Maggi Payne – Ping/Pong: Beyond The Pail CD-R (and/OAR, 2003)

“I wanted listeners to immerse themselves in this unusual listening environment, experiencing detail not usually apparent.”

whatever you record will be broadcast
just as it is
in london between 2330-000

Chris Cutler

From July 1, 2002 to July 1, 2003, Chris Cutler produced a radio program for Resonance FM from 11:30pm to midnight, Greenwich Mean Time, every night. To fill that time, he put out a call to sound artists to provide 30 minute recordings of “whatever you want.” The only catch was that submissions had to be recorded “in real time” during the half-hour period that Cutler was airing them.

Maggi Payne, a sound artist living in California, was forwarded the request via email. An accomplished composer and recording engineer, she was the Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, and was teaching full-time. Around then, one of her main gigs was doing historical remastering for the Music and Arts label.

She tells me, via email, about that rewarding work. “[I was] bringing classical music recordings from as early as the 1920s back to life by reducing noise, hum, hiss, etc., adjusting pitch so the works were on pitch and stayed on pitch, eliminating ticks and pops, repairing incorrect editing done before I received the source tapes, equalizing the recordings to improve the sound, and filling in gaps where sections were damaged or missing. It’s meticulous, though very rewarding, work. It pulled me back into a mysterious unknown past world I’d not experienced myself.”

After receiving Chris Cutler’s request, Payne knew she wanted to record something for his show, but wasn’t sure how to pull it off. She lives in northern California, and so hoped to record a local redwood forest, to immerse the listener in that beautiful environment. But intense rainstorms — usually a welcome event, given the area’s frequent droughts — made this impossible. “The rain came in waves that would destroy my condenser microphones,” she recalls.

Fortunately, she owned two hydrophones for making underwater recordings. “I’ve been fascinated with transmission of sound under water since I was a child. I’d been looking for high quality hydrophones for several years, but it took me almost a year to convince the wonderful people at Offshore Acoustics to sell me their last two very special hydrophones that were made for the Navy.”

Armed with this gear, she hatched the idea for “Ping.” She had always kept a metal pail on her front porch, which she used to catch water for her plants. Drawn to it because she liked the sounds it made when it rained, she let the pail fill with rainwater and then placed the two hydrophones inside. “I started recording on my DAT machine at precisely 3:30 and turned it off at 4:00. I wanted listeners to immerse themselves in this unusual listening environment, experiencing detail not usually apparent.”

“There are many layers of activity, including some very sharp high frequency sizzling sounds as the raindrops struck the water’s surface, combined with the deeper tuned resonances of the pail as the larger droplets hit the rim and sides of the pail and others drove deeper below the surface. Beyond these layers, the rhythmic interplay is of main interest.”

The program for “Ping”

She recalls being fascinated by the “variability of timbre, rhythms, activity, resonance, and differentiated sonic layers.” She was also reminded of her childhood. “Recording under water reminded me of hot summers in the panhandle of Texas, where I spent many hours each day swimming under water in a local swimming pool. The sounds were utterly fascinating.”

Payne recreated the bucket-and-hydrophone set up she used to produce “Ping.” (Image courtesy of Maggi Payne)

Accounting for time differences between Pacific Time and GMT, the recordings took place between 3:30 and 4:00pm in California.

It was still raining the next day, so she decided to try something different. For “Pong,” she flipped the pail over and placed two condenser mics inside, protected from the rain. The resulting 30-minute recording captures the sound of raindrops pattering the pail. “The rain became the percussionist, and I love the spaces in between drops where the listener can experience the low resonant frequency of the pail as it resonates with the rumble of the nearby freeway and trains, as well as the percussive strikes of the raindrops, ringing at several different frequencies. During brief breaks in the rain the richness of the resonant frequencies of the pail, which acted as a Helmholtz resonator, are very clearly heard.”

