Saturday, September 7, 2013

BROKEN MACHINE FILMS "Album 02"


One of the great pleasures of listening to cassettes is that this outdated audio platform is inexpensive to both produce and purchase.  Often when I visit my local record store which offers a fantastic selection of tapes I make my purchases based upon the visuals of the item alone.  More often than not I know little to nothing about the artist or producer of the object.  Because the cassette ranges in price from free-$10 (I won't pay higher than that and even then I need some real convincing) with an average price of $4, if I get a cassette that is insultingly bad I don't feel too guilty just tossing it, reusing the cassette for another recording or giving it to a friend.  

This is liberating for the artist.  If the artist is to produce a cassette which is a failure, it's not the end of his/her career.  They can quickly and easily produce a new cassette.  It's not like a hollywood director who makes one flop and then his/her career is done for the next ten years (if their career is not permanently destroyed).  For some reason M. Night Shamalama-ding-dong is an exception to this rule.  Seriously, did you see "Signs"? The movie was so insulting to my intelligence it's an unsolved mystery why any producer allowed him to get near a camera again.  But I regress from the topic ... 

As a result, cassette tapes are often experimental.  Artists can afford to travel down paths they'd be too afraid to try otherwise, but they still get to have the satisfaction of producing an object.  

"Broken Machine Films Presents - Album 02 - the gravity - sophtimore" is a perfect example of this trend.  When I received it, it was very mysterious and intriguing.  First off, it's title is confusing.  There is only font on the spine of the cassette, with the exception to the words "MEM 36" on the back paper flap and "A" and "B" written on both sides of the cassette.  There is no contact, no website, track listing, artist credits, recording information, NOTHING.  Because the font size of the text is basically uniform to the naked eye ("Broken Machine Films Presents..." is slightly larger in font size) I'm not even sure what the name of the act is. Is the name of this act "The Gravity"?  Or "Sophomore?"  Why is it presented to me by a Film company?

The cover of the cassette gave me little to go on too.  It is an overexposed close up photo of a pretty woman dressed in lipstick with her eyes closed.  

I rather enjoyed the ambiguous design decisions.  I enjoyed imagining I found it on my front steps like Bill Pullman found a video tape on his in "Lost Highway".  To prolong this fantasy, I made an executive decision to not ask my digital overlord google what this object was so I could review the sound objectively.   

When I placed it in my player, it starts off with what sounds like an early seventies game show opening credits theme.  Sexy disco horns, banging drums, I just got asked to be in the showcase showdown! The track ends after 22 seconds however.  Then a few seconds later it switches to a solum spanish guitar solo.  But after fifteen seconds it's over.  Now I'm listening to what could be the music to a Miami Vice Drug Bust montage.  Don Johnson in a Hawaiian shirt telling some sleaze balls to "freeze!" is the first mental image I get in my head.  But after just over 3 minutes, this is over too! Now I'm hearing a lonesome voice recorded on a phone voice mail machine while reverb guitars play in the background.   That ends after less than a minute and I'm hearing symphonic strings, brass instruments and an organ.  This ends after a minute and is followed by a cowboy folk song about drug awareness that is recorded at a slowed down pace so the vocalist sounds like a deep bass.  Are you beginning to get the idea?  

What unifies all these tracks is that they all sound dated.  Not necessarily dated to the same time period, but these are all sounds from a distant past.  In all honesty, these are sounds that can no longer be captured because of the advancement of technology.  Of course you can still play a lonesome cowboy song and you can make a recording on a voice mail machine, but there is a "grime" and "dirt" to these sounds which is reminiscent of late night exploitation films from days past and fantastic VHS finds at Salvation Armies.

For those with ADD or enthusiasts of nostalgic sonic documents, this tape is a treat.  That said, side B of this tape is less successful.  This is because unlike side A which is dominated by constantly fluctuating tracks, about half of side B sounds like an Indian Yoga Work Out video.  Now, I'm not hating on Indian music or work out videos.  But something is lost when the tracks aren't as spastic as a Charles Bronson power-violence record.  The Yoga Work Out video track simply goes on for too long.  I actually love the music, but it is constantly interrupted by an instructor's voice telling me to "shimmy left" and then "leg kick".  The instructions are humorous, but I'd rather just focus on the music itself.  About two minutes of this track would have been enough for me to get the idea, but it goes on for about half of side B. 

When I was done listening to the cassette, I decided to pay my bills, think about my dead loved ones and return to the world of digital oppression.  The nostalgic fantasy was over.  The illusion wore off and I asked google what this was. 


As it turns out this tape isn't played by an eccentric genius who can switch genre like the flip of a switch. It is a concept album.  From the artist's website, here is his description of the tape in his own words.  

"Lost and obscure 8mm and VHS audio samples, family cassette ramblings, meditation pieces, found deceased-persons mini cassettes from old answering machines, long since defunct band practice sessions from original 4-track tapes, influential forget-me-nots, field recordings, and various other ancient retro-phemera from times gone by. Recorded straight to 25 year old cassette tape stock. 
30 years in the making... Enjoy." 
-Joshua Rogers (aka Broken Machine Films) 

Mr. Rogers must have regularly attended thrift shops and garage sales to make this compilation and I applaud his efforts.  The end result is a sampler of time capsule chachkis.  Less interesting and mundane sounds are edited out to bring you the best of grandpa's closet.  


This tape is why I like cassettes. This release is a casual but well edited mix tape of recordings that could have easily been lost to history.  Admittedly, I'm too much of a novice to cassette culture to know if this is a "thing" that people do, but in any case this is successful experiment and one of those "why didn't I think of that" projects.  And if you don't like it, no worries.  It's probably like $3. Ask for you money back and buy two king size snickers bars.  

-- Jack Turnbull www.jackturnbull.com   

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