While recently weeding an old hard drive, I came across a recording that reminded me of how I came to be…
Christmas, freshman year of college, 1995, my parents deposited a shiny, new Fostex cassette 4-track unter dem tannenbaum. I felt like Ralphie raising the Red Rider to his shoulder. After all, the 4-track was a magical thing to a youngan’ obsessed with the lo-fi indie stalwarts like Guided By Voices, Sebadoh, and the Grifters — even if I might blow my ear out.
In the years previous, I made my own music with a nylon string acoustic, a Casio Sk-1 (also a holiday gift), a jambox and whatever else I could find. But with the 4-track, I believed (naively) that I, too, could make something as incredible as Alien Lanes.
I returned to my dorm room with a brick of 90-minute Maxells, and spent the rest of the semester learning to multi-track, bounce tracks, and how to get a decent level. Perfect recordings eluded me, but I was delighted by the accidents: hammering levels into the red, generating menacing feedback loops, and flipping the tape to reverse recordings. Like Joe Meek, I was beginning to “hear a new world.”
The following summer I moved into my first dumpy apartment, and cobbled together a meager sonic palette consisting of my Great Aunt Betty’s Lowery console organ, a broken Realistic Moog MG-1 (possessed with beautifully evil belching spirits), an electric guitar with fuzz and wah pedals, a sound effects record, and some cheap microphones. For the first time, everything was set up to record.
Enter: Doug. A friend of a friend whom I met at a party, Doug, unlike the rest of my crowd, shared my love of Krautrock, and one band in particular, Faust. He was home for the summer from a small, liberal arts college where he and his buddies had a noise group who performed live free improvisation broadcasts on their college radio station. Doug lent me tapes of their free-form sonic collages, which layered drones, noise, found sounds, cuts from strange records, in a non-traditional, almost non-musical approach. I was floored.
One afternoon, a few days before he left town for the semester, Doug and I decided to record some music together. Until this day, I had a hard time finding people to play with. South Carolina, my locale, was in the throes of jam band wankery and blowhard blowfish frat rock. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t really play guitar, at least not like Clapton or Allman, and I didn’t want to. I had cut my teeth on Sonic Youth; my idea of a solo was shoving the guitar into the amp, and unleashing a howl of feedback – an approach that resulted in a ban from any dorm room jams on the hall.
Doug and I didn’t really discuss what we were going to do. Instead, we each took an instrument, nodded to each other when ready, and released the record-pause button. Several hours later, we had 3 tracks and a new feeling. I had finally recorded the music I dreamed of making.
The funny thing is, when I listen to it now, roughly 15 years later, I can clearly hear the musician I would become, and the music I would continue to make. On October 17, my band, Von Bingen, will open for the legendary Faust. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way, but in all honesty, I’m still right back in that dumpy apartment, searching for that moment when my friends and I transcend our limitations and lose ourselves in sound. Until then, eat your fruit, and don’t take root.
Faust play the Waldorf Hotel on October 17.
By Daniel Presnell