Ping Pong Percussion

Jerome Kern

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Lab assistant Igor does really try to control his violent tendencies; however, it is easy to understand his interest in Ping Pong Percussion. Finely shredded ping pong balls can be used to make bombs, a fact Igor picked up from reading Frank Zappa's autobiography. The connection is relevant since Zappa was keenly interested in percussion, something that seems of greatest importance in the history of Ping Pong Percussion. As for the ping pong part, this refers to the practice of ping-ponging sounds back and forth between left and right stereo speakers, a technique that is used to a limited extent on this record, much more on others but probably never quite enough. Ping Pong Percussion, then, may be more of a concept than an actual performing group. Igor managed to secure quite a collection of recordings relating to this theme at what he claims was an estate sale -- hopefully no mayhem was involved. These types of recordings were popular when cool dudes were getting nookie by demonstrating their hi-fi systems. This album, actually entitled Jerome Kern, would make for a kind of jarring seduction. Frankly, it is downright weird. No credible source seems to have a date for its release, including complete discographies of the dizzying Spinorama label. It would not be surprising to learn that this record arrived in a spaceship from the planet Gorp. It is that weird.

Weirdness, however, is quite often a byproduct of bad quality. That seems to be the case here, although it could be easy to pass this off as one of the greatest records ever made if only certain sections were presented. Ping Pong Percussion is often associated with a producer and performer named Chuck Sagle, but his name is not mentioned anywhere on the cover or in the liner notes to Jerome Kern. The only person mentioned by name is a conductor, Al Goodman, who seems to be responsible for fellow participants the Stradivari Strings. Ten Kern hits are presented in a similar fashion: first there is a bizarre, meaningless intro featuring a family of percussion instruments that somehow includes a lap steel guitar. These portions have nothing whatsoever to do with the song they lead into. The actual songs are played by the strings. While it might be possible that Goodman came up with an idea that is significantly different from what is normally presented as Muzak, confirmation will have to wait until Igor secures his next torture victim, since that is inevitably the only time he will play a side such as this all the way through. It seems possible that this production was actually a pastiche, perhaps a combination of Ping Pong Percussion outtakes or even microphone-testing snippets combined with a recording of strings from a completely different source. The idea that someone would think such a thing is advisable, let alone commercial, is tantalizing. If there had been much more ping-ponging between Ping Pong Percussion and the Stradivari Strings this might have been one of the best examples of avant-garde jumpcut-style editing, not to mention one of the earliest. Listeners can experience such a phenomenon by smearing a glue stick over the longer portions of orchestral playing.

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