Reflecting Stars

Reflecting Stars
Each place is a pathway to all others.
The building was dark and extremely dusty when we first started constructing our quarters. The front doors were hanging loosely, but were chained shut and padlocked through the broken panes. Only street vagrants, entering via the dangling fire escapes, had used the upstairs during the prior decades. There was no electricity and no running water either. The building stood as a relic from a time when gas lighting was still in use in Seattle. The second and third floors upstairs in the building, consisted of generously large abandoned apartments which had been occupied after World War II. Wallpaper was peeling everywhere from the walls, and pigeons roosted on the burned rafters of a blackened corner apartment which fire had claimed sometime in the past. Everywhere there was thick dust and detritus, rubble and junk. Many of the exterior windows had long since been smashed out by sheer exposure to weather and the vandalism of the international district.


The second logo

Photo by John Hubbard

Stick man tapes

Stick man tapes
Drones of a 1990 Yeast Sculpture.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stick Men

How the Stick Men recordings came about was related to our performance space. The show room was at 2015 Terry Avenue in the Kalberer building, a former shipping and receiving warehouse. The performance space was about 1000 square feet with long spanning rough wood beam floors and bordered by long stud walls, with a garage door entrance. We had the freedom to set the space up differently for each show. Dennis Sita usually supplied the killer sound PA system.

Back in 1989 Masami Akita decided it was nearing time for Merzbow to make a first tour of the United States. He'd recently had his first US double album "Batz Tou Tai" pressed by RRR in Massachusetts, and also had several Japanese LPs behind him. Finally in early September of 1990 he and Reiko flew to the west coast for gigs in LA, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Next was Seattle, for a Friday night show on September 10th at Incubator. Seattle occasionally got visiting acts from Japan, such as Shonen Knife. Merzbow did receive airplay on KCMU, and had some fans even back then. Notably, mail artist Burnt Raisins of Cerebral Discourse zine had been telling me how he thought that Merzbow meant business, and was someone to watch for in the future. How correct that opinion turned out to be! Who could have predicted the huge onslaught of albums that were yet to come? I'd been able to successfully sell about ten copies per title of imports that I'd handled from Masami's ZSF Produkt Japanese label.

Seattle had some nice weather during that week and I had decided that Yeast Culture would be setting up a sculptural installation for Merzbow to perform in. It was a good time to haul in "found" materials from the nearby streets. Craig Morton was also in town visiting from San Francisco. He worked for the Epicenter Zone, a cooperative record / zine store and hang-out space that was originally started by someone from Maximum Rock'n'Roll. Incubator was more of an experimental loft space that happened to sell records and do special shows, but we generally left punk acts to Seattle's many other venues. Craig's experimental sound interests were a perfect fit to the kind of stuff going on at Incubator.

A bunch of us set to work designing a performance environment. This was to be in the audience space for people to sit within. We wanted it to really accent the rare performance from Merzbow. We had about 48 hours to transform the space - lots of time. Allen Russell offered up rolls of white plastic to make the room look hospital sterile. These were actually plastic body bags from a local funeral home where he worked. We tacked these up over the whole room, including the floor and ceiling so that the place was shiny white inside. Basically, the room was transformed into a giant white body bag which contained everyone. The stage was set elevated to three feet near the garage door entrance, and a tunnel underneath it was constructed for audience entry into the environment. Near this entrance, Dale Travous set up one of his portable miniature spark generators that would periodically emit loud snapping arcs of electricity. From a few blocks away several more of us carried in piles of discarded wooden sticks from a local wood shop - lots of them. I started hammering in wooden sticks at angles into the walls and floors in the middle of the space. Craig and Allen built angular structures, and so did John Hubbard. Later Key Ransone joined the hammer party as well. There was no plan to follow, only improvised building to fill the room with a stick structure, leaving room for the audience to move. However, my own concept was to create deliberate obstructions which would force people to bend and move around awkward angles. Arthur Aubry came in to shoot photos after we'd gotten a lot done. He may have even built a bit. We worked for hours and hours building a weird stick zone. Later a series of short metal sitting stools were positioned around the room. Even the entrance to the bathroom was completely enclosed in white plastic. The west windows were covered too, but sunlight managed to glow through, giving the room a nice ambient white lightness. John Hubbard shot some documentary photos. Later for the show, Shade Rupe ran a film projector to shoot moving images over the stage.

