MP3s for download

Disposable Guitar Play Once Throw Away was a limited edition of six audio cassettes, made for a fund-raising group exhibition for a small art space in Melbourne in 1999. Each copy was dubbed on a very cheap cassette, with a unique handmade letraset cover (at the time I had a theory that, as it faded into obsolescence, the cassette would replace vinyl as the romanticised fetish medium of choice). Each side was 30 minutes long.

Side A: the plank guitar

The A side contained an improvisation on a plank guitar built by the sculptor and guitar-builder Andrew Gangoiti. Once, as an exercise in speed and simplicity, he made a four-string guitar from a plank, no real way of tuning the strings, pickups made from some found magnets wound with however much copper wire he had lying around, connected to a 0.2 watt speaker built into the hollowed-out end of the plank, powered by a 9 volt battery. The moment you turned it on it started to feed back. Pressing your finger against the circuit board for the speaker would short out connections and alter the pitch and tone of the feedback. It was impossible. It was magnificent.

Thanks to a mutual friend, I had a loan of this guitar for several months and gave a few performances with it around Melbourne, and made this one recording. It was recorded directly onto cassette through a pair of cheap plastic microphones awkwardly placed on the floor (one mike lead was very short) of a living room in a terrace house in Carlton. The two excerpts given above beautifully capture the sonic limitations of both the recording means and the battery-powered 0.2 watt speaker built into the hollowed-out end of the plank. At the end of the original tape you could hear the circuit board finally go on the fritz. Andrew took the guitar away for repair and I never saw it again.

Side B: the phantom guitar, and Ola-R

The B side of the cassette was another half-hour improvisation, but on a different instrument: this was a guitar performance that didn't use a guitar at all. Instead, I made a crude feedback oscillator out of a chain of borrowed guitar effects pedals. Instead of plugging a guitar into the setup I decided it would be simpler to plug in the last pedal's output jack, thus making a closed circuit and initiating an continuing quest to systematically rip off every idea David Tudor ever had.

Shortly after recording this side of the cassette (again, direct to tape in a single, half-hour improvisation) I made a digital copy, divided the track into four sections of equal length and plonked them on top of each other. The resulting arbitrary mashup, with some minor tweaks, became the piece Ola-R, which I think got played once at the old Musicians' Club in St Kilda, and a few copies popped up in a slightly different form on CD-Rs.

Since that time I have been working toward making more sophisticated use of the principles of feedback oscillation, which I first learned when making this crude tape.

Note: The mp3 file keeps the original's dynamic range and stereo separation, so it may not come across well if you're listening through built-in computer speakers.

Ben.Harper, 2007.

Disposable Guitar Play Once Throw Away and Ola-R, © Ben.Harper 1999. Recorded in Your Dad’s Den, Carlton.
A Cooky La Moo production, edition numbers 3 and 4.