Winter 2002/03

Special CD Insert / Juvenilia

Curated by Brian Conley and Christoph Cox

CD photograph found on a street in Brooklyn.

“I made this recording primarily because my 14-and-a-half-month-old daughter Tessie’s babbling was so expressive. I conduct research on language development and find the babbling interesting from a scientific as well as from a personal perspective. One reason that period of babbling (researchers describe it as ‘jargon’) is of interest is that babbling exhibits influences of the native language during that period, both with regard to contour (i.e., ‘prosody’) and the particular vowel and consonant sounds; these effects are fairly subtle, however, and wouldn’t necessarily be apparent to the average person. Additionally, I find that type of babbling intriguing because it sounds so much like a real conversation, but without real words. It seems as if children get the conversational patterns (or ‘tune’) of language even before they have words. Moreover, there seem to be individual differences, such that some children produce that type of babbling for a longer period of time and actually may be particularly focused on the tune of language (what one researcher has described as a ‘gestalt’ approach to language learning), whereas other children seem to focus more on producing individual words (an ‘analytic’ approach). I was curious about where Tessie might fall into those classifications as her language developed, and indeed she did show some tendencies associated with the ‘gestalt’ pattern, though, like most children, she fell between the two extremes.”

Three-year old Luna Montgomery recorded in Pennsylvania in 1993. This piece was later incorporated into “Washing The Hare,” which appeared on Psychogeographical Dip (GD Stereo, 1998).

Ellen Band’s compositions often feature recordings of everyday sounds that are layered and orchestrated to produce what she calls a “sonic surrealism.” “Swinging Sings” uses the sounds of squeaking swings as the raw material for violin improvisations by Band and Adele Armin. Originally released on 90% Post Consumer Sound (XI Records, 2000),

Assalalaa is an Inuit children’s game in which the participants wiggle and flop their limbs about while holding their breath. The one who lasts longest wins the game. Performed by Qaunak Martha Meekeega and Temegeak Pitaulassie of Kinngait (Cape Dorset) and recorded by Nicole Beaudry in 1974. Originally released on Inuit Games and Songs (UNESCO, 1991).

Edmond Dewan’s son Brian explains: “The tape was recorded by my father Edmond in 1969 at a research laboratory in Massachusetts. The children at the console are myself, my brother Ted Dewan, Scott McLeod, and Philip Petschek. The machine was not made to be a musical instrument; it was an apparatus used in a speech lab. The children, 5 to 8 years old, threw switches and turned knobs willy-nilly. The recording is the fruit of this activity.”

In 1977, at the age of 6, identical twins Virginia and Grace Kennedy were brought to Children’s Hospital of San Diego for observation. Their parents reported that, while the girls clearly understood both English and German (their mother’s native tongue), they spoke only to one another and in what seemed to be a private language. A year later, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, who had recently arrived in San Diego after working with Jean-Luc Godard on a series of Maoist experimental films, featured the twins in his film Poto and Cabengo. Gorin’s film includes this excerpt from a hospital observation film, in which Grace (Poto) and Virginia (Cabengo) are heard speaking to one another while playing with utensils and baking pans.

The band Holidaze was formed by Gen Ken Montgomery to keep himself entertained when he visited his family on holidays. With the exception of Ken, the oldest member (Ann Marie, the lead singer) was 8 years old. The band jammed and made noise, creating songs as they went along. “What are you afraid of?” was created on the spot—the genius of children. Ann Marie Kling (vocals), John Kling (percussion), Tina Kling (noise), Gen Ken (guitar). Recorded in 1982.

Excerpt from a radio adaptation of Tristan Tzara’s First Celestial Adventure of Mr. Antipyrine, Fire Extinguisher (1916) read by a group of 12- and 13-year-olds under the direction of Julia Loktev. For this piece, the dadababies rewrote portions of the text and added stories, fragments, and sound effects of their own. Produced in 1991 for CKUT Montreal.

“A lone voice out of the dark. The song fragment was recorded on an old wax cylinder, and found its way to me through a series of accidents and digressions. The tone is ruptured innocence, with undertones of dread. Who’s there?”

From a 1998 recording made at La Scuola, New York City, documenting a workshop for 2nd graders. Here, a boy enacts a miniature sonic drama, complete with sound effects and dialogue. Originally released on Sound and Silence in the 2nd Grade (ATMOTW Records),

Boston native Teddy Fire composed “Homework” as a response to a third grade assignment that called for students to compose two haiku. His first effort received no comment from the teacher, the second only the admonishment: “Try harder!” In 1987, 10-year old Teddy set his poems to music, backed by his half-brother Pablo Cuba on percussion and Phil Scher on guitar and bass. “Homework” first appeared on Teddy Fire’s debut 7" record, released by Eary Canal Plates in 1989.

