The Waste of Plastic tape series (SRR, 2004-2005)

“This seemed so stupid at the time that I had to try it.”

In 2004 and 2005, a Portland, Oregon label called SRR, about which little information persists, put out a series of one-minute cassettes called “Waste of Plastic.”

Short music is an area of study unto itself, but this series is notable because it produced at least eighteen releases, including tapes by noise music legends like The Haters, The Rita, Pedestrian Deposit, and The Cherry Point. Each edition was one minute in length, meaning 30 seconds per side.

The main surviving relic of Waste of Plastic is an incomplete Discogs listing , but through some complicated web searching, I was able to track down Travis Henke, who ran the label.

“So I started SRR while I was a junior in high school in 2003,” he tells me. “I was from Portland, Oregon at the time, which had a rather robust noise scene during those years. My first introduction to noise was through a no-wave band I was playing in at the time.”

That band’s vocalist, Dennis Naslund — whom Henke considers “the most interesting person I’ve ever known,” was into bands like Negativland, Smegma, and The Residents, which was how Henke got interested in experimental music. Henke and Naslund formed the band ith/ist/ism, which put out a few releases on Naslund’s bizarre label, The Terrorists Win!

“During that time, our whole interest was just doing absurd things with music,” Henke says. “We primarily recorded found sounds, junk covered in contact mics, circuit bent toys, etc. I think we even did a Crass cover.”

ith/ist/ism’s undated release, Forensic Ska/Reggae Vol. 1: Expeditions Into The Aesthetically Obsolete, which came in a sealed bag with a whole bunch of inserts. (Source: Discogs)

Eventually, Henke formed his own solo noise project named Dance Wounds. “I really had no idea what I was doing and just set off with a couple of distortion pedals, a contact mic I made from a piezoelectric transducer from Radio Shack, and a Behringer mixer. I started a tape label just to get my own stuff out there, which I called Self Released Records.”

Prior to getting involved in noise, he was interested in hardcore punk, and especially the hyper-fast, hyper-short genre known as powerviolence. That’s how he came across Slap-A-Ham’s seminal miniature (and unplayable) records, specifically a two-inch record by The Slight Slappers and a one-inch record by Spazz. “I never owned a copy of those two SAH releases, but a friend did. I seem to remember them being Barbie records that were repurposed. Oddly enough, that friend is now putting out 3” lathe cut records of powerviolence bands that are allegedly playable.”

Those novelty records fueled an interest in “ridiculous music formats,” which he parlayed into several experiments. “I made a split ‘record’ between Dance Wounds and (fellow noise artist) Haruki Murakami. I took some old jazz 45 and, using Elmer’s glue, stuck it to a piece of cardboard. When I peeled off the 45, it left a ‘negative’ of the record, which is still playable (although it could mess up your needle).”

That record, SRR023, is listed on Discogs but no photos of it exist. Neither Henke nor Paul Nemeth, who is the man behind Haruki Murakami, have any remaining copies.

Source: Discogs

Henke also put out an anti-record by Dennis Naslund and the Broken Records, titled Soundtrack For a Landfill. Each copy featured two pieces of 10″ records stuck together with duct tape. As the liner notes warned:

“WARNING: This Record WILL fuck up your needle. DO NOT play it on a decent turntable with a needle you don’t want ruined. For the proper effect, either switch your regular needle out with a shitty one or use your parents’ old busted up record player. This will produce the intended sound and save you the headache of having to repair your record player. Enjoy!

Love, Dennis”

“Even odd formats that were still somewhat user-friendly interested me,” Henke explains. “I remember putting out a Maim business card CD-R (SRR014), which seemed like the most ridiculous format I could think of at the time.” (That format has since become common on noise labels.)

The idea for Waste of Plastic occurred in 2004. “I was placing a bulk order for cassettes and noticed that you could buy them in any increment of time down to one minute, meaning that each side would be 30 seconds long. This seemed so stupid at the time that I had to try it. I ended up titling the series ‘Waste of Plastic’ because it was the best description I could think of for a one-minute cassette.”

He would sell copies of his tapes on the message board for the Troniks record label, which was a popular hub for noise fans and artists in the early 2000s. Many of the artists who put out tapes as part of the Waste of Plastic series were active on that forum in the early 2000s.

Henke also disseminated his tapes in other ways. “I did a lot of label trades to get the tapes out to other people,” he says, “But the most I ever made of anything was 50, so it ended up being rather easy to sell out of everything. I went to an art school for high school and some of my friends were into experimental stuff, but I kept the label pretty separate from the rest of my personal life. “

His Waste of Plastic tapes came out in fifty-copy editions, with each one meticulously assembled by hand. “Most of my memories of doing the tapes were the numerous all-nighters I would pull at Kinkos. A good friend of mine managed it so I was able to do all my printing for free, but only in the middle of the night. I guess the other cool thing I remember was Thurston Moore always bought stuff from me, which seemed really random.”

