The Story of The Coherent ENcoherence—Sound Collages on Busted Cassette Players

OK, it’s time for another musical autobiographical blurb.   Here’s a look back on a sound collage project Keith and I started back in the day that kind of started our whole… career?

Stage One- the late 80s-90s:

It’s hard to say when it started exactly. At some point, my dad gave me a cassette recorder and some tapes and I remember running around, recording everything I did or ran into.  That continued until I discovered the beauty of the pause button.  I began recording my favorite songs off the radio, editing out the commercials to give it a seamless feel.  I soon realized that I could manipulate the audio on a dual tape deck stereo.  Soon, I was creating tape manipulations, mainly consisting of bits of songs, commercials, speeches, DJ mic breaks, and TV shows.

I thought it was hilarious.  The goal, overall, was just to create something funny out of whatever I could record.  So, the end result usually was a lot of nonsense, but it sounded all right.

Before long, Keith got in the act, trying it out himself.  We created some real gems, but sadly, a lot of the cassettes eventually would get eaten by the machines, or we’d wind up just destroying the machines themselves over time.  I guess jamming on the buttons pushed them to their limits.

Stage Two – the late 90s:

As we entered the summer ’97, we had broken countless recorders and stereos and we eventually had just this one black boom box. It just had one tape slot so for a long time, the tape manipulations we made became simpler.  Unsatisfied with this, we pushed that stereo to its unprecedented potential.  Some final “tracks” came out so… well produced (?) that it’s hard to believe we did it on just one machine.

Well, eventually we got ourselves a new stereo with a dual tape deck and we went nuts with it.  Our “sound” didn’t really evolve all that much for a while; again, the goal was just to make funny tracks.  Very few of these cassettes exists now but it was at this point we got better at making them last.

Stage Three –  2000:

Eventually, we wound up moving to Minnesota.  Having lived in Kentucky and North Carolina for nearly a decade, this move really shook us up.  Here we were on the outskirts of the tiny town of Lamberton.  The landscape was so flat… words can’t express how flat it was… farm fields and prairie just sprawling forever and the winters were just the single worst thing imaginable.

Finding ourselves with nothing to do, we withdrew into our music.  There wasn’t much else to do at the time it seemed, especially in winter.  I recall one day, I was searching the radio waves for samples to use, and I started exploring the AM radio waves.  Some of the strangest material can be found on the AM radio.  I stumbled onto a college station being broadcast out of the Twin Cities, and to my surprise, they were playing techno.  It was 770 Radio K, a station that would influence both of us with its variety of music and specialty radio shows (see this post for a bit more on that).  At some point in 2000, the station announced that a new radio show would start airing on Saturday afternoons, one that would feature “tape manipulations, digital deconstructions, and turntable creations.”  The show was called Some Assembly Required, and it was hosted by Jon Nelson.  I had no idea what the description meant; I figured it was going to be a techno DJ set or something.  When the show finally aired, I was really taken back by what we were hearing.

There we were, huddled by the stereo, listening to what can best be described as a sound collage.  Nelson played Negativland, The Tape Beatles, the Bran Flakes and a load of other artists that day.  It suddenly dawned on me.  “Hey, this is the kind of music we make,” I said.  “So this is an actual genre?”

This show opened a window in our head, giving us a gentle push in the direction we were slowly heading into.  With this affirmation that we were actually doing something that was a legitimate art form, we entered an amazing phase where we recorded countless tracks.

Stage Four – The demo cassette:

As Keith put it, after we discovered this show, “Jon Nelson was our pied piper, announcing who else was out there and doing what we were doing, and more…”  What’s more, at the end of every show, Nelson would ask for sound collage submissions.  I remember calling into one of Nelson’s live shows during a membership drive the station was doing and asking him if he’d be interested in hearing some of our work.  He was very interested.

Keith and I began work on a demo tape that we hoped would be worthy of airplay.  Keith described it like this:

 

“The recording took only two or three days, and each track went through a few edits.  Many samples and sequences that we featured on the album came from our vast collection of lengthy recordings made off of the radio and older manipulations that we had been making over the last few years.

 

We had virtually several days-worth of sample material scattered over a crate full of cassettes as well as a deep wealth of CDs (even though we chose to use some of the same sources several times), as well as kids tapes, like Sesame Street stuff. We loved making funny manipulations out of those guys.”

 

Keith also designed the cover art.

