Soundtrack for a short film by Leah Ross


Chris Forsyth: guitar


Floating docks, a flag holder, playground equipment, hail, rubber gloves, linear congruential chaos, Xynthi, geese, one of those toys where you have a small tank with plastic things floating in liquid and you push a button that sends a little jet through the tank and the jet makes the things float


When you talk, you hear from the other side


When you talk, you hear from the other side
Vinyl and Set of Eight Glass Collages
Audio by Bhob Rainey (with contributions from Jason Lescalleet)
Art by Nancy Bernardo
Limited edition of three sets, $500 each
Buy or
Request a digital or personal showing (Philadelphia area)

Buy vinyl only ($13.50)

Image Galleries: Set 1 Set 2 Set 3

There is a lot to say about this release, and I do my best to say it in detail below. But, to summarize at the top, what we have here is a limited edition of three (currently two remaining) sets of eight layered glass collages by Nancy Bernardo and one LP (or perhaps something between an EP and an LP) by me. That is, each set includes eight collages and one vinyl record.

ImageThe vinyl contains a piece of audio work that was constructed from a found wire spool (the recording medium that preceded magnetic tape). The material on the spool comes from 1951 and 1952 and consists of a wide array of amateur attempts at humor, imitation, interviews, song, and advertisement. A more detailed description is below.

The wire spool material eventually melts into a hypnotic electronic piece (again, more below regarding this and dreams and death), part of which was done in collaboration with Jason Lescalleet.

Nancy Bernardo, whose work frequently involves iconic imagery from the ’50s, created her collages in response to this piece, forming something of a timeline to the audio. The layers in this  work are quite striking and somewhat difficult to represent in an image. Below is an attempt to show the play of transparency in one of the pieces.

ImageTo be as clear as possible, when you buy one of these editions, you get eight, unique collages and one vinyl record.

ImageWe understand that visual art can seem expensive to the average music-buyer, and we are keeping the price of this as low as possible (a single collage from this set could easily cost $500). We also have more detailed images and can arrange viewings in the Philadelphia area upon request.

There is also an edition of 250 vinyl-only copies for $7.50. Order

And now for a more detailed account:

When you talk, you hear from the other side was constructed from two wire spool recordings found in an antique shop in Western Massachusetts. The content of the spools makes it clear that they were recorded in 1951 and 1952 on a machine that was a Christmas gift to a nine-year-old boy.

Unsurprisingly, most of the first (and longest) spool is populated by Christmas revelry and multi-generational goofing, but there are captivating passages from both before and after Christmas day: a salesman demoing the unit to various customers; an interview between a snotty eleven-year-old boy and a spirited, if bewildered, four-year-old girl; etc.

When I first heard these recordings, I was with a small group of people, and we listened and laughed for a few hours before I suggested that maybe we should archive the material. We’d already seen the wire snap a few times during playback. (This was a general problem with recording on wire; one that was frequently remedied via a faux- soldering job with the smoldering end of a cigarette. We just tied the wire back together.)

The machine had a line-level output, but the connection hardly resembled any modern standard. So, an RCA cable was stripped of its plugs on one side, and the bare cables were stuck into the output. This worked surprisingly well, and the recording was successfully archived.

Recordings like this can really nag at you. I wanted to be happy just having an amusing trace of a mid-century, middle class, American Christmas and to be reminded of the ridiculous things a recording device draws from people when they feel their way around its place in their lives. But then there’s the voice that says, “Do something with this.”

To be fair, this voice is pretty easy to activate and not always the best judge of material that should have something “done” to it. Still, there was something special about this recording: kids and adults messing around in equal quantities; a newscast (captured from a brand new television) describing the Alger Hiss / Whittaker Chambers trial; a girl explaining that she loves her dog because “she likes to tear clothes”; a man offering to sing “Home on the Range” in “Jewish” (and forgetting most of the words); countless incidents of “regular” people adopting a media affect and stumbling all over themselves. I eventually started doing stuff to the material.

