Truly one of the most distinctive and identifiable home tapers ever, I first heard about Ken Clinger in 1984 or early 1985. It may have been in Option or perhaps a cassette I got from Al Margolis at Sound Of Pig. Ken’s music was magical, secret and I thought it sounded like a dream or nitrous oxide experience. Worlds of animals, closet dreams, floating and recurring characters suspended in a vat of twinkly, repeating keyboards and monotone voice. Besides his vast solo material of original songs, keyboard pieces, spoken word, midi file interpretations, ambient, and covers, he has collaborated extensively and produced numerous compilations called “Winnie’s”. Also, over the last couple of years Ken has also hosted a series of podcasts of other home produced material. Below, other home recording artists elaborate on their Ken Clinger memories.
Ken Clinger was one of the first hometaping artists I had the pleasure of trading with. Most everyone will mention his eerie, ghostly speaking voice (there I go!) but I actually heard Ken’s voice BEFORE I heard any of his own tapes.
Of the many tapers I initially contacted, Al Perry was my first
respondent, and the second was Zan Hoffman. I believe Zan’s tape was called TRANSIENT SONIC STIMULANTS, and as with much of Zan’s work, it was an overstuffed buffet of noise, experimentation, and madness, much of it collaborative.
I remember hearing, deep within the murky depths of side two, a weird, disembodied narrative about “Bob the Dog” over a hissy background of Munsters-like organ. This was easily the most memorable portion of the tape, so that when I finally received a cassette from Ken himself (KC 5, I believe) I already had a sense memory of Ken’s chilling timbre and ghostly presence. Though I recognized that Ken’s keyboard was some sort of Casio (like mine), his spare arrangements and minimalist constructions were absolutely unique.
With some of Ken’s later tapes, I began to detect a wacky sense of
humor behind the Grand Guignol stylings, as well as a keen editorial eye for current hometaper events, as in his underrated “Dino DiMuro: Our Boy In L.A.” Ken’s side projects would sometimes stretch my patience, such as when a group of his wacky friends would “sing” unbearable versions of the BRADY BUNCH theme, but they at least proved
Ken was an actual sentient human and not a tramp soul stuck in a
music-generating machine.In fact, I was so excited by Ken’s first tapes that I looked up his phone number during a weekend visit to San Francisco, hoping to meet the human being behind that voice. When Ken picked up, I blurted out that I, Dino DiMuro, was in town and would love to meet HIM, Ken Clinger, in person. Ken’s response was to speak even more slowly and
eerily than on his tapes, responding to my offer as if I had just
announced his execution date. We never did meet, and Ken later wrote to apologize for sounding “dazed and confused” after a long day at work. When I asked Ken how he managed to do the wacky sing-along tapes with all those OTHER humans, he said: “These people come in and drag me off against my will.” (Which is a great image, and maybe even true!)
In homage to Ken, I recorded a parody of his early music entitled
“Closet” that appeared on my collaboration with Tom Furgas; a
remastered version can be found on “Til Next,” a Ken Clinger tribute CD produced by Ray Carmen. It says much more than what I’ve written here about how much I have enjoyed and been inspired by Ken’s music.
I became acquainted with Ken’s marvelous work around 1983. After responding to a very intriguing ad in OP Magazine requesting home grown music of a decidedly embarrassing or best forgotten nature (Ken’s early Bovine aesthetic at work here, informing those great and wiggy Winnie and Friends compilations), it seems we soon became bestest friends real quick like, keeping up a frequent and lively correspondence which culminated a couple years later in becoming real time collaborators as Bored Young Men. Now, it’s lost in grime of my old man mind, but I either latched onto his latest- and my very first intro to his work – KC 5 – ( the legendary dots and dashes tape) by trade or purchase through OP also at that time. Ken has put out so much great music, but I have always retained a particular fondness for that work. Ken’s lo-fi approach and atmospherics made for a complelling intimacy that could also be quite unsettling A song like “it’s Snowing” is weirdly balanced as both a gleeful declaration and a desolate, mounting Munch-like howl. While “Refreshment Committee,” a send up of the very mundane adventures of Archie Andrews and his comics cohorts is deconstructed to take on an urgency that becomes increasingly surreal. Ken’s dead pan delivery suckers you down that road until you realize what hit you and you find yourself laughing out loud. Early examples of the kind of magic Ken Clinger’s musical sensibility conjures, and it remains unabates some twenty odd years onward. Viva Ken Clinger!
