Month: July 2005


     I have a short review of Gakken’s Berliner Gramophone and Edison Cylinder kits in the ‘Toolbox’ section of the second issue of Make Magazine. If you aren’t familiar with Make Magazine, it’s basically a comprehensive quarterly manual of nerdery. This issue also includes articles on writing your own Atari 2600 software, building a robot from an old mouse, and running linux on ipods if that helps frame things for you. You can pick up a copy on Amazon, or at your local newsstand (I made a point of visiting the Barnes & Noble where I once worked to purchase it).

     The review is mercifully brief (it had to be under 300 words), but the basic jist of it was that I thought the Gramophine kit was more bang for the buck, all things considered. I had a relatively problem-free experience with the gramophone kit, while I ran into all sorts of recording difficulty with the cylinder kit. To be fair, I’ve since heard from two gents who had the same sort of problems with the Gramophone kit that I experienced with the cylinder kit, so I suppose that means all bets are off. Those interested in further details on the Gramophone kit can find my previous posting here.

     The Edison Cylinder kit was actually the first Kit in Gakken’s adult education series, so I surmised that the inferiority of this exercise when compared with my Gramophone kit experience can be chalked up to the various manufacturing refinements that Gakken made as the series progressed. The Cylinder kit is also much less a ‘showpiece,’ constructed from “Make a dinosaur skeleton!”-style bits of wood.

Edison Cylinder Kit

     I’ve only managed to make one successful recording with the Cylinder kit, though that’s primarily because I ran out of “cylinders” at about the same time that I started to get good at aligning everything. You’d be surprised at how hard it is to find plastic cups without ridges, etc. already molded into the sides. Anyway – I’ve included a 30 second clip of the “successful” run, which should give you a rough idea of the difficulties I experienced with this particular kit. I have no idea what I was singing (This was recorded sometime in January), but it comes out sounding like a distant, drunk wookie. The clip also effectively illustrates how loud the motor is – it’s hard to hear the drunk wookie over it. This is the primary reason I’d recommend the Gramophone kit over the Cylinder kit – you’ll at least have a shot at hearing your recording.


Gakken Edison Cylinder Model – “???”
From: My Diningroom Table

     Hobby Life Japan, the company that imported these kits for me at the end of 2004, has since vanished from the web. Thankfully, both kits are still available to inquisitive Americans via (Gramophone kit, Edison Cylinder kit). Back in March, Peter Giles, one of the dudes behind the site emailed me, offering anyone who mentions in the comments of their order for a Gakken Kit the following deal:

     “We would like to make this offer to your readers living in the US: if they mention your site in their comments when they order this kit, we will refund their shipping, keeping their total at $59.99, and we will upgrade their shipping to USPS Priority (2-3 day delivery).”

     I just checked with Peter and they’re still willing to honor this deal, so if you’ve been waiting for an excuse to order nerdy model kits, go nuts.

More on (Moron) Runes

     Awhile back I wrote a post on albums with coded messages hidden in their liner notes (here). One of these was an Ozzy Osbourne LP (‘Speak of the Devil’) which I was unable to find reference to deciphering on the internet. The image I posted was duly deciphered in the comments, but I’ve since recieved an email detailing a more ‘humorous’ message coded on the interior. I can’t take credit for the title of this post – it was the subject of the email I recieved from Jeff Broderick. He writes:

     “I don’t know whether you’re still interested in this whole thing or not, but some time ago I translated all the runes I could find on that Ozzy album, and the result is kind of humourous, if less than profound. The cover: “Rock and Roll Madman Ozzy Osbourne” The inside: “Dial a Demon Productions in Conjunction with Graveyard Graphics Proudly Present the Madman of Rock Dumping in El Satanos Toiletio Real Tasty Howdy.” Now, I only have this on a scrap of paper, since I don’t have the album itself anymore. Can anyone verify this translation?”

     That’s about it. I’m not particularly compelled to go searching for Ozzy Osbourne Live LP’s in order to confirm that this is accurate, so take this with a grain of salt, I suppose. If you happen to own a copy of the ‘Speak of the Devil’ LP, and are willing to put in the time to confirm this, the ‘key’ can be found here. Now then, if you need me I’ll be dumping in El Satanos Toiletio.


     Turns out the reason I wasn’t finding any reference to the translation at the time was because I was missing the key word ‘runes,’ which popped up in the comments. Without further ado, here’s the complete translated text from the liner notes of ‘Speak of the Devil,’ courtesy of The Complete Ozzy Osbourne Biography.

     “Howdy! Dial-A-Demon productions in conjunction with graveyard graphics proudly presents the madman of rock dumping into El Satanos toiletto. A tribute to Randy Rhoads, the axeman. That kid was my lifeline, you know? He was such a dynamic player and I’d rather not talk about it anymore because it cuts me up every day of my life. Randy Rhoads rest in peace and love.”

     Wow! Totally sincere! Also: worth the effort!

Boring you with my current reading habits

     I picked up ‘Britpop!‘ by John Harris for a couple bucks at one of those book liquidation-type places, and have been pleasantly surprised by how awesome it is. Well written, thoroughly researched, and comprehensive! In addition to couching the tales of musical evolution in the appropriate social and political context, it’s filled with all sorts of inconsequential details that I love knowing. For example, Justine Frischman: Trust funder! Her sass-factor and the relative appeal thereof will now have to be recalculated. Also, Rough Trade Records: painfully idealistic!