Prior to these recordings, Payne was no stranger to using natural sounds in her soundscapes. However, “in the noisy world I inhabit, I frequently must use extensive equalization and noise removal software to clean up the sounds so that they can be heard without distractions,” she points out. In order to do this, she draws upon her sound engineering skill set. Remarkably, however, “Ping” and “Pong” required no processing whatsoever. Perhaps due to the time of day, there are few intruding extraneous sounds in these recordings, though Payne notes that a faint horn and siren can be heard during “Ping,” and a “beautifully resonating” plane enters into “Pong” at the two-thirds mark.

Volume one of the phonography.org compilations. (Source: Discogs)

In January 2003, after her recording had been aired, she sent a seven-minute extract of “Ping” to Dale Lloyd, who was assembling the latest chapter of his phonography.org compilation series, which collected field recordings by international artists. Those compilations are worth exploring. In a 2006 interview, Lloyd described “phonography” by explaining that “as photography is to the eye, phonography is to the ear.” Phonography.org emerged from a message board specializing in field recordings, and ended up growing into nine fulsome volumes of work.

But Payne’s recordings never ended up on a phonography.org compilation. Shortly after she submitted it, Lloyd called her and said he wanted to release “Ping” and “Pong” in full on his and/OAR label. Ping/Pong was released on CD-R in 2003, and is now long gone.

Payne still creates music, including projects with analog synthesizers and some acoustic work. But she often finds herself making field recordings. “I still constantly record sounds that I find fascinating in a variety of usual and unusual ways… I usually process sounds beyond recognition because I’m attracted to an abstract world, both visual and aural. Some sound sources are so unidentifiable that I don’t process them at all. This is in an effort to create an abstract world in which listeners experience the sounds immersively from the inside out, each listener creating their own narrative in their imagination without touching down to ‘reality.'”

Image courtesy of Maggi Payne.

Thanks to Maggi Payne for the interview. Her most recent releases include vinyl reissues of her 2012 LP, Ahh-Ahh (Music For Ed Tannenbaum’s Technological Feets 1984-1987) and her 2010 CD, Arctic Winds, which both came out on Aguirre Records in 2020. Payne’s recordings also feature on two 2020 compilations: San Francisco Tape Music Collective (sfSound) and Air Texture VII (Air Texture).

A Kombi ‎- Music To Drive-By CD (Dual Plover, 1996)

“The van rolled an entire 180 degrees, landing on its feet while traveling down Mount Tambourine in Queensland.”

Source: Discogs

Music to Drive-By is the infamous first record put out by the Dual Plover record label, run by Australia’s Lucas Abela. The album captures the bizarre sounds emanating from the malfunctioning stereo system of his Kombi, which is the Australian name for a Volkswagen Bus, or Volkswagen Type 2.

This release, which garnered accolades in The Wire and Bananafish for its odd concept, was also included in Aquarius Records’ famous distribution list. That’s where I first learned about it many moons ago.

Today, Lucas Abela records music under the name Justice Yeldham, and is famous for working with contact microphones and broken glass. He’s even contributed shattered-glass sounds to Death Grips’ 2018 album, Year of the Snitch. But before he became Justice Yeldham, he was known as DJ Smallcock, and even before that, he put out Music to Drive-By, credited to A Kombi.

Lucas Abela performing live as Justice Yeldham, mouthing a piece of glass that’s been connected to a contact mic. Source.

I asked Abela about this unique release via email, and he filled me in on the details. “I was homeless when we recorded the record, and was actually living inside A Kombi for that entire summer,” he explains. “But A Kombi, to me, wasn’t about just that record but more the entire period of time I owned that van. The recordings were done in 1994, not long before A Kombi died somewhere near Newcastle, Australia and was abandoned. But before that we had a good few years together.

“I brought the Van in ’92 just after finishing high school in order to move to Sydney, but it wasn’t until a year or so later that we had the accident that started the whole A Kombi phenomenon.”