Ken was one of my earliest home-taper traders, although I can’t remember which one of us got the ball rolling. Ken’s earliest tapes were cryptic, in that they did not have titles but rather were identified by cover design elements such as small circular stickers or a hole punch through the index card. The music was beautifully low key and unruffled, as much of his music today still is. We began trading and soon enough we also began doing collaborations by mail. As Ken and I have in common a real love of classical music and since we can both read and write music notation some of our collaborations have involved composing on paper and passing those back and forth too. Ken has sequenced a lot of my early piano music, and I have sequenced a series originally called “Ambient Kits” which I mistakenly retitled “Ambient Mix”. Ken continues to use my various pieces in his series of Music Box CD’s, and it is a distinct honor to find my pieces in the company of the great composers of the past (Haydn, Faure, etc.)
Ken’s music is just wonderful…a really joyful mix of ideas (especially in his KCX series) and always an even-handed treatment of every different collaborator. I am very proud to be on many of his compilations and collaborative recordings (especially the KCollab series). Ken reminds me of Thelonious Monk…not that he sounds like him, but that his music is unique to him. There’s only one Monk, and there’s only one Ken Clinger.
Ken Clinger was one of the first home tapers I began trading with. I don’t remember exactly what I received from him first, but one of the first ones he sent me was KC.09 which is still one of my favorite home tapes ever. I find Ken’s spoken word pieces (often involving farm animals) and his charming Casiotone melodies to be very unique amongst home tapers. Whenever I read a review of something I’ve done comparisons are inevidibly made to other artists, but whenever I read a review of something by Ken he is almost never compared to anyone else. He is literally in a class of his own.
I also don’t remember which one of us came upon the idea of collaborating, although I think it might have been me! We’ve recorded three releases together, Hopes And Fears, Southbound To Roswell, and the Snow Day Christmas ep. I’m on many of his KCollab releases, and he’s contributed to almost every release of mine since. Despite the fact that we make very different music on our own, we find it quite easy to work together!
He is also responsible for getting my own music released on cd-r for the first time several years ago when I did not have access to a cd-r burner. As sort of a surprise I put together a tribute disc to Ken called Till Next: The Ken Clinger Tribute Album, and featured several artists, including myself, Lord Litter, Don Campu and MJB, amongst others, doing songs by or about Ken. It got a real good response from people, as well as some very nice reviews from online music sites.
And above all he’s just a darn good friend on top of that!
When I First Heard Ken Clinger
When portastudios were first being manufactured, it really was a big deal. Like a revolution. Now, everyone has a home studio on their computer, it’s just become really common. But it was a new deal back in the early 80s to be able to make and dupe your own cassette albums and distribute them. Course we are not talking about thousands of units here, mostly a group of chums that all swapped with each other.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of these guys, but the most enigmatic has always been Ken Clinger. I don’t know how I first ended up with one of his tapes, but I do recall just how strange I thought it was. He’s like from some sorta other world. Later I found out he was using two cassette decks and bouncing back and forth.
So I’d get these tapes with this great calligraphy KC1 through who knows how many now. There would be a couple cheap keyboard overdubs, some simple yet effective and very interesting riffs, with his almost deadpan vocals over it. But it was the lyrics that got me. Some were sort of like poetry, but there were others that were like fairy tales, nursery rhymes. I remember thinking that this stuff was really really weird. Like this guy is out there. And, honestly, I couldn’t tell if I liked it or not. It was all mysterious and stuff. But I’d always find myself dropping his tapes into the deck. His music started to really grow on me. When that happens, I end up addicted. There is truly nothing like Ken’s music. It exists in it’s own world. I shouldnt even try to describe it. I’ve written to the guy for 20+ years now, and he uses CDRs and it sounds like he’s upgraded his stuff but it’s basically the same. It’s so cool and I have really grown to love it, and it makes me happy to know that he’s out there. In many ways he’s the quintessential home taper. I don’t know that much about him, even though we correspond. I almost don’t want to know about him, stuff like where he lives, what his job is, that sort of info. I like that he’s the mystery man, just doing his thing for those of us who really love his work. Sometimes I’ve lost touch with him, gotten his address from Don, and there he is, still there doing it.
The world is a better place. Thank you Ken Clinger, just for being you. I’m always gonna be digging your stuff, I’m transferring these old tapes to CDR as I type this.