Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971

Navel-Gazers #18 is an interview with the Fossil Aerosol Mining Project, about The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971. I don't remember how I first stumbled on this music, and I actually don't know who it is I'm speaking to, as the participants in the project - which has existed since (I note carefully) 1983 - have never disclosed their identities! Are you feeling - like me - a sense of temporal dislocation already, even before we've started? Welcome to the vast discography of the Fossil Aerosol Mining Project, where a recording from 1968, found at a thrift store in 1991, might materialise on a release from 2009... resurrected always from sources such as scratched celluloid, mildewed cassettes, or decomposing vinyl... using temperamental studio equipment and arcane procedures known, perhaps, only to the group. This album, released in - careful here - 2014, seems to me the best introduction to Fossil Aerosol Mining Project. It comes across like a microcosm of the territory they've been excavating for decades. And it's got me thinking of all different questions I'd like to ask. But I'm not sure what we'll find out from this group, who are decidedly secretive... let's see if we get lucky!

AC: Thanks for joining me here on Navel-Gazers. As I mentioned above, I don't know exactly who I'm speaking to in this interview but it also occurs to me that I don't know how many people you are. Is that also undisclosed or have I overlooked it somewhere? On your website you describe yourselves as a "loose-knit group of artists and collectors" - how loose-knit are we talking? And why all the secrecy?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: It really has always depended on the year and the moment. And what kind of media project we are working on.

Nothing is meant to be undisclosed or secret, it's just not particularly relevant to the music. We just didn't want it to be about personalities, because it didn't come from that kind of place. Much like when I curate an exhibit - curators don't put their names on the wall with the work or the artifacts. The latter should speak for and as themselves.

As far as the density of the weave - it gets looser as we get older, and folks move about, move on, etc. Plenty has changed since the mid-1980s. But we still manage to articulate a similar voice to that we did decades ago.

Now I'm mixing metaphors.

AC: I think there are probably a lot of recording artists who use an alias for that same purpose - to de-emphasise any individual personality - even if not completely anonymous.

One thing you readily disclose is your location: the American Midwest (Illinois). How relevant are those surroundings to the content and materials?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Well, it's where we found the stuff - the abandoned places that inspired the perspectives and produced the artifacts that went into the various forms of media. It probably could have been elsewhere in the US, but it was where we lived and where we found versions of our own world abandoned or decomposed.

AC: Was that in an urban centre or in a more rural part of Illinois? How did you find one another?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Generally the older suburbs of urban centers. Outside of Chicago, St. Louis, etc. Such places tended to produce more contemporary artifacts. That's where the dead drive-ins were, as well as suburban-industrial warehouses and light industry. There were exceptions of course. But the older, more industrial material went into the visual arts and film rather than the music.

We found one another over time. Began around '83, with visual arts - film. But when we were at our greatest number, it was a result of art school. That was probably Chicago, 1987-88. A couple of us were at the Art Institute there. Strong audio department/studio. I still have a few patchcords from there. One of us got into a bit of an argument with John Cage....but we were young.

AC: The artefacts you've been talking about, we have a characteristic example on this album with "nearly-lost genre films of the 1970s". What can you tell us about these materials? Where did you find them?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: By the time we recorded that album, probably old VHS tapes, as well as tapping into our library of recordings that was 20+ years old.

When VHS sources became artifacts, they became relevant.

We've always been attracted to obscure visions of alternate realities or endtimes. But that is just the initial point of attraction. The actual titles quickly become meaningless as we pull the pieces apart and process them. What is archived in the studio library becomes completely untethered from its original sources. They become artifacts without context.

AC: So when you mention your library of recordings, does that exist physically somewhere, in entirety? Or do you end up discarding the originals?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Are you asking if we have kept all of the film, audio tape, and video tape that we have extracted for the last 30 years?

AC: Right...

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: No, but we kept everything that we took from them. Dozens and dozens of hours worth of processed material. And we also do maintain a limited archive of the most important physical artifacts.

Originally it was all 1/4" tape loops hanging on hooks, and lots of four-track cassettes. Most of that has been digitized now.

AC: On this release, some materials - "fragments of 1970s intermission film" - were physically affixed to the first 200 copies (on vinyl). Did you manage to digitise the film's audiovisual contents prior to scattering the ashes? Can any of it be seen or heard, here or elsewhere?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: We have a friend who has managed to pull audio from the fragments of damaged film that we used to drag in from the field. That goes back to the first recordings. So yes, it was digitized and it was used on the album.

