Ultimate Analog: People In A Position To Know, Part I

With this entry in the the Jukebox Heart blogcast, I am launching a new category called “Ultimate Analog”. As the name suggests, this category will celebrate what has now become a very interesting niche in some very interesting circles. Essentially, we are seeing some uniquely talented people exploring and exploiting old analog media in some extraordinary ways.

As an opener, I’m entering the first of a two-part series looking at the label “People In A Position To Know”. I first landed on the label while tracking down some out of print records from a recent obsession, the now defunct “Casiotone for the Painfully Alone,” Owen Ashworth’s one man project that accomplished the near-impossible. And yes, with almost everything mined and redefined by now, it seems like an impossible task to come up with something new, but Owen managed to bridge all of the gaps between street-level folk music, contemporary sugar-pop, minstrel shows and the broad scale of electronic music. But Owen, upon completing his final tour as CFTPA, is the subject of another upcoming entry.

At one of Owen’s shows, I picked up a copy of the record he did with his brother of Bruce Springsteen covers. It was pressed onto a square slab of brown swirly vinyl that looked like it could have been a recycled linoleum floor tile. It isn’t, but as it turned out, that was somewhat of a prescient thought. Intrigued, I looked up the label “People In A Position To Know”. I noticed they also released one of CFTPA’s out of print singles, recorded specifically for the Laurel Nakadate film, Stay The Same Never Change. It collects all of the short instrumental tracks that were used throughout the film, plus a few that didn’t make the final cut, including some bonus ringtones for some of the characters’ cell phones.
Being as OCD as I am, I wanted those ringtones for my own phone.


So I wrote to Mike Dixon, owner of PIAPTK, asking begging him to hold a copy for me if he indeed still had one. And Mike came through, as I came to learn that he always does. Sweet guy…

So part two of this series will be appearing later, under one of our Label Spotlight entries. But for this virgin voyage of Ultimate Analog, it is most appropriate to feature his “Songs of Love” package.

But first, some brief background. People In A Postion To Know (henceforth PIAPTK) is a teensy label based in Olympia Washington. Already a city with lots of lineage for intellect-forward music, it’s no surprise that this happens to be there. His label is a limited edition vinyl only record label run out of his bedroom, garage and living room. PIAPTK offer two types of records: full press (traditional records made in a pressing plant) and lathe cut records (one-off, SUPER low run records made one at a time in New Zealand by Peter King and now with his own set of lathes, by Mike himself). The current emphasis is more on lathe cuts and less on full-run records. PIAPTK uses recycled, found materials (no garage sale or thrift store is safe around Mike) when possible, for cost and environmental reasons, and does everything possible to make their records affordable to the consumer, provide some nice merch for bands, and recoup enough money to make more records. Talk about a mission statement!

OK, so that having been said, This entry will focus on a specific release. Songs of Love: The Wedding album.

This is the cover.

This is one of the 15 specially hand-made records contained within. Read on for the details.

So here’s the back story…

On June 26th of this year, Mike Dixon married the love of his life. The wedding featured several PIAPTK bands entertaining the assembled masses. One of those bands, Golden Boots, travelled all the way up from Tucson. Originally, they were planning on touring up to Olympia, allowing them to (hopefully) pay for gas. However, Dmitri’s day job playing with a little band called Dr. Dog has meant that the band could not do the tour. Any lesser band would have said “Hey, sorry, but we can’t make it, D’s got this thing, and it’s just not going to work out…” But NOT the ‘Boots. They said “see ya at the bachelor party!” and spent $1600 of their hard-earned money on plane tickets. He couldn’t pay for their tickets. And they were playing at his wedding for free. He felt *bad*.

So, his solution was a fundraiser for the band. Being the vanity label owner/professional schmoozer that Mike is, he has a lot of friends who are great musicians. He asked a lot of them to record a love song (cover or original) that could be lathe-cut onto picnic plates and given away at the wedding as party favors. He only expected a handful of bands to be able to meet the request, but he got a total of 15.

Yeah, you read that right. The songs recorded for the wedding were lathe-cut into red plastic picnic plates, each record individually lathe-cut by Mike and hand-cut into the shape of a heart by his wife, Beth. (That’s the happy couple, below. Aren’t they adorable?)

Each guest at the wedding got one of the plates as a favor. Additionally, ten complete sets of these fifteen plates were assembled and packaged in a silkscreened portfolio and made available for a donation of $100 to the “Fly the Golden Boots to P(dx)aradise!” fund.

The package contained one record from each of the following bands, performing the songs listed.