There are a lot of pieces of music, particularly in the realm of Musique Concrète, that exploit and manipulate spoken words to elicit what has become a fairly typical haunting / lecturing effect. I’ll admit that this is the angle I first took with this material: layers of “alien” sounds interspersed with voices from ANOTHER TIME(!) that simultaneously anchor (via comprehensible speech) and destabilize (via disembodiment and decontextualization) the musical experience.

This strategy didn’t work out for me. Perhaps in the hands of someone like Lionel Marchetti, it would have had a brilliant outcome. To me, it sounded forced. Worse, it obscured the qualities of speech and idiosyncratic language that attracted me to the material in the first place. I decided that, instead of using pieces of this recording for some other musical purpose, I would try to amplify its inherent resonances and expose whatever was already musical within it.

With that in mind, the construction of When you talk, you hear from the other side became more effortless. I restricted myself to few effects (the majority of manipulations involve playing the recording back through different speakers) and few musical gestures (sometimes loops of wire and / or microphone noise are added to highlight shifts in content and timbre). The bulk of the piece relies on layering and editing.

By avoiding grand gestures and virtuosic electronic manipulations, I discovered that I was basically showing a love for these people and the glimpse of the world that their recording gave me. The piece became a fond, dynamic remembering of a life I never lived with people I never met. So, at the end, in the spirit of nostalgic indulgence, I let it all fall asleep and dream about itself. Eventually, the dream itself fell asleep; a sleep without dreams (Side B: The other side of what).

Of course, when I’m talking about the piece dreaming, I’m talking about the more overtly “musical” parts (and, really, I would say “dying” instead of “dreaming”, if that didn’t make people feel bad). I say dreaming (or dying) because the music keeps erasing itself; peeling away; evaporating; no longer concerned that you’re listening. The other side of talking.

And this music sat with me for some time. I would revisit it now and then, make some tweaks, but never push to release it. “To publish anything is folly and evidence of a certain defect of character.” (at least, that’s what Thomas Bernhard says on page 34 of the 1984 University of Chicago edition of Concrete). While I’m not without this character defect, I couldn’t make the connection between this music and an “anonymous” audience. I couldn’t imagine it in the world by itself.

Nancy Bernardo presented the opportunity to give it some company. She was asked to participate in a “duos” exhibit, pairing visual and sonic artists, and proposed that I provide the sonic element. Normally, I would take this as an opportunity to do something new, but Nancy’s work has so much in common with When you talk, you hear from the other side, from its material to its production, that I sent her a copy to see if it resonated with her.

It did, and the result was a set of eight layered glass collages that visualize what Nancy felt were key moments in the piece. I loved the set. I felt that it gave me permission to let this music loose and stop protecting it (i.e., protecting myself from being embarrassed by it). Nancy agreed to make two more sets, and I went ahead and pressed a record.

For Lee Jackson in Space

Nmperign & Jason Lescalleet have contributed a track to this compilation for Lee Jackson, music writer and all-around good guy who succumbed to ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”) earlier this year. Proceeds from this mammoth compilation (94 tracks!) go to the Texas chapter of the ALS Association.

Our track is assembled from a live performance that Lee organized in his home town of Dallas.

Free Download: Bhob Rainey and Michael Zerang – I Have this One Drum

This comes from the last of three shows I did with Michael Zerang during his visit in December. Right before we performed, Michael pulled out a small drum and asked if it would be okay if he only played that for our duo piece. I said “Yes.” Then, he played it in a certain way. I also played in a certain way. It sounded like this:

The BSC: Manual Now Available

Manual CoverOkay, this is the official announcement: The BSC book/album, Manual, is available for order. Books ship by the end of the month, downloads hit your hard drives as soon as you order. There are 100 hardcovers available at the same price as the paperback ($20 for the book and music). Pre-orders have already eaten a good chunk of those, and it’s first come, first served. A lot of other information is available on the Bandcamp page. I’ll make one more announcement when the books are shipping, and then I’ll leave you all to enjoy the listening / reading or not. I hope it’s the former.

