In 2001, a peculiar record surfaced courtesy of Mars F. Wellink. That strange record was actually two 7″ records glued together, their surfaces deliberately scratched to the point of no return. It came accompanied by a booklet of silkscreened collage work.
To learn more about this strange anti-record, I tracked down Wellink by email. He explained that it emerged from his work as one half of the experimental music duo, the Vance Orchestra. Essentially, he was making use of their run-off. “Our soundscapes are built up by recycling old records and recording sounds indoors and outdoors,” he explains, explaining that he tends to cull records for cheap from flea markets and secondhand stores. He also collects found objects from around the environment.
“I have piles of stuff,” he explained. When this record came together, he was looking for a way to use it. “All the stuff you collect is the inspiration for a self-taught artist. I’ve made collages all my life.”
He had also developed a practice of combining recycled album covers and his own silkscreen prints to create collages, which served as the basis for previous album art that he’d done. For example, the year before, Vance Orchestra’s At Random Again CD featured a Wellink-designed cover assembled from ads in Japanese newspapers. Their 1998 cassette, Repeater, was contained in boxes made out of old LP covers — meaning each copy was one-of-a-kind.
Extending this practice, he created the Anti-Record using some old 45 RPM singles that had accumulated in his mountain of junk. He explains the process he used to create the anti-record.
First, he used an assortment of tools to “prepare” the records themselves, accounting for the irregular scratches all over their surface. He then played each copy on an old turntable, recording the audio for his personal archive. “Maybe I can use this later on, I told myself.”
Then came the gluing. “Two seven-inch records glued together and labeled — no hole was visible, so the buyer had to damage the object to listen! The cover was made of old record covers and found material and every cover has a rabbit jaw on it. The booklet was made of an old silkscreened poster I made for a performance with an image of Antonin Artaud, decorated with various stamp art and found material. Everything was sealed with an info sticker.”
He acknowledges the conceptual nature of this unusual record, explaining that he is “a great fan of the Fluxus movement,” referencing the interdisciplinary art community that frequently made use of anti-art concepts.
Around the time this anti-record came out, Wellink was also working as a master silkscreen printer at a Dutch production house called Plaatsmaken; these skills were useful for preparing the accompanying silkscreen art booklet.
Only seven copies of Anti-Record were produced in total, which makes it pretty scarce. Those copies were distributed by the Rund um den Watzmann mailorder, no stranger to unusual records. (Previous releases by the Rund um den Watsmann label include a zoetrope record and a three-dimensional LP.)
“I shot and cropped every photo, typed every record entry, laid out every page, drove the masters to the printer, stuffed every envelope, licked every stamp, and shipped every order. If it hadn’t have been a labor of love it would have never been done.”
Exotica/Et Cetera was more than just a zine devoted to exotica music; it was a painstakingly researched celebration of bizarre records, run by a record collector and dealer named Preston Peek. What started as a mailing list to advertise used records to aspiring customers evolved into a full production that explored unusual music via interviews and articles.
I first encountered Exotica/Et Cetera (a.k.a. e/e) a couple decades ago, when the magazine was distributed by Tower Records. But I lost those copies years ago, only to be reminded of them recently while browsing a used bookstore, where several issues were nestled among old copies of Rolling Stone and Record Collector.
Preston Peek was not an easy man to track down online; after getting “undeliverable” auto-replies from several defunct email addresses — how many email accounts can one man burn through? — I eventually found his personal Facebook account, where my messages were finally returned.
Fortunately for me, Peek was happy to discuss the history of his seminal weird-music “zinealog” (half zine, half catalog), which was cherished for years by enthusiasts of oddball music. He explained that a major attraction for collectors were the pages of used record listings, which came annotated with tantalizing tidbits to entice potential purchasers. Collectors would vie for first dibs on new issues so they could get their orders in before others.
“Competition for the LPs was fierce,” he explains. “Several subscribers paid a premium for FedEx overnight delivery, and they would drop tidy sums before the bulk of the others got their copies. I had to alert them the issue was coming so they could watch out for it. One time I got a call from a disgruntled customer who got his late. The driver had apparently left his copy at the garage door instead of leaving it on the front porch. After I had to tell him that his first three requests had already been sold (to another FedEx fanatic) he said ‘Ah, screw it’ and hung up. That was a blow, because he was a top client. But he wound up calling back later and dropping a four figure order, so the story had a happy ending.
“My phone rang non-stop for a couple of days after a new issue landed. Fax machines were still essential back then, and I had faxes piled on the floor when I woke up in the morning, hearing from all the European and Asian collectors. Of course, there were an awful lot of disappointed folks when the pickings got low, but mostly they were good sports about it. If I remember correctly I shipped the overseas copies a few days early to give them a fair shot.”
But the zine was much more than a catalog; over its sixteen issues, it produced a number of fascinating articles, shedding light on obscure and neglected corners of odd music history. Via email, Peek guided me through the history of e/e, from its early days as a distribution list to its later heights as a source of high-quality historical information about neglected areas of music history.
“My maternal grandfather went to Printer’s College in the 1920s, and he and my grandmother published the Pike County Journal in Georgia, USA, in the basement of their rural home, from the late 1930s to the mid 1950s,” he explains, by way of background. “They were a two person shop, doing the writing, editing, layout, photography, printing, delivery, ad sales—you name it. So it’s fitting that I found an outlet for the printer’s blood in my veins by following their lead many decades later, but using a computer software program rather than a manual linotype. They put out an issue every week, no excuses, no holidays. I managed one a quarter. I honestly don’t know how they did it.”
Peek’s obsession with music started early. “I’ve been a record hound since 1965 when I bought my first album: The Beach Boys: Today! Next came Both Sides of Herman’s Hermits, followed by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Who could have been prepared for that? I continued buying…and buying…and buying.”
In 1984, he found a copy of Seymour Gibbons Plays With Himself in “the sweltering second floor of a sleepy record store in Culpeper, Va.” That record was a strange piano disc on a one-off label. According to the liner notes, Gibbs had previously performed as a two-piano act with his brother, Saul, but Saul had gone missing while on tour with the U.S.O. in the Congo. Thanks to the magic of multi-tracking technology, Gibbons was able to simulate the sound of two pianists playing at once — recreating the experience of his brotherly performances. And yet despite the supposed backstory, the track titles themselves are puerile double-entendres centered around the LP title’s gag: “Lovely Way To Spend An Evening,” “Only Make Believe,” “Once In Awhile.”
“Little did I know that record would form the cornerstone of a love of weird vinyl that would become a passion and a business in 1996,” Peek explains. “Seymour, the one-handed fapper and sometime pianist, gave me a whole new focus, much broader in scope than one particular artist. In the early nineties he pointed me to the dusty boxes on the floor nobody else wanted; I dove in and didn’t come up for years. Thanks to him I still have a garage full of wax nobody else wants. I don’t have the greatest memory but I can still pull a record at random and often remember exactly where I bought it.
“In 1993 I was moved back from Canada to the States by the company I had been working for. They told me (not too thrilled) that it was the ‘heaviest’ move in the company’s 100-year history. Books and records. At that point, mostly records.
