Shift Your Pitch

:: Strange To Your Ears [20 Sounds] ::

:: Strange To Your Ears excerpt [backwards speech, triangle, chicks, pin] ::

Here's a little slice of audio experimentalism from the 1950's. Jim Fassett was a musical director for CBS Radio in New York City, and in his spare time (using the equipment available to him) began to mess with common every day sounds by altering their pitch dramatically. Magnetic tape was a relatively new media, and it allowed Fassett to conduct mad audio science that was previously impossible. Even with the more malleable format, the work was painstaking and utilized up to three tape machines to do even the most simple reworkings. Much of this work involved using the two speeds of tape machine, one twice as fast as the other. He introduced an intermission program, entitled Strange To Your Ears, that was played during Sunday broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic.

This is the album form of some of his audio wizardry. Trust me when I tell you that this had to have sounded really otherworldly at the time. We've all heard things backwards and sped up and run through effects, in fact most of us can do it ourselves on our computer. But 50 odd years ago, this was some pretty weird shit. Guided by Fassett's calm and dignified voice, this commercial venture into concrete music is still an interesting listen. My copy turned out to be a white label promo, with an typed insert of instructions on Columbia Records stationery for a radio program, including a list of what the 20 mystery sounds really are, and intentional bad guesses by the DJ.

Fassett did another piece of work, which I am anxious to hear, where he used pieced-together fragments of field recordings of birdsongs to create a symphony. Some of this eerie bird-sound-fuckery is included on this album, but unfortunately there's a gnarly skip on my copy that prevents me from sharing that portion. Instead, here's the 20 altered sounds, and an excerpt where he talks about backwards recording and pitch changes.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007 6:54:00 AM


Thursday, February 22, 2007 2:07:00 PM

Hehe thanks for this.

I found the Symphony Of the Birds. Will let you know.    

Thursday, February 22, 2007 2:10:00 PM

Nice! I see that it's been reissued in Japan on CD, so I should be able to track it down.    

Friday, February 23, 2007 5:54:00 AM

I posted the first movement so if you want to pre-listen, here you go.    

Friday, February 23, 2007 6:45:00 AM

Choice! Thanks, Stas.    

Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:42:00 PM

Jim Fassett was a guest on "The Ernie Kovacs Rehearsal" on WABD (DuMont) in 1954, and played selections from the album.    

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