Susanna Hood performs an alphabet song, produced by John Oswald, that crosses a children’s insult song with the phonic contortions of sound poetry. Recorded in 2002 at the Mystery Lab in Toronto, Ontario.

A dual turntable improvisation by 22-month-old Ted Conrad, a.k.a., Thuunderboy, recorded by his father, Minimalist music pioneer Tony Conrad, in 1973. The piece features Ted’s then-favorite record, Donny Osmond’s chart-topping hit “Puppy Love.” Originally released on Thuunderboy! (Table of the Elements, 2002). See [link defunct—Eds.].

Eight-year-old Luna Montgomery calling from Coney Island, New York, to relay her adventure with a jellyfish. Recorded in 1998.

In 1976 and 1977, grade-school music teacher Hans Fenger recorded hundreds of students in a gymnasium in rural British Columbia, performing poignantly flawed renditions of pop classics by the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and others. Here, the Langley kids give what David Bowie deemed an “earnest, if lugubrious” rendition of his 1969 meditation on extraterrestrial alienation. Produced for commercial issue by Irwin Chusid on The Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence and Despair (Bar/None, 2001). For more informations, see Track courtesy Bar/None Records.

(singular: katajjaq) are competitive “throat games” performed by the Inuit of northeast Canada. Two performers (usually women) stand close to one another, their faces almost touching, and volley words or vocables into each other’s mouths. The game is over when one of the performers laughs or stops for breath. These games are often played in groups; and performers are evaluated both on their endurance and on the tone quality they produce. Each of the two kattajait presented here are based on the aqausiq (children’s song) that precedes it. They were performed by Maggie Grey and Jessie Tomassie of Kangirsuk (Payne Bay) and recorded by Denise Harvey in 1975. Originally released on Inuit Games and Songs (UNESCO, 1991).

In the 1830s, kindergarten inventor Friedrich Fröbel created a set of materials and activities that he called “gifts,” basic natural and geometrical forms (spheres, cylinders, rings, cubes, sticks, needles, strips of paper, etc.) intended to foster discovery through experimentation. Helen Mirra uses Fröbel’s gifts as sonic and musical devices, recording the sounds of the activities themselves and interpreting them on musical instruments (guitar, cello, nyckleharpe, and kemençe). This piece, centered on the activity of folding a long strip of paper, features Mirra on guitar and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. Originally released on Field Geometry (Explain, 2000).

Vocalizations recorded from 6- to 8-day-old infant rats during isolation from their mother and littermates at 15 degrees centigrade. These vocalizations are typically 40 to 50 kHz in frequency and hence fall well outside of the human hearing range. Mother rats, however, can hear these sounds. Here the sounds are played back at approximately 1/20 their normal speed, rendering the vocalizations audible to humans.

“These sounds are from a study in which I’m investigating how infants extract words from the stream of speech. That’s a task that doesn’t seem especially difficult to adults; we tend to think of spoken language as being like written language, with pauses between words. Speech actually is continuous (of course there are pauses between sentences and sometimes within sentences, e.g., when the speaker takes a breath, but certainly not between each of the words in a sentence). One gets a better sense of this when one listens to an unfamiliar language; it’s difficult to tell where one word ends and another begins. I have argued that infants may break into the task of identifying words in speech by first extracting the most salient syllables and ignoring the rest, rather than trying to identify boundaries between each of the words in a sentence. To test the prediction that stressed syllables are particularly likely to be extracted from speech and stored by infants, 9-month-old infants hear two ‘sentences’ of nonsense words. (We use nonsense words to make sure that it really is a segmentation task for infants, that is, so that there is no way that they can solve the task by recognizing previously heard words.)”

