In our current, contemporary & common era—we have seen the traditional full-length evolve from the album form established over half a century ago into a more complex, expanded multidisciplinary aesthetic entity. Leading the way were Beyoncé, Frank Ocean & more; the way we understand & interpret the albums we love have been broadened to multiple levels of sensory that have increased the way audiences respond to art pieces that transcend the static audio/visual for a more evolved take on the traditional approaches to both the constructs of sound & vision.
Cal Fish from Turnip King recently released his anticipated solo debut Cassette Traveler that was two plus years in the making this past week via the influential imprint Fire Talk Records—revealing today the world premiere of the visual album rendering of Cassette Traveler. Featuring film contributions from Boothe Carlson, Tony Cartagine, Alanis Vulpis, Finn West & footage from found VHS & DVDS over the course of two years—get ready for a collage of presidential debates (Bush v. Gore & more) shopping malls, beach blanket Babylons, forestall landscapes, college dorms, rehearsal spaces & a variety of locales.
The analog VHS visuals begin with a tracklist display that looks like something from an archaic karaoke machine that introduces the visual album with the Guy Debord quote from 1967’s Society of the Spectacle; “The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible,” the on-screen text informs us, “It says nothing more than ‘that which appears is good, that which is good appears…’ The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance.” The visual album proceeds with the lingering on-screen question of “And we must ask: Is it good?” As we witness the early 90s-esque mall-psych excursion for “Is it Jood?” where questions of whether or not our society of constant commerce distractions are indeed good or not good for us as a people. Moving toward a door that appears to house a visual abstract art piece of interest sets the visual stage for “Your kNot Next Door” where warped visuals match the pitch-shifting psychedelia of the track that feels like attending a gallery with a head full of psychotropic substances. Recalling a New York Times article from November 9, 2016 & a New York Post feature from November 9 about the fallout of the States’ recent election fracas; “Autobiographcy #4” begins with a privy view of Cal in his element amid the scan-lines & video distortion that couples home movies, multimedia art projects, television fodder & home movies that make for something of a video picture album of the absurd, reveling in a kind of future nostalgia. The strange brew & blend of images of the natural, political, personal to Thomas the Tank Engine make for a surreal trip through time & space where Cal allows his own jangle-noise vision to flourish freely.
The following visuals for “Big Problem!” present sketch animations mixed with antiquated video & vintage computer graphics that enhance the actions & quandaries contemplated in the meditative song. “Auto (w/ memo)” compiles home movies of natural splendor & abstract art piece set-ups where warped video tape matches warbling audio that compliments throwback classroom scenes & Cal creating installation art in the comforts of the great outdoors. The visual compliment for “WW.CALM” begins with text that states “The Masses: A large quantity of people unable to express their human qualities because they relate to each other neither as individuals nor as members of an actual community. It’s as if seeing each other or touching each other or hearing each other or being with each other isn’t legitimate enough to make tactile proximity integral to liberal nor conservative circles and complexes.” From here pixelated wedding videos are coupled with images of standoffs & golf tournaments as we are brought into the world of “Decomber ’15” that feels like an alternate & weird version of memories held over from the month of December, 2015 where Cal casts more karaoke-like lyrical bits on-screen that lead to the lo-fi textures of the title track, “Cassette Traveler” where the tape-tuned obsessions & backwards tripping effects arrive at the next cut, “Hellen Keller”. More textual narratives are carried forward with the words of, “Legitimacy is actually more tactile than it is made out to be. Standards of legitimacy, masks of legitimacy which are established and understood to inform group flow via meta-physical authority over the individual can only become reality through practice and performance and this applies to all standards of legiticy [sic] and “normalcey.” Beyond the deaf & dumb antithesis to the sound & visual world, the Cal Fish video tape karaoke show continues forward in DIY fashion where wild flutes & quotes from the song’s namesake comprise the lyrical fold of the track where we see a representative characterization of the icon as well. The classic youthful wintry visuals bring back the heart-warming feel of nostalgia in “Sometimes Youth (via Beach Fossils)” where the old family film & picture stills of snow days spent frolicking about & more sets the tone & stage for “3 Screens (on my window)” where you are treated to one of the most wondrous odes to winter that will strike a sentimental chord with many viewers/listeners.
With a Calvin Coolidge quote that states, “The chief business of the American people is business,” followed by “Every American exists between product and merchant. We’re a market, not a public…” the rolling quotes state leading us to the Martine Syms text; “We’re all hucksters for the ideologies sold on our televisions.” From here “Muzak (w/DJ Kren)” takes artistic aim at mega-plexes established for the sake of commerce where Cal creates an elevator music-esque soundtrack for tomorrow & today’s capitalist cathedrals built to edify & glorify the constructs that have successfully been turned into commodified products made for people to peddle upon others. Cassette Traveler‘s grand finale for “Utz Special” begins with a Susan Sontag quote stating, “Sanity is a cozy lie…silence remains inescapably, a form of speech. What we need is to use what we have.” Visuals from a camcorder of the oughts combines images of the mundane with a cavalcade of leisurely strolls along the beach, swing-set fun, walks in the park & more that completes a labor of love that took Cal & company from January, 2015 through January, 2017 to complete. After the following listen to the audio-only version of Cassette Traveler, be sure to read our candid conversation with the one & only Cal Fish.
