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!

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

Flex Your Head: Artifacts Vol. 1

Flexidics, soundsheets – those quintessential freebies in magazines up until the end of the century or so. They were a staple in the early new-wave and postpunk scene, often released as complete legitimate standalone records. We love to collect those. They are so fragile and crappy, but they are rare and fabulous nonetheless. (And they are making a comeback; watch for an upcoming podcast and see what I mean…) The Flex Your Head category celebrates these lo-fidelity all-stars; the selection today, Artifacts Vol. 1, is just a sublime example of this format.

One of the most obscure and enigmatic records I own. Blistering garage/psych/punk/proto-industrial, apparently the recorded output of a scene in the Richmond VA area from the late 60s through 1978 or so. I’ve included the entire set of recordings here in two mp3 files, Side 1 and Side 2, just as you’d hear them on each side of the flexi…

Side 1

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A1 X-Breed – Marlene
A2 Frozen Horizons – Circus Of Terror, (Excerpt From)
A3 Titfield Thunderbolt, The – On The Can
A4 Rodney Maynard & The Hundred Dollar Band – Sittin’ On A Stool

Side 2

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B1 Little Lacy & His Trembling Lips – Cocktails For Thieu
B2 Vampire Cows, The – The Old Endicott Building
B3 X-Breed – Miss Two Knives
B4 Big Naptar – Cross-Country

Below are images of the record label ad inserts.

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Flex Your Head! : Mark Lane

Flexi-Discs. They are those cheesey, chintzy, flexible “sound-sheets” that were inexpensive to produce, cheap and easy to include as promo material in a variety of publications, and which sounded even cheaper on even the best audio systems. But we love them. That’s why I’m introducing this new category in Juklebox Heart. While many were mass produced in the millions for advertising or other non-musical purposes, some were also produced in tiny quantities for our outside-music community and are now extremely collectible. That’s what we will feature in Flex Your Head! here in Jukebox Heart.

Eva-Tone, the company whose logo appeared on virtually every domestically produced flexi-disc, cornered the market from 1960, when these were introduced, through 2000, when the last one peeled out of their molds.

Here is an example of a flexi-disc included with famous comix publication, Nexus.

It appears that the humble flexi-disc may re-emerge as a viable medium for the independent market. Recently, Erika Records, one of the most popular record manufacturers in the US and champion of the indie market, announced that it will resume production of these fabulous flexible records. That’s all they say on their website (enter teh site, then click on the “flexible discs” link), so let’s not hold our breath until one actually emerges…

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the event, we launch a new category celebrating the flexi-disc on Jukebox Heart with a highly collectible one by artist Mark Lane.

Mark Lane was a pioneer of what we now refer to as “minimal synth”, the style of post-punk rock that was based around the earliest inexpensive commercially available synthesizers. His back catalog is part of the genre’s canon, and original copies of his work, including the flexi featured here, command hundreds and even thousands of U$D if they become available at all.

This is the holy-grail flexi-disc of Mark Lane, which joined my collection while it was still warm off the press! Click the arrow below to hear “The Reflection”.

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Mark Lane

Lane’s work was much better received in Europe than in the US, and as such in the mid 80s he turned his energy toward producing visual art, which is his primary vocation today. But a few years ago, as a result of urges from Dirk Ivens, founder of the Belgian industrial group Absolute Body Control, he returned to the stage after a 25 year hiatus only to find legions of new young fans who had discovered his work through genre-fan websites or his “Anti-Tech Testament” double CD compilation of his work from 1981-1985, released in 2006. And very recently, Vinyl-On-Demand has released a new anthology of his work as well.

A little history of the Flexi-disc is in order. The flexi disc (also known as a phonosheet or sonosheet) is a phonograph record made of a thin, flexible vinyl sheet with a molded-in spiral stylus groove, and is designed to be playable on a normal phonograph turntable. Flexible records were commercially introduced as the Eva-tone Soundsheet in 1960, but were previously available in the Soviet Union as roentgenizdat or bones, underground samizdat recordings on x-ray film.

A flexi disc could be molded with speech or music and bound into the text with a perforated seam, at very little cost and without any requirement for a hard binding. One problem with using the thinner vinyl was that the stylus’s weight, combined with the flexi disc’s low mass, would sometimes cause the disc to stop spinning on the turntable and become held in place by the stylus. For this reason, most flexi discs had a spot on the face of the disc for a coin, or other small, flat, weighted object to increase the friction with the turntable surface and enforce consistent rotation. If the turntable’s surface is not completely flat, it is recommended that the Flexidisc be placed on top of a full sized record.

The Soviet-era bones or roentgenizdat are so-called because one cheap, reliable source of suitable raw material is discarded medical x-rays, which have the added benefit of including ready-made and interesting images. The name roentgenizdat comes from the combination of roentgen ray (another word for X-ray) and samizdat (“self-published”, or underground literature). X-ray records emerged as an underground medium for distribution of jazz music, which was prohibited in the Soviet Union after World War II. This format was also particularly attractive to politically suppressed punk rock music and the DIY punk ethic, since other publishing outlets were much less accessible.

A two sided flexible sheet record of the underwater sounds produced by humpback whales was included with the January 1979 issue of National Geographic magazine. With a production order of 10,500,000 copies, it became the largest single press run of any record at the time.

“Flexi Disc” is also the title of a spoken-word track recorded by British electronic band The Human League in 1978. It was included as a free flexi-disc with their groundbreaking Fast records release, “The Dignity of Labour” 12-inch. Included also as a bonus track on the re-release of their album Reproduction, the “song” is an ironic and existential discussion between the band members concerning the advantages and disadvantages of the flexi disc format.

I’m really hoping Erika pulls this off. Look forward to more odd flexible stuff in this new category on Jukebox Heart.

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