cassette memories

june 19, 2004.

I got very curious when I saw a solo-performance announced, by Aki Onda, using cassette players and mixing table, for this month of june, at the Instants Chavirés. When I moreover read in the liner notes that Aki is using 'the cassettes he has been recording everywhere he goes for about ten years now', I said to myself: "Well, well, well ...". Or maybe I did not actually say that. I'm pretty sure I did think it, though. Or: I was thinking things that are not readily expressible in a sentence or two, it being the sort of non-verbal thinking that often is accompanied by a "...well, well, well ...". OK. Well. That's better.

Indeed, it read as if Aki might be doing things similar to my Sound Chronicles and Live Chronicles enterprises. And I was pretty happy for an opportunity to find out how someone else would approach the 'problem' of 'going live' using 'lo fi field recordings' made with and played back on dictaphones.

High expectations, say, when, thursday 10th, I walked up to the Instants in the rue Richard Lenoir in Montreuil, just a short hop from where I live.

Aki's set up looked good. He had a table installed before the stage, on one side of which there lay some thirty, forty cassettes neatly lined up in rows. And then there were the, three if I remember rightly, dictaphones, hooked up to a couple of effect / mixing machines, that in turn were plugged into a guitar amplifier standing on the stage, and into another amplifier that was standing on the floor next to the table. (Or something along these lines. Don't hit me if I got the details wrong.)

Effect machines?

Effect machines indeed... I'm afraid I can't tell you what exactly they were. But what I heard them produce were 'sample and hold' / delay like effects, distortion / equalizing. Van datteme. As a matter of fact, throughout most of Aki Onda's performance, it were the effects that took and remained in the spotlight, reducing the cassette recordings to mere accessories. Now of course that can be one's choice, and does not per se have to be a problem, were it not that these were such stupid effects...

Most of the time it went something like this: he started by using the effect machines to sample, loop and equalize a small fragment of one of the cassettes, in order to get a 'beat' or 'drone' going; then he every now and then picked some or other of the cassettes lined up on the table, fumbled it into one of the dictaphones, and, standing (good!) behing the table, started to do some fast forward and backward 'scratching', like a ceejay, moving with the beat, and swirling the little dictaphone around - as far as its little cable would allow - as if it should be dancing.

Oh, now if and only one could have had a dictaphone floating around in the air there above the table on its very own, like a veritable Sony-bird, every now and then diving down, to spit out a tape and eat a fresh one to scratch along its little head ... ("Look, ma! No hands!!") Oh, and/or if only these looped cassette noise beats would have rocked the house, and we all would have gotten up from our seats to dance the night away, out into the streets of Montreuil, way down into Paris ...

But then there was none of this magic imagined, and the beats weren't particularly exciting either, nor were the drones trancing. The equalized & distorted sounds didn't present any particular qualities. So what to do but remain seated, sip beer, and roll a cigarette, even lighting it, hoping for the moment of brilliance that might yet have to come? A lot like watching the Dutch national soccer team play, really ...

Well, yes, I guess I was disappointed. To say the least. Disappointed to have to leave the Instants again while having heard hardly anything of the hours and hours of cassette recordings that were there on that table before me. I would have liked to have had at least some impression of Aki's 'taped memories', of their cracklings, their rumblings, their texture ... some of their contents ... But even in the two parts where Aki did allow them to surface and last - a longish bird song recording, and a sea/waves/water one - they did but barely survive their being drowned within the effects.

It was the effect machines we heard this evening, the cassette recordings being merely a way to get these things off and going. Any other source would have done just as well. Or just as badly, I'm afraid.

No, it's not easy to convincingly perform with cassettes. I'm just too aware of that myself, surely. It's not easy. Maybe for the better. Let it for now remain a challenge to meet.

Sure. I should be fair now, get hold of and then listen to Aki Onda's recordings. He did release two CDs based upon his cassette collection. A series called "Cassette Memories". I like these words a lot. There's a first volume: Ancient & Modern, and a second one: Bon Voyage!, both released in 2003.

I sincerely hope these are different ...

Ah, but then but minutes after Aki Onda's performance all bad taste that may have remained got but swiped away by the Dust Breeders devouring vinyl after vinyl in their mange disques, relentlessly feeding us back all that we had been sowing, with frail Junko, wearing a pinky 'Pornstar' t-shirt squeeking her lungs out through a mike, though still barely distinguishable within the whitish bubble of noizzze... Ah, if only you could have heard this ...

(But wait! Of course you can! I'm one of these guys that always walk around with a dictaphone, right? ;-) Wired for life!

Just one of those nights ...

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