“While Nick was piecing together The Media Strikes Back, I sat nearby on the floor with a few magazines and some glue. I found a mainly word based computer ad in one magazine, and after cutting out each word, I rearranged them easily and made this nonsense sentence. We both thought it was funny and felt it represented what we did rather well. Instantly we were sold on it. I made a few other alternative covers with alternative titles, just in case though.”

 

Stage Five – Maryland, 2002 – 2005:

After only about two years in Minnesota, we moved to Maryland.  It took us forever to get the internet up at the new house, so we used to walk to the public library to check email.  Nelson had emailed me.  It was the first time we had spoken in months, mostly due to the move.  He explained he was trying to start a small record label (Recombinations) and he wanted to release our demo tape as an actual album, one of the first to be put out.

Needless to say, we were elated.  We agreed and the cassette was given to a friend of Nelson’s to get mastered.  It took about two years, but the album was finally released in 2004.

It was surreal.  Here we were, teenagers, and we released an album into the world.  Not only that, but it was this odd experimental art thingy and we never once thought of it as such.  We were just kids smashing audio together in the hopes that we’d make something sound hilarious.  That was our only goal.  It was strange to look online and find our album getting a really bad review.  It was even stranger to see someone else give it a good one (and then a semi-good one).  And it was very bizarre to find out we had some small following in the country of Estonia, of all places.  But the best part was that no one else really knew about it.

Keith reflected on it as well, saying, “Listening back on it now, I wish we had spent more time on it and edited it down a bit. Yet, it’s a perfect polaroid of what we did for fun, what made us laugh, what we did for our entertainment at a time before the internet and without cable. That album represents two kids with a strange sense of humor, plenty of blank tapes and whose best friend was their stereo. You can’t get more innocent than that.”

 

We soon set to work on new material.  We had mixed opinions on how that old demo taped sounded, since our sound evolved a bit between the time we recorded it and the time it was released.  We drew up plans to release an EP (the “I Broke It” EP), which would have featured some remixes of older material and some newer bits.  We also came up with ideas for what might get pressed on the next album and recorded for months.

We recorded hundreds of tracks between 2003 and 2005.  We sampled everything from Croatian folk music to anime, and everything in between.  The EP never materialized (but it will someday, we promise), but self-released a few tracks here and there.  Many of the songs we made are still trapped on cassette and we’re only just now getting down to transferring them over to a digital format for release.

Stage six – 2005 to today:

I moved out on my own for a while I didn’t record a whole lot of material (maybe just a few tracks but nothing big).  I eventually made my way to upstate New York and rejoined Keith and we began to embark on new material once more.  We started making ambient music and other odd experimental stuff, eventually just setting TCE aside, only releasing a few tracks here and there on the net.  The Keith Harvest project took form here as did my Lonelyfox project.  We focused a lot on these and self-released loads of this stuff online for free.

Sometime in 2006, Nelson interviewed us on his blog which tied in with his show.  It was TCE’s only interview to date but it kind of put our faces out there on the net.  My picture looks ridiculous.  Maybe that was the point, I can’t remember.

Starting that fall and up until I think 2010, we recorded two albums: Medilation – 100 Years of Records and Commercialismas.    The inspiration for “Medialation” came after our uncle gave us two huge crates of records he bought at a church yard sale, some of which were over a hundred years old.  We had a blast recording it but the process took forever, as we had to pour through each record, looking for usable material.  “Commercialismas” was recorded over the holidays, featuring both older material and newer bits—it’s a mixture of tape manipulations and digital ones.  Some of the tracks were recorded while Keith was in the hospital, recovering from appendicitis.  We sent a copy of each to Nelson and a few tracks made it on the show and we plan on posting both albums online for download… at some point…

Final Thoughts:

Well, that was fun.  It’s amusing to find out that every once in a while, someone plays a track of ours on the radio (we hear about it on the odd occasion).  We do plan on releasing as much of our tracks / albums online when we have the time to convert the old cassettes to digital formats and can edit / remaster them.  It’’s going to take a long, long time.  For those interested, here’s the TCE Soundcloud page and the old blog we haven’t updated since 2009.

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About Nick H.

I'm a geek for music whether it be on vinyl, CD, 78 or whatever. My goal is to sniff out the greated music on Earth, specializing in the obscure. I make music myself as well, mostly ambient and sound collage (1 album out and a few remixes so far). I work full time as a professional mascot (it pays the pills) but will soon retire, i hope.
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