Thurston Moore was not the only one buying these tapes; their unique concept likely endeared them to collectors. “Some of them sold out immediately, but ultimately, people were buying them pretty regularly as soon as a new one would come out. I think it was just the novelty of the length that was appealing for people. I’ve always been a fan of record clubs like Sub Pop, so looking back I wish I structured it more like that, where each month a new one would come out for members.”

He figures he had gained some credibility before starting the Waste of Plastic series, since by then he had already put out tapes by established noise acts on his SRR label. “Back then, the noise scene was kind of weird. It wasn’t completely over-saturated but there were definitely artists who would let any new tape label put something out for them, which I think may have cheapened the allure for listeners. The Cherry Point was one of those few artists who was excessively prolific but still viewed as a major contender in the scene.”

Today, the tapes are largely lost to the annals of time, though one wonders if Thurston Moore still has his copies. “Unfortunately, I do not own a single thing I’ve released,” Henke says. “I’m not really sure why. For some releases, I ended up selling my own personal copies to people who wanted them, just because I would rather someone else have the music to listen to. I’ve been able to find mp3s of some of the stuff on Soulseek, but there were some SRR releases limited to 8 copies that are gone forever.”

Henke indulges me for a minute and tells me what he can remember from this elusive series.

WOP3: The Found My Naked Corpse Face Down in the Snow – Untitled

“Wasn’t even a noise band, but rather an emo violence band that Dennis Naslund sang in.”

WOP5: The Haters – Audiothecary

“It was just a single tone throughout. The privilege of putting something out by The Haters was enough that it didn’t matter, but that one just seemed a little ‘phoned-in.'”

WOP8: Ahlzagailzehguh – Damaging Habits C1 (WOP8)

“I think my favorite out of all of them was the Alhzagailzehguh tape. There just seemed to be so much packed into 30 seconds.”

Some other highlights from the series include the first Waste of Plastic release, which was Generica by noise veteran Pop Culture Rape Victim (a.k.a. Matt Taggart). Another notable release was Hereyesran by the local Portland noise artist Nkondi (a.k.a. Erik Arteaga), who ran the prolific noise label dollfullofrivets.

Henke recalls there being 18 tapes in total. Three are not listed on Discogs (WOP10, WOP12, WOP14), and Henke could not recall the details on their identities. Fortunately, this catalog provides the details (but not images) of two of them. WOP12 is another tape by Naslund’s “emo violence” band, They Found My Naked Corpse Face Down In The Snow, entitled Spragg Vs. Sporr. And WOP14 is Dennis Naslund under his own name, with the provocatively titled Unconscious Cheerleaders / Central Park Joggers. That leaves WOP10 unaccounted for — a mystery for the ages!

I ask Henke how he feels about the project a decade and a half later. His feelings are mixed. “Looking back on it, I feel like the execution could have been better from an aesthetic standpoint. The design for the tapes is garbage. I let the artists provide their own cover art, but the overall layout was done by me to keep things consistent but I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing.

“I ended up stopping SRR in 2005 since I had graduated high school, was living on my own, and was too broke to put out tapes on a consistent basis.” Henke has since switched tacks and is on his way to a successful non-musical career, but he retains an interest in adventurous audio. “I haven’t kept up with the scene since then, but I still enjoy power electronics and death industrial,” he says. “I have played in other bands since then, all sorts of stuff.” He’s even started up a new coldwave project. But that’s another story.

Do you know the identity of Waste of Plastic tape #10? If so, please leave a comment or email me!

Thanks to Travis Henke for the interview.

Various Artists – Soun – An Anonymous And Random Compilation / Composition (Gameboy Records, 2003)

“The record can be put on and simply played or treated like a puzzle and tried to be picked apart Invisible Jukebox style.”

Source: Discogs

In 2003, the Columbus, Ohio based record label Gameboy Records put out Soun, was a seven-inch single that incorporated 100 different artists. Gameboy’s proprietor, Mike Shiflet, had put a call out for four-second tracks, which he then arranged into one seamless compilation-cum-composition. The catch? The order of the tracks was kept obscure, so there was no way of knowing which artist was responsible for which four-second tract. The list itself is a who’s who of the early 00s noise scene, featuring Merzbow, Reynols, Ernesto Diaz-Infante, and Aube, among many others.