“So I decided to transition from collecting to selling. After five years of learning the ropes, getting burned, and realizing that setting up at record shows is its own brand of hell, I decided to try mail order. At the same time my interest in weird and strange vinyl was coming on strong.”
Issues 1-6: The Corner-Stapled Lists
“In the mid to late 90s most real record sellers still used Goldmine magazine, or put out lists on their own,” Peek tells. “I was no exception. I had started getting interested in exotica and the general weirdness of the fifties and sixties album world in the late eighties. I’ve always been attracted to the unusual. I was getting bored looking for yet another jazz/blues/rock LP (although I loved them as well). I began picking up oddities wherever I went, astonished by their variety, and one day realized I had a pretty decent pile. So I decided to do a list. Tag line: ‘Birdcalls, gongs, moogs, sexy women, dashing men, flying saucers, schmaltz, laughs, brass, sound effects, belly dancers and platters extraordinaire.’
“I put an ad in Goldmine that basically said ‘If you like Exotica Weird Strange Cheesecake etc. LPs, send me your address and I’ll send you a list.’ I probably got a couple of hundred responses that that little ad, which I ran biweekly for several months. The people who received it said they loved the selection, loved the comments, and loved the photos. (I took the pictures with this old Mac golfball-sized b&w camera.) They also bought the records. It seemed to me that this was a market that had not been tapped, at least in this way (even though the Incredibly Strange Music books had been out since ’93 and ’94). No one else was doing it. So every list was a hit, and sold as much as 70%, which is unheard of.
“The pictures were key. Many of these records might have been listed in Goldmine, but unless you were familiar with a certain title you had no idea what it looked like. So much of the weird/strange/lounge/bizarre genre relied on seeing the covers that it would have been impossible to make this venture succeed without them. I guess I knew that much.”
Peek shared some scans of a few pages of those early Exotica/Et Cetera lists, including page one of issue one:
These early issues are a fascinating archive of schmaltzy music. The very first listing in that very first issue starts things off on an inauspicious note:
“101 Strings – Sugar and Spice – MINT- – Somerset SF-6900 (st) – $8 Uninspired easy listening LP featuring vixen Julie Newmar on the cover!”
from Exotica / Et Cetera issue one
Future issues, each of which seemed to come printed on a different color of paper, listed all manner of rarities. There was Korla Pandit’s At the Pipe Organ LP, one of the pricier selections; Pandit was a light-skinned African-American man who dressed up in a turban and claimed to be a French-Indian organist, releasing a pile of easy listening records from 1950 into the seventies. Former silent film actress Leona Anderson’s lone album, Music to Suffer By, was also up for sale. Notorious as “the world’s most horrible singer” when the LP was released in 1958, she was a regular novelty act on Ernie Kovacs’ show, where she charmed audiences with her deliberately shrill and tone-deaf performances.
“They ranged from six to twenty pages,” Peek says of these early issues. “I suppose it was good for the time. Laid it out in Word. Got it printed cheap. Stapled it, and away it went. Set the stage, as it were, for the bound issues.
“I don’t remember the moment I realized I wanted to publish an actual magazine (or zinealog, as I called it), but at some point I knew the corner-stapled format had run its course. The blurry photos were popular but not the best. I was already crossing over in Issue 4, with two ‘ads’ and a Hot Pick style of listing. I also could almost never list a record without a line of (usually smartass) commentary. So why not take it to the next level?
“Looking back, I also relished the opportunity to flex my writing skills. I had burned out on corporate PR (how many press releases/speeches can you write?), I was tired of corporate freelancing, and this presented a chance to write about things I cared about. Compared to the white collar world the money was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t. But this was fun. So I gave it a shot.
“I wrote every word in every issue except where by-lined by someone else. Somewhere in the 95+% range. I shot and cropped every photo, typed every record entry, laid out every page, drove the masters to the printer, stuffed every envelope, licked every stamp, and shipped every order. If it hadn’t have been a labor of love it would have never been done.”
Starting with Issue 7, e/e evolved into a true magazine, adding full-length features and capsule articles to the mix. Peek used the computer program Pagemaker to create the layout for this edition. It marks a bit of a transition period for e/e. There are reviews of contemporary releases as well as a page called “Bizarre Vinyl,” which showcases two peculiar records from Peek’s collection. One is the pivotal Seymour Gibbons Plays With Himself LP, and the other is the tasteless Colorful Stylings by The Crusaders of Illinois and The Singing Midget. There is also “The Cheese Gallery,” which features album art depicting female models.
Many of the reviews in Issue 7 were written about releases on the German label Q.D.K. Media, which is run by a renowned record collector named Thomas Hartlage. Q.D.K. releases covered in this issue include CD and vinyl releases of the soundtracks to several Russ Meyer films, along with Electronic Toys, a compilation of seventies synth music.
Peek tells me that Hartlage started off as an e/e subscriber. “We conversed quite a bit, and I would order wholesale, although he was very generous with promos,” Peek says. “The quality of his products, especially the vinyl, was beyond perfection. I thought the concepts behind some of his releases, like Pepperisms, the Love, Peace & Poetry series, and Doob Doob O’Rama, were brilliant.”
Peek notes that this issue also introduced a new tag line, “Celebrating the Vinyl LP as Art, Amusement and Artifact,” that served as a mission statement for e/e; it also was the first issue to zero in on cheesecake records as a graphic focus.
Peek points out that e/e‘s eighth issue is four pages shorter than Issue 7, yet considerably more substantial. That’s because of a shorter LP list, which left room for more articles.
This issue introduces a regular column, “The Esquivel Page,” which was written by Brother Cleve, a member of Combustible Edison. Cleve had visited the Mexico City home of exotica pioneer Esquivel numerous times, and this article discusses new music that Esquivel was arranging for a new album, including arrangements of “Wedding March,” “As Time Goes By,” and “Singing in the Rain,” along with a new original composition called “Guacamole.” That album was going to be produced by Brother Cleve, but — as far as I can tell — never came out.
“Brother Cleve was an early subscriber and composer of the soundtrack to the film Four Rooms,” Peek says. “He was also a close friend of Esquivel, so I asked him to write a column for each issue about the master. He kindly agreed — for Issues 8 – 14, when he said he ran out of things to say. At one point he offered to arrange a visit for me with Esquivel in Mexico (he was 80 or so and in poor health), but I couldn’t get it together. One of my real regrets.”
Peek conducts a thorough investigation of LP covers featuring Jayne Mansfield (“Un-COVER-ing Jayne Mansfield”), with pictures and summaries of each — including two separate releases that use the exact same cover photo. “I wrote the Mansfield article on a plane headed to LA for a week of vinyl scrounging,” Peek tells me.
Another highlight is an interview with Jim Silke, who was Capitol Records’ art director in he fifties and early sixties. That interview was conducted at Silke’s home outside of Los Angeles. They discuss the pragmatics and sociology behind cheesecake covers.
A personal favourite is Peek’s article, “Vinyl Karma,” which is a description of his experiences collecting unusual records.
“If records appear mysteriously when you least expect them; if you find some strange unknown LP and two people from different continents mention it that very week; if you search for years for a record and then five five copies within a month… it’s karma. Vinyl karma.”
