See the trailer of “Grindstone Redux” here.
This film remains the only film so far about the home recording, electronic music movement called “Cassette Culture”.
In addition to his film making , Andrew Szava-Kovats also produced home recorded electronic music under the name of Data-Bank-A. His “Grindstone” LP collections also featured many of the genre’s finest artist.
Behind the scenes of “Grindstone Redux” documentary movie.
I think it was a late autumn night, somewhere between my third and fourth scotch, that I got sentimental about the “good old days” of the 1980s Underground Music Network – when a lot of us independent music producers would network with each other by writing letters by hand or on manual typewriters and putting together packages that had bits and pieces of our lives, along with a cassette or vinyl disc of our latest Opus and sending it into the world through the US Postal Service.
One of my projects at the time was getting my friends to pitch in and collectively release a series of vinyl LPs, called the “Grindstone” series. It ended up being 3 LPs and one CD, released between 1987 and 1990: “Ears to the Grindstone,” “Back to the Grindstone,” “Turn of the Grindstone,” and “Endless Grindstone.” Each of the artists produced their own recordings, which I would compile onto a master tape (reel-to-reel at that time), put together cover graphics (by hand, cutting and pasting pieces of paper and text), shipping it all to a pressing plant. We all split the costs and shares of finished product equally. We also pitched in with the promotion. It was an egalitarian process, a new model for record production. And it worked. We were able to get the records into independent records stores (R.I.P.) and got airplay on college radio stations (which was much less possible with cassettes).
So after a few more drams of scotch, I got to thinking: After almost two decades of not doing that stuff (because I got sucked in with everyone else into the computerized version of networking – which really generated less communication and connection than the original), I thought it might be nice to find out what my old buds were up to and see if any of them felt as nostalgic – or just plain proud of what we accomplished with our old-school networking. After all, our DIY model of production, promotion and distribution has become the model for most musicians today.
I called Chris Phinney (one of the most productive musicians and networkers I ever knew) and asked him what he thought about collaborating with me on a Documentary about our little adventure. So I gave him my pitch: Let’s make a “Grindstone Redux” – a reflection on and extension of our “Grindstone” series of compilation LPs. He fell for it. That’s one cat herded.
The process then began with Chris and I both contacting everyone we could find who was involved in our network of experimental-electronic-underground music during the 1980s. We told them that I would be sending them written interview questions, which they would have to respond to with answers on video, which I would then compile into a documentary “moooveee.” We started sending out emails and making phone calls…
The responses trickled in… and trickled in… And oh my, what responses they were! At one end of the spectrum, I got audio tapes of people mumbling gibberish into a blown-out microphone – without any video, then there were people who took a video camera and wandered through storage closets and bins – while mumbling unintelligible gibberish. At the other end of the spectrum were the professionally shot videos with perfect sound and video. And some people sent me great vintage videos of live performances from the 1980s! Some people were kind enough to re-shoot unusable video to make them presentable. But it was really tough to get across to people that I was trying to create a professional quality product that could be commercially viable for sales and/or broadcast. It’s not that I don’t appreciate avant guard artistic approaches to video; but I wanted to tell a story, not just give people something to stare at when they get stoned.
For me, the Story was the focus. I believe it is a valuable story. And, if done well enough, it would be used to show our bit of history to people all over the world for decades to come. As I write this, it is being streamed all over the world from RealEyz in Germany, the trailer is being broadcast from YouTube to our planet palls, and it has been shown many times on cable TV stations here in New England. It was even accepted into the West Hollywood International Film Festival. So it is getting around this dirty ball of ours. And the Beat Goes On…
The variety of material I received was great. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for. I wanted to bring together and show the world the amazing variety of aesthetics that were somehow – as unlikely as it would seem – connected by our network. It seemed to me that the form should follow the function, and that the video bits should reflect the musicians’ aesthetics. The finished product was to be like the “Grindstone” LPs of the 1980s in that it was produced in pieces by each of the participating artists, who were able to do whatever they wanted, with complete freedom. It was my job to bring those bits together into a whole. So it took about 6 months to get enough usable material for a one hour movie. While that was happening, I was assembling little bits to transition and introduce the issues and concepts we were describing. Then came the fun part: editing. I spent about 3 months editing, editing, editing… After 9 months, like most human offspring, my healthy bouncing baby – “Grindstone Redux” – was born into this cruel, cruel world. It’s first Birthday is this month. “Happy Birthday, Grindstone Redux!”
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