I connected with Shiflet to better understand the background behind this unique release, which originally wasn’t going to be a record at all. It turns out that Soun was conceived as a way of exploiting the capabilities of compact disc technology. “I’d pictured it as a shuffle-able 99-track 3-inch disc and the 4-second time frame for each contribution was established because that is the minimum time you could use for a track on a professionally produced CD.”

Shiflet expands: “There was an issue prepping the files for CD production though, and I don’t remember the exact problem but I believe it had to with the lead-in information for the tracks adding very small gaps in playback that would under normal circumstances be mostly unnoticeable but here stood out pretty significantly. To rectify the issues, I ended up editing the all tracks into a single, flowing, .wav file, and after that the appeal of the 3-inch CD waned and I decided the one-sided 7-inch record would work better.”

Not an exciting centre label. (Source: Discogs)

As a result, the randomness of the track sequencing was no longer part of the release, but he took pains to maintain the “Anonymous and Random” quality of the release, guarding the actual identity of each four-second segment secret. As you might imagine, this 100-artist collaboration wasn’t an easy record to put together. “My significant other and I were in different cities then, so I probably had more time on my hands than usual to dedicate to fairly absurd endeavors,” he explains. “From a label perspective, this was released in the midst of pretty busy time. Noumena (Shiflet’s sound project with Aaron Hibbs) had kind of wound down but I wasn’t quite ready to shift my attention to solo work yet, so I had a bit more energy to dedicate to other people’s projects and releases. Soun might have been the impetus to actually focus more on solo work, given that is as much an uncredited composition as it is a compilation.”

Some inspiration came from the famous RRR-500 locked-groove compilation, put out on the legendary RRRecords label. “Contributions to that aren’t exactly ‘anonymous,'” Shiflet explains. “But it is very hard to drop the needle and find an exact groove. The original idea was to do something similar in CD format with no two listening experiences being the same.”

The back of the record. Click to investigate the impressive list of contributing artists in closer detail. (Source: Discogs)

“Putting it together was a really fun process. I don’t remember how I decided who exactly to invite, but I knew I wanted to represent a broad spectrum of the artists that I was into at the time and still think it’s great to see people like Kim Cascone, Charalambides, and Kazumoto Endo side by side. The submission types ran the gambit and I won’t reveal anyone’s process but I got everything from custom cassette tapes (I just found and played one the other day) to being told to pull clips from existing albums. I had a few live recordings that I asked artists if I could add. There are side projects from people that appear almost nowhere else. It was fun. Almost everyone I asked was fine with the idea that their section would not be directly attributed them. I do think I got a few thanks but no thanks’ responses, but they are lost to time.”

I ask Shiflet if he recalled any anecdotes about particular submissions, but even years later he is careful not to provide any identifying information. “I do remember a few, but I don’t want to risk ruining anyone’s anonymity. One I can single out is Merzbow. As best I recall, I sent him a clip I pulled from a live performance that a friend had recorded (he had done a few West Coast shows in 2002) and asked if it was okay to include it.”

The record’s cover is silkscreened, and features text on top what appears to be blueprints or some form of electrical diagram. “A friend of mine who had previously helped us with some screen-printing got a job at a real printer and I got the pro-printed covers for a really nice price. Aaron, the other half of Noumena and early partner in Gameboy, had the blueprint drawings around from some of his early work in industrial architecture design. I think some of them may be from what became the Cleveland Browns stadium.”

Its unique concept and extensive track list, featuring many heavy-hitters, made for a successful release. “It was one of the few vinyl releases I did on Gameboy that sold out despite the fairly large edition number for noise vinyl at the time – 650, with every contributor getting two copies and 450 to sell. I think this was aided both by the uniqueness of the concept and the fact that it was actually fun to listen to. The record can be put on and simply played or treated like a puzzle and tried to be picked apart Invisible Jukebox style. 

“In hindsight, I think the concept still holds up and could work even better in the online music landscape that we have to day. I could easily see a Bandcamp release with 100 (or more) uncredited contributions and an accompanying list of artists. I’ll leave that to someone else though. I do wish the original 3” idea would have worked out.

“If I could change anything, I would have consulted with the artists to see if they wanted their submissions to be longer or shorter after the format changed. The rigid 4-second durations give the piece an almost rhythmic meter and were pretty unnecessary after the format switch, so if I could do it again I’d ask for something in like a 1-to-6 second range to add a little more variety.”

When he isn’t busy working at his job at Ohio State University, Mike Shiflet continues to record experimental music, which is available at his Bandcamp. His latest album, Every Possible Outcome, is available there digitally and in an unusual 3×3″ CDR format courtesy of Skeleton Dust Records.