The Minnesota Daily A&E

June 23, 2004

The sounds of science
Tape manipulators find a home on a Minneapolis label
By Keri Carlson

Few serious music collectors have a collection which consists primarily of tapes. They may have a couple of Paula Abdul or Van Halen cassettes gathering dust in the garage, but mainly it's either vinyl or compact discs.

But tapes still have their place in history. The blank tape made do-it-yourself a reality. Anyone who could handle pressing the "play" and "record" buttons at the same time became a DJ. The mix tape was the original Napster, a way of swapping music with friends or grabbing songs off the radio.

A few mix tape aficionados soon realized the possibilities of the record and pause combination. Recording entire songs or albums was not the only option. The button pusher had the ability to change a song - slice it up, add snippets off the radio, etc.

As a kid, Jon Nelson (the founder of the new local label Recombinations and the radio show "Some Assembly Required" on Radio K) did exactly this. He took bits of random sound and used it to make entirely new pieces. Nelson discovered he liked the sound of a CD skipping and tried to recreate that effect.

Normally, the gimmicks of mix tape makers were made and taken as kitsch. Most creators - like children drawing with chalk - never thought to call what they made art. Neither did Nelson. In fact, he believed he was doing something new since he had no contact with others creating similar works.

Soon Nelson discovered there was a whole world of tape manipulators and sound collage artists.

One particular inspiring moment happened around 1993 when a punk rocker friend had the album "Guns" by sound-collage pioneers Negativland. "After that I went out and bought all their records" Nelson said.

In 1998 Nelson started his own sound collage project, Escape Mechanism (now re-issued on Recombinations). On the back of the album is a symbol consisting of two arrows curved in a circle with the message around the outside, "100% Recycled." Everything on the album is sampled. "No microphones" Nelson said.

With the release of Escape Mechanism, Nelson met many more artists online involved with the sound collage community. These artists would often send him their CDs, and Nelson soon had his own collection of sample-based albums. At the time, Nelson volunteered at Radio K. He pitched the idea of a specialty show featuring sound collage, but the program schedule did not have room.

Undaunted, Nelson went ahead and started his specialty show "Some Assembly Required" on Radio K's internet broadcast. In 2001, the show moved to the AM frequency. And now, "Some Assembly Required" is syndicated to 51 stations around the country and Canada.

The main requirement for air-play is the song has to be at least 50 percent sampled. Actually, the piece of work does not even have to be a song in the traditional sense. Nelson doesn't consider many of the sample-based works he plays music. He explains, "All music is sound art, but not all sound art is music."

Nelson says he started Recombinations because he "wanted to do more to promote the same artists I play on the show." Recombinations' first releases feature all local sound collage artists.

"World of Splatt" assembles the best songs from artist Splatt's nine CDs. Splatt chops up forgotten and sometimes all too memorable pop jingles, interspersing odd clips in between. One especially brilliant section has Splatt combining the Alka-Seltzer commercial ("plop plop, fizz fizz") with the Trojan Man.

Cast of Thousands with Escape Mechanism is a collection of live performances.

The Coherent Encoherence is brothers Keith and Nick Hadad. Unlike most kids who fool around with tape manipulation, the Hadads began their project because they were inspired by artists like the Tape-beatles. These kids began their sound collage already considering it as art - which becomes apparent when listening to their album "Will a Computer Give You Kids?"