Saturday, May 05, 2007

Orchid Spangiafora

Orchid Spangiafora

Orchid Spangiafora is Massachuset's Robert Carey. I've been hearing about Orchid Spangiafora for years. Lots of folks from the Twin Cities have told me about the project, based on their assumption that he was from around here, but although Flee Past's Ape Elf was released on a Minneapolis record label (Twin Tone), I don't believe he's ever lived here. I once saw an actual copy of the record at Roadrunner Records (I think they said they were going to try and sell it online). It's really a rare find. Steve Fisk lists Orchid Spangiafora as an influence. He talked a little bit about the project with me, when I interviewed him recently. Lots of people have been influenced by this record, which was released in October of 1979.

Most of the collages on Flee Past's Ape Elf were produced in 1974, while Carey was in school at Hampshire College, in Massachusets. He was taking an electronic music class with Randall McClellan, and working closely with the teaching assistant, John Kilgore, and his advisor, Jim McElwaine. There are a variety of production techniques at work on this album, but of course my favorites are the ones utilizing so many razor cuts that "the back of the tape was pretty much solid white with splicing tape." Check out this page at the Orchid Spangiafora website for a detailed history of the project.

Without further ado, here's the SAR Q&A with Orchid Spangianfora...

*Name: Orchid Spangiafora

*Are there any additional names used to describe this project: My wife occasionally contributes sound collages, and generally these are attributed to "Heart Of Glue" which was originally the title of a book of paper collages that we never published.

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: Well, most of this stuff was done between 1972 and 1977, and the only technology available was reel-to-reel tape, razorblades, and splicing tape. So, it kind of necessarily falls into the tape manipulations category. The back of the tape was frequently solid white with splicing tape. I did some stuff with an Arp 2500 synthesizer, but very little of that is on the record. About 8 years ago I had a little burst of activity using Cool Edit Pro to do digital sound collages of a very similar nature to the earlier tape pieces. They can be found on a CD-R usually called No Cones Out and probably available from Byron Coley at, and another called 2/3 of a Trivet, which I think is not available from him anymore. The stuff from Trivet may or may not be on the other CD-R, but to find out I would have to go down to the basement. I don't want to go.

*Is there a story behind your name? I was visting Jim McElwaine at his house over by UMass, and a friend of his, Lew Spratlan, who was a professor of music at Amherst came over for the evening. Lew and Jim knew each other, I believe, from the Yale school of music where Jim got his masters degree. At any rate, we were hanging out listening to the tapes when Lew turned to Jim and said, "You know? We should apply to Yale under an assumed name, say ‘Orchid Spangiafora’ and send these tapes as the example of the applicant's composition work. We can each write recommendations and have X and Y write them also. What do you think?" I didn't know what he was talking about. Turned out he was joking with Jim. Basically, the four people he was referring to (himself, Jim, and X and Y who I no longer remember) all had graduated from Yale Music and gone on to get reasonably prestigious jobs in various music departments at other schools. The guy who would review the application was a very straight classical musician who was a friend of theirs and they knew that he would have no idea what to make of the "Orchid" tapes. But they also knew that he couldn't turn down the recommendations of these four alumni. At any rate, as far as I know, "Orchid Spangiafora" was just a name that Lew pulled out of the air while making this joke, but Jim and I started using it when talking about the tapes and it stuck, so I used it for the album.

*Location: I am from New York City, although it has been a while since I lived there. Most of the work was done at Hampshire up in Amherst, Massachusetts. Chris Osgood, of the Suicide Commandos, was my roommate at Hampshire and he helped me put out a 7" of three of the loop pieces. Byron Coley was also at Hampshire in the same period and his voice can be heard in Trapped Heir Suite Part 2, tormenting a friend, Ed Benfey. Shortly after the release of the 7 inch, Chris was instrumental in getting Flee Past's Ape Elf released on Twin/Tone in MPLS. Chris's voice appears all over the piece called Mondo Stupid. Flea Past's Ape Elf was the title of a nonexistent palindromic novel proposed by Jim McElwaine, music professor when I was at Hampshire - currently at Purchase - and someone else. We went through a palindrome period.

*History: There were the two flurries of activity, in the early 1970s and the late 1990s. I just recently started playing around with a sound editor on the Macintosh so you may hear something more from me later this year. Or not. Oh, there was also something I did when I was living in Philadelphia in the 80s that got released on Innova on Sonic Circuits V. That was done in around 1987 using really cheap technology - an old Akai home reel-to-reel, a cassette recorder, and an inexpensive sampling keyboard.

*Born: 1954, NYC

*Motivations: I have made collages since I was a child. I think this activity is related to what I have done with sound. I like taking things apart and putting them back together wrong. I have also continued to make paper collages, and for the past couple of years I have been playing with Photoshop.

*Philosophy: Be careful. Have fun every day. No, wait. That's Chris Osgood's. I don't have a philosophy. Maybe "take things apart and put them back together wrong."

*How would you like to be remembered: I am pleased to see references to my work on the Internet by people who see it as a precursor to the sampling stuff that took off a couple decades later. On the other hand, I don't really think it was an influence on that because so few people heard it. Sampling was just something that took off because of the general availability of a new and interesting technology. Nonetheless, it is still nice to hear people saying you were ahead of your time. Or maybe as the guy who wrote "Be Careful" on the wall of the bathroom of CBGBs back when it didn't have any graffiti on it. Not necessarily as the guy who threw spaghetti on the Dead Boys at CBGB.

*Web address:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

pretty self-effacing from a guy whose influence is so seminal...

glad to see someone poking under the effluvia until he squ/p/ eaks & getting the word out.

& it comes in a can & it comes in a can & it comes & it comes ....

2:02 PM  
Blogger Jon Nelson said...

Thanks for the comment!

By the way, I just got an email from Orchid Spangiafora, correcting my assumption that he'd never actually lived in Minnesota. I thought I'd share a portion of it here...

"I lived in Minnetonka for the summer of 1973 in the house that was later featured in the Suicide Commandos "Burn It Down" video. I was only there about three months, but it was a fun summer."

2:58 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home