That harrowing accident led, in a circuitous way, to the van’s profound ability to generate unusual sounds. “The van rolled an entire 180 degrees, landing on its feet while traveling down Mount Tambourine in Queensland. Fearing that the engine would stall if I stopped, I just decided to keep driving. It was quite a surreal experience and I guess the adrenaline made me carry on, bleeding from my elbow and staring through a shattered windscreen. Anyway, the body of the van was trashed but the engine was still good, so I shopped for a Kombi with the opposite problem and switched the motor out.

Source: Vimeo

“I also switched out the stereo and must have done something wrong as somehow I had inadvertently turned the entire van into a contact microphone of sorts. To this day I’m still unsure why, but the body of the van became amplified in a way like if you turned on the windscreen wipers an electric screech would blast out from the speakers. The sounds emitted were quite random and always changing and honestly the album only hints at the kinds of sounds the Kombi started to produce.”

I asked him if there were patterns to the noise the stereo system would make. “Whenever you remained motionless in the car and did nothing it would make a clicking sound. If memory serves, these sounds are best documented in the ‘Plight of the Bumblebee’ track. The sound would then careen into noise whenever you moved inside the car or ran the motor.”

He then got the idea to record the sounds the car made using a microphone next to the car speakers. The results were channeled to a DAT player that was sitting on the roof. All this happened with the car parked in Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery, which is situated on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

This recording was an early example of his fascination with avant-garde sounds. “Although I had an interest in experimental music and had done some bedroom experiments with vinyl records in the eighties to replicate a NON record I had read about but couldn’t buy, I wasn’t really making my own music at this point and wanted to become a film director. Weirdly, this interaction with my van steered me in the musical direction, that and finding myself with a graveyard shift on community radio when I first moved to Sydney.”

I wondered what compelled him to record the Kombi sounds specifically. “Because I had an appreciation for discordant sounds, I knew these blurts of static were more musical than your average malfunctioning stereo,” he reasons. “One of my favourite things to do with A Kombi was to pull up to a bus stop full of people and do a quick drive-by recital at full volume. The van even played live at a club once.”

All of the tracks were unaugmented recordings of the vehicle alone, apart from the three-parted “Moonlight Serenade,” which was a recording of the car speakers playing a tape of an experimental radio show that Abela was running. Those tracks combined the Kombi’s cacophony with a broadcast Abela had done in which he rigged up a record to play on a mutant turntable with four or five styli on “bendable wire arms” playing the same record simultaneously. Thus, these tracks carry an extra background ambience, which was augmented by some reverb.

Original source: Vimeo

The cover of the A Kombi disc features a grainy image of the Kombi driving across the Harbour Bridge next to the Popemobile. In a moment of serendipity, Pope John Paul II came to visit Sydney in 1995, and Abela ended up driving next to the Pope’s car vehicle by accident in his noisy Kombi. “I was coming back home across the bridge after buying a Lenco turntable I found on the trading post. Us driving alongside each other was totally random.”

The Pope’s ride across the bridge was caught by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I didn’t even know they had footage but assumed someone must have filmed as it was historic I guess, and the Harbour Bridge seemed like the obvious place to get a shot of the Pope. So I called up the ABC and asked. They looked it up in archivals and asked if I was driving the Kombi with the smashed rear end.” A screencap of that video found its way onto the cover of Music to Drive-By, and has also been put up by Abela on Youtube.

After sending out the recording to several labels who weren’t interested, he decided to put it out himself, creating the Dual Plover label for the occasion. It was those other labels’ loss, since the record is now a cult album, and Dual Plover has grown into a seminal underground label.

The Dual Plover logo (Source: Dual Plover website)

Abela says he was taken aback by how people responded to Music to Drive-By. “I sent copies out to people I admired and was blown away that people like EYE, Merzbow, Kramer and others wrote back loving the record. The copy I sent to Gregg Turkington at Amarillo Records (which I loved) was even handed over to Bananafish who wrote me wanting to do an interview. It was these initial connections that allowed me to do my first overseas tour in Japan and America where I got to meet and play with a lot of these people I adored. it made me realize the world is so small and that even though I was culturally marooned on our stupid antipodean island that I could still take part in the music world I observed from a far. It wasn’t totally removed, which pre-internet was an amazing feeling.”