Careful to distinguish himself from a crystal healing mystic, he describes his pooling theory, wherein experiences happen due to the sheer experience of bringing an item into consciousness. He cites the Seymour Gibbons Plays With Himself record. Prior to writing about it in Issue 7, he claims not to have found a record for a decade; yet shortly after Issue 7 came out, he came across a near-mint copy at the very start of a buying trip. That’s Vinyl Karma!
Issue 9 sees an interesting deviation from the exotica-centric perspective, boasting an interview with Jello Biafra — who, to be fair, was a keen collector of exotica and oddball records. “[He] was a subscriber,” Peek explains. “He loved this stuff. He had just released Wesley Willis: Greatest Hits on his Alternative Tentacles label, which I reviewed in Issue 7. Jello preferred calling to faxing, so we’d spend an hour or two on the phone, he asking about a record, me dutifully cueing it up and letting him hear it through the earpiece.”
In that article, Biafra describes some of the more bizarre records in his collection. There’s Rosa Linda’s Will Success Spoil Rock-Maninoff? LP, which consists of “rock and roll versions of classical tunes done way back in the late 50s.” Then there’s The Spiffys, a group of US Naval Academy members doing garage rock covers plus some originals. Biafra mistakenly assumes The Spiffys continued making records year after year, though it turns out there were only two volumes.
Biafra also describes his enthusiasm for private-press lounge music, citing Bob Springfield’s The Best Of Bob Springfield At Striker’s. “It’s just one guy with an acoustic guitar covering Eagles songs and contemporary hits, but he’s so aggro about it, trying to get the audience into his act … if he doesn’t get a response from his audience, he yells at them until he does.”
Biafra discusses a number of odd records, some of which still don’t seem to have filtered online. A live album by a lounge singer named Don Snyder, recorded at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, is one that doesn’t turn up any Google search results. “He just can’t contain his bitterness about how much he hates rock and roll. His jokes are a little too hateful for the audience to even laugh at.” Then there’s an unlisted-on-Discogs gospel record called “Heaven is Our Goal” by the Gospel Tones:
“…the cover looks as hopeless as you might guess, but there are two marimba players in the band; it’s mainly several generations of one family from a teeny tiny farm town in Colorado. But the two marimbas give the music a ‘Martin Denny for Jesus’ feel, and the second song, ‘Suppertime,’ is such a depressing vocal tone that I seriously wonder whether they had just drunk purple Kool-Aid and were about to pass out.”
Other highlights of this issue include a spotlight on a Florence Foster Jenkins record and an examination of the Moog synthesizer as cultural phenomenon by David Schafer. There is also a wonderful article about the High In-Fidelity series from the early 60s, a collection of gag record covers with no records inside them, often featuring absurd or racy content (“Communist Party Songs,” “Music For Casual Affairs,” “Songs for Swinging Mothers”). This is also the first issue to feature Tony Maygarden’s Soundtrack Page, which in this edition covers the life and work of Bernard Hermann (Psycho, Vertigo, Taxi Driver).
Things were rolling by the tenth issue, which features a thrilling chronicle of Peek’s trip to Mexico City in which he travels to the heart of the city in search of rare used vinyl. The story includes a scary moment where Peek was mugged in full daylight, just one block from the US Embassy. Yet he still emerged with eight boxes of quality vinyl.
“I had a friend who worked at the US Embassy there,” Peek tells me. “I would never go if I didn’t have a secure place to stay and a friend to show me around. Although I talked with one subscriber who high-tailed it down there after reading my article and ventured deep into the urban flea markets, with considerable success. Even locals had warned me away from them as being too dangerous. So either he was lucky or I was a wimp.”
Then there is a colourful interview with a retired Episcopalian priest, Rev. Warren Debenham, who discovered e/e and called Peek to discuss his true love: comedy albums. “As frequently happened, the Rev came across the magazine God knows where (and I guess God DOES know where) and subscribed,” Peek tells me. “He bought the sixties comedy records with the nude covers. We had quite a few talks over the phone, and I found him so interesting I asked him if I could do an interview. One of the fringe benefits of the mag was getting to meet a lot of interesting people. They would call to order a few LPs and we would wind up spending an hour talking about records and life in general. I enjoy a good conversation so it happened quite a lot. And I was also receptive to a good story.”
He also points out a particularly memorable anecdote from that interview:
e/e: What does your wife think about those nude and sexy adult comedy covers you have in your collection? A friend recently saw my collection and said “Boy, you must have a tolerant wife.” Has it ever come up with you?
WD: (laughs) Well, my wife is great on that. She knows that I enjoy well-developed ladies and as we’re going down the street she’ll point them out to me.
e/e: You’re kidding!!
WD: Nope, you can’t ask more of a wife than that. She’s quite relaxed about it.
Also included in this issue is a review of a 1997 re-release of a 1959 RKO 10” record by Edie Adams, The Charming Miss Edie Adams. “Her son contacted me and asked if I would like to review it, which I did,” Peek tells me. “She sent word through her son that she loved the review. That was so nice.”
In Issue 11, Peek included an article titled “True Confessions of a Female Vinyl Junkie,” which Peek tells me was fully the idea (and work) of its author, a fellow crate-digger named Jessica Cameron. In it, she calls out the sexist assumptions she’d encountered at flea markets and record fairs, where fellow collectors had trouble accepting that she was a serious wax enthusiast. Along the way, she provides memorable anecdotes of cherished finds and withering character studies of the more socially inept record dealers she met.
I lose sleep over cheesecake album covers. I have this conflict: can I be a feminist and still own a copy of Sea of Dreams?
from e/e, Issue 11
There’s also an article about vampire movie soundtracks entitled “Soundtracks That Suck,” and a remarkable interview by David S. Miller with Dr. Paul Tanner, who played theremin on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” In that interview, Dr. Tanner discusses his creation of a hybrid theremin that allowed greater control of the pitch, leading to Tanner being hired for many recordings, including at least two albums. Like many guest articles, it came about because the writer was a fan of the magazine.
“I was chatting with David Miller one day and he mentioned the interview,” Peek says. “I told him I would love to publish it. He agreed. So I was lucky that Miller found the magazine and subscribed and found something to order and called and was pleasant enough to chat.” This was also the first issue with an ad in it, courtesy of a London, UK record store named Intoxica.
“What’s one of greatest perks of publishing your own zine?” Peek asks. “Being able to print a picture of your newborn daughter on the inside cover. Another is penning a tribute to your father, and the record collection you grew up with. He died on December 25, 1993, and this was the best eulogy I could deliver, even though it was a few years late.”
This issue also features an interview with another e/e subscriber named Pea Hicks, a musician (and collector of old Optigan records) who discusses a CD he created called Lucas and Friends, which took disembodied home recordings found in thrift stores and set them to whimsical music.
