Above, John’s group, LARD. This the first release. Ball Of LARD and two others followed. John also has released Cds including his “Son Of Sonny Solo 2002” ( below) and was part of the Mars Dark group with Josh Mars, Ken Clinger and myself ( bottom picture).
In 1971 in Kansas City at age 12 I got my 1st cassette recorder, a General Electric portable. My family had a 1950s four-speed-turntable tube-powered hi-fi console, and I often slowed down sound effects records to make disturbing sounds for spookhouses, and speeded up classical music for wild sync 8mm film soundtracks. I also experimented with tape speeds by holding down the play button halfway. I learned to solder and make patch cables, and bought a higher quality cassette recorder with a good built-in microphone. Then a stereo cassette deck came my way, then another one with mic/line mixing, and a cheap but decent condenser microphone. More experiments with better mics and more ambitious surrealistic sound collages followed. I continued making Super 8 films with wild-sync soundtracks at the University Of Kansas.
I gradually became more interested in sound than film. My goal was to annoy people with my arty and abrasive soundtracks. I’d make cassette tape loops out of several feet of tape strung around supports, record on those, then play them back and mix the results. I still couldn’t afford an open reel deck. I met and was influenced by Richard Schneider and Marc Burch (the pair who later formed Schloss Tegal), Josh Mars, Steve Sweigart, and Robert Frohoff. I dropped out of graduate school in Tampa, Florida, after spending much of my time there recording shortwave radio sound-on-sound cassette mashups, sending them to like-minded people. Sound became my medium.
In early 1982, Josh sold me a PAiA modular synth, and I collaborated with him, Steve Ballew, and Steve Sweigart. In late 1982, I bought a TEAC 4-track 15 ips open reel deck and began multitracking in earnest, draping long tape loops from the ceiling using paper clips as guides. Soon afterwards, money from a car crash bought me a second open reel tape deck, a Revox.
Steve Sweigart and I started LARD in 1983. We played traditional and experimental instruments, and we shared found sound: Field recordings from Steve and 78 rpm and 1/4” tape saved from Kansas City junkpiles by me. We “released” our efforts in a series of four cassettes, the packaging for which was printed with a photographic enlarger. We played live in Kansas City a couple of times, through the courtesy of Keith Patterson and Eric Schindling, promoters. We opened for Sonic Youth in 1985, were scheduled to open for Flipper (they cancelled), and nearly opened for Einstürzende Neubauten (they filled an entire stage with gear before we arrived with ours).
LARD traded cassettes with: Schloss Tegal; RRR Records in Lowell, Massachusetts; Carl Howard of a/A in New York; Phil Kelday and New 7th Music in Bognor Regis, Sussex, UK, and Circle Arts in San Francisco, CA. I’ve forgotten lots of others. We sent LARD cassettes to Unsound, Sound Choice, OP, and Option Magazines in San Francisco, CA, Force Mental Magazine in Antwerp, Belgium, Experimental Musical Instruments in Nicasio, CA, and who knows where else. The cassettes received several favorable reviews. We were featured alongside Nihilist Spasm Band in an article in Experimental Musical Instruments and appeared in one of their compilations. We felt that we were a part of a genre which someone (Carl Howard, perhaps?) dubbed “Difficult Music”. But we sort of lost interest around 1986.
Then I started a cassette exchange routine in 1987 with Josh Mars in Pacific Grove, CA, and that became the Unknown Eyes. We recorded over 100 songs together, during a time when I married Cynthia Bogart and moved to San Francisco for a year. Josh sent me cassettes loaded with recordings of solo drums and other instruments, which I transferred to 15 ips four-track prior to overdubbing electric guitar and keyboard parts. Josh packaged and distributed several collections of our finished pieces via cassette.
Cynthia and I returned to Kansas City in 1990, but collaborations with Josh Mars (still in CA), Cynthia, Steve Sweigart, Keith Patterson, and Robert Frohoff here in K.C. continued. A piece by LARD appeared on a compilation on Keith’s Roundup Records label. I bought an IBM 8088 PC in 1993, and a 486 PC with a sound card in 1994. I used them as programmed musical instruments,
interfacing their audio outputs with the 15 ips 4-track. I was in a group named 137th Swirl, with Bob Bowlin and James Woodfill in Kansas City. We “put out” a cassette entitled “Reverb Wash”. In the late 90s I used a sound file looper that I wrote in Visual Basic, with satsifying results. I began multitracking with computers. The 4-track died, but I got a better one to replace it.
I stopped using cassettes when computers became faster and CD burners became cheap. Now, in 2009, although it’s incredibly easy to distribute music, I am less and less interested in doing so. But I do have a website
I’ve embraced a latter-day alternative to cassette trading: FTP. No stamps required. Josh Mars, Don Campau, and Ken Clinger are recent collaborators.
On a good day, cassettes can still impress with their fidelity. Josh recently sent me some dub stuff on a CD that blew me away. He said he duped it from a cassette. I’m grateful for cassettes. I own hundreds.