August 21, 2009
The Unattended Documentation Of Culture
I fell in love with The Books in 2002, when I heard “Motherless Bastard” from Thought For Food. It begins with an audio sample, a conversation between a father and his daughter, where the dad playfully says, “you have no mother or father.”
“Yeah, I do!”
“No, they left…”
And then the hammer falls:
“Don’t touch me, don’t call me that in public.”
That sample was recorded live by The Books’ Nick Zammuto at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Los Angeles. The rest of the track is just an insanely sweet, melancholy, beautiful acoustic instrumental, on cello, banjo, percussion, made just slightly glitchy with some electronic effects. That’s what they do.
In a new interview with Pitchfork, Zammuto and Paul de Jong talk about their process—
NZ: There is a pulse to the material we work with that you can’t find in the mainstream. It’s this unattended documentation of culture. The productions are not made for recording any kind of history, but there’s all this cultural documentation in there anyway.
PDJ: You can’t find it anywhere else. You can’t make it up, you can’t shoot it yourself. If there’s three seconds of beauty in an hour and a half tape, the search is worth it.
— and their new album —
NZ: We’ve been really into hypnotherapy tapes. We’ve been into a lot of spoken-word religious material in the past— just these deeply ego-ed voices. But, with hypnotherapy, the ego disappears— it has this relaxing effect independent of what someone’s saying. We’re interested in that un-self-consciousness. In a bizarre way, it keeps things grounded. There’s always this element of not knowing where you stand that you can hear in almost any voice. It’s a universal quality.
And we have a vast collection of these tiny little musical fragments— like analog synth demos— that are very dated, but we never knew what to do with them. It’s really hard to use them without sounding like genres that everybody’s familiar with. But I think we finally started to crack the code and figured out how to use them in a way that satisfies us. Like, we have this incredible collection of brass sounds, so we kind of have a brass section going.
PDJ: Yeah, it seems to be developing more into the sounds from traditional pop-rock history— like, actual drum sounds. We’re starting to make sense of what to do with something that’s reached a critical mass.