Describe the travels & analog fixations that would inform Cassette Traveler.
Cassette tapes are like time collages, really love having them around like memories you can touch and re-touch. They make my life, make culture and memory seem, so much more flexible and re-writable…situations, places, people, feelings, are a lot more complexed, easier to forget or lose, when they haven’t been organized micro-magnetically in a plastic cartridge of course!
The way we exchange ourselves through mass and social media digitally right now is psychically over-saturating, and is personally alienating and crippling. Turning to the medium of video or audio tape feels better for me in production, collaboration, documentation, or consumption….analog fixation is perhaps a coping mechanism, too naive or nostalgic, that is an attempt to feel good about a personalized media ecology when our collective ecologies, physical and mediated, are so polluted, obscured, and contested.
My biggest analog fixation right now is trying to fix my fostex 280 4-track again though.
What have you found are the similarities & differences for you creatively in composing for Turnip King as opposed to your solo output?
My solo output is sent mostly distorted, sent to cassette tapes or a radio transmitter, and consists of a wide range of; improvisation, analog media collage, flute, appropriated ideas, optimistic flailing, friendships, and sadness, captured fleetingly in various locations…and then organized in my room as video or audio waiting to be recombined later. Turnip King on the other hand is a vegetable tyrant who will do whatever they please, anything and everything that is, to reign over and ultimately destroy the consumer-scape, stopping at nothing in their quest, which I am but a bondsman to, of replacing concrete shopping centers, office buildings, and chain restaurants with turnip fields.
We would like to hear about how you went about making visuals for the entirety of Cassette Traveler, what was that experience like for you?
A lot of the Lego pieces for Cassette Traveler come from video projects I’ve made over the last two years that were really large in scale or duration. Pieces were then condensed into music videos so I could actually share them with people. Last year my 4-track and VHS players were lined into each other, so in many cases the songs and videos were produced together as part of what I was most inspired by, upset about, interested in, or fascinated with at the time…the experience of production was natural, consuming, mentally occupying, long.
What sorts of challenges did you encounter & what sorts of breakthroughs were made along the way?
Spider webs of cables/wires, degraded tape, and digitization were all really annoying but always had knowable solutions. The biggest challenges during the process of this video/audio album were trying to feel alright enough, about media production, my personal life, and the well-being of the people I care about, to be able to keep trying to create the content for “an album.”
Even more challenging though was experiencing the current political spectacle and series of atrocities through my personal social media lens, and feeling un-conflicted about sharing an album/thesis that’s so personal to me in content and aesthetic.
A breakthrough came when I released an album on tape in late October called Fight for Free, that is accompanied by an essay, was recorded quickly, and was more purely political and in a folk tradition.
How did you approach sourcing, editing & syncing the visuals to the sounds of Cassette Traveler?
Most of the video footage used was shot by me as well as with my friends, Boothe Carlson, Tony Cartagine, Alanis Vulpis, and Finn West over the past two years. Two of the videos are shot at malls, multiple at a beach, some woods, college dorm…other portions of it were from found or gifted DVD or VHS tapes that felt like they were a part of the history and mediascape that were going into the project. Lots of the clips were organized and processed on VHS with old video equipment multiple times. A few videos were digitized and used straight from VHS and others were more organized on the computer after being digitized.
What cassettes have you found are critical for your own music collection?
Ah my devotional plastic deity’s. For audio, “Better Psychics II” by Zach Phillips/Chris Weisman, “Slow Chase Scenes + Demure” by Cool Angels, a tape I made two years ago that got magnetically distorted labeled “SUM SUN SAMPLE,” Blood Club’s red tape, another red tape by Andy from tonstartssbandht’s called “CGI PANTS” under the project name Alternate 1985, really just any tape given to me by friends or traded for at a shows. My essential video include a compilation of short works by Ximena Cuevas, “DIAL H-I-S-T-O-R-Y” by Johan Grimonprez, “Matilda,” “Combatting Global Exploitation,” and the 2,000 presidential debates.
What are you listening to right now with a zealous devotion?
Right now I am listening with zealous devotion to the sound of cars endlessly passing by my window, Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialtectic of Enlightenment, Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike, and protesters around the world who are in the U.S. on social media and in the streets!
2017 hopes & activism that the world needs to attend to immediately?
Oyoyoy! I know the way we all approach our proximity to each other and the earth needs to change, but I think those who are the most discontent or othered need to organize behind something other than opposition in order to bring about a needed reorientation to our shared societies.
Protests and needed gatherings that are the beginnings and continuations of radical organizations can be attended immediately, an understanding of how we need to organize in order to translate the desires for fascism, conservatism, liberalism, and neo-liberalism into the will and means to live more harmoniously and functionally as a collective will take longer. For 2017 I hope to become a better person through better attention, self will, and repeated effort rather than magic, and I hope we find a social media platform that doesn’t inherently fail us by rendering us instrumentalized subjects for corporations or federal investigators.
Cal Fish’s Cassette Traveler is available now from Fire Talk Records.