The graveyards of obscure records remain silent, their outlandish philosophies unappreciated, their sonic wilderness unexplored. The least known vinyl languishes in bargain bins of record stores, stacked sleeveless on charity shop racks, boxed up in song poem writers’ attics. The acoustic radioactivity of the better known records refuses classification. Suspended in audio purgatory, these records’ wayward positions on chronic issues remain unanalyzed till now.

Sonic Wilderness raises these weird songs from the dead to evaluate their mutinous sounds and extraordinary worldviews. Anne Chase’s conviction in A Chant for your Plants that sex, rather than conversation, is the way to a plant’s heart may be hard to reconcile with Kali Bahlu’s notion in ‘Cosmic Remembrance’ that ‘The true realization of a tomato is to be eaten’. Would we be tempted by Mighty Spoiler’s enthusiasm for reincarnation as a bedbug—‘Is only big fat woman that ah going to bite’—or by Joan la Barbara’s shrieked and croaked animal invocations in ‘Q–uatre Petites Bêtes’, (1980) where ‘four strange, dissimilar creatures could meet, converse, make love and war, and disappear’? Inveterate and intractable themes are a magnet for much of this music: human-animal thresholds, frontiers of eroticism, political protest, crushing work, retreat into nature and horticulture. What askew perspectives and unusual musicality do these records bring to such preoccupations and do they help us shake off over-used analytical paradigms? This vinyl wreckage includes inept or amateur performances (Jerry Solomon’s ‘Look At The Flowers’), recordings that are absurdly earnest and oblivious to audience reaction (Harry Merry’s ‘Village Life in 1905’), inappropriate content or stereotyping (Spoiler’s ‘Bed Bug’), startling lasciviousness (Ann Magnuson’s ‘Folk Song’), mischievous, cruel, or malevolent intent (Artless’s ‘Vegetable Rights’), or downright alarming musicality (Ruth White’s recording of Baudelaire’s ‘Evening Harmony’). Questioning how such odd records come to be made reveals aberrant political and religious convictions and cultural eccentricities that find an unlikely outlet in vinyl recordings. These records are often non-canonical and categorized as ‘outsider’ due to some fault in their DNA, or accident in geography and social milieu. In rare cases, contemporary musicians like TV Personalities (They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles) and Ween (Chocolate and Cheese) have incorporated such qualities into their own work.

Considered as a kind of lyrical unconscious that momentarily reveals impulses and desires buried by commercial music, the warped anxieties and impulses of these records are taken here as symptomatic of enduring social, psychological and political conditions. Sonic Wilderness accesses the critical value of obscure and marginal records whereas other books on music only resort to the most celebrated antidisciplinary releases to explore complicated cultural histories. While much of the literature on weird and unlistenable records treats them as a sonic freak show, Sonic Wilderness recognizes their nonconformist acoustics as subversive cracks in normative popular music.
That many of the featured records are DIY or Private Press releases connects the book more closely to readers’ experiences. Most people can’t play an instrument nor have access to a professional recording studio. Reading about these musicians whose eccentric ideas and obsessions weren’t discouraged by their amateurism nor by audiences’ reactions, opens up space for the reader to engage with sound in their own way. These strange songs that have no sense of boundaries are sonically unnerving. Alarming, affective and sometimes hilarious, they throw the listener around like a musicological pinball machine.

The three chapters concern human engagements with the natural world.
Chapter 1: ‘Becoming Animal: Monstrous Intoxications’
Chapter 2: ‘Riot parks, Psychogardens, and Black yards: Sites of Labour and Alienation’
Chapter 3: ‘Songs The Plants Taught Us: Green Bewitching’

**Sonic Wilderness–Wild Vinyl Records intro and afterword