The Sound of Smoke and Mirrors, Side 2

Original Format: cassette

You know, I only just now realized that “S&M” could also be “smoke and mirrors.” (Not just “Spaniards and Mexicans.”)

Anyway… as I listen to this now, there’s a lot of good stuff in there, but also all kinds of perplexing left turns. It must have made some kind of sense at the time.

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The Sound of Smoke and Mirrors, Side 1

Original Format: cassette

Full title: The Sound of Smoke and Mirrors: Radio Venus Vol. 3

Liner Notes:


The scientists at Operation MOFO began to panic as the mysterious transmissions continued. All their strivings to reach the truth were futile; as the evidence mounted, their confusion only multiplied. Attempts to track the signals back to their point of origin pointed to an increasing number of random locations throughout the galaxy. Like figures in a hall of mirrors, they seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. This engendered a profound identity crisis in the MOFO team: if all their knowledge could not help them solve this, their most important question, then what good was it? Truth was shrouded in mist; science was useless; the universe was thoughtless and disordered.

So after much reflection, they elected, in the end, to give up science. Operation MOFO was disbanded, its equipment sold or destroyed — except for the satellite dish and the tape recorders. Ex-MOFO volunteers continued to use these to monitor and record the transmissions. But now they no longer questioned, only enjoyed; no longer seeking truth, but only beauty.

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Elements of Control, Side 1

Year: 1991
Original Format:

Full title: Elements of Control: Radio Venus Vol. 2

Liner Notes:


May, 1991: As it continued to monitor the mysterious transmissions from Venus, Operation MOFO discovered that the transmissions did not in fact originate on Venus, but were merely being relayed from there. The signals were arriving at Venus from the direction of an undisclosed location in deep space. Which led them to ask: Is that location truly the origin, or just another relay station? How many levels would have to be traced to reach the source? Who is in control, and are these entities independent, or are they in turn controlled? Would all of MOFO’s work in the end reveal a consciousness, an intent behind the broadcasts, or would the point of origin evaporate as the investigation continued, like a long-dead star whose light is only now arriving in our solar system, but no longer exists in its own space?

And perhaps the most troubling question was the one that went unvoiced but lurked queasily under every step of the investigation: Could there in fact be said to be an agent, a will, behind the transmissions, or had they simply arisen, unbidden, from the random processes of the universe? What if they looked behind the curtain and nobody was there? What the hell would they do with themselves then?

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Signals from the Lost Continent, Side 1

Year: 1990
Original Format: cassette

In its original format this mix had a subtitle and explanatory liner notes, reproduced below. (This was 30 years ago and I was smoking a lot of weed, so I trust you will be generous in your judgement.)


The Oakland Mind Control Laboratories routinely monitor radio transmissions from deep space as part of the ongoing search for extraterrestrial intelligence designated Operation MOFO. Since 1967, these transmissions have uniformly consisted of nothing but random white noise and gibberish.

On May 23, 1990, at precisely 5:23 AM Greenwich mean time, the Laboratories received and recorded a transmission — or, more properly, two transmissions of 45 minutes each, separated by a short pause — of clearly intelligible words and music. These transmissions were later determined to have travelled from roughly the direction of the planet Venus. They are here made audible to the public for the first time.

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Hypnotic Anarchy, Side 2

Year: 1991
Original Format: cassette

His duty, when he was elected to represent Tralfamadore, was to carry a sealed message from “One Rim of the Universe to the Other.” The planners of the ceremonies were not so deluded as to believe that Salo’s projected route spanned the Universe. The image was poetic, as was Salo’s expedition. Salo would simply take the message and go as fast and as far as the technology of Tralfamadore could send him.

The message itself was unknown to Salo. It had been prepared by what Salo described to Rumfoord as, “A kind of university — only nobody goes to it. There aren’t any buildings, isn’t any faculty. Everybody’s in it and nobody’s in it. It’s like a cloud that everybody has given a little puff of mist to, and then the cloud does all the heavy thinking for everybody. I don’t mean there’s really a cloud. I just mean it’s something like that. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, Skip, there’s no sense in trying to explain it to you. All I can say is, there aren’t any meetings.”

—Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan
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Hypnotic Anarchy, Side 1

Year: 1991
Original Format: cassette

Salo had an interesting history.

In the Earthling year 483,441 BC, he was chosen by popular telepathic enthusiasm as the most handsome, healthy, clean-minded specimen of his people. The occasion was the hundred-millionth anniversary of the government of his home planet in the Small Magellanic Cloud. The name of his home planet was Tralfamadore, which old Salo had once translated for Rumfoord as meaning both all of us and the number 541.

The length of a year on his home planet, according to his own calculations, was 3.6162 times the length of an Earthling year – so the celebration in which he participated was actually in honor of a government 361,620,000 Earthling years old. Salo once described this durable form of government to Rumfoord as hypnotic anarchy, but declined to explain its workings. “Either you understand at once what it is,” he told Rumfoord, “or there is no sense in trying to explain it to you, Skip.”

Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan
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The Mystery of Consciousness, Side 1

Year: 1989
Original Format: cassette

This is the first proper mixtape I ever made, with a cover and liner notes and everything. The liner notes say 1989, but this was actually a revised version of a tape made a year or two earlier, a little after I transferred from UC Santa Cruz to Berkeley. I think it was the first time I experienced an emotion that could be characterized as “nostalgia,” and so the tape is full of songs I associate with my time in Santa Cruz, as well as field recordings from stony Thursday nights there.

The title comes from the original artwork, now lost, which was a clipping of some flier or newspaper article that I cannot now remember the provenance of. Being both grandiose and vague, it is a most suitable name for a mixtape. And though the sequencing is haphazard and the segues are less than tight, in some ways The Mystery of Consciousness is still my favorite.

Playlist after the jump.

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