Telephones are just weird. To make a call, you "dial" a number, but phones have been push button, not rotary, for a good while; and back then, when phones were rotary, it cost more to make long distance calls than it does today. You never hear old people say, "I remember when it used to cost five cents a minute to call Chicago," because it costs five cents a minute to call Chicago now and it never has before — and as every elderly person should know, there are only a pittance of goods and services for which this is true.

The popularity of second lines and trendy cell phones asserts that Americans do a lot of growing up on their phones. Some psychologists believe teenagers log so many telephone hours because they feel safer talking on the phone than they do speaking in person, hinting that their invisibility allows them to reveal additional measures of soul or substance. The lack of interest in see-you/see-me technology outside of the porn and corporate markets seems to reinforce this theory. Love them or hate them, land-line or questionably carcinogenic cell, we all have intense relationships with our phones, and all that Erik Sanders of Mechanical Walking Robotboy and Buttercup wants to do is add more soul and substance to the whole torrid affair.

In the tradition of They Might be Giants' Dial-a-song (718-387-6962), Sanders started PET-ABLE (210-738-2253) on February 1, 1999. His band Evergreen had just broken up, "and I wanted to force myself to be creative and write a new song every week. At first there were a lot of weeks when I'd come home Thursday night and think, 'Okay, I gotta write a song right now.'"

Initially the songs were recorded on the three functioning tracks of a decrepit four-track cassette recorder, and the lo-fi technology truly adds to the music's lovability by employing a mojo similar to that of the three-legged dog who can limp into the heart of even the staunchest "cat person."

"For a snare I use an upside down trash can with a tambourine on top." And from these humble beginnings, hundreds of creative, experimental, soulful, and substantial songs were written and broadcast.

Over the years, Sanders has had a number of collaborators and the songs on PET-ABLE take on a variety of styles and sounds but can overall be compared to something between the Dukes of Stratosphere and Silkworm or the Beatles and Beat Happening. There is real musicianship and musical ingenuity with a tendency toward psychedelic vibes and twisted humor: "The songs are written specifically for the medium, if I hit a high C the machine stops recording."

Some of PET-ABLE's highlights include a 24-hour live show during which Sanders manned the line and performed the same song for all who called, and a Taco Land show that was hosted in his living room and broadcast over the PA at Taco Land via telephone. Thousands of PET-ABLE stickers have been dispersed, and Sanders receives messages from Spain and L.A. regularly. "The most interesting messages I've been getting are from this L.A. harp band called 'Smells Like Flan.' They introduce themselves and play a song." He met current collaborator, Wilton, in that fashion.

PET-ABLE never tries to sell you anything or get you to leave your house, and is a free call from anywhere in the world (so long as you call from your job).


Friday, October 4
Taco Land
103 W. Grayson

More by Noah Sternthal



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