Message to the People of the Future

“Did you hear they found the recording? 
Electronically reporting: 
GeoLogic History of Time
It’s the Geo Logic Show.” 
- Geo Logic by Jason Martin
“Anything And Everything You Say Can And Will Be Used Someday”
- Magic Recording Eye by Jason Martin

I began work on CODEX ENTROPIA just as the world was beginning to shut itself down in March of 2020. I found myself taking refuge in my studio and staring deep into old stereoscopic photos: 3D photographs that were popular in the 19th century. Different people. Different times. Different problems. Old media becomes comforting to me during times of media-crisis saturation. Whatever troubles plagued them, they are naive to yours. I would look through pictures of crowds, finding the odd person who was looking directly into the lens. They could see the camera-person vacuuming up the present to sell or give to the future. In an intuitive sense, they could see me: a time traveller, peering into a fleeting instant of their life.

I sorted the stereoviews into piles with labels like “eye contact,” “time travel,” “catastrophe,” It occurred to me that I have done this before. The days after 9/11/01 were spent largely on the sofa staring at the TV, hoping I could see the future if I stared hard enough. But by the end of the week Thursday or Friday, the comfort of TV had turned purely toxic and I found myself in the basement of an old house in Troy, NY. 

My friend Igor had bought a building that housed an old camera shop and dumped all the old gear in the basement. Old media. Film and analog audio recordings. Wire audio recorders from the 40’s. My friend Jason Martin and I listened to recordings of families celebrating Christmas during World War II. Their apparent joy was comforting, but the sheer mundanity of their casual existence was healing. Just people goofing, trying to remember the words to a song, trying to figure out how the recording equipment worked. They knew nothing about 9/11, and for that alone I was grateful for them. In times of crises, one can take temporary shelter in “other times.”

Jason long had an intuition about this. He sees the memory of previous times recorded in EVERYTHING. I learned this first through listening to his music. He saw the analog magnetic tape he recorded his songs on as a way of connecting two different times. In his song Buddy Holly’s Downstream, Jason describes how the late singer’s voice, recorded onto “unstable magnetic tape” was nonetheless, “electronically exhumed from a kiss-drenched continuum.”

He recognized that recorded sound was just one sort of recording. That in fact, everything is recording onto everything else, all the time. He wrote an essay at one point that captured this big idea in one clean metaphor. The Internet unfortunately seems to have misplaced it, but here is what was recorded in my gray matter. He described a phenomenon that plagues recording technicians who work with reel to reel magnetic tape. Apparently when certain kinds of signals are recorded to tape, they can leave an audible impression in the adjacent tape as it is coiled around the reels. This creates a kind of unintentional echo effect called “print through.” 

Jason sees and hears this phenomenon in everything. The abandoned railroad tracks that surround the former General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York were like his own personal laboratory for investigating these ideas. The detritus of a strange cult of industrial wizards left exposed to the elements: the once used rail lines that connected the Empire State, the sagging telephone lines that “crinkle ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’,” and the “old machines scattered in the grass bleeding rust.” For Jason, this is also print-through.

The two songs that feature in CODEX ENTROPIA, Underwater and Geo Logic are both in reference to the Sacandaga Valley that was intentionally flooded in the 1930’s to help smooth out the Hudson River for commercial uses. Jason interviewed historians and old-timers who watched the waters rise firsthand. The layers of human lives, indigenous communities, and industrial robber barons that are alchemically mixed in the waters of the reservoir fueled a song-writing burst that eventually filled two albums worth of material, Adirondack Power and Light (Signify Records, 2010), and New Adirondack Power and Light (unreleased).

These are the songs that I would play in the background while escaping into the stereoview photographs of CODEX ENTROPIA in the Spring of 2020. At times they seemed to directly refer to the events in the photos. I allowed the photographs to begin telling their own stories, detached from my assumptions of history. I would ask each photo for the least plausible explanation of its contents, and write it on a post-it note. Soon the disconnected images began to link up into larger stories, and the songs inspired a tone of both awareness and acceptance. In these songs you hear the remarkable synthesis of a seasoned song-smith and mytho-poetic historian, inviting us all to listen a little harder to the stories that just slipped under the flood waters. If you listen closely… “You hear that? That’s print-through!”

Rich Pell