“How Radio Isn’t Done”

My admiration, affection and respect for the work of Don Joyce has been documented here, so I won’t go into further detail about the worth of what he accomplished before he passed away in 2015.

There’s a new documentary out that honors Don Joyce’s Over The Edge and work with Negativland. It’s called How Radio Isn’t Done and can be streamed for 99 cents on Amazon and Vimeo.

I enjoyed it very much (well, not very much. The final 30 minutes are heartbreaking). The interview segments with Don and members of Negativland are illuminating and touching. The only thing I would’ve changed are the animated waveform overlays that accompanied many of the Over The Edge audio clips during the first half; the visuals were inordinately distracting. I found it helpful to close my eyes during those segments of the film.

Joyce’s hermitic life might seem insular to the uninitiated. But the legacy of Over The Edge belies any such characterization. His work drew people in and engaged them — both in terms of audience participation, and his uniquely focused efforts to embrace and push radio to and beyond its highest potential.

I hope Don will be remembered not as a reclusive eccentric, but for what he accomplished in the realm of satire, art and entertainment.

You can browse, search, stream and download an overwhelming archive of Over The Edge episodes on archive.org

Goodbye, Russ

I first met Russ Solomon in West Sacramento’s Tower complex in 1984. I’d been working at the company’s TRIP division for a month or two as the chain’s import and indie buyer. Russ’s office was just across the parking lot. My boss, Earl, was married to Frannie, who was Russ’s right-hand woman.

When walking into Frannie’s reception area, the first thing you’d notice was a long wall covered with large framed glass cases. They were full of neckties with business cards clipped to them.

The common element among the ties was they all bore the mark of having been sheared off.

L.A. music biz types would arrive wearing suits and ties for meetings. Russ would greet them — wielding a large pair of scissors. “We do things a little differently here,” he’d intone, smiling.

It became a rite of passage to visit Russ and have your tie cut off.

Welcome to West Sacramento. The hippies had take over the asylum. This particular institution was music retail, and Russ reigned over the realm with an irrepressible sense of humor and a reckless (and refreshing) entrepreneurial spirit.

Russ didn’t manage his company so much as turn it loose. He had his hatchet men, sure. A couple of them appeared in that documentary a couple years back (a fun film and a worthy watch, if you haven’t seen it). But you could always talk to him. His door was always open. Actually, his office, a huge corner space packed with LPs, CDs, books, cool art and ever-present bottles of wine, didn’t even have a door.

I never thought of him as a boss. We’d have informal meetings and he’d call me “kid.”

“Don’t fight me on this one, kid.”

Or, more often:

“I know you’ll get it done. Have fun out there. Go get ’em, kid”.

When I left the company in 1993, the new management at my division was likely thinking “good riddance.” I walked across the street, looked Russ in the eye, and handed him my resignation letter. He looked pained.

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“I can’t work with the new guy over there.”

He brightened for a second, and smiled.

“Tell him to fuck off!”

I shook my head, shook his hand, and thanked him. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. He was gracious. It was the last time I saw him.

I left after Tower peaked, and around the time the company was coming to the realization it had expanded too fast, opened too many stores, borrowed too much money, and was competing against the likes of Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Best Buy. CD burners, the internet and Napster were lurking just around the corner.

The company hung on until 2006. After Tower’s liquidation, Russ remained a presence in Sacramento, and, even throughout the tumult, disruption and catharsis that wracked music retail, his reputation among colleagues, competitors and former employees didn’t fade.

The word “maverick” gets thrown around a lot, but Russ earned the distinction — with innovation, integrity, dignity and hard work.

I have never encountered another person so widely respected, inside the music business or otherwise.

Russ died on March 4th while watching the Oscars. He was 92.

(and I find some solace in believing that, perhaps, he and I were expressing scorn and pity for Nicole Kidman’s dress at the same time).

So goodbye, Russ. And thank you.

Thank you for the fun years. Thank you for employing my otherwise-unemployable self and thank you for making me and so many other employees feel relevant. And necessary. And part of something exceptional.

Most of all, thank you for making Sacramento — and music retail — a good time for so long, and for so many.

Yo, Old School

Hey, the new Audio Advisor catalog arrived today! And guess what, kids? They’re still treating women like furniture in their photo layouts. It’s like the last fifty years never happened!