Yeast Culture was very much a conceptual project, so that ideas for sound recordings might come about gradually or circuitously, through doing other things. We advertised the show as being a performance by Merzbow, with presentations by Yeast Culture, and opening act of C103 (Burnt Raisins' audio act with Dale Sather). I had activated hidden microphones during the sculptural stick building process, and recorded the work onto John's 4 track recorder. Periodically I would play the tapes back into the room while work was being done. The result was a mix of real building sounds and a background of playback from earlier hours of building. Eventually, after hours of recording, room resonance effects and commingling started to occur in the recordings. Everyone building the sculpture eventually figured out that I was cooking up an ambient sound work. We kept on building. Eventually these ambient tapes were played back into the sculpture room prior to C103 and Merzbow's performances, and then later on into the night.

From the sound of the tapes, I liked the minimal interaction of layers, so I later took the tapes into our studio to minimalize the sounds further. The sound room studio was large with high ceilings. I wanted to just use acoustical processes to contour the sounds. So I played tapes back through the Bose 901 studio speakers while employing physical effects such as using steel tubes to hold microphones to re-sample the room sounds. I locked myself in for hours doing several 45 minute long minimal droning experiments. The result was about ten cassettes of assorted sound material at various stages of transmutation. I kept these tapes for years just as personal playback tapes.

In November of 2010, these tapes were finally mixed into a limited edition project consisting of two 32 minute drones, "Stick Men" and "Flames Of Six Candles." Stick Men mainly consists of the sculpture building process tapes, and "Flames" is the drones which were reworked in studio isolation shortly after the whole performance was over.

Several pages of photographic proofs of this show exist thanks to Art Aubry, and some of these were featured inside Masami Akita's early 90s book "Noise War." Also, both Masami and our own Incubator group video recorded the show to some degree. There was a good turnout, perhaps fifty people, for this event. I hope that the very minimal audio results of the Stick Man tapes are relevant to more than just the folks who attended the show. I wish for that performance zone to propagate somewhat through this tape release, opening it again for further abstraction.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tape information extract:

Red Light Remixes by Yeast Culture with Achim Wollscheid and All Fours.

Live recordings were made in Atlanta, Georgia at the Red Light Cafe during Suitcase Recordings' Paper & Plastic CD release event on Saturday, May 23, 1998. There was a performance by All Fours (Eric Blevins with Mark Schomburg), and another by Achim Wollscheid. Also, Wollscheid's computer clapper system had been installed onto some of the cafe's furniture. There was also a piano which got played anonymously from time to time. Mark Schomburg made percussion, voice and field recordings at or near the Red Light Cafe
and in other Atlanta locations that weekend. All recordings were made for integration into the live performance, except for an improvisational playing of a door by Achim Wollscheid which was conducted separately. This new studio concrete work was produced by combining both live and field recordings with additional sound sources.
Although five track titles are listed below, this is one long work of audio production which attempts to bring together the multiple elements into transitioning focus. Many of the sounds here were not heard at the performance, but were simply preserved on tape. It was part of the show's concept that a crossover existed between different performers and their sounds. Wollscheid's performance included immediate sound samples of the other artists both live and from prior field recordings, creating a generalized time frame. Yeast Culture has expanded this concept to include all total materials from these performances into a remix with additional related source tapes by All Fours and Allen Russell. Both sides of this tape are the same.

Achim Wollscheid (door) & Yeast Culture (sounds):.Der Eingang ist der Ausgang
Yeast Culture on All Fours (objects, electronics, tapes):....................Scattershot
All Fours with Yeast Culture (from source tapes):...............................Intermission
Achim Wollscheid (computer, from performance):...................We'll Call You Later
Various:..........................................................................................Caraway Seeds

Engineered, mixed and produced by Mark Schomburg in July 2010 from microcassettes. Live tapes by Eric Blevins. Thanks to Allen Russell for production equipment. Made in Oregon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Red Light Remixes

