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Mystery Tapes — My Desert Island Vinyl Collection

What records would I take along to a desert island? If one sacrifices oneself to the process of the journalistic interview, this hypothetical quandary is likely to be presented. I’ve been asked this question many times. My impulsive and very honest answer is that I would first of all take the records (i.e. vinyl, k7s and CDs) I myself have created, plus one or two of the ones I’ve produced. The list is short:

My list is obviously a monument of egotism, but there is also a reasonable argument which makes this selection inevitable. My recorded releases are made entirely to fulfill my own personal listening desires. I’ve often stated that these recordings were made to fill the most annoying gaps in my record collection. By assuming the stance of the listener in producing these things I can at the best of times come up with something that I don’t hear as my-music but rather as music-exactly-as-i-want-to-listen-to-it. Experience has indicated that these things that I like are also things that others like, which is the reason I will sometimes make more than one copy of a recording.

Missing from the list are almost all of the recordings on which I play live or improvise, including those which I may have produced or edited. In fact, as much as I can rationally justify their existence, I hope that these items will land on some desert island other than the one I’m inhabiting. These recordings give me the same uneasy feeling that most people seem to have listening to tapes of their own speaking voices. The exception to this queasiness is my 1980 solo album Alto Sax which I inexplicably like very much.

There’s another angle to my desert island listening desires, which goes back to my pre-teen years; long before I made my first record. At that time I felt there were too many extra-musical influences on my impressionable youthful mind. Record covers revealed either attractive or goofy looking individuals in their most groovy attire; these records were categorized in stores mostly according to the race, gender and musical education of these individuals. Publications that focused on a certain age group or race were full of opinions about the quality or social importance or the timeliness of this music.

I thought that the following solution would provide a more pure and satisfying listening experience: Upon being banished to the hi-fi equipped desert island that I’d been hearing about, I would begin to receive shipments of specially prepared records, sent by an individual or consortium who had a love of a broad variety of music. These records would come in blank jackets and all the information on the disc labels would be whited out. All I would have to go on is what I could hear. It would be in some cases impossible to decipher how old the music was, or what color the musicians were or what they liked to wear. I would subscribe to no music magazines. This would be my ideal desert island listening experience.

Years later I got involved in Mystery Tapes, which was an attempt to replicate this idea without having to be exiled, and also Pitch, which are concerts of live and recorded music taking place in absolute darkness, thereby also alleviating appearances from the musical experience.

23 August 1998 (rev. 2002)

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