As a fun footnote, Abela also recalls sending a copy to a magazine for Kombi enthusiasts (perhaps VW Magazine Australia?). They didn’t respond.

Today, Abela looks back fondly on this release, and figures it is due for a revisit. “Would be great to see a reissue on vinyl. Only 500 CDs were pressed and a lot of people still think it was my best work, as the naivety was especially naive compared to what followed.”

Thanks to Lucas Abela a.k.a. Justice Yeldham a.k.a. former owner of A Kombi for the interview. You can explore his various goings-on at http://dualplover.com/.

Angus Tarnawsky and Nathan Liow – Artifacts lathe-cut 7″ (In Context Music, 2014)

“The algorithms—which I don’t know much about—are doing their best to arrange the signal in a cohesive order, but it doesn’t always work.”

In 2014, an Australian artist living in New York City named Angus Tarnawsky and a pianist living in Melbourne, Nathan Liow, staged three improvisational performances despite the distance between them. Liow played piano in Australia while Tarnawsky listened via Skype. Tarnawsky then took that Skype transmission, listened for imperfections in the data stream, then looped these back to Liow’s end via FaceTime, where the signal was broadcast live over speakers. The name they used to describe their performances, along with the lathe-cut record that emerged from those shows, was Artifacts—a reference to the digital warps and clips in the virtual call medium.

Tarnawsky caught up with me via Skype to share the story of this unusual release, while Liow weighed in via email. Though Tarnawsky is now living in Toronto, having recently completed his masters degree at the Ontario College of Art & Design, in 2014 he was living in New York City. It was an important place for him to grow artistically, though profoundly different from his upbringing. He grew up in Launceston, a small town on the island of Tasmania, then attended college in Melbourne, where he became engrossed in the improvised music scene. After several summers spent visiting New York and deriving inspiration from the city’s extensive arts scene, he moved there in 2010. Connections he had made with local improvisers helped soften the transition.

While living in New York, Tarnawsky stayed in touch with his friends back home using video chat platforms. As he stayed up late at night to accommodate the difference in time zones, he started to pay special attention to the digital aberrations in the signal he was getting. “In Australia, the internet is pretty unreliable, or at least it was at the time,” he tells me. “I would get such bizarre artifacts, bizarre glitches and sounds.”

He points out that, at the time, many Australian websites had their servers in North America, so even for an Australian to access a local website, their signal would have to cover an impressive distance. On top of this, the internet connection in Australia at the time was also relatively archaic. All this led to glitches in the data stream. “So I’m on these Skype calls, hearing lots of artifacts. I can understand from a technical reason it has to do with the packets of the signal. There’s a certain compression of the signal that is then transported from point A to point B. Occasionally that packet delivery has some issues with it it, where it might load faster or slower. The algorithms—which I don’t know much about—are doing their best to arrange the signal in a cohesive order, but it doesn’t always work.”

At the time, Tarnawsky saw this as an interesting phenomenon, but wasn’t sure what to do with it, “I just kind of put this aside as an interesting thing, a kooky phenomenon.”

One friend that Tarnawsky would Skype with was Nathan Liow, a fellow improviser living in Melbourne. In 2014, Liow mentioned to him that he wanted to put something together for the Melbourne Next Wave festival. Their mutual friend, Rosemary Willink, was one of the curators.

Liow, in touch with me via email, told me a bit about Willink’s concept. “She had been thinking about the idea of the internet and play – she called the exhibition ‘Can we please play the internet?’ Which reminds me of what I used to say as a kid when asking about Playstation, sport or whatever. It brings to mind the idea of the platform—be it a console or a soccer ball or the world wide web—being the fun thing in itself and not just a means for communication or an invisible tool we look over for the sake of our end goal.”

The official program for the exhibition documents the emails that led to Artifacts, but they are rendered in a deliriously warped format.