Then there is Peek’s seminal article, “The HeArt of the Cheesecake Cover,” which had been published in Goldmine magazine in 1996, discussing the rise in the fifties of LPs featuring scantily-clad women. “It’s an important subgenre during the fairly repressed times in which it flourished,” Peek argues. There is also a story about the first ever cheesecake cover, 1947’s easy-listening LP, Music Out of the Moon: Music Unusual Featuring the Theremin – Themes by Harry Revel, which pictured a model named Virginia Clark laid out on the simulated surface of the Moon. A follow-up record, Music For Piece of Mind, takes the same model but has her lying nude in a simulated cloud. Apparently, the material used to mimic the cloud was made of spun glass, leading to Clark’s skin getting pierced by glass particles — and apparently a lawsuit!
“I tried to save some money by limiting the press run of Issue 12,” Peek says. “And as a consequence I found myself without a copy. Several years later my mother died and I found the one I had given her, thereby completing my set.”
“OK, let’s just get it out of the way,” Peek starts. “I printed an interview with famed Hollywood bongo player Jack Costanzo, and… I spelled his name wrong. On the cover. And I knew better. He was gracious about it but I have still not lived it down. One of his nieces called to order extra issues, and pointed it out to me. The value of an editor can be priceless. When you have one. The interview was rock solid, however.”
Peek also tells me about yet another article that came to fruition thanks to a subscriber. In this case, the subscriber was Steve Young, who also happened to be a comedy writer for The David Letterman Show. “He collected corporate musicals – those extravagant and costly shows written for sales conferences in the 60s and 70s, with full story lines and original music/lyrics,” Peek tells me, pointing me towards Young’s 2013 tome, Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. “How’s that for a niche? We spoke from time to time, and one day he called to ask if I would like to come to Manhattan and take a look at ‘Dave’s Record Collection,’ which was for sale. This was one of the brightest gems that ever fell into my record selling lap. Long story short I went, I saw, and I bought.”
For those who don’t remember, Letterman used to have a bit on his show where he would showcase a bizarre record and make a few jokes about it, ending by tossing the record off-camera like a frisbee. These records, which included ill-advised musical turns by celebrities and amateur private-press releases, were sourced from thrift stores by Young and other employees.
Peek remembers combing through the Letterman collection as someone came to Young’s office door, asking him to write Letterman’s Top Ten list for that night. “I still have one LP with the post-it note jokes on the back that Dave would read before frisbeeing the record across the studio,” Peek says. “Steve begged him to stop doing that.”
In this issue, the massive Letterman lot is organized by theme, all available for sale via Peek. Some copies even came with the original post-it notes featuring recommended jokes!
Issue 14 has one of my favourite articles from e/e archives, an article by Ed Veenstra, a Dutch collector of unusual and anti-records. (As a side note, I’m hoping to arrange an interview with him for Anomaly Index to discuss his collection.) In the piece, Veenstra profiles a number of bizarre anti- and art-records from his collection, including:
Various Artists – The First Strike (Turnabout Tapes, 198?) A compilation of experimental music that came encased inside a (fake) turd.
Lyssa Humana – Hör Zu 7″ (private, 199?) A rusty iron anti-record that comes with a rusty iron stylus. (See an Anomaly Index article about this record here.)
Alex Sanders – A Witch Is Born (A&M, 1970) “The initiation of a witch by warlock Sanders, complete with whips, candles and chants. Withdrawn soon after release. Gatefold sleeve with lots of nudity.”
“[He was] yet another subscriber turned contributor,” Peek explains. “His passion was the truly esoteric: a chocolate and ice record, a cassette encased in an ersatz turd, broken records. I found his collection intensely interesting. We were a far cry from exotica, but it was certainly bizarre.”
Peek also included another narrative article about a home visit he did to collect some records — to a trailer in rural North Carolina. It reads like a horror story. First he describes being led into the trailer by a 6’6″ giant with swastika tattoos. Then, as Peek is pawing through a crate of vinyl, the Goliath’s much younger girlfriend seems to be smiling at him. Frightened that this may be misconstrued, Peek hurriedly buys some records and leaves.
Peek summarizes the state of his mail order operation at the time, which was broadening in scope: “850 LPs for sale. Definitely shifting away from exclusively exotica et cetera stuff. I think at this time I needed to reap more profits; the magazine was becoming a luxury I could not afford. So there is rock, jazz, and even alternative in this lot. Sales were good.”
Issue fifteen is a sad one — several articles were written when Peek’s computer crashed, taking all of the content with it. As a result, this issue is almost entirely a for-sale list of LPs. The one article, however, is an interview with Bob Thompson, whom Peek considers “the master arranger of the exotica/lounge era.”
“I had a full page ad from Goldmine. That counted for something,” Peek concludes.
Issue 16 is what Peek considers his “crowning achievement,” with a full-color glossy cover that featured a never-before-seen picture of the pin-up model Bettie Page, a fixture on cheesecake album covers. “Maybe I was saving myself for this final issue when I went so short on copy for the previous one,” Peek reflects. “I am myself surprised at its scope. And its length—an unprecedented 48 pages. I remember I pulled my first all-nighter in years to get it print ready.”
A highlight of the issue is an interview with Peter Dunn, who was the owner of a wonderful record store in Toronto, Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum. Peek had befriended him on his frequent trips to the record emporium. “CDs had finally brought him to his knees, so he was forced to close down,” Peek says. “He called me a few weeks before, however, and invited me up from North Carolina to go through the untouched stock in his basement. It took me three 12-hour days. One of the most fun digs I’ve even been on. While I was there a film company rented out the store to shoot a scene for a made-for-TV movie about Alan Freed, with Judd Nelson as the title character. So I would dig around in the basement, then come up and chat with Judd or watch them if they were filming. It was a hard life. Needless to say I interviewed Peter for this issue.”
“The magazine was doing well, and LP sales were excellent, so why did I cease publication with this issue? A couple of reasons: it was a tremendous amount of work (don’t forget I was also traveling to buy records, selling to other venues, and, after Issue 12, taking care of a toddler); and I never came close to recouping my costs on the magazine portion in ad revenues and subscriptions. In a way, the earlier lists were a much smarter way to go from a business perspective. Also, the idea of internet sales was really taking off, and I saw that I could devote more time to my web site without the additional cost overlay. For whatever reason, it was time to move on.”
At the time, though, he was undecided. “Hence the back cover ad. Thanks to my neighbors for posing with another cheesy record motif”:
Life After Exotica/Et Cetera
“Many people say they collect records, but there is a distinction between amassing and collecting,” Peek reflects. “Most serious-minded record hounds I have spoken to narrow it down to at least one very specific, and cherished, subgroup. One collected Japanese white-label promos. One liked samplers. Another treasured corporate musicals. Yet another sought out obscure northern soul. In all cases they reduced their general love of vinyl to a manageable subgenre that crystallized the real joy of collecting.
“In time, I realized that record collecting/accumulating can bring down the roof, both financially and literally. But it was hard to stop buying. They were everywhere. Record shows were a glorious discovery; you mean these nice folks brought all of this vinyl here just for me? As those years passed I added substantially to my archives, partly because I had the means, partly because I knew no one and was lonely, partly because I was single and had nothing else to spend money on, and partly because I travelled quite a bit and was able to hit tons of record stores across North America. When I moved to Toronto it was a whole new market. The records poured in. On one memorable weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the sad closing of one of Peter Dunn’s record stores — massive racks of LPs for minimal outlay. A trunkload found their way into my stacks. On most weekends I hit at least one store, if not a show. Things were getting seriously out of control.
