Oh, the summer job. Ezra Fike has finished a stint at a print shop / mail room, and he’s taken something with him. No, not the proceeds, not a souvenir cartridge or roll, but the sound. In so doing, he’s made something memorable out of something tedious; he’s created a warm document of his temporary employment.
As a person who once spent a summer making copies, I can relate. My name gave me a particular disadvantage in that I had to put up with comments of “Richard, the Copy Guy!”, “Making copies,” and so on, thanks to a popular skit on SNL. But I also heard rhythm in the sounds, zoning out while sitting on a chair facing the copier, entering into a proto-techno trance. Fike has been far more productive, recording a wide variety of sounds from feeder to flipper, printer to squeaker.
As soon as the machine starts, it comes to life. One recalls the initial wonder of the copy machine, conceived in 1938 by Chester Carlton, who used “a handkerchief, powder and static electricity,” and popularized by Xerox in 1959. Before it inspired stupefaction, it inspired amazement. Think of the possibilities! We can make so many copies! Xeroxing may be a dull job, but it’s still an important one, as is the servicing of the machine itself. Anyone who has ever worked in such a field knows the lost time that results from a paper jam, or even worse, from a broken component. When no backup is available, the job goes to Staples, and the employee may be docked.
This particular machine is fast and efficient. Nothing gets in its way; it pumps out documents at a rate approaching 100/minute. There’s no screech (even on “Squeaker”), no hint of turmoil or smudged ink. While Fike is unlikely to send this to the Neopost manufacturer, it would make a great commercial: the machine that makes music while fulfilling its task. In “Conveyer,” we hear distant human voices. The task is complete; it’s time to go home.
Mail Room may be the idealized sonogram of a short career, but it’s also a pristine aural memory, a snapshot that works like a tattoo without the pain. While playing the EP, I wistfully recall a job I once hated, remembering the joyful times as well: the fluid dynamics of the machine and the interactions with coworkers at lunch hour. But in the years to come, Mail Room may also become a valuable sonic document, as technologies are replaced and someone asks, “Did anyone think to record the copier?” By preserving these lulling, hypnotic rhythms, Fike underlines the often-overlooked beauty of the monotonous. (Richard Allen)