Tarnawsky recalls discussing the idea via internet call. “He said, do you have any ideas what this might mean? And I said, how about we take this artifact concept that is on my mind, and we try to use it as a core feature of a work?” He emphasizes the conceptual challenge of trying to figure out “a way to use the internet as an instrument.”

Liow remembers the details of that first fateful call. “I first Skyped Angus about the project while I was in transit at Tokyo airport so it’s fitting that we brainstormed the idea literally over the internet. Taking Rosemary’s theme of play, and also with both of us being musicians by trade (piano and Angus drum kit and programming) we were both certain that playing our instruments needed to be a central point in the work whilst being really fun and spontaneous with the internet. The internet was both the thing that facilitated the work, whilst being an obvious participant and an instrument involved in the art making itself.”

Stretching Out a Glitch

After they figured out that they wanted to pull off an in-vivo distance collaboration, the challenge was in execution. Their idea was to have Liow playing the piano live at the festival in Melbourne, with Tarnawsky listening in live via Skype, then sending the distorted signal back to Melbourne via FaceTime to be played over speakers, concurrent with Liow’s playing. Since the ‘artifacts’ were the key focus, they wanted to ensure there would reliably be enough of these digital distortions in the signal. They ran several experiments in which they tried to tax their internet connections. At one point, they ran multiple devices simultaneously in an attempt to eat up as much of the internet connection as possible, and even considered programming something to intentionally overload the system.

In the end, a simple arrangement proved best, since the calls were glitchy enough by nature, and didn’t require any sabotage. Tarnawsky recalls sitting in his apartment with his equipment assembled before him, often up at strange hours due to the time zones. “I would be on a FaceTime call with Nathan, and on a Skype call. The Skype call would be me hearing the sound of the piano coming in to New York.” That call was sent to Tarnawsky via an iPhone poked inside the piano itself, captured via the device’s built-in mic. This arrangement was chosen because they realized, after trying different set-ups involving professional microphones, that the audio compression involved in Skype calls rendered any audiophilic tendencies futile.

“I was using some software to grab moments when a glitch would happen, and maybe loop it or stretch it out. Doing on-the-fly sampling of what Nathan was doing, or maybe trying to eventually build some feedback…. Then that signal was going back to Nathan in the gallery [via FaceTime] and coming out of a speaker.”

Tarnawsky’s rig had multiple components. The Skype call was first filtered through his Roland 101, where he applied a space echo. That signal was then sent to his computer, where it was processed via Mio Console. Then, using a copy of Ableton Live linked with Max MSP, he would sample, alter, and loop the artifacts as they came through. This all had to happen live, since the signal was then sent back to Liow in Melbourne via FaceTime, where it was played live over loudspeakers. The time lag between made the results even more interesting.

Liow, the one charged with performing live in front of an audience, remembers the performances vividly. “The experience being on the piano in the gallery space was quite a disembodied feeling. We set up the audio feed to amplify through two large hi-fi speakers placed on either side of the piano. I was literally swimming in sound, and that provided great impetus for musical instigation and response—though I could not discern who I was playing with and what was deliberate or pure chance. I tried to clear my mind and just react and create in the moment, however it was hard to ignore the fact that a lot of what I was hearing was heavily imbued with what I had played moments prior, hidden amongst layers and layers of lossy audio and feedback loops. Serendipitously, the internet in Australia is so patchy that it really lent itself to surprises in every performance.”

Artifacts was staged as three live performances for the festival, and was also set up as an installation at a gallery, and released as a limited-edition lathe-cut record for In Context Music, the label run by Tarnawsky, which continues, in sporadic form, to this day.

Analogue-Digital Degradation

Source: Discogs

Artifacts was the fourth release on ICM, and the first to involve Angus himself. The first three releases, which Tarnawsky conceptualized as a trilogy, were releases by other artists who were living in NYC with him at the time. He wanted to do something creative with them, but in lieu of the standard approach of pitching a jam session, he had something else in mind. “They were far more established than I was, and I wanted to know how I could instigate something but not a performance.”

