If you’ve been in the market for a thrift store boombox recently, you may have had a tough time tracking one down.
“We’ve drained every Goodwill, Unique [Thrift Store] and Value Village in the area,” says local artist and musician Alex Braden. “I think we drove up the cost of boomboxes. The stores even started selling adapters separately.”
Braden, 29, isn’t a hoarder of antique stereos. Along with fellow artists Emily Francisco and Adam Richard Nelson Hughes, he has been taking the boomboxes apart, removing the tape decks and speakers, and rewiring them into a massive sound sculpture.
On display at Transformer through the end of April, “No Sharps, No Flats” is a towering creation that features 27 gutted tape decks playing 27 compositions created specifically for this project by 27 D.C.-area musicians.
“I’ve always been drawn to … experimental projects like these,” Braden says. “I really enjoy taking something, reducing it to its components, and then rebuilding it into something else.”
Braden, who plays in a few local bands (The El Mansouris, Young Rapids, Bella Russia), recruited local musicians to help with the project. The people behind the compositions — which run between 45 seconds and 10 minutes in length and are each played on a single instrument — include Laughing Man’s Brandon Moses, jazz guitarist Anthony Pirog, classical pianist Mary-Victoria Voutsas, Ex Hex singer-guitarist Mary Timony and Braden himself.
“Everyone started in the same key [C major] and the same tempo,” Braden says, so that it wouldn’t turn into a grating cacophony. (That’s also where the name “No Sharps, No Flats” comes from.)
The most unusual song is by Braden’s Young Rapids bandmate Dan Gleason, who used his tape to sing the numbers up to 120 in C major, making hilarious errors along the way.
Because the compositions are all different lengths, endless combinations of sounds emerge.
“These boomboxes were not intended to be destroyed or used in this way,” Braden says. “None of the compositions were intended to be played as part of an ensemble; the cassette tapes were not designed to endure a month of ceaseless playtime. I’m really curious and excited to hear what the whole mess sounds like at the end of April — if it still works by then.”
Transformer, 1404 P St. NW; open Wed.-Sat., noon-6 p.m., through April 30, free.
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