Sunday, September 24, 2006

September 24, 2006: The Button

September 24, 2006: The Button

Busy week here at Post Consumer Productions. Working on several interview episodes and wrapping up our third year of syndicated episodes. Kind of exciting -- another milestone. Our Q&A this week is with The Button, and it is the longest response we've yet to receive, so I'll keep this short and get right to the interesting part. Thanks for checking us out, and stay tuned for this week's podcast (episode 113).


The Button

I became familiar with The Button way back when I was a member of the Snuggles Listserv. Snuggles is a community of people who met online, as fans of the band Negativland, and interacted primarily via the listserv. When I first went online, it was largely to search for more sample based music and audio art, and one of the listserv’s I joined, hoping to find out more, was this group of Negativland fans. I figured if anyone could help point me in the direction of new appropriation-based sound collage, it would be a group of very net-savy fans of a band like Negativland.

(The photo is of the band Colorforms - Jay Kennedy is on the right)

The Button was one of the biggest contributors to this listserv. If you’ve ever monitored a listserv, you know there are maybe a dozen people who post regularly, and maybe fifty who will chime in from time to time, and countless more who just “lurk.” If that’s what they’re still calling it these days. In fact, I don't know for sure if Snuggles still exists - I changed my email address several years ago now and was never able to rejoin the group with the new address, so I’ve been pretty disconnected from that universe for some time now. I do still occasionally get new stuff from many of the people who populated that discussion group though, and often play tracks from albums the group put out, including The Droplift Project, Free Speech For Sale and Dictionaraoke. Anyway, this is a feature on The Button, not Snuggles...

The Button was founded by Jay Kennedy and Samuel Harmon. Their radio program, Press The Button, consists of live manipulation of samples, people calling in on the telephone and things of that nature - not unlike Negativland’s radio program, “Over the Edge.” In fact, the Weatherman, one of Negativland’s cast of characters, has been known to call in to the program on a semi-regular basis, just to contribute to the live mix. The combination of live audio mixing, electronics, with or without phone call contributions, has become kind of a college radio tradition at this point.

Press The Button is in fact still going strong, though it looks like the torch has been passed to a couple of people who go by the names of Glacial 23 & Widget. I had to do a little online research to fill in some gaps, as Jay - or every man, as he's now called - actually submitted this Q&A several months ago. It looks like he and J. Kyle Moyer perform as substitute hosts, from time to time, but are focusing largely on Colorforms, another of their performance projects.

The Button, and their various side projects, have released over two dozen records. Press The Button broadcasts live on WRUW, in Cleveland, Ohio (Wednesdays, 10 to Midnight) and has been on the air since 1997. Stay tuned for Episode 113 to hear several sound collages, including one by The Button! Without further ado, here’s the SAR Q&A with Jay Kennedy of both The Button and Press The Button

*Name: The Button

*Are there any additional names used to describe this project: Sometimes "Press The Button,” but really, no.

*Do you use a pseudonym? every man (Although it now reads that on my driver's license! I got it legally changed).

*Members: every man, Samuel Harmon (Glacial 23), Amy Broestl (Widget). Sometimes J. Kyle Moyer. Sometimes Paul Ryan.

*Founding Member: every man, Samuel Harmon

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: Ouch... of those three, the closest thing to it is "digital deconstruction" but we use a lot of analog too!

*Another genre descriptor: Sonic Surrealism

*Why you use this descriptor: We used to call ourselves "audio dada,” but since then our sound has been less dada, and more surreal… in the sense that the Surrealist art movement followed the Dadaist art movement. I have a much better understanding as to why that happened now, having been a part of an audio dada movement for so long. The desire is to go beyond the dada, and explore a deeper meaning within the collage.

*Location: Lakewood, Ohio

*Original Location: Erie, PA

*What is your creative/artistic background:
I was involved in stage/theater from age 8 - 16. I was a computer programmer from age 8 - 18, doing mostly Applesoft Basic programming, or Business Basic programming. I was making low-resolution video games a lot. When I was 17, I formed a public access TV show called "No Budget Theater" which was heavily influenced by The Kids in the Hall, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Douglas Adams. It was comedy, I think. Mostly weird and silly.

Three of the members of No Budget Theater got the idea to make "No Budget Theater - The Album!" which kinda didn't happen that way, but we recorded a lot of songs with silly lyrics, sung badly, and did some radio sketch parodies, and then college happened. The three folks involved in that were the three core members of No Budget Theater, and all moved away for college. In college I had three majors, one of which was Communications with an emphasis in film. However, radio intrigued me quite a bit, mostly because at the time I was getting into Negativland's Over the Edge shows. Jeremy Hancock, one of No Budget Theater's core members, introduced them to me at age 17 with the Escape From Noise cassette tape. When he moved to college, I went to look for it, but only found "Over the Edge - The Weatherman" cassette tape from Negativland.

Discovering that it was actually a radio show, and not a real full length studio album kinda stunned me and I wanted to know how they did it, WHY they did it, and why the hell isn't this kind of format done more often?? Getting into radio production my freshman year, I learned how to do razor edits, and started doing tape manipulations.

I was making some humorous ones for the No Budget Theater album, but they were so far out compared to what we were doing, it didn't seem right to associate it with a sketch comedy TV show. So, the three of us called this collection of bizarre recordings "Inflatable Voltswagon" (yes, spelled that exact way.) It eventually became a full length cassette tape. Most of it contained silly audio sketches, but parts of it were true audio collage. It eventually got re-issued as a CD on, back when that site made it easy and free for anyone to compose and sell their own albums on the internet. The other two members were kinda disturbed by the collage pieces, and didn't really want them on the album, I think... but we clearly weren't getting our s*** together enough to finish it with sketch comedy, and I didn't want to table the stuff we had already recorded permanently, nor did I want to release something I tacked those on the album without their blessing, I think. They grumbled and okayed it, from what I remember, but they'd happily go on record saying the tape collages were all mine and not their artistic intent.

