix, hollowed out by infinite layers of reverb. The one noisy freakout jam, “Into The Outer Night,” is almost a diversion, coming right before the album’s finest moment, the sepulchral “The Conquering Worm.” Suffice to say, you would never guess that this disc was recorded in a car.

Atrax Morgue – 000000000000000000 anti-cassette (Slaughter Productions, 1995)

Atrax Morgue, born Marco Corbelli, was an Italian noise artist obsessed with the concept of death. Over the course of a long career on the experimental music avant-garde, dating back to 1992, Corbelli issued a stream of releases dealing with the subject, from 1993’s In Search of Death (which was more industrial than noise) to releases like Autoerotic Death (a C60 of analog synthesizer improvisation released on BloodLust! in 1996, and later reissued in a deluxe box edition by Urashima) and Close to a Corpse (a live performance from 2001 issued in a 3-CDR set). Many of these came out on his very own Slaughter Productions.

Corbelli, sadly, died by suicide in 2007, though reissues and even new releases of his work continue to trickle out, reflecting the impression he made on noise listeners.

One of Atrax Morgue’s more unusual releases was this item from November 14, 1995, also released on his Slaughter Productions imprint. Reported as a limited edition of “00000000000000000 copies,” it was a box for an old VHS tape which, when opened, revealed the mangled parts of an audio cassette laid on a bedding of burnt cotton.

Corbelli’s motivations behind this release aren’t fully known, but the packaging includes a clue, the cover describing it as “an example of real ‘dead music,'” which suggests this was yet another manifestation of his long-standing fascination with death. Corbelli also warns the anti-tape’s recipient:

"do not use a tape recorder for listening
just use your brain and think that music is DEAD."

Incidentally, it has been written that, prior to releasing music under the name Atrax Morgue, Corbelli produced several A5 zines under the name Marco Rotula, namely The Pleasure Agony, Sick, and Murder. These apparently dealt with themes of “sadism, schizophrenia, insanity, murder, psychosis, necrophilia, diseases, and most importantly, death.” To my knowledge, none of these zines have materialized in digital form — I wonder if copies are still out there and, if so, whether they might find their way online.

[Cover images courtesy of https://www.diary.ru/~comusic/p133807913.htm?oam]

Spiegelsplitter ‎– Spiegelsplitter anti-7″ (Rocktopus, 1981)

Image of the Spiegelsplitter anti-record from Dirk Schlömer’s collection.

Twelve years back, a strange anti-record turned up on Discogs, credited to a German duo named Spiegelsplitter. Images revealed a grooveless LP that appeared etched with the band’s name in stylized letters, alongside a Xerox-collage cover. A note was included in the listing:

Not released for commercial, only send to stores, radio stations, discotheques etc. to promote the debut-release “Spiegelsplitterspitz”

Spiegelsplitter was the duo of Dirk Schlömer and Peter R. Deininger, responsible for one lone 1981 single called Spiegelsplitterspitz, which was released on both the seven-inch and twelve-inch formats.

Intrigued by this unusual artifact, I spoke with Schlömer via Skype, and he generously filled me in on the story behind the release. He told me he was a guitarist in a conventional rock and new wave band called Cöln when he decided to leave and form a synth-wave duo in Berlin within the Neue Deutsche Welle mould. His friends were shocked by the change.

The concept behind Spiegelsplitter, whose name referred to a mirror breaking, was to de-prioritize the guitar in favour of sequencers. Schlömer was the instrumentalist and Deininger was the singer.

Spiegelsplitterspitz was recorded at Hansa Tonstudio, just next to the Berlin Wall — the same studio where David Bowie wrote the lyrics to “Heroes,” Schlömer mentioned. The A-side is up on YouTube; it’s a jagged post-punk opus with abrasive samples that estimate the sound of a shattering mirror. Schlömer told me they had recorded enough material for a full album, though it was never released, apparently because Deininger joined a travesti troupe and no longer had time for the band.

The anti-record in question was crafted by Deininger, and was actually one of two promotional items produced to help draw attention to the release of Spiegelsplitterspitz. The other item was a series of mirror pieces with a similar design on them, a reference to the single’s name, which refers to shards from a broken mirror. The blank LPs were individually stamped with the band’s name using a hand-crafted stamp created by Deininger. “It was a promotional tool,” Schlömer explained. “The idea, as always, was to cause some curiosity or some questions, like you have now. It was sent mainly to radio DJs or music journalists.”

