Jeff Hassay ~ Beach Boys House: Dirt Sounds

An audiological artefact, a meditation on time, an objet d’art ~ Beach Boys House: Dirt Sounds is all three.  One of the year’s most original recordings is also one of the year’s most precious – and some might say precocious – packages.

One might regard dirt collecting as an unusual hobby until one Googles it.  There are plenty of collectors out there, ranging from the personal (collections from every vacation) to the determined (dirt from every country) to the archeological. Jeff Hassay collects dirt from famous sites, and often uses it to grow weed.  But this release is even more inspired: a field recording that actually contains part of the field.

Brian Wilson’s home has long since been torn down, its desolate location marked only by “a modest statue in a small, slightly derelict neighborhood”.  Late last year, Hassay wandered the site, recording the natural ambience of traffic, dogs and construction ~ not exactly what one imagines when one thinks of The Beach Boys.  Then he pressed the recording, along with the dirt, into a hundred slabs of heavy vinyl.  One can imagine Wilson being proud, as the auteur spread sand on the studio floor for the recording of Pet Sounds.  Hassay and LeRoy Stevens pay homage in their live version (heard here in a bonus digital track) by shaking sheet metal and aiming a leaf blower at wind chimes.

As I hold the record up to the light, I consider the debris within.  Could Wilson’s atoms be in here?  Is there psychic transfer, locked in resin, that I might free by scratching the protruding piece of dirt?  On the playable side, is the dirt close enough to the surface that the needle might wear through the resin and begin to poke it after repeated plays?  There’s a slight feeling of irregularity, if not illegality, a minor thrill, a sense that I have something I should not.  Shall I consider this stolen or shared?

While listening, I think of the sadness of the site demolished, diminished, the popular impression of The Beach Boys as a happy-go-lucky band dismantled as well under the crushing weight of disclosure.  On the one hand, it’s a shame what has happened to the place.  Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?  On the other, the site has served its purpose, and its aural legacy is secure.

On the vinyl (as heard in the first digital track), the crackles, pops and static streaks are amplified, a gloss over the field recordings, a thick veneer that imitates that of the resin, or perhaps of time.  One imagines The Beach Boys going into the studio and coming up empty.  This would have been the sound of that recording: the medium without the substance, implying the void before creation, the darkness before and after the light.  I imagine a sound installation: traveling back to Hawthorne CA with shovel and tape devices, burying the sound of vinyl beneath the ground so that those walking above might hear ~ or think they hear ~ the needles in the empty grooves below them.

In the final minutes, a piece of the field recording gets trapped in the groove and loops like memory, a baseball card stuck in an endlessly revolving spoke.  The past is the hole at the center of the record; the present is the needle, unable to resist its tug.  (Richard Allen)

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