20 Minh Huê & Nhu’ Qùynh, “Quang Hòa, Cao Bang” (1:47)
Along the rugged, mountainous northern border with China, Tày, Nùng Yao, Sánh Chi, H’Mông and people of other tribes coexist. They are often seen throughout the region planting rice in the rocky terrain or coaxing their horses and carts to market. To pass time when things get slow, the Nùng have developed a dialogue game (sli) as a form of public entertainment. One or two couples sing and engage in coy flirting back and forth all afternoon while a crowd gathers to admire the double entendres and potential for embarrassment. Hà Leu is a repertory of five two-voiced melodies to which new lyrics are improvised on the spot. Since the new texts are sung simultaneously, there is a gap between verses while the singers whisper to each other, conferring to decide the next lyric. Skilled singers are quick at inventing new words and can be devastating when their wits are sharpened. In this recording, made by Philip Blackburn, a pair of seven-year-old girls have learned Hà Leu in the traditional way, from their parents who have taught them standard phrases, before learning to invent new texts. From Stilling Time: Traditional Musics of Vietnam (Innova Recordings, 1994),

“My son, Kaspar, was born on July 1st, 1997. I had been listening to a lot of classical music, and wanted to make something that would be static and calming to play while I was sitting with him . . . something that wouldn’t excite him, but would be interesting enough for me. I started recording some short sequences with a toy piano I had bought at a church sale. I then pieced together parts of the sequences into loops, so they repeated in similar, but varying patterns. The resultant piece wound up having what I would call a ‘timeless center’ . . . where it could go on and on, ad infinitum. I also wound up playing the piece a lot for my daughter, Ursula, who was born on July 18th, 2000.” Recorded in July 1997.

Written by Ron and Russel Mael. Engineered by Bob Schaeffer. Luna Montgomery performing vocals, Michael Evans on pots, pans, and backing vocals, Lary 7 on toy pianos, bass, and backing vocals, Gen Ken Montgomery on laminator and backing vocals. Recorded at Plastikville in 1999.

CD engineered by Daniel Warner.

Thanks to Maria Blondeel, Irwin Chusid, Jean-Pierre Gorin, David Scher, Walter Wilczynski, and Neil Young.

Ellen Band is a composer and sound artist based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Her first solo CD, 90% Post Consumer Sound, was released by XI Records in 2000. In 1994, she founded Audible Visions, a performance space for new music and sound art in Somerville.

Brian Conley is New York–based artist and a founding editor of Cabinet.

Christoph Cox teaches philosophy and contemporary music at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He is a contributing editor of Cabinet.

Edmond M. Dewan has been a research scientist at Hanscom Field Air Force Base since 1957. His early work includes a theory of REM sleep and the first demonstration of a machine controlled directly by a human brain. Since then his work involves atmospheric bores, gravity waves, turbulence, and stellar scintillation.

Catharine H. Echols is associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. She conducts research on language acquisition.

Bill Farrell is doing post-doctoral research in behavioral neuroscience at the University of Texas, Austin.

Teddy Fire was born in the same year as Never Mind the Bollocks. In his late teens, he gave up music and poetry and now works in a record store in Boston.

Susanna Hood is a choreographer, composer, dancer, producer, singer, and actor based in Toronto.

John Hudak, based in Dobbs Ferry, New York, creates sonic distillations of the sounds that surround him in his everyday life. The sounds that result from his manipulations retain the essence of the original sounds, but transform them into ghost-like afterimages.

Julia Loktev is a filmmaker and video installation artist based in New York. Her feature film, Moment of Impact, was screened in numerous international film festivals and won the Directing Award at the Sundance Festival. Her video installation work will be exhibited at the Whitney Museum this spring.

Helen Mirra is represented by Meyer Riegger Galerie, Karlsruhe. She is senior lecturer in visual arts and cinema & media studies at the University of Chicago.

Gen Ken Montgomery is a sound artist who has lived and worked in New York since 1978. Montgomery was one of the original founders of Generation Unlimited and the Pogus Productions record labels, and in 1989 founded Generator, the first sound art gallery in New York City. He continues to produce concerts and recordings of his work and other sound artists.

Luna Montgomery, born in Brooklyn, is an actress/singer/musician/dancer/performance artist and seventh grader. She has been seen in the Swans video “Love of Life” and in Zoe Beloff’s 3-D film Shadowland. Her voice has been heard on the radio, on CDs and on answering machines between New York and Italy.

John Oswald is a musician and sound/multimedia artist based in Toronto. Director of Research at Mystery Laboratory, he developed the art of “plunderphonics,” critical and creative audio cut-ups of popular music. Oswald is also an improvising saxophonist who has played and recorded with artists including Henry Kaiser, Derek Bailey, Jim O’Rourke, and the Canadian collective CCMC.

Thuunderboy, born Ted Conrad, is now 31 years old and living in Queens.

Gregory Whitehead is a playwright, radio artist and voice performer who makes frequent excursions into the occluded soundscapes of the dead. Recent works include O Monstrous Voice Like Mine and Everything I Know About Glossolalia.