Albums are listed here (most recent first) with players from BandCamp. They are also available on all major streaming services (under the band name “TestTubeBaby”).
The descriptions accompanying each album are written so they read kind of like a story in reverse.
It might be glib to say this album represents a “struggle with responding to a very changed world,” but that’s what comes to mind. Cover art by Saylor. Linear notes here.
This album emerged as vaccination and lockdown protests took hold in Canada, news of which spread across the globe. Cover photo by MiKelly (in Mexico). Linear Notes here.
J’ai Un Chou Dans Mes Godasses
These four albums form a thematic set spanning the many false starts to the “end” of the pandemic.
The majority of the songs are collaborations, based on sound beds composed by Jason Riis.
The album covers are photos taken by another friend, MiKelly, in Mexico.
The title of the group of 4 albums (above) was a string of words I’d put together when I was living in Paris, France in 1989. Upon my return to the States, a friend and I mused over starting a literary magazine with that title. That never happened, but finally the title has landed somewhere.
Literally, it means “I have a cabbage in my sneakers.” But “chou” is both a term of endearment (like “sweetie”) and sounds like “shoe” (not unlike sneaker). “Mes godasses” is memorably used in a French idiom, “Laissez-moi dans mes godasses,” which literally means “Leave me in my sneakers,” but translates better to something like “Mind your own damn business.” And, of course, there is the resemblance to “God Asses.”
This album of mostly guitar-based songs felt like the return of my voice after nearly two years of degradation caused by a growth on my vocal cords. Treatment was markedly delayed due to the pandemic. I finally had surgery in October 2020.
My work life had already been rife with ethical dilemmas before the pandemic. During the pandemic those dilemmas went into prolonged high gear. I composed the music on this album to use as a personal sleep aid.
The ambient instrumental pieces on this album were inspired by the fact that I’d just worked on tweaking and remastering the album of old instrumentals, “Bloom” (see below).
The lyrics (on songs that have them) were the result of me going through a stack of old writings, picking out ones that were intriguing, but which I had no recollection of having written.
I felt I was testing out my voice after surgery on this album.
This album of instrumentals was composed as the second wave of COVID took hold, both before my vocal surgery and as I was recovering from it in silence.
As both the pandemic and my vocal issues dragged on, I got sick of composing only instrumentals. I wrote a series of lyrics that involved stories that might relate to how my voice ended up in this state… with HPV lesions growing on my vocal cords.
By this point my doctor had confirmed that using my voice was not going to hurt it (still hurts a bit listening to it though… partly because the stories are so heartbreaking).
This instrumental album was mostly composed as historic fires on the west coast of North America made the air quality in BC (and, to a lesser extent, across the entire continent) truly toxic. Cover art by Marcella Pruden.
For a time at the beginning of the pandemic, I (like many) got much more involved in social media than I’d ever been. As a result of some open-minded comments I’d made on controversial posts, I was invited into a private Facebook Messenger group called “TERF Wars.”
People in the group feared being “cancelled” because they remained “gender critical” about people (especially those “born male”) being able to self-identify into a gender (female… though they also had concerns about the “epidemic” of youth who were “born female” coming to identify as “male”).
My entry point into this subject was tangential… related to the fact that for a couple decades I had self-identified as an “addict” (another identity that some people… as did I for a time, mostly because I found it useful to think or act as if it were true… vehemently feel is biological and immutable), but didn’t anymore.
The first song on this instrumental album, “Elephant,” refers to someone in the group asking me what I would do if someone (a counselling client… because folks in the group learned that I was a counsellor) insisted on identifying as an elephant. The rest of the songs were composed as I continued to navigate being open-minded with this group of people who asserted that they too were open-minded… until they started to take what I felt to be personal (rather than evidence-based) digs at me, at which time I left.
I developed a lot of thoughts about the structure, function and meaning of this album at the time, that you can read here. Part of my thinks… well, I was locked down, my voice was shot… why not indulge in some meaning making?
Since about 2014, my role at work and in life has steadily transitioned to being more mentor than front-line practitioner. This tends to give me lots of opportunities to reflect on what has been involved in the stretching, growing and learning that has happened throughout my life.
