INTERVIEW: Carl Howard of audiofile Tapes, The Land Of Guilt And Blarney and more

AUTOreverse #14, Summer 2011
by Skot Schtikla

Carl, you made a high-profile contribution to the first issue of AUTOreverse. You then disappeared for the rest of its run, if I recall correctly. Tell us in five or six words, what have you been up to since then?

I have directed all of my squalor… to internet radio! Practically everything else has either disappeared, been sacrificed, or else been ruined by water damage along the way. Sheesh! Watch fifteen years of ones life vanish… before… your… very… eyes!

1. When did you first become aware/ interested in sound in general and what do you remember of your earliest ‘hearing ‘experiences whether musical or not?
In the early 1970s, I had the good fortune of being around some desperately out of tune pianos. Bottom line, since ALL tonalities they produced were wrong, NONE of them were wrong, when accepted on their own contextual terms. It’s only a small leap from there to realizing you prefer them that way, and that any combinations you played were legitimate since each new tonality produced something refreshing and unusual.

It also helped that radio legend Gene Shepherd, on WOR, selected Karleinz Stockhausen’s classic “Gesang Der Junglinge” as spooky-spooky music for a bit he did about the myth of the Jersey Devil (March 22, 1977).

2. 1st instrument/sound making thing of any kind you played/owned? Did it come to you or did you go looking for it?
You know what gear I had first? I had a big plastic bag full of toys and things. Toy guitars and trumpets and plastic penny whistles, and like a woodblock or something. I had one of those Casio Christmas stocking sorts of itty bitty keyboards with the memory module and 4-bit songs burned onto the RAM. Oh, and Mattel Synsonics drums and then finally a red Roland SR-101. That one remains a stunner for lead lines if you properly process the output.

3. So did you take instrument lessons of any kind or did you just go off and learn to play yourself? And what about your earliest ‘jams’ with other people?
This is where I am awful. I have to talk about things like how bad I am as a keyboard player in traditional terms, poking for notes even when I was playing fairly constantly, which was twenty years ago. For a while it seemed my main instrument was a Boss DR-200 rack delay, and in particular, it’s knobs and its hold button. I had cassettes of loony-toon radio preachers and short wave or medium wave broadcasts, Nonesuch Explorer and children’s records to process… things like that. As regards synths, I might teach myself to play a basic line as a track required, but that line would exist in a vacuum and never get used again. One thing I realized during the poorly scheduled rehearsals of the space rock band Born to Go between 1999 and 2000 is, from one rehearsal to the next, I couldn’t remember anything I’d done. No retention, and no natural instinct to take over in its place. Square One over and over again. Just awful. Perhaps if circumstances had not ended Born to Go and removed me from New Jersey and the opportunity to keep playing, I might have had more positive results over time. Not more conventional, surely, because I don’t care about that, but more consistent and reliable on my own terms. I was less interested in playing with greater ordinary proficiency than with literally playing weirder, better. And that… that… I did. Some of the midwestern Space Rock audiences who ever saw me bang the fuck out of my keyboards at Strange Daze still talk about that. This here is “Celibate Rock” from the mid-’90s “Mugged By Life” album by The Land of Guilt and Blarney, featuring myself on two keyboards and rhythm programming, and Reginald Taylor on two bass guitars. I still consider it some of my best playing and my best programming.

4.How did you approach forming your first bands? mates in the garage kinda thing or advertising for players etc? And when did you do this, how early did you get band stuff going?
Not me. Everything was either started as solo projects (NOMUZIC) or duo projects (Alien Planetscapes, The Land of Guilt and Blarney and so on) and done at one home or another. I fell in as the second synth player of Born to Go after it was already in rehearsals. The live, dual synth attack of myself and the late great Louis “Professor Electron” Boone was the sort of thing not frequently seen in the United States.

5. What about as a music writer, can you recall any articles on music that really had an impact on you influencing you to write? Or just any big writer influences?
I know that I wanted to write AGAINST the prevailing tide of what passed for music journalism in the early 1980s – excessively undisciplined, contemptuous and personality-driven at every level. I felt a dry and clinical and ‘adult’ approach was something all this new music deserved. I wound up writing massively long pieces for artists who, and for projects which, probably ill-deserved them. Anyway, as an approach, I did rather come to believe that the original intent, expressed manifesto-style in Artitude Magazine issue #1 in 1984, was ultimately self-defeating in that rather than accomplishing the elimination of the “personality” of the writer/reviewer in order to focus on the music, it simply imposed a new one: the snob instead of the slacker. BFD. In terms of pure journalism, it was still a sleight of hand, and therefore, not the pure truth the reader deserved.