The BSC: Manual Gets a Grant and Goes Deluxe

Manual Book Cover

UPDATE: Manual is shipping!

At the last possible moment, I received a grant from Year of the Writer to cover printing costs for the BSC book, Manual.

What this means is that a) all printing and paper will be of the highest quality! b) there will now be a limited amount of hardcover editions!!! c) despite these changes, the cost of the book/album will remain $20!!!!!

The only downside, really, is that the release will be delayed by a couple weeks.  I had originally hoped to be shipping books on October 31st, but we’re looking more towards mid-November, now.

While I’m on the subject of this book, might as well give some of the basic details:

The BSC—Manual

Music by the BSC (with Pauline Oliveros)
Book edited by Bhob Rainey with contributions from Damon Krukowski, Aaron P. Tate, Ben Hall, and Mike Bullock
3 tracks, 65’30”
Hardcover and Paperback with Lossless Download: 5.8125″ x 8.25″, 112 pages
Published by NO Books

Manual is a combination full-length album and book focusing on the music and improvisational practice of the BSC, an eight-member electroacoustic ensemble formed by saxophonist and composer Bhob Rainey in 2000. More than just music with copious liner notes, Manual examines the process of improvisation from both within and outside the BSC, encountering topics ranging from genealogy to architecture, the boundaries of sense to the benefits of failure, flows of energy to bouts of guilt. The intersection and unfolding of ideas is often complex, but the writing in Manual is earthy and comprehensible, keeping jargon to a minimum without sacrificing the depth of the subject matter. Manual is not a monument to the BSC but rather an appreciation of improvisation from the perspective of an especially prolific community.

The music portion of Manual consists of three extended improvisations covering a six-year period in the BSC’s history. The most recent piece, a vividly captured concert highlighting some of the more elegant aspects of the BSC’s unique musical lexicon, was recorded in 2009 and includes renowned composer Pauline Oliveros on accordion. The earliest piece was recorded in November 2003 at the end of The BSC’s only extended tour and contains some of the noisiest, most unhinged work the ensemble has ever released. 2007’s “23% Bicycle and/or Ribbons of the Natural Order”, recorded in Somerville, MA, provides a balance between the other two tracks, illustrating the BSC’s strong formal control amidst chaotic conflagrations of feedback, tape degeneration, and general instrumental instability. Stage plots and recording notes are included for each track.

The book portion of Manual contains contributions from five writers. Bhob Rainey (director and founder of the BSC) provides an introduction in which he engages with the book’s other contributors while reflecting on failure, adaptable dispositions, and the upside to being oblique. Damon Krukowski (musician, poet, half of Damon & Naomi, one-third of Galaxie 500, and one-fourth of Magic Hour) contributes a series of prose poems aimed at evoking certain effects the BSC’s music has on him. Aaron P. Tate (classicist at Cornell University whose areas include ancient and contemporary improvisation), through extensive research and interviews, pieces together and examines the BSC’s early history and rehearsal practices. Tate uses this information, along with recorded documentation, to approach the music with great insight from a dynamic, open-ended perspective. Ben Hall (percussionist, gospel archivist, and restaurateur) unravels ideas about genealogy, community, politics, and authority as they present themselves in the tradition from which the BSC emerges. And Mike Bullock (audio/visual artist and bassist for the BSC) develops two metaphors for evaluating music like that of the BSC, applying these metaphors to an analysis of the 2009 performance with Pauline Oliveros featured in this release.

The BSC is

Bhob Rainey: soprano saxophone, director
Mike Bullock: contrabass, amplification
James Coleman: theremin
Chris Cooper: guitar and electronics
Greg Kelley: trumpet
Vic Rawlings: amplified / prepared cello, open circuit electronics
Howard Stelzer: tapes
Liz Tonne: voice