After that, I started a radio show called "The Vegetable Kingdom" at WMCE, in Erie, PA (Mercyhurst College's radio station.) That's where I met Paul Ryan (real name is Paul Smith.) I think I started calling myself DJ Jay. The show was a mix of "alternative" music, radio skits, and sometimes mild audio collage made live on the fly. That was my sophomore year in college.

By the time I was a junior, Paul and I were DJ'ing on Saturdays on that station. I mean, ALL Saturday for the most part. From like 1 pm until 9 pm! He would do 1 - 5, and I would do 5 - 9. It was called "Transmit-O-Matic, parts 1 & 2." That's when the real deal began. Jeez, we were doing on the fly audio collages like you wouldn't believe, with turntables, cassette tapes, CD's, effects processors, reel-to-reel machines, walkie-talkies, and live microphone input. We mixed in sketches called "Ryan Reports" which were like surreal talk shows from your dreams (or nightmares may be more accurate!) They were really silly, humorous, sometimes political in nature, but definitely surreal for the most part. Paul's dad worked in audio production, so he knew his stuff, and was able to get a hold of all kinds of obscure audio recordings to make the mix more captivating for the listener. This was probably around 1993, as I was a junior in college at the time. We got in trouble a lot with the station's faculty adviser, and even with the college president! Once we were playing a mix of polkas, celtic, german dance music, etc... backwards and forwards at the same time, and the college president actually thought we were intentionally insulting foreign cultures! I had to write a letter of apology, and somehow explain what happened in rational terms, making it seem like it was all an "accident." That letter was filled with more bulls*** than I care to re-iterate, but it did the trick and we kept on the air... just not together anymore. The faculty adviser "separated" us, like school children. We weren't allowed on each other's shows anymore, couldn't call each other, nor produce material together. We got around that too. The station was supposed to sign off at midnight, but we would hide under the console until security locked up and left, and then sign the transmitter back on, and do our live mixes together. ;) This was pretty routine actually.

Anyway, that kind of craziness went on until I was a 5th year senior and finally graduated. In the interim, my most interesting collages with Paul got archived on an album entitled "Thunderbunnies." It reminds me a bit of Renaldo & The Loaf's early work, in that it's primitive, clearly experimental, and just all around bizarre... it's probably a cross between their first album and Negativland's first album in terms of its spirit, its production techniques, and its sound. But really, it was its own thing. It's "Thunderbunnies." Paul went on with that project with a few more releases, but I was hardly involved after the first cassette tape release. Independently released, of course. Sometime in college I did some lengthy radio interviews with David Wills and Don Joyce from Negativland, which all the more inspired me to continue with what I was doing. I knew one thing for sure...I couldn't REALLY go wild on WMCE, not the way I wanted to, not the way I *HAD* to, in order to get my creative ideas into full fruition.

After a couple internships at a talk radio station in Erie, I gained a lot of knowledge about audio production, but also realized that there wasn't a single radio station in Erie that would allow my vision to come true...I had to move somewhere else. So I moved to DC for awhile and failed. It was only for a few months.

Then I moved to Cleveland. Paul eventually joined me. Sometime around 1997 I started the "Press The Button" with Sam Harmon (who was already DJ'ing electronica music in that time slot before I met him, and wouldn't you know it, he was a HUGE Negativland fan!) When we weren't doing the shows together, we hung out together. Eventually we started doing tape manipulations together, on reel-to-reel machine, yes, but also doing cut-ups on his home PC. That's when I was first exposed to digital recording / editing. That was the year I joined the Snuggles internet mailing list (Negativland fan club). That was also the year the first "The Button" album was made. We've been together since.

*History: On my own? 12 years. With The Button, 8 years as of 2005.

*Born: I was born in 1972 in Erie, PA. Sam Harmon was born the same year in Columbus, OH. Amy Broestl was born in Cleveland, OH I think. I wanna say that Paul Ryan (Paul Smith) was born in Corry, PA. J. Kyle Moyer was born outside of Cleveland, but I can't think of the name of the city.

*Motivations: To wake people up. To wake myself up. I really enjoy creating it, and I enjoy the affect it has on people who are looking for this kind of thing (who are all too few in number, I promise you). I can't NOT do it. I have to do it. It's fun, but it also gives me insight into myself.

*Philosophy: Reflection. Reflection of culture, myself, and love. Education. Education of culture, myself, and love.

*How would you like to be remembered: The man who brought Burning Man to Cleveland. ;) I started the Recycled Rainbow events in Cleveland the year I couldn't afford to go to Burning Man. That's gotten my creative spirits going more than anything else has to date. I think what I like about it so much is that it's a "community" event, and I get to create amongst a community of artists, with them, and for them. Lately, I've gotten involved in a project called "Colorforms." That's gotten me really excited too. More info at: Some collage with Colorforms, but it's not quite The Button. More transcendental, musical, and pop.

*Web address:


Thanks to Jay… or every man, as he has changed his name to, legally… for submitting the record for the longest response to the SAR Q&A! Be sure to visit his website, while you’re here surfing the internet – but don’t forget to download episode 113! At first I was a little overwhelmed by how long this response was, but since then I’ve been sort of underwhelmed by how short so many of the responses are, and posting this now, I actually really appreciate the time he took to post such a lengthy response. Thanks every man!

Until next week – thanks for listening,
Jon Nelson


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