Something a little different this week …
My grandma wanted my grandpa to buy a car, according to family lore.
Instead, he went out and spent $100 — in 1941 money — to buy a machine that not only played 78-rpm records, but recorded them, as well.
(This was distant early warning of two Blumenau family predilections that continue to this day: making homegrown music, and preserving a record of absolutely everything.)
The finest musicians in New York City couldn’t make recordings in those days. But enthusiastic amateur Bill Blumenau could sit in his parlor in nearby Stamford, Connecticut, and record as many popular tunes as he wanted — or, at least, as many as his budget for blank discs would allow.
These recordings survived the decades by jumping from format to format, always a half-step ahead of obsolescence. They were dubbed from the original 78-rpm discs onto reel-to-reel tape, probably in the late ’50s or early ’60s.
Later down the road — I’m guessing ’80s sometime — my dad copied the reel-to-reel tape onto cassette. And just a few weeks ago, he copied the recordings from cassette into digital format.
(The songs never made it into quadraphonic sound, or onto 8-tracks. Ah, well, you can’t have everything.)
Once he’d converted them, my dad sent me five .m4a sound files of my grandpa playing the hits of the day on his upright piano, when he was 10 years younger than I am now.
As soon as I’d given the recordings a listen — and some noise reduction — I began to think about doing something creative with them.
I could have overdubbed myself playing along with my grandpa, Natalie Cole-style. But that didn’t seem interesting or satisfying to me.
Then it hit me:
I’ve been taking my grandpa’s raw material (his calendar entries) and turning it into something new and different (blog posts) for a while now.
Why not do something similar with his snippets of music?
This week, I am proud to unveil the results … The Original Soundtrack to Hope Street, if you will.
A nine-track EP, Hope’s Treat, featuring my manipulations of my grandpa’s piano playing, is available as a free Bandcamp download.
Using audio software, I’ve rearranged, rethought and reimagined his 70-year-old piano solos into something different. Not necessarily better — that’s an eye-of-the-beholder judgment — but different.
The results are a little weird, yes, and not conventionally tuneful. Still, most of the tracks run only about a minute long, and the whole shebang runs maybe 12 minutes. So it’s a quick listen — you don’t have to devote an hour of your life to it.
(Unless you like it, of course. In which case, feel free to download it, play it repeatedly, tweet about it, post it on Facebook, and write it on the back of your jean jacket. You can even dub it back to cassette or reel-to-reel, if you can figure out how.)
Here’s a sample:
Hope’s Treat is probably cooler in concept than execution. For one thing, getting 70-year-old static out of a sound recording is like getting 70-year-old wine out of a wedding dress. And when you start looping, slicing and altering that 70-year-old static, it doesn’t always go along nicely.
No matter: This was still worth doing.
And I’d like to think I did it in the same spirit my grandpa had when he turned on his new machine for the first time, flexed his fingers, and started playing.
Just to recap: Hope’s Treat is available as a free download here. If you like either the music or the concept behind it, consider posting a link to this blog entry on whatever platform you usually use to hold forth. It ain’t fine art, but I kinda like it.