July 1st, 2010 | by MICHAEL MANNHEIMER Music | Posted In: Columns, Columns

Advance Cassette: Garth Steel Klippert, Music For Taxicabs

Advance Cassette July 1At a party in early April, I was cornered by a friend and asked a question that's pretty typical when people realize that I write about music for a living. “Do vinyl records really sound better than CDs?” she asked. My response? “I'd rather listen to something on tape.”

I was only half-joking. For the past year or so, I've gone from mildly interested to flat-out obsessed with cassette tapes and the weird, underground tape culture that mostly exists, ironically enough, on the Internet. I even wrote and presented a fancy schmancy paper on the intersection between tape culture and the burgeoning chillwave scene at the 2010 Pop Conference in Seattle. Since then, I've been trying to find a peg to geek out about tapes for Willamette Week, and what better way than a weekly column? Advance Cassette will focus on both Portland artists and local labels that produce and distribute cassettes all over the country. There's a lot of amazing music being released on tape—you just have to be willing to do a little digging to find it.

I'm not exactly sure where Field Hymns—an excellent local label that has started to release things on tape—discovered Garth Steel Klippert. In fact, it's hard to find out much background about the man himself. He has no MySpace page. Typing “Garth Steel Klippert” into a Google search brings up few useful links. And it took me 10 minutes to find any sort of bio on the label's website. But it turns out that Klippert lives in Portland, builds coffee shops (Barista, Albina Press, Extracto) and has an album coming out on Arena Rock Records in the fall with his main band Old Light, who play an autoharp-heavy version of indie rock. But Music For Taxicabs, his Field Hymns tape, is an entirely different beast.


Before he moved to Portland, Klippert lived in San Francisco, played music, and for a three year period in the late ‘90s, worked nights as a cab driver. During that time he recorded a ton of music and made this odd little project that would have been another blip in time if it wasn't resurrected by Field Hymns. It's quite the story:
Between 1997 and 2000, Garth Steel Klippert lived in a 10' x 10' office at 1005 Market St., Ste. 309, San Francisco, upstairs from the world-famous grease-firetrap Vietnamese restaurant Tu Lan. During that time, Klippert worked nights as a cab driver, spending his days making art and recording music with two flea-market microphones on a Tascam 424 and a Macintosh Quadra. Inspired by Brian Eno's watershed album, "Music For Airports," Klippert experimented with unusual recording techniques to produce layered assemblages of sound. In direct opposition to Eno's objective, public art approach, however, Klippert instead drew upon recordings he made surreptitiously while driving the cab; creating a subjective, narrative portrait of his state of mind.

Over a period of three months, he auditioned his rough mixes on the unsuspecting, playing them on the taxi's cassette player. Only once did a passenger confront Klippert, accusing him of forcing the world to listen to his music.

Some of the instruments used on the album are: Yamaha CP-30 electronic piano, Kay archtop guitar, Casio MT-68, Klippert's grandfather's baritone saxophone, circular saw blades, pot lids, leather shoes, plastic toy pump-action shotgun, and samples from over 60 hours of recordings of night-shift cab rides.

Despite its heady description, Music For Taxicabs is never a chore to listen to. Though its sonics are clearly rooted in the ‘90s—the first thing I thought of when flipping over to side B is the electronic collages of Land of the Loops—the record seems remarkably ahead of its time. The songs that feature trombone, like the chunky “Howl, My Favorite Sound” and “The Murko,” predict the cut-and-paste vibe of records like Menomena's I am the Fun Blame Monster. “The Murko” in particular is a funky, weird gem that's a little bit free jazz and a little bit Swordfishtrombones. Some songs are mostly electronic (opener “Port of Entry”) and some are based around field recordings. The only track that loses my interest is the two-part “Creaky Gun Shoes,” which tacks on some of the recordings from his cab rides but drags on a bit too long for my liking.

Still, Music For Taxicabs is something that I can imagine staying in my tape deck for a while. The record is also available as a digital download, but it almost feels like cheating to listen to it on my laptop on clunky speakers. This is music that was made before the idea of downloading music—or even writing a silly column about an archaic medium—was even a faint possibility. When I opened the tape and saw that the inside of the booklet mentioned that Music For Taxicabs "was tracked in Microsoft Excel 95 and mastered in Photoshop" I figured it was a joke. Who knew that I'd end up with the best episode of Taxicab Confessions ever put on a little box.

Music For Taxicabs

Music For Taxicabs

Music For Taxicabs

Field Hymns

Column name inspired by my second favorite Spoon song. Check back every Thursday for more cassette news. Logo by Casey.
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