Friday, September 28, 2012

"It's just a phase I'm going through."

Before my September month fades away completely, I wanted to share two more delightful art renderings from my dear friend, David Fontana.  Birthday gifts from my magical amici of time and space, place and music.  A companion to many of the muses, this I can attest to.

Lately, with all the Virgo energy (good and bad) and the slide into Libra balance, I have been putting my little steamed noodles on the Page of Twits.  And, I must admit, have been enjoying the Cosmic Giggle.  But David's art, particularly the first, is the only interpretation so far of the nearly forgotten arcane audio alchemy that was Space Pirate Radio: the phasing of two (or three!) vinyl records of the same the same time.

Let me expand on the subject. ("OH DEAR, Betty!  He's EXPANDING!")

There is a certain nostalgia for the shows of Space Pirate Radio where I threw out all the rules of what a radio program should be bound to.  Now, in my mind, this WAS from day one, January 27th, 1974.  Or even May 1968, when I first went on the air.  But for this science course students, we will examine the period from June 1974 to 1985 when the world was still primarily analog.

It is SAFE TO SAY, that a certain Expanded Mental Consciousness contributed to a Doctor Frankenstein-like environment to, AHEM...tamper in God's Domaine.

Before half a year of Space Pirate Radio had passed, I stopped being a regular disc jockey with normal interruptions and back announcing of song titles.  I felt it was destroying the trip, even if I had "bed" music underneath (Tangerine Dream or Ash Ra Tempel), while I gave out the artist information.  This was a tough evolution because I wanted the listener to know the cool (or UN-cool) music I was playing, but I didn't want to interrupt the mix.  So as the shows developed, I wanted Guy Guden, Disc Jockey, to disappear after introductions at the beginning of the show and "have some fun" being Guy Guden, Space Pirate, or Nun of the Above...a collection of Multiple Personalities, or lack thereof, guiding you through the matmos of muzik of many lands that wasn't Monrovia, but maybe was.  The Hermes of Hi-Fi.  A Quicksilver Messenger Surplus of Foreign Sounds.  If you dug it, welcome aboard; if not, you have freedom of choice.  Turn the Dial.

But I digress...

The phases.

The "trippy" shows of Space Pirate Radio began in June of 1974, where single songs blended into multiple songs.  Themes began to develop.  Sound collages began to happen.  A television set in the old KTYD studios, high atop the 8th floor of the Granada Theatre building, became a new participant in the sound mixes.  While Amon Duul 2's Yeti was playing on the air, I was armed in a production studio with several 10 and a half minute tape carts, recording random dialog off the early TV channels, switching like a juggler, looking for snippets of sound that mixed and matched.  Turn the second dial up while recording and you were surfing echo...soft, smooth and haunted, or turned to full wipe-out!  Old horror films, cheesy Italian sci-fi flicks, el cheapo ads on channel 13.  This audio alchemy added up to sonic magic.  I can still hear dialog of echoed madness from films I have no idea what they were: "Drop!  Drop!  Drop now!" "We can't!  We're TOO loaded!"  "Don't tell anyone what we saw in the garden. They'll think we're insane."  And so forth.  Found dialog, psychic mixing, with no editing.  Pop these on the air while Dance of the Lemmings is still playing, or Second Hand or Seventh Wave or Tago Mago or Atem...WHEEE!!!  A wireless OUIJA BOARD was ON THE AIR.

The first experimental show, was drenched in George Harrison's Electronic Music, voices, gags and sound effects.  It initially scared some listeners, especially if they had been tripping.  But after continued weekly exposures, they became fully initiated and verbally enthusiastic for these new transmission progressions. "Too much?" "Too much."

"Now it begins."  FLASHBACK!