“Amidst this insanity I was somehow able to fall in love with, and marry, a young lady with whom I worked. She accepted my passion, but love is blind. We decided to relocate to the States, largely because the company that had moved me there had to move me back within a certain period of time, or I would have to foot the bill.”
Peek’s record selling operation was hampered by his love of the records themselves. “I would fly to LA, return with 500 LPs carefully boxed and stowed (I still have nightmares about sitting in a hotel room surrounded with piles of discs and wondering how I was going to get them all packed and checked onto the airline), return home, and then have Christmas all by myself as I unpacked. The problem was that for every two I filed in the For Sale side of the music room, at least three made their way onto the Personal stuff shelves. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that things could not continue that way for long. Not only was space becoming a serious concern; I wasn’t making any money. Was this a business or an excuse to play?
“I don’t remember the specific LP I first held and thought, through my pain, ‘I can sell this one in a 30-second phone call. I can let this one go.’ But it must have started like that. Money had a lot to do with it. An early rationalization was ‘You know, as much stuff as I see, there is no doubt I will find another copy of this one day.’ Another was ‘This will pay for my daughter’s birthday party.’ And to be honest, I was also thinking ‘I will be such a hero to have scored this.’ Collecting and ego are inseparable, after all. So I must have picked up the phone, or made a listing for the next issue, and it was done. The businessman stared into the eyes of the collector, and the collector blinked. And thereafter the slippery slope opened wide before me.
“Almost immediately, however, a curious thing happened. The thrill I always felt when I found a real gem was actually heightened with the knowledge that I would be selling it for a nice profit. So in a way it was the best of both worlds. But as far as collecting goes, I learned an obvious, but still painful, lesson. You can’t collect everything. One by one, artist by artist, genre by genre, I slid my prizes from one side of the room to the other, then into a mailer, and finally out the door to points near and far. I had customers from Russia to Japan, from Miami to Australia, from Korea to Iceland. I had the satisfaction of knowing that each disc found its way to a good home, to be honored and displayed and spun well into the future. After a surprisingly short while I found I could part with almost anything.’
Curiously, it was Ed Veenstra, the collector of anti-records featured in Issue 14, that led to a shift in Peek’s approach to collecting. “He introduced me to a tiny but vibrant universe of artists who fused the sounds on the platter, the platter itself, and the medium it came in.”
Veenstra even sent Peek a curious gift. “It was a Christmas present 45, encased in wax paper with real chocolate and confectioners sugar dribbled over it. I still have it; the chocolate has survived two decades of storage. In keeping with the theme of Christmas the recording is of the electrical impulses of a sprig of mistletoe. It is the most artistically coherent object I own.
“At about the same time I heard from Charles Powne, who owns Soleilmoon, a three-decades-old mail order business in Portland that deals in ‘dark industrial ambient’ music. He loved my magazine and sent me a massive box of promotional items, vinyl and CD, for which I will never be able to repay him. His stock ranges far beyond ambient. The purely electronic recordings, the ones with electronic squigglings without tempo or melody, were especially appealing to me. I was able to forge ‘an emotional bond with this music,’ a phrase Charles used one day when I described my experience listening to it. In addition, the casings were pieces of art in themselves. Some even included postcards and other ephemera. It was as if the music was only one part of a panoply of art which the artist needed to express. I was hooked.
“So with these twin influences I started collecting what I termed ‘anti vinyl,’ but which could also be called simply ‘art vinyl’ (to include CDs and another media as well). Sometimes the appeal was in the sounds alone (the Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers 3-inch mini-CD). Sometimes the piece itself was the art (the Tumor Circus 45 picture disc with a 1-inch hole drilled into every copy, making it unplayable). And sometimes it was a combination of the two (1960s Polish plastic postcards with a record on one side — which I got, weirdly enough, in Cambridge ON). It’s all great stuff. It’s in short supply. And because of that, it’s a perfect thing to collect. And because I collect it, I have no inclination to sell it.
“It’s really not that farfetched that I wound up here. Album cover art (and liner notes) was always a huge part of a records attraction. Especially in the days of psychedelia it was sometimes hard to tell where the music stopped and the cover started. More recently, ‘incredibly strange’ wax had a huge cover art component, aside from its obvious sonic attractions. So it was logical that I find a home in this genre.
“One of my favorite films that no one has seen is The Legend of 1900. Without giving anything away, Tim Roth’s character finds meaning in the boundaries of the universe into which he is born. An infinite keyboard is paralyzing; 88 keys holds infinity. Freedom of movement is an illusion within a vast expanse, but it is reality between a bow and a stern. It is what prevents a collector from becoming a hoarder. Collecting, in order to be satisfying, should have those same boundaries. By definition, the term ‘record collecting’ is meaningless, as absurd as collecting leaves.
So to get down to it (finally) — If I got rid of every record I own but held onto my most prized examples of art vinyl, would I no longer be a record collector? On the most generic level, the answer is no. But having refined my stock, I could say, ‘I am a collector of art vinyl,’ which is a more definitive statement. I’m just not sure I can still say ‘I love records.’ But then you don’t have to collect everything you love.”
“I’m quite sure that you destroy your record player by playing the disc, but that’s what it was about.”
While perusing an old issue of Preston Peek’s marvelous zine, Exotica / Et Cetera, I came across an article by a Dutch collector of abnormal and anti-records named Ed Veenstra. In that article, Veenstra provided brief descriptions of thirty or so bizarre records from his extensive collection. Several items stood out and are worthy of discussion on Anomaly Index. One particular favourite was a record made out of rusted metal. Named Hör Zu, it was produced by a German industrial group named Lyssa Humana.
Little information survives about the band, who were based out of Regensburg. However, I was able to get in touch with former band member Tilo Ettl, now a visual artist, to find out more about this unusual record. At first he couldn’t remember which anti-record I was talking about.
“Well, first I must admit that I destroyed everything I had from the Lyssa Humana time, because there was no interest at all by anyone,” Ettl responded. “After 15 years of storing the stuff I said to myself, ‘Why the hell are you keeping all that material?’ That was a quick and lethal decision, lethal not for me but for the anti-records I made. So I’m not sure whether Hör Zu is the disc in plaster or the tape with the mummy!?”
I ended up having to tell him it was neither. With that said, those unusual releases are interesting in their own right. The plaster record was called Ramstein Trash. “I took an old vinyl disc, mixed the plaster, quite fluid, then poured it onto the vinyl disc. Waiting until dry. That´s all. Sure you can play it. In fact it’s a negative of the original vinyl. If you are not afraid of ruining your diamond you can play the disc. At least two people did play it. (Great success!)”
Ramstein Trash is a little reminiscent of John Bender’s 1981 LP, Plaster Falling, which was a record that was coated in plaster, designed by Bender with the visual artist CV Mansoor. You had to pull a string embedded in the plaster to get to the record itself, which meant that collectors had to choose between listening to their record or preserving its value as a collectible. A Faustian bargain.