Recent Vinyl Intake

Joseph Allred Fire & Earth (Scissor Tail Records US) LP

Blind Owl Wilson (self-titled) (Sutro Park US) LP (reissue)

Cosey Fanni Tutti Time To Tell (Conspiracy International UK) (clear vinyl) LP (reissue)

Julee Cruise Floating Into The Night (Music On Vinyl Netherlands) LP (reissue)

CV & Jab – Zin Taylor Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface (Shelter Press France) LP

Natalie Hemby Puxico (GetWrucke Productions US) LP

Jóhann Jóhannsson IBM 1401, A User’s Manual (4AD UK) 2xLP (reissue)

K. Leimer Imposed Order/Imposed Absence (Palace of Lights US) LP (reissue)

K. Leimer Mittletöner (Origin Peoples US) LP

Paris, Texas soundtrack (Ry Cooder) Real Gone Records (clear vinyl) LP (reissue)

Residents The Snakey Wake (Secret Records US) LP (reissue)

Residents featuring Snakefinger 13th Anniversary Show Live In Holland (Secret Records US) (clear/yellow splash vinyl) 2xLP (reissue)

Jack Rose Kensington Blues (VHF US) LP (reissue)

Jack Rose Opium Musick (VHF US) LP (reissue)

Jack Rose Red Horse, White Mule (VHF US) LP (reissue)

Stars Of The Lid Gravitational Pull Vs The Desire For An Aquatic Life (Kranky US) LP (reissue)

Wes Tirey Black Wind (Scissor Tail Records US) LP

Lee Ann Womack The Lonely, The Lonesome and the Gone (ATO Records US) 2xLP

World Of Pooh The Land of Thirst (Starlight Furniture Co.) LP (reissue)

CV & Jab – Zin Taylor “Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface”

My respect and admiration for the works of Christina Vantzou have been documented elsewhere, so I won’t rant in detail once more about the quality of her work. I’ll just say I was excited to hear of a new project.

On Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface, Vantzou is paired with Forma member John Also Bennett. This instrumental album is the result of visual inspiration from artist Zin Taylor, whose huge mural was the backdrop — literally and figuratively. It was mixed down from a live performance at an installation in Germany last year, and, after listening to the album frequently over the past couple weeks, I’m not disappointed.

Thoughts is much more left-field and freeform than Vantzou’s solo work and more minimal than Forma’s Physicalist Kranky debut. At first listen, the dueling-laptop setup can come across as a prone to pastiche, but things cohere as the work progresses. The album begins with some Subotnick-y blips and sampled voices on “Cactus with Vent”. Along the way we’re treated to various flavors of Vantzou’s digital output and Bennett’s more analog styles, including some of the latter’s grand piano playing echoing through Harold Budd-esque reverb algorithms.

There are ghostly wails. There are moody, meandering, looming synths. There are sampled natural sounds. Intermittently evident in Vantzou’s contributions are threads of Vangelis’s sound design and general ambience on the original Blade Runner score, a work of which Vantzou is apparently (and justifiably) enamored.

Thoughts of a Dot isn’t going to liven up your next dinner party. I find that, like much of my favorite music, this one sounds best with the lights off, late at night. The atmospheres are varied and deep, and will please patient listeners predisposed to eerie electronics — and likely creep out those who aren’t. It works as a long-form conceptual piece and is paced well, considering the experimental content. But the individual tracks stand on their own, too. Those who’ve missed Vantzou’s work since 2015’s No3 will probably treat it as a teasing and pleasing bridge to her next solo album. I know I will.

The download and physical forms are available semi-directly from the the Shelter Press label’s Bandcamp page and/or directly from the label’s own storefront. Vinyl and the like will be most available to US customers via Forced Exposure, while EU and rest-of-the-world listeners will likely find Boomkat more convenient.

Kate Burkart “Moonlight” (Blaze Foley cover)

Ever since my sweetheart Kate covered this song live at a Blaze Foley tribute she put together in 2011, I’ve been nagging her — lovingly, of course — to go in to the studio and record it.

She finally did so last year, and I imposed myself further by giving her production notes throughout the recording and, ultimately, insisting that I be permitted to “help out” with the final mix. Call me svengali.

But despite my, um, best efforts, this isn’t about me. I’m proud of Kate. She done Blaze good.

It’s on iTunes and Apple Music and Spotify and Soundcloud and all the usual digital outlets. If you’re old-school and require an actual download, this Bandcamp one is the way to go.

