Look the Other Way

I’m still a big fan of sampling from vinyl LPs. Despite the degree to which electronic and hip-hop musicians relied upon them during the 1980s and 1990s, there remain entire genres of beautifully-recorded spoken word and field recordings which remain under-utilized for artistic purposes. One such genre is foreign language instruction discs. During the 1950s and 1960s, American record labels rolled out some of the most elegantly packaged releases, many of which can still be found today at specialty vinyl shops and flea markets.

Because we’ve been living in Europe, trying to learn other languages – right now, Italian – I swore to myself that when I got back here, I’d try and finish off collecting this genre of recordings. Continually moved to imagine how they might be repurposed for musical projects, I’ve had the good fortune of finding a number of these records. Hebrew in fourty minutes, Russian in a week, German for English speakers, recorded on unfathomably thick slabs of virgin vinyl. I haven’t had this much fun record shopping in years.

Stopping at Recycled Records on Haight Street last week on one of these outings, I found Thurston Moore blocking my way to the corner of the store containing it’s spoken word recordings. Pulling out all kinds of obscure LPs, the fifty year-old Sonic Youth guitarist did not look a day older than when I had last seen him, twenty-one years ago, playing with his band in Portland. It was a fitting spot, and moment, to run into him again, ageless, combing through an indie music store as though he were still a nerdy graduate student.

I did my best to busy myself while Moore made inventory of the only shelf in the shop that I was interested in. Looking at the poetry records adjacent to him, I anxiously tried to tune the legend out, while the sounds of a late 1980s Fall record boomed over Recycled Records’ sound system. Content to read the liner notes to a sixty-year-old recording of TS Eliot, I patiently waited until the guitarist moved on to the cash register, carrying a load of albums in his hands, hoping I’d done a passable job of pretending I hadn’t noticed him.