With regard to the Hör Zu disc, Ettl explains that he sourced his rusty metal from a factory near his hometown, Schwandorf. “[It was] quite easy to steal because there were no fences or security after they finished work at 6 pm,” he remembers. He was using that metal for his own sculptural art at the time, so it made sense to use it for an anti-record, too. The disc was named after a weekly German magazine for “ordinary families,” which included TV listings.
Ettl tells me the record was all about destruction and nihilism. “I’m quite sure that you destroy your record player by playing the disc, but that’s what it was about. Fuck everything.” He compares this to the aesthetic of noise music, citing the Einstürzende Neubauten track, “Hör mit Schmerzen,” or “Listen With Pain.”
He tells me a little bit about the mindspace he was occupying around the time he conceived this negative-centric record. “I was very ‘anti’ at that time, unsatisfied, unhappy, studying at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart in the painting class,” he says. He and the four other members of Lyssa Humana shared an enthusiasm for industrial bands like Einstürzende Neubauten, and would occasionally host performances in Regensburg. The band existed from 1986 to 1990.
Because of their short lifespan, Lyssa Humana now registers as little more than a blip on the late-eighties industrial scene. Ettl explains that this lack of longevity boiled down to the band members’ different personalities. “Edmund von Bachmeier was older, sort of a professional musician playing with [fellow Regensburg industrial band] Delir Noir. He was the ‘provocateur,’ but, because he had a real job, he had some money. William Kretschmer had been a student for 10 years and was pretty much into literature and movies. Walter Heilmeier was a semi-musician and really Bohemian, earning a living via some short-time jobs. And me, I was more into art and was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts. I still wonder how it worked for so many years.”
The band was sometimes accompanied by Heilmeier’s girlfriend, Margarete, who “wasn’t very active but also participated in performances and was something like a female alibi for a boy group.”
A tape has been uploaded to YouTube and serves as a capsule of the band’s approach, which in this case is a combination of sampled radio, bass guitar, and what sounds like someone playing with some metal junk:
Ettl dates Hör Zu to approximately 1988 or 1989. Being the art student in the group, he was responsible for crafting the metal records himself. He figures the other members may have been involved in planning the release. “It is one thing to have great ideas, but another thing to realize them. William [Kretschmer] planned, for example, an opera — an industrial opera with singers singing in destroyed cars after a car accident. Good idea but it ended in some attempts and some beers. The performances were true collaborations, everyone put some ideas into them and was supported by the rest.”
Regarding Hör Zu, Ettl cites the influence of other unusual records and anti-records. He pinpoints two creations by the notorious Rudolf Eb.er as sources of inspiration. One was the Zerstückelte Denkkurbeln compilation on the Schimpfluch record label, which had a plastic fork glued to the cover. And then there’s Lieder Zur Analytischen Selbstverkrüppelung, a record by Eb.er’s project, Institut für Psycho-Hygiene; it came in a bizarre cover coated in black paint and a tampon. He also mentions Honeymoon Production’s infamous Manipulation Muzak, which was a solid wad of vinyl that came with instructions for the owner to create their own record by heating it up and flattening it. Lastly, he points to the power electronics opus All In Good Faith by Con-Dom, which came wrapped in a shroud inside a hollowed-out hymn book.
Ettl also cites the influence of writers like William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard (specifically Crash), and Kathy Acker, as well as the performance art of the Survival Research Laboratories, which he describes as “an American group of weird people making weird performances with machines made of scrap metal, fighting and destroying themselves. Fire, explosions, noise.”
“Maybe you don´t remember the times before internet came up,” he explains. “It was a challenge to find ‘censored’ material, films, books, VHS-tapes, and we thought we were rebellious by showing that material in public. Maybe it was — because people like you are doing research 30 years later.”
He estimates that only eight or nine copies of Hör Zu were produced. “Four for us and one or two sold,” he says, laughing.
Ettl intended this record to threaten the listener with the possibility of turntable destruction. Yet those brave enough to play it might not have faced the intended result. “I remember that I actually played the disk. Unfortunately the effect is not what it is supposed to be: the arm of the record player runs very quickly to the center, playing only for three seconds or so. It´s more the fear that is spread — shall I play it or not? What is the outcome? Is it worth it? What weird stuff is that?”
And why did he create a blank record housed in a sandpaper cover?
When Ursula Block’s seminal art catalog, Broken Music, came out, one interesting entry was this sandpaper record, attributed to “ANONYMUS”:
As the picture shows, the “record” itself is a square of sandpaper. Printed on the sandpaper is “Norton”, which refers to Norton Abrasives, a sandpaper company. Adalox, meanwhile, is the trade name for a type of sandpaper that Norton makes. P80 refers to the grit size of the sandpaper (this one is a medium grit.)
I reach out to Jan Van Toorn, who uploaded this anti-record to Discogs. He owns one of very few copies of this record. He explains to me that he purchased it at an art gallery-cum-bookstore in Cologne around 1990. Around then, he saw another copy at a different bookshop/gallery called Bucholz, but he hasn’t seen one since. When he tried to reach out to the original bookstore to find out who Göbel was, they didn’t have any information.
He shared the following images of his copy, which include the sandpaper-abraded surface of the blank LP, as well as an autograph:
He notes that, while the Broken Music catalog kept Göbel’s name “anonymus,” the catalog for Ursula Block’s 1988 exhibition with Christian Marclay, Extended Play, did list Göbel as the artist responsible — which matches the autograph.
So who was Göbel?
Was it a fake name, an appropriation of this famous German inventor who was falsely believed to have invented the incandescent lightbulb before Thomas Edison? Or perhaps named after this architect who authored an extensive history of European tapestry?
Both Heinrich and Göbel are common last names in Germany, which contributes to the information shortage.
Certainly, this wasn’t the only record, or anti-record, to experiment with sandpaper. Just two years prior, the Durutti Column released their famous album, The Return of Durutti Column, with an outward-facing sandpaper cover (designed to damage other LPs in your collection). Richard D. James used to put sandpaper on the decks during his DJ sets, and the conceptual artist Timm Ulrichs created variably-graded sandpaper records in 1968. But this one is among the most mysterious, since Göbel’s identity — and motivations — remain obscure.
Do you know more about Heinrich Göbel or this mysterious anti-record? Are you Henrich Göbel? If so, please leave a comment or contact me!
Thanks to Jan Van Toorn for contributing the three images of Göbel’s record, and for providing invaluable background information. Van Toorn runs ART RPM and Slowscan Records.
Years ago, I came across a peculiar CD called Music For Multiples which was attributed to a mysterious artist named Bloggs. It was an intriguing collection of sound textures, reportedly created using “metal bowls, clarinet, contact microphones, saxophone, trumpet, PVC pipe, harmonium, piano, etc…” According to the catalog number (lensone), it was the inaugural release on an obscure record label called Fresnl.
Years later, while putting together a book chapter about anti-records, the Bloggs name came up again in the form of CT Sketches, a clear record with irregular hand-etched grooves — that is, if you can call them grooves, since many of them were perpendicular to the path of a turntable stylus. Even more perplexing, the catalogue number was lensezero, suggesting that it may have preceded Music For Multiples.