     “One thing is for certain: during the first phase of its existence, Rough Trade demonstrated its disdain for music industry decadence by refusing to send journalists and radio stations free records. ‘We just thought, “These records are so good, they should come and get them themselves,”‘ says Travis. ‘It’s very expensive to give away hundreds of records, simple as that. It makes a lot of economic sense to make people come to you.’ The principle was also reflected in the non-existence of guest-lists at Rough Trade-related concerts. ‘The important people,’ says Travis, with an undiminished enthusiasm for the principle, ‘were the kids who wanted to get in.'”

     Awesome! If you’ve counted yourself a fan of any british rock band since 1990, and you like some history with your music facts, I hereby recommend it.


     I installed iTunes 4.9 (The one with podcast support) and blindly downloaded a few of the ‘recommended’ podcasts this week. One of the first ones I played was an episode of a show called Cinecast, which I had downloaded because I had just seen ‘Batman Begins,’ and this particular episode was labeled as ‘Fear and Loathing in Gotham City.’

     The first few sentences were a totally unexpected mindfuck: “From Chicago, this is Cinecast. I’m Adam Kempenaar.” Weird! Having listened to several episodes this week, I can recommend Cinecast, and not just because I have almost the same name as one of the hosts.

Cinecast – ‘Doppelganger’
From: Cinecast #18: ‘Fear and Loathing in Gotham City


Ancient Ware

     When I went through the initial information-gathering that ended up producing the sadly neglected Acme Novelty Archive site, I contacted the student newspaper at the University of Texas to see if they had archives of back issues available for perusal. My plan was to scare up some of the student strips that Chris Ware had published in the paper while attending the University.

     I love seeing the early work of cartoonists, as it adds the extra dimension of the craftsman’s learning curve to the narrative. A great example of what I’m poorly explaining can be found in the earliest volumes of Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts, and less-familiarly in “‘Lil Folks” and “It’s Only a Game” – collections of Charles Schulz’ pre-Peanuts and parrallel-to-Peanuts work, respectively.

     Unfortunately, my communications with the staff at the Daily Texan never really went anywhere. One of the weird perks of writing about something on the internet, however, is that every so often, someone will read it and send you glimpses of exactly what you wanted to see in the first place. Such is the case with an anonymous gentleman who sent me the following scan of the original art for one of Mr. Ware’s Daily Texan strips.

     “Here’s a scan of a strip Chris Ware did for the Daily Texan back in 1988. Sorry about the quality of the scan, but it was done through glass and in two parts. I’m not going to unmount it in order to scan it.”

     “I’m pretty sure that “Bande” was the name of many of those Daily Texan strips, all of which featured the semi-circle head guy. Chris didn’t always put the word Bande as the title though. I have others with no title, and one that has the title “Komix”, but they all feature that same character.”

Daily Texan Strip

Great Essay on Anti-Records

     I have about 30 emails which date back to February rotting in my inbox, under the pretense that I’m somehow going to find the time to ‘properly’ research and present the information contained therein. Since it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I need to finish the things I’ve started and not let new projects accumulate in my inbox, I’m going to attempt to jettison some of these links over the next few days.

     The first volley in this barrage of nerdy crap is a link to a great Essay/Timeline called “A Brief history of Anti-Records and Conceptual Records” by Ron Rice. This was sent to me by Bill at Housepig, on February 3rd of this year, and it is exactly the kind of thing I LOVE.

     I read it that day, saved the email so I could write about it when I “got caught up,” and it promptly got buried under all the other “important” email I get (Comment spam, fake paypal announcements, musicbox restoration discussion digests, etc).

     Without further ado, here are some highlights:

1963 Milan Knizak: “in 1963-64 I used to play records both too slowly and too fast and thus changed the quality of the music, thereby, creating new compositions. In 1965 I started to destroy records: scratch them, punch holes in them, break them. By playing them over and over again (which destroyed the needle and often the record player too) an entirely new music was created – unexpected, nerve-racking and aggressive. Compositions lasting one second or almost infinitely long (as when the needle got stuck in a deep groove and played the same phrase over and over). I developed this system further. I began sticking tape on top of records, painting over them, burning them, cutting them up and gluing different parts of records back together, etc. to achieve the widest possible variety of sounds. A glued joint created a rhythmic element separating contrasting melodic phrases… Since music that results from playing ruined gramophone records cannot be transcribed to notes or to another language (or if so, only with great difficulty), the records themselves may be considered as notations at the same time.”

1964 Robert Watts (phono records): “…I made a series of spray-painted records for a Fluxus performance at the Fluxstore on Canal Street. These were played by the audience, and as the paint wore off, gradually the music was revealed.” (From Extended Play – see bibliography).

1982 Martin Turner creates “Ekliptizs-cher Rhythmus”, a plexiglass record with one groove in which certain markings are made. Says Turner, “The constellation of the stars of the date of birth is applied … by means of scratching or hatching, marked as an acoustic event. When played on a record player, a certain rhythm results, which, in itself cyclic recurrent, varies with each person.”

1983 Die Todliche Doris releases “Chore and Soli” in an attempt to liberate their work from the typical pattern of critical comparison to past work- a box set of eight mini-records playable only with an enclosed, battery-operated player (in actuality a device used to reproduce sound in talking dolls). Each album contains perhaps thirty seconds of sound, about the same amount of time it takes to insert the disc in the apparatus. A thousand copies were made.

     …and the list goes on. Many people hate shit like this, but I bear the eternal curse of loving the concept and invariably being disappointed by the result. I’ve done a little digging for a book that appears in the works cited of this article and that I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere: “Broken Music: Artists’ recordworks.” There are reviews on the web, but I’ve thus far not found an affordable copy (The “best deal” so far: the used copy currently on Amazon. A mere $565 and it’s yours. Fetchbook finds copies as high as $1317). This appears to be a sort of online representation of the exhibit that the book details.

P.S. Curse you Sting, for complicating my search!