Okay, I now insert the memory of a mind altering moment that would affect the topic at hand.  Like my earlier discovery of the electronic music from Forbidden Planet in 1956...and the sight of that first intoxicated wine cover of Mad magazine in 1958...I had a third childhood pre-psychedelic moment in 1959 (although it felt earlier).  This was hearing for the first time, in our little home in Fullerton, a song called "The Big Hurt" by a lady named Toni Fisher.  WHAT THE HEAVENS WAS GOING ON?   I've read the description by one person who first heard the song and saw a jet overhead and has forever linked the moment.  I believe my mother was vacuuming the furniture when I first heard it.  That is my memory lock.  This song was sound being SUCKED through a vacuum machine.  Furniture music, indeed.  This song seems to have been the initial experiment, accidental some say, of phasing, or flanging, as it's technically called.  I knew neither term at the time, and not until after I was dabbling.  I just knew, buried in my subconscious, was the desire to fly and surf those sounds again.
2nd Phase.
I carried on regardless.  So this phasing thing: if you play one record and then you play a second copy of the same record at the same time, like tantric sex, something amazing will happen.  Prepare for chills because sound that is LINEAR will become VERTICAL and TUBULAR and...OH, MY GOD!!!  AURAL SEX!!! :) :) :)
3rd Phase. Cold shower after 3 laps 'round the field.
So I attempted to enhance the audio sound of all my favourite records if I had 2 copies of the disc. David Fontana has already posted his artistic interpretation on his blog, Scungilli Sings.  He cites Amon Duul 2 from Hijack as the moment he remembers.  I can't think of a favourite work I DIDN'T try to reshape.  Besides the obvious Heavy Hitters, I remember Alan Parsons' Tales of Mystery and Imagination ("System of Doctor Tarr & Professor Feather"), Manfed Mann's Earth Band's Glorified Magnified, Nektar's Remember the Future, and a Pink Floyd bootleg (yeah, I played them) of the Screaming Abdabs as standouts.  I even did Goon Shows and Environments lps (oceans were particularly cool).
Of course, sometimes it would all crash and burn.  Like a lover or two, this Menage a Turntable had to be spun correctly.  Which turntable was faster?  The slower one had to have the music ahead.  The faster coming up in tempo, changing the sound.  You had to hear, on air, live, which table was doing what.  This meant splitting the song in your head to differentiate the disc.  And like Jonathan Pryce in Hysteria, all the action is in the fingers :)  A bad poke and your two bars off the beat.
But when it was good, OH!!!...solid bliss.
In my lab, I tried to go further.  3 turntables.  I tried it with the same song recorded on six carts and two turntables.  Flat and muddled.  The best cross experiment was taking both the English language version and German import of Kraftwerk's Trans-Europa Express and playing them at the same time.  The music was EXACTLY the same and phased.  The dialogue, however, was a cacophony of Ralf Hutter singing and saying the same thing in Englischer and Deutsch.  It was like a Kafka Kocktail Party.
Later, at Y97, I tried phasing cds.  Wasn't satisfied with the outcome.  Digital Pause Repeat Breakup was interesting, but never as visceral as old school plates.  The tables at 2K0, Y97 and KCBX were clunky, noisy and unresponsive to digital (as in FINGERED this time) speed alterations.
While putting together this piece, I read up on various anecdotes regarding the history of phasing, or flanging, in the years of music.   Most refer to the practice coming from the slowing of the tape machines in the recording process.  I've found nothing so far about disc jockeys doing this live.  Yet, I know I wasn't the only one playing with the sound.   When Dave Heffner from Austin, TX joined KTYD a number of years after I had been there, I found him in the afternoon phasing Grateful Dead or Willie Nelson or some of his other favourites.  And he was a daytime jock.  None of this late night space cadet stuff.  So the process has been out there for quite awhile, I suspect.  The lab equipment varies depending on who is using it.  "It's all about the Sound, man.   All about the sound."
4th Phase.  Ah, those phases of the lunacy.  Grazi, Fontana di Luna.
Al Chemical was Jazzed to be Spinning the Wax.

"Mister Sound man. Bring me a dream"

"Now it begins."