My History with Music and Sound

As I’ve been reading academics talk about remixing and the use of sound in composition studies, I’ve been increasingly reminded (sometimes surprisingly so!) of how much I’ve played with music in my life. For fun, let’s remind ourselves of some of them:

  • Fifth grade: inspired by my sister, I kept a tape ready in a handheld tape recorder, just in case something cool came on the radio or if a cool theme song came on TV. I held the mic up to the speaker of the music source and went completely frozen, later yelling at anyone who made too much sound and thus ruined the recording.
  • Sixth grade: Got my first two-tape boombox, the first one in the house. Quickly found two things: 1) holding the pause button down would play the tape back at a distorty, uneven high speed (which I would record onto tape 2, sometimes until my pause-finger ached), and 2) quickly pushing the play button down halfway would make a sound like a record scratch.
  • Seventh grade: In a letter to a friend back in San Diego, I mentioned that one of the things I liked doing was “making remixes.” His response included a single-sentence paragraph: “What’s a remix?” What I meant was to take a song I had taped off the radio (I think Bell Biv DeVoe got the treatment once) and add quick clips from other songs that “responded” to various lines in the lyrics. The results were choppy, awkward, and I loved them.
  • Eighth grade: My dad gave me an old karaoke machine that his office had grown out of. It had two cassette decks, two 1/4″ mic inputs (for one handheld mic and one lapel mic), and one 1/4″ headphones output, making it the most complexly powerful machine I had had yet (or would have for years). Main application in 8th grade: recording prank calls. Here’s how: held lapel mic to phone output, turned volume of karaoke machine way up, listened through the headphones, and spoke into the phone input.
  • Ninth grade: Began using the karaoke machine to make intentionally misleading recordings of friends. E.g. would ask friends to just talk for 10 or 15 minutes while I recorded. Then I’d kick everyone out and spend an hour or two relistening for potentially damning or perverted sentences. Then I’d record myself asking a question (“How far do you like to go with your mom?”) and then splicing in a previously innocuous sentence (“All the way!”). These recordings got very popular in our group of friends, and some folks made a big deal out of recording their session so I could make them look bad later on.
  • Tenth grade: For an English project, a friend and I recorded a complex, soundtracked, multi-layered, weird as snot dialogue between Creon and his son in Antigone. I’m sure we used sound effects from airplanes crashing, women screaming, farmyard animals, and music from Star Trek: First Contact, Nine Inch Nails, one hip-hop tape or another, and the videogame Quake. High- and low-speed effects were created with the aid of my brother’s talkboy (made famous in Home Alone 2).
  • Eleventh grade: I made a couple mix tapes for friends on which I recorded favorite lines of dialogue from movies and had the end of the dialogue fade into a song I thought was appropriate. (By this time I had a list of “songs that should be in movies” pasted on my bulletin board.) This was without a computer, you remember: I hooked up my parents’ cassette deck to the TV, recorded the dialogue from VCR to the cassette tape, took it upstairs to the karaoke machine, and ran the CD music into the karaoke machine through one of the mic inputs while playing the movie dialogue on one of its cassette decks, recording in the other, all the while trying to keep the volume near normal levels.
  • Twelfth grade: My friend Matt and I created a purposefully rough and machine-like sounding 30-second clip from a woman speaking an African language recorded from the shortwave radio, a crazy guy laughing on the hidden track at the end of Better than Ezra’s first album, and the spoken phrase “I don’t want you to blow on my candle” slowed down to last 30 seconds using the talkboy to slow down, and then re-slow down, and then re-re-slow down the phrase.


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3 responses to “My History with Music and Sound

  1. These are fun to read through and remind me of my throughout-life experimentation with computer graphics, including but not limited to copying BASIC code out of 3-2-1 Contact magazine and programming experimental algorithmic art into my TI-89…

  2. Rachelle

    Enjoyed reading this. I’m glad to be a part of a few of these. I used to listen to your tapes regularly, as my old car had a tape deck. Alas, I’ve now upgraded to a CD player and haven’t given Antigone or Dijibouti or that soap opera (with the man who just wanted to dance/sing and didn’t care about the kids in the basement)a listen in a while. I should dig them up. Good times. 🙂

  3. kstedman

    I’ve digitized a few of these files in hopes of not losing them to decaying tape, but I just haven’t gotten around to actually uploading them! One day… Some of them I’m especially proud of/interested in when listening now (Antigone and one I didn’t mention, a similar tape with Davey Jones about Antiope).

    I’m glad y’all liked hearing these mentioned….It’s hard not to sound all “Look at me!” in a post like this, but I’m increasingly intrigued/excited about the creative possibilities of modding/cracking/remixing/mashing stuff together. And it’s easy for me to forget (until I write a post like this) that this isn’t some new academic bandwagon that I’m jumping on, but that I’ve liked this stuff for a long time.

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