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A Composer Finds A Trove Of Ghostly Voices, Stuck Out Of Time

Olivia Block's recent compositions are a mix of music and found voices — often taken from used microcassette tapes, artifacts from the answering-machine era.
Olivia Block's recent compositions are a mix of music and found voices — often taken from used microcassette tapes, artifacts from the answering-machine era.

Chicago composer Olivia Block is happy enough writing for violins, but she really loves sounds that don't often count as music. That can include the urban ambience she hears walking around her hometown — the creaks and grunts of an elevated train, the whirr of machinery — or, in some cases, sounds most of the world was never meant to hear

Block recently bought an old tape recorder, which came with an unlabeled tape — the tiny kind you find in old answering machines. When she hit play, she heard the sound of a man driving around in 1988, naming businesses and their addresses. Now, she's an avid collector of these microcassettes, and the disembodied voices they contain are finding their way into her work.

Producer David Schulman recently visited Block in Chicago and asked her to break down her process. You can hear the results at the audio links on this page.

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