Spoth the ravin'

Mark Ridlen continues his sonic adventure

The taillight-yellow 10-inch vinyl disc starts out with an almost-ambient collection of various electronic noises--just what you'd expect from Spoth, a group that's a collaboration between Lithium Xmas alum Mark Ridlen (experimental musician and platterman-about-town when he assumes his DJ Rid identity) and Brian Peterman. Ridlen is credited as "conductor" and Peterman as "instrument." The album sounds pretty much like most electronic experimental efforts at first, and then the difference appears, tripping along in the gloppy, melted-caramel cadences of the spectacularly drunk.

As various machine-generated noises plink and spool along behind him, the speaker begins to stagger along a line that dissects some weighty philosophical matters. "There could be something out there that you don't know," he hypothesizes. "And you don't know, 'cause you don't KNOW." The matter seems to be of some anguished import to him; now his voice is more a wail. "You dunn knoh!"

"You're here," he exclaims, recognizing perhaps the profound displacement that modern life can bring, "and I'm there." You can almost hear the wheels turn as he pauses. Wait a sec; I'm here, they're there. There they're. Wha?

But he continues. "I don't know what the homosexuals are doing," he bravely admits. "They could be foolin' me...I bought toilet paper, and I respect my manager...you don't know."

The context of these tanked reveries is clearly that of an answering machine message, but it's easy to be suspicious: in order to get several nuggets like the toilet paper/management pairing, one usually has to sift through quite a bit of dreck. Is this yet another case of someone presenting a rehearsed bit as a found sound?

If only, Ridlen says with a laugh, identifying the caller on his machine as an old friend he'd prefer not to name. "We have hours of that kind of stuff," he says. "This guy would just get totally wasted and then call us, and sometimes he'd fill up a whole side of a cassette tape. Sometimes we'd just sit there and listen to it, and other times it'd be waiting for us when we got in."

Ridlen regards the disc's two pieces--"D.W. Eye" b/w "Pretend I'm Not You," released on local imprint Honey Records--as composing "a very funny, odd little comedy album, kind of like Foster Brooks on PCP. It's really just sort of a collection of all these things that have just been floating around out there--the answering machine tapes, the picture on the back of the album, which is Bob Moog--the guy who invented the moog synthesizer--at SMU demonstrating one of his machines a long time ago."

Although at first Spoth seems a novelty act, more depth appears with repeated listens. "Man, I worked harder on this than any other project I've ever done in my life!" Ridlen exclaims, pointing out with pride his theremin-through-a-wah-wah-pedal part.

All of this is just another way for Ridlen to scratch his music-making itch. In addition to Spoth, he has plans to start his own label and release a new Lithium Xmas album, which he says is almost ready. "We're just waiting on [Greg] Synodis [another Lithium Xmas member] to come back in town and finish one song," he explains, adding that as far as music goes, "I just want to get shit out there."

The Spoth 10-inch is currently available at Pagan Rhythms and Forbidden Books.

Perusin' the blues
If you were in the African American Museum on Saturday, January 24, you may have encountered two men who were obviously in cahoots.

One was Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, a label revered for recording such Texas blues elders as Lightin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Whistlin' Alex Moore. Strachwitz's stroll-mate was local historian Alan Govenar, and the object of their interest was Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound, an exhibition of photos by Govenar that's on view at the museum through March 20.

Included are photos of Moore, the Dallas piano patriarch, in his characteristically eye-popping shirts and plaid pants, in an Oak Cliff music store and hard at his passion--dominoes--at the MLK Center. There's the obscure Pops Overstreet with his off-brand guitar in his Houston living room. Behind his chair sits that consummate symbol of work-life--a two-wheel dolly--that evokes the tone of his existence more accurately than any costly props. There's South Dallas R&B overlord R.L. Griffin when he still had big hair, and shots of fiercely impassioned dancers at blues shows.

"My idea was an exhibit that gives a sense of the life of the blues--not focused on famous performers but on people," says Govenar. "Blues takes on a dynamic in a black club that it doesn't in a concert for a bunch of white college kids."

Govenar visited blues clubs in L.A. (an outpost of Texas blues since the '40s), Houston, and Dallas, snapping away with a camera and flash, too modest to change the tone of the scenes he captured. Besides, he points out, blues clubs have a long history of revelers photographing themselves or having others do so. He cites 1950s Dallas nightlife photog George Keaton, who'd snap shots of clubgoers, then dash out, jump on his motorcycle, and roar home to process the shots, which he'd then bring back to the club.

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