He estimates that there were between 300 and 500 copies produced, the blank vinyl coming from a pressing plant. He stressed that the record was not intended as a conceptual statement, but instead to help promote the actual single. It came with some unusual liner notes which included photocopies of Schlömer and Deininger’s passports. “We really wanted something strange, something disturbing, but not politically, but more in a Dada way, or, as said, surreal. That is why we put in copies of our passport, and the only photos that music magazines had, were those passport photos you see on the paper.”

He wasn’t aware that it had been posted to Discogs, and was tickled to find the release there. Since Spiegelsplitter split up, Schlömer has been involved extensively in music. To this day, he runs a studio and record label called AmygdaLand, which has, as of late, released some great guitar-based music in a drone / ambient vibe.

Dirk Schlömer’s copy, from another angle.

Fukte – The Threatening Aspects of Technology hard drive (Toxic Industries, 2016)

(Source: Discogs)

Fukte* is the name of the noise project operated by Fabrizio De Bon, who lives in northeast Italy and has run his Toxic Industries label since 2009. He arrived at noise music through black metal, in particular through the various side projects of Mz.412 and its most famous member, Henrik Nordvargr Björkk. His first noise record was by Björkk solo project Hydra Head 9, which he bought on on a whim because he was intrigued by the cover. And while his initial impression was that he had wasted his money, he forced himself to listen a few times and eventually saw the light. He started recording noise experiments in 2004, at first using a “very cheap microphone” and an old copy of Fruity Loops. He eventually built his own contact mic and invested in distortion pedals and a proper mixer, preferring the analog sound for his noise.

He didn’t release any of his noise until 2009, when he put out his first release, a split-cassette with his pal, Escaton, that had motherboards glued to the front of the cassette cases, grinded to shape by De Bon himself. Over the decade he’s spent releasing music on his label, De Bon has earned a name for the distinctive packaging of his releases. He often utilizes broken computer parts in his packages, which he primarily sources from his work in I.T. In the past, his concepts have included repurposed circuit boards and releasing a three-inch CDR inside malfunctioning hard drive cases. Most of his elaborate packages have been issued on a sub-label called Very Toxic. Another sub-label, Irritant, is dedicated to Harsh Noise Wall music only, and limits all releases to 33 copies.

His 2016 release, The Threatening Aspects Of Technology, wasn’t just a packaging novelty. It was an album whose format was hard drives, namely old internal drives recycled from work.

(Source: Discogs)

In an interview over Skype, he told me the story of the audio itself, explaining that it was recorded during a rehearsal session. Trying to create a Harsh Noise Wall, he carefully tuned his gear to get the noise he wanted to hear. “I said OK, let’s try to set up the gear in a way I like,” De Bon explained. “After a couple hours of adjusting the noise, I found the sound that I was interested in. I said okay, let’s leave it to evolve for a couple minutes.

“After twenty minutes, I came back, then thought I’d stretch the experiment, change it a little bit, a slight movement of the knobs, or the position of the microphone. Then I thought why not go even farther than this. I decided to leave all night, then went to work. All this time, the sound was evolving itself.”

After two and a half days, he figured it was time to stop the recording, though it took two and a half hours for his computer to save the file. He has never listened to the whole thing, only having listened to a few parts to “follow the flow a little bit.”

(Source: Discogs)

He copied the files to the outdated hard drives, producing ten copies of this inaccessible release on its inaccessible format, which requires that the owner purchase the necessary cables to connect the hard drive to their computer. About half the copies were sold, and half were traded with other noise artists and labels. And while he figures that most people obtained their copies to “collect it as a weird piece of noise music,” he does know of one friend who endeavored to listen to the whole thing. That friend consulted with De Bon about what equipment he needed to hook it into his laptop, then bought it all on Amazon. He listened to the whole thing, in hours-long chunks, over the course of a few weeks.

De Bon was impressed by this, since even he had never listened to the whole thing, only listening to a few snippets to get a general sense of what it sounded like.

*De Bon wants you to know that Fukte is pronounced ˈfukˈtɛ (i.e. fook-teh), not the far more vulgarˈfʌkt (fuckt).