As far back as 1998, I had effectively already lost contact with the experimental music scene. Life during the five years up to then had been a haphazard mix of working temporary jobs throughout Seattle and Portland, and even trying out a nudist lifestyle (but that's another story). I was working as the night cashier at the local BP station, still intent on transforming my local situation into an artistic context, despite the harder realities of the situation. Part of my tactic included recycling the waste from the petrol station, which is how I amassed a collection of thousands of empty cigarette cartons. During April of 1998, my mom died from Pancreatic cancer, and I found myself heading out to her funeral in Kansas in May. As chance would have it, the release festival for the experimental "Paper & Plastic" CD set was the same weekend in Atlanta, and I added that to my itinerary. When the time came to travel, I lugged along a microcassette recorder, blank tapes and a suitcase full of empty cardboard cartons.
I spent time at the Kansas farm where my mom grew up, as we scattered some of her ashes. It was a good time to see relatives, but the emptiness had a dreamy quality to it. It's never easy to face absenses which remain unseen, but I was soon on a plane into Georgia for my first visit to Atlanta. Eric Blevins met me at the airport, though we'd never met nor did we know each others faces. He'd gotten Achim Wollscheid from Frankfurt to also visit for the weekend as part of his small festival release party. There were a few other out of towners there as well, including John Sharp, and Howard Stelzer from Florida. We holed up at Eric's until the day of the show. It was a weekend that Eric's own family was out of town, which was convenient for having house guests over.
I had no idea that I was expected to perform at the festival. My idea of a performance back then involved complex playback of field recordings, in a pretty controlled fashion, and I was definitely not club stage material in my opinion. But after looking into the location, a small pub with a piano, called the Red Light Cafe, it seemed like a possibility. I started immediately doing some imprompu microcassette casual situational voice recordings, nothing fancy.
Eric, Achim and I spent part of the afternoon artifying cigarette cartons as packages for the new double CD compilation what was having its release date.
Then Achim spent a lengthy time hooking up his electronic clapper devices to the furniture of the cafe, and suspending chairs from the ceiling. From his laptop, a network of control wires could programmatically cause small impact percussions to the chairs across the room. This was to be a bonus for the show. Eric was handling some show logistical things, while I focussed on exploratory sound recordings of the space, putting together a couple of hours worth of micro sound improvisations on various Cafe fixtures and parts of the building. Having worked in a BP mini mart, it was a quick study to zone into the more interesting sound potentials of the mostly empty bar. Later in the early evening I expanded my sound recording range to include the neighborhood around the bar, and went on walks through the streets and underbrush too.
I returned to the bar before the first part of the performance was yet to begin. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like I was going to have a way to multitrack my source recordings live. So I'd have to try some very sparse improvisation.
There was a pretty decent crowd of happy customers by then, and when Achim's electronic set came on, I think people were easily transfixed. It's hard now to remember the order of the show, but from the tapes I retain, I'm pretty sure that Achim Wollscheid played first. Some of my microcassette sounds had been transferred to other mediums, and appeared in samples from time to time. But it was a short set, maybe fifteen minutes for Achim, and then an other fifteen for Eric and I together onstage. Eric's "All Fours" performance involved something like a delay or sampler in conjunction with prerecorded sounds and his signature clanking mass of small objects in a container effects. I may have hobbled about on the stage surface feeding in my tapes and trying to get physical with the floor surface, and I think we both stayed low down to the ground and gritty. Surprisingly, we pulled it off! The thing is, though, that I never got to utilize the mass of mini-recordings that I'd put together that day. Instead, I actually packed away my half dozen microcassettes where they sat in my tape archive for over ten years. I think we all had to cool off for a while.
Then in about 2008 Eric decided it was time for a mass edition of the "Paper and Plastic," say six-hundred remastered custom made copies for retailing. We got them done by 2010, and then I revisited my microcassettes from the "Red Light."
For me it was like opening Pandora's box, and I was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of lo-fi sounds (over three hours) that I had amassed back in 1998. This is why I spent weeks replaying the materials to get an angle on what a soundwork should be like, to reflect accurately how the Red Light show was - for me. The amount of unheard material dwarfed what had been performed, and when I started production work I finally came to the realization that what had happened for me at that show, was a yet untapped keg of sounds. Instead of putting together linear segments of live recordings from the Red Light weekend, it was essential to explore the whole sound situation, and to let everything I remembered mingle sonically. I hope to soon be releasing the results of this process onto a Petri Supply cassette, with a seriously lengthy (album length) sound work which incorporates my sounds with those of All Fours and also with amazing improvisational performance by Achim Wollscheid using a door for instrumentation. It's a Yeast Culture production work for sure, and I hope the timbre of it will bring back interest in the weird sounds I've enjoyed producing so long ago.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Enough small remnants can accumulate as to form mountains of potential.

Red Light Cafe, Atlanta

Red Light Remixes

Red Light Remixes
Handmade Tape