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Out in the Field with United States of Belt

The United States of Belt make their uniquely evocative music out of a swirling mass of sounds, recorded on a variety of journeys across the United States. The sounds that they use (a Wurlitzer organ, old-tyme carnival rides, train whistles) on records like Sparkling Desert Mojave (Champ), Cyclone (Champ), and Pancake Alley (ChloŽ) are immediately familiar and singularly American. And yet, at the same time, these sounds are more the stuff of American myth than the particulars of modern everyday life, giving United States of Belt's music an unusual, dream-like quality.

For years, United States of Belt were fixtures (albeit rather enigmatic ones) in Boston's experimental music scene, but last year they pulled up stakes and moved westward to Troy, New York. On Saturday, August 20, United States of Belt return to the Boston-area to perform as part of the Plus One music series at Art Interactive in Cambridge.

I interviewed Ross Goldstein via email in early August.

When, how, and why did United States of Belt come into existance? What were you and Seth doing prior to its formation?

October 31, 1996 in NYC, ? , it seemed like a fun project. I was living in NYC (rent free) working on music and Seth was living in Fall River, MA in an awesome space that he set up real nice. That was the first place that we worked on music together. Seth was working on a series of performances and getting ready to go to graduate school in Boston.

What is the origin of your interest in field recordings? Are they something that has interested you since childhood?

Yes, I have always loved sounds ever since I can remember. The tape recorder has always been a very good traveling companion. When I got a portable DAT recorder and a good stereo microphone (1996) it really made me think about traveling around and searching for cool places to record sounds. I have been out in the Field ever since...

Could you talk a bit about the process behine your most recent cd, Pancake Alley, which seemed to be almost theatrical (at least the final recording in the Cyclorama)? How did it differ from your other US of Belt recordings?

The first sound on Pancake Alley is an old Wurlitzer Organ inside the Michigan theater in Ann Arbor... 'The movie is about to begin' ... Pancake Alley is a fictional location (made from non-fictional locations) where pancakes and ping pong are really popular. And a bunch of other stuff like fireworks and banjoes and freedom. There is a scene where we can listen to a story about the WAMAGADOON (from Andy Kaufman's unfinished book "the Huey Williams story").

Your previous recordings have featured sounds from your own journeys around the country -- have you made any recent long-distance sound-gathering trips? If so, where did you go?

The last big trip was in 2004. Seth and I recorded sounds in an empty silo in the town of Como, Mississippi. It has an awesome spacey cosmic sound. We plan on going back in the fall to make more recordings in the Delta and hill country area. After that Seth is moving to San Francisco. Lately I have been working on a record of pop songs here in Troy.

Are there any musicians, artists, others that have particularly influenced your work?

#44, Luis Bunuel, Tinctured Puncture, Jess Collins, Mr.Joe signs that go!, "Revolution #9," Oyvind Fahlstrom's radio shows, Preston Sturges, Environments tapes, Philip Petit , Marfa Mystery Lights, Walker Evans, Joe Grillo, Jordan Tinker.

You and Seth recently moved to Troy, NY, after a period when the two of you were living in different cities (Boston and Brooklyn respectively). Why did you make the move? How is the musical environment different than that in Boston?

The rent is much cheaper in Troy...and I have enough space for a ping pong table in my living room!! It is so much slower here and I like that aspect a lot. There are also a lot of alleyways.

Do you have any recordings coming out in the near future or other projects currently in the works?

Yes, a record of songs, which I hope will be out by the end of the year. The working title is: "trail songs with captain coconut".

Your live performances are often rather theatrical and always contain a surprise or two. Can you tell me anything about what you have planned for this Saturday's performance at Art Interactive?

We are still figuring it out...


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