28 Dec

All Tech No Brains – The Phone Bill


Welcome back! Today I have an unmitigated pile of steaming silliness for your consumption.


Maybe that should be a steaming pile of unmitigated silliness.

There’s another of those pesky “flaming herring juggler” problems. (You’re free to do a site search on that one.) In any event, “Phone Bill” is the fourth entry of the five into this dastardly waste of our time and effort. To list some of the high points of its pedigree: It is somewhat politically incorrect. It holds the record for involving more household trash items in the recording phase. It may be the one that still elicits a few chuckles from me when I hear it. Or at least it ties with the giant octopus part of the fifth and final work. Hard to say, really.

Once again, the scene is 1992-ish. It all started with some changed plans, when Tom and I both found ourselves “at liberty” one Friday evening. So, to record! But what? As I was loading my gear into my somewhat beaten up 1985 Nissan King Cab, I started to look around the garage. Here was a set of toy bongo drums–who knows where (and when) they originated. And over here was a plastic document mailer tube. These are mostly cardboard now-a-days, but this one was almost like a chunk of PVC pipe, with two rubberized caps. Sure seemed like the evening’s recordings would involve some rhythmic elements.

I couldn’t have been further from the truth–but that was more in the vein of personal failings where the word “rhythm” is concerned…

Anyway, I also found a hardwired intercom that I had once purchased at a garage sale. It is so old that I can’t even find a picture of it anywhere on the web. But the units were beige, connected with 1/8″ phono connectors, and had these giant yellow TALK buttons. I tossed them into the truck with all the other stuff.

At Tom’s, the “drums” were brought in last and met with great glee. I guess sometimes enthusiasm may be worth more than careful planning–however this wasn’t one of those times!

We rolled tape on the two of us giving our new percussion instruments the “what for”. Tom was on the toy bongos playing barehanded. I had opted for the “shipping tube” with one end removed. Eschewing the use of a drumstick (not that we had one), I was using an ink pen. I’m pretty sure that we dropped a cheap RadShack microphone down into the tube for those big, ill-defined, boomy sounds. That and all the reverb on the tape.

Right here is where that planning thing would have come in to be useful. We both started playing random rhythms…and changed rhythms throughout the course of the tape. We probably intended to see what worked, and then go back and re-do it… But we didn’t. I can’t explain why.

And to top it all off, this was before I forced myself to develop my own sense of rhythm. To put it simply, we didn’t have great timing (the failings I mentioned earlier).

In spite of all these factors, once we listened back, it actually sounded tribal. So, speaking into the shipping tube drum, I sampled the phrase “Oom-Laba, Oom-Baba”. At least I think that’s the proper spelling, I don’t have the ancient text on hand at the moment… No matter, this sample was queued on the Quadraverb to be triggered at the press of a button. This sample was added in on final mixdown–I remember triggering it by hand. We also added in someone tapping the plastic tube with a fork or something…don’t re

What I don’t remember exactly is the complete order of events that followed. We either bounced out a tape of the “drums” and my synthesizer part. Or Tom (after a significant amount of writing time during which I ground and brewed some blue-berry infused coffee beans) recorded the voice over. I think it was the later, which I believe we ran through the intercom system. Gave it that great, phoned-in, scratchy quality.

That just left the synth part, which should have been played on the mix-down (less bounces means better “quality”). However, I know that I trigged the samples, so it had to be on tape.

So…here it is. Wish I could say it was life-changing, but I do hope it will give you a smile. If you scrub up to about the 1:00 minute mark, it won’t hurt my feelings. That’s where Tom will be heard to say, “I was hunting asparagus deep in the jungles of Kenya…”


Oh, and one word of warning: The last line is proceeded by a curse word. Many may feel this particularly expletive to be relatively benign in today’s culture, however, I disagree. Actually, I believe that, at the very least, the use of curse words to be an indicator in one’s character that vocabulary and good manners are severely lacking. Now, this is certainly not the case with Tom, who was one of the most intelligent and erudite people I’ve ever met. I believe he included it here as a callback to phrases like “balderdash” and “pip, pip”. In other words, to further portray the pith helmet, monocle, and pork-chop-sideburns set.

Title: The Phone Bill
Album: All Tech No Brains
Artists: Tom Murray and Joseph Baxter
Target: Great White Hunters

Whee!!! Only one left. I think it is probably the best of all–no mean distinction, that. It is called “Little Pebble”. It makes me giggle like a silly schoolgirl whenever I listen to it. In addition to all this, it is probably the most complex musically and may even have the highest concept. Well, relatively, that is.

See you, Space Cowboy.