Two years ago, Richard Pell, who attended Carnegie Mellon University for art, returned to his alma mater as an assistant professor. He was working on the Center for Post-Natural History, a proposed museum about genetically engineered life forms. But somehow, his heart was still in Troy, N.Y., where he'd been recruited by art/performance group The Yes Men to attend Rensselaer Polytech.
Pell expressed that love through a mostly-vinyl label called Specific Recordings, dubbed "specific" because it concentrates on sounds made in one particular building owned by The Yes Men, which includes a recording studio. The label manifesto says its releases are "unique as a result of historical circumstance … [representing] singular moments that cannot be recreated, presented in the highest quality possible."
Pell's catalog began with a 10-inch by the deceased Frank Budgen, an indigent songwriter who drowned in the Mohawk River. "The remnants of his stuff were in a squatted apartment," Pell says. "We had his master tape and pulled it together as best we could. The guy wrote weird stuff -- it references Leadbelly, Captain Beefheart, James Joyce and conspiracy theory." The second release is by Wounded Knees, led by Suzanne Thorpe (Mercury Rev) and Jimi Shields (Rollerskate Skinny), and featuring Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J Mascis.
Pell's parade of curiosities continued with a bubblegum-pop LP by Ross Goldstein called Trail Songs and a new picture-disc by Jesse Stiles called Target Museum, inspired by wearing a hazmat suit in World Trade Center Building 5 in the days after 9/11. "He's an electronic DJ guy known for making crazy techno, but then he busted out this pop record."
Stiles' result resembles The Books or Postal Service, but Pell's first CD, Robotic Music of Pittsburgh, connects directly with electronics via recent City Paper cover boy Eric Singer (of LEMUR), Jeremy Boyle and CMU's Roger Dannenberg. "Pittsburgh has this nexus of experimental music and robot-building more than any other place I could think of," says Pell. "That could be our new local genre!"
Pell's next project might be an LP about deceased Pittsburgh character Bob Lansberry, who for 30 years marched through Downtown protesting invisible mind-control. Local bands Hector in Paris and Apes of God previously wrote songs about him. In 2006, Pell exhibited his documentary about Lansberry, Don't Call Me Crazy on the 4th of July, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. "He often told me about petitioning to get his FBI file. So even when I was in Troy [making the movie], I was still looking back at Pittsburgh."
Information on Pell's label is at www.specificrecordings.com.