I dug around for an answer, hunting for an email address for the man behind Joe Bloggs. As it turns out, the term Joe Bloggs is a British placeholder name, something like the “John Smith” of the UK. But through some digging around, I was able to learn that the Joe Bloggs of this record’s fame has recorded under a number of different pseudonyms, among them Ralph Haxton and Damon Cleckler. After reaching out to a completely different Ralph Haxton who runs a YouTube channel about cooking, I found the man responsible for all this, and Damon Cleckler seems to be his real name.
Despite the layers of obfuscation that had to be pulled back to find him, Cleckler generously provided me a wealth of background about CT Sketches and his broader experimental music exploits, which represent an interesting tangent of the American avant-garde music scene.
Cleckler first became interested in the mechanics of music in third grade — 1975 — when he disassembled an old stereo in an effort to figure out how it worked. “Mostly it was the speakers that obsessed me,” he tells me via email. “I would take apart old speakers I found at the dump, or from trashed-out junk-yard cars, and would daisy-chain them together in my room to try and make a bigger sound from my old portable stereo. I had no clue about impedance or power. I just knew that the shapes and sizes of the speakers (without enclosures any longer) had different frequencies and really seemed to sound better all together versus just the two that came attached to the portable. I used to lie on my bedroom floor surrounded by these speakers, listening to the Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ over and over again. It was amazing!”
Growing up in a rural area of Northern California, not far from Oregon, he was sheltered from the “cool” record stores of big cities, but did experience punk rock vicariously by reading about it in Creem and Circus magazine. But a couple of things changed in sixth and seventh grade. For one, he bought an 8-track copy of Never Mind the Bollocks from the local record store. Then, a UK exchange student stayed with his family and introduced Cleckler to a world of punk rock and new wave records.
Experimental music came later. “As we traveled every summer down to the Sacramento valley to visit relatives, I’d had started a ritual of combing through the radio dial when we got to my grandmother’s house trying to find more underground new wave or punk rock,” he remembers. “She had a shortwave, and it was incredible the things you could pick up. Even just the sound of tuning between stations was fascinating to me. I had a portable cassette deck (the kind that looks like a brick with a handle), and I used to record with that held up next to the portable shortwave radio. I only had a couple of tapes of this, but I can remember recording some of the weirdest noise/art/sound stuff I’d ever heard with no back announcing that made it to the tape.”
In the early eighties, he found himself recording radio broadcasts from UC Davis’ college station, KDVS, while staying with his aunt. “The best shows were at night, and usually involved some form of punk and hardcore, or at least just pretty odd stuff that really sounded like nothing else. I still remember the song segues to this day from all of those tapes.”
He ended up applying to only two schools after high school, then choosing UC Davis solely in hopes of deejaying at KDVS. “I was really a big fan of a weekly hardcore show that I’d been recording for some time. It was a show that had a few hosts over the years, but when I got to school it was this team of Mike (Trouchon) and Kristina. I listened religiously, Wednesday nights at 10 to midnight. I wound up meeting the two of them when they invited me down to do a show with them one night, and that led to me taking over the show the next fall quarter after both had decided to take a break for a while. I’d not had a proper training in the 3-6am ‘newbie’ time slots, and wound up with a primetime show through a side door connection.”
Though he initially selected geology as his major — to which he now simply reflects “who knows” — he switched into music that fall, specifically composition and theory, but was stumped when they required him to perform a musical instrument as a compulsory part of his degree. “Although I’d played the trumpet between 4th grade and senior year of high school, I quit playing when I went to college and never wanted to pick it up again. I just wanted to be surrounded by music while I was in school, and for whatever crazy reason, my parents were okay with it. And the music department was willing to work with me creatively allowing me to include electronic music studio, work at the radio station and performing in the choir as ways to satisfy basic performance requirements.”
He also started playing bass in a Big Black-inspired band called Nest of Saws, powered by a Roland drum machine. “It later evolved into something more of a noise/punk/funk-ish power trio with a real drummer, but that’s because it was the late 80s and that’s just what happened.” He also performed in a lost-to-the-annals “free jazz/situationist/noise ensemble” named Tuba Mirum.
Cleckler teamed up with Mike Touchon, who had ushered him into KDVS, along with another friend, Pete Gomez, to record some improvisations in the studio KDVS used to record live performances. “Mike had wanted to call a band ‘Ralph Haxton’ and this was to be that band,” he tells. “We never got past a few jams, and some poor attempts at writing songs. Alas, school came first, Pete had to relocate back to Santa Cruz to finish his degree, and we had no time to make it happen.”
“As I recall, Haxton was a character that Mike told us would frequently appear on botany tests and other materials whenever some kind of crackpot science or buffoonery were being used in the examples. I may not have that exactly right, but it’s effectively what we carried forward with years later.”
After losing touch for awhile, Touchon and Cleckler regrouped in San Francisco, where Cleckler had been doing some solo composing. They decided to revive the Ralph Haxton name and set about performing noise music, sometimes with their other friend, Simon Whickham-Smith. “That eventually turned into the gyttja label we co-founded,” he explains. “We put out five or so Ralph Haxton releases, some work by other artists (Roy Montgomery, Loren Conners, Crawling with Tarts) and the first rhBand recording. Probably worth mentioning rhBand had originally been called The Ralph Haxton Large Ensemble, as we’d brought in a couple of our friends to add to the explorations.”
The Bloggs Years
One day, Cleckler was describing the origin of the name Ralph Haxton — a generic name used as a placeholder in geometry word problems. Accoring to Cleckler, that friend replied, “Oh, you mean like Joe Bloggs?”
“I had no idea who that was, and he went on to explain the commonplace everyman concept of Joe Bloggs in English culture. I’d been looking for a way to do my own solo stuff, and in an instant Joe Bloggs was born. The modern day everyman.”
Whereas the gyttja label had been “a bit of a pisstake on noise artists,” after recording a seven-inch single under the Joe Bloggs name for the label, he decided he wanted to get more serious about recording. As a result, he started up his new label, Fresnl. A “pure vanity label” by Cleckler’s description, it was designed to release his solo work, since he wanted to keep gyttja as the primary outpost for his and Mike’s collaborations.
The CT Sketches single was, indeed, the first release to come out on Fresnl. Interestingly, this anti-record actually came about as a result of the materials being used for a different record altogether. He had ordered 50 clear blanks from a local pressing plant called the Bill Smith Pressing Plant, which were to be used for the packaging of a 1995 Ralph Haxton single put out on gyttja. “The intent was to use two of them as a protective cover sandwich for the actual record, which was mounted on a post with a screw in a fold over package, complete with a unique polaroid cover photo. It was just a special edition thing we’d done for friends, and solely intended as a hand-made giveaway thingy.”
“[The pressing plant owner] Bill thought I was crazy and assured me he was going to charge me as if it were a regular pressing anyway, but he happily obliged. He’d never done something like that as far as I recall, and he thought it was kind of cool.”
