Boyd Rice The Black Album (1977)
Landmark industrial and noise-art release. One of the very first records to demonstrate automatic loops through human assembly and / or machine, made here by careful tape-splicing specific sounds, vocal samples, and noises that would repeat themselves by re-assembly.
Before this release, Rice had already taken very specific instances (Leslie Gore’s “cry” lyric) within a song and re-created them with those instances totaled, all for personal pleasure. It was only a matter of time before he’d elongate them as totally different beings for minutes at a time, creating a new life and existence of their own. In 1975, Lou Reed would release Metal Machine Music, a one-hour endurance test of layered guitars, feedback, and amplifier noise that auto-generated itself to become an accidental noise record ahead of its time. With Rice’s sounds recorded in December 1975 to January 1976, he had a different albeit hand-crafted approach in making music that would rather annoy.
Demonstrated here, Rice would bastardize the tape format into something dreamy or nightmarish, pleasant or violent. As soon as the it begins, you are treated to either a triumphant huge birth of his recording career or an involuntary beating and kicking before it switches abruptly into a cozy hypnotic dreamworld. Through The Black Album, quick meddling tinny noises erratically run all over the place. Somber gentle windfalls swing back and forth. Piano keys race up and down the spiral stone stairs under the high-frequency stars above. Constant shrills and twills, twangs, crescendos, and the haunting ephemera of big band, folk, and bubblegum pop of the Fifties to Seventies were all made possible because of Rice’s eccentric editing techniques that reduced anything to an almost total unknown. There is no memory or consistency connecting these nine untitled tracks other than Rice’s micro-edits that hold themselves together. Constant repetition within any of these nine would evoke new imaginary sounds and patterns not found on record, a concept Brian Eno would later claim during this very time when his ambient records were released.
His pre-recorded tape edits as music-onto-vinyl record would show the nature of overall sound clarity; from loud and clear to muffled quality from all wear and tear by Rice’s editing hands. Tape machines during the recording process would sometimes show slowing down to rush right up again. Repeated playback on the final vinyl format of The Black Album would deteriorate the already off-quality of his production, further subtracting from the noise on physical surface. Even the center labels suggest that The Black Album can be played at any speed your turntable was built with: 16, 33, 45, and 78 r.p.m.’s for four times the value or listening displeasure. This makes the album double as a study of the physical medium if it’s not about the dissonant sound structures in a pre-Merzbow or Susan Lawly world.
But Rice wouldn’t stop there as he would expand on many more recording techniques from The Black Album. For 1981’s Pagan Muzak, Rice housed a 7” record in a 12” sleeve which incorporates locked grooves with multiple axis holes drilled off-center along with all available playable speeds for maximum effect. Or, he would shatter records and piece them together again for new ways of creating sound. Forty years later, Boyd Rice’s The Black Album stands as the genesis and most obvious example of what the musical groundhog day is.