It kills me that I don’t have any pictures of myself working in the studio when I was making the album The Concussive Caress. I produced and engineered this album in the big room at K Records’ Dub Narcotic Studio between 2001 and 2003. I was in there for months and months, years. How are there not any pictures? We didn’t really take pictures in that era, not off-handedly, all the time, as a process of seeing. This isn’t true. We did take pictures, but it was generally using the most outmoded and cumbersome technology possible. Taking a picture was performing the act of taking a picture. My friends were all really into antique half frame cameras which took two images per each negative of film. Each print contained two smaller shots and it was like a lottery seeing which images would end up as pairs. Somehow nobody ever came into the studio and took a picture of me while I was working. Probably they wanted to give me my privacy. I did appreciate that and I still do, but I’d certainly trade one day of being alone for some images of myself in that space and time.
The big room was massive. It was a gigantic empty warehouse with windows running down both walls. It was an outrageously large space to have all to oneself and I treasured it. I colonized it, really, and for some reason nobody stopped me when I built a fort in a portion of the room, using giant theater curtains and a pile of wicker chairs that never seemed to get used. I worked in the main 16-track Dub Narcotic studio for a number of my recordings, and this other smaller auxiliary studio for others. There was a Tascam reel to reel 8-track in my private studio. I was borrowing it from my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Pinned and taped to the curtain walls were pictures of barely dressed women cut out from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I put up a lot of them. Many things got figured out in that studio. Working there I wrote and recorded the songs “Come On Pauline,” “What Tom Said About Girls,” “Gravity,” and “What Amy Heard in Her Mother’s Voice Played Backwards”; all the recordings from the performance Blue Sky vs Night Sky. Now I am remembering that I also recorded all but one of the songs from Bonus Album in there. Like I said a lot happened.
The chronology is coming back to me as I write this. The recordings that I made in the fort came first, and then I worked in the main studio. I guess it was a graduation of confidence, partly in terms of gear but more in regards to potentially being seen by others. To get to my fort a person would have to walk all the way across the room, which was half a city block, and then pull back the curtains and poke in their head and I would have had plenty of time to be prepared for their presence by the time they made it to my sphere. Working at the main Dub Narcotic console I would have been immediately in the beam of perception once someone opened up the door from the hall. I’m trying to remember whether or not that door had a lock.
Producing my own songs was terrifying. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done up to that point. It wasn’t dealing with the equipment that got to me so much as the endless empty space. There is no sound on the tape unless you put one there. There is something about recording sounds that is so absolutely private. You are taking a live moment and trapping it, taking whatever happens in that space and time and preserving it, and later on others will be able to hear it. They will be able to hear the secret things that you did with yourself. They will know what you are like inside when they are not around. A drawing or a painting doesn’t feel as immediate to me; it doesn’t feel as incriminating. The power of being able to share this interior space is massive. It is certainly intimidating if you’re putting things on the tape that are vulnerable and uncalculated. For years I felt fairly uncomfortable about The Concussive Caress because it was so raw. It is such a pure transmission of myself. Funnily though, the parts which are the most raw and which for a long time most inspired me to cringe are the things that I am now the most proud of. Songs like “Chase Dream” and this crazy secret track at the very end of the album that I think maybe never had a name are the ones that contain the weirdness and the force that I am trying to emulate in the things I make now.
I remember recording the song “Chase Dream”. I was alone in the studio as the sun was going down. My greatest fear has traditionally been being alone in large dark spaces but I forged on and stayed in the studio. Someone else must have been working late in one of the other offices in the building in order to make me feel safe enough to stay. Because it was late in the day I had less worry that someone might walk into the room. I started playing the kick drum with a mallet, making a rhythm that boomed and then clicked, hitting the wood of the stick on the metal rim. Some parts of the song are me doing a stretched out yelp and on one take I sneezed and then kept it in the recording. The sneeze kind of upped the ante. The song felt immediately like the way that it feels to me, to be living. Not always, but frequently and especially back then, on the edge of terror but bold enough to keep going. For a long time I could hardly stand that this recording existed out in the world. I placed it as the third song on the album, which was pretty brazen of me. Nobody ever talked to me about it and then one time a member of The Hidden Cameras, Mike E.B., mentioned it when we were on on tour together. He just started singing it and I was shocked that he could know this information. I had to assume that he probably thought it was an okay song if he was singing it. It’s really barely a song, it’s kind of an experimental sound word jam, and maybe that’s what made him notice and remember it. I don’t know what he thought about the song because I didn’t ask him. I just stared at him like he had opened the door on my secret place and I waited for the moment to pass.