The idea of creating a record with irregular sounds went way back. “Mike and I had long toyed with producing a ‘home loop kit’ that would include various sized circular (or not circular) things with a spindle hole in the middle, as well as other things that could be used to restrict or manipulate the tone arm to keep it in a position of stasis or lock on a track,” he explains. “I’d made a few of these for myself out of heavy paper and used them with a portable turntable as some of the background noise on the Ralph Haxton track ‘Bogota is Cold in Winter.’ It was just an easy hack way to get a certain sound without a sampler, and it was kinda Dada in its randomness. We were more serious than not about producing the ‘kit,’ but never actually made it happen. I think in some ways the blanks were sort of an experiment with that idea, but we never made it known in the packaging that you could use these as a looping tool for a larger record underneath. We figured we get to that as an actual project later.
He only used about 34 of the blank records for the Ralph Haxton single, so he decided to do something with the rest of them. “One day I took an X-Acto blade and cut some grooves into one side, perpendicular to a normal playback groove, just to see what would happen if I were to play it on the turntable. Seeing the stylus bounce around violently but also sometimes gently in the glassy portion inspired me to play around with it a bit more. I tried different patterns and angles on a few more sides, and then came up with the idea that I could actually make an anti-record that was interesting to look at, and no two would be the same. I only had 13 blanks left, so the edition of 13 was born.
“I did the cutting over the course of a couple of days, designed a simple label, and christened the record with a matrix of “lensezero” with the goal of making other non-records following that same pattern.”
I asked Cleckler if he had been inspired by other anti-records when putting CT Sketches together, and he responded by pointing to a number of sources of influence. “Seeing a Christian Marclay show at the Hirschhorn in Washington DC in 1990 was most definitely an influence. The piece (or pieces) where two records had been pieced together was very cool, as you could just imagine listening to it. Also the vinyl flooring that you could walk on really seemed like a cool idea, but I thought he got it wrong; it would have been better if the records didn’t have any pre-existing sound on them. That always stuck with me.”
He also mentions the seminal art catalogue Broken Music, which collected works of art that incorporated repurposed vinyl records, as well as various other conceptual pieces. He checked it out of the UCLA Music Library in the early 90s, right after he moved to L.A. “I recall photocopying several pages of records I had hoped to track down some day,” he remembers, singling out a number of memorable items covered in the book. In particularly, he mentions sculptor Harry Bertoia’s Sonambient record series and Marcel Duchamp’s visually stunning Rotoreliefs. “The Duchamp pieces in particular have always been at the core of everything I do, but I don’t know that I’ve ever said that. I tried to make an homage to one with the Fresnl label ‘logo’ which I’m sure is super obvious. Broken Music was just so astounding for the sheer mass of creative ideas in it.”
“There was always a running theme of not really being able to play a lot of anti-records, so it’s just an idea or an implication of sound. Those that can be or are intended to be played, are ultimately just a variation of Cage’s ‘Cartridge Music’ sonically, and are often designed to do damage to some part of your system.” In that seminal Cage composition, the performers were instructed to insert small objects into a record player’s cartridge, then “play” the turntable at their discretion.
“I didn’t set out to make something special or unique, but I wanted an anti-record that could be played and would not necessarily damage a stylus,” Cleckler expands. “So accidental cartridge bumps, occasional grooves, and some patterns at play with the spiral of the disc kind of naturally fell into place. There’s an element of chance, like the Johnny Moped ‘Mystery Track’ or the K-Tel ‘Chance a Tune’ single, as well as some structure that may allow for occasional repetition. I find few things as comforting as the sound of run out groove playing endlessly, so it’s all intertwined I suspect.”
At just thirteen copies, most copies were given to friends. Cleckler doesn’t know how many have survived to this day, but he does know four people who still have theirs, and figures the fifth is in the hands of whoever created the Discogs entry for the release. “But the rest of them? I’m just not sure. I may have written it down somewhere, but I don’t think so. It was just sent off as a ‘here you go’ regular record package, and probably not much else. What I do know is that the folks who got one were people who had helped or participated in the gyttja releases somehow.”
Anti-Records After CT Sketches
After 1997’s CT Sketches, the Music For Multiples CD followed in 1999. It was produced in an edition of 1000 and given proper distribution. Tantalizingly, Cleckler tells me there were two other anti-records, both even more limited in production quantity than CT Sketches — which is remarkable, given that CT was an edition of thirteen. “Though I possess one of each of these still (or parts at least),” he says, “I don’t know that anyone else actually does.”
“One was called Vinyl 12 Inch (lensezed), and was a 12-inch linoleum floor tile with a center spindle hole. Those turned out to be very hard to stamp and dremmel into, so I abandoned finishing the edition, but some folks got one. It fit very well next to any other regular LP in ones collection, and it was kind of the other extreme to [Christian Marclay’s Footsteps, in which records tiled the floor of an art gallery.]
“There were two others, neither of which were distributed at all. One was Stylus for Anti-Record (lensenaught), which was never completed beyond the prototype, and Sleep Never Rusts (lensenull), which was an edition of one. Stylus was based on a stack of about 20 identical, unused seven-inch circular saw blades, all very old and very rusty. The intent was to metal stamp the title, edition and matrix, and then use a very heavy paper contraption as it’s container. Unfortunately it remains incomplete to this day. Rust was a single, 12-inch square, quarter-inch thick piece of steel that somehow had a hole in the middle just about the size of a spindle. It had great patinated patterns, and looked very nice on the shelf.”
Today, Cleckler works in tech, “primarily user-experience and requirements.” Following the release of Music for Multiples, he focused his energy on work and his work with his group, rhBand. “Somewhere in there a marriage fell apart, rhBand folks started having kids, I started focusing more on architecture and design as interests, and before you know it, I am remarried and have a kid of my own,” he tells.
Today, he primarily finds himself listening to music. “There continue to be amazing releases of both new and reissued material getting issued on vinyl all the time. It’s fantastic. I find much of it inspiring, and often think about making work again. But I have not. Yet.”
He still does play music, mostly long-form drone stuff in a “bloggsian” (his term) mould, and also plays with rhBand now and then. Despite his day job being fully computerized, he loves analog recording, and is lukewarm on digital production. “Our latest thing is setting up drones that just go on for several hours in a particular room in a house. We’ll change our experience with the sound by moving to different rooms (indoor, outdoor) and may occasionally change some dimensions to the overall sound. We carry on conversations, move in an out of the sound. It’s impossible to capture, but fantastic to experience. Kind of like [La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s] Dream House, but without purple neon and no rules about conduct.”
I finished our interview off by asking whether Cleckler owns many other anti-records, apart from those he released as Bloggs. He does own a copy of Marc Behren’s clean-clear, which was a cardboard record originally done as centrefold for an art magazine called Rogue. He used to own copies of the RRRecords locked groove records, RRR-100 and RRR-500, and was also apparently asked by RRRon Lessard to contribute to one of them, but declined.
“Most of what I have is experimental music or non-music oddball things, but none are really so much about the object or the art of it,” he tells me. “If it didn’t bring me pleasure to hold on to, or more importantly, to listen to, I have generally thinned my collection over the years. I no doubt must have had some anti-records from others but no idea what they would be now. Again, I was inspired by these external ideas, but it wasn’t so much what I had set out to do or was seeking. They were just ideas I had.”
Update: Cleckler found an old prototype of Ct Sketches in his archives. Take a look:
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
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?
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…
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.