Most Listenable (and Watchable) of 2017

‘Tis the season for year-end lists! The contributors at Part-Time Audiophile couldn’t resist, and this is the result.

Mine:

Lee Ann Womack “The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone” LP
In Pursuit Of Silence DVD
Slow Meadow “Costero” LP
St. Vincent “Masseduction” LP
Midori Takada “Through The Looking Glass” reissue LP

End-of-2017 Stuff

I submitted some requested year-end material to Part-Time Audiophile and, while a portion of my contribution was used, here’s the full version.

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— One best new component and three runner’s-up.

Not sure if it qualifies as a component… but I sure like the new MacBook Pro 15”. The illuminated touch-bar thingie is more than just ooh-ahh eye candy; its context-sensitive and user-configurable features are a big help in certain apps. The machine is fast and responsive under OS 10.13.2 and the screen is amazing.

iTunes is more bloated and dopey than ever (and still no FLAC support — what’s up with that?), and I’m not too excited about having to shell out another $129 for a compatible version of Microsoft Office… but hey, I’m never happy unless I can whine about something.

Runners up:

1) OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock (essential with the above, at least for me)
2) Zu Audio Druid Mk VI speakers
3) Zesto Allasso step up transformer

–One best affordable component and three runner’s-up.

1) Not going to single any one unit out, but I like the trend of good, (relatively) inexpensive headphone amps (especially of the tube variety) that double as preamps. Too many to choose from.

Runners up:

1) Schiit Gungnir Multibit DAC
2) Marantz’s line of multichannel AV preamp-processors
3) Not so much a component, but I enjoy those free DirectStream firmware upgrades (Bridge II and DAC) from PS Audio.

–One most coveted product (the one YOU personally want the most).

Zesto Andros Tessera phono preamp. I like dials. And switches. On the front panel. Yes, my girlfriend will ask me if it makes toast and complain about stubbing her toe on the massive outboard power supply. I will ignore her and flip switches and turn dials.

–One product of the year.

Roon and Tidal MQA make pretty sweet music together — when Tidal isn’t stuttering from bandwidth issues, that is. I’ve gotten so used to Roon that, when I open an older version of JRiver, I wonder why I endured the latter’s Mac-unfriendly interface and weird, redundant configuration screens for as long as I did.

Recent Vinyl Intake

Robbie Basho The Grail & The Lotus (Takoma C1007, indeterminate origin reissue) LP

Robbie Basho Basho Sings Volume 3 (Takoma C1012, indeterminate origin reissue) LP

Biosphere The Petrified Forest (Biophon Norway BIO30LP) LP

Califone Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People (Jealous Butcher US JB 100) 2xLP

Suzanne Ciani Lixiviation 1969-1985 (Finders Keepers US FKRO53LP) LP

Ry Cooder Paris Texas original soundtrack (Real Gone Music US RGM 0538) (blue vinyl LP reissue)

Champion Jack Dupree The Women Blues Of Champion Jack Dupree (Folkways US FS 3825) (used LP)

Floating Points Reflections – Mojave Desert (Luaka Bop ‎UK 5041) LP+DVD

Blaze Foley [self-titled] The Lost Muscle Shoals Recordings (Lost Art US LAR1025V) (reissue LP)

Florian Fricke Die Erde Und Ich Sind Eins (Wah Wah Spain LPS190) (reissue LP)

Geraldine Fibbers Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home (Jealous Butcher US JB 150) 2xLP clear vinyl reissue

Kenji Kawai ‎Ghost In The Shell original soundtrack (We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want Switzerland WRWTFWW017LTD) (LP+7+booklet reissue)

Nine Inch Nails Deviations 1 (Nothing Records B0026309-01) 4xLP

Popol Vuh Sei Still, Wisse Ich Bin (Wah Wah Spain LPS191) (reissue LP)

Ragnar Grippe Sand (Dais Records US DAIS 097) (clear vinyl reissue LP)

Midori Takada Through The Looking Glass (We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want Switzerland WRWTFWW018) (2x45rpm reissue)

Neil Young Massey Hall 1971 (NY Archives/Reprise US 43328-1) 2xLP

Sara Lov “Some Kind Of Champion” review on Part-Time Audiophile

How did a 2015 release become my favorite album of 2016 — and why did it take me seven more months to communicate that fact? Don’t ask. Just read. My review is now up on Part-Time Audiophile.

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