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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Reading a lot into the Books' use of hypnotherapy tapes

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THE BOOKS tour.jpg

Nick Zammuto (left) and Paul de Jong are The Books.

The new album from the Books, the first in five years from this sound-collage duo, begins with a pleasant male voice promising a new beginning. "On this recording, music specially created for its pleasurable effects on your mind, body and emotions is mixed with a warm, orange-colored liquid," he says, calmly and matter-of-factly, as a rhythm of plucked guitar harmonics builds behind him. "Your body is now a glass container. You can smell the orange-colored liquid."

"We cut into our sources a lot," says the Books' singer-guitarist, Nick Zammuto. It's not his voice promising peace and fluidity. It's one of the Books' many found recordings, spliced and diced. "That's part of the fascination we had with the amount of hypnotherapy material we used on this new album. They speak so slowly and clearly on these old tapes. So it's easy to take the beginning of one sentence and cut it with the end of another sentence, creating this seamless thing that wasn't there before. It pulls the material in a more interesting direction, switching subjects and objects. ... It's always interesting to see how meaning can be broken and re-formed."

with the Black Heart Procession
• 7:30 p.m. Friday
• Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
• Tickets, $25, (800) 514-ETIX,

This is what the bookish Books do, Zammuto and his cellist-electronics partner, Paul de Jong, both based in New England. They scrounge through the thrift shops of the world, buying up kooky old LPs, self-help cassettes, anything recorded and released for a variety of non-musical purposes. Then they knead those sounds and voices into their music.

"Little towns have great thrift shops," Zammuto says. "We always make a point on tour to stop and look for stuff. What we pick up is mostly outdated media, VHS tapes, answering machine tapes, whatever we can get our hands on that might have interesting stuff on it -- all the while rigorously avoiding anything with a brand name on it. ... What we're interested in is finding universal threads in the material we're sampling from. We don't want to sample from the mainstream or use familiar stuff like what Girl Talk does. We mostly sample from anonymous material, so anything we put on the record or on video, since you don't know who made it, has a universal voice to it. People can more easily have empathy for what's going on."

The new album, "The Way Out" -- the cover design is a parody of the Bible series "The Way" from the 1970s ("It's amazing how many people recognize that," Zammuto says) -- draws on a lot of old self-help recordings, hypnotherapy tapes. The propulsive drum-and-bass of "I Am Who I Am" is haunted by spectral voices repeating Gandhi phrases and what sounds like a preacher shouting, "I am who I am, and I will be what I will be!" I referred to Zammuto earlier as a singer, but he doesn't vocalize all that much.

"Neither one of us really has the charisma to carry stage presence," he says. "We had the idea to use video as the frontman, making a video as integrated into the music as possible, so that it's halfway between watching a concert and watching a film. What we produce would not be a soundtrack to the film, and the film would not be just an ambient backdrop for the music." And, no, he says he hasn't seen Gorillaz in concert.

How they create music together: "Paul is the librarian. He puts together a sample library that's organized well. This is the primary instrument of the band. I'm the composer who figures out how to put it all together. He hands me thousands of samples. I listen through them, which is very entertaining but also extremely confusing. I always think, what am I going to do with all this? But the cream eventually rises to the surface."

After this current tour (which also features Brooklyn musician Gene Back), the Books will finish work on scoring a film -- a documentary about the failed Biosphere 2 project in Arizona. "It's incredible," Zammuto says. "It's like 'Lord of the Flies' in the desert."

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on October 27, 2010 5:00 PM.

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