Initially, the goal was to create a series of objects that the artists could use in their performances, for example wooden objects to be played by hand. “For various reasons, it didn’t quite pan out that way, and I discovered lathe-cut records. I figured lathe-cuts would be a way that music could be a way that music could be presented, with each artist needing to think about the medium as really affecting what gets put on the disc.”

The distinct sound qualities of lathe-cut records were intended to interact with the sound contained on the grooves. “I asked the artist to try to present music that would really accentuate that a lathe is a noisy object that almost sounds like it’s been dragged through the dirt. You’ve played it five times and it already sounds like it’s been dragged through the dirt for a decade.

“It’s a really complicated medium. It doesn’t lend itself to clarity for every kind of project.” For Tarnawsky, the question became: “What could we work together to make that would be something that would seem strange, but would be beautiful in this weird lathe-cut world?”

He figures that Artifacts was perfectly suited to In Context Music’s ethic. “There was this kind of backwards-and-forwards, analogue-digital degradation conversation. We took this long-distance collaboration that was all about lo-fi charm, and we were able to put it onto this plastic disc that was a bizarre kind of degradation/compression/alteration of the sound.”

The audio for the record was two 5-minute parts that Tarnawsky felt were suited to the release—especially beautiful excerpts that most closely resembled the sound he and Liow had been striving for. Though he used his own lathe to make some of the ICM releases, he was too busy touring during Artifacts‘ production, so a friend made the 50 copies. He was satisfied with the final outcome and its distinctive, run-through-the-dirt lathe sound. “I felt immediately that it was the perfect medium for it,” he says. “It made Artifacts seem like it came out at the turn of the 20th century. No longer an artifact of the digital era, but an artifact of this way, way back time. Some kind of Berliner disc found in the thrift store racks.”

The piano and speakers, as per the exhibition program.

Today, Tarnawsky retains an enthusiasm for the project, though feels that he would tweak things on his end if were to try it again. He notes that the nature of their set-up could be a bit “out of control” at times, with the sounds he was feeding back to Liow sometimes veering into chaotic, shrill territory— “spiraling out of control,” as he puts it. With more time to practice he says he would try to run things “with more subtlety”—working around the aesthetic he captured in the vinyl release.

Meanwhile, Liow tells me that Artifacts still stands out to him as an achievement. “I’m still really proud of the project. The concept is so visceral and relevant years down the line. And it’s also remarkable how far the technology has come and yet still remains so unrefined. Mostly I’m just proud of the fact that it sounds really beautiful, and it was fun to ‘get together’ and collaborate with Angus on a project that has now found it’s place in multiple gallery spaces and playlists.”

Thanks to Angus Tarnawsky and Nathan Liow for the interviews. All images courtesy of Angus Tarnawsky unless otherwise specified. Today, Tarnawsky is planning to move to Montreal to complete his PhD in communications at Concordia University.

Sudden Infant And Ze ‎– WC-D 3″ CDR (Entr’acte, 2005)

Founded in London but now based out of Antwerp, the Entr’acte label is today known for their experimental music editions which come in distinctive shrink-wrapped packaging. The package must be punctured in order for the music to be listened to, staging a conflict between collecting and listening.

But there was a time before shrink-wrap, and the label’s early discography includes a number of now-obscure oddities, including a recording made in an underground car park (Formatt’s Engtevrees), a composition produced in a deliberate stage of half-sleep (Phroq’s Half-Asleep Music), and a collection of field recordings of French cable cars (Simon Whethan’s Ascension_Suspension). Many of these were very limited editions, often released on CDR.

In combing through the early Entr’acte discography, I saw an interesting listing which warranted further investigation:

Live recording of an improvised performance at a public lavatory which took place on Saturday, 29 January 2005 in Kentish Town, London, in front of an invited audience, a bemused attendant and an unsuspecting stranger…

It was a 2005 3″ CDR Sudden Infant and Ze, seemingly the third Entr’acte edition, albeit allotted no catalogue number.

