|Jacob Smigel |
Eavesdrop: A Wealth of Found Sounds
The world of found sound is absolutely bewildering. And bewitching. In an ever-increasing circle of audio enthusiasts, compiling audio oddities has become a pastime. But interest in this hobby of sorts has also started to receive some wider attention. Found Sound is a pretty broad label actually. There's the literal aspect of it, FOUND; Found in a thrift store, found at a garage sale, found in your grandma's attic, these are generally recordings that nobody really knows exist. Whether recorded on a whim or with the grandest of hopes and aspirations (no matter how distanced from reality they were), these are the sounds of obscurity. They can often also be the sounds of a secret. Another facet of ‘found' is, something that wasn't necessarily meant to be found. Things literally recorded by accident or recorded with no audience in mind. Audio diaries, and answering machine tapes... remember those? In his liner notes Smigel talks about old answering machines and their likelihood to record phone conversations unbeknownst to the parties talking.
These odd sounds, these audio confessions and homemade star turns sprouted with the advent of readily affordable home recording equipment, and it really hit its stride with the audio cassette. "Found Sound" is kind of like a loony tangent off the very loony scene of outsider art. Answering machine tapes, tapes of children (and adults!) singing along to their favorite songs, creepy Christian propaganda, vanity recordings, high school bands printed up in private press…One notable person to compile things of this sort is Otis Fodder with his record label Comfort Stand Records and with his immortal 365 Days Project, where he posted a different unique mp3 file on his website every day for a year, spanning from odd ball children's records to industrial propaganda, and any other variety of derelict thrift store audio find in between. Freeform radio station WFMU has supported this affection for found sounds featuring all kinds of oddities on air, as has FOUND magazine and the seriously delayed Relay Project, an audio magazine about found sounds, amongst other things.
Well, Jacob Smigel has jumped into the running. Eavesdrop is 40 tracks strong with all manner of random cassette recordings. They run the gamut from funny, to sweet, to uncomfortable. A cut titled Trailer Couple comes from a tape of music that is partially recorded over by an older man figuring out how to use his tape recorder. Portions of songs recorded off the radio are sporadically cut into by conversation, unknowingly documented by the novice operator; Ronald Maroni talks about his swollen, infected cock; two old ladies discuss the lesbian owner of a hamburger franchise while the answering machine secretly records; one side of a fight about money and much, much more is recorded over the phone (yet the persons voice on the other end of the phone is basically inaudible, leaving us with a disorienting document); a drunken homeless man in Las Vegas is interviewed; French Horn lessons are recorded. Some cuts last only seconds while others provide a more detailed and lengthy voyage into these strangers' lives. An audio diary by someone named Carol, recorded in 1976, is a window into this woman's troubled life. It's a very open window, allowing us to hear her talking wasted about her fucked up life and sexual desires, etc. This cut, as with a few other on the collection, come from a longer recording or set of recordings which Smigel has available on CD-r via mailorder.
Smigel has managed to cover quite a bit of ground with this collection. In his lengthy liner notes he comments on each of the 40 tracks and seems genuinely intrigued by every last one. Of course, the whole collection is a heavy listen to take in all at once, time after time. Played on random, taken a few cuts at a time, it's a marvelous and potentially disturbing listen. It's not everyday that one gets to actually hear unhindered confessions or thoughts from a complete stranger. Whether they are saying something ignorant, something heartbreakingly sad or something downright funny, it's an all too rare occurrence to experience those expressions without filter or hesitation. No one is being made fun of here, there's no exploitation, these recordings are quirks of both the human spirit and the technological age; brief aural snapshots of other lives found amongst piles of dirty stuffed animals, orange couches, Mitch Miller records and oddly sized polyester suits.
- Adam Richards | 2006-10-04
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