"Found sound" has often been a literal element to the recordings - and that material continues to be reprocessed. Digital sound allows us to make multiple generations of alterations to the material.

AC: The image of "dragging in from the field" is quite evocative. How do you access the sites you mentioned such as dead drive-ins and suburban-industrial warehouses? Are you urban explorers?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: We were visiting such places before there was a term for it - except maybe tresspassers. The country has changed since the early 90s, it would be difficult to find and access such places today. It was a period of transition. That's part of what is documented by the project.

AC: 20th century electronic media seems to me uniquely elusive. Not only the media itself but also the means to render it are perishable, obsolescent... do you think a lot will be lost forever? How much of a motivation is historic preservation in your work?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: I should say that 21st century electronic media is more of a problem - all of those pictures on phones and in the Cloud.... all of that music that people rent rather than own. So much will be gone in 50 years. Conversely, the open reel tape we pulled out of a burned out warehouse in 1986 still contained information.

Calling us preservationists would be like calling Victor Frankenstein a physician. We suffer under no such altruism.

AC: Mercifully!

Your point about 21st century media is salient and thought-provoking and something I'd invite our readers to consider.

There's a piece on '1982...' called Ruins of the Fourth Wall where I find the found-sounds particularly moving and haunting. When you uncover materials, do you ever think you've struck gold and harnessed something really special? Are some more valuable to you than others?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Like most artists, we follow what we are attracted to and do our best with the material. Of course, there are always certain elements that resonate for an individual more than others. I can say that there are some loops that we fashioned from 1/4" tape back when Reagan was still in office that still appear in recent releases - further mutilated, but familiar if one listens closely.

AC: I do paper collage, and I went through a phase where I restricted myself to photos from private collections rather than published images from sources like magazines or postcards. I'm curious whether you place any such value on the rarity or singularity of materials?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Neither of those words would strike us as meaningful. In the early years, the conceptual content of the material was critical, and all loops etc were carefully selected to represent a particular theme, source, or context. But this limited the freedom to compose within a given piece. So we began to lighten up, and the work expanded from there. But just about anything can be viewed from the perspective of artifact.

AC: That's exactly what happened to me.

So where does this album fit into that evolution?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Somewhere in Devonian perhaps.

AC: That title... it seems to refer to some specific source/s or concept but I can't make out what it is. What was "the day 1982 contaminated 1971", or is that just poetry?

Fossil Aersosol Mining Project: I don't believe it is poetry. It is actually rather fitting to most of our work. Reaching back from some sort of short-term future tense to fiddle with the recent past.

AC: Is this what the argument with John Cage was about?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: No, of course not. We were kids, and we were invisible. Yet, doing our bit to challenge the old guard. Cage spoke about his "difficult music" one night in 1987 or 88, and of the necessity of offending audiences. Yet he played to a full house of appreciative listeners the previous evening. So one of us pointed that out, to no effect and no necessity.

Everyone around the table was simply playing their role. Long time ago. The work ends up being independent of such things.

AC: And how do you regard audiences? Who do you think is listening? Are you in dialogue with them?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: We don't play out, so the interaction is through online exchanges. Back in the 80s, it was different - centered on a small tribe in Chicago. Now, the audience is so diverse and dispersed - which is very heartening - but the interaction is generally through online activity. And the feedback is always good to hear.

AC: We're almost ready to wrap up here, but I'm still left wondering something... what exactly is all this? Is it music?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Last I checked, I think it's still considered music.

AC: And why do you do it?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: Somebody has to.

AC: Right. Agreed!

So what's next for the Fossil Aerosol Mining Project? Any projects coming up?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: It's not really like that here. Plans tend to be focused more on catching up with older projects. We've recorded a lot of material, and so we tend to be a good five years behind with the releases. Unless we release something very recent, which we often do as well. And in the meantime, new work happens when it does.

Right now, we are looking into a CD set of some of the earliest, digital-download-only releases. The material has been remastered, and we've dug out a number of extra tracks from the earlier sessions.

AC: Any further comments?

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: The wallpaper and the band are fighting a duel to the death. One of the other of us has to go.

AC: That's a tough call. I'm sure our readers will be curious to know the outcome!

Thanks for talking to me.

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project can be found at Facebook, on Bandcamp, and at their website,

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