Wish you were here?

Now, the last thing I want to do is come off like some self-satisfied, smug armchair quarterback of a music hack. The last fucking thing anybody needs is another one of those fellas who blather on inconsequentially about something that required no real legwork and has no meaningful connection to the lives of people as they live them. So there it is, an apology in advance disguised as a backward-masked mission statement for this work.

I must admit that I didn’t have to leave my house to find, converse with and, indeed, connect with, the subject of the column that is to follow. And that’s part of the point, kids. You don’t always have to leave your own basement to find something that makes you want to shout, “Yes! Look over here! This is amazing!” In fact, Shawn Knight, the artist/proprietor of boyarm.com, found me, in one of those moments when you realize that the Web actually does connect people in serendipitous ways.

Hope that makes sense. If not, listen.

The little town of Boyarm is situated in the valley of Online Music Commerce, a little to the west of Labelville. It has all the folksy charm of an Atari 2600 version of “SimCity” and houses a remarkable amount of information if you’re game enough to take a stroll through the post office, the thrift store and the other homey locales.

Practically speaking, Boyarm is a record label run by Knight (who also plays in Detroit rock outfit New Grenada). Conceptually, though, it’s a town square for virtual collaboration, artistic interaction and community building.

Knight has released “regular” records (including a noise ’n’ indie-pop compilation called “Fundraising for the Fieldtrip#1” and a 3-inch CD EP of New Grenada cuts), of course. But what makes the Boyarm project, to paraphrase Ted Striker, an entirely different kind of flying, altogether, is Knight’s interest in bringing together musicians — who often have never met and likely never will — in thematic, controlled musical environments.

Take me, for example. I got directions to the “Town of Boyarm” one day in the mail from Dan Augustine — one-half the obsolete-technology-wielding electropop duo W-Vibe — in the form of a “Call for Entries.” Now, as a former listings editor of a certain weekly mag, I immediately place all such calls, as a matter of habit, in my mental circular file. Except this one was different.

This one was looking for 15- second recordings — in any format, any genre — for inclusion in Il Programma Di Religione (The Religion Program), a compilation commemorating each of the 264 popes with one 15-second track. That’s 66 minutes of short-attention span papacy — and we can only hope there’s six extra seconds thrown in there for numerological goodness.

A gimmick? Sure, that’s one way of looking at it. A collision of styles, artists, concept and media? That’s the more interesting way — and Knight’s intended way — of grokking Boyarm’s Religion Program.

“It’s somewhat of a novelty, sure” says Knight. “And I don’t think I’ll be getting much radio play for it. But I do think it’s a learning experience for me and for other people out there. I hope it makes people at least say, ‘I wonder how a 264-track CD would work.’”

But why pick on the popes (hold your jokes for the Q&A afterward, please)?

“I like collections of things, I guess. I like small things that, taken together, form something larger, something more.

“As far as the pope concept, people can incorporate it or ignore it if they want. Even if the artist ignores it, upon listening or taking in the artwork, the implied theme will make it in there. The listener will see it in there whether it was intended or not,” says Knight.

“I think it does nothing but help to have the theme there, to give it a more cohesive feel.”

So why 15 seconds, then?

“No matter how bad something is, I think someone can deal with it or try to like it for 15 seconds,” he continues. “I think I could handle Britney Spears for 15 seconds since I know there was the possibility of something I like more coming up next.”

The Religion Program already boasts 40-odd submissions from as far away as Bulgaria, Japan and Germany and as near away as Detroit. Of course, that’s the beauty of spreading the, er, gospel, over the Web — the local becomes sin fronteras. And Knight’s already got two of these collaborative comps under his belt, so he’s getting the hang of marrying concept with execution. The first remote collaboration was collision.one for which he got contributions from 40 musicians who played — individually — to a set track length and tempo. When the raw data had been collected, Knight recombined the sounds randomly. Contributors included members of New Grenada, the Von Bondies, the W-vibe, the Witches, 7000 Dying Rats and many others.

The Health Program followed, each of the tracks boasting a medical theme. For it, Knight sent 14 “noisicians” drum recordings in the mail. The intent? To try to create something new in the speed-metal genre. Fuck, yeah! And it worked, judging by the sound samples offered on the site.

The disc features material from such underground headliners as Lesser, Bombardier and the W-Sight (a one-off of the W-Vibe) among others from around the globe and around the block.

Remote and recombinant ensembles, it seems, fit Knight’s aesthetic disposition to a “T.” And it can’t hurt that it’s a low-impact way for musicians to get more of their product out there, expand that ol’ discography and have a few shits ’n’ giggles, too.

“For me, it’s getting involved with a lot of people,” says Knight. “For them, it’s not going to take much of their time or distract them from their main project. It’s just a fun little thing they can do. It’s good publicity for them and it’s another thing to sell at the merch table at shows.”

Seems the collaborative spirit’s spreading through the town of Boyarm. By the time you read this, Knight will have selected the first Boyarm T-shirt from a field of 20 designs that were solicited. Better still, last Saturday, Knight put ink to skin as “proof of concept.” Site visitors voted which of three corporate characters he should get inked with — the Brawny Man, Tony the Tiger or the Michelin Man. As of press time, Señor Brawny took the day. I voted twice for the Michelin Man, myself.

“For people that don’t know me, that might sound unusual,” Knight explains. “I already have a lot of corporate characters tattooed on me, so this is really part of another larger piece I’m working on.

“It’s part of me whether I like it or not. At least now I have a good reason. When someone asks me why, I don’t have to say, ‘Oh, I was 16 and dumb and …’”

So, kiddies, I know you’re asking: My point, and do I have one? Yes, I do. Two, as a matter of fact. 1) You don’t have to be a pompous blowhard to indulge in high-concept art (but sometimes it helps when you’re stuck for conversation at the wine-and-cheese table), and 2) You never can be sure where art will find you; you’d best be prepared to participate.

See, now wasn’t that a warm and fuzzy way to wrap up? And now, Page 2 ….

You can buy many of the above-mentioned audio products at boyarm.com. And for surf-nerds like yours truly, Boyarm also offers an original wallpaper design by k10k.net artist Wulffmorgenthaler among others.

Chris Handyside writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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