WIth this EP, I identified a number of quotes from others that have been important to me throughout my life. I think I’d initially identified 7 to 9 quotes, but after making these three (from Paul Tillich, John Cage and Antonio Machado), I felt the task was done.
Part of the reason for the short, looped vocals was that my voice was shot, and I didn’t know yet whether I was damaging it when I used it.
I started this album of instrumentals early in 2020 because my voice was deteriorating, and because I hadn’t made many instrumental songs in a while.
My initial goal was to revisit various styles of instrumentals I’d composed across my life (see “Mouthless Species” below).
The title of the album, and of all its songs, refer to very concrete things that occupied some of my consciousness as I composed each song. For more details, see the linear notes here.
This EP is comprised of songs with stories revolving around a prominent feature of my hometown of Manhattan Beach, California… the American Martyrs church (which has a phallus of a tower that looms over the city).
The lyrics were written in early 2019 while I was visiting my hometown.
As I later recorded the first three songs, I was aware of something happening to my voice. Then I got busy, and by the time I was ready to continue on, my voice was totally shot. I had started making the rounds to specialists, but the pandemic put a lengthy pause on that.
I was itching to get the damned project done, so I went ahead and composed and recorded the last two songs with my compromised voice. So, this album wasn’t actually complete until sometime in 2020, but I still associate it with 2019.
This album touches on wickedly complex situations to which there aren’t any shortcuts. You must take every step, observe what has changed, get your bearings, then take the next.
A defining quality of irrational numbers is that you can’t arrive at what numeral 30 or 300 or 300 billion is without doing all the calculations that lead you there.
From 2003 to about 2010, so much was going on in life. We left California, lived in Indonesia, then immigrated to Canada. I continued to write a poem, record a song, or create artwork from time to time. I’d have little spurts where I’d do some local radio shows, read at poetry readings, perform at an open mic night. In 2010, though my art creation returned as a major life preoccupation, I still didn’t do much that was visible.
In 2017 I submitted some songs to the Fraser Valley Music Awards, and was nominated in 3 categories: Electronic, Loud, and Queer. I don’t know how I ended up in those categories, but at least they make a fun phrase.
I didn’t win any categories, but I nonetheless was awarded a day in an art school’s recording studio.
I usually spend days, weeks or even months tweaking songs until I “don’t cringe” at anything anymore. Going into a studio for a single day seemed to rub against the grain of my practice.
Re-recording old songs, rather than creating new ones, seemed like a potentially palatable option. I picked some songs out, learned to play them again, and started making what I thought might be “sound beds” to bring to the studio. But this turned into my usual recording process… with 100’s of hours of tweaking. I never made it to the studio.
All of the songs on these two albums are “remakes” (the originals of which you can find sprinkled here and there mostly in the albums that are part of “Misguided Home” below) of songs I composed between age 16 and 24. Most were made in 2018 and 2019, but some date back as early as 1995.
When I was making the “Post-Adolescent” albums (see above), there was a song from that period of which I’d somehow lost the original recording. Thankfully I have pretty good recall, as even the lyrics weren’t written down anywhere. And they were in French! I was planning to put the song (Vache élaborée) on one of the “Post-Adolescent” albums, but it didn’t fit. Plus, I had a few other songs I’d written in French at the same time that weren’t just poorly recorded, but were also fairly poorly performed. So I ended up rerecording them all and putting out this little EP.
The songs had originally been written and recorded for a Spanish painter I’d met in 1989 in Paris, but I never sent them to him. As an aside, there’s a song on my 2021 “En Train” album, “I Wrote to Him In Poetry,” that is about this relationship.
One could say this album is my first in eight years that wasn’t about exhuming or exploring a subject or experience. Instead it is about (or it simply is) sitting with experience.
Maybe it could be seen as marking my exit from 25 years involvement with “recovery” (17 years in 12-step programs, and 8 years getting myself untangled from, though in no way repudiating, the “addict” identity and its related activities).
For me, the difference was that I was now embracing life as being challenging (a fluid experience), without it necessarily being a challenge (an intransigent thing).
2017 was a rough year. After successfully running a 3-year, federally-funded youth empowerment program across the entirety of the most-populous Health Authority region in British Columbia, my organization’s board of directors and I stopped getting along. They didn’t seem to understand why I’d put so much of myself into the program (and probably feared I was going to burn out)… and what it had to do with our organization’s mandate to support youth around substance use. To put it plainly, some seemed to wonder what all this fluffy stuff had to do with getting deviants to better walk the straight and narrow.