The Land Of Guilt And Blarney - Cruel

The Land Of Guilt And Blarney - Cruel

6. So aside from songwriters & bands what about experimental stuff, noise, free form kinda sound that some wouldn’t call ‘music’ how did you come about that stuff? What acts, artists of this nature did you first hear/like? You mentioned you did early lo fi kinda recordings but when did you realize others actually did this sorta stuff on purpose, by preference & might wanna hear yours?
The end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s encompassed a time when a particular kind of lo-tech awakening somehow led to any number of young people – almost all of them male, and almost all of them white – following precisely the same path: 1) Music consumer; 2) Fanzine editor; 3) Band leader or DIY noise artist; 4) Tape and record label head. I assume that each of these stories has enough similarity to be well nigh universal.

7. How about other forms of art…whether doing it yourself or as a fan or both, writing, painting, drawing, reading etc When & how did you get into these things, what influenced you in other creative fields aside from music & sound?
Not me, sorry.

8. What role, if any, have various ‘altered states of consciousness’ whether it be drugs, sleep deprivation, belief in bizarre powers etc played in your musical life, as listener or creator?
Again, not me. I don’t even drink. “Celibate Rock” shows a deliberate effort to play in a very disjointed and frustrated manner in such a way that I can’t tell whether the performance or the title came first (probably the performance), however beyond that, I give very little away as a player beyond the obvious failing of lack of conventional ability. Celibate… frustrated… get it?

The Land Of Guilt And Blarney - Mugged By Life

The Land Of Guilt And Blarney - Mugged By Life

9. Equipment, instruments, sound gadgets, home recording gear etc can you list and/or tell us a bit about different things you’ve used over the years, favorites you’ve had?
I had no synth but the Roland SH-101 for a long time. Then I got a Casio CZ-101 and really continued to use that even after other sorts of things came along. I changed drum machines from those goofy Synsonics drums to a Korg KPR-77 (two s-triggers! two!), then to a Sequential Circuits Drumtraks to the Alesis HR-16. After that, I gave up composing song structured material and didn’t need things like that anymore. However all the while I was adding other synthesizers. Korg MS-20, Mono/Poly and Poly 800; ARP Omni-2, Axxe and Odyssey (a white one stamped Jan. 1971 inside); and the modular head only of a Roland M-101 system from 1976. Not the 100M system they sold almost simultaneously, though… that was different. The modular head has nothing but sweet knobs and sliders and to be honest, is the only synth I play at all anymore. The last conventional, mass market synth I got was the delicious Roland JP-8000. I must not forget that I had a 1970 vintage Buchla electric Music Box in a silver suitcase, which I called the “Silver Machine” in tribute to Hawkwind, until the oscillators became too wild and the gear became too corroded to work with. It was sold to someone who had the know-how to give it restorative justice. That was the closest I ever got to a real, working modular system. I have never worked with any virtual synths of any kind. Wouldn’t know what to do with them.

10. Can you list (and tell us a little about) all the bands you’ve been a member of and any releases or performances you’ve done solo or played a part in some way over the years?
NOMUZIC was the solo project. There was one live performance in a bar in Brooklyn in 1988… pretty awful. I have done duets with some of the American DIY networks’ great players like Al Margolis and Chris Phinney and Hal McGee. I was in the last all-electronic duet version of the late Douglass Walker’s Alien Planetscapes from 1986-88 – there were live performances of that. The Land of Guilt and Blarney was a loose affiliation based on roommates in which I, Louis Boone and Reginald Taylor were the constants. That played out live twice or something. Born to Go was the space rock brainchild of the British (and temporarily US-based) Marc Powers. That shriveled up during 2001 basically due to a lack of focus and discipline all around. I haven’t done a damn thing since leaving the northeast because I never had any room to do anything in. By the time it became possible to do all that kind of stuff on a laptop, I was too removed to be interested in pursuing anything.
Therefore… I’ve pursued a vigorous online presence, for lack of anything else and for either good or ill, including the “Space Patrol” internet radio program at since 2003. To listen to it, and to support the station, are indeed correct activities for you. And by you, I mean both you… AND the you next to you.

The Land of Guilt and Blarney at Bandcamp

thank you, Carl!