1. Golden Boots: The Man In Me (Bob Dylan)
2. Lazer Zeppelin: A Song For You (Gram Parsons)
3. The Blank Tapes: Islands in the Stream (The Bee-Gees)
4. Firs of Prey: This Will Be Our Year (The Zombies)
5. Castanets (feat. Golden Boots) – You Are My Sunshine (Traditional)
6. Edmond Lapine: Words of Love (Buddy Holly)
7. Amo Joy: Do You Take This Man? (Nirvana (the 60’s psych band))
8. Graves: Sea of Love (Phil Phillips)
9. Wooden Wand: Love Me Tender (Elvis Presley)
10. Lake: Sudden Whim (LAKE)
11. Carcrashlander: Lovesong (The Cure)
12. Jad Fair: Blue Moon (Rodgers and Hart)
13. Casper and the Cookies: That’s Love (Casper and the Cookies)
14. Lee Baggett: Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
15. Miniature and Presidential: I’m Your Man (Leonard Cohen)

At the time of the release, Mike was offering the full set of songs as 320kbps mp3s for only a $10 donation, but I’m not sure if that offer is still valid. As i’m sure you are aware, the hard copy is totally out of print…

Seriously, this is one of the most romantic, creative and environmentally sound projects to emerge from the independent music scene ever. Because these were so expensive, and Mike wanted the donors to have exclusive specialness to the music, he only gave me permission to pick one track to use in Jukebox Heart. Click on the video image below to see and hear the record play. It’s decidely low-fi, which is a major part of this whole project’s charm.

I’m utterly surprised at my total buy-in of the unapologetic mushiness of this whole thing, but it is so
genuine and so sublime that I just can’t help myself. Were this anyone else, I’d probably be joking about chopping down trees with couples’ initials carved into them, as featured on the cover art. Instead, this just makes you wish you could have been at the wedding to help them celebrate.

I guess that feeling is a common characteristic of each of the releases on PIAPTK, and we will explore that more in Part II, when we do a full up Label Spotlight on People In A Position to Know. Meanwhile click on the video below to hear Lake’s track, “A Sudden Whim”. The audio link below that gives you a cleaner non-analog mp3. Anathema!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Watch this space for part two of this series, which will feature more information about the label and more music…

PKG: Small Cruel Party

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Small Cruel Party was formed in Japan in 1985 as a project for undertaking experimental work in organized sound. Initial projects focused mainly on work with synthesized sound sources and other uses of conventional instrumentation.

After moving to the Pacific Northwest in 1990 work has become more focused on the inherent mysterious and beautiful qualities of sound itself, with the emphasis on noninstrumental sound sources, the source itself not being readily apparent. Work generally involves manipulation of physical objects in acoustic space and a great deal of concentrated activity. Even in pieces involving dense sound at high volume the resultant effect is one of intense calm. More recent work has incorporated various influences related to studies in Buddhism (zen and Tibetan) but without including or perhaps suggesting any obvious references.

Recorded work and performances have been realized in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Europe, and installations have been presented at the Seattle Art Museum and at the AVE Festival for Experimental Art in Arnhem, Holland. Work also has included collaborations with other musicians (Gamelan Pacifica) as well as with other artists (DappinĀ“ Butoh; Stillwater Butoh). ‘A Tangible Bridge,’ for symphony orchestra and four vocalists, was recently premiered by the Seattle Creative Orchestra.

This is probably his rarest release. It was issued in less than 200 copies, and when the records arrived from the plant, they were all warped. They were shipped to distributors, but Small Cruel Party called them all back; I don’t know if they were ever repressed or what, but I somehow managed to get a copy befoe the recall. The designer, from Provo Utah using the name Pirate Productions, hand assembled each box from driftwood and dried flowers. He designed the enclosed book as well, which included several of Key Ransone’s abstract drawings. Below is an image from the printed record jacket.

PKG – A new category on Jukebox Heart

Another new category launches in Jukebox Heart: PKG. It’s all about the Packaging…

This category celebrates the adventurous musicians who not only take brave steps in their avant-garde music, but who also believe the presentation is as much at stake as the music. This particular category is one of my favorites, because I’ve often purchased records solely for the packaging. The most successful, of course, succeed on all fronts.

Kicking off this category is a very obscure seven-inch single by Clubhouse. The name of the track you are hearing is “Architecture of Noise”.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

A brilliant packaging concept whose work can only be that of a trained industrial designer. First, the music is harsh, abrasive, noisey, engaging and full-spectrum – all the hallmarks of an experienced noise composer.

The record ships flat, like any other 7-inch single, and fits nicely in a polyurethane sleeve. But in order to play the record, its jacket, a small portion of which is glued to the center of one side, must be unfolded and bound up in a three-dimensional diamond shaped origami-inspired obelisk – see the photo above. The cardboard shape is sharply sloped and allows most tonearms to play the record through to completion. My headshell, however, kind of nicks the edge over the last several grooves. This is a brilliant idea in packaging.