To their credit, I was trying to sell the board on continuing to build on this success (or what I thought had been success) as an answer to some of the organization’s financial concerns, rather than as a mission-driven exercise (partly because I didn’t trust they could understand my mission). So I could have been much more-direct… though I’m not sure the result would have been much different. I played around with switching jobs, and even went for a few interviews, but eventually there was an exodus from the board… people needing to “spend more time with their families.”
Then, there was Trump.
Many of the songs on the full “Trump” album started out with recorded lyrics… then I mangled them until they were incomprehensible or unrecognizable as vocals at all. As I continued to work on songs, they started to be made just thinking about a lyric I never intended to record, and then as if making the music was the lyric writing process in some (frustrating) way.
The one song that has clearly enunciated words in it (“Two Short Poems”)… those words are computer generated. On “Proof and Evidence,” even the computer’s voice is mangled, not to mention that before the lyrics are delivered in order, they are delivered in alphabetical order (the song ends as they are delivered again… in reverse alphabetical order).
“Hearsay Train” is an EP of versions of some songs from “Trump” before their lyrics were completely obliterated, plus one song, “I’m Not In a Bind” that didn’t really fit with “Trump” or 2018’s “Neuroplasticity.”
2014 – 2016
I started composing songs that ended up on this album in the middle of creating the concept album, “Making Better Choices” for the thesis of my Master of Counselling degree. Through “Making Better Choices” I exhumed and acknowledged the steady strum of trauma and loss (brought by complications of my budding [homo]sexuality, and the concurrent AIDS crisis) I experienced up to the beginning of my 30s. With nearly every song, I cried – over the loss, but more so over my new appreciation for the ways I and the people around me struggled to find and tend and grow something of beauty… something to cherish and protect amid the rejection and loss.
A lot of the songs on this album are about or reflecting on experiences that happened within the timeframe of the “Jimmy” song on “Making Better Choices.” A complex and rich time (that the song barely grazes)… no doubt both because of all the shit that went down, and because it occurred in my “memory bump.”
I was also doing and reflecting on my counselling practicum internship while I was working on this album… so, there are parallels and correlations and observations on that practice entangled with my personal experience.
2013 – 2014
After the heaviness of the “Untameable Tangle” album, I resolved to make some “lighter” fare. The first song to emerge, “What did I say?” was shocking, but playful. Unintentionally it was also autobiographical.
The next song, “Stupid Fucking Loneliness,” continued to be autobiographical, was at least as stark as the heaviest pieces on “Untameable Tangle.” The next song, “Poisoned Mind,” was intentionally playful and now intentionally autobiographical as well, as was the song that came after that, “Nut Job.”
Here I started to land on the idea of doing an album of songs covering my entire life, up to that point. I had a start, in “Poisoned Mind,” but “What did I Say?” was too sprawling, where “Stupid Fucking Loneliness” and “Nut Job” were too narrow. So I put those three songs aside (comprising the EP “Opportunities to Apologize”).
Next came “Jimmy,” cementing the chronological project (irrespective, now, of tone).
The “Making Better Choices” album was a long slog… a year and a half of near-constant creating and tinkering. I was also working… with a lot of overtime, doing a practicum, taking classes, and eventually writing my masters thesis (not finished until 2015, titled “Stewarding experience: re-presenting a journey toward and then away from identifying as an ‘addict’”) that was based on the album.
On average I spent 3 months on each song: a third recording voices and notes and instruments; a third engineering and mixing; and a third (intermixed with everything else) crying.
What I like to say about the process of this album is that it took the 17-year period of my life that I spent labeling myself an “addict” and didn’t revise, invalidate or erase it… but integrated it into a now-larger whole. I can still own that experience… it just isn’t all of me. Nor does it, or anything else, define me.
2010 – 2012
2010 to 2012 was an especially “liminal” time for me… things falling apart and together at the same time.
What was falling apart was my 17 years in 12-step groups (AA, NA, SCA, CoDA, etc.). Falling together was an understanding (or interpretation) that my unquestionably problematic substance use (from roughly 1983 to 1993) was influenced by trauma. And that my experience of trauma largely resulted from integrity (my inability to tolerate passing myself off as someone I’m not).
