Off-Ramp | Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

New kudos for Stenshoel's cassette album. (Cassettes were magic devices that made old people happy.)

KPCC engineer Peter Stenshoel sent me an e-mail the other day:

“John, Lonely Whistle Music is making my 1988 award-winning music release its June free download. And the digitization from the original reel-to-reel masters has finally been completed, in case you want a story of this epoch survey of the Minnesota underground from 1972 to 1987.”

I told Peter it’s probably a little far afield for the Off-Ramp broadcast, but it’s perfect for the meandering John Rabe Blog. I told him, "Write it up for me!”

Here it is:

Public radio employees tend to have surprises* up their sleeves. One of mine is the fact that I won awards for non-radio activities like theater sound design, poetry, and releasing an album of music on something called “cassette tape.” Cassettes, which still can be found in thrift shops and the cluttered closets of avid music collectors of a certain age, were the way music could propagate in the last century without the expense of exorbitant amounts of money on pressed vinyl. After all, digital technology only became user-friendly toward the tail end of the millennium.

As a pianist, composer and archivist, I had used another technology, reel-to-reel tape recorders, to document the avant-garde, Mahavishnu Orchestra-style and Canterbury-style bands I played with, to the point where I was sitting on performances completely fresh but unlike anything the pop music world was producing in the 70s and 80s. The invention of high-speed 4-track cassette recorders (not to be confused with 4-track cartridges) meant I could get a shot at mixing and mastering a tape of reasonably good fidelity.

The result was a three-hour set called Strangely Colored Map, included some of the most creative—if unsung—Minnesota musicians of the day. It won first place in the Minnesota Daily’s “Top 16 Tapes of ’88.” It became something of an underground sensation, getting airplay on WNYC and good notices from the national underground press.

And this June, The Living Archive of Underground Music, a cool blog by home taper, Lonely Whistle Music founder, and eclectic deejay, Don Campau, is releasing the entire three hours as its Free Download of the Month . This coincides with Strangely Colored Map’s impending release as a four CD set. Don’s blog is wide open to all and full of unknown but incredibly prolific artists with cassette tape as their medium-of-choice—an unusual bunch of living national and international treasures.


*Yep. I worked with a guy in Florida who killed his wife, went on the lam, and was captured on “America’s Most Wanted.” Alex Cohen is related to Joel Grey. One of Rachael Myrow’s grandfathers or great-uncles wrote “You Make Me Feel So Young.” News director Paul Glickman’s aunt was a Broadway star. And KPCC account executive Josh Berman wrote the Army’s hand-to-hand combat manual. – John Rabe