Spring 2001.

Reel to Reels, Railroad Tracks and Time Travel

by Jason Martin

Connectors on old telephone poles along rusted railroad tracks outside the General Electric plant in Schenectady, NY. The one where Steinmetz had his lab. Not the tracks by all the highways, but around back by the woods. The junkyard suspends cubes of crushed license plates in midair with paths through enormous, mind-bending piles of unidentifiable electronics.

My high school art teacher, Mr. Kant, was a painter. He was a child in Germany at the end of World War II and had many stories like the one about watching starving adults cut fingers off corpses, salvaging the silver in rings and jewelry. When I asked him about the tracks, he nodded and said, matter of factly: "oh, uh, yeah…that's death"

Puzzled by that, I returned to the tracks frequently with a small battery powered reel to reel tape recorder. Anything recorded on it would come out very staticy, muffled, ghostly, if at all. When recording, a little blood red tube of light pulsed near the speaker. The brighter it pulsed, the louder the recording would be.

I'd stop and make tiny tape loops with scissors and scotch tape under the highway bridge near oil-soaked dirt and piles of little metal L's and J's. One time I threw a tape loop down a hole in one of those trackside shacks that led into a pitch black underground tunnel, and thought: metals and magnets in earth are recording, sorta, kinda, yeah that sounds good, oh god who knows I give up here's a tape loop for the dirt.

Those loops were good for a kind of meditation while walking through this dimension. You could almost hear railroad men, circa 1908, shouting over steam whistles and clangs, and look at the same things they saw. And didn't see. They didn't see me in 1990, it was too busy over in their time. Now, of course, there is no action down around those tracks and bridges. Except for a spectral slide show if you want it, recorded in objects and echoing off abandoned tracks like a record groove that's been played so many times it's begun vibrating on its own. What?? That does not make any sense!

Okay, then, how about :

If you walk into an abandoned factory, you can say it's "haunted". The problem with that word is that it often implies tormented girls in Victorian dresses who are dead and re-living a bad moment over and over like a decayed, partially erased tape loop. Ha! Got it in there! See?

This factory had a lot of people and machines doing repetitive motions in it. Then it was empty. Before all that action, it wasn't there. Now take that time period and bend it into a parabola. Imagine dotted lines dividing it up into narrow sections, like slices of an orange. Hell, why not? Reserve a couple slices for the period where all this action is: People working talking yelling hammering turning things around, and the corresponding machines. These slices are so pregnant with action that it creates a disturbance of some sort, to be exact, through adjacent slices and is viewable from further-away slices on the parabola. Okay it's crashing. Whoa! I spun out. Bear with me here…

Uh, yeah. Hmm. Lets try this one:

Its not unlike a phenomenon that occurs with analog audio tape called "print-through".

Tape is passing from one reel to another, either recording or playing. A loud audio signal is on a section of tape. That section of tape is spooled onto the take-up reel (the reel holding tape that has just been played/recorded). The magnetic impressions on that loud section of tape are so strong, they disturb the sections of tape above and beneath it on the spool. Upon playing the tape again, one can hear an echo of this loud section before and after the loud section actually occurs. Depending on the strength of the signal, and weakness of the tape, that loud section may echo multiple times before and after its original place in the tape.

Big empty parking lots, abandoned factories, railroad tracks, old houses with no current occupants are not unlike low-grade tape. There's a lot of print-through. But only if you have the equipment and it's tuned. Some people hear radio on their braces, for christsake.

Or try this: find a busy highway. Stand in it at night or anytime when it's completely empty.

Feel that? Print-through!

JASON MARTIN wants to record you, too.