Not that I wasn’t aware already of many traumatic experiences. In my early 20s, I’d seen a hypnotherapist for nearly a year – thinking something had happened to me that I didn’t recall… the assumption being that things (no matter how traumatic) I was aware of and able to talk about (as I was) couldn’t possibly influence my behaviour without my permission.
For the years that I was composing this album, it’s nearly all I listened to (aside from textbooks for the Masters in Counselling program I had enrolled myself in, partly to develop a new community of supports for myself after I left 12-step).
While I was writing the “Untameable Tangle” album and going through all the change that it charts… I was both occasionally falling back into re-recording old songs that were less charged with disruption (or at least current disruption), and thinking about the possibility of performing my music again publicly, which I hadn’t really done in years.
At one point I’d picked out a venue, a date, and a set list, but got cold feet. It wasn’t that I had performance anxiety, but more that my work life, unlike when I worked in the arts, had become so much about other people… to the point that to invite a spotlight upon myself felt like it might risk undermining everything else.
This is a tension that has just continued to grow.
The three short songs on “Meet My Maker in the Laundry Room” neither seemed to fit with what became my “Alternate Timelines” Compilations of earlier songs, nor on the very distinct “Untameable Tangle,” so they get their own EP.
Most of the songs I wrote between 1986 and 2010, I have broken up into three different sets of albums, in which the songs are presented in chronological order.
The process of creating these collections started in 2015, when I had to take a “Couples Counselling” course to finish my long-delayed (by busy-ness) Masters in Counselling degree. The class wasn’t set to be offered for another year, so I arranged to do an independent study, and negotiated writing something roughly about my history of coupling… springing from songs I’d written, to fulfill most of the requirements for the course.
This became the book, “Misguided Home.”
While I have started to work on similar books for the “Outlier” and “Suburban Swindles,” they are as yet incomplete.
You can probably look at the “Misguided Home” compilation as the most mainstream reflection of my journey, with “Outlier” being more edgy, and “Suburban Swindles” less polished.
1986 – 2010: Misguided Home
1986 – 2002: Outlier
1986 – 1997: Suburban Swindles
The albums in this section are of instrumental songs, roughly broken into different styles, periods or (in the case of Kinetiphone) purposes.
This album of instrumentals spans a particularly dry period in my musical creation (from 2000 to 2010, but also includes a song from 2012 – Disforia, and 2015 – Extension). Part of the reason for this dry spell was that my partner and I were engaged in moving (fleeing) from the United States, to Indonesia and then to Canada.
My impression of this period is also that it was a fairly barren time for my “soul” (whatever that is). I did, however, write a good deal of poetry over this period, and am curious what might change about my perceptions of this period were I to spend the considerable time with these poems that setting them to music would require.
For about a decade, I composed music for a number of performers and modern dance companies in Los Angeles, along with producing various site-specific dance performances that included Karen J. Woo, The Bridge Dance Theatre (Phyllis Douglass), Silayan Dance Company (Dulce Capadocia), Regina Klenjowski Dance, Linda Neal, Oguri, and others.
Compiled on this album are my major commissioned scores for performance and dance from this period.
This album is composed of what I’d call organic, acoustically-flavoured instrumental songs composed and recorded between 1988 and 1998.
1994-1995: Bad Case of God
After the second of what could be called my “major mental breakdowns” (the first in 1988, this one in 1991), I decided what I really needed was a new, relatively top-of-the-line musical keyboard. That, I thought, would make new achievements in my musical/art “career” possible. Eventually I’d quit my job as an executive assistant and be invited to collaborate with artists around the world!
Not only did I not have any money, but I was in debt, and only slowly working my way out of it. So, I went to my mom, who wasn’t completely against the idea of loaning me the money to buy a keyboard (she too thought I had a lot of untapped “potential”). She, however, said she didn’t want to loan me money for a keyboard if it was just going to allow me to use more of my salary on drugs. My answer: “I’m asking for a loan… you can give it to me or not.” She did. (I was also stealing from her… but that’s another story.)