Courtesy of Joke Lanz.

Intrigued, I reached out via email to Joke Lanz, the founding member of the legendary experimental outfit Sudden Infant, which at the time was his solo project.

He tells me that this release came about after he moved to London in April of 2004, as part of an artist residency funded by Switzerland’s cultural department. “I lived for six months in a studio apartment in an old warehouse building on Commercial Road in Whitechapel,” he recalls. “During that time I met Allon Kaye of Entr’acte label who was working as a graphic designer for the Architectural Association. And I also met Joe Caramelo, a.k.a. Ze. We became friends and decided to make some performances together. After my residency I stayed in London on my own expenses until I moved to Berlin in August 2006”

But living in London, he found it was difficult to find opportunities to perform live. “The concert situation in London is quite difficult. There are not enough clubs and live spaces to cover the needs of all those bands and musicians who live in London. That’s how I got the idea of performing in unusual public spaces. Why not performing a Noise show in a public lavatory? Actually, I wanted to tour London exclusively in public toilets/lavatories.

“I joined forces with Ze and we checked out possible spaces until we found out that most lavatories were already refurbished into high-tech pay restrooms with cameras and attendants which made it almost impossible to hijack the space for a live concert.”

After hunting for a suitable W.C., he finally found a suitable venue. “The best I found was in Kentish Town right opposite of a pub called Bull & Gate. I assume that public lavatory does not exist anymore. It was back then already a bit run down.”

The public loo in question, now converted into a fashionable cocktail bar. (Source: Google Street View)

Lanz is right. The restroom, originally positioned in an intersection, has since been converted into a trendy cocktail bar called Ladies and Gents, which seems fittingly ironic.

Courtesy of Joke Lanz.

After inviting some confederates/participants via email and text message, Lanz and Joe Caramelo staged their performance. “We had battery amplifiers and went down to the men’s room together with an invited audience of approximately 12 people and started immediately with our sound performance. We didn’t realize that there was an attendant in his tiny small cleaning room in the back of the lavatory. He came out for a second, smiled at us and went back to his room.. I saw him just for a brief moment because I was mostly focusing on my playing and the performance. But friends who were in the audience told me afterwards that the guy was obviously amused about the scenery and had a smile on his face before he returned to his booth.”

At another point, someone else wandered in to use the facility. “He came in and had to pass us to go to a cubicle. Maybe he wanted to use the urinals, but we were standing in front of it, therefore he disappeared inside a cubicle.” After the show, they went to the Bull & Gate for pints.

The WC-D mini-CDR is a document of that restroom performance, during a period of time when the Sudden Infant name was still Lanz’s solo project. “Occasionally I collaborated with other musicians or had guests for my studio recordings and live shows,” he says. “Sudden Infant as a stable group started to operate in 2014, when I transformed the solo project into a trio, with Christian Weber on bass and Alexandre Babel on drums.”

Despite original plans for a public loo tour, this ended up being the only show performed in one. “We did another toilet performance at a transvestite sex club in East London called Stunners,” he explains. “But this was not a public lavatory, it was the official restroom of the club where some guys changed their dresses and their gender. Some other time we performed inside the Arnold Circus pavilion in Shoreditch together with Devotchkas Conundrum, a female noise duo.”

The Arnold Circus pavilion show.

Reminded of the performance by my email, Lanz reflects positively on this unique moment in time — an obscure performance that took place a decade and a half ago, immortalized on miniature CDR of which only 25 copies were produced. “It feels far away, but I still got very positive memories. We were a group of highly creative and interested people sharing ideas and actions. Allon Kaye helped organising and published the recording. Martin Holtkamp, another friend, documented everything with photographs. From today’s point of perspective I can say: We were digging deep into the ground of performance and noise with a shot of Dada and some Punk spirit.”

Thanks to Joke Lanz for the interview. See the Sudden Infant website to catch up on Lanz’s happenings.

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.