Locals: Randy Sanders revisits the past with his first album under the Atomic Perceptions umbrella
The tracklisting for Musical Dioramas from the Shoebox in My Mind - the first album released under the Atomic Perception banner - doubles as a description of the music contained within, moving from the party-starting funk of cuts like "The House Starts Rumblin'" to denser, more experimental tracks like "Amplifying the Din," a cut-and-paste collage of plucked guitar, trickling piano and ghostly, disembodied voices.
"I wanted the album to have a happy feel up front, then as you get 10 or 12 songs in you get into the more exploratory stuff," said guitarist and trumpeter Randy Sanders, who pieced the album together using samples captured to tape at home-recording parties held between 1988 and 2014. The effect, at times, can feel akin to madness setting in, like Edward Norton's sleep-deprived brain gradually unraveling in David Fincher's "Fight Club."
It's an inventive approach that mirrors the freeform sessions that birthed the music. Beginning in the late 1980s, Sanders would invite musician friends to his home for extended jams designed in part to uproot contributors from their comfort zones.
"If someone came in as a bass player you might go, 'No, I want the bass player on drums' just to switch it up and get some kind of different feel," Sanders said. "It's a way to challenge them and take away the luxury of falling back on your chops. If you put someone on a new instrument they have to investigate how to work with it."
Rather than completed songs, these gatherings, which featured a rotating cast of musicians (dozens including Paul Baker, Happy Chichester and Chuck Agin contributed to the recordings), approached music as art, crafting extended sound sculptures that frequently defied categorization.
"We just said we're going to make art with sound, and that was the criteria for anyone stopping by," Sanders said. "There was never anything like, 'I'm going to craft a song and it goes like this.' Having to freeform everything brings you back to that artist, or child, within.'"
In 2003, Sanders started archiving these myriad recording sessions, which had been captured to a variety of formats, including cassette tape, reel-to-reel, CD and digital files. As he digitized them, he would perform a soft mastering, cleaning up the sound and adding loop points. He also began to hone in particular elements - "As I went through [the material] I realized there are some good solo pieces in here, like, if I turn everybody off there's a great trumpet line, and here's some trombone and synth," he said - creating samples and using them to construct new tracks.
In a sense, the recording process brought the Columbus native back to his childhood, where a dual obsession with sound and technology - Sanders received his first cassette recorder, which he termed a "magical device," as a Christmas gift at 11 years old - ignited his initial passion for music.
"I never played anyone else's songs on guitar. To me it was more about exploring the sound," Sanders said. "When I brought [my first guitar] home and plugged it in it was like, 'Ehh, I don't like this.' Then I want back and got an effect, which was the chorus pedal, and that made it sound beautiful. I was like, 'Now the guitar sounds beautiful. Now I can begin.'"