The album “Me Torments That Love the Take Will Jesus” contains a lot of my early work with this new keyboard (a Roland JV-80), much of which was composed with the keyboard hooked up to my Alesis MMT-8 MIDI Controller. Late in the development of that album, I purchased my first computer-based MIDI program (Cakewalk), which started to allow me to create less-repetitive, more-rambling instrumental compositions.
Around the time I transitioned from the MMT-8 to Cakewalk, I also transitioned from writing daily letters to distant people (in Colorado and Massachusetts and Helsinki… most of whom had told me they’d stopped reading my missives a long time ago) to keeping a journal. Perhaps, like switching to Cakewalk enabled my music to evolve over a longer (even indeterminate) period of time, keeping a journal instead of writing daily letters allowed me to likewise stretch my thoughts out and examine them as much as I liked.
Whether switching from the MMT-8 to Cakewalk and from letter to journal writing had anything to do with it… my life took a big turn (which might be easiest to characterize as my starting to attend 12-step meetings, but characterizing it as such might imply that my experience was like others’ experiences with joining 12-step meetings…). Over 1994 and 1995, I wrote thousands of pages of journal. Along with writing songs (many contained on the albums “I’m a Little Flower,” “Is He I She,” and “Aliens Who Are Alien”), I also composed a lot of instrumental music, compiled on this album.
These 12 mostly ambient instrumentals span the years 1988 to 1994.
It was I who initially taught my lifelong friend Jason Riis… not how to play, but simply to play on the guitar (when I was 17 and he was 14).
It would be hard to say that I have ever done anything but play with instruments. I am no technician or virtuoso. Though I’ve studied music theory… it was kind of like when I took a course in life drawing. I was curious to see if my connection with abstract art might be influenced by a lack of skill, ability, or aptitude to draw figures, objects, landscapes. I found out I could draw all of those things just fine, and better and better with practice (which I wasn’t inclined to do, for the most part).
All the same, it’s fun to work with people (like Jason, who quickly surpassed me in technique on the guitar after I invited him into just playing it) who “know what they are doing.”
While we mostly played stuff together without recording it (partly because we lacked appropriate recording equipment), by 1992 I had inherited a sound mixer and some other helpful electronics, as had Jason. So what else do two early-20s guys with recording equipment do? We got high, turned up the reverb, hit record, and played.
It’s fun to follow my penchant for “playing” rubbing up against his “technique,” and vice versa throughout this album.
1989-1992: Post Nix
It would be a stretch to say that any of these pieces were “composed.” Everything, aside from the drum sequences on some of the songs, was improvised. And even the progression of drum sequences was cobbled together mostly in real-time.
In some cases, I improvised with other artists (friends Ken Villa on saxophone, and Jason Riis on guitar), in others I improvised with myself… recording various tracks on my Tascam 4-track one after the next, riffing with no preparation against what I’d laid down previously.
A pastiche of images and phrases that come to mind:
- Flooded one-bedroom apartment
- Growing bean plants
- Nitrous oxide sprayed on a rag
- Garage converted into a jam room
- Sandwiches for lunch, wine for dinner
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Watching babies at parties on LSD
- Los Angeles riots
1984-1986: Feeling without Knowing
We had an upright piano in the house where I grew up. For a while, my parents paid for me to take piano lessons. I was supposed to be learning how to read and play notes, instead I just memorized what to play (and when to turn the page). The shape of my hand and placement of my fingers came under too much ridiculous scrutiny.
I can trace most of my piano playing back to learning to play the two-person “Heart & Soul” song. I learned to play both parts simultaneously myself, and then started improvising from there.
Being a Gen X latchkey kid, when I got home to the empty house (my older brothers were usually out doing something), I made myself Chef-Boy-Ardee raviolis and played the piano.
Though the lyrics of these songs touch on many topics, I usually listen for the references to how tangled up I was in figuring out what my sexuality was and meant and how I might deal with it.
My bother gave me a guitar for my 15th birthday and taught me 5 chords, which are all the chords I still know… aside from all the other designs I make with my fingers on the fretboard, which no doubt all have names. I wrote lots and lots of songs on the guitar during this time period. Most of them were never recorded, but there is one here.
Maybe one day I record some of the other early guitar songs. I still remember them, and have most of their lyrics written down and scanned somewhere. Figuring out the chords won’t be hard… most songs were just different ordering of those first 5 chords my brother taught me.